Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Campaign Dungeons in 1980

I've often heard that Campaign Dungeons were on the way out by the time EGG was working on AD&D.  Recently, two things have made me come to question this idea.  One, which I will post on later, is the advice for dungeoneering on page 107-109 of the PHB.  The other is this line in the Monster & Treasure Assortment Sets 1-3. Emphasis mine.

"... these assorted monsters and treasures are aimed at making the DM's task a lighter one when it comes to readying the major dungeon in which most of his players' Underworld Adventures will take place."

Based on the copyright date on my copy, and a quick Google search, I believe this was published in 1980, making it one year after AD&D.  Someone will no doubt correct me if this date is erroneous.  It is interesting to me to see that this idea was still present, and indeed assumed, during this time even though some internet commentators have said otherwise.

Not really that revolutionary of a post, but it sort of stuck out at me tonight.


  1. If I had to try and pinpoint a time when dungeons started becoming less of a priority, I pick whatever date the first Dragonlance module was released.

  2. I knew "dungeons" were big until then, but what is weird here -- to me -- is the idea that there is one, big dungeon that is expected to take up most of the character's time.

    A megadungeon if you will.

    Maybe I'm the only one who never thought of this, but I doubt it.

  3. I got the impression that the M&T book was written before AD&D, though. The stats seem to be a kind of Holmes/AD&D mashup.

  4. After doing a bit more digging around I discovered the first part was printed in 1977, and the collected version was printed in 1980. That would me an that, yes, it is pre-AD&D, but pretty late in the OD&D/Holmes timeline.

    I'm partially reacting to a sentiment I've seen more among new schoolers than in the OSR. I've often seen it said on the Big Purple and like minded places that megadungeons are a pointless exercise that even Gary "grew out of" by the late 70s. My point was that it seems to still be the assumption even until 1980.

    Maybe I'm wrong (wouldn't be the first time).

  5. ...megadungeons are a pointless exercise...

    As a series of essentially random encounters, with disparate monsters, inexplicable treasures, and no goal other than pillage and plunder for the purpose of level advancement, I concur.

    But in my (limited) experience, megadungeons remained, albeit in a more deliberate state. For example, the LBB seem to advocate what I'll call an undisciplined approach to "stocking" a dungeon, with basically no regard to who created the structure or why it was overrun with monsters.

    By the time of Moldvay Basic, the "process" for creating and stocking a dungeon was markedly refined. Moldvay suggested starting the dungeon creation process with a goal (rescue, exploration, fighting evil, etc.), adding "foundational" monsters, and generally tying the whole thing together.

    Either approach allowed for multiple levels and grand scale, but I submit Moldvay's was more cohesive, the lack of which may have relegated the traditional "megadungeon" to some disfavour (or, at least, give cause for redefining what made a megadungeon tenable in the campaign).


  6. As early as the first couple issues of Dragon, DMs were already incorporating greater verisimilitude and story into their dungeon designs. Best of The Dragon vol. 1 (sorry, don't know the issue # from TD) has an article titled "Let There Be a Method to Your Madness", which was actually written for OD&D before AD&D was published, arguing for conceptualizing the origin, purpose, and history of your dungeon first; a top-down design strategy.

    I do think that the megadungeon as a central pillar of play did gradually wane, but remember that there was a lot of regional variation in play around the country (and the world, for that matter). I think that the modules TSR started publishing, even prior to Dragonlance, were part of that.