As a general rule, I don’t give dungeon doors much thought as a DM. Sure, I’ve used a few intricate carvings here and there, or the odd talking door (I love the talking stone gate which offers riddles in 13th Age’s Eyes of the Stone Thief for instance but beyond being a barrier between the players and the villains I didn’t usually elaborate much.
So with that said, it was interesting to be offered a copy of Deadly Dungeon Doors to review. Not only that, but the PDF version came bundled up with a Fantasy Grounds version of the product which, if you saw my earlier post, you will understand makes me very happy as I DM almost exclusively on Virtual Tabletop.
But do we really need a supplement which deals exclusively with Dungeon Doors. The obvious answer to this is no. Then again, do I really need all of the Pathfinder books and PDFs I own, despite never having even completed a Pathfinder Character, let alone played the game (the answer to this yes but also no depending on whether you are talking to RPG resurgence me or sensible me). With that in mind, I approached this supplement with an open mind.
The quality of the PDF is excellent. There is good original artwork in side showing dungeon doors and locks all in beautiful hand-drawn detail. There is also a flowchart infographic for creating random dungeon doors which although clear in terms of typeface, is actually quite difficult to follow because it splits across 3 pages in the PDF. It’s at this point that I should probably mention that I am a user experience designer in my day job!
Delving into the PDF reveals a number of different tables covering the different dungeon door materials and types of door along with some fairly decent suggestions for trapped doors, secret doors and hidden doors (I had to scan the PDF for a bit to determine what the difference was). The author, Glen Cooper and his team have put a lot of work into this supplement. There has been a great deal of thought and consideration woven into the random dungeon door tables.
However, that’s part of the problem with this entire publication. It’s just largely random dungeon door tables covering everything from the type of material used, the type of trap the door is armed with and even in one instance a result which advised that there are 1d4 lit torches around the door. It’s a lot of rolling for something I’ve given little consideration to.
There’s also the problem of door ‘toughness’ and Armor Class. Yes, I know there’s a section in the Dungeon Master’s guide covering Armor Class and Hit Points for inanimate objects but I can’t think of a single instance where I’d use them. Time is limited enough in the sessions that I run so when I want the players to be making attack roles to hit sentient, motive driven foes, which fight back. I can’t think of anything less fun than repeatedly rolling to hit and destroy an inanimate object like a door, particularly given that presumably it’s only a matter of time before they eventually do. Time which could be better spent enhancing the story. Just roleplay it and be done with it rather than roll-playing it. I find that approach goes against the ethos of 5th Edition and pushes the DM back down a Pathfinder/3.5e path of dice based simulation. And that’s not good in my opinion.
That’s not to say that there aren’t aspects of this product that shine. At the back of the book there are a number of great pre-designed doors which (Armor Class and Toughness considerations aside) I’d be excited to build into my dungeons. They have a real old skool feel about them which I like (despite not being a fan of old skool rule systems). They also have interesting details on traps embedded in the door and importantly, DCs to spot and disarm these traps, all things that I find myself having to conjure up on the fly when DMing sessions so that’s a positive. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that these pre-designed doors alone are worth the cost of the supplement. As a fan of old publications like Grimtooth’s Traps, I just would have liked to have seen an entire book full of these (and would happily have paid twice the asking price) instead of the random table approach.
The Fantasy Grounds module is presented exactly as I’d expect it to be. It matches the PDF structure, with all of the chapters and narrative in the ‘Story’ tab and the easy to roll tables in the ‘Tables’ tab. I may be tempted more to use the Fantasy Grounds rollable tables (I generally am for some reason) but I still prefer a bit of control over the design of anything in my dungeons. They do function exactly as expected though so perhaps they’d see more action with other DMs who operate slightly differently from me.
In conclusion: This is a well put together product. The layout is clear (barring the flowchart – should I really need to consult a flowchart to create a dungeon door anyway?) but the process just seems too arduous to only generate a dungeon door at the end of it. Read that last sentence again. Not a room. Not a “classic style” encounter. A door. While there are some really good ideas scattered around the tables, you need to dig for a while to find them.
Personally, I would have preferred an entire book of pre-designed dungeon doors ready to simply slot into my dungeons. Time is of the essence for me in game preparation. I think a full publication with dozens of these doors would be a more useful product. In it’s defence though, this publication is definitely worth the small asking price, even if all you use are those pre-designed doors.
Many thanks to Glen Cooper for providing a copy of Deadly Dungeon Doors to review. Please note that I was not paid for this review and received no compensation beyond a free review copy of the product.