[Review] D1 Into the Depths of the Earth (AD&D 1e); Seeds of Wonder and Horror

[Adventure]
D1 Into the Depths of the Earth (1978)

E.G.G. Gygax (TSR Games)
Lvl 9 – 10

GROGNARDIA: Retrospective: Descent into the Depths of the Earth



In G3 you discovered that beyond the highest mountain tops, beyond the realms of Fire Giant Kings that make slaves of all the most fearsome of the world’s monsters, lies a subterrene realm of wonder and horror the likes of which has never been seen. In D1 you venture into that realm, for the first time.

The Underdark. Subject of a thousand terrible supplements, and yet, for all the milking and profiteering that has been done over the long decades, the wonder of the Underdark can never truly be extinguished. A place that seamlessly combines the alien biology of early modern hollow earth stories with a sense of timeless almost lovecraftian evil of the ancient S&S tales. It is Journey to the Centre of the Earth as envisioned by William Hope Hodginson. With one series of 3 short modules, Gygax did the groundwork for the most iconic and memorable bits of lore for DnD ever made.

Reviewing D1 requires some finesse because it does indeed lay the groundwork for its successors and therefore cannot fully be viewed as a module in its own right, leading to a payoff that is described in subsequent modules. It is almost inconceivable to run it as a separate module. In that light will it be judged. It is good, but much more open-ended then previous Gygax modules, deigning to deliver a mere handful of caves in a vast, labyrinthine cavernous maze that stretches on for miles and can be expanded upon indefinitely. It is also a bit of a monster hotel in the vein of Lower G3 or Upper G2, its map areas gorgeously mapped complex caves filled with sixteen different varieties of creature that, by and large, will probably attack, but CAN often be dealt with via trickery or some form of ruse.  

We begin where we left off, in the caverns beneath G3, where beyond the lava flow, a tunnels lead perilously downward into the earth. This is the framework that Patrick Stuart sought to expand upon and sandbox in his laudably ambitious but ultimately flawed Veins of the Earth, to devise a mechanism to generate these veins in a manner that is easy to replicate. The different tunnels are not merely for show, providing different degrees of risk and allowing one to use strategic intelligence to bypass known checkpoints. D1 conveys the sensation of simultaneously exploring an unknown world and invading a hostile realm. Down main alleyways, Drow merchants, slaves, patrols and their manifold servitor races rule. In the less frequented and more narrow tunnels, all manner of horrors are readily encountered. These are the encounter tables out of nightmare. Liches, Illithid, Beholders and Umber hulks await in the dimly glowing tunnels of the abyss.

Descent into the Depths of the Earth (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Module D1 -2)
The perilous Underdark awaits



Rules are suitably brutal. Movement speed is curtailed, miles per day, each mile travelled incurring the risk of encountering a formidable predator. There are hazards that are easily navigable but that become instantly lethal if they are forgotten or the party is thrown in disarray. Chasms can cause instant death if players do not rope up. Teleportation of more then a mile soon becomes impossible because of some subterrene magnetic influence. The darkness is not total, with patches of eerie phosphorescence caused by lichens and swarms of fire beetles breaking up the monotony, but in all probability you will be carrying an astounding amount of light sources on any venture, and know that no place within the Underdark is entirely free from danger.

Reading through this overview, which is stronger then the subsequent Warrens of the Troglodytes, reminds me just how POWERFUL Gary Gygax DnD really is. With but a few complex tables, an entire subterranean realm is given life. Systems are unrolled to generate entire wagon trains of lizard-riding Drow, garbed in radiation-infused mail, with different coteries of slaves and brutal servitor races to provide for a whole gamut of challenges. Always the adage of a cunning and ferocious foe is kept in the back of the head, and I would be astonished indeed if parties can play through D1 without ever attempting some more subtle way of approaching the Vault of the Drow, be it disguise, negotiation, or sneaky back-rank checkmating one’s way into it. The subtle references to broaches in the varied treasures of the Drow allude to methods of identification beyond the mere visible, and the sign language and alien culture of the Drow provides a barrier all of its own.

