Monday, March 2, 2009

D&D Cover to Cover, part 39

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)

In beginning a dungeon it is advisable to construct at least three levels at once, noting where stairs, trap doors (and chimneys) and slanting passages come out on lower levels, as well as the mouths of chutes and teleportation terminals.”
This echoes the notion that the dungeon is to be a mazey construction of meandering halls, tunnels and passages. The suggestion to design three levels at once is a sound one. I think it’s important to add that it is not always prudent to fill these three level chunks with great detail. The entire design process described here is more or less focusing on the map and layout itself. Methods for actually stocking the dungeon are shared later. At this point, the referee is drawing maps and possibly manually placing certain details such as traps and minor notes.

In doing the lowest level of such a set it is also necessary to leave space for the various methods of egress to still lower levels. A good dungeon will have no less than a dozen levels down, with offshoot levels in addition, and new levels under construction so that players will never grow tired of it.”
In other words, don’t plan to stop at Level 3 of your dungeon. Leave space, it tells us. It doesn’t say draw the steps and chutes yet, it says plan for them and add them later if you like. No less than a dozen levels down, not counting offshoot levels or levels that are under construction and may be added later. Yes, a growing, changing, evolving hub of adventure that should have future areas unveiled as the campaign progresses.

There is no real limit to the number of levels, nor is their any restriction on their size (other than the size of graph paper available). “Greyhawk Castle”, for example, has over a dozen levels in succession downwards, more than that number branching from these, and not less than two new levels under construction at any given time.
Even at the time of this writing, Gygax had an enormous dungeon going. Greyhawk Castle boasted in the neighborhood of 27 or more maps at a minimum, with two under construction “at any given time”. And that was in 1973-74.

These levels contain such things as a museum from another age, an underground lake, a series of caverns filled with giant fungi, a bowling alley for 20’ high Giants, an arena of evil, crypts, and so on.”
Anything goes. A museum from another age? A Giant bowling alley? Open your minds and let your creative juices flow. There’s no need to limit these fantastical places to the laws of the surface.

“A sample level is shown below in order to aid the prospective referee in designing his own game:”
Granted, this is probably not what many modern megadungeon designers think of when they envision a dungeon level. As a sample level it does convey the basics. There are only eight rooms. There’s a LOT of trickery and navigational hazards, though. Not much in the way of planned encounters or treasure. It’s fairly rudimentary, but effective given its very limited description. I’ll drop a version of this somewhere in one of my campaigns.

An entire dungeon level on a little over one and a half booklet sized pages.

“8. … Falling into the pit would typically cause damage if a 1 or 2 were rolled. Otherwise, it would only mean about one turn of time to clamber out…”
This 2in6 chance of taking damage from falling into a pit seems to be one of those lost ideas shared in original D&D. I’ve never found any other examples of employing this rule. I’ve added a similar layer of avoiding damage from traps, based on the likelihood inherent in the individual situation. For a shallow pit, I can see a character avoiding damage. I know falling 10’ isn’t likely to kill most adventurers. Take what you might from this example.

In laying out your dungeons keep in mind that downward (and upward) mobility is desirable, for players will not find a game enjoyable which confines them too much.”
Plenty of options is important. I wish I had read all of this back in the early 80’s when I really began to design a lot of my own adventures. Adventures which were unfortunately based more on the published AD&D modules, and less on these foundations of the game. My designs railroaded the characters to a climactic ending rather than envisioning a never-ending hub of adventure within the underworld.

“…successive levels, which, of course, should be progressively more dangerous and difficult.”
Rather obvious 35 years later, but this tidbit of dungeon design has become ingrained in the genre.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee


Anonymous said...

"There are only eight rooms...An entire dungeon level on a little over one and a half booklet sized pages."

Rather like the one-page dungeon templates! :D

Sham aka Dave said...

This was my first impression as well. Fewer, more detailed rooms, but yeah, something I hadn't considered until reading this bit. Pretty cool stuff, imo.

Matthew James Stanham said...

That bit about the 1 in 3 chance of suffering damage from falling into a pit is very interesting. Never noticed that before.

Sham aka Dave said...

Yeah, I'm left wondering if this was perhaps a poor choice of words. But then the clambering out bit shows that it likely is not.

If you read FO! 4, or get the Delvers Delve PDF from my Orbitfiles, you'll see I touched on this a bit. I ended up house ruling another layer for traps. Avoid Trap gives a 2in6 chance to avoid the damage from a trap which has been sprung. A rudimentary saving throw of sorts. Will it be roled for all traps? That's up to the referee.

Anonymous said...

"and not less than two new levels under construction at any given time."

Do you think he meant; under construction by him; or under construction by the inhabitants?


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