RPG Review: Caves and Caverns
Judges Guild was one of the first (maybe the first) licensed 3rd party publisher for D&D. They produced lots of supplements, from settings to adventures to reference charts. For whatever reason, I never encountered any of their products.
A number of their products are available for download at RPGNow, though to be honest, the quality of their scans is pretty horrible. I've been occasionally sweeping up reasonably priced physical copies of their books that I find online.
Recently I acquired their Caves and Caverns product. It is described as "Forty-Eight Caves & Caverns with Nine Pages of Charts & Guidelines using the City State Campaign Hexagon System." With that description I was expecting something resembling TSR's Dungeon Geomorphs. Their mention of the Campaign Hexagon System was however an indication of what to expect.
Instead the product is dominated by maps using Judges Guilds' campaign hexagon system. Oddly, there is no scale given for these maps - unless I'm missing it this would seem to be a poor oversight. From the Judges Guild website I see:
The large overland maps of the Wilderlands setting are mapped in 5 mile hexes. Each five-mile hex can be broken down using these maps into smaller hexes of .2 miles (1056 feet). Using the same maps, those .2 mile hexes can be broken down into smaller hexes approximately 40 feet from side to side.Looking at the maps here it would seem that the smaller hexes on these maps are designed to be of the forty feet variety. as some of them have buildings on them which just wouldn't make sense as 1000 feet hexes. All of the maps in this packet have small underground complexes mapped out in special dotted or hatched lines while showing the terrain above-ground.
In general I like the idea of these sorts of maps. They allow one to start off with low-detailed maps and zero in to the proper resolution for encounters. You could, for example, have a game where the characters are crossing a mountain pass. The large-scale maps would just show the mountains as symbols but as you get more detailed you could show a treacherous narrow trail that the characters must traverse.
Products like these are handy, either for generating an adventure in advance or to set up an encounter on the fly.
This product is designed to be generic so it avoids precise D&D terminology, though it is also designed to be easily portable to D&D - and similar games like Tunnels & Trolls would have made for easy ports as well.
Also within this product are tables for generating your own caves and dungeons on the fly and random occupant tables for the maps included within this book.
How would I rate this product today? To be honest, I suspect it was a far more useful product in pre-internet days when a map for a cave complex wasn't a Google-search away. However, I can still see where these sorts of products can be useful for Judges who have careers, families, etc. and need to ration their gaming prep time accordingly. This isn't a product I'd suggest spending a ton of money to snag on eBay but it certainly is one for which one could get a lot of use.