Monday, July 27, 2020

First Adventures in Dungeoneering: 1976 Gygax article

Gary Gygax Day by Jim Wampler

For Gary Gygax Day 2020I'd like to share "First Adventures in Dungeoneering", a heretofore mostly forgotten article that Gygax wrote for the Europa zine, issue #12-13 (Feb/Mar 1976). This was one of his follow-ups to his now fairly well known 1975 article to the same zine called "How To Set Up Your Dungeons & Dragons Campaign" (issue #6-8), which you can find a link to here on GrognardiaMany thanks to Allan Grohe of From Kuroth's Quill and Black Blade Publishing for discovering this article and making a transcript that he posted here in a thread over at the OD&D Discussion forum last year.

Being published in early 1976, this article is still firmly in the era of OD&D; the AD&D Players Handbook was still about two years off. This was during the era when Gygax was promoting/explaining D&D through articles & letters sent to various gaming publications. Allan has a list of many of these on his website here. Since the field of role-playing games was still in its infancy, many these publications were related to wargaming or Diplomacy, including Europa (published in Europe as suggested by the name) as seen the description in issue #6-8: 

The article is a gem because it contains an otherwise unpublished "Example of Play" for OD&D, written up in part as a dialogue between the DM and players in a manner similar to the original one in OD&D, Vol 3 and the later examples in the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide. I've always greatly enjoyed Gygax's play examples not only for their entertainment value but also for insight into how he ran games and for the bits of his designs that are shown. Holmes and Moldvay continued this tradition by writing new Examples of Play for their respective Basic rulebooks.

The bolded, bracketed numbers below correspond to notes I've added following the article. I've grouped them at the end of the relevant paragraphs to make them less distracting.


