Mike’s Dungeons

Geoffrey McKinney
Levels 1-10

I took my DeLorean time machine back to 1983. I saw there four middle-school boys playing Dungeons & Dragons, and Mike was the name of the DM. I managed to steal Mike’s dungeons and bring them back to 2020. I stole them fair and square, and now you can buy them. Mike did all the work, so we can be lazy.

This 158 page adventure describes a 72 level dungeon. It lies somewhere between “minimally keyed” and “just a bit more than minimally keyed.” And I do mean Just A Bit More. Is minimal keying good enough these days?

So …. Good effort. 72 dungeon levels. Hand drawn maps of about a dozen rooms per level. The rooms are all described on one page, in clean easy to read font with margins. The dungeon map is on the other page, making it a “lay open” book affair. I, also, use 3-rings at home, but rings instead of a folder. It’s a good format for actualling running things. You can flip around easily, fold it back to back, lay it open on facing pages, and find the front and back easily for additional quick-access reference material. 

Geoffrey doesn’t do any of that. It’s just a map and a one-page key, per level, with a singal page of DM background information on page one describing how undead turn as two levels harder and how all Chaotics in the temple levels of the dungeon get a 1 point armor class bonus when attacked by Lawfulls. 

The writing style is one that Geoffrey has used before, such as in Isle of the Unknown. It’s minimally keyed, and, while he doesn’t say it, it looks like he’s using the charts from B/X to roll the encounters on, about one per room. Thus the first level has about fourteen rooms and twelve of them have a creature to slay in it. The thirteenth is the entrance cave mouth and the fourteenth a room with a trick. Stuffed full of creatures!

And minimally keyed. Which I seem to think is important since I seem to be beating that point to death in this review, name dropping it all over the place. The encounters on level one include:

2 chaotic warriors in plate mail with shields and swords.  

Giant orange centipedes crawl in and out of a worthless red glass urn, and they will not attack unless disturbed.  

1 giant yellow scorpion cannot move unless the 319 gp scattered on the floor near the scorpion is touched. 

2 gray oozes are in this cold, damp, and humid chamber  

An 11-headed hydra lairs here. Each of its 22 eyes is an amethyst worth 100 gp  

I’m not summarizing; this is all the text there is for those various rooms. I don’t think I’m cherry picking either, this is fairly representative for the vast vast majority of rooms. It’s very similar to Isle of the Unknown. In both cases it looks like a random generator was used to crete a keying and then an adjective was added, usually a color adjective. Yellow scorpion. Orange centipede.

Which is not to say that the entries are all bad. Crawling in and out of a glass urn is not bad, as ia hydra with amethyst eyes. In both cases it engages the risk/reward mechanism of the party, tempting them to recover loot, present with the hydra and not with the urns.   

And to be fair there are sometimes longer entries. But they are not common. Here’s one in which the creatures will talk to you:

The 9 wereboars here are preyed upon by the cyclops (room B). They will seek an alliance against their hated enemy: “Help us kill him, and you can keep all his gold.”

Your experiences here are going to be related to your tolerance of minimally keying. I don’t have any tolerance for it. There are mountains and mountains of random creature generators online these days to roll up your own dungeon. The level theming is pretty non-existent, except for a an Evil Temple theme which runs through some of the levels. (Portions of a dozen or sixteen levels?) It’s just a novelty, like the Habitation of the Stone Giant Lord art project from a few years back. I’m glad he wrote this, it’s fun to see, but that’s all.

This is $4 at DriveThru. The entire thing is available for preview, all 158 pages. Kudos for McKinney for doing this. Every product should be like this, or, close enough to it that you can get a real sense of what you are buying before you pay for it.


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29 Responses to Mike’s Dungeons

  1. Anonymous says:

    Wish it was 80. The cover image is like an itch I can’t scratch

  2. Evan Dooner says:

    This definitely scratches an itch I can’t quite define.

  3. Venger Satanis says:

    This morning, I noticed a curious rash on my left tentacle. It itches, but I don’t want to scratch it.

  4. Michael Julius says:

    I paged through it and it’s weirdly soothing. It doesn’t make me want it, but it does make me want to do it.

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      There’s a site on the internet for that. Or, maybe, I just found a way for you to make a living by creating a site for that!

  5. Si Sharpy says:

    There is a kind of strange purity of purpose about these dungeons. A stripping away of the modern designers conceits of story, dungeon ecology, npcs motivation or complex plots.

    This shouts at the pretentious and po-faced “Here is a big dungeon with gold. Go get it.”

  6. Reason says:

    Yeah impossible to argue against something they show you all for free & it says what it does on the packet.

    There’s an evenings fun gaming there. But that’s it.

    Personally I don’t want to run dungeons like I’m 12 anymore or buy things where I need to remove half the critters as it seems dumb to me- not worth the ffort on such a lowball concept in the first place.

