Rules to the Game of Dungeon Actual Play Report
Before he co-created Dungeon and Dragons, Dave Arneson spent years playing fantasy role playing games with his friends in the Minneapolis area in the early 1970s. Over time, the idea of playing simple a simple dungeon-themed role playing games spread to other Minneapolis geeks. In 1974, 14 year old Craig VanGrasstek, who had never actually played with Arneson and his group and didn’t know D&D existed, published his house rules for the “Game of Dungeon” that he and his friends played (this game has also been referred to as “Minneapolis Dungeon” and “Castle Keep”).
In 2014, Jon Peterson republished Rules to the Game of Dungeon with VanGrasstek’s permission: http://playingattheworld.blogspot.com/2014/08/1974-dungeon-variant-now-for-download.html
A couple weeks ago, I got a group together to give it a spin.
Bottom line: It played surprisingly well, especially considering that it was written by a teenage boy in the 1970s, but I worry that combat could become a grind. I don’t know if I’ll run it again because there are so many other rules-lite systems that offer more support for the GM, but this was a lot of fun for everyone.
I’m attaching my “Weird Workbook”: the tables I used for rolling up baddies, and their stats and descriptions.
The game calls for making a map ahead of time, but rolling-up almost all of the encounters on the fly. So I printed out some maps from Dyson’s Dodecahedron and made myself some tables. Basically, for each room you’d have a “baddie” (as Minnesota gamers called opponents), a “sage” (NPCs who generally just want to gamble), or a trap. Each room also had treasure, but I used the tables included in Rules for that. Statting up the baddies was the most time consuming part of prep, but wasn’t really a big deal.
I also made a bunch of pregens: one for each race (or “denomination” in VanGrasstek’s terminology) for each class, for a total of 9 pregens. I just randomly rolled equipment and “spell balls.”
Because of VanGrasstek and his group’s obsession with Herbie Popnecker, I decided that instead of magical “balls,” the Wizards would use magical lollipops to cast their spells. So they had “axe pops,” “healing pops,” “mind control pops,” etc.
Once everyone had picked a pregen, some of players decided to come up with relationships between their “personas” (two of the elves were sibling rivals, and two of them were also former lovers). Tex, a human priest with a bicycle chain, was appointed leader (the highest level priest is always the party leader in Rules). Then they took off for Blad Mountain, where they’d heard treasure abounded (this was the name of one of the “mazes” in one of VanGrasstek’s actual play reports republished by Peterson).
Pools of gravy marked the entrance to cave. The personas quickly dispatched a pack of coyotes that attacked them at the entrance, and they managed to tame one of them as a pet.
Once inside, the entrance caved in and a giant meatball rolled towards them. They were able to duck into a hallway to avoid being run-over by the meatball, but the meatball turned and started attacking them. They eventually defeated it, and then set about exploring the maze.
Within, the personas used carrots to placate a swarm of Evil Rabbits, killed a Giant Centipede, and lost a bunch of gold to a sage in a game of blackjack. They also discovered a room full of slot machines (I had a slot machine die that everyone took turns rolling. No one won anything) and the gravy geyser that likely spawned the giant meatball.
The highlight of the evening came when one of the Wizards used a mind control pop on an Umber Hulk (he decided that these pops work by hurling them at the baddies head and having it stick there), which he then used to battle an Evil Dentist in another room. The elven warrior took the dentist’s drill and used it against one of the giant snapping turtles that attacked them in another room. It penetrated the turtle’s shell, but broke. The PCs ended up running away from the turtles and returning to the entrance, digging themselves out, and heading home.
I was worried that this would be unplayable, so I brought along a copy of Into the Odd and a couple one-room dungeons just in case. But it turned out to be a lot of fun. But I’d definitely want to make some adjustments if I were to run it again. There was a lot of whiffing, so I’d definitely want to lower the to-hit numbers both for the personas and the baddies. It took round after round to take out the baddies, and the personas barely even got hurt. If we’d played longer (the whole session, including going over the rules and picking characters, was only three hours), I think it really would have become a grind.
Despite the fun, I’m reluctant to run this again. I’d probably rather just run Maze Rats or Tunnels & Trolls with a bunch of silly monsters and an emphasis on food. Seems like it would be easier to stat up baddies in those systems, and that combat would be less of a whiff-fest.
Still, the system held up really well. Randomly generating everything made things really easy and unpredictable. If you want a really deep old school cut, give this a try.