Runway to No Artpunk II; A Proposal for the Future

With the No Artpunk manuscript mere days from release (Companion is certainly forthcoming, rest assured) and my head buried halfway into S3 the thought turns to the future. In reading Gygax’s (and some rare others) adventures I noticed that several, now regrettably endangered or perhaps altogether lost features occurred that would allow one to make use of the many non-default spells in the AD&D 1e Phb. Think of hidden stashes of treasure, suddenly making it interesting to capture/charm opponents, or use ESP on them, or heavy or inconvenient treasure, inviting the use of Floating Disk. It seems obvious at least some of these spells must have been introduced over the course of the game in response to recurring challenges or features in the adventure. I hazard to propose that in most games, or at least most games I have seen and run myself, a lot of these tend to collect dust. Floating Disk, Levitation, & Hold Portal are seldom selected in favor of the Dungeon staple food of Sleep, Charm Person, Light & Magic Missile. How often does your cleric pick Purify Water over Cure Light Wounds? It might be possible that, if we read all of the Dragon articles and crossreference that with all of the Gary Q&A threads on Dragonsfoot, EN World & elsewhere, we can figure out his secret recipe for making the most delicious dungeons! There is but one problem; I am illiterate and reading is boring! We can ask Trent, or Melan, but once again, gaaaah, this requires social skills, another insurmountable obstacle! Confound it!

So! In order to challenge you all, for your prior efforts did impress the hell out of me (and hopefully the world at large will tremble timidly at your fearsome creations) and still obtain Professor Gygax’s Secret Recipe For the Most Delicious Dungeon Ever Made, we are going to do what all great men have done throughout the ages when confronted with an insoluable mystery; WE ARE GOING TO THROW SHIT AT THE WALL AND SEE WHAT STICKS!

I propose we mount a most ambitious and exiting expedition into the farthest reaches of the PhB, and gaze long and hard until we have memorized the spell sections, and we are going to try to reverse engineer the secret of Dungeon Mastery by crafting for ourselves Dungeons (using whatever practice one personally deems to be the most superb, whether Gygax, Kuntz, Jaquays or Kiel Chenier we are all friends here) that have at least one instance or feature for EVERY SINGLE FIRST LEVEL SPELL IN THE PHB where it is either A) extremely helpful to proceed, B) generates extra reward C) helps avert harm, and so on. The more subtle or clever, the better.

It is not as easy as it first appears. It is EXTREMELY likely that the PCs will in fact NOT have the requisite spells prepared. The trick is not to create an extra series of insurmountable brick walls with binary success/fail states (i.e. you can only open the doors if you purify the baptismal fount, although such entries should be acceptable if used sparingly) but rather to facilitate situations where the memorized spells would be extremely useful, to the point where one might actually do better with oddball selections of Mending, Hold Portal and Sanctuary.

Format: Once again we are going to stick with the traditional dungeon format. I am going to leave the actual size and number of encounters open and I want to give people the room for creativity and to prevent every dungeon from becoming a formulaic one-spell-per-encounter gimmick dungeon. Rather, you are tasked with making a good dungeon that somewhere incorporates a feature for each of these spells. In the back of the adventure you note where what spell is useful according to you. Please note that any single combat encounter probably makes most spells useful, so one encounter can be used to validate multiple spells. Contestants will be judged on the strength of their dungeons and how well they abided by the Contest Rules and spirit. Cleverness as always is encouraged, laziness is punished.

System: System is going to make a big difference on the difficulty of the endaevor, so the more spells in the Core Rules, the more ‘points’ you get. The same goes for the level range. For simplicity sake, we shall assemble several brackets. Obviously the system has to be some species of OSR.

