In my A Game Per Year project, my goal has been to read one roleplaying game corebook for every year they’ve been published. However, I soon started to feel that it was hard to decipher how the games were really meant to be played. For this reason, I decided to start a parallel project, An Adventure Per Year, to read one roleplaying adventure for each year they’ve been published.
Even the most obvious concepts had to be invented by someone. In the roleplaying field, a dungeon adventure where the characters explore underground rooms one at a time is perhaps the simplest, most primordial expression of the form, yet once it too was new.
Reading the 1977 adventure Tegel Manor, published for use with D&D, I’m struck by how basic it is. Barely more sophisticated than 1976’s Palace of the Vampire Queen, it’s just a bunch of rooms with their contents listed extremely briefly.
There’s a tiny bit of framing, with an NPC character who has inherited the manor and wants it cleaned of monsters. Compared to TSR’s publications, the tone is more humorous and flippant. In this blog post, it’s described as a funhouse dungeon, and the term is apt.
One thing about Tegel Manor that’s often described as revolutionary for its time is the map, seen on the cover. A good high-quality map that’s interesting to look at is another obvious idea that someone had to invent.
One thing about Tegel Manor is that it’s very clear how it works. My theory is that The Temple of the Frog was still so tied to Dave Arneson’s personal style for running a game that he was unable to see how to express it to an outsider. In contrast, Tegel Manor is an example of the standard dungeon crawl and thus entirely legible. At least to those of us who spent a lot of time making up similar dungeons as a child.
Considering how slight Tegel Manor is, it’s had impressive staying power. The original publisher did two revised editions, in 1980 and 1988. Last year, Frog God Games did a successful Kickstarter for a revised version, fitted for the 5th edition of D&D.