Wednesday, September 08, 2010

D&D Basic Set part 19

Dungeon Mastering as a Fine Art: This section is a very short primer on what the DM needs to prepare to run the game. There’s not much to discuss here, but I thought I’d bring attention to it just because I love that sub-heading. I’m a firm believer in equality among all the arts, with no distinction between low and high, and there’s no reason that a well-crafted dungeon should be any less valued than a well-crafted sculpture. Like they say, I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like. Is every DM a fine artist? Hell no, but it's something to aspire to.

Oh, and there’s also a little dungeon cross-section you may have heard of. Shall I reproduce it? Who am I to resist such a thing?

Now that is an evocative dungeon layout right there. I’ve been itching to design something for it ever since I first saw it a few years ago, but given the breadth and scope of this current project I’m much more likely to have to steal someone else’s work. Such as this version here, soon to be on sale. Are there any other Skull Mountains out there?

Then Holmes goes on to discuss the distribution of monsters and treasure, and the deadliness of traps. He’s much more forgiving with pit traps than the other rulesets I’ve seen, allowing a 4-in-6 chance that a shallow pit deals no damage. It’s all good advice. There’s even a little bit about role-playing, and using appropriate voices for various NPCs. I’m a total ham, so I get into doing voices, but I can see that it’s not for everyone. Some people are comfortable with it, some aren’t. As far as my table goes, you play it however you want to. Holmes then describes the customary player roles of Caller and Mapper, but he also adds a third – a player to chronicle the monsters killed and treasure obtained. This is actually a very good idea, as it takes some onus off the DM so far as calculating experience points goes. So long as you have a trustworthy player, that is. Where I do disagree with Holmes is his assertion that the Mapper and Caller must be at the front rank of the party. I can’t think of a watertight rationale for either, so I won’t enforce it. A leader doesn’t always lead from the front, and the mapper can do his job just as well from the middle ranks.

An example of play follows, and besides some lines that I find inexplicably humorous it’s not that remarkable. It’s distinguishing feature is that it reduces the game to a conversation between the DM and the Caller, which doesn’t sound like the sort of game I’d want to play in. It’s possible that it’s all an abstraction to simplify the players discussing their decisions, but that’s hardly the best way to go about things in an introductory example. In the example, a Fighter, a Dwarf, an Elf and a Hobbit are exploring the dungeon. They explore a room, do the obligatory listening at doors and searching for secret doors, find some treasure and smash some orcs. The example ends just as they have encountered a gelatinous cube. I’ll most certainly take the dungeon as described and place it somewhere in Skull Mountain, and I’ll stat out that adventuring party as well. (The way the leader constantly refers to his buddies as ‘The Elf’, ‘The Dwarf’ and ‘The Hobbit’ gives me all sorts of ideas about him already. I’m going to play him as a somewhat prejudiced guy who really does call the rest of his party by those names. “Hey elf, check for secret doors! Hobbit! Gather up those coins. Dwarf, get over here and look in this pit!” Yeah, I can have some fun with him.)

And then Holmes ends with some more good advice. DMs should prepare, inspiration can be found in literary sources, make the game your own, yada yada. The usual stuff that’s been covered before.

Sample Dungeon: The sample dungeon given here is the Tower of Zenopus, and it’s pretty sweet. It’s not the most imaginative dungeon out there, but it hits the basics very well, and it has a good ratio of traps, tricks and monsters, as well as some nice atmospheric touches. I’ll be placing this dungeon and the nearby Portown somewhere in my World of Greyhawk, possibly around the Nyr Dyv. There are quite a few intriguing possibilities brought up by Holmes at the conclusion for expanding the dungeon. I’m wondering now if the on-line community has tackled this yet, but I can't find anything.

And that’s a wrap for the Basic D&D Boxed Set. Overall it’s a quality product, albeit with some shonky rules in the combat section. And I think it’s going to be a valuable deck-clearing tool when my campaign has acquired too much rules build-up from the OD&D supplements. I also think it’s interesting that Holmes D&D can legitimately lay claim to a connection to all three strains of TSR D&D. It’s a reorganisation of OD&D. It’s the obvious design predecessor to Moldvay’s Basic Set. And it has a number of pointers in the text to AD&D. Holmes Basic is a very important piece of D&D history and development, and we should never forget that.

NEXT: The Dragon #10

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