I apologize for my recent four day absence. My ladyfriend, who has been out of town for the last month, only just returned. I opted to spend some time with her without writing eating up my time. Back now, though!
This is the eleventh installment of my continuing series on the 1979 Dungeon Master’s Guide, written by Gary Gygax. This post begins with the section “Peasants, Serfs, and Slaves” on page 94, and continues through “Secret Doors” on page 97. My purpose is not to review the DMG, but to go through it as a modern gamer, learning about the roots of Dungeons and Dragons, and making note when I see something surprising or interesting, or something which could be adapted for a modern game.
You can read all posts in this series under the Gary Gygax’s DMG tag.
I’m doing some skipping around here. I’d like to address the sample dungeon and the dungeon advice here, and the example of play in part 12.
Level Key: While this is a perfectly functional key for the dungeon presented, I think Gygax misses an important opportunity here to talk about dungeon notation. Everybody knows dungeon maps are needed, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an official source discuss how to draw maps. It’s not a simple proposition! In fact it’s one that I’ve struggled with myself for many years, and have plans to write about in the future.
For example, how might one indicate that a room has multiple levels to it? Perhaps a balcony 7ft of the ground? Obviously it could be referenced in the room’s description, but I think it would be much better if it could be indicated visually. Some might suggest colored pencils, but many GMs (myself included) work on maps on-the-go, and would find the necessity of special tools inhibiting.
Even ignoring more unusual notations such as those, Gygax only provides 8 symbols here. While perusing a 1994 issue of Dungeon magazine, I found 22 symbols. Most of which where quite useful, such as barred door, locked door, archway, portcullis, window, and trap door in ceiling.
Wandering Monsters: I notice two things about this. First, the potential group sizes of these wandering monsters are huge. A first level party would have to keep on their toes to survive this sample dungeon’s many inhabitants. Second, and much more interesting, most wandering monsters (save for the vermin) list which room they are ‘from.’ I love this idea! If the goblin camp is in area 7, then why should the players continue to encounter hostile goblins after they’ve driven the rest of the camp out of area 7? A straggler or two perhaps, but their presence in the dungeon would quickly die off.
Map: In this map, Gygax has made a couple of decisions which I avoid. For one, there are numerous dead ends. I imagine the purpose of these is to trap players who are fleeing from groups of monsters. While I’m sure they’re effective, I confess I find them rather odd. It’s difficult for me to make logical sense in my mind of why a dead end might be there.
Though I suppose “collapsed passage” serves well enough.
The other oddity here, one which I’m much less fond of, is the trivial nature of most of the secret/concealed doors. When my players find a passage, I like to reward them with something new. That reward may be a room full of deadly monsters, but it won’t simply be another room they’ve explored already. Or at least not one which is nearby. On this map (particularly the passages between 4 & 5; and 36 & 37) I can imagine my players becoming frustrated. Who wants to open a secret passage, only to discover a the room you were in 10 minutes earlier?
Note that I’m not saying such secret passages are flat-out bad design. They can have strategic use, if nothing else. I do think, though, that they’re included in far too many maps, and probably should not be present multiple time in map designed to teach dungeon design to new DMs.
Monestary Cellars & Secret Crypts: Here again, I’d like to see a little more detail. The three room descriptions are nice, but they’re long and not very well organized for actually running a dungeon. Perhaps this is how Gygax noted his dungeons, in which case there’s nothing that could have been done. It’s not as though he could advise on a methodology he didn’t use. But I would have liked to see an explanation of how to make reference notes based on these longer form notes.
Movement and Searching: This information really should have been under “Time in the Dungeon” way back on page 38. It covers some important gaps in that information which I had to fill in myself when I first started to include time tracking in my games. Poor organization is a non-trivial problem for a book. Particularly one ostensibly for use as reference material.
Detection of Unusual Circumstances, Traps, And Hearing Noise: “The GM should tell players what they see, and let them do the rest” is advice I wish I had received when I was learning to GM from the D&D 3.5 books.
Doors: This strikes me as very strange, and I can only imagine I am missing something. Gygax notes that “as a rule of thumb, all doors are hard to open…” He suggests a roll with a 1/3 chance of success any time a character attempts to open a door. This seems quite silly to me, particularly since there’s nothing to stop the characters from rolling until they get a door open. Perhaps he meant that a roll should be required during combat, or other severely time-sensitive time?
Favorite Quotes from this Section
“Mocking their over-cautious behavior as near cowardice, rolling huge handfuls of dice and then telling them the results are negative, and statements to the effect that: “You detect nothing, and nothing has detected YOU so far–“, might suffice.” -Gary Gygax, DMG, Pg. 97