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Mike's Dungeons $3.90
Publisher: Geoffrey McKinney
by Sean D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/11/2020 01:37:14

The bottom line is that this is a fantastic product, easily worth the money for anyone who plays any version of any fantasy adventure game.

There are some aspects of the product that may not be everyone's preferred cup of tea, however. Some people are very particular about these things, so I will mark them out here up front:

  1. Monsters are listed by name and equipment only ("orc wielding axe"). No hit points or other statistics are given, strictly to save space. It is presumed that if you don't know what the monster's relevant stats are, you can just look it up in your rulebook easily enough.
  2. The dungeon levels are very simple, orthogonal (NSEW) directions only. They are never linear or railroady, and all have multiple ways to go about them, but they are incredibly easy to map (I've had 3rd graders mapping levels just fine). The dungeon layouts aren't designed to confuse players at all, just to give them a place to explore while they battle bad guys.
  3. There is very little by way of narrative background to tie everything together. There is a pretty clever Evil Temple that snakes through the whole thing, and another pretty clever little Minotaur Maze that snakes through a smaller section of levels, and both of those are loosely tied to the Caves of Chaos in B2 Keep on the Borderlands—and that's about it. You can go hog wild with these connections if you like, but the dungeon's design philosophy is focused entirely at the microgame, providing interesting individual dungeon levels and fun individual room encounters, without really worrying about how different levels interact.
  4. As a result of (3) above, you will find many "fun house" rooms and levels. Red dragons sit in rooms without having any cares about how exactly they got there or how they expect to leave. Again, the author's focus here is not on verisimilitude or rational simulation, but entirely on providing fun and tactically satisfying gameable situations.

If none of those points are absolute deal breakers for you (and honestly, even if they are), then read on.

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Alright, now to the grit: I would seriously recommend that you consider perusing this product if you have any interest at all in dungeons. Even if you never play this particular module, it is a valuable resource for studying dungeon design. Here's why:

Authenticity: this dungeon developed as the author's actual megadungeon that was/is the focus of his actual, long-running "after school D&D game" for middle school students and teachers. He has been active in discussing his game's progress on old school D&D forums since its beginning, and sharing the insights he's gleaned over time from running the game and trying things out. Many large dungeons—even the best ones—get published with only minimal playtesting (or none at all!), but it is clear that the design of this dungeon is borne out of 100% real practical experience of running it constantly for varied groups of all ages. That's a pedigree that you just can't beat.

Simplicity of design: Each of the 78 level is roughly the same size, laid out simply on one sheet of paper. Think of something like Dyson's Delve in concept, but 1) the levels are about 2-3 times larger in size, and 2) they are far simpler in layout, to the extent that you can easily play with or without mapping if you like. Most of the levels still manage to retain clever layout and designs despite the strict limitations imposed on their design, although with 78 levels, there are some I find more interesting than others. At any rate, what this means is that the dungeon is equally accessible to school children as it is to adults, kooks and newbies to grognards.

Excellent editing: As mentioned, each level's map fits on a single page, and the key for each level is written, edited and laid out to fit on a single facing page. In other words, you always have everything you need to know about the level right there in front of you; no memorization or page flipping necessary. Room descriptions are simple, utilitarian and very clear, but may not always be evocative enough for those who like that sort of thing. Most will run something like, "4 bugbears armed with axes guard two chests holding 234 gp each. They fear dwarves and gnomes, and so their morale score is 5 if faced by these foes." You will also find a number of curious decoy rooms without further explanation ("Painted on the walls are nine 2' diameter disks, three each of green, pink, and blue"), and off-the-wall gonzo gimmicks that may not be everyone's cup of tea ("2 aggressive weretigers in tiger form bleed platinum, which hardens in 1 turn after being exposed to air. The total value is 2,295 gp").

Ease of play: In addition to clever editing of room descriptions so that everything will fit on one page, the author also repeats descriptions that might be relevant in another room, and anything you should know before the party starts exploring the level is clearly summarized at the top of the page ("The fiery tree in Room G makes the level dry and hot"). The end result is that you can literally run this dungeon without reading any of it beforehand, an astounding feat. I know this because I've already done it, both for a group and by myself as a solo dungeon. This makes it the ideal resource to keep around for those rainy days when someone randomly feels like playing some D&D, or when a friend asks about "this D&D game" and you feel like actually showing them instead of just telling them about it.

System neutrality: The dungeon was designed for the Moldvay-Cook "BX" version of D&D, but there's nothing here that can't be used with any other version of the game. This is done by omitting stats entirely for creatures that can be found in the book's monster list. What you get are descriptions like "13 orcs wielding polearms," and that's it. Whatever orcs are and do in your game, that's what you'll use. This does mean you have to do some lifting on your own no matter what system you use, but personally I prefer this method: by your 3rd enounter you'll already have the monster listing for "orc" memorized, and it really doesn't take much effort to roll up the creature's hit points the first time it gets hit in combat. Heck, I'm currently even toying with the idea of soloing a party through this dungeon using D6 Fantasy, just to refamiliarize myself with the rules, and so far I think the only things I'd have to put any effort into converting are a few generic items of the "Ring of Protection +1" variety.

In all, I find this a near perfect product for what it is. At the time of this review, the author is selling the thing for less than $4, which is an absolute steal for the amount of content and work that has gone into this. Furthermore, the author also currently allows you to preview the whole dang book before you purchase it, so there's really no reason not to check it out and see if it's right for you.

-Starbeard



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Mike's Dungeons
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