Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Dungeon Geomorphs is quite clearly intended as an aid to the referee in quickly creating new dungeon levels, much like the Monsters & Treasure Assortment. It includes 48 pages of traditional blue and white maps, each of which is divided into square and rectangular sections (30 of the form and 15 of the latter). Some of these maps feature typical dungeons, while others feature caves and caverns. When cut apart, the maps can be easily connected to one another in almost any combination to create large maps on the fly. I say "almost" because nearly every combination results in at least a few dead end corridors or passages, but their presence may be the result of dungeon design philosophy as much as more immediate, practical considerations. Old school dungeons frequently included dead ends to delay and confuse players as their characters explored. It's a feature that's not so common anymore and one that I admit I had to remind myself of when designing Dwimmermount's levels for my own campaign.
Dungeon Geomorphs was designed by Gary Gygax and his son Ernie and was, I suspect, something of a throwback product even by 1981. Though I owned and liked Dungeon Geomorphs, I cannot recall ever using it to create a truly huge dungeon map. More often I'd take a section or two to expand upon an existing map I felt too small or I'd use it to quickly build a monster lair encountered in the wilderness. Nearly all of the sample dungeons and modules I'd seen in official TSR publications or in the pages of Dragon were fairly small affairs, with about 30-40 rooms per level (at most). Most of these dungeons rarely had more than two or three levels. I doubt I was alone in having a limited view of what a "dungeon" consisted of than did those purchasing this product in its original releases.
As the years crept on, dungeons kept getting smaller and smaller, with rare exceptions, thus making products like this curiosities rather than essential tools for the referee running a D&D campaign. Fortunately, that's changing. Megadungeons -- and geomorphs -- have made something of a comeback in recent years, thanks in no small part to the old school renaissance's resurrection of this ancient birthplace of the hobby as a vibrant locale for adventure. A good place to look for modern day geomorphs is at the excellent Dave's Mapper site, which gives contemporary referees everything they need to create a massive dungeon in seconds.