Friday, January 13, 2012

DMG Sample Dungeon Part 1: Background

It should be no secret by now that I like to analyze the crap out of esoteric stuff that only a few members of our species care about (see The Restenford Project as further evidence), but that's kind of what the OSR blogosphere is all about, right? No, you say? My mistake.

Class, please turn to page 95 of your Dungeon Masters Guide.
Anyway, the latest object of my obsession is, if you haven't guessed already, the sample dungeon provided in "The Campaign" section of EGG's DMG beginning on page 94.  As you're probably aware the sample dungeon included a map of a single "dungeon" level and a write up detailing the first few rooms along with a smattering of background information that indicates that the dungeon is beneath the ruins of an abandoned abbey.

To describe the sample dungeon as "unfinished" would be an understatement; on appearances, this thing was barely even started.  But even in the tiny amount of material provided there is a wealth of detail that will help the obsessive DM to extrapolate an entire adventure out of this tiny fosselized finger bone of a dungeon.  In today's edition, I intend to dig into the background information found primarily in the first three paragraphs of the "The First Dungeon Adventure" section on page 96.


Rumor has it that "something strange and terrible lurks in the abandoned monastery" located in a fen outside of town.  The monastery was sacked sometime in the past and now lies in ruin, but we know not the identity or the incentive of either the monks who lived there or the marauders.  Was the abbey a warren of  heretics besieged by their own papal leader--a monastery gone wicked?  Or were they the last true believers brought to ruin to erase the shame of the fallen majority?  Or was it something entirely different?

There is another rumor circulating, though somewhat less well known--that there is treasure to be had as well:
"A huge fire opal which the abbot of the place is said to have hidden when the monastery was under siege... the fellow died, according to legend, before revealing it to anyone, so somewhere within the ruins lies a fortune."  
Always good to know.  But this could be more than just a potentially apocryphal tale to induce adventurers to explore the region; this could be evidence that avarice had overtaken the monks and they had deviated from their monastic cause. 

A "two mile trek along a seldom used road" brings the party to the edge of the fen.  There is a  causeway to a low mound on which lie the ruins of the monastery--sounds reminiscent of the approach to the moat house in T1.  A few tamaracks grow sporadically on hillocks that barely rise above the mire of the swamp.  There is also a "fairly dense cluster" of tamaracks and "brush" about "a half mile beyond the abandoned place" indicating another area of high ground nearby.  There is no hint as to the significance of this "cluster" in the abbreviated text of the dungeon, but it seems unlikely that such a detail would have been included without some significance given to the matter. Perhaps it was once linked via underground tunnels to the monastery grounds? Just something to consider if you're re-creating this dungeon for your own use.

Also: It may be worth noting that tamaracks are unique among coniferous trees in that they lose their needles in the winter; an adaptation that makes them the most cold-hardy of trees.  Which is to say we're probably talking about a boreal climate here. If you want to move this thing to a warmer clime you might want to change the trees to mangroves or cypress.

That's all for today but pack your gear folks cuz tomorrow--I use that term loosely--we'll be searching the ruins. Kind of feels like a real adventure, right?

Gygax, G. Dungeon Masters Guide.  Lake Geneva, WI: TSR Games, 1979


Anonymous said...



Timrod said...

@Anonymous: You raise a valid point; there are other, less insidious reasons that the Abbot might be holding the Fire Opal.

grodog said...

Looking forward to the rest of your excavations, Timrod!---there's a lot that can be learned from the few pages of text that Gary provided :D


Zenopus Archives said...

Great idea for a series.

The wilderness map for B2 has a tamarack (larch) stand where the spiders live. I'd wondered if Gygax or the cartographer (DCS) had included this detail (not mentioned in the text), but based on the above it surely was Gygax. I wonder if they are common around Lake Geneva or the Wisconsin wilderness?

Timrod said...

Nice connection! I'm not a midwesterner, but I'd guess that Larches are probably fairly common in northern Wisco if not the Lake G. area. Also, found this on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website:

Which seems to indicate that Larches are especially prominent in swampy areas like our little sample dungeon here.

Zenopus Archives said...

There is no hint as to the significance of this "cluster" in the abbreviated text of the dungeon, but it seems unlikely that such a detail would have been included without some significance given to the matter. Perhaps it was once linked via underground tunnels to the monastery grounds?

After reading the material again, I suspect that the "secret entrance/exit from the place" is probably hidden in this cluster. This exit is mentioned in the description of the large-scale area map two paragraphs below the one describing the dense cluster of growth. I would also guess that this secret exit connects to the stairs going up in area 39 of the crypts, which in the same direction (south). These stairs only go up 20 feet, whereas the ones coming in went down 30 feet, so they could lead to a tunnel 10' under the surface that leads further south. The entire crypt area is secret from the monastery cellars, so it would make sense if it connected to a secret exit from the place. The evil cleric and hobgoblins in area 35-37 may be using the secret exit to come and go from the dungeon, particularly since the secret door in area 3 seems difficult to traverse.

grodog said...
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grodog said...

(subscribing, nothing to see here).