The one omission, the one regretful absence in this fantastical night-haunted realm of horror and blind-cave bats is that it is relatively empty. The number of encounters that are plotted out can be counted on one hand. Some system to rapidly stock the various caverns connected through myriad passageways would have been of immense use, and evaluated the work from the merely excellent the halls of Valhalla. Indeed, even to this day, the fool proof method of generating the infinite Underdark Sandbox has yet to be found, though rest assured, if some brave man would attempt it, it would have to be stocked with the Veins of the Earth bestiary. Some additional hexes would be filled in D2 and D3 respectively, but for the most part, the suffering GM is on his own. If you made it this far, you will achieve wonders. The Islands of the Sunless Sea, a tantalizing area in the corner of one map, would remain a place of dim imaginings until, presumably, someone tackled it in Night Below. To an audience, unpolluted by cheap genre fiction, and with a fertile mind, a bonfire of the imagination is set alight. But there are few such left in this fallen age.

The module stipulates that it is a challenge for 7 to 9 characters of levels 9 of above average ability and this is no idle warning. The initial checkpoint sets the tone immediately. 26 enemies with spell-like abilities, combined group tactics, unique magic items, spells, magic resistance, sleep poison, its completely fucking nuts. The capabilities of both GM and player are immediately put to the ultimate test. Second encounter, were-rats and illithid BAM, mind-blast, rat-aids, there’s a chance to rescue a prisoner so the encounter is dynamic and might yield much intel for the players but putting it together is a bitch because the GM doesn’t really know what to tell and what to omit, killing the illithid has positive diplomatic implications as the two underground civilizations are waging a tentative war of infiltration and espionage. Treasure at this point is good to the point where it is no longer worth remarking on because it has been perfected to the level of a machine. New magic items, Lurker Cloaks, Death lances, unique glass globes of irritating faerie fire gas, a drow priestess riding a nightmare.

The Warrens of the Troglodytes proper suffers from the monster hotel problem of G3’s lower level but even here one cannot quickly dismiss the skillfull hand of the true master. What would be a brainless hackfest becomes a complicated tactical challenge, with a network of sentries, pack lizards that react to a goad but will attack otherwise. Every time I am ready to dismiss this section I go back and there is some subtle detail, some interplay of map and encounter that I have overlooked. There’s different tribes of humanoids spread throughout the room, allies of the Drow, Trolls, Troglodytes, Bugbears, rudimentary tactics abound. The map is a thing of beauty, with chokepoints, branching paths, cull-de sacs and thoroughfares. In the periphery, terrible monsters lurk to snare the unwary. Points for putting a 20th level Lich behind illusions that only attacks if you find him, and even more points for including a weird pool that either rarifies or erases precious gemstones.

D1 lays the groundwork for something immense and potent, open-ended, where man is but an intruder among greater, older powers.  At the same time, because of the nature of its subject matter, it can only hint at the immensity, size and night-haunted darkness, but hint it does, and mightily so. The dungeon area at the end is ironically its weakest part, adhering to Gygax’s own dungeon design principles with metronomic precision but lacking something of the thematic focus of the G series, or the lovecraftian eeriness of G3. A monster hotel, a very good monster hotel, with a brilliant map and good tactics and treasure, but monster hotel it remains, a mere prelude to something greater deeper down.

I am, frankly, astounded at the variety and the ideas present in some of these older adventures. A diet of new adventures has left me weak. A lot of the newer stuff seems simple or one-note in comparison. D1 bombards you with the implications of an entire subterranean nether realm and feels like its 20 pages barely scratch the surface of its potential. Definitely something that will require putting some time and effort in, and I would be interested in someone doing a Veins/D1 mashup, perhaps the highest tribute that could be given to both, but the result should guarantee an almost unforgetteable experience, complete with wagon trains of donkeys, captured rider lizards, stolen armor, and murder in secluded tunnels.

