Dungeons Pop: The RPG Accessory You Always Needed But Never Realized
Sometimes in life, you come across something so COOL, you not only have to have it, but you wonder how it never was created before. I discovered something the other day that got my dopamine pumping on all cylinders, something that combines two of my most favorite things – Fantasy Role Playing Games . . . and Pop-up books!
They’re called Dungeons Pop – a pop-up battle map system roleplaying accessory for your most audacious of adventures.
Part map for your miniatures – Part pop-up book!
They’re customizable, but one of the best parts is they have a foldaway design to take up less space . . . OBVIOUSLY made to keep spouses happy.
I just had to get in contact with the creator, Jon Irons.
JQ: Jon, first of all, congratulations on your Kickstarter campaign for Dungeons Pop – the last I checked you’ve raised over $137,000 so far!!! That is incredible. It appears you will be stuck in your basement hand-crafting pop-ups for the rest of your natural life.
You’ve got to tell me though, how did you come up with this idea?
JI: So the idea for Dungeons Pop came to be 4 years ago when we were playing our long running in person weekly D&D campaign. Since the location of where we would meet would change week to week, we always used a lot of either hand drawn or flat printed battle maps since it would be incredibly difficult to transport large terrain pieces around.
Because the maps were flat, players would constantly be asking how high things were or were confused about the actual layout of the map since everything was flat, it was always a constant struggle.
It was during one of these sessions that I first had the idea, why not take battle maps and combine them with a pop up book? That way you would have a map that folds flat and would be easy to transport, but would be able to unfold in seconds and create a much more immersive experience for the players than simple flat battle maps.
JQ: Phenomenal idea - they are super cool. I have always LOVED pop-up books. I still have some of my original ones from being a kid: Star Wars & Superman being a couple of them. What were some of your favorite pop-ups growing up?
JI: I too was always enamored by pop up books as a kid! One in particular that I remember was a Murder Mystery pop up book, which had a large manor house on one page and then as you flipped through the book, discovered clues and pulled on tabs, it would reveal more clues on that first page with the manor house.
It was incredible and still something that perplexes me to this day, but those kinds of inventive easter eggs are what I want to bring to the Dungeons Pop battle maps and add a bit of wonder to each play session.
JQ: Well said! “Wonder” is really what it’s all about. Several years ago I rediscovered my passion for pop-ups after decades of being “grown up”, and that’s where I came across one of the greatest pop-up creators ever, Robert Sabuda. I was astonished at the intricate designs he could make at a HUGE scale. Have you seen his work, or are there other pop-up designers that especially inspire you?
JI: Sabuda is fantastic! I’ll be honest, before I began my Dungeons Pop journey, I hadn’t given much thought to the designers behind the pop up books that I loved, but I have come to truly appreciate the incredible skill that goes into constructing these one-of-a-kind paper craft masterworks.
JQ: Let’s talk a little bit about fantasy RPGs. You obviously designed Dungeons Pop for that community. What was your gateway into fantasy? Any particular books, games, gamebooks, magazines stand out?
JI: As far back as I can remember I have been a fan of fantasy literature. I read basically everything that I could get my hands on, like The Hobbit, LOTR, Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, the Eragon series, DragonLance, and basically every book that RA Salvatore ever published . . . in fact my 2 cats are names after characters in his books: Artemis (Artemis Entreri) and Guenhwyvar (Drizzt’s Panther).
Funnily enough I was reading books that took place in the D&D, Forgotten Realms universe years and years before I played D&D or even knew that they were tied to that world. Meant to be I guess!
JQ: Ah, you’ve got some really good choices there! (and I can’t help but wonder if Guenhwyvar minds being turned into an onyx figurine while you’re away at work 😉).
I see that this isn’t your first Kickstarter rodeo - you’ve created 15 other campaigns before Dungeons Pop!
I see “Dungeons Box POCKET – Companion for the Mobile Adventurer” and “Dungeons Box – the Ultimate Tabletop RPG companion” which definitely follow the fantasy RPG theme, but I also see a couple cool innovative eco-friendly furniture campaigns! “SITGREEN, a sustainable 100% recyclable cardboard furniture”.
