Mentzer Dungeon: Special Monsters

With a scenario and a setting for my Mentzer Dungeon the next step is to select special monsters. Mentzer provides even less details for special monsters than he does for setting. He gives a brief example that a ruined tower might be inhabited by a few hobgoblin lairs with their pets and friends. The rest would be filled randomly.

Given our scenario involves kidnapped individuals the kidnappers are the obvious choice for the special monster. In my scenario I called the kidnappers subhumans. At the time I figured I’d use orcs or goblins as generic fantasy subhumans. However, in creating the setting I decided that the location of the adventure, set in some anoymous wastes, was in a location not unlike the forbidden zone of the Planet of the Apes movies. With that in minds, why not make the subhumans gorillas. The idea of raiders lead by a General Ursus (or Urko if you prefer the TV series) is very appealing. Consulting the red dungeon master’s book, however, results in disappointment.

There are no gorillas in it. In fact, there is only one primate, the White Ape and one monkey, the Rock Baboon. Neanderthals, however, do appear.Their entry, however, is not encouraging. While I did intend this to be a red box only project I did look in the Rules Cyclopedia and both creature books produced for the separate D&D line and didn’t find many more options. I could go even further afield, but one of the goals of this project was to produce what I wanted just using the red box. I wanted to see how creative I could be using a limited pallet and formal structures.

So, I have decided to use neanderthals as my special monsters. A small tribe of neanderthals with some white ape pets will give the closest feel to what I want. Rolling 1d4x10 I get 10 neanderthals plus two 6 HD leaders. Rolling for the white ape lair I get 8. Clearly, I’ve rolled up not a lair with family units but a warband with their war apes. However, this goes against the monster entry saying neanderthals are normally peaceful. I’ll leave that as a mystery that might not even be in this dungeon.

Before I finish selecting special monsters there is a brief sentence at the end of the paragraph describing them, The entire ‘dungeon’ could be used for several adventures. This is good given I’ve just included ten level 2 monsters (neanderthals), eight level 4 monsters (white apes), and two level six monsters (the neanderthal leaders). It should take several forays to eliminate these threats and explore the area.

One thing I’ve always loved about superhero comics is re-occuring villians and if we’re going to do several adventures here I’d like to include some. So, I think I’ll add rival adventurers as well. They are discussed extensively in the monster section. I’ll roll up a few characters and pick a party identical to my player’s characters who are also looking to rescue the women. While I won’t have the NPC party be inherently hostile they will be after the same goals.

So, with two groups of special monsters, a neanderthal raiding part that has kidnapped slave women and a rival rescue party, I’m ready to draw a map. The next post in this series will cover the first steps in mapping and ask the question, “Can I turn a local apartment building into a dungeon?”

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Mentzer Dungeon: Setting

Last time out I selected a scenario for my Mentzer Dungeon. The next step is to select a setting. We are again provided with a brief list of possible settings but they come with no notes. In fact, while the scenario listing is about half a page the setting section is barely a paragraph. I suspect this foreshadows the coming influence plot would play in TSR modules. The handful general settings listed (and even the book admits there are plenty more) are:

  • Castle or Tower
  • Caves or Cavern
  • Abandoned mine
  • Crypt or Tomb
  • Ancient Temple
  • Stronghold or Town

That isn’t much to work with. Let’s look at what we have in the scenario and see if we can’t find some hints for a setting. The scenario is the party learns of a large reward to rescue a group of five kidnapped women who were carried off by subhumans into the wastes to the south. The women are actually slave girls being brought from the pleasure cities of the east by a local merchant for a brothel he planned to open. So, we need some kind of setting appropriate to “the wastes” and being inhabited by “subhumans”.

If we lookup wastes on Wikipedia we get essentially an article on garbage. However, heading to the disambiguation page we find wastelands as an option. Following up on that word we wind up on its disambiguation page. The very first entry is a definition, A landscape devoid of nutrients, soil and/or moisture; see also, overgrazing, slash and burn, deforestation, erosion, scorched earth. The second entry is about a concept in Celtic mythology, The Wasteland is a Celtic motif that ties the barrenness of a land with a curse that must be lifted by a hero.. Now we’re cooking with gas.

So, subhumans of some kind (we’ll leave the kind to the next step) have kidnapped slave girls into a land that is devoid of nutrients, soil or moisture and whose barrenness is the result of a curse heroes can lift. While the stereotypical idea would be a desert I want something more. It is times like these that random reading can come to the forefront.