The Jermelaine, a troglodytic race of nether goblins, is a particularly vicious and cowardly form of nuisance that can be encountered in the side-branches of this nether hell, and kudos to Gygax for not hitting us immediately with some sort of DBZ-style super-super predator. It is made abundantly clear that the Drow rule this domain, and woe to any who would contest their dominion in the main thoroughfares.

What terrors, slumbering and ancient, ever hungry, await in the distant caverns, deep below the main thoroughfares, forgotten even by the ageless lords of the midnight realm, well…that will have to be discovered.

**** but probably more if you look at the entire series. Stay tuned.


37 thoughts on “[Review] D1 Into the Depths of the Earth (AD&D 1e); Seeds of Wonder and Horror

  1. OK I was sulfides at such a +++ G series review after I hear mixed thing.

    The D series I hear REALLY MIXED THINGS about. This lends me to question the position of the others reviews when put into play.

    Granted a good DM can make a series of tubes interesting but its hard no to see fault here.

    The lore of the drow is great and it has lasted for a reason but D1 in play?

    Would love to hear others thoughts who played it back in the day

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    1. I love this module; everything about it, and then what it allows you to make of it. It is twisting tunnels of nightmares that eventually make heading back to the drow highway seem invitingly bucolic.

      Most fun I ever had running this module was at GaryCon VII. Most of the players were fresh off a different con foray the previous evening that, as con games are prone to do, did not click despite good intentions of the players. So for my D1 game the next morning they were primed for action with the D1 pre-gens. Since it’s a classic, I’d heavily populated the non-detailed areas with lairs using unfamiliar monsters from Monsters of Myth. Including one of monsters authored by a Wheggi, who was at the con and playing in the game.

      The first drow checkpoint encounter ended in a near TPK. The party tried to sneak past, invisible, but their rolls failed them and suspicious drow detected their intrusion; spotted! All the drow ran an interlacing string of darkness spells across the cavern; an impenetrable wall of ink taking away all sight of what was happening on the other side – but no immediate hostile actions. The players paused to have quick strategy session while, unbeknownst to them, invisible drow levitated up to firing platforms on the cavern walls, while another stretched his rope of entanglement across the ground in the center of the darkness line. The uncertain party’s conversation continued, but the reverie was interrupted by glass globe missiles arcing over the darkness wall, as invisible spotters hand signaled the party’s location to other drow below who were still running active detect invisibility spells. The glitterbomb didn’t get close enough, but this spurred the party into choosing to run…right through the center of the darkness in a single file horizontal battle line, where the rope of entanglement was. IIRC correctly only the invisible thief made its save, the rest were thrown to the ground like a line of caught trout.

      At this point they were lit up with faerie fire from several drow, the next glass globe landed dead center, the elevated drow started pouring in sleep-bolts from their hand crossbow, and silenced 15’r rocks were pitched all around them. It was a slaughter.

      The thief managed to empty his skin of whisky over a couple of the PCs to clear the glitterbomb and cut them free. I’m hazy after all these years on the crazy stratagem they went for as their comrades took numerous crossbow bolts to sensitive areas, but the dice gods were with them and they ended up with the Evil High Priestess in their grasp, threatening to cut her throat unless she called off the dogs and surrendered.

      An entire cavern of drow, paused, their weapons trained on everything still moving. Twitching PCs lying in the dust bleeding out. Lovecraft crossed with Sergio Leone.

      The high priestess squawked out a ruse, that she held another glass bead that would release a powerful demon if broken, and there was no way for them to prevent this before her life drained away. After some tense negotiations a withdrawal was agreed upon, and the Evil High Priestess left (to report, as was the original goal)

      That was one of the most fun action openers I’ve ever had in any game, and it was a con game to boot.

      Long story short, as there’s no point in detailing the whole 5 hour session, but the last encounter played through before breaking was a chamber protected by four Deceived by Set and an Aspis Bull Guardian. DbyS were Wheggi’s monster, and it slowly dawned on him as they were wrecking the party exactly the nature of their foes and what was happening. I’ll always fondly remember the comprehension on his face in that moment, it warmed this bastard DM’s heart. The party did eventually fight their way free, but the ABG had left most of the crippled, and we called scene with them hobbling along a tertiary path toward an encounter I wish we’d had the time to run.

