Page by Page: Gary Gygax’s DMG Part 4

Gary Gygax's Dungeon Master's Guide: A party of adventurers meet a maiden (elven?) next to a woodland pond. By Darlene PekulThis is the fourth installment of my continuing series on the 1979 Dungeon Master’s Guide, written by Gary Gygax. This post begins with the section “The Adventure” on page 47, and continues through Underwater Spell Use on page 57.

Adventures in the Outdoors Gygax recommends designing your game world around a 20-40 mile hexagon, and breakin30g it down into smaller hexagons for travel. As I’ve discussed at some significant length in the past, I prefer to design my game world around the 6 mile hexagon which seems to have become standard in the OSR. And having done so, I’m at a loss for how a 20-40 mile hexagon would even work. A hexagon six miles across can contain an immense amount of variety, which becomes especially obvious when you apply a scaled hexagon to a real world map. On my own maps, I’ve often found that a single hexagon has so much stuff in it, that it’s impossible to fit all of the necessary icons into each hex on the page. So I honestly have no idea how you would do it if the hexes were five times larger, or more.

I suppose it might be useful to create a very general map of an entire continent, but then the continent map would need to be broken down into the a smaller map for the areas the players were actually adventuring in.

Chance of Encounter Here charts are given to help the GM determine the chance of an encounter based on population density, and to know when an an encounter should be checked for. These are two factors I did not consider when working out my system for running encounters on a hex crawl. I like the idea that more densely populated areas have much lower odds of an encounter. I’ve always left the probability of an encounter up to GM discretion, but this is better. It’s good for a system to be consistent, because then players can learn the system, and make intelligent choices about how and where they will travel. When players notice that they encounter fewer monsters in areas subject to regular patrols, they may be more likely to stick to the roads.

There’s also a chart here which lists six times of the day: morning, noon, evening, night, midnight, and pre-dawn. Those times are cross-referenced with various terrain types (plains, forests, deserts, etc) and there is either an X, noting that an encounter should be checked for at that time while in that type of terrain, or a -, noting that an encounter should only be checked for if the party “numbers over 100 creatures.”

I would really like to know whose party numbered over 100 creatures.

In my games, I just roll for encounters once per hex, and once in the evening, assuming the party is traveling consistently. I do like the idea of encounter rates being affected by terrain type, however. It provides some additional depth to what each terrain type functionally means for the characters. Instead of a marsh just being a muddy and smelly place, it’s also a place where encounters can happen at any time of the day.

I would like to point out that I’m pretty sure Gygax is only writing about monster encounters, though. When I make an encounter table, I allow players to find any number of things, ranging from monsters, to buildings, to NPCs, to treasure, and even adventure hooks. So were I to use this system, I would want to modify it so that the reduced encounter chance only affected monsters.

Encounter Distance I’ve long known about this and thought it was a good idea, but I’ve never implemented it in any of the games I’ve run. Essentially, when a random encounter is rolled, if one group or the other is surprised, then AD&D GMs were supposed to roll a random distance between the party and their foes. I’ve always found it easier to arrange surprise battlefields myself, based off the party’s marching order. But I do like randomly generating stuff, since it helps me to avoid any biases.

Becoming Lost Getting lost in the wilderness is something I covered briefly in my aforelinked post on hex crawling. Gygax and I seem to have essentially the same idea, though I disagree that it should be impossible to accidentally move in the right direction. I don’t see why not.

I also like the idea of the players hiring a guide to avoid getting lost. I hadn’t thought of that.

Gary Gygax's Dungeon Master's Guide: A wizard's familiar is held hostage by Will McLean

Flying Mounts I don’t really have much to say about this. Gygax’s rules for flying mounts are solid. I like the point that flying creatures large enough to support a rider will require a large amount of gold every month in order to keep them fed (300-600gp). It’s a good method of preventing players from gaining access to this kind of boon too early in the game.

