Monday, December 21, 2015

Comparing DMGs (P. 3b)

In my last post on this series, I reviewed the second (middle) part of the DMG5, ostensibly devoted to explaining how a DM goes about creating an adventure for D&D. This is, by the way, makes the DMG5 something of a necessity for the aspiring 5E DM because WotC's free "Basic game" PDF still offers ZERO information on how to create or run adventures in 5th Edition, basic or not.

[that's as of v.4, by the way...just checked today. Remember this old post from January? Yep, still a crippled fucking product]

ANYway, today I want to write the comparison of the original (AD&D) Dungeon Masters Guide approach to the same subject in order to compare the two, and fortunately for all my readers it will be a blessedly short post, because there's not much to say: the original DMG is sadly lacking in any such information.

And I was pretty surprised at that, but it is what it is. The AD&D DMG provides a lot of information, rules, and guidance for running a game or campaign, but precious little information on actually creating adventures. There's some information in THE CAMPAIGN section ("Setting Things In Motion") in which Gygax tells the reader to design a dungeon with multiple levels of gradually escalating danger/reward. There's a sample dungeon ("The First Dungeon Adventure") that includes both a map and key. There are treasure tables and wandering monster tables and appendices describing TRAPS, TRICKS, and DUNGEON DRESSING...mostly just random tables and ideas. There are things that can be inferred by the reader from other sections of the book, but even the section of the book called THE ADVENTURE provides only additional rules (this is one of those sections meant to be read in parallel to the same section of the PHB) with little real guidance other than making sure you have a well-detailed map. There's nothing like what's found in the's enough to make me wonder how I ever learned to DM the damn game in the first place!

But then I remember that long before I ever picked up a copy of the DMG, I cut my teeth on Moldvay's Basic D&D set, with its step-by-step guidance for DMs and how to create adventures. Using Moldvay's book (and having a copy of B2: The Keep on the Borderlands) gave me information and a ready model to follow. And then, of course, I remember that Gygax's Dungeon Masters Guide is a book for Advanced Dungeons & is not a book for teaching the game but an a guidebook for a DM who wishes to play an advanced version of the fantasy role-playing game called D&D.

And because of that, I'm a little willing to give the author a pass. However, I don't see anything to this effect in the fact, what Gygax writes is:
"There are sections on the development of the campaign milieu, dungeon design, random creation of wilderness and dungeon levels, and the development of non-player characters. In fact, I have attempted to cram everything vital to the game into this book, so that you will be as completely equipped as possible..."
I suppose that, if one's game consists solely of delving dungeons in a fantasy world than you will have everything you need within the book. But one would hope for some guidance on adventure design other than how to draw a map on grid paper...the intro itself says there is information on "dungeon design," but I see very little of this, certainly not set out in any particular place/section of the book.

Required reading for the AD&D DM.
If taken as an advanced guidebook to a basic game (as I did, in my youth), then the original DMG is passable. If, however, the edition we call "1E" is to be taken as a standalone game (as I think Gygax intended), then I'm going to call it a failure. I may disagree with the actual organization and design choices of the DMG5 with regard to the subject of adventure creation, but at least that book requires no additional context to learn its material.

Disappointing. As I wrote, I consider adventure creation to be the main responsibility of a Dungeon Master. It would be nice to have more than a handful of scattered references strewn haphazardly through more than 200 pages of text.

And that's about all I want to say on the matter. See? Told you this would be short.


  1. Just got my copy of the DMG1 premium reprint. You're spot on about it seeming more like a guide for moderately-experienced DMs of previous iterations of D&D; I'd say that this is also true to a certain extent with the second and third books of OD&D. (I think one of the few improvements of DMG for AD&D 2nd Edition was that it gave some advice for developing adventures, although it still fails to give *any* concrete examples for the novice.) That being said, I still see myself using the DMG1 as a reference book for any and all "old-school" games I run (including B/X and AD&D2).

  2. The DMG, Player's Handbook and Monster Manual were all given to me the same Christmas, 4 months after I began playing the game. These three were the first rule books I owned and had unlimited access to.

