There are 4 books every Dungeon Master should own: the Player’s Handbook, the DMG, the Monster Manual, and Dungeons with Plumbing. Can you play DnD without these useful guidebooks on hand? Yes, you can get away with that, but your task as a Dungeon Master will be so much easier if you use the tools found in these books. Sadly, DwP (Dungeons with Plumbing) has yet to make it into the hands of the average DM. I hope that this review will help correct this unfortunate oversight in our community.
Seriously, Dungeons with Plumbing is full of useful tools, tips, insights, and ideas every home brewing DM could make use of. Looking back at my early experiences as a new and green DM, I realize many mistakes I made could have been avoided if I owned the DwP. Even now, with years of DMing experience on my resume, I’m finding this compendium exceptionally useful. Any dungeons I design in the future will be done with this book within arm’s reach.
What’s It About?
In a word, homebrewing.
The reason why I find DwP so incredibly impactful to new and experienced DM’s is its unwavering dedication to homebrewing. The writer, Danny Kodicek, clearly set out to provide a complete writers toolbox for Dungeon Masters. He offers a step-by-step approach to building a consistent, cohesive, and interactive environment for fantasy TTRPG systems. With these principles clearly laid out, a DM will find world-building easier, even intuitive.
This isn’t a book simply filled with stacks of descriptions and monster stats. Although a plethora of stat blocks can be found within these pages, the creatures crawling around this book have a greater purpose. They exemplify the writing principles assembled by Kodicek. Dungeons with Plumbing shows us why these monsters, dungeon designs, environmental challenges, etc., fit into a designer’s world and game. Kodicek isn’t deconstructing stat blocks. He’s showing us what a fun and interactive world needs, then he’s providing examples of how to fill that need.
How does it work?
We don’t just get complex explanations of how magic works or why various species evolved in a fantastic world. We receive instruction on how to write our own explanations and how to make them consistent, immersive, and, most importantly, fun. Kodicek lays down a foundation built on rules. Within the first few pages, DwP explains that both D&D and interesting storytelling require consistent rules. These are a set of natural laws that govern our contrived fantasy world. Kodicek calls these rules “fauxics”.
These faux physics should resemble the natural laws of our world but with a little magic thrown in. This is an excellent writing technique used by fantasy novelists for crafting relatable settings in their world. It also allows a book to maintain a sense of suspense and mystery. If the reader knows that any problem can simply be “magicked” away, then the sense of immersion and intrigue is lost. Kodicek applies that same writing technique to crafting D&D worlds, campaigns, characters, and story arcs.
Because DwP introduces the concept of “fauxics” in the introduction, readers are primed for a thoughtful deconstruction of writing techniques. The subsequent chapters build upon the principle that a fantasy world needs to make sense; rules matter. As the reader dives further, they will quickly find a series of similar techniques and wholly unique tools built upon this foundation. And much like the “fauxics” principle, these techniques and tools provide the home brewing DM everything they need to craft a highly immersive world.
What do I really get out of this book?
Excluding covers, introduction, table of contents, and the like, this book contains 52 pages packed full of content. And I really do mean packed! It’s actually taken me quite a bit longer than I expected to thoroughly read through this entire book. Dungeons with Plumbing actually ended up causing some substantial delays in my writing and publishing routine. I can honestly say, it was absolutely worth it.
There are several different types of content contained within the pages of DwP. You’ll see more writing principles, like “fauxics”, that provide useful techniques every home brewing DM should have in their back pocket. This book can absolutely serve as a how-to guide for writing TTRPG games. However, just as these are foundational principles for good writing, Kodicek uses these concepts to build effective examples that can be immediately employed in any D&D game.
We will see Kodicek describe the fundamental logic behind crafting an ecosystem. Then will get some examples of how and why specific characteristics might evolve in given environments. In other words, were given the principle, and then we’re shown how to use it. After these concepts are thoroughly explored, Kodicek provides stacks of immediately employable stat blocks and mechanically functional items. These stat blocks are not only useful and can be employed in any game, but they’re also proof of concept. They are the functional results of employing the writing techniques.
I truly found Dungeons with Plumbing as unique as it is useful. Homebrewing DM’s can easily find third-party supplement books on The Dungeon Masters Guild or DriveThruRPG, and many of those books are amazing and provide a lot of value. However, Kodicek made something I really haven’t seen a true one-to-one equivalent of. He wrote a guidebook for writing D&D content. Not even Wizards of the Coast has produced a book like this.
Dungeon Masters that prefer homebrewing their own story will undoubtedly find this book useful. Even seasoned DM’s who have been writing campaigns for years will find powerful concepts and a new perspective on their hobby. This stems from Kodicek’s focus on building foundational writing concepts before crafting the details. He teaches you to draw your own lines before you start coloring in the picture.
I personally found a tool for navigating complex maps exceptionally useful. His example revolves around traversing a Giant Ant colony. This system gives you options that keep the players engaged without necessarily having to draw out a massive and complex map illustrating the endless intersecting tunnels you see in an ant farm. In my home campaign, my adventurers are about to enter a major city overrun with the undead. I intend to apply this tool to that environment, and I can do that because what I have at my disposal is in fact a tool. It’s meant to be used to build something, and not simply be inserted into a game.
Dungeons with Plumbing gave me a lot to think about and work with. I’m sure you’ll find it useful as well. If you’re interested in purchasing a copy, I provide a link below. If you have any other suggestions for similar titles, please leave a comment. I’d be very interested in reading and reviewing more books that provide a philosophical approach to writing tabletop role-playing games.
Until next time, my intrepid homebrewing DM’s, keep digging. These dungeons won’t build themselves.