Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Exploring the Dungeon

Last month, as you may recall, I was reminded of the 1981 art book, Down in the Dungeon, that a childhood friend's older brother owned and so inspired us kids back then. As I said in my original, I never owned a copy of the thing myself, something I set out to rectify through the wonders of eBay. Today, I received the treasured volume in the mail and have been looking it over with great enjoyment; it's a nostalgia rush the likes of which I've not had in a very long time.

Anyway, I was particularly struck by the book's introduction, an image of which appears below:

I hope the text is legible to most readers' eyes. In case it isn't, the part that struck me was the last paragraph, which reads:
We stumbled upon Zarakan's Dungeon quite by accident while on a camping trip in the Southwestern United States. The following are some friends, enemies and situations we encountered while briefly exploring a small section of Zarakan's lair.
Maybe I've completed my transformation into a silly old man, I don't know, but that paragraph really hit home with me. The way it's written, as if Don Greer and Rob Stern had actually discovered Zarakan's Dungeon while on a camping trip rang true for me, because, as a kid, I felt the same way about Quasqueton, Twilight's Peak, R'lyeh and many other places. Sure, my friends and I never physically explored those places, but we explored them just the same and our explorations of them affected me as strongly as my explorations of many real world locales.

For a lot of non-gamers, what I just wrote is simply crazy-talk. I certainly hope that anyone who's here and reading this entry understands what I'm saying, though. Imagined places may not exist, they may not be real in the common sense usage of the term, but that doesn't mean our experiences of them are mere fancy without any value. We may instinctively laugh at the guy who claims, "I didn't spend all those years playing Dungeons & Dragons and not learn a little something about courage" and yet, there is a sense in which that guy speaks the truth. I wouldn't hesitate to admit that I'm a better person for having spent a large part of my youth imagining myself to be one of many characters in several imaginary worlds.

Roleplaying has taught me a lot over the years, just as I am sure it's taught others. I see no reason why anyone should be ashamed to admit this. Indeed, I might go so far as to say that, as roleplayers, we do our hobby a disservice by not emphasizing this point about ourselves and the games we play. Indeed, I think it's this aspect of tabletop gaming that so strongly differentiates it from its electronic by-blows. We need to do a better job of promoting this fact.


  1. Reading that introduction made me a little teary eyed, nostalgic for a past that isn't mine, and inspired. Fight on!

  2. That sort of makes me think of the quite recent The World Below comic.

    I also think of the old fortifications and old empty ammunition storages hewn to rock near my home and how much more fun exploring them with friends as kid was after becoming familiar with Dungeons & Dragons, Heroquest and Fighting Fantasy.

  3. That introduction is just awesome.

  4. "That sort of makes me think of the quite recent The World Below comic."

    Never heard of this so I looked it up on Amazon, looked awesome, so I bought it. Thanks.

  5. So James, you're saying that role-playing...

    builds character?

    (laughs like a drain at his own pun)

  6. Crazy talk? Try telling that to the Kobolds in the caves of chaos...

  7. What I really like is the idea of a dungeon- that it has different properties than a typical hole in the ground. True Dungeons in their description seem to defy the laws of time and space and are centered around the presence of very powerful demons or other powerful forces. I think some others have covered that in our sphere of grognards.

  8. It's sad (to me), that many of today's gamers would see this as "crazy talk." Boy, it sure IS a different age...

  9. I picked up this book back in the day, and I still have it. :) Man orcs at work. Man orcs at play. ;) Nice stroll down memory lane.

  10. this sort of links up with henri corbin's concept of the imaginal world that he based on sufi concepts of spirituality, doesn't it? the idea that completely "imaginary" worlds can directly effect the manner in which we behave and think of our own seems to be a nearly direct link, and its something that i've worked to bring out in games that i gm for years now. also, it's something that no mechanized form of rpg seems to be able to perform as effectively--i don't feel as though i know or understand the worlds of any of the computer rpgs i've ever played nearly as well as i understand tekumel or glorantha, and they can't be customized to help teach me things that i can apply in real world dynamics nearly as well.

  11. Wow - this post brings back memories. I bought this book when it came back way back when and was so inspired by it that I actually wrote up a dungeon and drew maps for it that were pretty darned close to the 3D drawing of the complex (close enough for copyright infringement most likely).

    I was digging through my old rpg stuff last summer and not only found the old book but the old dungeon as well. One of these days I'll get around to scanning it in and posting it online somewhere.

  12. I drew up and stocked a 1st Edition D&D dungeon based on this book a long time ago. I'll post it online someday. It was an inspiring book for a young dungeon master without a doubt.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.