Tuesday, March 3, 2009

D&D Cover to Cover, part 40

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures
THE UNDERWORLD (continued)

Tricks and Traps: …The fear of “death”, its risk each time, is one of the most stimulating parts of the game. It therefore behooves the campaign referee to include as many mystifying and dangerous areas as is consistant with a reasonable chance for survival (remembering that the monster population already threatens this survival). For example, there is no question that a player’s character could easily be killed by falling into a pit thirty feet deep or into a shallow pit filled with poisonous spikes, and this is quite undesirable in most instances.”
The fear of death. Yes, characters will perish while they are attempting to plunder treasure from your carefully crafted dungeon. We are however reminded that a reasonable chance for survival should be maintained. After all, there are already monsters seeking to devour the intruders. The two pit trap examples are probably read in an entirely different manner than intended now, 35 years later. At the time of this writing, those two pits are examples of instant-death traps. What I think is being shared here is referee wisdom. Avoid instant-death traps, and while your dungeon should be deadly, don’t make it so lethal that the chance of survival, especially due to instant-death traps, is extremely slim. A saving throw, a chance to avoid damage, or methods to bypass potentially deadly situations should be considered.

Distribution of Monsters and Treasure:

As a general rule there will be far more uninhabited space on a level than there will be space occupied by monsters, human or otherwise. …It is a good idea to thoughtfully place several of the most important treasures, with or without monstrous guardians, and then switch to a random determination for the balance of the level
A guide and tables then follow for undertaking this random distribution. As a younger man, I was unaware of these suggestions. There were no empty rooms in my dungeons back then. There were no random tables for placing monsters nor treasure. Everything was planned out and filled to the brim. I rarely even used Wandering Monsters except as plotted out “timed encounters” which gave the feel of Wandering Monsters. Again, I wish I had read and embraced these original design notions back then. I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t know what a proper dungeon was until 2008. Sure what I made were certainly dungeons, but they were dungeons based on what I had seen TSR publish.

Also of note, the guide speaks to placing treasure, as opposed to placing monsters. The players are daring the depths in search of treasure, not monsters. Whether that treasure is guarded by some big nasty beasts or not is a decision reached after figuring out where to carefully place these player goals. Makes you think about the motivations and objectives of the early game. The ultimate goal is treasure.

Maintaining Freshness: …Using these suggestions, and whatever else you dream up, there is no reason why participants in the campaign should not continue to find mystification, enjoyment, excitement, and amusement in the challenge of the myriad passages of the dungeons.”
Suggestions that echo the previous sentiment of maintaining player interest within the adventure hub dungeon. Sure you can move the adventure to other locales, but the dungeon is capable of housing the entire campaign if you are willing to provide the creative effort required. It’s a labor of love.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee


John said...

The players are daring the depths in search of treasure, not monsters


It is a logistical challenge of risk/reward. I try to place at least one really good treasure in every quadrant/area/whatever. The pocket change is by-the-way.

Sham aka Dave said...

I'd certainly NOT risk life and limb in a dark, mysterious underworld setting to improve my swordsmanship. I might do so to get rich.

Will Douglas said...

The ultimate goal is treasure.


I explained my dissatisfaction with "XP for Treasure" being dropped from recent editions of the game to my fiancee. (She's played maybe half a dozen sessions total.) And she said "Well, of course! What else are you doing it for?"

Just one more of the reasons I love her...

Sham aka Dave said...

The side effect of treasure hunting is becoming more skillful at treasure hunting.

Justin Alexander said...

There's an important design coda here, though: While a room may be devoid of treasure and monsters, it doesn't follow that the room should truly be empty or uninteresting.

(Which isn't to say that there shouldn't be the occasional room of bare stone walls and detritus, either.)

Sham aka Dave said...

Justin: I agree 100%. The guide in question is used to determine two aspects; A. Monsters and B. Treasure. There are four possible outcomes, A, A+B, B or Neither. Empty means nothing more than Neither A nor B is present.

Brendan said...

Hey Sham, thanks for doing this series. It has been so useful to me that I built an index for it.

You can find it here: Sham's Cover to Cover

Is there any chance you are going to continue with more posts about TU&WA? I'm guessing not, as this was ended two years ago, but I for one would still be interested.

Sham aka Dave said...

I read your thread at odd74 already (as you saw).

After I read that I went to my old desktop and found a couple half written posts. I really need to power through and finish Vol. 3!

I am glad you liked the series.