Friday, August 12, 2011

What do you think it says?

click to embiggen

I'm not the first person to post this picture or to notice the oddness of his key.  Rob Conley has discussed minimalist dungeon keys before and my notes more or less look like what he describes, but they're verbose compared to what Gygax has in front of him there.  So my question to you is, what the hell could those say that would allow him to run the whole level?

this blowup doesn't help

It's interesting to note that he more or less does what I've been doing with Nightwick Abbey: he fills a sheet of graph paper full of rooms and corridors until they won't fit anymore.  Mine isn't quite as crowded, but it looks like more or less the same scale of graph paper (6 to 1").  This makes the fact that he can run it with so little even more perplexing to me.

Someone in the comments of one of Jeff's old posts suggested that those maps -- which are very similar and also from Gygax's hand -- might only list "important rooms" but that seems strange to me since it's not like this is In Search of the Unknown where the DM is expected to fill out the rest.  This is it being run by a DM.

On a tangentially related note, I've been working on some new maps for Nightwick Abbey and I'll try to post some pictures of the first three levels in the next few days.


  1. Some thoughts:

    1. Some rooms are not numbered. (which you mentioned.)
    2. Some rooms appear to have the same number.
    3. Gary probably didn't need monster stats. Or trap stats. Just a name.
    4. The rest is in his head.


    - Ark

  2. I think the notes are his to do list, including a list of things he needed to pick up at the store.

  3. It seems likely to me that either (1) there are more than one page of key notes (he's just looking at the page covering the area the PCs are in) or (2) the key is something he's writing up as the PCs explore (I've done that myself with one-one millionth of GG's experience).

    Could those 18 lines be some sort of algorithm for stocking what looks like scores of rooms and passages? I always had the impression Gary tended to pre-plan more than that but who knows? Can't believe no geeks with access to photo-enhancement technology have tried to enhance the "focus" on this photo, or track down the original photo...

  4. My notes are (I'm told) similar in form and function to Gary's. For example:

    Room 1: 10x15ft. Poor Bedroom. Vandalised. Rotting Corpse of male servent. 6gp in pouch inside mattress. 1 Orc looking for loot.

    Room 2: 10X10. Typical Pantry. Broken Shelves. 2 giant rats eating mouldy flour.

    Special A: Tripwire in Corridor. Attatched to rusty knifes and sword splinter hidden behind hunting-scene tapestry. Alerts Rooms 3, 4, 6.


  5. @mikemonaco - Oooh - like in Bladerunner! Where is Harrison Ford when you need him.

    - Ark

  6. @ Dangerous Brian

    Outside of specials mine usually just say

    1) 5 Orcs HP 3;4;8;1;6
    Treasure: 10gp

    unless it's a special. He seems to have some kind of one sentence notes that apply to a whole suite of rooms.

  7. Some DM's will just key the special rooms and run the rest of a megadungeon on the fly. After decades of experience, Gary could certainly have pulled it off with minimal notes.

  8. I'm with James. I don't have a Gygax level of mastery, but with my suite of javascript tables I can fake it pretty well.

  9. Gygax claimed he liked to just "wing it" a lot of the time anyway, so he undoubtedly was comfortable with just the barest framework. This isn't anything he was writing for someone else to use, so I'd assume 90% of what made it interesting was kept in his head anyway.

    I'm guessing if we saw the keys for some of the more famous Greyhawk encounters (stone face, black reservoir, etc...), they would just be a line or two as well.

  10. You don't need paragraph after paragraph for each room in a dungeon. You can get by on a line for a room or type of room.

    an entry like:
    7. Orc Den, 2-7 Orcs HD1, AC:6, At:1d6, 1d20gp each
    can cover a lot of rooms.


    2. is Golems?

    pink/red? dot is followed by "sleep"? and definitely "trap"

    green dot is followed by "nexus" teleport?


    top says Vault? Map

    flattening the picture is easy enough, but getting the highlights & shadows balanced to enhance the letters is tedious.