I got into D&D over 21 years ago purely by accident, when I sat in my brothers Isle of Dread game, pestering him to let me lay on the Sega Genesis. Months later, I was given the “New, Easy to Master” D&D box set. This box, for Basic D&D, is TSR 1070, and was a massive black box with an awesome artwork of a Red Dragon on it. Inside was a huge fold out map on thick almost fabric like plastic, dice, character sheets, fold up cardboard monster and hero pawns, a rulebook, a DM’s screen, and the piece de resistance, the Dragon Cards.
Dragon Cards were designed as a simple way of teaching new players the rules. On the front of each card was an fairly concise look at the particular rule the card wanted you to learn, while on its back was a short encounter with your character an NPC and monsters using the rule you’d learnt on the other side. Interspersed with the teaching cards were short adventures, designed to let you use the rules you’d learnt to run an adventure for your friends. These cards were set within Zanzer Tem’s dungeon, a salt mine were people from the street were kidnapped and dumped into. It saw you break out of jail, find equipment, fight monsters, dodge traps, and ultimately escape into a deadlier dungeon beneath Zanzer Tem’s warren like maze.
20 years of moves, and psychotic ex-wives means little of my original box set remain, all I have left are the map and the rulebook. With the release of D&D Next on the distnat horizon, I wanted to revist the dungeon, and adapt the dragon cards as a wayof teaching D&D Next to the local players. So when I found a mint copy on Ebay for a bargain I jumped at it.
I spent a night replaying the Dragon Cards, relearning the Basic D&D rules, and their now very interesting take on action choice in combat. I died. I restarted. I survived. I saved my NPC friends life… And I remembered both why I loved exploring Zanzer Tems’ dungeon, and what I hated about it.
The map uses a square to 5 foot size ratio, and many of the rooms are too small for your pc, your npc friend, and the multiple monsters they include. Even without being spoiled by 4e’s massive encounter areas and fluidity of movement in combat, theres no way 5 medium creatures can fight in a 5′ by 10′ (1 square by 2 square) room.
And then theres the encounters where monsters appear behind you. That wouldn’t be a problem, and the 11 year old version of my didn’t think it was at the time, but playing it again, I realised that i’d escaped from jail, and cleared out all the rooms between the jail and my pc. There were no doors for the monsters to go through to get behind me.
Beyond that, the dungeon held its appeal for me, and so, with an itch to use my Hirst Arts moulds and with progress on the #UKX1 event at a crawl, I decided to rebuild Zanzer Tem’s dungeon as a 4e adventure. I knew I would have to massively increase the room size, and pretty much every room gained a square in each axis. Secondly, I wanted to add a route into the jail that would enable monsters to come from behind you legitimately.
I did a series of sketches and maps to see how each room would have to expand to accommodate walls between rooms and bigger encounter areas. I wanted each room to be modular and separate, meaning I can potentially reuse them in other dungeons, or re-arrange them. This adds significant size due to the additional walls needed, but means it can be laid out and picked up as the players explore, emphasising the warren like nature of the dungeon. I realised that some rooms just didn’t make sense anymore, but on the whole, the new dimensions would fight together well, and would take the map from an A2 poster size (roughly 2′x2.5′) to 3′x5′!
That size puts it at a bigger area that the Forge of the Dawn Titan I built for Lair Assault. Under a time limit, I cast the hundreds of tiles and walls for that in 6 weeks, and didn’t touch my moulds for 6 months afterwards because I was fed up with the sight of plaster… My calculations put the number of floor tiles I need at about 1200, and I dare not calculate the number of wall pieces I need. I have 2 floor tile moulds, yielding 18 tiles on a good casting. And 2 wall moulds each yielding 2x 3″ wall bricks, 1x 2″ wall brick, and a handful of smaller sizes. The 2″ wall bricks are incredibly useful, and knowing I needed lots of them for Forge of the Dawn Titan, I bought a silicon mix for making moulds, and made myself an invaluable mould that produces 7x 2″ wall bricks.
For this project, I have invested in some more silicon, and am in the process of making 3 new moulds, that should allow me to pretty much double my tile and wall brick output.
The lair assault dungeon was cast primarily from Herculite No 2 plaster, but I got an offer on Dental Stone plaster for this project. In hindsight, I should have paid the extra, as i’ve found the Dental Stone unreliable – sometimes it mixes poorly, creating a thick sludge that sets almost immediately, and doesn’t flow into the moulds well. Other times, it becomes too runny, taking close to an hour to set.
I’ll be documenting the casting, glueing and painting process here, commenting on issues faced in the room redesigns and doing my best to answer questions people have. Theres no deadline for this, but ideally, I want to have it done by the end of my Christmas break.
Replaying dungeon – 3 hours
Resketching dungeon – 6 hours
Test layout of first few resized rooms – 2 hours
Castings (7) – 5 hours
Mould making – 2 hours
Previous Hirst Arts moulds – £150
TSR 1070 Box Set – £6
10kg of Dental Stone – £8
1l of silicon mould making liquid – £15