Friday, September 16, 2011

Dungeon Design: Holmes D&D

In the 1978 Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, edited by Dr. J. Eric Holmes, the dungeon design advice of OD&D is pretty truncated.  It's mostly the same advice, but it's so condensed that it could be easier to miss.

However, Holmes did include a much more detailed sample dungeon, and a more evocative megadungeon cross-section than OD&D.  Also, the Basic Set came with either B1 In Search of the Unknown, or B2 Keep on the Borderlands, which both provide good examples for budding DMs to use to craft their own dungeons.

One bit of advice from Holmes that jumped out at me was this quote:

Try to keep the dangers appropriate to the levels of the characters and the skill of your players. (emphasis added)
While I mentioned that in OD&D Gygax points out that there are certain types of encounters that would make players angry, Holmes explicitly states that the goal is to challenge the players.  New players with 5th level characters will likely be less effective than veteran players with 1st level characters, despite the additional hit points, better hit probabilities and saving throws, and more spells of the novice group.  Because the veteran players will play smart.  And maybe they can take on those Frost Giants or Vampires or Purple Worms at the 1st to 3rd level span of the Holmes edition.

A few weeks ago, Ian at Magician's Manse was blogging about his own megadungeon.  His players seem intent to fully explore the first level before venturing on.  He was worried that if they did, they'd be too high level and the second dungeon level would be too easy for them.  It made me think of some of the advice given on Dragonsfoot and other places about only designing and keying just enough of the dungeon.  That way, you can fit the dungeon to the players, rather than to some ideal of the Platonic Megadungeon.

If the party gains character levels but doesn't descend to lower dungeon levels, then more monsters and traps of their level should show up on the level they're on.  Of course, tricks and traps and specials are often less about the party's level, and more about player skill anyway, so Dr. Holmes' advice above is a good addition to the basics set forth for dungeon creation in OD&D.

And so ends the 500th post on this blog.  And there was much rejoicing. (Yea...)


  1. Good advice. Congrats on hitting 500, LG!

  2. Nitpick: According to the Acaeum, early versions of the Basic Set came with Dungeon Geomorphs and a Monster and Treasure Assortment rather than a module.

  3. Pure speculation here, Robert - could the dungeon design section in Holmes plus geomorphs/monster & treasure assortment combination have been inadequate in showing people how to craft their own dungeons?

    I don't know, but it's an interesting thought as to why they might have included modules in later printings.

  4. I think the continuous revamping of the Basic Set contents (Geomorphs + M&TA -> B1 ->B2) is part of a trend to provide a more hand-holding instructional module for immediate play. The first requires the most work before starting the game. B1 still requires the DM to fill in the monsters and there's no homebase. B2 has a homebase and mostly everything you need to start immediate play. I say this despite thinking both B1 and B2 are fantastic.

  5. in OD&D Gygax points out that there are certain types of encounters that would make players angry

    I love the line from Vol 3 where Gygax refers to the transporters as being "sure-fire fits for map makers".

  6. I agree with your speculation, Gwydion, and with Zenopus’ comments as well. Though I might frame it more as TSR responding to Judges’ Guild’s success and the kinds of questions players were sending TSR’s way. More “people want modules, so we’ll give them modules” than “this is inadequate”. But that’s just my own speculation as well.