Monday, September 17, 2012

Moathouse Monday: Structural matters

A while back I was doing some excavation over at the moathouse for my revised T1-2 Moathouse of Hommlet/Sample Dungeon of Evil Chaos.  As my crew dug out the rubble and cleared the stairway down to the dungeon level, I began to notice that things didn't line up quite right.  For instance, the stairs at 13 run smack into the curtain wall.  And the doorway to the stairs at 8 opens not to the hallway where both the number and the arrangement of the risers would seem to indicate an opening should be but, rather, it opens to the side into room 6 at the mid point of the stairway, by which point the steps are presumably several feet above the floor level.

ABOVE: Curtain walls outlined in magenta, bailey walls in blue
Now we all know that, back in the day, the cartographers of TSR were gleefully insouciant when it came to practical considerations of underground construction, so none of us gave them any grief over these sorts of quirky inconsistencies of structure.  Yet, oddly, the Dungeon directly beneath the moathouse seems to be excessively concerned with structural matters, as manifested in the forest of big, fat, presumably load-bearing columns arranged throughout the level.  There is nary a span of ceiling greater than 20' that is fearless enough to refuse the support of one of these pillars.  And yet, once you descend to the sub-dungeon level, accessible via the secret doors in area 7 and 5, the columns are no more; even though this portion of the dungeon supports a vast and sodden fen on its roof.   

Intrigued by these subtle clues, I decided to pry a bit further to see what other oddities I might find. So I had my CAD guy draw the outline of the curtain walls and the exterior wall of the moathouse (above) and transpose them to the dungeon level below. 

BELOW: Moathouse outlines transposed onto dungeon level
First off, notice that the stairs don't match up.  The stairs from area 13 Above that butted into the wall have now turned completely around in area 1 Below; a much more sensible arrangement to be sure.  And the stairs in the wall of the tower of area 7 Above seem to drop you into the room below from the ceiling of the strangely enlarged area 7 of the dungeon level.  And I'm not even going to get into the wide staircase from the bailey up to the Black Chamber (6 Above).

Although it seems pretty obvious that the dungeon level was intended to fit snugly into the footprint of the moathouse, for some reason the 5 zombie cells in area 4 and Lubash's quarters in 7 have expanded outward.  Why is that?  Could it be because Gygax wanted to make the secret door hidden in the south column of the torture chamber (5) that much harder to find?

Hear me out: If the columns in area 5 were the first columns encountered in the whole place, it wouldn't take an elf to smell something fishy; every old school gamer worth his beard would know something was up and spend the next several rounds/turns/days looking for traps, secret doors and lost lunch money around those pillars; resorting to mining operations if such were necessary.  So he made sure that PCs approaching from either access point to the dungeon level would already be inured to the presence of structural columns; pillars went up roughly every 20' through the level and what once stood out like a sore thumb became just one more finger in a pair of ordinary-looking gloves.

But pillars would look pretty suspicious in a 30' x 30' room (7) and downright tacky in a 10' wide corridor, so in order to accommodate these structural elements in an inconspicuous way, the dungeon engineer expanded  room 7 Below to a 40' x 40' square and widened the zombie corridor to a voluminous 20'  wide hallway at area 4.  The result: a much more pleasing pillar arrangement, but the curtain walls have been undercut and the zombie cells protrude out into the bailey. But, thankfully, fantasy adventure gamers are not too particular about these sorts of things, and no one ever noticed. 

Also of note: the east wing of the dungeon level does not extend all the way to the south curtain wall.  Too bad, because if it had gone that extra 10', there would have been exactly enough room for a sixth zombie cell to accommodate the last, homeless pair of zombies from area 4.  For those not in the know, the encounter at area 4 involves 12 zombies who are lurking in pairs in the chambers off the west side of the corridor.  Of course, anyone familiar with basic arithmetic will quickly notice that there are only enough cells for 10 zombies so arranged.  Some bloggers have taken this misstep and extrapolated vast and exaggerated conspiracy theories regarding the provenance of the V. of H. and other Gygax-penned dungeons, but we shan't deign to acknowledge those wingnuts here.


  1. The missing cell is just one piece of the puzzle! You can't ignore all the evidence! There are PEOPLE trying to cover this up!

  2. Are you sure that they're people?