Anything with less spells then Basic DnD: Disqualified. No Mork Borg or Into the Odd allowed!
Little Girl difficulty (0): Basic DnD or similar spell list
True disciple of Douglas Niles difficulty (5); Anything with a spell list that is significantly (+-3 per spell level) larger then Basic DnD or any system with additional caster classes with seperate spell lists, not as much as AD&D
Manly Man difficulty (10): AD&D or similar spell list
Libertarian Sigma Male Dungeon Master bonus difficulty (+5): Add a set of spells or spell list from a companion or expansion like Unearthed Arcana. Might cause logistical difficulties if OSR supplements are allowed. True Libertarian Sigma Male difficulty is only unlocked if the supplement adds at least 15 new spells per supplement (divided over however many levels is fine, as long as they are used). Combining multiple supplements is allowed but the bonus only applies twice and the expansion, if not drawn from a list, must be consulted twice.

Obviously Lotfp is allowed this coming year.

Level Range:
Take heed, every 2 levels will likely add significantly (4-8 rooms) to the amount of rooms you need in order to accomodate all spells.
1 – 4: Common Artpunkman Tier (+0). (1st – 2nd level spells)
5 – 8: Champion of the Oppressed Tier (+10) (1st – 4th level spells)
9 – 10: All My Friends Died in Gamergate Related Accidents Tier (+20) (1st – 5th level spells)
11+: I am Elon Musk Tier(+???): 7-9 is the last bracket that gives out awards but you are not FORBIDDEN from attempting higher, merely gently discouraged, you absolute madman. Not for the faint of heart.

I think everyone has earned a break. Since you are forced to consider book spells in your design, as far as I am concerned you are all of the hook as far as magic items, creatures or other ephemera are concerned. My recommendation is not to omit Book monsters entirely but there is no law or stipulation that says you can’t come up with everything on your own.

Jeez, either I write a module first and award it or we find a sugar daddy to sponsor one. It must be appropriately legendary of course.

Charity: I’ll have to think, but if we can’t come up with anything it will be the last one.

Date: Jesus I don’t know. Somewhere next year, probably summer, maybe Spring after everyone has mellowed out from this fucking year.

Discuss possibilities whilst I devour S3. Feel free to share this post.

37 thoughts on “Runway to No Artpunk II; A Proposal for the Future

  1. I like this idea, except for the fact of it being the secret sauce I’ve relied on for years. Even while I was working on 5E content – it annoyed me that player skill choices “don’t matter” – so I made a point of including places in the adventure where every last thing on a 5E character sheet would be relevant.

    I employed this technique for Vault of the Warlord, imagining scenarios where all the OD&D spells would be useful, and in fact my players did make use of the full set, e.g. using Hold Portal by luring a 15HD ooze into a loop within the dungeon and then sealing it in on both sides. As a freebie, Hold Portal is easy to account for so long as you have a dungeon with multiple paths and a reason to lock a door behind you.

    Classes? Spell lists? Monster manuals? Treasure? These are not menus to choose from, they are checklists for greatness.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The Sentinel artifact from the UK2/3 modules has hold portal as one of its powers, and this is useful in the siege of Adlerweg when you want to hold the opposition in position to use a burning oil trap, or pepper them with arrows. You need to know the layout of the place you are defending of course.
    For Mending, perhaps a creature will let you pass if you repair their beloved blanket? Without the spell, but with the right equipment, a dexterity check (with penalty) does the job; otherwise time for a fight.
    Intriguing idea for a contest.


    1. Ha! Was just going to bring up UK2/UK3 as it shows the strength of the Mending spell (repairing old, torn tapestries and thereby reaping rich treasure rewards). But, yeah, those British blokes make good use of the non-combat utility spells.


      1. A fine example. The UK Team’s 1E output often focussed on areas of the game that could be considered neglected:
        U1 combat aboard a ship; U2 the foe that is not your real enemy; U3 underwater; UK1 non-combat resolution of problems; UK2/3 artifacts; UK4 sages; UK5 one PC module; UK6 water deprivation (and magical creation of water); UK7 aerial combat; I8 aging.
        Malrex (and co-workers) are going something similar with their portfolio of modules. (For example the quest for a warhorse; city adventure; ranger and their followers; gnomish rather than dwarven fortress, etc.)

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m a bit confused on the rules here or is this the one and only guiding principle:

    Use as many spells from the PHB as possible in creating unique situations for normally unused spells. The more creative application of said spell application will award bonus ‘points’.

