"...In the impenetrable darkness of the underearth, unimagined terrors and uncountable treasures await."
For beginners, advanced players, and DMs alike, this book opens up grand new vistas in the realms of the Underdark, that little-known region of dungeons and caverns far beneath the sunlit world of everyday existence. The worlds of subterranean adventure await!
Dungeoneer's Survival Guide (1986), by Douglas Niles, is the ninth hardcover release for AD&D and the first following Gary Gygax's departure from the company at the end of 1985. It was released in July 1986.
A New Sort of Hardcover. Prior to 1986 four hardcovers had supplemented the original four-book AD&D set. They can be broadly classified into two categories: alternate Monster Manuals (Fiend Folio, Monster Manual II) and alternate Player's Handbooks (Oriental Adventures, Unearthed Arcana). The Dungeoneer's Survival Guide and its two immediate successors instead offered up a new sort of rulebook: a compilation of very specialized rules for a certain type of terrain.
It's not clear whether work on the DSG began before or after Gygax's departure, and that muddies the question of why TSR decided to head in such a different direction. If it was before, then it might be because Gygax didn't want to add any core rulebooks to the game when he was planning to immediately start work on second edition; and if it was after it might be because Lorraine Williams or the Design Department had different creative ideas than Gygax did.
A Paired Book. The DSG is closely tied to Kim Mohan's Wilderness Survival Guide (1986), which came out later the same year. Jeff Grubb's Manual of the Planes (1987) is also somewhat related, being sort of a "Planar Survival Guide," even though it doesn't cleave quite as closely to the same format as DSG and WSG.
A Question of Complexity. Somewhat less than a third of the DSG is taken up by complex super-realistic rules for playing underground games, including 10 pages of special rules for moving underground and simulation rules for air supply, mining, and more.
This followed a general gaming trend of the '80s where games were become increasingly complex, with RPGs like The Morrow Project (1980) and Phoenix Command (1986) leading the way. The Survival Guides would be the furthest AD&D trended in this direction, and it was probably the least successful portion of the books.
Introducing the Underdark. On the other hand, the DSG's most successful element was surely its introduction of the Underdark - one of the single most influential things to arise from any AD&D books in this time period.
Prior to this point the Underdark had been seen in the famous D1-2: "Descent into the Depths of the Earth" (1978, 1981) and D3: "Vault of the Drow" (1978) adventures, but there it had simply been the locale for a single adventure. Niles now offered it up as a general adventuring place and also (for the first time ever) named it "the Underdark."
Besides introducing the Underdark, the DSG also details a realm called Deepearth. A couple of Dragon writers used "Deepearth" and "Underdark" interchangeably in later years, but Underdark won out as the term of choice.
Introducing Skills. In the previous year, Zeb Cook had introduced "non-weapon proficiencies" in Oriental Adventures (1985). Before then, there had been some classic-specific skills for thieves, assassins, and rangers, but nothing generalized. In DSG, Niles revamped Cook's rules and brought them to the occidental world, making skills available for all AD&D characters for the first time ever. This is generally marked as an important element of the "1.5e" version of AD&D, which had begun with the release of Unearthed Arcana (1985).
Gygax much later wrote that he didn't agree with having skills in an archetypical/class-based game like AD&D. That's a somewhat odd statement given that Oriental Adventures appeared under his watch (and in fact is marked with his copyright). Perhaps he'd felt like it was more appropriate in the Asia-influenced world of Oriental Adventures. Whether it was that or sour grapes, Gygax's disagreement over this rules expansion surely shows that Dungeoneer's Survival Guide marked a new era of AD&D without Gary Gygax.
Isometric Mapping. The DSG contains instructions on how to create isometric maps, featuring perspective and easily showing differences in depth. These maps were popular at the time, featuring attractively in a few adventure by architectural dungeon designer Tracy Hickman, such as I6: "Ravenloft" (1983) and DL1: "Dragons of Despair" (1984). Now the average GM could mimic the style.
The Guide Repackaged. The DSG was either overprinted, undersold, or both. TSR still had it in large quantities following the release of second edition AD&D, so they afterward rereleased it in a "limited edition" along with a brand-new book of adventures and encounters called Dark & Hidden Ways (1990). Amusingly, the adventure is labeled for second edition AD&D, though the book is pure first edition. The package was sold for $8.95, compared to a $15 price on the original book.
Future History. Wizards of the Coast liked the name of the DSG enough that they've reused it. Their first Dungeon Survival Guide (2007) was released without any mechanics and read more like a catalog of unavailable supplements. Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook (2012) for 4e was probably more what people expected for a thematic successor, as it includes some info on the Underdark and lots of crunch too.
About the Creators. Niles was one of TSR's busiest designers in the 80s. One of his recent projects before the DSG was the Battlesystem (1985) mass combat system, so it's no surprise that the DSG includes new Battlesystem rules. Similarly, Niles turned around and used both Battlesystem and DSG rules in one of his next projects, H2: "The Mines of Bloodstone" (1986).
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.