    There’s some dynamic rooms & commendable interplay within the limits but just my cup of tea is no to crowded hack dungeons (take your “emergent complexity & wrap it please) & no to funhouse dungeons either (Xyntillian a miss for me). Party pooper old me.

    It’s be almost worth pinching the temple themed levels & choice rooms … but I often say that & seldom do it, especially when it’s not more than a random generator & a nights thought can crank out generically.

  7. Ron says:

    Heh heh, I’m with Reason. I say “oh, I’m not going to use that, but I can take pieces of it and…” then I never do. I know lots of folks who do that. I’m in a PbP game with a DM who’s excellent at bending old school modules to his own will 😀 But I haven’t the time or creativity.

  8. Richard Sharpe says:

    “Your experiences here are going to be related to your tolerance of minimally keying. I don’t have any tolerance for it.”

    WOW! Too few words?! I honestly did wonder where Bryce’s threshold, when does it become too little? Here we are.

    The two chaos warriors, for example. One sentence of just what they’re doing standing alone in a room together would have went a long way. Literally zero appearance (other than equipment for combat sake) or personality description. I want names, too. Damn, I hate coming up with names on the fly.

    • Reason says:

      Me too.

      I always keep a name sheet handy. Have a 6 or so names of each sex from the most likely culture (s) to be encountered + 6 or so generic names. Cross off & note as they get used up. Restock before the next session.

      I just roll the d6 for the name, happy to double up in the group (I’ve taught classes with 3 Olivers or 4 Emilys) or village. Then you naturally get Big Olaf, Old Olaf, Olaf-Spiffy-Hat kind of spring into life without having to pre-think appearances etc & it saves you rolling such things.

      If I’m really stuck I give them the same name as a named NPC from town- it helps remind them who “semi-important town NPC is” & the new guy inevitably becomes known as “Not Fyodor”.

    • Ice says:

      I just keep a list of names on my cellphone to avoid coming up with names on the fly. Here’s a sample:

      Jong Dong
      Geefwee Boedoe
      Jad Swingle
      Dildo Bugger
      Mungo Schlafty

  9. William C. Pfaff says:

    This almost has to be results of a random generator: 3 goblins with 55pp, 7 kobolds with 355gp and then a dragon with 179 cp. The treasure vs challenge is just absurd in places.

    • Reason says:

      I guess the fun for fans of this type of keying comes in devising the explanation for why the dragon has 179 cp & the kobolds 355gp- did they just rob him & he wants revenge? Does that mean they know when dragon sleeps, does someone not know the value of coin types & will just trade for “more”?

      Not usually my cup of tea but I do know a couple of guys who like to riff that way- they are happy to pay for someone to do the details/mapping/a few trick rooms & they enjoy creating the interplay.

      It’s not my method usually, but I’m guessing that is part of it. For some at least.

      • Knutz Deep says:

        My guess is the dragon spends all his money on hookers and blow.

      • Robert, OSR Heretic says:

        Maybe he’s too large to fit through the door to his chamber, so he can’t make a proper hoard? Otherwise I’d think he’d just go and eat the goblins and kobolds and take their loot.

        • Ron says:

          Ah but the old school way is an adult red dragon in the 30′ by 30′ room, in the middle of the dungeon with 10′ by 10′ hallways. 🙂

          • Robert, OSR Heretic says:

            It’s funny, I remember buying the 25th anniversary (or whatever) version of Against the Giants, and they specifically stated in there that the red dragon’s room in G3 was transdimensional and took up more space than it did on the map.

          • squeen says:

            What’s the bother? He can polymorph, right?

  10. Jeff V says:

    I love the fact that it clearly sets out on page 157 (of this 158 page PDF) why all the monsters are in the dungeon.

    “In darkness and silence hangs a black iron bell, taller than a man, about 1′ above the floor. Trying to ring it produces no sound. Many years ago a patriarch of the cult of evil chaos set up subtle vibrations within it that serve as a siren call to creatures of chaos, drawing them to these
    dungeons as well as to the Caves of Chaos. Nothing short of a wish can still the bell.”

    And for anyone who doesn’t think 78 levels is enough, there’s a trapdoor in room J on level 78 and the adventure doesn’t say where it leads …

  11. Anonymous says:

    Noisms just published an article on this. He agrees that it only needs 1 more sentence per entry. What monsters are doing and what they want.

  12. Prophet says:

    $ 4 for the maps and keys make this a pay off. A mediocre DM is able to fill the rest on the fly and adhoc. As a DM i think creativity and solutions on the fly are mandatory to game.

  13. Judge Julian says:

    I am running this as a low/no-prep campaign for DCC and I think you might be missing the “feature-not-a-bug” aspect, which is precisely the emptiness: For me, the fun is just filling in all the blanks as one goes (including the metaplot, such as it will ever be.) Tegel forever!

    If you are curious:


  14. Paul says:

    Any chance you can review the deep levels?

    I have heard much better things and it looks like he took you review into consideration and it is much less minimal

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