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Dungeon Master's Design Kit (1e)


As any good Dungeon Master knows, preparation is the key to a great adventure. The more work done in advance, the smoother the play session will go. And nothing turns players off faster than a DM fumbling for the right piece of information in the middle of a fast-paced session.

That's where the Dungeon Master's Design Kit comes in. Inside its 96 time-saving pages are scores of organizational ideas, refereeing hints, and ready-to-use materials that will make you a better-prepared, better-organized, and just plain better Dungeon Master - without spending a lot of extra time you don't have!

The Dungeon Master's Design Kit includes a 32-page book of forms, designed to keep important information together and at your fingertips. A number of difficult refereeing situations are covered, including the chase scene, one of the toughest AD&D game situations to judge. Another 32-page book contains the "DM's Cookbook," full of ready-to-go ingredients that you can combine in a flash to spice up your campaign. The last book puts the package all together, including loads of practical advice on becoming a better DM.

So pick up the Dungeon Master's Design Kit, harried DM - and watch your AD&D campaign take off!

Product History

Dungeon Master's Design Kit (1988), by Harold Johnson and Aaron Allston, is a GM's aid for AD&D. It was published in September 1988.

About the Module Code. The lack of a module code on a a supplement that was neither a box nor a hardcover book was otherwise unknown in the later AD&D 1e period.

Origins (I): A New Sort of GM Aid. How do you create D&D adventures? Perhaps the question wasn't very important in the early days of the industry, when prepping an adventure meant drawing out a dungeon and filling its rooms with tricks, traps, and monsters. But by the late '80s, the Hickmans' "I" adventures (1983), the "UK" adventures (1983-1986), and the Dragonlance Chronicles adventures (1984-1986) all pointed toward a different sort of D&D adventure, more focused on plot and story.

The AD&D core rulebooks offered very little in the way of support. The Dungeon Masters Guide (1979) was mainly a rulebook in its original iteration. It had a variety of random tables that GMs could use to fill adventures, but the advice for "Conducting the Game" was all of two pages long. Only the most recent hardcovers had offered anything more. The Dungeoneer's Survival Guide (1986) included sections on plot and story and the Wilderness Survival Guide (1986) had a short section on world-building.

Which all goes to say that Dungeon Master's Design Kit (1988), with its focus on creating stories and prepping for play, was a dramatically new type of supplement for D&D.

Origins (II): From Heroes to Supers. Aaron Allston wrote the text in the Dungeon Master's Design Kit, on "Adventure Design" and an "Adventure Cookbook". This was just one of two GM advice books that Allston wrote for publication that year, the other being "Aaron Allston's Strike Force" (1988).

The Dungeon Master's Design Kit is usually well-regarded, but it's Allston's "Strike Force" that's the best known. That may be because it goes beyond GM advice and instead offers a window onto how Aaron Allston actually ran his Champions campaigns. It was the first such book in the industry, and even today, a real rarity.

Though the Dungeon Master's Design Kit is for a different genre — fantasy instead of superheroes — it should be considered a complementary release to Allston's groundbreaking "Strike Force", something that can offer more insight into his creative process.

Accessories of Note: Forms. One of the most notable things about the Design Kit is its forms. There's literally a whole book of them. They allow GMs to detail adventures, villains, mysteries, and creatures, and also allow GMs to list monsters and treasures and to draw maps.

This sort of form-based detail was more common at the time in science-fiction games like Traveller (1977) and superhero games like Champions (1980), but was somewhat novel for D&D. Though TSR had previously produced Geomorphs (1976-1977), Monster and Treasure Assortments (1977), and even a Dungeon Masters Adventure Log (1980), giving a GM space to plan things out in advance was an innovation. One of the few predecessors was a super small-press release by Wilmark Dynasty called Roomscapes, which Lawrence Schick's Heroic Worlds (1991) says has forms that are "very similar" to some in the Design Kit.

Adventure Tropes: Adventure Design. The adventure tropes suggested by Allston for adventure design have a foot in the classic adventures of the '80s, but also are clearly moving forward to the new plots of the '90s.

Though Allston touches upon classic D&D ideas like melees, monsters, and traps, the heart of his adventures are villains, suggesting more of a character focus. He also gives attention to mysteries as a form of play, and talks about themes and story hooks. Overall, his two books of adventure design are about far more than dungeon crawls: they're about stories.

Adventure Tropes: Encounters. The most innovative element of the Dungeon Master's Design Kit is the introduction of "encounters". These are the individual scenes in an ongoing story, which is how most adventures would be presented in the '90s.

However the encounter sheets of the "Form Books" are more than that. Each of them is intended to lay out an encounter and it does so with a mini-map, a listing of NPCs (or monsters), a description of how the encounter could end, and a variety of other details. This carefully organized form, all laid out on one page, is pretty much how D&D would lay out encounters in the D&D 4e era (2008-2012). Here it was, exactly two decades earlier, and largely ignored in the interim.

About the Creators. By the late '80s, freelancer Aaron Allston was an up-and-coming star in the roleplaying world. He'd already written GAZ1: "The Grand Duchy of Karameikos" (1987), while over in the world of Champions, his landmark "Aaron Allston's Strike Force" (1988) had just hit the shelves.

We (Wizards) recognize that some of the legacy content available on this website does not reflect the values of the Dungeons & Dragons franchise today. Some older content may reflect ethnic, racial, and gender prejudice that were commonplace in American society at that time. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. This content is presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed. Dungeons & Dragons teaches that diversity is a strength, and we strive to make our D&D products as welcoming and inclusive as possible. This part of our work will never end.

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Discussions (3)
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Jamie B January 04, 2023 8:42 pm UTC
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John P June 26, 2022 12:50 pm UTC
POD for this product would be an excellent idea
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Timothy S June 23, 2022 1:12 pm UTC
I had the original back in 1988. Does this product come in three separate PDFs or did they do like the others and lump everything into one book?
Customer avatar
Scott H August 10, 2022 1:13 am UTC
It's all one PDF.
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