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Dungeon Builder's Guidebook (2e)
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Dungeon Builder's Guidebook (2e)

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You are probably wondering: Is this guidebook for me? In a word?yes! Dungeon Builder's Guidebook assembles tried-and -true dungeon building advice, approaches, and tactics gathered over many years. The suggestions and samples in this book are an invaluable resource for initiaing and fleshing out the ruins, mines, caverns, and tombs of your imagination.

What if your already design all your own dungeons? Though the advice and tips in here and may be old news to you, even the most experienced Dungeon Master is sometimes strapped for time or inspiration. Dungeon Builder's Guidebook is perfect for generating the dungeon hook you need at a moment's notice, the goblin warren the PCs accidentally stumble upon, or the pocket dimension you did not get a chance to detail.

Dungeon Builder's Guidebook contains the following features:

  • Basic pointers and advice on building dungeons.
  • Permutations that provide ways to " twist" your dungeon in exciting ways.
  • Six distinct dungeon types, each accompanied by property and encounter tables to help your flesh out your dungeon.
  • A collection of 78 geomorphs that you can photocopy, trace, or freehand onto your own maps
  • The Trap Architect, at detailed process for generating lethal traps.
  • The Autodungeon Engine, a series of tables that allow your to create a dungeon by attaching random geomorphs together, forming a unique dungeon each time.

Product History

"Dungeon Builder's Guidebook" (1998), by Bruce R. Cordell, is a GM's book on creating dungeons. It was published in May 1998.

About the Cover. That's some very literal dungeon building, by Daniel Home, who also illustrated the cover to the "World Builder's Guidebook" (1996).

Sources. Cordell's list of sources hints at how old-school this book would be, since it includes Appendix A: Random Dungeon Generation, Appendix G: Traps, and Appendix H: Tricks, all from the 1e Dungeon Masters Guide (1979).

Origins (I): Another Guidebook. The "Dungeon Builder's Guidebook" (1998) is a direct sequel to the "World Builder's Guidebook" (1996), but it has a dramatically different scope. They both provide creative advice for GMs, but the previous book was about a whole world, while this one is about an individual dungeon.

Origins (II): Back to the Dungeons. That return to the dungeons was actually quite notable, because so much of the AD&D 2e era (1989-2000) was focused on stories and on exotic settings that the game's original setting was somewhat lost. However, times were already changing, with "Temple, Tower, and Tomb" (1994) marking the beginning of a minor resurgence of D&D dungeons — albeit all in black-bordered books, like this one.

"Dungeon Builder's Guidebook" also followed a tradition of dungeon design books that started with the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide (1986) and continued as a minor theme in the "DMGR" books (1990-1997), particularly DMGR1: Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide (1990). This was, however, the first book ever to provide an entire book worth of dungeon design.

Adventure Tropes: Dungeons. Cordell describes dungeons as "bounded settings" and details six possibilities: aerial, castles, interdimensional, mines/natural caverns, ruins/tombs, and underwater. Interdimensional demiplanes, natural caverns, ruins, and underwater areas all had considerable history in the D&D game. However, castles (without connected, below-ground dungeons) were much rarer in published modules, and aerial dungeons in the clouds were almost unknown.

Cordell also discusses the complex dungeons of classic play and says that though they might be "fun" they're not necessarily "realistic". He notes there should be a balance, and does his best to offer a number of realistic tropes for why dungeons might exist, from being abandoned sites to colonies. He also spends a short chapter on one classic dungeon trope: traps.

Accessories of Note: Geomorphs. Cordell includes geomorphs for constructing his six types of dungeons. Alas, they're not on full sheets of paper that can be connected up to each other, like TSR's classic Geomorphs (1976-1977, 1981). They nonetheless marked the return of an old idea, once more reiterating the classic nature of this supplement.

Exploring Neverness. The six sample dungeons in the "Guidebook" are mostly generic, but the background on the undersea dungeon reveals multiple connections to the world of Neverness that ran through many of Cordell's writings of the late '90s. The city of Stormport appears, as well as the nearby Giant's Atoll and Drowned City. These locales can even be sort of located on a simple map, the "Underwater Founding Geomorph", which is one of the few existing maps for Neverness.

Several more farflung locales are also mentioned, including Far Moran, the Plunder Islands, and the Grim Steppes. These locales appear on other maps, connecting together the world of Neverness: the first two are on the treasure map of "Night of the Shark" (1997) while the last is on the adventure map of "Masters of Eternal Night" (1998), albeit it's just the "Grim Steppe" there. If one were to rotate the "Underwater Founding Geomorph" of this supplement 180 degrees, then one might recognize the hills rising up in the background as the Grim Steppe of "masters of Eternal Night".

Exploring Greyhawk. Another dungeon has a very small connection to Greyhawk. The interdimensional dungeon details the 986th(!) layer of the Abyss, once home to the fiend Tarnhem. Tarnhem is missing, but his fate would be revealed just two months later in Return to the Tomb of Horrors (1998).

About the Creators. By 1998, Cordell had been writing D&D books for a few years. However, that was the year that his production really exploded. He authored a total of nine major releases in 1998, including four mind flayer books and Return to the Tomb of Horrors.

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons — a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to

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James S April 09, 2020 1:53 am UTC
Haven't read it enough to rate it, nor have I experience with the original, but the recent update is a significant update to the original PDF. While the last iteration looked like a scan, these look like they were recently created. Nicely done on the update!
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File Last Updated:
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This title was added to our catalog on May 16, 2017.