    Is that all I’m understanding here? We find bizzaro spells and build a dungeon around using said spells?


    1. The rules are that you still need to build a dungeon, room count is up to you, but yes, you have to find some way to make every spell in the PHB for the levels you have selected, somehow useful in the adventure. That’s my proposal. What do you think?


  4. Fucking A+ Idea Bossman 🙂

    You’ll probably want to keep the police at the ready for the madman who’ll write a 600 room megadungeon for all AD&D spells that were ever published though.


  5. I think this idea is pretty f’ing batshit crazy. But I might take it on just for the challenge.

    The lack of utility spell usefulness is a direct result of the game being dumbed down repeatedly in order to cater to the lowest common denominator. These days I only run D&D for complete newbies (generally kids under the age of 12) and they come to the thing with no preconceived notions. As I do my best not to instill the usual “tropes” to their creative brainpans, our spell-casters have tomes filled with the likes of ventriloquism and jump, and it’s generally on them to find ways to use them effectively. My 7 year old’s magic-user, currently at 3rd level just took audible glammer as her (first) 2nd level spell. Audible frigging glammer!

    [her 1st level spells? Jump, comprehend languages, message, and sleep]

    Creating a dungeon where PCs are “forced” to use uncommon spells (or rewarded for doing so) is…well, I don’t think it’s a particularly grand idea, O Prince. Unless you’re creating pre-gens that stock the spells, IN PLAY you’re likely to just see the same tired, usual hammers for the All-Problems-Look-Like-Nails thing. That OR exasperated frustration from players saying, “Really? I was expected to carry ERASE instead of charm person? Are you f’ing kidding me?!”

    If the objective here is to put these dusty spells into play, you need to elevate the play of the players at the table, not create puzzles/obstacles that penalize (or stymie) individuals for selecting (what is deemed to be) an optimal payload of enchantments.

    *sigh* I suppose I’ll participate. But mainly for the challenge of the thing. This one looks a LOT rougher than the last.


    1. The beatings shall continue until morale improves!

      So I 100% agree with you the game now is dumbed down until you get dumbed down dungeons for dumbed down players, but in order for it to be dumbed up, it must have environs in which that extra insight is rewarded and honed!

      ” Creating a dungeon where PCs are “forced” to use uncommon spells (or rewarded for doing so) is…well, I don’t think it’s a particularly grand idea, O Prince.”

      I anticipated this already and explicitly caught this because I am a genius. Behold! The words of my past self!

      “It is not as easy as it first appears. It is EXTREMELY likely that the PCs will in fact NOT have the requisite spells prepared. The trick is not to create an extra series of insurmountable brick walls with binary success/fail states (i.e. you can only open the doors if you purify the baptismal fount, although such entries should be acceptable if used sparingly) but rather to facilitate situations where the memorized spells would be extremely useful, to the point where one might actually do better with oddball selections of Mending, Hold Portal and Sanctuary.”

      A subtle but neccessary distinction. There is clearly an element to dungeon design that previously rewarded and even warranted most if not all of these spells, can we rediscover it? Will these dungeons become a bloated mess or will people be elevated to godhood as they understand truly, the myriad options open before them? There must be some element to these uncommon spells as they apply in play that makes them viable options. Can you, the aspiring designer, unlock that potential? Or will you do goblins in a cave again?

      I think we might want to think about a way to avoid making events all too scripted, a one stop shop. But how to go about that?

      “If the objective here is to put these dusty spells into play, you need to elevate the play of the players at the table, not create puzzles/obstacles that penalize (or stymie) individuals for selecting (what is deemed to be) an optimal payload of enchantments.”

      Yet how will these poor dusty spells ever see the light of day, if the dungeon can merely be blungeoned into submission with several well placed spells and the crutch of healing magick!

      I have not yet figured out how to do the scoring and I think tying the spells to any single event risks the problem of single-resolution rail-road trash that we want to avoid. I must contemplate this on the tree of Woe!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s not that the dungeon will be bludgeoned into submission…the end result seen will be players bludgeoned by clever design (their characters will either die OR go home empty-handed). That is the general result of writing for a particular “puzzle resolution.”


