Saturday, April 23, 2022

About Artifacts, Deceptions and Dilemmas

 Artifacts, Deceptions and Dilemmas is a book by Courtney C. Campbell, of Hack & Slash blog fame.

In short: this book collects guidelines and ideas for old-school games DMs to both create and adjudicate fairly a variety of "unusual circumstances, hazards, benefits, and puzzles, and creating interesting encounters". It is designed to create better dungeons, and to become better at running them at the table.

Is this for you? You may check some portions of the content at Campbell's blog.



The print-on-demand version, which I've grabbed a couple months ago, is a 162 page, A5 b&w book. It is available both as soft- and hardcover, and I've picked the latter as I strongly prefer a solid book. It is one of the few OSR titles that are currently part of the global Best of Print sale on drivethru (and for some strange reason the hardcover costs less than the softcover version).

Esthetically, AD&D (see what he did there?) is a spartan book with a super-simple, one-column layout.

It sports an amazing wrap-around cover art by Karl Stjemberg (aka skullfungus), and a LOT of functional art by Campbell in the Rooms section of the book (more on that later), plus a bunch of illustrations by James Shields.

Skullfungus' incredible wrap-around cover


What game is this for? Despite the acronym, AD&D is a book for DMs/GMs/Referees running any old-school or OSR-adjacent game. Game rules and statistics are barely present, if at all, as the focus of the book is on dungeon design and adjudication. I think it can be of interest to GMs of any edition of Dungeons & Dragons or other fantasy games, if they feel traps-as-hp-tax and perception checks are boring.

So...

Let's break down the content. We have four main sections: Rooms, Agency, Traps, Tricks.

The first section has a set of tables to randomly determine the specific nature of a room. Each of the results of such tables is described in the following pages, where you find more than 100 room types in alphabetical order, from Amphitheater to Zoo. Each room is described in objective terms, with its necessary, functional features, plus a list of possible additional elements, objects that can reasonably be found in that type of room, plus an illustration for each. This section is definitely useful if you like your dungeon rooms to make sense! See the images below for some nice examples.


The second section, Agency, describes the mechanical or magical functioning of a variety of triggers such as pressure plates, switches, latches, levers, and so on. More important, and the reason why the title of the section is Agency, this section describes how to run them in game: what to describe, how to give clues, how to give a reason to players to investigate and interact with them.

The third section, Traps, describes what's at the other end of the trigger, detailing more than 30 literal traps and environmental hazards, from arrow trap to vents & sprays. For each, examples are given to make them unique, and turn them from a boring hp-tax into an interesting encounter.

Where the Rooms and Traps sections deal with physical elements of a dungeon, the last section of the book, Tricks, tackles situations. It describes 17 categories of them, form bait to weirdness, each with examples, plus a two-page guide on how to design them for your games.

AD&D together with its companion book OD&D, and the Italian version of Old-School Essentials 



All in all

Like the immensely popular The Dungeon Alphabet, this is a great book if you want more creative fuel when designing your dungeon. What's more: it gives a lot solid advice on how to design environments and situations that create challenging gameplay in the OSR sense: challenging player skill to investigate and interact with the environment in a meaningful way.

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Into OSR? Check my other OSR posts, reviews and games!

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