This all sounds amazing. Tell us more.
JI: Much like many journeys, my professional career has been a strange and winding road. Being environmentally conscious is something that has always been very important to me, so back in college I has the idea to create a live of environmentally friendly furniture that was created from collecting cardboard waste from local companies, then cutting them down and compressing them together (without the use of adhesives) to create furniture that was designed to be durable, but still fully recyclable.
It was my first foray into creating a product and a company, and I had a lot of fun doing it. While it ultimately ended up petering out eventually, it set me on the path that brought me here today and I still think of it as my origin story.
You can see more examples of Jon’s past products and creations at: https://www.ironsdesign.co/
Some of these companies, like Lily & River still exist and have gone on to become massive brands: https://lilyandriver.com/
JQ: That’s an admirable origin story for sure. I like how your first campaign missed its goal (by only $654!!!), BUT you regrouped and re-launched a 2nd campaign that successfully funded. You stayed on target and didn’t give up. What were 1 or 2 of the biggest lessons you learned from these campaigns that you took with you to your “Dungeons” line of products?
JI: Learning how to run a successful Kickstarter campaign has been a real trial by fire. With each one I learned what to do and more importantly what NOT to do for the next one and for the most part each one has been more successful than the next.
Those early campaigns, while a great experience and a lot of fun were very passion driven, with very little thought given to the actual business side of the equation, leading to them costing a lot more to fulfill than I had expected or planned for.
“That was my first learning lesson, no matter how cool of an idea, you still need to make sure there is a sustainable business model underneath it or you are setting yourself up for failure down the line.” - Jon’s Lesson for Creators #1
The second and most important thing I learned was that originally, I was creating products that I thought other people would like, but that I never actually used myself. This led to the creation of a lot of cool and unique products that would get a lot of media coverage and that people loved, but would ultimately not sell very well.
“It was only once I began creating items that solve for problems myself and my friends were experiencing that I began to see real success.” - Jon’s Lesson for Creators #2
A good example of this is Dungeons Box, I created that product to help manage all of the clutter that was happening for players in our home D&D campaign, giving them a place to store their minis, dice, rolling tray and adding a tablet slot to display their digital character sheets, the very first dice box to have that feature.
JQ: Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing those lessons learned. Now, I can’t help but draw a connection between the physical art of cardboard furniture design and the physical design of cardboard pop-ups. Were there some skills you learned & earned from the one that translated well into the other?
JI: I have always been enamored by the versatility of paper and cardboard as a medium and I have definitely learned a lot from working with it over the years. I even designed an origami cardboard stool a while back called Hex Stool that would ship flat and that you would fold together.
While I never actually sold it, it serves as a great transitional piece between SITGREEN and Dungeons Pop.
Jon’s Origami Cardboard Hex Stool design: https://www.ironsdesign.co/hex-stool
JQ: Amazing. I really like how your Dungeons Pops are made to scale for most of the popular RPGs (D&D, Pathfinder, and more), along with their illustrations, colors and practical fun-to-use design. How did you make these? Did you design them yourself, and if so, how?
JI: While I was the idea man behind Dungeons Pop, I was only able to bring it to life due to my incredible partners in the project, Crosshead Studios and PaperSmyths.
I have been a fan of Crosshead’s work for a long time and working with him on this project has been a dream come true. Both Crosshead and I worked closely with the paper engineers at PaperSmyths to create the actual structure of the pop ups and then fill the designs with artwork.
Illustrations by Crosshead Studios: https://crossheadstudios.com/
Paper Engineering by Papersmyths: https://www.papersmyths.com/
JQ: Great job to all of you! You guys built-in a bunch of cool features too. Useable walkways, staircases, table surfaces. Dry erase map surface, easter eggs and hidden areas, clear mini pop stands to use on regular flat maps.
There are some free D&D 5e adventures & custom characters. Oh, and let’s not forget the modular add-on sockets for your mini-pops (trees, crates, ruins, etc.) - they are brilliant!