      Some player quotes, still posted on the K&KA convention thread:

      “Thanks to an ill-fated encounter with some Apis Bull Guardians and some Deceived by Set there is now a crippled up party hopping around on withered limbs in the drow infested Underdark. Yeah, it’s been a fun Gary Con so far.”

      “There’s something particularly fucked-up about having your ass handed to you by your own monster.”

      “Drow almost wiped us out immediately, a purple worm swallowed Wheggi whole and lots of Monsters of Myth creatures made appearances (Rock Roaches, Apis Bull Guardians, Deceived by Set). Too bad my PCs each lost an arm and a leg to the withering breath of the Apis Bull Guardians, because I suspect the underdark is not handicap friendly.”

      D1 would be a top 3 module in my book if I’d never run it before or since. It was tears of joy and a table full of players laughing their asses off in between terrors.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. That was a fun game, EOTB!

        Great memory there of gaming in the bar at the old GaryCon lodge.

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    2. I think this might be a rare case where the ‘no Good GM’ argument has some partial validity. If you are a novice or a cursory reader, D1 can seem very open-ended and the lists of random encounters don’t immediately hit you without considerable support. If you are a bit more seasoned, you notice that the framework allows for immediate expansion and tactically meaningful, complex gameplay and the world that is implied resonates with you better.

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  2. Another great review. D1 tends to get short shrift because, as you mentioned, the worst part is the big set piece cavern that takes up about half the page count, and most of the good stuff – the encounter tables and generic passageway map sections and minor/preliminary encounters – gets repeated in D2 and D3, alongside better centerpiece areas. Whereas G1 would be a great stand-alone adventure, D1 is all about scene-setting for the next two installments. It’s consciously an “Act 1” much more than G1 was. But it’s such a great Act 1! The environment is so vivid with so few words, painting a perfect mental picture – later editions could (and did) devote entire boxed sets to what this module accomplishes in about 10 pages. It’s hard to hold it as a fault that something was so rich and inspirational that it later became a cliche.

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    1. Thank you for your praise and yeah, it’s the same problem with high fantasy. A thing is good, thus becomes succesfull, and soon you are bombarded with inferior copies to the point you become sick of it. Going back to the well is a breath of fresh air as far as I am concerned.

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  3. Frankly one of my favorite components of some of the older modules is the breadth of them. A few sentences here or there opens up potentially years of gaming. Kingdom of Ghouls, Nights Dark Terror, Castle Amber etc. all have this quality in spades. I wonder if it is an author specific skill.

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    1. Also, one of the most fun campaigns I ran was a DCO/Veins (only a few elements)/and Queen of Spiders mashup- they integrate pretty seamlessly, and DCO gives such a great intro to the Drow through the implied components (and drow-in-a-jar)

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      1. Yeah Veins as just a bestiary is a brilliant addition definetely. I think that potential is not author specific but it does come with a certain degree of mastery that is difficult to replicate without years of practice.

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  4. I’m hoping to run D1-3 as a/the climax of my current 5e campaign. As you say, it is full of brilliant stuff, yet receives relatively little attention compared to G1-3. For area stocking I may well use the 5e Underdark encounter tables provided in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, I think that’s the only place I’ve seen full tables for the Underdark-as-wilderness. XGTE gives 4 tables for every type of terrain broken up by tier (party level or threat level); the D1 wilderness would be a Tier 3 (Level 11-16) environment I reckon.