    No one, absolutely no one, in 1979 had the slightest impression that the DMG was a "stand alone" rule book. It was perfectly clear to all the people I associated with and played with that you needed all three books to play and that they had all the basic content that was needed. I vouch for that personally.

    Funny that so many of us, many many hundreds if I remember those early conventions in the 80s, managed to somehow play this 'incomplete' game, so-called. I don't remember anyone, at the time, suggesting we turn to Moldvay or any sort of Basic set for 'answers' to our questions. As I remember, we simply decided to house rule what we needed.

    The DMG gives terrible, terrible advice on dungeon building. No question about it, I always felt that awful example of a dungeon was one of the things/ideals that poisoned campaigns in those days. But the DMG not give a good idea (a solid direction) of how a campaign should be run?


    1. @ Alexis:

      I don't think it fails to give good advice on creating and running campaigns; to the contrary, I think it is excellent in this regard, and accomplishes "more with less" in providing explanation for the aspiring DM. I discussed that in the prior posts (this is the 5th posting the series). Here I'm only talking about its guidance with regard to "adventure creation" which, I suppose, depends on your interpretation of what an adventure is. As you say, it offers little in regard to creating dungeon sites.

      I'm sure the conventions of your youth included at least some individuals who received some additional information...either mentoring, magazine articles, a "basic" edition, or similar. My comparison is looking at the DMG in a vacuum, and seeing what info it conveys by itself.

    2. What is the point of looking at it in a vacuum? I didn't learn to play Monopoly or RISK in a vacuum. I didn't learn to play baseball in a vacuum. Do the rules of baseball fall short in any way because I need others to give me good information on mastery of the game? Your premise of comparing them in a vacuum makes no sense.

      Of course 5e has better information about things that AD&D lacked. 5e came AFTER. It had 40 years to sort out what needed attention. Damn, I should think we learned something.

      The sad point is that we learned so little. The fact that the two books can be compared at all is telling - it's painfully indicative that, even with all that 'testing' and pro-active communication, so little has been improved. Hell, JB, you have to scrape for evidence of improvement. That's just bloody sad.

  3. I was always glad that they didn't waste the pages on instructions, you learned to play the game by playing the game, in our case, by managing games.

    This is a social game, & it is for nerds, we're smart cookies! We learned how to craft our adventures through just doing it! Were our games amazing? No, but that comes with time and experience. We talked to other Dungeon Masters, we listened to our players, we bought modules and learned from them.

    Do you feel that our lack of instructions hurt our personal game?

  4. Okay, That was a loaded question and I do apologize.

    I do believe that this post is unintentionally insulting, and you are going to get heat from it.

    I am enjoying this article because it forms a link which I am not willing to make myself, while I am interested in 5e, I am not going to go out and buy a copy of it. You are comparing 5e to a version that I do know, which makes this the perfect series.

    I have heard lots of things from other sources where they try to push off things which I believe are bad, as being a good thing. From what I can make out of it (read blatant speculation without really knowing the facts), 5e is extremely dumbed down. Is this an elitist attitude or a legit condemnation? Probably a bit of both.

    1. @ Ripper:

      I don't think your question was particularly "loaded," though I didn't really understand what you were asking.

      I certainly wasn't trying to be "insulting," though I was being intentionally critical (negative). I'm not sure who that would have insulted, exactly. Gygax?

      I can't really hazard an answer to your elitist/legit question. I'm not a dictionary definition elitist, myself (I'm probably best categorized as a "snob"). However, when I previously said 5E was dumb it had nothing to do with being "dumbed down." I just meant it was kind of a feeble design, considering the resources one presumes the D&D brand-owners can command.

      Well, and dragonborn. I think they're pretty dumb in general (and, yes, I realize that's probably going to insult some folks).

  5. I find the AD&D comments interesting. As one of the first of its type - really the first book meant for the general public, I would give it more than "a pass." Only later where the rules written for people without direct contact to the community.