A Review of the Role Playing Game Supplement CASTLE OLDSKULL – The Classic Dungeon Design Guide by Kent David Kelly

CASTLE OLDSKULL – The Classic Dungeon Design Guide by Kent David Kelly is the first in a series of role playing game supplements on creating megadungeons. This first one is about creating the dungeon itself; others cover stocking it with monsters and traps. This is a system-agnostic supplement, although it is aimed at the Old School Renaissance games.

The supplement is available as a PDF from RPGNow at the regular price of $4.99, although it was purchased at the reduced price of $0.99, and as a Kindle ebook from Amazon. The PDF from RPGNow is the version reviewed. This is a 396 page PDF, of which two pages are the colour front and rear covers, around six pages are front matter, slightly over six pages are the Contents (which are actually within Chapter 1), two pages are About the Author and four pages are Other Books.

Chapter 1: Introduction is an overview on the book and how to use it.

Chapter 2: Preparing the Adventure has a section on how to use the book and a collection of random tables of Adventure Scenarios, Scenario Twists, Unusual Benefactors and Random Benefactors.

Chapter 3: Setting the Scene has some more random tables, on subjects such as Unusual Bases of Operation, rumours, and Rumour Topics, getting to the dungeon, wilderness encounters, the builders of the dungeon, its lore and its surroundings and of names (1,000 of these). These are all things before getting to the dungeon itself.

Chapter 4: Unearthly Reality is a discussion of various topics connected to dungeons, rather than tables. This covers matters such as real life underground areas, air, food, light and inhabitants of real life dungeons and how these would apply to fantasy one and how to create realistic dungeons, caves and castles.

CASTLE OLDSKULL - The Classic Dungeon Design GuideChapter 5: Creating the Dungeon Delve has information on drawing the dungeon, including symbols. There are also random dungeon themes. How deep the dungeon is and sub-levels are also considered, and a look is taken at using random dungeon generators and geomorphs.

Chapter 6: Designing the Dungeon Levels is an overview of designing the levels of the dungeons themselves, and how they should maintain an appropriate theme. There is a written example of a dungeon and how it evolved. Also detailed is designing the place and how walls, and other things, on maps are representative rather than necessarily being to scale. Adding monster populations is another important point and a graduated danger level, at least for new players.

Chapter 7: Flesh on the Bones starts with atmosphere, and there are d100 tables on light, light sources, air, plants, minor life, odours and sounds. There are also notes on why to have rooms that are empty of danger, and why that shouldn’t mean they are completely barren.

Chapter 8: The Cyclopaedia of Dungeon Rooms has random room generation and d100 tables, two for each, of rooms for different themes: caverns, dungeons (in the literal sense), manor house, stronghold, temples and tombs. There are more tables on thematic sub-regions and tables of adjectives and nouns for evocative names for dungeon rooms.

Chapter 9: Details and Dungeon Dressing is on adding details to rooms. There are d100 tables for furnishings, curiosities, doorways, corridors and connections between the different levels of the dungeon.

Chapter 10: The Dungeon Campaign starts with revealing the dungeon itself, changing it as play progresses and occasionally helping a party that is on the verge of destruction, before considering Total Party Kills themselves, which are divided into player caused, GM caused and randomness caused. The latter two are considered to be an area for providing help.

Chapter 11: Goblin Head is a sample megadungeon created using the tables in the book. This is a thirteen level dungeon, of which the top two are the most fleshed out, as these will be suitable for the first adventure. The others are covered in at least an overview. Approaching the dungeon, the surrounding area and the base of operations – which is on top of the dungeon – are also covered, as is the initial adventure hook. Although the tables are used, the writer does discard and reroll – and makes a point of this – results which make no sense with what has been designed prior. Enough is done here that a dungeon could be built from this.

Chapter 12: Aftermath has some recommended reading (laid out in a d100 table!) and an afterword.

Appendix: The Shards of Chaos is a final table of items and things that could be found in a dungeon; a type of dungeon dressing.

CASTLE OLDSKULL – The Classic Dungeon Design Guide in Review

The PDF lacks any bookmarks as well as an index. The Contents is hyperlinked to the various chapters and subsections to a fairly decent level of detail but, given the size, navigation is definitely substandard. The book was substantially overhauled not long after release, with the addition of a substantial amount of new material and the cleaning up of some formatting elements, the addition of the hyperlinked table of contents, which did improve navigation some, but not enough, as well as the inclusion of the new images. It really needs bookmarks though, as it is quite difficult to navigate from anywhere but the Contents, and there is no link back to that.

There are various created quotes throughout the book, primarily at the start of chapters, which do add a degree of flavour. The supplement maintains a one column layout throughout, although the amount of text is less than might be suggested by the page count. There are a number of illustrations, up to full page in size. Prior to the overhaul, these were largely blank space. These are colour and black and white and would appear to be public domain images of paintings and illustrations, some of which are, although not graphic, less than pleasant in nature – as an example, Hieronymus Bosch is one of the credited illustrators, which should give an idea as to the nature of some of the images. The text itself is quite large and a substantial amount is taken up by the tables.

These tables are all d100 tables, although there are many tables which lack 100 different results. They are the primary focus of the book, being random tables for creating anything related to dungeons, from locations to benefactors to actually getting there, as well as the dungeon itself. They should not be followed slavishly and, indeed, that is not the point of them. They are intended to help create the dungeon, not create one completely randomly. There are an awful lot of these tables, and some will definitely provide a starting point for inspiration. Of course, no GameMaster has to use every table every time; they can pick and choose the ones they want.

This shouldn’t be regarded as a simple “dungeon in a book” way of creating megadungeons, and that doesn’t appear to be the author’s intention either. Random tables are no substitute for using intelligence in the design, and the Goblin Head example dungeon provides instances where this is highlighted. Even for those not creating a complete dungeon from the book, or using an existing one, many of the tables are quite useful themselves for fleshing one out and the surrounding area. This would naturally be easier to do with better navigation. CASTLE OLDSKULL – The Classic Dungeon Design Guide is a useful resource for those who are fans of classic megadungeons, and should make creating them easier.

 

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