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    1. Its difficult to say, the highest I ever got in 5e was level 8 until my group disintegrated. As long as you maintain the disparity between the more crowded main tunnels and the less travelled but more dangerous side tunnels I think you could pull it off without doing much violence to it. The balance between 5e and 1e is alien to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Another fine review written with obvious joy. A couple of comments:
    (i) A surprising number of play reports include a battle with the lich, which is not easy to find. I can add a player account from almost forty years ago in school lunch hours, although it has to be said on this occasion the lich (with three mirror images) started blasting away from the moment the party arrived in the chamber. There had been so much talk of the presence of a lich I think the referee did not wish to disappoint, or more likely, pass up an opportunity to inflict casualties;
    (ii) A careful group can pass through the Caverns with relatively few combats; D2 gives even more opportunities, for example simply paying a toll and moving on. However, you do need to pick up some experience (and hence treasure) before tackling Vault of the Drow, so it is reasonable to seek some lair combats. The pre-generated characters are weaker, but more Underdark orientated, than those for the Giant series.
    I’m a big fan of Vault of the Drow, part of the fun is deciding what you are trying to accomplish.

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  6. >>you do need to pick up some experience (and hence treasure) before tackling Vault of the Drow<<

    Bit of a problem with this if you're using AD&D DMG page 86 levelling RAW in that the PCs will need weeks of training to level up! Where is that supposed to happen in the Underdark? 😀 At least after Name level they don't need a mentor (any level 8 PCs are likely S.O.O.L.) but they do still need 1-4 weeks of training time, and somewhere to spend the large amounts of required cash. Are they supposed to hole up in Erelhei-Cinlu for the duration? I think that's probably how I'll be doing it (I use both training-time and 1 week long rests in my 5e game, if anything harsher even than 1e).

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    1. This is a rule I would waive, postponing training to after the campaign has finished. From a quick check on DriveThruRPG, D1-2 is listed for levels 9 to 14, D3 from 10-14. So suspending the rule does seem reasonable. Indeed, doesn’t Gary Gygax suggest it in one of his module introductions (S4 possibly?) as a reward for excellent play? (I need to dig out physical copies to confirm this.)

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      1. Yeah I don’t think these adventures were ever seriously intended to work with the 1e training rules, though it’s not mentioned in their text.

        Level 9-14 BTW means suitable for PC of that level range going in to it, there is no expectation of any levelling during the adventure. G1-3 minimum listed level is 8, and Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits is for 10-14, so it does look like he was expecting maybe 1 level bump from all of G1-3 and another single level bump from D1-3.

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      2. Presumably, with access to teleportation, it should be possible to travel back to civilization after trawling through the tunnels and emerging in the fortress of the Fire Giant King as there does not seem to be any sort of harsh time limit.

        I will keep an eye out for demonspore, but there’s another author (non-artpunk) that I want to check out first.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. @Prince – yes I agree about no time limit, these adventures are intended for long term play being as much an environment as an adventure. If I run them in 5e I’ll be using 1 week long rests and up to 30 days (for level 11-16, per 5e DMG) training to level. With different PCs training at different times, could easily take many months, compared to which the 50 mile trip from the fire giant fortress to Erelhei-Cinlu is quite trivial!

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  7. This is a low key excellent module – EOTB’s play report shows how horrid the drow can get (although I suspect many newbie DMs ran the encounter in a much more forgiving way), and the glimpses of the alien yet learnable subterranean world are gygaxian gold: the proverbial throwaway line that can be spun off into its own campaign. D1 is one of the TSR products which are close to the Judges Guild toolset approach, giving you tantalising ideas and procedural support to develop these idea seeds into your own campaign. That is a departure from what would become TSR’s general approach to product design.