        Okay, Prince: I’ll dance your little dance for you. Even though I have multiple irons of my own currently in the fire (not to mention my own Prince-&-Bryce-inspired charity dungeon contest…). I will see if I can put together something that resembles neither A) a frogging funhouse, nor B) a Hogwarts-style obstacle course. But it’s a tall order with little bang for the buck, so far as I can tell. You can lead a horse to water….

        Summer, huh? Shit.


      2. Mr Becker, where can I find details regarding your own charity dungeon contest? (once it kicks off that is)


  6. Questions for clarity:

    Are there several brackets to compete in? Or is there one bracket, but higher level entries get more points?

    Perhaps a way to combine the two would be “the more spells included, the more points received”.

    For example, 11th level B/X has 106 spells and a 2nd level AD&D has 126 spells. Numbers are not perfect due to duplicate spells, but that cannot account entirely for the staggering difference. Under your scheme, the B/X adventure would get 0 points from the system and over 20 from the level, while the AD&D adventure would get 10 points from the system and none from the level… while the task for AD&D is much more challenging. And I say this as someone who is likely going to write a high level B/X or OSE entry.

    Another confounding factor with difficulty is the ratio of combat spells to utility spells. Combat spells are useful in any fight, but utility spells often need specific dungeon features (the ones I imagine you are trying to see created).

    In particular, damage spells are all fairly similar- outside of how many targets or what area can be affected, they all deal damage. One hundred damage spells could easily be reduced to “single target damage” or “area of effect damage”, especially if they lack secondary effects.

    When thinking of “combat versus utility”, Knave comes to mind. It only has 100 spells but none of them deal direct damage. Sure, some are your standard charm and fear spells, but you also have plenty of creative spells like the following:

    Disassemble: Any of your body parts may be detached and reattached at will, without causing pain or damage. You can still control them.

    This one is fairly easy to find uses for (leave an ear behind to hear incoming monsters; turn an eye into a spy drone) but encourages creativity more than damage spells.

    I am absolutely going to enter the contest; loved reading entries to the previous one. However, the parameters could result in creativity or tedium… not sure. Likely both


    1. Yes, I think the simplest scoring system would be # of unique utility spells (from canon sources) catered to, or a combat spell if it’s used in a non-standard way (powering machinery with a lightning bolt, using a hold person to defeat a motion sensor).


    2. Hi and welcome!

      So for clarity:

      -I am considering one bracket, high level/hard system gets more potential points. Nothing is set in stone just yet.

      – It might be a good idea to omit any direct dealing damage spells/combat spells from consideration altogether for complexity sake, since any combat spell is potentially useful

      – I might allow Knave, I’ll have to check it out first though

      Glad to hear you are joining in!


      1. Knave has a really good spell list, but everything is available to first level knaves so it’s definitely a tall order.


      2. Prince,
        Don’t omit any spell for consideration, leave all spells in there and available for use. Theoretically any spell can be a combat spell if applied , is that not the reason for this exercise?

        Continue as you said to encourage authors to use the odder and unused spells out there and if they are going to use the traditional combat spells use them creatively. i.e. Oddball AD&D 2nd edition 2nd level priest spells like: nap, moment, and frisky chest.

        This is going to be less of a Check the Box that a spell is used and graded on a sliding scale for creativity and application.

        If you want people to list the spells that are used in the book at the end that might be another way to present the written material. That would get hella messy if people say “You can use any of these fire based spells” and present a wall of text.


      3. Hi Cyrix

        My rationale is this one:
        Everyone uses Sleep/Charm/Magic missile, not Mending/Hold Portal/Purify Water/Gust of Wind etc. etc.. DnD has a lot of spells that don’t really get much use (that I have seen). I think that that might be a Top-Down problem, so its that the environment doesn’t reward (occasionally) equipping those spells sufficiently. Baker actually illiustrates it with his example, that young kids don’t have preconceptions on what spells you can use, but exprienced players tend to default to what are (the best) spells.

