When it comes right down to it, the first word in the game is Dungeons, and despite revisionist gamers sometimes eschewing the "dungeon crawl" the fact it that the dungeon IS where most of the action takes place and still the favored place to adventure for players. The real key to a good dungeon adventure is the DM. It's up to him or her to make the adventure exciting and enticing to his players, and to not make it a linear, boring trek through a non-descript environment.
In Dungeonscape, the newest supplement from Wizards of the Coast, it's back to basis. Kind of like dungeon building 101, an exercise that has needed addressing for quite some time, especially in the case of the near endless supplements of new classes, spells, feats, and monsters. Chapters are devoted to Dungeon Design, Dungeon Encounters, Traps, and Dungeon Features. But the book is not all for the DM, players will find it useful as well with tips and tools for characters to use in the dungeon setting as well as new feats and yes, new prestige classes. Truly something for everyone!
The book begins with a look at the standard character classes and their respective roles in the dungeon environment. It is here where the rogue class can shine with their ability to detect and disable traps and opened locked doors and treasure chests. To best meet the challenges of the dungeon, a new class is presented, The Factotum. OK, the name is dumb but the Factotum is basically a Jack-of-all-trades. The class can essentially mimic the abilities of all other classes, combining just enough skill so that they can stand in as rogue, wizard, cleric, or fighter. Their knowledge base is broader than any other class and they are constantly in pursuit of new skills and abilities. They can be of any alignment. This is clearly a character built for life in the dungeon with their ability to adapt to any situation they are presented with.
The section on Dungeon Terrain will really add flavor to any dungeon. Instead of stone walls and wooden doors, liven things up with walls, and floors made of flesh, bone, ooze, or even insects. Or how about using the rather wicked golem door, capable of spewing deadly poison if someone tries to open it without the proper key or command.
The best chapter in the book is chapter four on Dungeon Design. This section takes a realistic yet dynamic approach to dungeon design, outside of the graph paper box. It presents ten traits of legendary dungeons such as the location of powerful artifacts, legendary figures, weird magic, or presents a world-shattering danger to all. Give your dungeon (and it doesn't have to be an underground dungeon) a history and an origin. Be creative in the design and layout...rooms need not be four square walls! Come up with a central theme for your dungeon and design the environment to match. Tons of sample rooms and ideas are provided to get DM's moving in the right direction.
Complementing the Dungeon Design chapter is the Dungeon Encounters and Traps chapters. These include logical ideas for encounters and include a host of new monsters and traps as well as NPC prestige classes. Several dozen sample traps are included from the merely annoying to the truly destructive Dance of Death Trap. These include magical, mechanical, and even psionic traps.
With its depth of detail and sheer creativity, Dungeonscape is one of the best D&D supplements, and one of the most useful to come along in quite some time. Best of all, it's value is just as good to experienced gamers as it is to novices.
Reviewed by Tim Janson