    Attempts to recapture the magic of the D series have largely failed, and mostly managed to dilute and trivialise its originality. One worthy successor to check out, though, is Mythmere’s great but rarely mentioned Demonspore. Demonspore is a new look at the same underworld setting as this one. As already demonstrated in Monsters of Myth and Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom, he has a rare eye for weirdo D&D monsters that combine the walking mushroom aesthetic with gameplay function. Demonspore is a two-parter, but it covers the entire D series in its homage: the first part is a reimagination of Shrine of the Kuo-Toa, while the second combines the strange civilisation of the drow with the bizarre cave systems of D1, and even the three-dimensional rift setup of G2. It might be Matt’s best module, and it is highly recommended.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pod-Caverns is a favourite of mine, so thank you for the Demonspore recommendation. And yes, the Drow have meagre hit points, but some useful magical abilities and items (including sleep poison with a nasty save penalty), so they need to be played smart. Let EOTB’s account be an exemplar.
      Few 2e adventures deserve comparison with 1e (or B/X) modules, but Night Below is a worthy attempt. Where Gygax would hint, Sargent tends to fill in more of the details: he gives a point system for destabilising his Kuo-Toan city according to objectives achieved. But if anyone knows of a more evocative description of an alien society (in a module) than that in Vault of the Drow, please let me know.
      Off topic, I am about a third of the way through reading Baklin and greatly enjoying it. Using the same table but
      letting more knowledgeable folks roll higher value dice is a nice way of dealing with rumours; the locations are teeming with encounters that could lead to adventure.

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      1. Check out the DCC underdark modules; they are definitely a different take. Night below is great- I ran a 5 year plus campaign using the later two adventures (the first is just a weird outlyer). Also, Patrick Stuart had a pretty fantastic takes and a bunch of blogs on the Nightmare Sea with the chained moon that gives a lot more value for me than most adventures.

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      2. The DCC Underdark modules would be DCC 91 Journey to the Center of Aereth and DCC 91.1 The Lost City of Barako? Is one better than the other? A very timely tip as DriveThruRPG has a sale on at the moment, thank you.

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      3. I am thinking of keeping some sort of recommendation cue but I don’t really know where. DCC is something I would have to finish my review of the system for, in a normal person three-parter, but then it might be worthwhile. Probably next year.

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  8. What is disappointing about Gygax’s G&D series is how high level they are since everything Gygax wrote is instructional and his mid level material is absent. Almost my entire campaign experience as DM was below name level, and when it approached name level the game itself had evolved/devolved into a pure narrative or conversation between me and the players which could be conducted over the phone.

    I think G&D suffers because Gygax was imbuing brilliant ideas about high level play within a structure more suited to mid level play, 3rd to 8th.

    The map for G2 is a work of genius when you carefully read how it works.

    ====

    If Gygax had a strong sympathetic editor like David Bowie had in Visconti we would have extracted from Gygax the best of AD&D. But cultures need massive support from true artists and Gygax had no rigorous support at the time. Gygax had no Visconti.

    The prestigious material produced for AD&D, in that expert 3rd – 8th band, is only being produced by Melan as far as I can see.

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    1. That’s true. He never quite filled up that bandwith. S2 didn’t quite capture the mid levels the way GDQ did the Higher ones and Tharizdun is too experimental, brilliant but experimental, to really qualify. I agree with you that Melan does sublime work, very subtle too, he manages to make modules that succeed both as fantastic environments as well as challenges. What is your opinion on Guy Fullerton’s Many Gates of the Gann?

      R.e. G2: Are you referring to the bottom level, which is gradually revealed as the PCs interrogate prisoners, follow weird treasure maps or otherwise gather reconaissance or is there something I missed there? G2 was still excellent but G1’s infiltration component elevated it and G3 does so much more that I consider G2 excellent, but the least of the trilogy.

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      1. An interesting topic. I tend towards being grateful that Gygax wrote so many excellent hign(ish) level adventures; even with his contributions they are not thick on the ground. In the early days there were also the A (Slavers) series, C (Competition) modules and I (Intermediate) series so perhaps the mid levels had adequate provision.

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    2. —-R.e. G2: Are you referring to the bottom level, which is gradually revealed as the PCs interrogate prisoners, follow weird treasure maps or otherwise gather reconaissance or is there something I missed there? G2 was still excellent but G1’s infiltration component elevated it and G3 does so much more that I consider G2 excellent, but the least of the trilogy.

      No, the rift map is ingenuous. I am not talking about the “module” G2 (I am incapable of appreciating modules), but the way Gygax captures the environment he imagines in the map is special.

      Which comes first, the place which does not exist or the *map of* the place which does not exist? As far as I can tell most adventure writers produce a map and then derive an environment from it, the results are cartoonish.