        I don’t want you to make a dungeon where you can use those spells in combat, I want you to make a dungeon where you can use those spells in exploring the dungeon. So if you use Mending to put together a broken key to open a treasure chest (or broken treasure for that matter), or Light on a bunch of rocks so you can figure out what is at the bottom of a very deep pool, that (should) count too, maybe its even better.

        – My problem is that I don’t want a game with 38 different locks requiring one and only one key, since the PCs are always going to be walking around with a subset of all possible spells. Any problem that requires, say, Spider Climb, is going to probably be solvable with a Thief’s Climb Walls ability, and that’s actually GOOD.

        -Another problem I have is that combat spells already MOSTLY get picked so its not difficult to conceive of situations where they are very useful and they are, to a large degree, not as specific in their application. Magic Missile and Fireball are going to see a lot more use. Making every combat hyperspecific so one and only one spell will do the job is not better then the Normal Method

        – A last addition is that to some degree, use of this spells relies on improvisation and is not a scrypted event. I don’t really know how to capture that in a design condition yet.


  7. I guess I’ve been away from D&D for a while. At least 1/2 of the games I played in the distant past (1e & 2e) the DMs limited how much you could pick spells. The rest you had to find. Just because it was written in some rules tome was no guarantee it existed in the game world. Even if known to be in the game world, you couldn’t just assume that you could get Fireball, or Stinking Cloud, or Colour Spray, or whatever. You had to find it. Or persuade someone to part with the knowledge, typically paying a lot of money or doing a mission/favour that risked a TPK. One campaign was minus Lightning Bolt and Fireball because the PCs *never* found an opportunity to get those spells. Made life a bit of a challenge sometimes when playing — as it should be, but it is nice when the challenge is a little bit different because you don’t have the ‘normal’ spell list available.

    So, this post and your new competition is (IMO) great. Looking forward to see what people come up with — I really liked a lot of what I saw in the previous one.


    1. This is my understanding of how spell acquisition works in (say) 1E, and why magic-users sometimes sought out NPC magic-users to do trades (possibly with a sweetener).
      A possible start for the contest might be the delivery of “ye olde tome of mysterious arcane lore” to a PC magic-user. You have the option of using some spells as per scrolls, and others can be copied into your spell book.


    1. Hahaha I understand time is pressing on your side, but this one is not official yet, I am brainstorming with you guys and figuring out what everyone thinks. If I don’t work out the kinks in what I am trying to do I am just going to do No Artpunk II: Revelations with more or less the same conditions as the first contest.


  8. Sounds like a fun challenge, but I’ll be in the wilderness during that time. My group was overjoyed for finding the Floating Disk spell…only been about 12 years…I guess our DM doesn’t like us taking out extra loot. I have so many good memories using Ventriloquism too. So many cool charities out there…perhaps the winner could choose?


  9. Interesting premise, now to read the phb! I have osric somewhere. I like the idea of starting in the new year. As January sucks in canuckistan.


  10. Holy crap. Here I was, humbly cobbling on my next humanoid lair like a sucker, blithely unaware of what the next post would bring… of course you would mix things up. This sounds like a goddamned fun idea – and something that should provide interesting results, and encourage all of us to improve our DMing. It will be a challenge to dig past the obvious uses of the well-known spells! I’m in.


  11. I’ve gotta say, this doesn’t seem as neat as the other No Artpunk idea and I have a lot of concerns about it.

    For one, the last one took on a convention of the genre that everyone interacts with – this one, only the spellcasters do. So half the party’s out already. And then maybe even they don’t, depending on how the dungeon is structured and how non-obvious the use is. I think it is fair to say that “there’s not enough for the Wizard to do” is not a problem D&D has had any time recently.

    Plus, low-level play has much more limited spell slots, meaning that wanting the players to memorize weird and exotic spells is a much bigger ask than at a higher level (and much more likely to cause them problems outside of these scenarios). And as you noted, most dungeon design is low-level.

    On top of that, as you say combat spells have an obvious use. But almost all the spells have an obvious use. It’s just that other spells are MORE useful, so they get used instead. It’s not that no one knows what to do with Jump, it’s that ropes (and Spider Climb) exist.

