Bits Of My Brain

Gaming, Fiction, Rants, Raves, and other Tidbits, from Todd @

TSR in a d20 World

Posted by Todd on July 2, 2007

Now that I’ve shared my favorite d20 books to use in your Dungeons and Dragons game, I thought I’d share my top three old school TSR releases that I find still very useful in a d20 campaign.

So without any further word-mincing, here we go:

Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide

Paul Jaquays and William W. Connors

I believe that this is a book quite similar to the new Hero Builder’s Guidebook in that some find it useful, and others find it a waste of paper.  I used to belong the the latter camp, but after a re-read after WotC took over, I find I have changed my mind.  Here’s why:

When this book first came out in 1990, I had already been role playing for years, and Dungeon/Game Mastering for almost as long.  This book, for the most part, is a book of tips and tricks on how to be a better DM, campaign creation, generating adventures, etc.  I took a quick flip through and figured, “Heck, I already know most of this stuff!”  And, for the most I was right.  I grew up on 1st edition and had a good DM to learn from. 

Later, while going looking for an out of print D&D item on eBay, I saw this book.  It was cheap and being sold by the same person who had what I was originally looking for so I got it.  

After perusing its contents, I can tell you that if you are a relatively new DM, this book can help you.  If you are an experienced DM, this book can refresh your memory and inspire you. 

The next item I find really useful is actually the one I was looking for on eBay when I found the book above:

Dungeon Master’s Design Kit

Harold Johnson and Aaron Allston

This is the product for you if you are the kind of DM who:

  •  likes to have your adventures neat and tidy
  •  like things that help you get inspired to “fill in the blanks”
  •  doesn’t often have time to plan out adventures to their fullest potential

This “book” is actually three booklets wrapped in a cardstock jacket.  I’m going to take them “out of order” in my explanations. 

Book II:  Forms, is exactly what its title implies.  Full page forms (with filled in examples) to record and aid in the creation of:

  • Featured Villains
  • Adventure Outline
  • Plot and Mysteries
  • Featured Creature
  • Master Monster Matrix
  • Adventure Introduction
  • Melee Encounters
  • Role-Playing Encounters
  • Wandering Encounters & Random Events
  • Traps & Dilemmas
  • Events
  • Chases
  • Grand Finale
  • Treasures

Book I:  Adventure Design, essentially is a how-to manual on how to best use the forms.  While that may seem like overkill, “how hard can it be to fill in forms?”, there is a lot of useful info in there.

Book III, Adventure Cookbook, is a collection of ideas to help a DM with writer’s block or is pressed for time.  It provides adventure ideas (and appropriate charts if you want random generation) for the following:

  • Theme
  • Goals
  • Story Hooks
  • Settings
  • Allies
  • Master Villains
  • Minor Villains
  • Plots
  • Climaxes
  • Monster Encounter
  • Character Encounters
  • Traps and Deathtraps
  • Special Conditions
  • Red Herrings
  • Omens and Prophesies
  • Moral Quandries
  • Chases
  • Secret Weaknesses
  • Cruel Tricks

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t advocate using the book to cook up your adventures entirely at random.  But the examples in this book can help stir your imagination or fill in blanks.  And even if you skip this book, the forms really do help a DM keep his stuff together and efficiently at that.

Now obviously, this book was designed for 1st edition.  All the forms still have references to THAC0 and so forth.  I found the forms so useful that I recreated them in Microsoft Excel, updated for the 3.5 d20 rules.  They are not very well documented, but once they are, I will get them uploaded to the web, and I’ll post a link.

And the old school book I find most useful was the one that was required in the day:

Dungeon Masters Guide

First Edition

Gary Gygax

Anyone who made the transition from 1st edition to 2nd will remember looking through the “new” DMG and realizing that they left a whole lot out.  Some of it never got put back in, some of it got put back in but it was better the old way, and I guess some of it should have gone away.

I’m here to talk about what’s in the DMG of yesteryear that can help you today.  Highlights of what I like:

  • Chances of contracting disease or parasites (other than from monsters or spells)
  • Moral and Loyalty rules
  • Effects of Alcohol
  • Insanities
  • Quick Traits for NPCs
  • Random Dungeon Generation
  • Random Wilderness Terrain
  • Random City and Town Encounters
  • Gambling
  • Tricks
  • Dungeon Dressing
  • Herbs, Spices, and their uses
  • Ways to desribe magical substances

The bulk of this info is in the appendices.  I swear it’s a treasure trove of goodness for any DM.  If you have AEG’s Toolbox then you can get some of the same information.  But this one is just a classic that takes be back, even flipping randomly through the pages fires up my imagination.

If you have access to any of these, you should check them out, I feel that they will help you greatly.


4 Responses to “TSR in a d20 World”

  1. Lizcam said

    Todd, Craig loves these reviews you do. He’s got books from different games piled up all over the house! Just thought I’d let you know!

  2. Todd said

    Thanks Liz, I appreciate the feedback.

  3. […] in my TSR in a d20 World post, I reviewed the delightful Dungeon Master’s Design Kit.  I also alluded to the fact […]

  4. Eric said

    You know I find myself increasingly going back to my Advanced Dungeons & Dragons stuff & throwing aside the D20 stuff. Interestingly this has nothing to do with all of the 4th edition nonsense but more of an economic choose. The thing I find interesting with any number of products out there is the fact that its actually the fluff & a solid group of players that makes or breaks a game. There is so much stuff on both the internet & in my collection that purchasing anything new isn’t in the cards at all at this point. Anyhow thanks for a great post & for reminding me exactly why the Dungeon master’s Guide is one of the staples of my gaming table.

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