The Complete Dungeon of the Bear (1982)

Tunnels & Trolls is the second RPG (give or take), and like D&D, it was born out of a legendary dungeon built by the game’s creator as a sort of testing ground: Ken St. Andre’s Gristlegrim. Like Castle Greyhawk and Blackmoor, Gristlegrim has never been released to the public and, according to St. Andre, the original no longer exists. That makes Bear Peters’ Dungeon of the Bear the oldest extant T&T dungeon. Originally released in three parts in 1979, this 1982 edition collects them all and puts them under Michael Stackpole’s Castle Ward.

Before I go on, I should note that unlike most of the T&T adventures I own, this one is for a party of players, not a solo, and it is organized as you might expect, with keyed maps and room descriptions.

Castle Ward is a ruined keep meant to prevent people from accessing the dungeon, but was sacked by the dungeon inhabitants (cheeky). A number of demons guard the entrance now, armed with riddles to keep adventurers out. These are in the vein of “I want a sieve that holds water” and I can’t tell if I love them or think they’re obnoxious. Maybe both at the same time!

Once past the gatekeepers, we have a funhouse dungeon that is atypical of the era in that it maintains a level of amusing charm throughout. It never gets old, which is quite the accomplishment. Some highlights include a room that rains copper coins, a titanic ballista (crewed by orcs and giants and aimed at the party), a mostly submerged giant statue that chases the party if they try to steal its ring (which commands nearly all the monsters in the dungeon, if any are still alive at that point) and an unusual number of piranha. There are lots of other animals as well, but, I might have missed it, of course, but I am not sure I read about a bear…

Regardless of its ursine inhabitants, this dungeon is a classic of the earliest form! Also love the Chris Carlson cover art and the lots of early Liz Danforth illustrations that populate the interior.

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