Friday, July 30, 2021

Random Roll: PHB, p. 101

Page 101 of the AD&D Players Handbook contains a long section entitled "The Adventure," in which Gary Gygax the "three major types" of locales in which player characters might find adventure, namely the dungeon, the wilderness, and the town. He then discusses each of these locales separately, highlighting not only what makes them unique but what a character venturing into them ought to consider before doing so. Though his comments on each are short, I think they're nonetheless worthy of a closer look.
Adventures into underworld mazes are the most popular. The party equips itself and sets off to enter and explore the dungeons of some castle, temple or whatever. Light sources, poles for probing, rope, spikes, and like equipment are the main tools for such activity.

I think the equipment Gygax mentions by name is telling: not weapons or armor but torches, poles, rope, and spikes. This is indeed an "expedition," as he terms it elsewhere, one on the model of archeological excavations or perhaps the Victorian adventure tales of H. Rider Haggard (or even "The Tower of the Elephant").

And since none of the party will know the dungeon's twists and turns, one or more of the adventurers will have to keep a record, a map, of where the party has been. Thus you will be able to find your way out and return for yet more adventuring. As you party is exploring and mapping, movement will be slow, and it is wise to have both front and rear guards.

Do RPG campaigns regularly include a mapper anymore? In my youth, it went without saying that someone should be keeping a map. Otherwise, as Gygax says, how would you find your way out again – or, just as importantly, take note of unusual features that suggested there might be hidden chambers nearby? In my House of Worms campaign, the players are blessed to have a professional cartographer in their company, but, even if they didn't, I'm pretty sure they'd keep track of the underworlds they explore.

In the dungeons will be chambers and rooms – some inhabited, some empty; there will be traps to catch those unaware, tricks to fool the unwise, monsters lurking to devour the unwary. The rewards, however, are great – gold, gems, and magic items. Obtaining these will make you better able to prepare for further expeditions, more adept in your chosen profession, more powerful in all respects. All that is necessary is to find your way in and out, to meet and defeat the guardians of the treasures, to carry out the wealth …

That's a very succinct way of describing the gameplay of Dungeons & Dragons, don't you think? More than that, it also draws our attention to the things Gygax considered the essential elements of a dungeon: rooms (including empty ones), monsters, treasure, traps, and tricks – a good list!

Adventuring into unknown lands or howling wilderness is extremely perilous at best, for large bands of men, and worse, might roam the area; there are dens of monsters, and trackless wastes to contend with. 

The wilderness is where Gygaxian naturalism lives – literally – hence the following admonitions:

Protected expeditions are, therefore, normally undertaken by higher level characters. Forays of limited duration are possible even for characters new to adventuring, and your DM might suggest that your party do some local exploration – perhaps to find some ruins which are the site of a dungeon or to find a friendly clan of dwarves, etc.

One "problem" with D&D, it's that the wilderness surrounding a dungeon is frequently far more dangerous than the dungeon itself, given the lack of an artificial level-based framework for assessing threat to the characters. Gygax's comments here remind us of that.

Mounts are necessary, of course, as well as supplies, missile weapons, and the standard map-making equipment. Travel will be at a slow rate in unknown areas, for your party will be exploring, looking for foes to overcome, and searching for new finds of lost temples, dungeons, and the like. 

Once again, mapping and slowness are mentioned – but then D&D is primarily a game of exploration. Nevertheless, Gygax quickly notes that that's not all the game is about.

Cities, towns, and sometimes even large villages provide the setting for highly interesting, informative, and often hazardous affairs and incidents. Even becoming an active character in a campaign typically requires interaction with the populace of the habitation, location quarters, buying supplies and equipment, seeking information. 

Though not intended as such, these sentences could serve as a rebuke of critics who deride D&D as a purely "hack 'n slash" game. Some of my favorite moments in D&D (and other RPGs) have arisen from interactions with NPCs in a settlement as the characters sought out rumors, lodging, or equipment. 

These same interactions in a completely strange town require forethought and skill. Care must be taken in all one says and does. Questions about rank, profession, god and alignment are perilous, and use of an alignment tongue is socially repulsive in most places.  

Everything Gygax says here demonstrates the need for the creation of a social structure and culture for the campaign setting. Without these, there can be no context for adventures and many opportunities for fun interactions will be missed.

There are usually beggars, bandits, and drunks to be dealt with; greedy and grasping merchants and informants to do business with; inquiring officials or suspicious guards to be answered. The taverns house many potential helpful or useful characters, but they also contain clever and dangerous adversaries. Then there are the unlit streets and alleys of the city after dark … 

If this section has made anything clear, it's that, in a good campaign, adventures can be found anywhere.  


  1. “Do RPG campaigns regularly include a mapper anymore?”

