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Item - The Solo Dungeon

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Series: The Solo Dungeon
Author: Bartle, Richard A.
Illustrator: Holmes, Chris
Date: 1978
glyderwolf's Thoughts:

The Solo Dungeon by Richard Bartle is the first full length solo module written for "the most widely used Fantasy, Character Roleplaying" system (a.k.a. original D&D). This adventure is a dungeon-crawl in the tradition of Loomis's Buffalo Castle, with a slightly more extensive (18 rooms plus features) map and the (encouragement of the) use of the more complex D&D system. Bartle solves the problem of monster specification by removing it entirely (all monsters are from the Monster Manual), and in its place provides an extremely satisfying and complete dungeon experience for the solo player including secret doors and a complex geography. The sense of time and turn is effectively maintained, making the experience seem real in the D&D sense (as opposed to taking flights of literary fancy "you awaken three years later" etc.), and the map is interesting and fun – including explicit floorplans such as were to later resurface in the Fatemaster series and others. The illustrations, by Chris Holmes (featuring mustachioed elves!) are clever and consistent, and go a long way toward making this experience seem real. In terms of style, The Solo Dungeon maintains a credible "personable" DM such as in Buffalo Castle, Deathtrap Equalizer etc., and includes paragraphs shaming cheaters and other clever stylistic characteristics subsequently removed in the subsequent, more homogenized, era of true gamebooks. The Solo Dungeon seems like a "fair" D&D experience in which the rewards acquired could be easily accepted by the DM of a character simultaneously engaged in an ongoing campaign, and it seems odd in retrospect that its model was not followed, despite the limitations on narrative trajectory projectable by the combination of generic monsters and a true dungeon crawl – both solvable problems (as shown by Flying Buffalo).

I loved this adventure. It actually made me feel like I was practically playing D&D again and the (monster) genericism actually added to the experience. In the light of subsequent gamebooks that seem "literary but unfair" I was refreshed to feel that an explorable physical environment was capturable in literary form (despite the characters I lost doing so). The encounters were varied in nature, and a lot of bases in terms of interactive possibility (random treasures, etc.) were covered in a highly satisfying way. The writing was clever and engaging. For a "whitebox D&D" fan, this classic solo adventure is probably the best you can get.

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