JQ: When I was playing around with making my own pop-ups a few years back, I found I spent a lot of time testing, and re-testing to get all the elements to function like I envisioned. There’s not a lot of margin for error! What has been your biggest challenge in the design/creation of your pop-ups?
JI: Absolutely! There was a huge learning curve when it came to designing the maps and there were many times when we thought that we had a great idea, but then it would end up just not working and we would have to think of a whole new way to solve the problem.
It really is exciting though when you discover that perfect solution and everything falls into place. I feel like with each map we design we will be able to push the medium further and further, creating even more innovative and immersive pop up battle maps.
JQ: Jon, it sounds like you’re a consummate creator and entrepreneur. Have you always been this way?
JI: Honestly yes, I have aways been a creative person and liked to try to find ways to monetize my hobbies, it’s been a passion of mine as long as I can remember.
I’ve never really worked for a large company, my entire career has been a series of startup ventures and small companies that I would give my all to try to get off the ground, sometimes they succeeded and sometimes they failed, but with each one I learned a bit more about how to create a successful, lasting brand. All learnings that I hope to take into Dungeons Pop.
JQ: Your lessons and learnings from all your monetized hobbies & startups seems to definitely have paid off! After you release these initial 3 Dungeons Pops (“The Telltale Tavern”, “The Broken Tower”, “The Forsaken Ruins”), do you have anything else on your roadmap?
JI: Indeed! We are already working on the next set of maps and have been discussing some exciting partnerships. We hope to have more information to announce later this year.
JQ: I am thrilled to hear that! Jon, what advice would you have for someone who wants to bring their own physical product to life, whether on Kickstarter or another platform?
JI: Just go for it! Obviously do you best to make sure there is a solid business model behind the product or idea, but the best thing about crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo is that there really is no downside to launching a campaign and seeing what the community makes of your idea.
Worst case it doesn’t make its goal and you discover that maybe there isn’t much of a market for that particular product as you had originally thought or you learn from the first campaign what you could have done better and follow it up with a second, improved campaign.
I think crowdfunding is an incredible way to validate the potential of an idea by letting the masses vote on it with their dollars, my absolute favorite way to seek investment capital. Lots of upsides, with very few downsides.
JQ: That’s solid advice. By the way, not only did your Dungeons Pop make me simultaneously joyous & jealous, I have to share with you I’ve been creating my own trilogy of old school style fantasy gamebooks - and guess what the 3rd in my series is named . . . “The Forsaken Ruins”! – the same name as one of your pops!
(Featuring artwork from Clyde Caldwell & Luke Eidenschink!)
JQ: I’m taking this as a positive sign that I’m on the right path, and who knows, maybe your “Forsaken Ruins” will play a part in my “Forsaken Ruins”!
JI: Wow, that’s incredible! I love when things like that line up organically and I would be honored if it turns out that the “Forsaken Ruins” map makes an appearance in your gamebook trilogy!
JQ: Jon, I so much appreciate the time you’ve spent with me and Rediscovered Realms to share a little bit about your story. Congratulations to you, Crosshead & Papersmyths for creating this wonderful product.
I can’t wait to see the final numbers for your Dungeons Pop campaign, but am even more eager to receive my copy, so you should probably un-figurine Guenhwyvar and get back to your basement.
JI: Ironically enough, my home office is actually in a basement, so I will indeed need to be returning to it shortly . . .
Jon’s Dungeons Pop Kickstarter campaign is quickly coming to a close. Make sure to check it out!
“…Your party will gasp and marvel at these maps as they spring to life, and I can't wait to show them off at my table!” - The Griffon’s Saddlebag
“Instant 3D gorgeous battle maps - I mean, what more do you need? It's all the glitz of a 3D environment, right here at the table with your friends. You guys really knocked it out of the park with the execution. I can't wait for more of these to get unlocked." - Amit Moshe, Son of Oak Game Studio
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Are you a Fantasy creator or want to be? Make sure to check out Rediscovered Realms’ interview with Christopher Bünte, fantasy gamebook creator: