RPG Book Review: Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide

Oriental Adventures was a sourcebook for AD&D 1st edition that sort of re-imagined and re-interpreted the game to fit a setting inspired by various stripes of Asian cinema, with varying degrees of success. However, two things that book did moderately well was to present a setting in microcosm that used the mechanics and the book’s non-weapon proficiency system. What it didn’t do well was to create classes and races that were conducive for adventuring, and it didn’t create a setting that a standard adventuring party could be inserted into.

The Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide addresses those issues basically by dumping the mechanically distinct setting entirely and then providing guidance on running campaigns in a place the party is going already – the Underdark. The book is, in short, a discussion of the logistics of adventuring and exploring the Underdark, along with a reduced proficiency list that with the skills needed to survive, and a very simplified sample campaign setting set in the Underdark, which covers multiple possible biomes with fleshed out ecosystems, maps, along with sample templates and advice on how to draw your own, similar maps.

Any new mechanics that are introduced to the book are distinct enough from the main D&D rules that they could be either adapted into another system, used to inform existing mechanics, or if they’re completely incompatible dropped entirely and replaced with something of the GM’s own design that has the same effect.

This makes for a system-agnostic book that is invaluable to anyone who is considering running a campaign an underground campaign. The advice on adventuring underground, along with the enumeration of environmental hazards the party is likely to face, takes up about half the book or more and works in pretty much any Dungeon Fantasy game: any edition of D&D, Pathfinder, GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, you name it. That alone makes it worth picking up.

On top of that (deeper than that?) the Underdark campaign setting is well thought out enough that it could be dropped fairly well into any existing campaign setting to provide a GM with a fleshed out Underdark that they can mold to their needs, without too much heavy prep. This is, quite possibly, one of the 1st Edition AD&D books that have aged the best.

The Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide is available as a PDF from DriveThruRPG & the DM’s Guild. Buying anything through that link helps to support the site.

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