Back in March, I attended my first Gary Con—which was fantastic—and picked up a copy of Goodman Games’ How to Write Adventure Modules That Don’t Suck, which I’ve found to be an inspiring and useful resource. I liked it so much that I recently bought another Goodman book, The Dungeon Alphabet: An A-to-Z Reference for Classic Dungeon Design—Expanded Fourth Printing—and it turns out to be a great complementary volume.
Where How to Write… is more of a guide to overarching adventure design, The Dungeon Alphabet is 80 jam-packed pages of filling in the details. As you probably figured from the title, its contents run from A is for Altars to Z is for Zowie!, with several letters represented twice. Being the fourth printing, this edition includes the original lineup, additional entries written for Goodman’s Gen Con Programs since the third printing, and two new entries written just for this version.
Each alphabetical entry includes an array of dungeon-building possibilities numbered for random selection, in case you can’t make up your mind. And it’s a wonderfully expansive and varied trove of ideas, from simple and succinct to complex and detailed and mind-bending.
For instance, the “Twenty Random Places to Hide Things” table (Under “N is for No Stone Left Unturned”) is pretty straightforward, with suggestions like “Under a loose flagstone,” “Invisible,” “In an Old Pair of Boots,” and “Extra-dimensional space inside a mirror or painting.”
Contrast that with “H is Also for Hazard,” and this example plucked from the Half-Score of Hazardous Happenings: “Mephitic gases birthed in the chthonic realm permeate this part of the dungeon. The gases cause confusion and hallucinations in any surface creature breathing them. PCs failing their saving throws may flee in terror from the hallucinations they experience, wander off to be eaten alone, or turn on their friends, believing them to be horrible monsters.”
There’s much more of the latter than the former, making this a pretty text-heavy book with plenty of detailed and inspiring material.
And for RPGers who still enjoy the look and feel of old-school books from the 1970s and ’80s, The Dungeon Alphabet is a special treat; not only does it include artwork by the likes of classic D&D artists Erol Otus, Jeff Easley, and Jim Roslof—all in the distinctive black-and-white styles that will strike familiar memory chords—but the endpaper artwork is printed in what can only be described as “TSR blue.” The layout is similarly reminiscent of that earlier era as well. And while I’m a big fan of the gorgeous full-color and more realistic artwork of today’s RPGs, there’s something about this approach that I find particularly sparking to the imagination.
By design, the book lacks “crunch.” You won’t find stat blocks or new monsters or characters in here, just idea after idea after idea. And at $19.99 for a hardback edition, it’s a solid bargain.