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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Moldvay Musings XVII: DM Information - Scenarios

The first sections of Part 8 in Moldvay (Dungeon Master Information) fascinate me on several levels. While the "B" in "BX" is by its nature basic and tries to keep things simple to let people get their feet wet who might have been new to the game (or running it), this section actually holds a lot of cool stuff that's far from just typical murder-hoboing and ties in to some of my thoughts on a BX setting. Not to mention demonstrating the BX wasn't "the kiddie version" of D&D.

The chapter is broken down into several parts that can walk a tyro DM through creating an adventure and even lay the groundwork for a rich campaign. Let's start by taking a look at the first bit: Choosing a scenario. Moldvay defines a scenario nicely for us in the following passage:

"A scenario is a background theme or idea which ties the dungeon together. A scenario will help keep a dungeon from becoming a boring repetition of 'open the door, kill the monster, take the treasure.' A good scenario always gives the players a reason for adventuring. The DM should also design a dungeon for the levels of characters who will be playing in it. A good scenario will also give the DM a reason for choosing specific monsters and treasures to put in the dungeon."

The idea seems, well, basic, doesn't it? Remember this was 1981, though. Not everyone implicitly understood this. I love that he spells out that adventure design should have a theme and a rationale and should avoid simple grinds. He neatly sums up monster ecology too by stating one should choose critters appropriate to the scenario.

He then goes on to list several kinds of scenarios. While many of these can be translated into a dungeon crawl (or contain one), it's the different reasons for the adventure in the first place that are the real meat on the bones. The doesn't claim to be exhaustive, but I would be hard-pressed to think of any adventures that don't fall broadly under one or more of these categories.

  1. Exploring the Unknown
  2. Investigating a Chaotic Outpost
  3. Recovering Ruins
  4. Destroying an Ancient Evil
  5. Visiting a Lost Shrine
  6. Fulfilling a Quest
  7. Escaping from Enemies
  8. Rescuing Prisoners
  9. Using a Magic Portal
  10. Finding a Lost Race
Now obviously, several of these are pretty standard. The section even gives examples of published adventures that fit some of the categories (B2 is the quintessential investigation of a chaotic outpost), but some of these are ones that I've seen much less often. When was the last time your campaign found a lost race or reclaimed ruins for settlement? That's some good adventure fodder there. You could even combine scenarios. Perhaps the PCs must use a magic portal to find a lost shrine?

The next parts of this section are relatively mundane, but still useful. They cover such issues as the location of the dungeon proper (Is it a cave? A crypt? A castle?), the monsters within, the map itself, and how it's stocked. The random stocking tables aren't always the best way to fill the map, but they can be handy at times.

The final section offers good advice and help with prepping an NPC party ahead of time. You might not need one right away, but like treasure maps, you'll be happy you have one ready instead of having to work one up in the middle of a session. 


  1. Nice points, and a welcome return to blogging. I guess now that Autumn is here that you've more time to put your ideas down.

    The first four scenarios map reasonably well onto B1-B4, if you consider the original B3 theme. It's a pity that the other B-series didn't follow that trend and tie back into the list. I used to own B5 but I don't think that that ties in too well with theme five.

    On the use of a portal (9) and discovering a lost race (10) one of the U.K. AD&D scenarios (UK6) uses both themes in a sort of way.

  2. This is the reason I continue to recommend the B/X system to new players: I think it's the most straightforward tool for learning D&D of all its many editions.