|Dwarrowdeep has Good Art
Dwarrowdeep is the new (May 2022) 336 page megadungeon by Greg Gillespie, known as the writer of Barrowmaze and a few other big dungeons. This has made Gillespie a notable figure and dungeon designer from the early and middle years of the OSR. What Dwarrowdeep offers is a brand new megadungeon that I had hopes would highlighting the state of design in 2022 and the evolution of the form since the early days of the OSR or at least the 2010’s when Gillespie published Barrowmaze ... if it does, it only shows a loss of basic knowledge and the decline of OSR design and imagination over the past decade.
In light of its recent publication and Gillespie’s long career as a megadungeon designer I was hopeful that Dwarrowdeep would be something special, offering new ideas, or better utility - in short I was hopeful that it might have something to teach about megadungeon design. I was gravely disappointed. When I write reviews I try to be charitable and understand the author's goals rather than focus only on the work's failings, but Dwarrowdeep’s positive aspects are largely limited to the excellent art within, an audacious scope, and occasional moments when a decent idea shines through the mediocrity.
Dwarrowdeep fails as a megadungeon in three interrelated and key ways: variety, interactivity, and usability. I suspect this is the result of both ambitiously excessive scope and the poisonous idea that nostalgia alone is sufficient to produce good work. What I mean is that Dwarrowdeep doesn’t just try to provide a nostalgic aesthetic or feel, it goes deeper, with nostalgic layout choices, nostalgic key design, and nostalgic approach to setting (generally emulating the early 1980’s BECMI era TSR adventures). This fails, partially on its own merits, but partially because it’s so insistent on cleverly aping a particular, possibly imaginary, past that it ignore the work of other designers, both since the early 80’s and before. Dwarrowdeep drowns because it chooses to submerge itself in the nostalgia for a design that wasn't optimal even for the 30-page BECMI modules where it first appeared.