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Monday, December 11, 2017

Gygax's Dungeon Level from Hall of Many Panes

The "Dungeon Delving" map from Hall of Many Pane

I recently found a cheap second-hand copy of the Hall of Many Panes boxed set, a mega-adventure written by Gary Gygax and published by Troll Lord Games in 2005, with dual stats for 3.5E D&D and the Lejendary Adventures (LA) RPG. The Hall was playtested by Gary back in 2002 using LA, his preferred system in his last decade. I was subscribed to his Gygax-Games email list back then and remember his regular play-test reports.

This is my first time owning the final product, so I'd never seen the "Dungeon Delving" Map that was one of the "Many Panes" (Pane 8 / Rose). In the text, Gary describes it at as a "dungeon of the days of yore". Once a party enters via the pane, they are stuck on the level and must explore it thoroughly until they figure out how to leave again.

The published map is a bit of an oddity, as the cartographer seems to have taken a scan of Gary's original map (whatever the source may be), made a negative image out of it, and then drew right over that digitally. The graph from the original paper can be seen in white, as well as many of Gary's notes - some written over completely, some written over partially, and some not written over at all, like the pool in Room 9. The cartographer must have had some trouble following the original notations because, as T. Foster has pointed out, the final map has a number of discrepancies between it and the text of the module.

The design is interesting because it's a rare published example in Gary's early style of dungeons, as glimpsed in the tips in OD&D Vol 3, TSR's Dungeon Geomorphs and the unpublished levels of Castle Greyhawk (CG). In the '00s, Gary kept the original castle notes in a binder that he would use to run it at conventions, under OD&D rules, and a few of the levels were photographed by players of these games. The two most well-known images are of Levels 1 and 3, which I've included below for comparison (see also Visualizing Castle Greyhawk). On the whole, "Dungeon Delving" is closest in style to CG Level 3:

Castle Greyhawk Level 3

Below is a list of elements in "Dungeon Delving" that are found in Gygax's other dungeons. Note this list contains spoilers if you think you might ever play through Hall of Many Panes.

Diagonal Passages: In "Dungeon Delving" the central START area is an octagonal room similar in design to the hexagonal room in the northern half of Level 3 (see above). In each, a door leads out to a diagonal passage in four directions: NW, NE, SW, SE - essentially an X-shape with a room at the intersection.

Gary's use of diagonal passages was first illustrated way back in the "Sample Level" in OD&D Vol 3; see Area 3 in the image further down this page. The note for this explained, "This area simply illustrates the use of slanting passages to help prevent players from accurately mapping a level (exact deviation from cardinal points is difficult for them to ascertain)."

His "Solo Dungeon Adventures" article in Strategic Review #1 (Spring 1975) is a close relative of these early dungeons, and was later reprinted as Appendix A: Random Dungeon Generation in the Dungeon Masters Guide. In this, Table III: Side Passages includes an entry that the "passage "X's" (if present passage is horizontal or vertical it forms a fifth passage into the "x")".

Diagonal passages and even a few "X-shaped" rooms can also be found in the Dungeon Geomorphs, originally published in 1976-1977, for example in Geomorph A from Set 1:

Geomorph A from Dungeon Geomorphs Set 1: Basic Dungeon (1976)

Room-Labyrinths: A prominent feature of the early dungeons are the maze-like series of empty rooms, which Gygax terms a "room-labyrinth" in OD&D Vol 3. Area 2 of the "Sample Level" illustrates this (see below), with the note stating, "This is a simple room-labyrinth, generally leading nowhere, but "[Room] A would be a room containing a monster and treasure". The section on "Distribution of Monsters and Treasures" further explains, "As a general rule there will be far more uninhabited space on a level than there will be space occupied by monsters, human or otherwise" (page 6). The random distribution instructions that follow give each room a 1-2 in 6 chance of having a monster, which means that on average 33% of the rooms will be occupied. 

The Dungeon Geomorphs are also chock-full of the room-labyrinths (see above). The original notes for the Dungeon Geomorphs restricted this even further: "Approximately 25% of the rooms and large spaces should contain monsters, treasures and other notable items. For every five such rooms there should be approximately one trap. Slanting passages, teleportation areas, slides and the like should be added sparingly thereafter -- one or two such items per level is a fair guideline".

Detail of the map from S1 Tomb of Horrors
Some other less filled-in Gygax dungeons have isolated room-labyrinths. The infamous Tomb of Horrors has a small room-labyrinth south of Area 8. One section of this leads to a false door concealing a spear trap (more on those below), and the other is a series of secret doors (Area 9) leading to the next area of the dungeon (Area 10). His last publication, Castle Zagyg, also has a room-labyrinth (Area 103) consisting of over 30 10' by 10' rooms with 50 (!) different doors, part of the defenses of his beloved Old Guard Kobolds.

Castle Greyhawk Level 1

Transporters: "Dungeon Delving" has three different two-way transporters; A1 & A2 are corridor/stair transporters, and B1/2 & B2/1 and B3/4 & B4/3 are two sets of room transporters. The L-shaped A1 & A2 transporters are in a style similar to those on the Level 1 CG map as pointed out by T. Foster here

Back in the Tricks and Traps section of OD&D Vol 3, the list of suggestions by Gygax include "Intra-level teleportation area, so that a player will be transported to a similar (or dissimilar area on the same level, possibly activated by touching some items (such as a gem, door, or the like)". The "Sample Level" in OD&D Vol 3 also includes two different examples of transporters, one a two-way room-based transporter, the other a one-way corridor transporter, although neither is explicitly "intra-level". See areas E and F below. 

Likewise, in the original notes for the Dungeon Geomorphs he suggests "putting in areas where those who entered are teleported to a similar spot elsewhere". Tomb of Horrors also has a number of teleporters.

