Dig Deep Into Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking

This book evokes 1986's Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide by the same author.

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I find realism to be overrated in games. I’m telling stories with my friends and usually the games that focus on realism get dragged down in rules that make telling those stories harder. Books that add more rules to a game I like generally don’t interest me. Survivalist’s Guide To Spelunking made these promises but it also namechecked Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide, a classic D&D book that was something of a magazine that included interesting ideas and mechanics. I was intrigued enough to request a review copy. AAW Games even went so far as to tap Douglas Niles as one of the authors of this book. What did Niles, Stephen Yeardley and Thilo Graf come up with for Fifth Edition? Let’s play to find out.

Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking offers details on the nitty gritty elements of underground adventures. Fifth Edition sticks to the battles and the exploration while generally glossing over the details of keeping supplies dry and how to best ascend or descend a rock face. The book offers a mix of real world details, fantasy world implications and rules systems built for Fifth Edition. The book also features solid black and white line artwork and a three column layout that evoke the earlier book. Each chapter opens with a bit of fiction laying out the experiences of Dugmore Dimple, an expert Dwarven spelunker (though these segments also end with footnotes that detail where the dwarf may have been exaggerating his expertise).

The chapters tend to follow the same structure. They start with concrete real world details about the subject and then slowly but surely extrapolate how those details can affect the stories told set underground. The drier sections can read like GURPS Caves but even those can provide something useful. The best of those books contained small details that can delight players and drive Game Masters into a Wikipedia hole full of inspiration. I’ve played plenty of games set in old, abandoned mines and I never thought to explore the various processes that can be used to pull valuable substances from the ground.

These sections then discuss how these real world elements might be different in a fantasy world or an “underworld” which becomes the generic term for an Underdark-style massive underground ecosystem. Mines might have traps in them to prevent people from stealing the ore and those traps might still be set even if the mine is tapped out. The book also encourages designing underground systems with an eye to three dimensions beyond the usual discrete levels that most people think of when putting together a dungeon.

The mechanical elements vary from a small section detailing modifiers to more substantial subsystems. For example, there’s a more detailed look at camping that makes rests a bit more challenging when not in the safety of a comfy bed at the inn. A lot of these systems feel like they would be interesting to people who have a real world grounding in this stuff. Does your table have a rock climber who wants to show off what they know when your group has to scale a mountain? This book may help you find a way to do that.

My favorite mechanic, perhaps unsurprisingly, is one that aims for dynamism over realism. The momentum rules encourage players to stay moving during a battle. Rather than just running up to a bad guy and grinding it down until someone runs out of hit points, players gain momentum by moving around the battlefield. They can use that momentum to pull off flashy maneuvers like called shots and disarming attempts rather than waiting for a natural 20 to possibly trigger such moments. It reminded me of the best thing from the previous edition; battlefields full of combatants trying to find a balance between protecting themselves from harm and positioning themselves in the ideal place to fire off a cool move most effectively. The rules also seem poised to give fighters and non-magic users a bit more versatility. Plus they come in two flavors: a simple version that functions like Inspiration and a more complex version that allows players to build up points for bigger moves.

Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking drills down to a level of detail that Dungeon Masters might find appealing while surprising those who usually don’t sweat the details.
 

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Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland

jasper

Rotten DM
I did love the binding and other parts of the book. I think my review is on my work machine. I did not like the tunnelling rules and defaulted back to the 1E Dungeoneer Book.
 

Von Ether

Legend
View attachment 287051

I find realism to be overrated in games. I’m telling stories with my friends and usually the games that focus on realism get dragged down in rules that make telling those stories harder.
Many gamers confuse verisimilitude for "realism."

For many gamers, there is this assumption that more rules = more realism. It comes from a huge shared spot in Venn Diagram of a Gets a Dopamine Hit from the three circles of "craves system mastery, " "doing math makes me feel smart," and "thinks math and procedures always creates realism."

Anyone who has worked in huge organizations can tell you math and procedures can be highly divorced from reality.
 


I briefly looked at the Kickstarter and then checked this book out at my local gaming store. Love AAW but this book seemed so niche I just cannot imagine it getting much use at my table. Similarly I owned the Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide back in the day and never really used it.

It seemed for a while AAW painted themselves into a corner where all they produced was underground/under dark related material which is too bad because they had some great PF titles I was hoping to see converted to 5E.
 

Vincent55

Adventurer
I backed this on Kickstarter, this is for DMs and really not something a player would like especially in 5e with its over simp[lafied nature, as most that play 5ew have to be attached to an iPad or tablet with DDO to make their characters. I have not seen many who use a pencil and paper to make characters. This would appeal to more of the older DM or those who want to add more complexity to their overly blan 5e for dummies game.
 

I backed this on Kickstarter, this is for DMs and really not something a player would like especially in 5e with its over simp[lafied nature, as most that play 5ew have to be attached to an iPad or tablet with DDO to make their characters. I have not seen many who use a pencil and paper to make characters. This would appeal to more of the older DM or those who want to add more complexity to their overly blan 5e for dummies game.
My groups makes our characters on paper and we are a mix of young and old. We have two players over fourty and four in their teens. We don’t do any character creation digitally.
 

RareBreed

Adventurer
Many gamers confuse verisimilitude for "realism."

For many gamers, there is this assumption that more rules = more realism. It comes from a huge shared spot in Venn Diagram of a Gets a Dopamine Hit from the three circles of "craves system mastery, " "doing math makes me feel smart," and "thinks math and procedures always creates realism."

Anyone who has worked in huge organizations can tell you math and procedures can be highly divorced from reality.
That's a fairly opinionated...err, opinion. But we're all entitled to one.

I enjoy math, but I don't feel like it makes me smarter. And I think that having rules that require more calculation can provide a better sense of verisimilitude. I am a software engineer, so like great art, half the battle is finding how you can reduce complexity, not increase it (while still solving the problem with as much accuracy as needed). The fastest performing code is code that doesn't even have to run. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away

This however also means "take away no more than is needed". I feel rules-lite has gone to the opposite extreme of the spectrum.

My own personal opinion, is that the rules-lite, narrative-trumps-rules, dogma in game design is simply because either people don't have time to learn detailed rules, or because they just have an innate bias against being constrained by rules. I find that the simulation of possibilities is its own "narrative generator" and is more impartial than all these various flavors of story driven mechanics.

But I agree that quantity of rules does not reflect verisimilitude. I give, as an example, the horde of "Feats" in D&D. What could have been implemented as a more intricate skill and attribute system, instead gets mired down in tons and tons of what are effectively "special rules". Rules that are needed, because they aren't accounted for in the base rules. Other examples are games that have very few attributes. Say for example there is only a "Fitness" attribute instead of Strength and Dexterity. Now you need a "special rule" as some kind of advantage/disadvantage to make your character stronger than usual, or more clumsy.

Edit: Fixed some atrocious grammar
 
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