Advance Scout

Guided by his dimensional compass, the Scout roams the infinite universes, ever treading from world to world and plane to plane, seeking the latest tidings of new RPG-related releases...

This week I’d like to tell you about a handy little accessory from TSR called the Dungeon Builder’s Guidebook (DBG). It’s only been out for a week or two, and you should already be able to find it in a store near you. It’s fairly inexpensive, well, by TSR standards anyway, and it contains a great deal of tips and information for AD&D Dungeon Masters who want some help in creating dungeons that are not only dangerous and challenging, but interesting and intellectually cohesive as well. Whether you’re looking for a few ideas to spice up a dungeon that already exists, or you want to build a dungeon from scratch in a small amount of time, the Dungeon Builder’s Guidebook can probably help you out. It is designed to be sort of a "grab bag" resource, in that DMs are encouraged to take what elements they need from it, and not worry about the rest. That’s the kind of RPG accessory I personally go for. But enough about me -- here’s a quick run-down of what’s inside the covers of the DBG.

The first part of the DBG contains a section concerning the philosophies behind creating dungeons. It encourages DMs to think about the hows and whys of the dungeon they’re creating, and to consider issues like the ecological interaction of the dungeon’s inhabitants, and the monsters’ reasons for being in the dungeon in the first place. The importance of maintaining a balance between fun and realism, and between PC effort and PC reward, is also touched upon. Finally, a couple of techniques for enhancing atmosphere are included, to help a DM put a healthy dose of fear into any intrepid band of delvers. A DM with a lot of experience will (hopefully!!) already be aware of much of this part of the book, but a novice DM would do well to learn more about dungeon building philosophies as presented here.

Part Two of the book covers choosing the basic conception of the dungeon, and is designed to help the DM answer questions like: What was/is the purpose of the structure? and Why did the creators build what they built? In other words, is the dungeon a tomb, or temple, or animal lair, or mine, or something else altogether? Twenty different kinds of sites are presented in table format for those who want to roll up a random kind of dungeon, and a paragraph describes each type. There’s not a lot of depth to this section, but it does provide some ideas for diverse dungeon settings, and can be helpful in the initial conceptualization of the dungeon.

Part Three goes more in-depth to discuss six basic types of dungeons: Aerial, Castle, Interdimensional, Mine/natural cavern, Ruin/tomb, and Underwater. For each dungeon type, the DBG includes a general description, a list of common features, property and encounter tables, and descriptions of each of the property entries. Again, as in the previous part of the book, the information is presented in such a way as to allow DMs who wish to develop a dungeon randomly to do so. But why let the dice determine your dungeon, especially when there are all these cool ideas to build upon with your own imagination! Still, the random determination option is there for those who want it. :)

Part Four concerns Permutations, which essentially are ways to modify dungeon settings to make them more interesting. A creative DM can make alterations, for instance, to the dungeon’s environment, ownership, or orientation, among other things, to make a basic dungeon setting all the more unique. An underground mine that has flooded and is now filled with water, a clerical temple that has been overrun and inhabited by goblins, or a tower that is lying on its side, are all examples of ways to incorporate Permutations into dungeon creation. I remember a really cool adventure I ran some years ago, which came from a published book of adventures whose name unfortunately eludes me, that was set in a floating castle that belonged to a giant. The castle’s magic was fading, and the castle was slowly tumbling toward the earth. The PCs had to fly to the castle and make their way to the large central hall to recover a particular magic item before the castle smashed into the ground. There were all kinds of strange gravity effects inside due to magic and the castle’s rotation, and all interior features such as stairs and doors were giant-sized. It was a great example of how Permutations of a normal castle can make for a memorable adventure setting.

Part Five of the DBG examines traps, with a short discussion of factors to consider when placing traps in a dungeon, and a set of tables that can be used either for generating ideas or for generating random traps. Just for fun, I rolled up a random trap, and came up with a bell that, when rung, releases a contact poison that does 3d6 damage to the poor fool who rings it. Muah-ha-ha... as a DM I love traps, but as a player I hate them. Anyway, the tables here provide a wide variety of trap bases and effects and, like the rest of the book, can be used in just about any way the DM desires.

Part Six is the Autodungeon Engine, which basically brings all the other parts of the book together to provide a method of randomly generating an entire dungeon. Those of you who remember the original Dungeon Master’s Guide will find this section of DBG familiar: it is basically an expanded version of Appendix A: Random Dungeon Generation from the old DMG. The idea here is to go step by step through a set of tables, rolling dice and adding elements to your dungeon according to the tables. The DBG includes an excellent set of dungeon geomorphs, interchangeable map elements which can be combined in many different ways to make a wide variety of maps.

The geomorphs may just be the coolest part of the Dungeon Builder’s Guidebook. There are 16 pages of geomorphs, which are in a pull-out section in the center of the book, ready to be re-drawn, traced or even photocopied (permission is given). The types of maps correspond to the dungeon types in Part Three of the book; there is a separate selection of geomorphs to use for Aerial, Castle, Interdimensional, Mine/natural cavern, Ruin/tomb, and Underwater dungeons. I can see some of the geomorphs being more useful than others, but all of them are well-designed and can be used as-is or altered according to the DM’s will. And all of them are designed to be plugged into the Autodungeon Engine if you need to create a big dungeon quickly, or if you want to make an entire randomly-generated dungeon complex.

The rest of the Dungeon Builder’s Guidebook consists of detailed descriptions of selected locations on the more important geomorphs of all six types, and provides DMs with examples of dungeons that can easily be incorporated into larger adventures, or built upon to create even more detailed adventure scenarios. As always, the book advises DMs who wish to use creatures or elements other than the ones provided to feel free to do so.

Overall, I’d have to give the Dungeon Builder’s Guidebook a thumbs-up: it is easy to use and contains a lot of suggestions on making dungeon settings more detailed and entertaining, and the 16 pages of geomorphs are pretty cool. But if you’re an experienced DM who has created a lot of dungeons, you probably won’t find anything remarkable or new in this book. Still, the book’s many map geomorphs and creation tables can help any DM, regardless of experience, roll up a dungeon at short notice, for those occasions when such a thing is needed.

Until next time, Scout out.

Wish you could tell the Scout what you think of this area? Ala-kazam, just e-mail me. As always, your comments, suggestions, or complaints are welcomed. You can also send the Scout mail if you want to see a particular game covered here, or even if you just want to say hi.

a.k.a. Scott T. Watkins

RPG Scout