Sitting in a draft post for this blog is an article about visiting a forbidden Japanese island. The island is basically a huge abandoned coal mining complex called Battleship Island. I guess taking that as inspiration moves us to an abandoned mine, but I doubt this is what Moldvay or Mentzer had in mind.

However, the idea of “the wastes” seems bigger than one island and an island per se seems out of place. I’m going to draw upon a second recent reading, the old Marvel black and white Planet of the Apes. With this we have an idea for the wastes, the forbidden zone. It is a barren land puncuated by a variety of ruins. One ruin, in particular, will be an old mining company town with closely clustered apartment and mining buildings. In a Traveler game they might border on being an arcology. The presense of the mine allows for some underground levels, but I think I’ll focus on one or two apartment buildings for now as the subhuman’s lair. For the surrounding wastes I’ll go with a grey, ashen land that has a faint bluish glow in areas at night, borrowing the Planet of the Apes forbidden zone more or less whole.

So, our adventure, before any maps are drawn can be summed up as:

You hear that a raiding party of subhumans has kidnapped women from the last caravan from the east as well as exotic luxuries imported by the merchant Pali. He has offered a reward for retrieving the women. He can tell you the subhumans tend to camp in a ruined mining town barely into the Wastes to the south and provides a map to it.

Tomorrow, we will discuss exactly who the subhumans are in Step 3: Select Special Monsters

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Mentzer Dungeon: Scenario

The first step in creating a dungeon in both Mentzer and Moldavy’s versions of basic is selecting a scenario. Here we already see drift from OD&D and even Holmes. The idea of a scenario at all is absent from The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures which merely provides a sample dungeon. Holmes does not provide guidance directing a scenerio, but does discuss the background of its sample dungeon.

Mentzer provides several scenarios with a brief description:

  • Recovering Ruins
  • Exploring the Unknown
  • Investigating an Enemy Outpost
  • Destroying an Ancient Evil
  • Visiting a Lost Shrine
  • Fulfilling a Quest
  • Escaping from Enemies
  • Rescuing Prisoners
  • Using a Magic Portal
  • Finding a Lost Race

My natural inclination is to go with the destroying an ancient evil. The description reads

The ‘evil’ is a monster or NPC, but the exact type is not known. It may have been deeply buried and reawakeed by recent digging, exploring, and so forth.

But I’m wondering if natural inclination is just another phrase for laziness or lack of creativity. So let’s brainstorm some other options.

Rescuing prisoners sounds like it could be interesting:

Valuable or important persons are being held prisoner by an evil group (bandits, orcs, a magic-user with allies, etc). The party may be hired, or may simply be seeking an announced reward. The party may be the guards for a person negotiating the ransom demands

Yeah, I like that one. Still, ‘rescue the princess’ is a bit cliche so what variants can we do. I’m still down with beautiful women captives in a fine Burroughs tradition. Actually, why not twist it a little and use the most reviled sword and planet series for inspiration, Gor. I really like Trollsmyth’s Slaves of Shkeen last month. So, the captives to be rescued could be slaves. Given my bent they’ll have to be slave girls.

So, here’s the setup. The scenario will see the party learning of a large reward to rescue a group of five kidnapped women who were carried off by subhumans into the wastes to the south. The women are actually slave girls being brought from the pleasure cities of the east by a local merchant for a brothel he planned to open.

Tomorrow: Setting

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Mentzer Dungeon: Introduction

This week I pulled the trigger on BCS Redbox and BCS Rebox Meetup. Our first meeting will be Sunday the 17th of April.

I don’t have anyone signed up but me. As such, I need to be ready to run something. While I have a ton of modules and such I thought, “since we’re playing Mentzer why not build a dungeon by the book.”

So, over the next week I’m going to try and pretend I’ve never done this before and design a dungeon step by step with random stocking of most rooms and all the other hallmarks of Mentzer’s procedure. For those wonder, the outline isn’t much different from Moldavy’s outline but the text is somewhat different.

For those who don’t have Mentzer handy the steps are:

  1. Choose a Scenario
  2. Decide on a Setting
  3. Select Special Monsters
  4. Draw the Map
  5. Stock the Dungeon
  6. Fill in the Final Details

My goal in this is two fold. First, I’d like to get back to basics and see if I can rediscover things I’ve forgotten, both in process and in response. Second, I’m hoping these posts will inspire those, especially those who have never designed a dungeon, to take the leap.

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