You have been thoroughly hooked on Dungeons & Dragon (D&D), and during the last few days every spare moment has been spent happily preparing several dungeon levels. Great care and thought have been employed to do things just so - and of course you have spent a bit of time laughing fiendishly at the thought of what the hapless dungeoneers will encounter in choice areas! Actually, you certainly don't want your players to get killed, for then they'd miss seeing just how cleverly you've set them up! They don't want to buy the farm either (unless the dice were unkind indeed). Think about that. 
A good referee does not wish to deliberately set his players up for certain death in the game - although there are sometimes one or two players who... Anyway, by the same token you should not set out to aid them either. The whole purpose of the game is for the players THEMSELVES to face the challenge presented by the dungeonmaster's maze, to defeat it, or be defeated by it without help or hindrance. If they are clever they should survive and gain great rewards, and if they are stupid they should finish themselves off rapidly. This implies that you have located and numbered monsters carefully, so that the players can usually fight them on even terms, outwit them, or run like hell, i.e., one doesn't put invisible stalkers on the first level. If there are errors they will quickly be spotted on the first adventure, and they should be corrected before the next! In fact that is why I urge that a separate key listing monsters and treasure be kept for each level, rather than writing the information right on the map. With all this in mind, let's move on to the actual game. 
Several players are gathered in some secluded place, and you have a good spot set up where they cannot see your dice rolls or map. It is a good plan to give them at least a half an hour to get everything together. Magic-Users will have to decide what spell they are going to take. Everyone will be selecting basic equipment, figuring costs and encumbrance. Although spell selection always takes a bit of time, we have pretty much settled upon the following as 'standard equipment':
dagger, 50' rope, 10' pole, 12 iron spike, small sack, leather back pack, water/win skin, lantern, 3 flasks oil, holy water/vial, quart wine, iron rations.[1] 
Your players can simply compute the price of what they set out as standard and save much time and effort. Additional items and encumbrances can then be noted aside as additions to the standard. 
Your players will also have to appoint their leader and mapper. At this point everything is all ready for the first descent into the deepest dungeon! So let us move on to a typical account of a first trip, assuming that the players have moved outdoors to a ruined city which is reputed to have dungeons beneath it. The ‘dungeonmaster’ will be indicated as ‘D’, the party of the players as ‘P’. 
D: “You have found the ruins of the deserted city of Detresed. You can see that there are streets going northeast, northwest, and north. Most of the ruins are nondescripts, but due north you note that there are several larger structures, one or two of which are in less disrepair than the others.” [2]
After going northwards a few hundred feet, and getting complete descriptions of the ruined edifices visible to them, the party selects a ruined structure which appears to have been a temple, and they enter cautiously. After thorough exploration they decide to ignore a set of steps they have located, for a vast stone idol hid a narrow shaft penetrating very deep beneath the temple. The latter would not normally have been located, but careful checking and perseverance found a secret door in the idol’s back. The party descends some 40’ into a large, circular arched chamber. It is 30’ in diameter and has eight doors. [3-5] 
P: “There is no sense debating, let’s take the door to the west, for it seemed that there were more ruins above in that direction than in any other direction. One member of the party will carefully try the door to see if it will open normally. All others will have their weapons drawn and ready in case there is someone or something behind it!” 
D: “Door opens normally (without ANY sound, in fact), and beyond you see a 10’ wide corridor going north.” 
P: “The door didn’t make ANY noise when we opened it?! Hmmmm. Examine the hinges.” 
D: “They were oiled – greased lock.” [6] 
P: “Oh, oh! Watch out! These doors are USED. Helmets off, everyone. Listen at all of the other doors.” [7] 
After some time spent so listening, noise is detected behind the door to the east and that to the southeast. And meanwhile the dungeonmaster has checked, but the party is lucky and no wandering monster has happened along during the interim. The brave adventurers ready themselves, creep close to the eastern door, and ready an attack. Two of the six will watch the southeast, one will open the east door, and the three with bows will have their weapons ready as the door is flung wide. 
