Dungeon Master’s Design Kit (1988)

The Dungeon Master’s Design Kit (1988) is a bit of an oddity of the 1E era, a book of advice on creating adventures. 1E, in general, wasn’t very good at telling players how to do anything. The old school adventure style of dungeon exploration was taught mostly by example, and that worked well enough. But in a post-Ravenloft, post-Dragonlance, increasingly narrative-heavy world, stringing a bunch of rooms together wasn’t enough. That’s where the Design Kit comes in.

There are three booklets in the folder. The first is mostly dedicated to explaining how to build those traditional sorts of adventures spaces, and how to thread action through them. Much attention is paid to things like featured monsters, designing a central villain, creating plausible mysteries. The second is a booklet of forms, a kind of workbook, to help parse and prepare. Of most interest is the “Encounter” form, a sort of one page distillation of a single event or battle, with notes on everything needed to run it. This anticipates a lot of 90s D&D adventure design (which string these sort of events together to form a narrative) as well as a method of presentation that would return in the 3e and 4e days.

The third booklet is a big think on the more ambiguous aspects of narrative adventure design. What’s the difference between a major and a minor villain? How do you handle traps? Do red herrings enhance a plot or distract from it? MacGuffins, weaknesses, “cruel tricks,” climaxes and more head other chapters. Its a whole smörgåsbord of RPG rumination that should probably be on every GM’s shelf.

Sweet Parkinson cover, too.

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