What really strikes me as I read this, though, is that I don’t recall ever reading about flying mounts in 3rd edition or Pathfinder. The fact that the players will eventually gain access to flying mounts is assumed, and covered in depth. I wonder when that changed? Flying is still a large part of the game, but it is mostly assumed to come from the Fly spell, it seems.

I also like the detailed discussion of aerial combat. Gary’s solutions are simple, but they look like they would work well.

Waterborne Adventures Like the section on flying, the rules seem to be solid, but they’re not exactly a revelation. Boats of X type move at Y speed, and have Z hit points. Brendan recently pointed me towards a post on Delta’s blog which has some strong criticisms for these rules which I would have missed.

On my list of things to work on and write about is “Making Sea Travel More Engaging.” I may return to the rules Gary presented here when I do that, but I think that more is needed if traveling on a ship is going to be engaging for the players.

Underwater Adventures How to handle underwater adventures is a topic I often see discussed on /tg/. The idea is intriguing, but it obviously requires some different mechanics than a standard game. How do the characters breathe? How does water affect their movement? How are three dimensions handled? The rules presented in this section of the DMG are functional and cover all the questions I can think of related to underwater adventuring.

On a lark, I pulled out my 3.5 DMG, and I found this comparison interesting:

“As all readers of fantasy know, the ocean floor is home to numerous ancient submarine civilizations and dark, green realms of creatures half-man and half-fish. Your players may have heard tales of the mountains of unken loot that have been collected there over the centuries, of such things as pearls the size of a man’s head, of beautiful mermaids with green eyes and blue skin…If they should find some way to investigate these stories, how will you handle it? This section deals with methods for conducting underwater scenarios.” -Gygax, DMG, Page 55

“Aquatic terrain doesn’t offer the variety that land terrain does. The ocean floor holds many marvels, including undersea analogues of any of the terrain elements described earlier in this section. But if your characters find themselves in the water because they were bull rushed off the deck of a pirate ship, the tall kelp beds hundreds of feet below them don’t matter.

Accordingly, these rules simply divide aquatic terrain into two categories: flowing water (such as streams and rivers) and non-flowing water (such as lakes and oceans).” -Monte Cook / Jonathan Tweet / Skip Williams, 3.5 DMG, Page 92.

Favorite Quotes from this Section

“If this [designing a continent] is not possible, obtain one of the commercially available milieux, and place the starting point of your campaign world somewhere within this already created world. At the risk of being accused of being self-serving; I will mention parenthetically that my own WORLD OF GREYHAWK, (published by TSR), was specifically designed to allow for the insertion of such beginning milieux, variety being great and history and organization left purposely sketchy to make interfacing a simple matter.” – Gygax, DMG, Page 47

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3 thoughts on “Page by Page: Gary Gygax’s DMG Part 4”

  1. Re: Hexes, is a matter of playstyle.

    In a 30 mile hex, you can’t identify every realistic item, site, or object of interest in the hex. it is literally unexplorable. So because things in the hex are actually logistically there and it’s abstract – anything you need can be there at any time.

    When I have my six mile hexes, I can’t just drop down a mind flayer hive, because I’ve got like individual rocks and trees and shit. I have to have a good idea of the variety of what’s there before I start play. The advantage of the 30 mile hex, is that I can make up whatever shit I want.

    It’s not for me, but it does make things easier on the DM.

    1. I suppose I can see the value in that, but a 6 mile hex is still astoundingly massive. If I mark down that a 6 mile hex is of the forest type, that still leaves me a lot of space for multiple towns, dungeons, villages, castles, and even some small terrain variation.

      A 30 mile hex, on the other hand, seems so massive that there’s no way to say anything about it which could be reliably true for the majority of the space it covers.

      Thanks for the clarification, though.

  2. > would really like to know whose party numbered over 100 creatures.

    8 PCs, 12 followers each (on average), in a raiding party, along with siege, for a 10+ level group going to destroy/overtake/liberate/”Liberate” a town, best a dragon, or otherwise. The PCs and a small personal force of henchies working with a local army to put down a resistance, in march. Dozens of others, that I’ve seen (notably, an undead army, to which random encounters are *hugely* destructive, heh heh).