P: “We are set. Open the door!” 
D: “You see, ahh ((die roll)) 4 hobgoblins attending some sort of cleric. They are dressed in black and blood red garments. Now, did you surprise them? ((die roll of 3)) NO! Initiative check – you are at plus 1 because you prepared. ((The check shows that the party is able to attack before the cleric and his servitors will be able to react at all.)) The enemy is approximately 15’ away, by the by.” [8-10]
P: “Loose arrows, drop bows, draw swords, and charge. If I can manage to cast a Sleep Spell during all this I’ll do so, but I will be careful not to cast it so as to include our men in its effect. The two watching the other door will maintain position.” 
The dungeonmaster now checks to see which arrows score hits, whom the hits are scored upon, and how much damage is done. Simultaneously, he determines if the magic-user who opened the door will be able to get a spell prepared and cast – about equal odd for and against due to preparation and positioning. It is successful, and 4 of the hobgoblins fall to the floor snoring. The cleric was not named as a specific target, and as he is a 4th level (Evil Priest)  the general area spell doesn’t affect him. He shouts loudly, points, and an attacker is struck by a Light Wound Spell. Undaunted they press on, eager to close with the cleric and slay him. The next melee turn is spent by the party closing, with the cleric backing and raising his finger to deliver another Light Wound. Just as the party is about to hack and slew this evil opponent they hear shouts from the chamber without: “Beware! HOBGOBLINS! There are more who serve this priest…” [11-13]
P: “Two of the fighters will finish the cleric off as quickly as possible. I will go to the door we just entered, with the other fighter, to help the rest of the party, but while he goes directly to aid them, I’ll stop and kill the sleeping hobgoblins here.” 
A general melee now ensues in the chamber and in the room where the cleric fights on. Seeing that the party’s two fighters and cleric are seemingly holding their own against 6 hobgoblins, the magic-user creeps up behind the badly wounded Evil Priest and delivers the ‘Coup de grâce’. This frees them all for immediate attack upon the remaining hobgoblins. Good thing, too! One fighter and the cleric are down, and there are three hobgoblins attacking the remaining man. After a long round of attacks and counters the party finally wins, although only three remain alive – the magic-user leading it, an elven fighter, and a fighting man. 
P: “Well, let’s quickly check the bodies and the rooms for any treasure. The priest’s quarters will be searched especially well by the elf.” 
D: “You find some silver pieces in the pockets of the hobgoblins ((a dice roll determines how many for each)), and in the robes of the cleric you find a pouch with 100 gold pieces. Nothing else is found.” 
P: “Let’s all go check out that room some more… I am not satisfied that we’ve located everything. But to be on the safe side, let’s spike the door shut good and tight, and the fighter will keep an eye on it also just in case.” 
Several turns are spent in this manner, and finally a small trap door in the floor is discovered. It is lifted to reveal a hidden trove – an alabaster idol worth not less than 500 gold pieces. As the party is in bad shape, they elect to return immediately to the surface. Their comrades are buried, their own wound treated, and before passing on the idol to some merchant, they minutely examine it. It too reveals a small magical compartment, and after several days the magic-user manages to open it. Therein lies a map to a temple on the 4th level – a place veritably stuffed with treasure, but strongly guarded by many hobgoblins and powerful men and monsters. Better still, there are some very valuable gems hidden in the compartment too! When the survivors share the wealth and experience, they are all well-pleased and rewarded, all going up a level. Time now for them to seek some powerful allies and many met-at-arms for a special expedition to that temple… [14-15]
The above may not be exactly typical, for many first adventures are spent trying to figure out where the party is, for mapping CAN be a difficult task until you get the hang of it. Also, many first-timers take on monsters too powerful for them, or don’t use ‘hit-and-run’ tactics as they should. Again, I have had first time parties who had adventures just about like the one above. 
This should enable you to ready your dungeons. How about a questions and comments section from all of you next time? And I’ll try to answer in the next…

