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What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:
Immortal Figures: Gods of Olympus

Monday, March 22, 2010

Review: Engineering Dungeons (SG1)

It is the weekend and you have the plot, characters, and the hook all ready. The first of the players will arrive in just a few hours but you still haven't had time to map out a dungeon with trappings and treasure. For those game masters who lack time or are running a bit short on creativity, TLG has released the first accessory of the Siege Gear line entitled “Engineering Dungeons”. Some time prior to the release of this work, I had the pleasure to play test what could best be called an early draft. In short, Engineering Dungeons provides a step by step process to help an enterprising game master design a dungeon or other complex of sorts for their game. Though written to be used with the Castles & Crusades game in mind, it is also a relatively simple task to adapt this for use with one's fantasy role-playing game of choice. What is even nicer about the accessory are some of the details and numerous little surprises packed within a mere 28 pages. This product is written by Robert Doyel and was released by Troll Lord Games in 2007.

Dungeon Basics:

Too often, the simplest details are overlooked when planning out a devious dungeon for your players to delve into. The first section covers the basics for the dungeon. With a few simple tables, you can quickly determine why the complex was built, who the builders were, and where this is situated. Each of these has appropriate sub-tables to provide a bit more depth. The section also covers size, entrances, age. Overall, this section is very self-explanatory and covers all the necessities and the tables are laid out clearly enough. In my own uses of these tables, I've slightly modified the Intelligent Races sub-table for the Builders to accommodate a few different entries more suited to my campaign... However, the tables as they stand right now are perfectly fine.

In order to help impose a limit to the size of the dungeon, a simple chart is used. Naturally, like all other tables in this work, this one can be used in the manner that one chooses. The elegance is revealed in its simplicity as the chart functions by determining a result for each axis – the depth or height (as in the number of levels), the width, and the length. I have seen a more than a few dungeon generators but none that quite helps limit the scope of the dungeon as simply as this one does.

Drawing the Map:

The next section deals with drawing the actual map. I found a few things I didn't completely expect when I was first exploring this section of the work. It starts off by offering a couple suggestions with regards to the placement of the main entrance and a brief explanation on how to progress in terms of the design of the dungeon-proper. Six templates are presented to use as a starting point. Each of these has openings where you determine if it opens up to a room, a hallway, or simply comes to a dead-end. A table for the passageways is provided to help determine the style, direction, and if it sloped or not. A different table is given to determine sizes and shapes of the various rooms and other respective exits from the room. All of this is pretty much standard and what one would expect with perhaps the exception of the provided designs for the hallways themselves. This isn't a bad thing mind you... just a bit different from what I have seen before but just as effective. I'm more used to the idea of a table providing all necessary variables for a hallway such as the length, width, and length. Then again, this sort of thing could potentially be more time consuming that what is provided here. That said, there is nothing stopping the designer from altering aspects of a hallway pattern.

A Few Words on the Features:

By far, the strongest elements in this accessory are the tables detailing various features to dress up the chambers in the complex. You want the dungeon to come alive? Look no further that this book and you'll find charts detailing things that draw on the senses – whether it be sight, sound, or smell. Doors, locks, traps, and treasure? Not a problem, there are tables for everything. The inclusion of a difficulty generator when factoring in things such as the locks or traps is a nice and often overlooked addition. But the real gem is the collection of monster tables set up for various encounter regions which fills a wonderful gap left open by the Monster & Treasure book. Suffice to say, there is a chart for most things you might looking for, including one for magical pools – a hallmark of classic dungeon crawls!

If that wasn't enough, as a bonus one will find a selection of maps ready to be populated and used for their own adventures. It would be a fair assessment to assume that these were designed using the system provided.

Final Thoughts:

Engineering Dungeons can easily inspire a game master to add more depth to other dungeons and adventures or be used to create some form of complex from scratch. The accessory does a great job to provide ample material which enterprising designers can use for years to come. It provides what is needed and functional and easy to use – plain and simple. Personal preferences aside, the only issue was a slight oversight when it came to the text and layout. This has to do with the header located on page 7 called 'Drawing the Map'. If this is meant to be viewed as a new section, and it should in my opinion, then this text needs to stand out more. The editing, art, and production values in the rest of the work are nicely done. This accessory is well worth the price and provides something for everyone – regardless of the game you play.

[Review originally written for Domesday - Vol.3. Engineering Dungeons was published by Troll Lord Games in 2007 and written by Robert Doyel.]

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