Monday, June 27, 2016

Gygax Module Stats, Part 3

More of Gygax's module encounters assessed statistically; this time from the era of his "campaign" style modules. On the one hand, these were all published later than his "tournament" modules; but on the other hand, most were quite likely conceived and played at some earlier point during his Greyhawk campaign.

Gygax Module Encounter Stats 2

Now, this list looks short because I've left out those modules that don't really include any true "dungeon" area. Modules EX1, EX2, and WG6 are all "exceptional" modules which occur in some freaky side-dimension, and are predominantly outdoor/wilderness adventures in a strange new environment. (Each maps out a small mansion or cave complex, but these are either unkeyed or have just a single principal monster, so they are not representative of a standard dungeon exploration.) T1-4 and WG4 are much more canonical examples of Gygax's ideas for a true dungeon; and of course B2 is his contribution to the D&D basic set, with its dozen separate cave lairs for introducing new players to the idiom of the game -- so these are the ones assessed above. Statistics for T2 include only the dungeon areas, not the extra-planar "nodes" which are left principally for the DM to fill in (although the suggestions work out to about 40% areas with monsters, and about 10% with a trick/gate area).

Aside from the tournament/campaign axis, a second way to categorize Gygax's modules appears to us: whether the dungeon is organized/disorganized as a single community. Several of Gygax's modules present a stronghold run by a single racial type (most often "giant-types", i.e., humanoids); in these places, nearly every room serves a purpose, like a real-world institution or military base, and the number of "empty" boundary areas, and possibly "tricks/traps", will be small. These would certainly include the famous G1-3 and D1-3 sequences; B2 often looks like that, especially from the perspective of any single cave system; and WG4's uppermost and T2's lowest levels function like that. In contrast, other modules are more heterogeneous "ruins"-style dungeons, where a more random assortment of monsters have taken up posts and watch against each other; empty areas and traps may be more likely here -- and possibly this is the better match for the initial conception of the sprawling underworld "dungeon". Examples of this second case would be the S-series, EX1-2, WG6, T1, and levels 1-3 of module T2.

Having considered all of Gygax's modules at one go, let's reflect on some of his major tropes:
  • Watch Posts: Single guard watching approach through peephole.
  • Guard Rooms (multiple): Guards with negligible treasure.
  • Leader's Room (single): Leader with major treasure. 
  • Storage Rooms: "Empty" rooms with food, drink, supplies, arms, etc.
  • Prisoners: Cells with slaves/prisoners; mix of potentially helpful and harmful captives.
  • Kitchen/Dining Hall (esp. in giant-type organized areas). 
  • Random Beasts: Animal-type beasts with small hidden/forgotten/swallowed treasure.
  • Secret Treasure Room (occasional).
  • Strange Decorations (occasional, otherwise empty). 
  • Bandits in Upper Corner Structure (in dungeons of DMG, T1, T2). 
  • Crypts with Ghouls (DMG, T1, T2, suggested in WG4). 
  • Weird Temple Area (B2, G1, G3, S1, D2, D3, T2, WG4). 
  • Hidden Prison of Deity (D3, T2, WG4). 
  • Optional Expansion Area (often caved-in, clearance at DM's option; B2, G1-3, D1-3 underworld map, T2 wilderness & nodes, S4 river course, DMG dungeon caverns, etc.): A person could spend a whole career just expanding and filling in these areas!
  • Secret Exit Tunnels.

So in broad strokes, can we discern anything of the "standard population" of a Gygaxian adventure module? Looking at the statistics for more "normal" dungeon areas like B2, T1-2, and WG4 may give us a pretty good idea (see also: G1, D2-3). If we somewhat take the average of those statistics, and say possibly that I should have counted more "pocket change" monsters in the "monsters only" category, then for every 6 encounter areas we get something like this: 2 Monsters, 1 Monster with Treasure (major), 1 Treasure Only, 1 Trick/Trap, and 1 Empty.

Investigating the canonical B2 module, we see this highlighted, because every organized giant-type (humanoid) cave lair falls into the same approximate pattern (this includes caves A-D, F, H, and J). After initial entry (possibly with watch post or trap), there are about a half-dozen areas. And these areas tend to include: 2 Guard Rooms, 1 Chief's Chamber, 1 Common Chamber, 1 Storage Room, and 1 Special (possibly a slave pen, torture chamber, secret room, armory, or garbage pit). Or look at the partially-keyed Orc's Lair in module S4: every fighting "group" is split into exactly 3 chambers; generally 2 Guard-type positions, followed by the Leader/Chief's lair, and every cave being occupied for some purpose (none are empty). We might very well call this Gygax's "Rule of Three".

