Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide: Review

One of the greatest 2nd Edition books, and perhaps RPG books, to ever be released was Jennell Jaquays’ and William W. Conners’ book, “Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb guide” which was published in March, 1990. It was the first of the Complete Books aimed at Dungeon Masters, and it covered a wide variety of topics that were taken for granted in the Core books, but I believe that what the finished product has become, is a system neutral guide for everyone who decides to host games. Yes, it is aimed at beginners who have no experience playing the role of Dungeon Master, but, for advanced users, it describes the basic building blocks needed for forming a successful group, and keeping it successful, as well as basic structures of creating original content. No matter what the current name or number that D&D happens to be calling itself, this information is still relevant.  Let’s dive right in, shall we.

Logistics of Play

While the core books give you lots of details in regards to the rules, they are assuming that you have played before, though, even if you have, you still may not understand that your role as the DM is that of being a master of ceremonies as well. This chapter is short, but complete. You hear all about player courtesy, but this is regarding what a DM owes to his players.  Just because you have a group of friends gathered doesn’t mean that the game is going to go well. This chapter forms the very basics of what comes later and spells it out. While only a couple of pages long, this chapter provides us with a successful formula prior to play.

Styles of Adventure Play

There is a lot said about Styles of play on the web, but in this chapter you’ll find a comprehensive list of them, problems that they may cause, and how to mix them to keep a game engaging for everyone.  Even if we are running a module, we still have to decide what elements of style would work best. This chapter also gives some major tips on how, and what, to prep and why we should do it. We don’t need to prep everything, but there are things that if we don’t prep, then we are in some serious trouble.

Pacing and Theatrics

Everybody knows that what separates a good DM from a bad one is that one can pace a game, and one can’t. While proper pacing still must be learned over time, this chapter offers very sound advice to achieve it quicker than using trial and error alone.  It also talks about setting a mood that is productive to the drama which you are trying to achieve. I don’t dress up, nor do I always talk in funny voices, but I do use Theatrics. Excitement isn’t something that just happens naturally, we have to make it happen.  How does one project the feelings which one wishes the players to feel? And people say that DMing isn’t art. Chances are, they really need to rethink their view.

Uses of Judgement

This is a popular theme, even today. I can’t tell you how many people run to Reddit to beg for help, when the answers are all right here in this chapter. Not only does it address making game calls, but it also has a secondary function, how to handle people and their odd quarks. Like DM’s, players have play styles too, and handling these different play styles, as well as personalities can be daunting. When two personalities clash, sometimes our first reaction is to kick them out of the group, but this isn’t always easy or necessary. It is the job of the DM to direct traffic and be the helmsmen of the narrative, that is sometimes ignored to a table’s demise.


Here is where the book changes personalities, and becomes a work horse for experienced users. We aren’t talking simply creating a series of gaming sessions strung together to form a complete story; we are talking about creating EVERYTHING! I don’t know how many DMs have tried doing this and end up just wasting their time because it doesn’t go anywhere; this introduction helps us form a world more successfully by suggesting tried and true methods of how to go about it in the most productive way possible.

Creating the World

Once a DM, and the players, decides to make the leap into the unknown, it helps to have specific questions answered right away, and this chapter helps us organize our thoughts into highly productive ways which can help make our ideas more successful. It isn’t bossy, it doesn’t say that this is how it is done, it just gives you suggestions on how to avoid traps and pitfalls that can be stumbled over along the way.

Maps and Map-making

What DM doesn’t love maps? It sounds so easy! But when it comes right down to it, it isn’t nearly as easy as it appears. There are also lots of different styles of maps that we use, it all depends upon our needs and why we have decided that we need it. This chapter gives us some tools to making productive maps, and some tricks and tips to guide us through the process.

Creating the Adventure

I have read several books on how to do this, but the simplest and most helpful way is in this chapter. This is a skill learned over time, creating our own content and telling our own stories. While this chapter won’t do the work for us; again, it helps us identify our players, and presents successful methods as well as pitfalls that have been learned over time so that hopefully, we can avoid them. It provides us with a formula, and there are formulas for a reason.

Making NPCs Live

Another topic that is still with us today, “How can I get my players to care about NPCs?”  While the DMG talked about this, and gave a few suggestions, this chapter expands upon it, and allows everybody, regardless of DM experience, to do this very important job more efficiently. I don’t know about you, but this is where I get most of my amusement from while DMing. Once you figure out this formula, it becomes natural and it continues to mature until you just do it better and better every time.

Dungeon Settings

One of Gygax’s complaints involved the total abandonment of the Dungeon setting. There is lots of material out there that helps us create overland adventures, and the Dungeon was neglected for a very long time. Experienced DMs know that over-world adventures and under-world adventures are totally different from one another. This chapter addresses the Dungeon after many years of neglect. Why do you need them? What do you put down there? While this chapter can get a bit too detailed, it does serve a purpose. This chapter represents a shift in design, because, at the time, there were not very many Dungeons in Dungeons & Dragons.

Dungeon Adventures

This is old-school stuff here, designing a successful campaign underground where the players may never actually leave? Maybe not, but it does give lots of ideas on things that can happen in a dungeon that won’t necessarily happen above. This chapter is far from perfect, but it does give a DM who has never thought about such things, a couple of ideas to work with.

Generic Dungeons
This is really just an appendix; they give a few examples of maps, and have keyed them with room descriptions. They are all forced perspective maps which are really out of date, and with good reason. Not only are they overly complex to make, they lack the basic details that we truly need to make our maps functional. I think that this was TSR trying to keep its maps special from the ones that you make yourself, but there really isn’t much of a need for that. I know that I have always preferred top down perspectives, and fancy maps are just that, fancy.

In the back of the book, there is also some symbols which they recommend using on maps, as well as a photocopy templet for drawing your own forced perspective maps . . . as if.


This review is much longer than I would normally dedicate to it; however the written content in this title is so good that it does demand such treatment. While much of the information within it can be found on this blog and others like it, it is nice to have all of the information stored in one centralized place.

One can say that AD&D didn’t actually come with an instruction manual, but, if it did, then it would be this book. While a few chapters are dated, the bulk of it is not. It accurately describes issues that we all experience from time to time, or describes methods to playing at more advanced levels then we currently are.

Now, much of the artwork in this book is notoriously hideous. But I don’t recommend buying it to look at the pictures, I recommend adding it to your reading list because of the content. It is preferred to have this book in physical form, because it is one that you won’t necessarily have at the table with you on game day, but it is one that we all should read and re-read from time to time. If you are working on a large project, it is nice to have with you for a few years until you find yourself doing it naturally, and you will! The rating for 1990 as well as for today is still the same: A+.


The Dale Wardens said...

Good stuff! I have seen this around used from time to time but have had no interest in it -until now.

On the lookout...

David S.

RipperX said...

I kind of wish that it had a better section on Catacombs, as that is why most people originally bought it. As far as advice, I have taken a lot from this book, and have noticed that when I've strayed from it, my games have suffered.

I think my favorite thing about this book on gaming is its length, it is fairly short but precisely written to be as helpful as possible. That is hard to do!

The Dale Wardens said...

You know what...I was looking through some of my older rpg items: I already own this! Nothing like shopping at home. :)

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