    In addition, this seems a very different focus – a humanoid lair is a broad concept people can work with. “Find a use for these spells” is a lot more narrow. If the last one told us what to paint, this one is is picking the colours the paintings will be, and I worry that no matter how different the artist they’re still gonna look pretty similar.

    And finally, there are a bunch of annoying and finicky between-edition-and-system differences with spells that seem like they’d get in the way by making one person’s module much less relevant for someone else (for example, Basic D&D Floating Disk does 500lb. The AD&D version does 100/lvl. Only one of those is an interesting spell at 1st level).

    If your heart is set on it, perhaps you pick the specific set of spells to make useful? Pick a few from different systems and editions, even. That way everyone’s working toward a more concrete goal, the results are more broadly useful, and you can pick a broad range of interesting things to work with. And people move out of their comfort zones no matter how familiar they are with the other spells. You can do tiers pretty easily that way, too.


    1. Hey, S.K.:

      All this is part of the challenge.

      It’s a tall order. But we have…what…six months to work the problem? Last challenge had a couple dozen participants and only eight made the cut. This one may have a smaller percentage of folks who can adequately supply a suitable amount of dungeon-y enjoyment to PCs while still meeting the criteria.

      Yeah, I was fairly lukewarm on the idea at first, too. That’s because I’m a hack that lacks imagination. However, I’m more slow than stupid…the longer I’ve pondered the thing, the more intriguing I see the contest.

      Why not, man?


    2. These are (mostly) valid concerns:

      My goal is to adjust overal design. I have noticed that a rare few older dungeons did in fact have features allowing for the use of more utility magic, but in doing so they allowed for a whole sleuth of non-magical strategies also. Monsters with hidden treasure hoards, damaged magic that if repaired, would be formidable, hazardous environmental features, occasional monsters that don’t go down with Sleep etc. etc. I want to push people to figure out what those are and to start incorporating them.

      I don’t want Wizards to do more, I want to create situations where the use of Sleep/Magic missile at lower levels is no longer as automatic.

      How I structure that into a contest is a tall order, and your suggestion of concreteness might be on to something. I do need to think about it. I might use some sort of randomly generated system where I assemble a table of (common) spells that are combat oriented that the dungeon must, to some degree, nerf, next to another table of (utility/uncommon) spells whose use must be included, but doing so for multiple spellcasting classes is very tough.

      The goal of the design contest is still to create above average dungeons that are enjoyable by the non-psychopathic, so we can’t have nutso puzzle dungeons with 54 different unique solutions, although that sounds amazing, an entire collection worth might be too much.


      1. Jonathan:
        Possibly. But I am nothing if not a reliable source of negative feedback. Also, Prince has explained a bit further and now I am much more on board.

        And with that thinking explained, I am far more intrigued and think this is a good fit for the contest. “Improve the diversity of dungeon design through better spell balance thus allowing for a diversity of magic and non-magic strategies” isn’t as simple, but is a great idea. Stated as that I think it’s more likely to encourage people in the direction you want, too – you’ll get physical obstacles rather than things built specifically for the spells. I think I have a much better understand of what you want now.

        The table sounds like it could work well. I wouldn’t worry too much about clerics. Since they know everything, they CAN use esoteric stuff if they rest. Good to bring out obscure choices more, obviously, but I think it’s the magic-user who is where alternate choices probably really need to be encouraged. You’re trying to reshape entire campaigns, really, because a one-shot dungeon where all spells are useful is still meaningless without a wider context.

        Should be interesting.


  12. I have been doing this over the years…tucking in uses for the esoteric spells like mending, speak with animals/dead, etc. and found it pretty fun. For me, the trick is just that PCs sometimes fail to unlock some game elements. There are some locks without keys. It’s Ok to fail.

    Great idea for the next contest.


  13. Regarding the companion book and charity: will the proceeds to the next book also be for charity? If not, will it be available within the next 3 months? I’d prefer to get both at the same time, but I also want to send my money somewhere useful. If the companion will be longer than 3 months and doesn’t go to charity then I’d get the first one now.


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