I’m not a perfectionist. I have never been a perfectionist. I’m not really interested in perfection. I just want things that work. Bear that in mind when you see the following diagrams.
My first solo dungeon was Deathtrap Equalizer. Deathtrap had the novel idea of getting rid of halls and corridors and tunnels. The action was mostly in the rooms, so why not make it all rooms? You have to get from room to room, so let’s make it random access–that’s easily done by letting the dice select the room for you.
Deathtrap gave me an idea for another Room Dungeon. I wanted one that I could lay out at a moment’s notice, so I wrote room ideas down on large 5 X 8 cards. The cards were large enough to have the descriptions of 3 rooms on each one, so the same card could be something different on any one of three levels. The card would look something like this:
L1: Empty room but paintings of trolls on all the walls. The exit doors are all secret doors that must be found by searching the paintings. (L1SR on LK or IQ to find the door.) The idea of the room is to delay the party long enough to allow a group of random monsters to teleport in and attack them.
L2: This room is a big swimming pool full of piranha–the water is 50 feet deep. There is a narrow edge around the pool, but the path is thin. L2SR on DEX to avoid falling off it. Open treasure chest full of coins, clearly visible, at the bottom of the pool. The only exit is on the other side of the room.
L3: Hopscotch diagram leading to the center of the room. Clearly magical. Treasure in the center with gold pieces in it–number determined by how far along the hopscotch pattern the player gets. Each time through requires a higher level saving roll on DEX. Start with L1 and work up to L8. Gold in chest equals sum of levels made before taking it. To fail is to activate a trap that does 10 times the saving roll in explosion damage to the delver. Thus, missing a L3SR would do 30 points of CON damage–pretty much fatal for most characters. Skipping the hopscotch removes the treasure and teleports monsters into the room.
As you can see, I had a lot of fun making up these rooms. I’m thinking of doing it again, though it would just be repeating myself. Back when I was friends with Jim Shipman, he talked me into letting him publish Gristlegrim in a book form. It was an interesting experiment not long before the end, but basically it failed. Jim did some things I really didn’t like with Gristlegrim–including running the same rooms in different locations–thus increasing the number of rooms, but not the number of unique rooms, and using stolen art to illustrate it. When he was done I asked for my cards back. He said he had destroyed them when finished with each one. Grrrrrrr! That was the end of the Gristlegrim Dungeon. It survives today in legend as a place in the history of Trollworld.
Long before the end I ran an adventure by mail for some young friends in California. I laid out an entire 6 level adventure for them to wander into, and drew (quickly) a 6 level map of Gristlegrim. Last month I found those old drawings. I thought it might amuse people to see one of my old off-the-cuff dungeons, so I scanned those drawings and I now reproduce them here. Feel free to set one of your own adventures in this complex some time.
To build an iteration of Gristlegrim I shuffled all my description cards and then laid them out in square patterns of 3 X 3, face down so the text cannot be seen. When entering a new room, I would simply turn it over, see my description, and improvise a GM description from the notes on the card. 3 X 3 was not the only pattern possible–I could do anything, but it was the one most commonly used.
I think I created Gristlegrim originally in about 1978, and added to it for several years whenever I had a new idea. This was before the days of personal computers. As you can see from my notes and drawings, I was more interested in speed and variety than in appearance and form. 40 years later, I’m still that way. I’ll take quick and dirty over slow and perfect every time. I mean, yeah, perfect looks good, but when you’re gaming, is perfect really more fun? I don’t think so. The real action is in the player’s imagination, not on the tabletop.
Today, 2014, the Gristlegrim Dungeon is like one of those fabled books from antiquity, where descriptions or synopses of the book have survived, but the actual text is lost and gone forever. For more glimpses of the glories that were Gristlegrim, take a look at http://Grisltegrim.com.
If you’ve ever adventured in a randomly-created dungeon of some sort that was not on your computer screen, why not leave a comment?