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Friday, 27 April 2018

Friday Filler: The Little Book of Dungeons

The dungeon geomorph has a long history in the hobby, starting right back with Dungeon Geomorphs, published in 1976 by TSR, Inc. Essentially pre-made maps which the user can cut up and arrange to create the layout of a dungeon or other location, and then as the Dungeon Master for his Dungeons & Dragons game, populate with monsters, traps, treasure, and other encounters. They were perfect for the Dungeon Master who lacked the time to draw a dungeon or who lacked the skill to do so, but as the hobby evolved and matured, such things fell out of favour. Then came the Old School Renaissance and digital publishing and maps were back in fashion. It was still the case that not every Dungeon Master has the time or the skill to draw dungeons, so sites such as RPGnow.com provided a ready source of maps that the Dungeon Master can download and use… (and the cartographer can sell!).

Crooked Staff Publishing is one such publisher which does battle, campaign, city, dungeon, space colony, wilderness maps and more. Now, just nineteen of these maps—drawn from Little Book of Dungeons: Volumes IV, V, and VI—have been collected in print in one single volume. The Little Book of Dungeons Print Edition is published by Squarehex, best known for The Black Hack and Oubliette magazine. The digest-sized booklet is done in full colour, comes with a clear key and scale to its maps, and wastes very little on words.

The nineteen maps are ‘The Fortress’, ‘The Temple’, ‘The Warrens’, ‘The Catcombs’, ‘The Secret Grove’, ‘The Caverns’, ‘The Mine Entrance’, ‘The Lower Mines’, ‘The Lava Caves’, ‘The Vaults’, ‘The Secret Hideout’, ‘The Crypts’, ‘The Frozen Caves’, ‘The Lair’, ‘The Labyrinth’, ‘The Ruined Library’, and ‘The Sewers’. Most consist of a single level, but some have two levels. Each map fits into an area roughly two-hundred by six-hundred square feet and is mapped out in five-foot squares. Each location is clearly numbered, though not named. In may cases, the detail on the map is enough for a Game Master to work out what a location or room is used for. So even if there is no desk symbol in the key at the front of the book, the fact that there is a lone chair in front of a table (or desk) in location five of ‘The Mine Entrance’ map suggests that it might be an office. Other rooms lack such detail and it is left up to the Game Master to add both detail and purpose to such locations.

Notes at the end of The Little Book of Dungeons Print Edition suggest how the maps can be used. The first six maps in the book, ‘The Fortress’, ‘The Temple’, ‘The Warrens’, ‘The Catcombs’, ‘The Secret Grove’, and ‘The Caverns’ all slot together  to form a large dungeon area. They are still discrete sections within such a greater dungeon, each mini-map having just two connections to the other mini-maps. So the Game Master will need to figure this low number of connections between the six dungeon maps into her consideration when developing and populating her dungeon. In addition, ‘The Mine Entrance’ and ‘The Lower Mines’ can also go together, one atop the other.

There are also further suggestions on the back cover blurb, that the maps might be used as the “long abandoned halls of a lost civilisation, the labyrinthine lair of a half-mad archmage, or even the haunted tombs of a powerful necromancer...”. Now these are no more than ideas, awaiting development by the Game Master. Of course, the Game master is free to use these maps as she wants, whether together, on their own, or as additions to a dungeon or campaign of her own. The only disappointing map in the collection is ‘The Lava Caves’, which are bland in comparison to the other maps in the book.

Rounding out the cartographic collection is a nineteenth map, the floor plans of an inn—the nineteenth (drinking) hole?—The Twisted Stave. Unlike the previous maps in the booklet, the locations on the map are named as well as numbered. This is a complete location, comprised of two storeys, stables, and a cellar. All a Game Master has to do is populate the inn with some interesting NPCs and some juicy hooks and rumours and what she has is a base of operations for her player characters who can then go off and explore the various locations mapped out on the previous pages of The Little Book of Dungeons Print Edition.

Physically, The Little Book of Dungeons Print Edition is a lovely little book. Printed in full colour on premium silk art paper, the book not only looks good, but also feels good too. They might not be the geomorphs of old which the Game Master can cut up and put together, but  The Little Book of Dungeons Print Edition serves the same function and does it in a very attractive fashion. All the Game Master has to do is fill the content to her heart’s delight and her players’ woe.

—oOo—


Squarehex will be at UK Games Expo which will take place between June 1st and June 3rd, 2018 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.