Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dungeon Design: AD&D 1E

So to continue this little series [part 1, part 2], I'm next looking at the AD&D 1E DMG.

The bulk of advice for crafting a campaign (not necessarily a dungeon) is from pages 90 to 96.  We get sections on placement of monsters, monetary treasure, magical treasure, and a bit later a sample dungeon (with map).

By this time, Gygax had moved away from the megadungeon-based campaign.  The advice he gives applies to both the dungeon (he still assumes the presence of one, it's just not assumed to be the only starting point for adventure) and the wilderness.  His monster placement advice is to try to keep things as logical and connected as possible.  The vast majority of monsters should have some rhyme and reason for being there.  And there's a very strong Law/Chaos war vibe as he stresses how adventurers tend to clear terrain of monsters, who usually don't come back, creating more peaceful settled lands -- until the monsters get forced out of the wilderness into the borderlands and peaceful settled lands beyond...

For treasure placement, both of monetary value and magical, he stresses both moderation, and challenge with the treasure.  Don't just have a big pile of gold lying around the goblin's den.  Give them a big locked, trapped chest of coppers that are a logistical challenge to return to town.  Convert coins rolled on treasure tables into trade goods that might be overlooked.  Make sure magic items are rare, well guarded, and if possible used against the PCs before they acquire them.

The sample dungeon map is serviceable, but to me at least not so inspiring.  The Holmes map, with its secret ocean harbor caves, mage's tower basement, rat warrens, and all seems more alive than DMG p. 95.  And he only gives a sample key for the first three numbered areas.

So there's not really much advice about creating a dungeon itself.

Aha, but then we have the Appendices!

Appendix A gives us the random dungeon generator.  Even if you don't roll the dice, it's still got lots of good lists for types and sizes of rooms, corridors, caverns, and what not.  It also tells us that 60% (12 in 20) rooms should be empty, 10% should have monsters with no treasure, 15% should be monsters with treasure, 5% specials (or stairs if there are too many specials in the area), 5% tricks/traps, and 5% unguarded treasure.  That's a lot more monsters and a lot less traps and specials than OD&D/Classic D&D.  It's nearly twice as many empty rooms as well.

Later, Appendices G: Traps, H: Tricks, and I: Dungeon Dressing give us some more ideas for fleshing out a dungeon.

We've got a lot less nuts and bolts advice for crafting a dungeon here, but there's plenty of good advice for adding details and life to the setting.  A lot of people I know started with one or another Basic set, then 'graduated' to AD&D, so they likely had a good idea about general dungeon design from there.  But people who only played AD&D might not have.  AD&D, at least by the book, seems more geared for wilderness gaming, where you go look for monster lairs in the wilds, rather than being focused on the dungeon.  But even then, there's not a whole lot of straight-forward advice on crafting those lairs as a challenge in and of themselves.  There's just generally more of a 'go get the monsters' tone than that of 'go out and explore.'


  1. They represent I think, differing individual styles of play.

    I most certainly mesh most well with 1st edition. I think a great many people like 3rd edition and it's dearth of empty rooms as a play-style.

  2. I didn't. I much prefer having the rational of empty rooms between one group of monsters and the next for explaining why all 100 goblins (and assorted other monsters) in the complex don't simply come down on the party's head at once. My players can usually tell when they're about to cross from the territory of one monster tribe into another in the same dungeon. The barricades facing away from the party's direction of travel followed by a stretch of no-mans land consisting of otherwise empty rooms littered with corpses and broken weapons are a big giveaway.
    I could never rationalise away how two completely oppossed power-group could tolerate being seperated by nothing more than a flimsy door. It killed my wall. So in my view, empty rooms are good.

  3. I'm not trying to say OD&D or Classic D&D are objectively better than AD&D here. I'm just saying I find there to be better and more direct dungeon creation advice in the other editions.

    Basically, with this little series of posts, I'm trying to compare what a newbie might get about dungeon crafting through each set of rules. If there is any good advice, I'll make a note of it.

    And I'm planning on taking it up through 4E.