DUNGEON SURVIVAL GUIDE
By Bill Slavicsek and Christopher Perkins
Wizards of the Coast product number 215427200
64 pages, $19.95
I really don't know what to make of this product. The very first thing that struck me when I opened it was that it was a 64-page hardcover - you don't see a whole lot of those around! - and the second thing that struck me was that it sells for $19.95. Put those two together, and I got a real "WTF?" moment. Twenty bucks for 64 pages of content? Just what is Wizards thinking of? Are they crazy?
Then I opened the book and my astonishment only grew.
The best I can figure, Dungeon Survival Guide is intended as a gateway book to the D&D game. It's written for an audience who has never played D&D (in any of its incarnations) and has no idea what the game is about. As such, the first 20 pages or so explain such things as what different character classes and races there are, what kind of equipment you're likely to need when going on a dungeon adventure, and the various hazards adventurers must deal with when exploring unknown dungeons. There's a couple of pages devoted to the various types of treasures, both magical and mundane, that you might find on an adventure, and then the rest of the pages describe individual dungeons made famous in various official D&D/AD&D modules over the years.
Okay, so far so good, right? It's a bare-bones introduction to the world of D&D, hopefully enough to get the reader interested in trying out the game. Kind of expensive, but fairly innocuous, right?
Well, you'd think so, but then the Dungeon Survival Guide goes out of its way to ruin the adventuring experience for anyone eager enough to actually play any of the modules featured in the book. They do this by giving away details of the specific monsters, traps, and treasure you'll find in each dungeon. (This often comes down to exactly which room the monster will attack you in; page 43 tells you that there's a hidden ledge facing the entrance to a white dragon's lair, and there's a second white dragon waiting up there on that ledge to attack you with surprise when you enter. Oh, and if you take out the remorhaz in a different area of that same module and search its lair, you'll find a ring of three wishes and an intelligent giant-slaying bastard sword.) So on the one hand, the book does its best to show how cool playing D&D can be, and on the other hand, it spoils the experience so that you'll know everything in advance if you ever run through any of the 19 adventures featured in the book. On several of the 2-page dungeon spreads, this even goes so far as to include the map of the dungeon in question!
I really have to shake my head in wonder at who at Wizards of the Coast thought that was a good idea. Just who exactly is the intended audience for this book, anyway, kids who want to cheat their way through classic D&D adventures?
I was really disappointed with the level of effort put into Dungeon Survival Guide. For one thing, close to half of each page is devoted to artwork, so your scant 64 pages of content boils down to 32 pages (or less) of actual text. The artwork is all rehashed from various sources, not all of them taken from the dungeon in question; for example, the Caves of Chaos (from the module The Keep on the Borderlands) entry on pages 30-31 has the owlbear, minotaur, bugbear, and ogre illustrations right out of the Monster Manual. Granted, for a newcomer to the game whose first introduction to D&D is this book, that's not likely to make a whole lot of difference, but it's certainly the easy way out, and I think "the easy way out" is a good overall description of this book. In fact, I can almost envision the discussion about the book in its planning stage:
"They want 64 pages of content explaining what the D&D game is about and getting the reader excited about it and wanting to play."
"64 pages? Well, I suppose if we make half of each page artwork, then we only have to write 32 pages of text."
"Yeah, and we could just fill the last half of the book with descriptions of famous dungeons - that'd make it extra easy on us."
"That's a lot of artwork, though. Somebody's going to have to do a lot of extra work creating all of those images."
"Nah, we'll just get somebody to slap old artwork together. We won't even have to give credit to the original artists, just have a 'graphic designer' and an 'art director' credit on the table of contents and call it good."
"You know what would be easier, too? If we don't bother proofreading it or editing it. Nobody cares about that stuff, anyway."
"Cool! I'll bet we can crank this sucker out in an afternoon!"
Think I'm exaggerating? You'd expect that a book that boils down to less than 32 pages of text (I'd conservatively put it at around 25 pages, considering how many pages have very little in the way of text on them at all), there would be practically no errors, wouldn't you? No such luck; Bill and Chris manage to use the wrong words ("slack" instead of "slake," "waited" instead of "waiting," "power" instead of "powerful"), misspell "spectre" (despite the fact that "specter" is an approved alternate spelling of the word, in D&D it's always been "spectre," just like D&D has "griffons" but not "griffins" or "gryphons"), refer to magic items that no longer exist (potions of healing are now potions of cure light wounds; this wouldn't have been so bad in a discourse about an AD&D module where such things existed, but this is on page 19 where they're discussing the things you'll find in a contemporary dungeon), don't always follow the traditional convention of italicizing the names of magic items, get sloppy with periods and commas, can't decide whether or not they're capitalizing race and class names (sometimes we get comments by Lidda the Halfling Rogue and sometimes she's Lidda the halfling rogue; likewise, Tordek can't seem to decide whether he's a Dwarf Fighter or a dwarf fighter), copy and paste a Survival Tips section from The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl to the Hall of the Fire Giant King, so you're reminder to wear crampons on your boots when climbing down the nonexistent ice caverns of the fire giants' volcano lair), and mess up the formatting on page 33, so the word "to" shows up on a line all by itself, and it's even wandered far to the left so it doesn't even match the rest of the section it's in). I don't even have to wonder why there are no proofreading or editing credits on the Table of Contents; it's fairly obvious neither was used in the production of this book.
So, in the end, we're left with a book-for-beginning-D&Ders that either promotes cheating or ruins the gaming experience for those wishing to run PCs through any of the adventures detailed in the book, or possibly a nostalgia-book-for-old-time-D&Ders that insults their intelligence for the first 20 pages explaining things to them that you might imagine they'd have picked up in their decades of gaming. Throw in a bunch of recycled artwork, slap on an unnecessary hardcover binder and one of the worst page-count-to-retail-price ratios in the gaming industry, and you have what I can only call a real head-scratcher of a D&D product. I admit to having enjoyed reading about some of the early adventures that predate my personal exposure to the game, but I really in all conscience can't give this book a rating above "1 (Failure)," so a "1" it is. My first one, too.