Saturday, October 16, 2010

Saturday Night Specials

I think most Old Schoolers are familiar with the term originated by M. A. R. Barker to describe special encounters within the Campaign Dungeon.  I believe later stocking tables refer to them simply as "specials."

I've hit a bit of a snag in designing my current project.  So, I ask you: how do you come up with Saturday Night Specials for your own dungeons?  How many do you think should be on a given level (assume a level is c. 100 rooms)?  How many of them are crazy monsters and how many of them are simply weird illusions or whatnot?  Do you make sure to place them before hand, or keep them in your pocket for when a session starts to wear down?


  1. Great question. I am a huge fan of weaving them in myself, tending to think "well since you guys managed to schelp yourselves all the way over to the dungeon without getting yourselves killed in the process (this time) here are a buncha crazy things to enjoy."

    Thus my own dungeons are probably on the high end, maybe upwards of three or four really unusual areas in each level. But then my dungeons tend also to be quite dense with high proportions of close mostly empty rooms grouped together, so maybe it works out to be a bit more dispersed than I think.

  2. Moldvay's answer is 16 or 17 in a 100 room level. It's a lot, but I keep most of my specials not-too-involved, it's mostly just flavor stuff with only a few really whacky ones.

  3. @ Pat

    Mentzer works out about the same, but he also notes that secret doors are specials, which reduces the real number significantly.

  4. I've been carrying a notebook with me on the subway every day, jotting down random ideas for 'specials' and traps.

    Lots of them are recently ways to reveal a hidden treasure, or puzzles that open doors (or secret doors).

    I don't count all secret doors as 'specials.' If it's something they can find and simply open if they search in the right place, then it's not a special. If it takes work to find AND work to open, I count it as a special.

    Mentzer also says passages up or down a level count as 'specials' as well, but I don't consider every room with a stairway to be a special, only elevator/chute/teleporter/whatever things that may send you to another level inadvertently.

  5. He classifies those separately, but Mentzer's kinda weird. I don't have Moldvay or Holmes though so I can't compare.