In regards to the T2 module, when we first presented publication statistics in Part 1 here, there was some debate or question about whether that adventure should really be counted as a work of Gygax's or Frank Mentzer's (see the comments there). I'm incredibly indebted to Jonathan Miller for providing links and previous personal communications with Gygax on the subject: indeed, Gygax wrote "Just FYI, that is my version of the adventure. Mentzer simply fleshed out the considerable body of preliminary work I had done but could not find time to finish.", and there are numerous pieces of evidence that Gygax had copious notes and had run playtests of the Temple around the era when T1 was published. The statistics in the chart above provide yet another piece of confirmatory evidence that T2 really was largely the work of Gygax: the stocking proportions per area are almost identical between T1 and T2. (Contrast this situation with Q1, which all evidence points to being the wholesale work of David Sutherland, and not Gygax.)

Now compare the ratio we're finding here to that suggested in OD&D Vol-3 from 1974 (2-in-6 with any monster, 1-in-6 of the rest with treasure; so about half empty). Or Gygax's 1976 Dungeon Geomorphs product (2-in-6 empty, 2-in-6 monsters, 1-in-6 trick/traps, 1-in-6 monsters and treasure by DM selection [so no suggestion of treasure-only areas]). Or his 1977 Monster & Treasure Assortment product (weirdly, even more empty: recommending only 20% with any monsters, or close to 1-in-6, and no comment on any other 5-in-6 contents). Or the 1979 DMG Random Dungeon Generation (12-in-20 empty, 2-in-20 monster only, 3-in-20 monster & treasure, 1-in-20 special, 1-in-20 trick/trap, 1-in-20 treasure only). These all suggest many more empty areas than Gygax actually put in his published adventures, unless we look solely to his sprawling S3 map with its many unkeyed/blank areas (or, alternatively, a locale like Rob Kuntz's WG5).

So having observed this, an exceedingly easy critique to make is now this: We should probably not methodically ape what Gygax did in his adventure modules. Yet as we key our own dungeons, I think it is useful to expand the frame of what can be a workable design. Having most of the areas with some content, and very few "empty" areas (and even those not actually devoid of furnishings) seems to have done a pretty good job for Gygax of hitting the adventuring "sweet spot" of published modules.

But a final, concluding question: Is that even doable for us mere mortals? One thing I must say in retrospect is that Gygax's output during this period was truly monumental. Between running TSR as a company, promoting its products, writing the AD&D hardcover books, and original drafts of all of these adventure modules (etc.) in about a 5-year span from 1975-1980; I'm really staggered at how he accomplished all of that. Just looking at the module materials here: They are big, extensive, richly detailed, deeply considered. Many encounter areas have brand-new items or monsters just for a single room, or a dozen random novel effects, and frequently the text may run for several pages for a single chamber (esp.: see S3, T2). Even just reading it, trying to digest it, consideration of running it in a game can be an intimidating experience. (But perhaps Pascal's "I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter" might be appropriate here.) An altogether towering body of work.


  1. "but on the other hand, most were quite likely conceived and played at some earlier point during his Greyhawk campaign. "

    I don't think B2 falls into that category. I think if you start drilling with Google, you'll find that Gary cranked out B2 over a period of several weeks specifically for inclusion in the Basic set. Anyway, that's what I recall reading about it years ago, probably in the EN World Gygax Q&A.

    1. I totally agree that B2 is the major exception (which is what required the "most" qualifier).

  2. WG4 falls into the same category: it was written, laid out, art done, etc. within 4-6 weeks, in direct response to the quagmire that the TSR internal design process had become. See for more on that mess.

    Also: many of the early tourney modules were written for and run as campaign adventures before being run as tourneys: S1, S2, S4, G1-3/D1-3, and parts of S3 and A4, at least, also fall into this category (I think either C1 or C2 does as well, but don't recall off the top of my head).

    Other early GenCon tourneys also fall into this category too: Rob Kuntz ran The Machine Level at GenCon in 1974, and his Sunken City (from Kalibruhn) the following year. J. Eric Holmes ran similar events on Barsoom, and for beginner players, drawn from his home campaign.

    This doesn't change the fact that some modules were written intentionally as tourney modules, but hopefully helps to clear up some of the misconceptions about the earliest tourneys.


  3. This all reminds me of Timrod's contention that the DMG sample dungeon is original moathouse dungeon from Gygax's campaign, and that the T1 version is a redesign:

    1. Right, that's a great essay, and I was just referring to it in an email to a friend. I either agree or am inspired by everything he wrote there.