While browsing the local bookstore the other day, I came across the Dungeon Survival Guide, a fairly new D&D release. (Yes, the wife and I periodically trade baby-care duties long enough to let each other take short sanity breaks at the local bookstore. Sooner or later the bookstore owner will realize that our book-buying money is now going entirely into the Baby Formula fund, and he’ll be less pleased to see us walk through the door.)
Where was I? Oh, yes: the Dungeon Survival Guide. Now this is a perfect idea for a D&D book, in my mind: a coffee-table style retrospective on 30+ years of great D&D dungeons. There are so many classic dungeons and modules in D&D’s history that you could easily fill a full-size book with lovingly nostalgic memories of them.
Unfortunately the actual Dungeon Survival Guide as published doesn’t seem to be quite what I would have hoped for it. But the idea is so fun, I just can’t let it go. Here’s what I would’ve done with this book had I been in charge of writing/editing it:
- Pick 10-15 classic D&D dungeons, from all three editions of the game, to feature. Some of these would be chosen by the D&D team and others would be selected based on a poll of D&D gamers. I’d make sure that a few little-known gems were featured alongside the predictable classics like the Tomb of Horrors and the Temple of Elemental Evil.
- Get designer’s notes for each dungeon (assuming the author is still alive and willing). What inspired them to create their dungeon? Was it to showcase a particular monster? Make use of a hitherto-unused environment or setting? Kill off as many adventurers as possible? I’d love to hear reflections and anecdotes about these dungeons straight from the creators themselves.
- Get actual-play accounts from D&D players who actually played or GM’d each dungeon. What was memorable about playing through the dungeon? What off-the-wall tricks or strategies did their party use to survive? Or did their party get wiped out—and if so, by what?
- Show us the cool parts of the dungeon! Give us details and stats for the most memorable encounters, scenes, or monsters from the dungeon. If space allows, give us the entire dungeon floor plan with key encounters described! Did the dungeon have a particularly memorable final boss battle? A really clever series of deathtraps? A bizarre environment with strange new monsters to go along with it? I wan to see ’em! I may never run my players through White Plume Mountain, but I’d love to see what encounters, traps, and opponents made it so classic—so I can borrow them or use them as inspiration for my own games. Guidelines for incorporating these encounters into the latest edition of D&D would be useful too.
The last item is the most important—as much fun as it would be to read accounts from the dungeon creators and players, what I’d really want to see is the specific encounters and dungeon elements that separated these classic dungeons from the hundreds of non-classics. I suppose what I’m describing is closer to a “D&D greatest hits compendium,” with a bit of flavor commentary on the side. Surely there are enough noteworthy dungeon elements from D&D’s long and colored history to make one heck of a useful grab-bag book for DMs.
Maybe the Dungeon Survival Guide does some or all of those things. I don’t know because the money I might’ve spent on it went into this week’s supply of Pampers. But if not, maybe somebody else will come along one day and make the D&D Greatest Hits book that I’m looking for.by
Sounds like a great idea. I’d nominate the old Baltron’s Beacon module (1980’s TSR). It was great fun.
I’ve not played that one, but I’ll check it out!
My nomination would be “Nightmare Keep,” from the late ’80s TSR I believe. High-level dungeon, very memorable encounters and environments, absolutely brutal.
I don’t know that one (at least I don’t think so….my current DM reinvents/reuses/retools a lot of the old classics, but we don’t always know when that is…..).
I will have to check it out.
I looked through the book at length today, and I have to say it seemed really cool. Not only does it detail dungeons, but it also sketches out many iconic D&D items, places and conventions. The book seems ideal for bringing novices into the hobby, as it focuses on what makes D&D cool without going into extreme depth. So the Hand and Eye of Vecna get half a page, the Tomb of Horrors gets two pages, etc. All the stuff that makes dungeons so interesting and compelling is presented succinctly.
Granted, it has its problems, mainly that it doesn’t feel “meaty” enough. For example, the art is good and well used, but most of it is from the DMG, PH or MM. Again, this makes me think that this book is intended for someone just starting D&D or trying to see what this “roleplaying” thing is all about. Also, the book is noticeably devoid of stats as well as rules, which make it of questionable value at an actual game. With so little content, almost none of it original, I find myself hard-pressed to justify spending $20.
So, in summary, a stellar idea for a gamebook, but it needs to be either twice as long, or cost half as much before I’ll consider buying it.