      The G2 map is so intricate Gygax must have visualized it first before capturing it in a map: a bowl with a broken lip so that in order to traverse the rim you have to enter into caves in the mountain side to discover another piece of the broken lip. And it offers a great opportunity to reward characters with mountaineering experience who can bypass the treacherous holes.

      Also I like the the idea that getting to the bottom of the rift is a sideshow. It is certainly the way most adventurers would be primed to go but the deeper level is down an innocuous tunnel.

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      1. @molloy
        This is true, map goes before key but imagination must precede map or the whole becomes a random collection of gibberish. Reading some of these latter era dungeons I am struck by either a lack of vision or by a vision but a complete lack of implementation. I am curious how you would consider gaming material that is system neutral i.e. that presents a vision and a map but no statts.

        You hate modules because you do not believe in quantized DnD as expressed by modules yes? Bite-sized chunks of mostly innoffensive material thrown onto a framework of generic fantasy is anathema to your approach, which involves the exploration of a deeply personal and customized fantastic world.

        Njall’s Saga was very good btw. Even the Orkneyinga, which is by far a lesser saga, still paints a compelling picture of the medieval world that modern fantasy authors struggle to capture. There is something to be said for having a narrative where you do not learn the character’s innermost thoughts and you must infer them from their actions. Of the post 50s authors, I can recall only Tolkien using this style with The Children of Hurin. I am taking a science fiction break but after that I must decide between the Saga of Grettir the Strong or the Persian Book of Kings.

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      2. —- I am curious how you would consider gaming material that is system neutral i.e. that presents a vision and a map but no stats.

        For me that is ideal. I respect the talent behind the classic Runequest material but the stat blocks are offensive to read and because they are there you feel there is important information about power dynamics that you can’t ignore. D&D monster descriptions are terse but there is too much fighting expected in modules which turns exciting violence into *pillow-fighting*.

        Fewer, but more deadly, encounters is key for me. And an emphasis on exploration, you know, in our world the great books about exploration have few if any monsters in them. But descriptions need to move from the generic D&D cliches to the particular and interesting. HPL is actually a good model here.

        There is an alarming lack of ingenuity in map making in D&D. Again real world maps are far more interesting aesthetically.

        ====

        I have lined up a reread of the Morris – Grettir the Strong. It is sprawling and has very strange moments. Once you get a few good maps of Iceland you can use them for all the sagas (I have a couple of A0 maps). “Persian Book of Kings” I will have to look into that.

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      3. [Encounters]
        That was my GM’s stance as well, and playing through B10 I do agree. In Dungeon-crawling, I do find that random encounters, even relatively innocuous ones, enforce a type of resource/conversation mechanic and urgency that is more interesting then a static dungeon so for that reason alone I would utilize them in D&D. I think healing magic makes a big difference. If recovery is slow, it becomes easier to design a campaign along a few decisive battles. If it is relatively prominent, it becomes a resource management issue and battles take on the characteristic of attrition.

        I like the idea of system neutral material, i.e. pure fantasy, but in reality that material is almost always weaker then something that has been subjected to actual play or has been designed with a certain system in mind. Perhaps the limits of more prominent underlying assumptions force a greater degree of craftmanship? There is so much information about a creature’s interaction with the rest of the universe that can be described through statts. Regardless, I have yet to find setting neutral material that I would recommend, outside of actual books, which I think you might be alluding too. In my own writing I do follow the approach of idea and creature first, then adaptation to the system in question.

        Grettir is on my list. I have a non-morris translation and the few Penguin books translations I have bought have been excellent so far. The persian book of kings is called the Shanameh. I started reading mostly epics a year back and its been good so far, even the less compelling material is leagues up from your average fantasy novel.

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  9. @shuffling wombat: I love both! I think Journey is a little more diverse, whereas Barako really digs in (and is very Howardian). Both are also open ended and as such unique for DCC. @melan; most DCC products are 3s; Harleys work tends to be a notch above. The following are great: Purple Planet, and Shudder Mountain (all are very open ended).

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