I mentioned the other day I’ve been digging through the 1e DMG.

Yesterday I used the random dungeon generator to fill up some graph paper. It was an interesting experience. Mister Gygax certainly did like his 45 degree angles, didn’t he? I’ll admit that it did make for some good head-scratching moments while I tried to find out what was meant by ‘check for secret doors.’

I know what it means when the players check for secret doors, what I couldn’t find was any indication as to a table or sub-table ‘check for secret doors.’ After getting stuck a couple times I decided to just sprinkle secret doors wherever I felt like putting one — it certainly tickled my designer’s fancy.

I’ve also been replaying Atari’s Temple of Elemental Evil. Good delvin’, that. Really, this has me wondering about some things. Hot-button issues that are discussed to this day.

Issues like, light sources. It was only after our group had moved on past 4e that I heard about the ‘travesty of sunrods.’ Something about how they really cheap and illuminated like, 20 squares in every direction.

I haven’t really been a stickler for light, pretty much ever. But around the time I learned of this, I understood enough of the situation that even if I hadn’t been aware of it, I could sympathize.

This morning I read an article posted by Arnold K. over at Goblin Punch, “Keep Dungeon Threats Threatening.” There’s some good thoughts in that post, I recommend checking it out. This in particular, caught my attention:

“If light removes the threat of darkness, water-breathing removes the threat of drowning, and flight removes the threat of falling into a pit, what is left?”

Arnold K. likens the inclusion of darkvision, water-breathing, and flight effects to giving a player, ‘armor of damage immunity.’ And I get it.

I can understand why the need to keep effects like these rare and powerful is so important — I can understand why they’re comparable to say, ‘keeping the map hidden from the players’ — leaving navigation in the hands of the players.

One of the articles I referenced in my research paper was Courtney Campbell’s, “On Gameplay in the Megadungeon” (Hack & Slash) which highlights the importance of mapping and loot extraction to dungeon crawling.

If a character’s capacity to lug loot around is integral to the dungeon-crawl experience, aren’t spells like floating disc or objects like the bag of holding similar game-changers? They’re a kind of “challenge bypass.”

This thought-train takes me to: “The True Genius of Dark Souls 2 – How to Approach Game Difficulty,” an episode of Extra Credits from last November.

In “The True Genius of Dark Souls 2,” Extra Credits discusses how different weapons are designed to allow players to ‘adjust the game’s difficulty’ to suit play style. If a player went with melee weapons, it’s because they wanted to roll and dodge and parry. They had consciously chosen the game’s “hard mode.”

By contrast, a player who used ranged weapons or spells was choosing a less-difficult game mode. Ranged weapons and spells reduce the difficulty of the game and reward diligence and patience instead.

This extends to the “Ring of Sacrifice” magic item. Dark Souls has a punishing death mechanic, and the Ring of Sacrifice allows for what Extra Credits calls a “mechanics swap,” where the player makes an upfront investment to avoid a major loss. It’s uncomfortably similar to buying insurance.

It seems to me like darkvision, water-breathing, floating discs, bags of holding, and other items actually are very important to the game, though they need to be carefully flagged as game-changing objects. It’s important, should they be included in the game — that they serve a vital function.

You have to reward a player for preparing water-breathing by providing them with bodies of water to navigate and explore. The sheer number of possibilities though, means there needs to be a codified list somehow — of delve elements. This is what you want to consider for modular dungeon design.

Feather Fall is important in places where there are pit traps. Water Breathing is important in submerged dungeons. You don’t want to punish player preparation, and you have to be careful not to negate the rewards of preparation by giving hand-outs. Players have to be able to use their preparation.

I think the community ought to be able to ‘tag’ adventures, modules, and maps with the elements present in a delve, so that known and recognized elements can be well-understood and prepared for by GMs and players alike. I think there’s broad-strokes work to be done, but a list would be a good place to start.


Works Cited

Campbell, Courtney. “On Gameplay in the Megadungeon.” Web log post. Hack & Slash. 4 Feb. 2013. Web. 15 May 2015.

Gygax, Gary. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Dungeon Master’s Guide. TSR Games, 1979. Print.

Heinsoo, Rob, Andy Collins, and James Wyatt. Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook: Arcane, Divine, and Martial Heroes. Wizards of the Coast, 2008. Print.

K, Arnold. “Keep Dungeon Threats Threatening.” Web log post. Goblin Punch. 14 May 2015. Web. 15 May 2015.

“The True Genius of Dark Souls II – How to Approach Game Difficulty.” By James Portnow. Perf. Daniel Floyd. Extra Credits, 26 Nov. 2014. Web. 15 May 2015.

Troika Games. The Temple of Elemental Evil. Computer software. Atari, 16 Sept. 2003. Web. 15 May 2015.