From the Preface:
From the Dungeon Master's Guide, page 171
- Table V. F.: Chamber or Room Contents
|| Monster Only
|| Monster and Treasure
And right there is the heart of the issue. Gygax lays out the essence of role-playing games in that single table. He provides methods of producing flowcharts (the random dungeon generator) and fills each node with an encounter: Empty rooms, monsters, traps, treasure and "special". This system maps to any role playing game since. There is a scene: either nothing happens, you have an antagonist, you deal with a threat, or you receive a reward. There are a selection of options of which scene to reach next (often depending on the events in the first scene). One is selected, you move onto the next scene (room) and repeat the process again.
What a wonderful concept! Brilliant in the way it cuts right to the heart of what makes a role-playing game fun. Immediately after (or before in the case of the Monster Manual) and in the years following several of these items were given great support. Across the various iterations of Dungeons and Dragons there are literally thousands of monsters and dozens of books and tables devoted to traps.
But what about the other 70% of the table?
I've already addressed the treasure entry, in my document "Treasure", available at http://hackslashmaster.blogspot.com/2010/11/treasure-update.html giving you the tools to create tons of interesting treasure. Instead of "gold+magic" it provides tables and keys to produce and describe anything from furniture to goods to gems to detailed works of art. It does more than just give a gold piece value to objects, it lets you describe each unique item then grin as your players struggle to move the antique armoire out of the dungeon.
But what of empty rooms? What of "special"? What of tricks? Surely Gygax didn't intend for the Dungeon Master to say, "This is a bare room with nothing of interest." 60% of the time. As for specials and tricks, he gives an excellent, really outstanding list of features and attributes, and then has this to say. "From these examples you will note that nearly endless combinations are possible, even without your own ideas for additions - and these will surely come." Surely they will, right? And they do - but suddenly, you're making the classic mega dungeon, and you need two of these per twenty rooms - an average of five or six per sheet of graph paper! To say nothing of empty room after empty room!
He does give relatively excellent tools, but this doesn't resolve the problem. It's just lists of items. And it's necessary to come up with example after example in any long term campaign. Just randomly using the lists doesn't fix the situation either. "This room has *clatter* a slight breeze and *clatter* dung on the floor" is no better and no more meaningful than "This room is empty."
It's not that we all can't come up with empty rooms or tricks - it is simply the sheer volume of such that we must create. I know if you've ran a game before, you know the feeling. That is what this document is designed to do, assist with this process.
It contains lists, much like those in other rule books, but it also does something more - it catalogs the ways a room may be empty or special in exhaustive detail. Now, instead of trying to fit together a bunch of disparate random stuff in an interesting way without a guideline, you have a structure - a guide to your creativity!