    The last year or two I’ve ONLY been running games for my family (a son, daughter, and…occasionally…my non-gamer wife). When entering a dungeon, they ALL are inclined to grab a piece of paper and start scratching out a map. For them (I think) it’s akin to note taking, helping their memory and their visualization of the environment/scenario. It’s not something I’ve asked/told them to do…it’s something that they’ve chosen and that makes THEM feel safer (I suppose).


  2. Though we had mapping on occasion in my group of 5 players/DMs, it really depended on what type of dungeons we were in. We didn't do the megadungeon thing, and the dungeons we did design ourselves were usually small: A Wizards Tower, Ruined Keep, Island Temple, a level underneath a graveyard, etc. The "map" we made as players was never elaborate, just lines and boxes with some notes scribbled on regular lined paper. The only times I recall anyone doing serious mapping was when we would play a published module because the dungeons were much bigger than our own. But I think most of us hated that aspect (I know for my own part, I often dissected published adventures to small chunks or areas, and eliminated what I would call "filler"..)

    I did know of some groups who played bigger dungeons all the time and needed someone to map and who used graph paper, but I only usually played those types of games as a fill-in player or such at the afterschool or library club games. Large dungeons and roaming around them for session after session bored me to tears (still does). Strangely enough, I am fascinated reading about gameplay of those original big dungeons.

    1. Personally, I’ve almost always showed players the maps, mostly because I like drawing maps! And in a grid-based version of D&D like 5e it’s helpful to have premade maps ready. Tho it can lead to some ‘meta’ frictions… I remember once I had set the PCs up for this very deadly encounter, and after I unrolled the big prepared sheet of illustrated graph paper most of the party decided to run away.. but one guy (nicely) said “c’mon guys! He drew this whole map!” XD

      I did run one maze game (The God That Crawls for Lotfp) where the whole point was getting lost so I didn’t draw a map for the players. But mostly, I draw them,

      FWIW I also think that fhe existence of super easy to use automated illustrated maps on things like Roll20 contributes to the why-bother-mapping thing.

  3. 'One "problem" with D&D, it's that the wilderness surrounding a dungeon is frequently far more dangerous than the dungeon itself, given the lack of an artificial level-based framework for assessing threat to the characters.'

    To address that in my campaign (centered on B2's Keep, to the west of which is civilization, and to the north, south, and east is howling wilderness), I have made it that the farther one pushes into the wilderness, the more dangerous are the monsters. Like this:

    deeper into the dungeons = the more dangerous the monsters
    farther into the wilderness = the more dangerous the monsters

    1. Yep, I was just thinking about "Mike's World" when I read that quote. Your concentric circles of danger is pretty great.
      : )

    2. I was going to post about that, but figured Geoffrey would himself as he had on the other post. It's a brilliant strategy for developing a campaign setting, and works wonderfully with Mike's World.

  4. I am right with you on town encounters being a proper part of the game. It is vexing to me that most of the B/X retro-clones decline to address this ... even BFRPG doensn't go there.

    1. Hmm. Cursory research informs me "urban" encounters have never been part of the Basic line rules sets. I suspect that's part of the demarcation zone ... Basic can follow precedents from OD&D but can't step into topics created for Advanced. Alas.

  5. We always had a mapper (and in the retro B/X campaign I am intermittently running, still do).

    It takes a common set of terms between the DM and the players to quickly and accurately communicate what they are seeing, but the rewards are great.

    For the players, keeping an accurate map can reveal the location of likely secret doors and can be a great help in understand the shape of the dungeon.

    'If we go down that hallway and turn left I reckon it will link up here.'

    For the DM, the chaos that ensues if a map turns out to be wrong -- or is lost -- makes for memorable, memorable gaming.

  6. When it comes to maps they are important for a few things to work.
    A RAW issue would be that it doesn't make any sense to say mapping is impossible when fleeing an encounter. If the DM just point to the open map and say "you are here now" what's the big trouble?
    A teleporter trap that the party will not even know teleportet them will be revealed instantly by the DM when he tells them they are somewhere else now.
    There are many other issues if exploration is a feature in the game being run.
    And players don't have to make presise maps at all. They just need to make maps that work. Are the PCs really measuring it all? Don't give them a squared paper. That's for the DM.

    1. It doesn't make sense to map while running because mapping in AD&D involves pacing everything out; hence the slow movement associated with mapping.

      If the party remembers what the DM drew on the battlemat, or the twists and turns as they flee, good for them, but I won't draw out the whole dungeon for them as they flee (I will, quickly describe what they see).

  7. I guess I find the idea of showing players the GM's map to be heretical; certainly in the context of an old-school D+D adventure (or any other similar genre game, like TFT). I will display to the players what they actively see in the moment, as that can be more time efficient and direct than sticking with totally verbal information. But I feel like anything you can't actively see you need to either hold the map in your head (some people have better spatial memory than others) or draw one as you go. And I don't let people mark their maps while they are running or fighting - if you can remember enough to recreate it later when you have a minute to rest fine, but pencils down while you run!