Monday, 13 April 2015

On Gygaxian Dungeons

AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide Gary Gygax Dungeon Gygaxian
Gary Gygax's Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Dungeon Masters Guide, published in 1979, is iconic. It's iconic for myriad reasons: it is quixotic and somehow practical both, it contains admixtures of advise, mathematics, statistics, tables and herblore, information on monsters and gems, the passage of time, combat in strange places, details of magic items, consulting sages, hiring hirelings, avoiding assassins, and examples of play. In other words, a list galore with more than I can possibly manage in these posts. One aspect, and one that I feel is frequently overlooked is the random generation of dungeons. Those of us with adequate imagination and intellect can construct reasonable or even commendable underworlds, caverns, and dungeons, aimed at keeping our players on their toes. But where imagination is sometimes exhausted, the quirks of chance can be of assistance.

Lately, or rather within the past month or so, I have been relishing the generation of dungeons in this random vein. I begin with a piece of paper. Opening my Dungeon Masters Guide to Appendix A: Random Dungeon Generation (pg. 169) I scrawl down one of the five possible examples for starting areas within a dungeon. Gygax advises to begin this process in the middle of a page, though for some unknown reason I prefer the bottom of the page. With a single d20 and a few other assorted dice, one can create some very interesting dungeons. I find this method provides an excellent springboard: it gets you going, then imagination often takes over. You can follow it by the book, or pick and choose features you think are fun. I find this method best when I have a vague notion of what may lie within these underscapes, but without exacting preconceptions. This process inevitably creates some intriguing results. The sizes and shapes of rooms seem to vary notably, along with the angles of passageways, and features both natural and manmade. Treasure, traps and monsters can be randomly generated too, and again, the results are often unpredicted. One can determine the number of exits, and on what walls the doorways are located. Caves, caverns, pools and even stairs are covered too. Finish your dungeons using Appendix I: Dungeon Dressing to add both mundane artefacts and 'unexplained sounds and weird noises' to your dungeons.

I don't care what edition you play, this process makes for some great dungeon ecology. Two recent examples have borne satisfying results. Some of you may remember the Original Dungeons & Dragons one-shot I ran some weeks ago. This dungeon was completely Gygaxian generated (though I confess, I did add a few things, or tweak a result to make more sense within the context of the adventure). I only had one prerequisite: I wanted a large underground lake. The second example is an Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea adventure I've been labouring away at for the past couple of months. The final level of the adventure was roughly 50% constructed using the random dungeon generation method, though in this instance I was fairly liberal with my interpretation and amendments: I need it to make sense. For this latter example I had an internal checklist of things I needed to include on this level, and the combination of random and purposeful worked well.

If you've never tried this method all you need is Gygax's Dungeons Masters Guide, a set of polyhedral dice, and a pen and paper. Conceivably you could conduct limitless campaigns with just this tool and the application of some imagination. If you are new to old school D&D, or you have simply never seen or used this resource I highly recommend it. Wizards of the Coast reprinted this book in 2013 (I think it was then), thus a new copy can be acquired reasonably cheaply. Alternatively pick up an old copy for $5-10 on Ebay. In my opinion it is a systemless tool - thus whether you are playing AD&D, Labyrinth Lord, Lamentations of the Flame Princess or 5th Edition D&D, you'll find something to assist with the construction of your underworlds. As always: happy gaming!