The original version of the OD&D Vol 3 "Sample Level"

Pits: In "Dungeon Delving", the pits are marked with X's and are generally at intersections of corridors, similar to the example in the OD&D "Sample Level". See above, the "X" near Room I. The note for this states,  "Note the pit (X) at the four-way intersection containing a secret door on its south surface" (pg 5). The use of X's to marked covered pits became standard in D&D modules, at least for a time, for example the infamous pit in the Kobold lair in the Caves of Chaos.

The text for "Dungeon Delving" indicates that its pits are of three types, all 10' deep: an unboxed X to indicate an open pit, a boxed X to indicate a covered pit, and a boxed X with a cross-bar to indicate a covered pit with spikes at the bottom. I don't actually note any of the third type on the map itself, which suggests one of the mapping errors noted above.

Arrow/Spear Traps: An "A" on the "Dungeon Delving" map indicates an arrow trap that fires three arrows from the dungeon wall when the square is stepped on. Area 14 also has a more interesting variant on this. 

There are no arrow traps in the OD&D Sample Level, but the sample encounters for the Dungeon Geomorphs Set 1 have one that fires when a door is opened. Arrow and spear traps are part of the line-up in the Trick/Trap Table in "Solo Dungeon Adventures", and are part of the standard line-up in the trap tables in the Dungeon Masters Guide, including Appendix A: Random Dungeon Generation Tables and Appendix G: Traps. Tomb of Horrors has a number of door-triggered spear traps.

Cage Traps: A "C" on the map indicates a "cage trap" where "spike-ended bars fall from the ceiling above to enclose the exit(s) from the place". There are two of these, each opened differently. In the south, one side must be levered a foot off the floor to cause the bars to raise. In the north, a trapped lever near the cage must be pulled to raise it.

OD&D Vol 3 mentions a "return passage blocked by bars", although no other details are given. Appendix G: Traps in the Dungeon Masters Guide includes "Passage, blocked by falling bars". Most famously, the Moat House dungeon in the Village of Hommlet has a hidden grate that will fall to block the exit when a false door is pulled open; it can be raised by use of a hidden winch.

Sloping Passages: Along the NE edge of "Dungeon Delving" is a passage that "slopes up going north 300 feet, so as to bring those traversing it back to the normal level of surrounding dungeon without noticing the incline. Going south the slope is downwards, so as to require the flight of steps up to regain the level of the dungeon proper". This means that if approached from the north, the steps will appear to lead up a level, and if approached from the south, the steps will appear to lead down a level. This is straight out of OD&D Vol 3, which suggests, "Steps which lead to a slanting passage, so the player may actually stay on the same level..." The reverse is also suggested in the Sample Level, where "D" indicates a passage to a lower level with such a gentle slope that "even dwarves won't recognize it".

Carved Face: Area 14 also has a "huge leering face chiseled into the stone wall", reminiscent of other Gygaxian carved faces, including the "great bas-relief face" in the Tricks and Traps list of the Greyhawk Supplement, and of course the Face of the Great Green Devil in the Tomb of Horrors.

Weird Statues: In Dungeon Delving, the START area also has nine statues, a number that reminds me of the infamous room in CG with nine statues - actually imprisoned demigods, later freed by Robilar. The statues here do not similarly house prisoners, but are important to solving the dungeon level. The use of weird statues was suggested in several of the "Trick and Traps: (Additions)" found in the Greyhawk Supplement.

Evil Human Lair with Escape Route: Room 17 of "Dungeon Delving" is called the "Jolly Priest" and is home to an evil priest masquerading as good, ala the "jovial priest" in the Keep on the Borderlands. The description includes his plans for escape via a secret door and nearby passages, which is another design element Gygax often included in his dungeons. 

In the note for Area 8 of the OD&D Sample Level, "The western portion contains the room of some evil man [Room J], complete with two secret doors for handy escape". Likewise, the evil priest in the Caves of Chaos has a secret escape door from his chamber in Area K. And in the evocative yet incomplete DMG Sample Dungeon, the Wandering Monster Table indicates an evil cleric lairs in Areas 35-37, which contain two concealed doors - presumably an escape route.

See also: Gygax's Playtest Reports for the "Dungeon Delving" Level from HoMP


  1. Good stuff. I did a similar sort of analysis and spotted all these same similarities and trends back when I was heavily studying all this stuff a dozen+ years ago but never bothered to write it all down in a comprehensive and accessible way like you have here :)

  2. Neat stuff. I really like the concept of HoMP but I've never been able to read all three books straight through for prep.

  3. Great Work Zen. It's a shame the map is mislabeled. I wonder how many mistakes you think there are and if you (or perhaps someone else somewhere else?) have any suggestions as to what should be changed to fix it.

  4. This strongly reminds me of B1's map layout. Which comes right out of this period.

  5. This map differs markedly from the original Greyhawk Castle maps. Firstly, the rooms tend to be larger than on those maps, and as a consequence, there are fewer of them. Secondly, this map is much more restrictive in the ways the PCs can navigate the dungeon, and much more imposing an order of events. Yes, there are some loops, and but there is much less freedom of choice for the party to move in a given direction of the compass, if they so wanted, compared to the GC maps. Also, albeit not a proprety of the map itself, there are no factions of monster groups that fight for supremacy (the two were-creature rooms have no interactivity between them, they just attack), and owing to the smaller number of rooms, there are a lot less empty rooms and pure walking around and navigation.

    1. Can't say that I agree that it differs markedly. I've only seen a few of the Castle Greyhawk levels, and they are not a monolithic design. The design of HOMP map looks more like Level 3 than Level 1. And it sure looks a lot closer to those Castle Greyhawk levels than most of Gygax's other dungeon designs.