Discovered an Unknown to Me Sibling of the Old School Primer

I’ve been following the great posts from the “OSR Guide for the Perplexed” call. Kuroth’s Quill post pointed me to “Megadungeon Tactics: Mission-Based Adventuring” by Matt Finch. An article unknown to me and published in Knockspell #4. Take some time to go Google “OSR Guide for the Perplexed”.

This is an excellent resource for old-school dungeon-exploring players in general, and helps players to effectively deploy in play the concepts outlined in Matt’s Old School Primer (free).

That piqued my interest. Scratching together some DriveThruRPG credits, I downloaded Knockspell #4 and read the article (from 2009).

First, this article is addressing the rise of the Megadungeon There is Grognardia’s 2008 post My Megadungeon: dwimmermount. Please take the time to read this whole site. Michael Curtis’s 2009 Stonehell Dungeon looked to address the organizational layout and modularity of megadungeons. Also consider Rappan Athuk, Banewarrens, the Worlds Largest Dungeon, etc. Regardless, something about 2009 begged everyone to explore massive dungeons. , something of which I’ve never played in. Nor given all that much thought to how I would explore them as a player.

I found the advice reshaping my understanding of an aspect of role-playing that I’ve often set aside; The strategic consideration of adventuring, especially when you have fragile characters.

Matt Finch provides practical advice at the intersection of mechanics and dungeon topography.

First and foremost, understand the rewards struture of the game. In older editions and the Old School Renaissance (OSR 🔍), character get Experience Points (XP 🔍) for gaining treasure, defeating monsters, and completing quests. In an adventure, if you tally XP sources, the majority of possible XP comes from treasure. Consider that a 100 XP monster might be a barrier to 1000 XP of treasure. Where possible, mitigate the chance of that 100 XP monster ever attacking you. Bribe it, ambush it, lure it away, etc. After all, your fragile 4 Hit Point (HP 🔍) wizard can die in one hit from a monster that deals 1d8 damage.

With this understanding, optimize for treasure and do your best to ensure an upper hand in any conflicts. Inversely, avoid efforts that are unlikely to produce treasure or that can introduce further conflict complications. This is codified in the various approaches into the dungeon.

Second, understand that dungeons often have procedures for random encounter checks. In otherwords, monsters that won’t have much treasure. Which runs against your rules of optimization. Reduce your chances of random encounters by being efficient and judicious.

First Expedition

This is where you aim to map the corridors. GMs require the players to declare which character is doing the mapping and has the map.

The corridors are your flight path when you cut and run.

Understand the flow of the dungeon. How you can use it. And how others can use it against you. In this first expedition, there is an assumption that you won’t gain any treasure but will reduce your chances of random encounters.

Matt encourages a devious strategy, analogue to “doubling a volunteer’s pay”. Hire elves and dwarves promising a share of the treasure. They have secret door detection and stonework cunning to sniff out anomalies in the corridors Player Characters (PCs 🔍), be generous, after all the plan is not to find treasure. Yes this is disingenuous, but what is a poor dungeon raider to do?

Elves and Dwarves are one form of preparation; Another analogue is spell selection. In this first foray, its all about reconnaissance spells. Character creation is quick, so take a calculated risk with this disposable PC; Instead of preparing sleep consider detect magic or even read languages.

Another point Matt raises is around topography:

Keep in mind especially that corridors which circle back to other corridors are very dangerous in running battles, because they allow enemies to hit you from more than one direction at the same time.

Understand the physical flow of the dungeon. From this understanding you can later optimize your approach and even use the dungeon topography to your advantage (or at least minimize its disadvantages).

Prepare for the Second Expedition

With a map in hand, the players/characters should discuss and plan their next expedition. Where do they think they can smash and grab some treasure? What might there approach be? While this is a more dangerous expedition, the goal is to optimize treasure acquisition. This in turn leads to leveling-up and increased durability of characters

From here, Matt Finch provides a trove of information and approaches, as outlined in the conceptual table of contents for this article:

The First Two Missions

  • Expedition #1: Map the Corridors
  • Expedition #2: Recover Lost Cash Flow

Expeditions After the First Two

  • Type #1: Rinse and Repeat
  • Type #2: Checking for Details
  • Type #3: Deep Excursion
  • Type #4: Rescue and Recovery
  • Type #5: Gadgeteering, Gizmology, Amateur Siegecraft, and Buildstuffological Engineering


The advice from Matt Finch’s “Megadungeon Tactics: Mission-Based Adventuring” from Knockspell #4 can be summed up as know the risk/reward elements of the game and take an iterative and agile approach in dungeon delving with an initial focus of understanding the flow of a dungeon.