  1. Gygax's "Standard Equipment" could serve as an "Equipment Pack" for OD&D, with a price of 69 gold pieces: dagger (3) + 50' rope (1) + 12 spikes (1) + small sack (1) + backpack (5) + water/wine skin (1) + lantern (10) + 3 flasks oil (6) + holy water/vial (25) + quart wine (1) + iron rations (15). Characters rolling 30-60 gold won't be able to afford this, but dropping the holy water would bring it down to 45. Clerics could switch out the dagger for a mace, for a total of 71 gp. Notably, this pack doesn't include other armor/weapons. Since Holmes uses the same costs, we could also use this in Holmes without change, except perhaps adding a Tinderbox (3) --- the only "new" equipment in the Holmes price list. OD&D encumbrance would be dagger (20) + "Miscellaneous Equipment (rope, spikes, bags, etc)" (80) = 100, plus armor and any additional weapons.
  2. Allan notes that the name of the ruin "Detresed" is "deserted" spelled backwards, a trademark Gygax name-pun. 
  3. The ruined city brings to mind the never released Outdoor Geomorphs Set Three: Ruin. And the "lost, ruined city of the Old Suloise" that "is said to be hidden somewhere in the Suss forest..." (World of Greyhawk folio, pg 26), the same forest where, in the novel Artifact of Evil, Gord & company explore a "three-tiered structure ... a large building, probably a temple of some sort".
  4. The vast stone idol naturally recalls the cover of the AD&D Players Handbook.
  5. The circular 8-door room is a bit like the octagonal entrance room in the Delving Deeper level from Hall of Many Panes, but with twice as many exits. He used a similar shaped room in Castle Greyhawk and in the Dungeon Geomorphs (where the room is circular); see the linked post for images.
  6. Here it is interesting to see an example of an OD&D dungeon door that is *not* stuck because it is in regular use. This edges away from the OD&D idea that all dungeon doors open for monsters but not players.
  7. The rules for listening at doors in OD&D Vol 3 do not specifically require that helmets are taken off, but this does appear later in the Dungeon Masters Guide.
  8. Gygax also used an evil cleric (3rd level) plus hobgoblins in the DMG Sample Dungeon (in areas 35-37, but only mentioned in the Wandering Monster table for the Crypt Areas). There's also the evil Adept (2nd level) with a Gnoll guard on the first level of the Greyhawk dungeon, who has one spell: Cause Light Wounds, much like the priest here. And in the Moathouse dungeon in T1 The Village of Hommlet module, there is Lareth (a 5th level cleric) with his Gnolls, Bugbears and Ogre.
  9. Allan notes that "the hobgoblins wear red and black, which corresponds with their description in the MM---"Hobgoblins favor bright, bloody colors and black leather"; this also matches the red shields of the Hobgoblins of the Pomarj heraldy from the Greyhawk folio and boxed set". I add that the Evil Priest in B2 has his room decorated in the same colors: "a red carpet, furniture of black wood with velvet upholstery of scarlet, and a large bed covered with silken covers of black and red cushions and pillows".
  10. The +1 to initiative for "being prepared" given here is an interesting addition. The OD&D FAQ in Strategic Review #2 (Summer 1975) that first describes initiative mentions giving a bonus for dexterity, but not for preparation.
  11. The note "4th level (Evil Priest)" is consistent with the level titles for Anti-Clerics in OD&D Vol 1, either page 34 or 35 depending on the printing.
  12. The priest's method of casting the "Light Wound Spell" from a distance is very interesting & quite different than Cause Light Wounds in AD&D, which requires touch. The pointing is reminiscent of "Finger of Death", making the spells seem like low/high level versions of the same power. It should be noted that "Cure Light Wounds" in OD&D Vol 1 doesn't include any mention of requiring touch, so it is possible at this point that neither Cure nor Cause Light Wounds required touch. The "Light Wound Spell" spell also doesn't require the "course of one full turn" listed for Cure Light Wounds in OD&D Vol 1, although that reference is possibly just be inconsistent terminology for "one full round".
  13. The "enemy" is only 15' away, but the party has to spend a "melee turn" (presumably meaning melee round) closing with the priest, who is "backing" and casting.
  14. B2 The Keep on the Borderlands also has two alabaster statues. One of alabaster & gold (3000 gp) in the Loan Bank in the Keep, and a 30 lb one of alabaster & ivory (200 gp) in the Bugbear Chieftain's Room. This later one is also hidden (in a chest on a hidden high ledge), but lacks any secret magical compartments.
  15. The "map to a temple on the 4th level – a place veritably stuffed with treasure, but strongly guarded by many hobgoblins and powerful men and monsters" is a good example of OD&D Treasure Map.


  1. I really like the idea of "cause light wounds" being ranged for evil clerics, or a secret sect. The mechanics of 2-7 points of damage from afar are similar to "magic missile", but describing a wound appearing on the character's body after having a finger jabbed at them by an evil cleric - that will keep the players guessing!

  2. What a great slice of RPG history!

  3. The thing that I noticed from the description of the combat was that the DM did the majority of the dice rolling. That made the players much more participants in a story.

    Really exciting adventure and pretty deadly too.

  4. Thanks for posting this; I ended up writing my own commentary on it after reading (and yours) here for the first time.

  5. this actually feeds into a question I have been wondering for a while: when exactly did people in Europe become aware of ttrpgs? the earliest description of an actual German session I found puts this into the time around 76/77. But of course there might have been previous sessions I am not aware of.

    1. The earlier Europa article linked above is from issue #6-8, April 1975, and it is part II of a series, so there is at least one earlier article by Gygax introducing D&D to a European audience.

    2. In England, there was the Owl & Weasel, a precursor to White Dwarf. Issue #5, June 1975, has a brief description of D&D by Steve Jackson (the UK one of Games Workshop, not the US one). Issue #6, July 1975 has much more extensive coverage of D&D.