Yesterday I was catching up with my blog roll, and Feedly, and some synergistic posts revealed themselves. I came across Justin Alexander's discussion, The Decline and Fall of D&D Adventures, shortly followed by the Wandering Gamist's (final) review post of "Five Torches Deep", a rules set that tries to port "OSR styles" into 5E. Justin's post about the Decline of Dungeons is signaling that 5E never really provided a strong tutorial on how to build or run a good dungeon adventure, and now he's seeing published attempts that wildly miss the mark on what's required in terms of information and presentation. John at Wandering Gamist points out that as Five Torches Deep over-indexes on elements around resource management, they ignore the most important elements of an OSR style of dungeoneering - actually building a good dungeon and having strong procedures to manage dungeon exploration.
Both my blogging colleagues are touching on instances where they've encountered modern gamers attempting to follow older styles of play, but missing the mark by pursuing form over function. Doing things without understanding them - how to actually draw and key a dungeon, and why, or how the point of planning and resource management isn't for the resource part of the game to be the primary challenge, it's to support the actual goal - dungeon exploration balancing time and resources. In both cases you don't have a good game without high quality dungeon - plus a well made map, a good dungeon key with compelling story, and sound procedures for managing the exploration by the players.
I had no idea procedural dungeon exploration was even a gap in the 5E PHB! There's a loose discussion about time intervals and movement, but the book never puts it all together into a coherent example for the new players. Nor is there any sample dungeon in the DMG or an example of actual play. Those were prominent components in those older rule books! The Tower of Zenopus, Koriszegy Keep in Moldvay BX, Bartle's dungeon in the Mentzer Red Box, even the monastery dungeon in the 1E DMG were all prominently featured to transmit how play works. Who can forget Black Dougal's death scene? Those actual play examples demonstrate how the Q&A interaction between the referee and players advance the game state, how a mapper or caller fits into exploration, when do you roll for wander monsters, that kind of stuff. I had no idea any of that was missing in the Fifth. I just carried along working procedures from the old games into 5E and kept trucking. Upon my fresh reading, I did see that the PHB allows characters to explore in a single minute more than older editions would let the players cover in an entire turn (10 minutes). Apparently none of my players read the PHB and caught that, either.
Why would WOTC omit sample dungeons and examples of play? Maybe they figured 5E players are already players from older editions, or new folks would join existing groups and receive institutional knowledge from their surroundings. Maybe they expected new players to head out to YouTube or Twitch and learn how to run a game there. YouTube is my go-to for learning simple home repairs - repairing drywall, or fixing a leaking faucet. Why not how to build or run a dungeon? Possibly WOTC didn't think it's that important in the modern age - lots of people seem to have eschewed dungeons for scene-based adventures.
I would imagine everyone who checks out my blog would have started gaming before 5E, and already have a good grasp on building and running dungeons (or at least exploring them as a player) from an older edition. (If you are that one new person who never played D&D before 5E and happens to see this place, please drop a hello in the comments - and welcome!) But I also see evidence there are segments of newer gamers that don't understand how to finesse the site-based or dungeon exploration format. For instance, referees either love or hate Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage, a 23 level megadungeon for 5E. The haters see a giant dungeon, no scenes, no overarching plots, and they're not sure what to do with it. Hard pass - I'm moving on to the next Adventure Path. And now wonder - neither 5E (or the adventure itself) has fully prepared them. Dungeons, especially megadungeons, require more and different from the referee.
Anyway, while I'm waxing on old knowledge, here's one that cracked me up - I came across a group of "grognards" who started playing in the old days - you know, during 4th edition! Or maybe 3rd. Out here in the real world, grognard means 1970's D&D, accept no substitutes. (Except the real grognards, the ones that painted the Napoleonic miniatures in the 60's and 70's and used sandtables for their war games, would poke some fun at we roleplayers, I'm sure). Don't take yourself too seriously, I guess is the message.