Monday, October 19, 2009

A Wonderful, Wonderful Book

Oh my goodness.

Forget OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, and Swords & Wizardry. Forget Castle Zagyg, Carcosa, and Fight On! If you're looking for the monumental and important release of the OSR, you haven't yet found it.

The Dungeon Alphabet by Michael Curtis is it.

Maybe, you might say, I'm just shilling for the publisher that published my own Random Esoteric Creature Generator. But then I'd ask you to explain my silence concerning all their other releases, system neutral or not.

The artwork is breathtaking. It's got the most evocative Jeff Easley piece I've ever seen, and Jim Holloway brings his A-game. Jim Roslof's got a fair number of illustrations in here, and the way he illustrates wonders of the dungeon makes me like these pieces than anything he did for TSR in the "glory days." (I use quotes because in many ways, the glory days are now) And then there's Erol Otus, but unlike the others, I don't think his contributions match up to what he did back in the day. Then there's the current crew, including Pete Mullen, with impressive pieces.

As I moved from page to page, I was almost expecting to see Elmore, Darlene, Dee, Trampier, and Sutherland work. No such luck (for obvious reasons), but the aura of the book just makes it seem possible.

Then there's the writing. A lot of us read the original Dungeon Alphabet on the Society of Torch, Pole, and Rope blog (which should be mentioned in the introduction at least, but isn't). I have it in my Referee Notebook. But each entry is expanded with a sample random chart to demonstrate possibilities.

Some of these charts are more impressive than others. The Altar tables give 8000 possible combinations, but others are rolled on a single d6, d8, d10, or d20 table and so have finite variations. Again, illustrating possibilities rather than being true generators in their own right.

Still, it can hardly be argued that an imagination jumpstarter is a poor product. This isn't advertised as and isn't intended to be a dungeon generator, after all.

The most important thing about this is going to be the scope. Goodman Games isn't Wizards of the Coast in terms of visibility or market penetration, but they are investing in a hardcover book that's all about the dungeon as adventuring environment rather than dungeon as background for action, and putting it out in game stores. It's going to get reviewed and talked about, at the very least, and discussion of The Dungeon, and many of the Old Ways, are going to be discussed in general gamer circles.

You may think I'm overreacting, or gushing inappropriately. You might think my hype-o-meter is spinning way out of control. Maybe you're right. Maybe I saying this book is the best thing to come down the pike in forever when the reality is that it's merely an unbelievably awesome book. But I say this in a calm and considered manner:

This is going to remind many old-schoolers of things that have been forgotten, and this is going to teach many youngsters lore that hasn't been out to the general gaming public in a long, long time.

The Dungeon Alphabet feels like coming home.


  1. You know, I printed out a copy of Mike's Dungeon Alphabet back when he was syndicating it on his blog. It's since occupied a well-loved spot in my campaign binder, and has been referenced many times. Regardless, I think I'm going to have to pick up this book. Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. I'm really looking forward to picking this up.

  3. That's mighty high praise, James.

    Let me set aside CARCOSA since I'm obviously biased towards it. After that my single favorite OSR product is your own Random Esoteric Creature Generator (RECG for short). Why?

    Because it has completely revolutionized the way I look at monsters in D&D. The essays therein coupled with the exhaustive tables for randomly generating weird creatures have really opened my eyes.

    I actually sold my AD&D Monster Manual, Fiend Folio, and Monster Manual II because I'm simply not interested in running canned monsters anymore. Instead, I like the one-of-a-kind beasties I get with the RECG.

    Do you see The Dungeon Alphabet as a revolutionary product?

    (It's a sincere rather than a rhetorical question. I haven't seen the book.)

  4. >>I actually sold my AD&D Monster Manual, Fiend Folio, and Monster Manual II because I'm simply not interested in running canned monsters anymore. Instead, I like the one-of-a-kind beasties I get with the RECG.

    What do you do for normal (dangerous) animal stats?

    >>Do you see The Dungeon Alphabet as a revolutionary product?

    I wouldn't call it revolutionary since it is firmly backwards-looking in intent. I can say I feel it should be on the writing desk of any guy running dungeons for his group.

  5. So I take it that this book is greatly expanded from the version that was published in Knockspell? (I never saw the original blog version.)

    I'll have to get it in any case, for the art alone. :)

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  7. >>What do you do for normal (dangerous) animal stats?

    I just make them up. There isn't much in the way of animal stats in OD&D or in Holmes, so making-up animal stats is a time-honored tradition.

    Besides, I'm not that impressed with Gary's animal stats. IIRC, the polar bear in the MMII is so tough it probably preys upon white dragons.

  8. Geoffrey, I actually like the Smilodons and Polar Bears that can kill dragons...ruins the "Dragonlance"-esque "Dragocentricism" mood.

  9. High praise indeed. I'll certainly pick this up once the book becomes available in January. Unless I'm missing something regarding the release schedule, that is?

    Also, I'll chime in on the praise regarding Carcosa. Just read the pdf-version and ordered the print version. Definitely bang for buck.

  10. Beware the Cave Bear with a symbiotic Black Pudding in its mouth.