The upcoming Dungeonology is the latest in the ‘Ologies series, and presents an introductory guide to adventuring Dungeons & Dragons style. I know little about Ologies, but quite a bit about D&D, so that’s the angle I approach the book and this review from (and, I presume, why I received an advance copy of the book).
Dungeonology is cast in the form of a non-fiction guide to adventuring by Volothamp Geddarm (Volo) of the Forgotten Realms. Old school D&D players may recognize this name from a series of AD&D second edition guidebooks – Volo’s Guide to the Sword Coast, Volo’s Guide to Baldur’s Gate, Volo’s Guide to Waterdeep, and so forth. Volo’s Dungeonology seeks to provide advice to aspiring adventurer’s on how to succeed at their chosen career path (or, at least, avoid dying the first time out).
The most immediately noticeable thing about Dungeonology is the exotic construction of the book (I understand this is standard for the ‘Ologies books, but as I noted before, that’s really beyond my area of expertise), with a variety of pouches, mini-books, and fold-out pages. The inner cover has a “sealed envelope” with a letter inside. There is a Novice’s Spell Book affixed to the section on magic, which contains descriptions of old standbys such as Magic Missile, Feather Fall, Detect Magic, and Comprehend Languages. There’s a map that folds out to double the size of the book (it unfolds in all directions, not a simple gatefold). There’s an unfolding pinwheel that contains a discussion of extradimensional containers (good old Bag of Holding). And near the back of the book is a Volo’s Guide to the Forgotten Realms, with a cover styled on the D&D third edition Forgotten Realms books. The physical presentation is really impressive. All of that text could have just been printed out on normal pages, but it adds an extra bit of fun to explore all of the nooks and crannies.
The conceit of Dungeonology is that it is an introduction to adventuring, and Volo lays out the basics – building a balanced party (wizards, fighters, rogues, clerics, and others), marching order, the D&D races, adventuring equipment (not just material on weapons and armor, but things like the all-important 50’ of rope), and how to split and carry . And he does, indeed, pass on the ageless wisdom to never split the party. Volo gives some illustrated examples of magic items, and talks about the differences between wizards and sorcerers – yes this is a modern D&D presentation, and includes references to now-standard races and classes that one would not have found in an AD&D book. Rogues and traps get their own two-page spread, and there is love for clerics as well (sorry, fighters, no page dedicated to you).
Volo launches into a description of the Forgotten Realms (including that big fold-out map), but heavily focused on the Sword Coast and some recent events there, as depicted in the various D&D Fifth Edition campaigns that have been published in the last few years. Indeed, there are a healthy number of references to the Underdark and demon lords (Out of the Abyss), elemental cults (Princes of the Apocalypse), attempts to bring Tiamat into the Realms (Hoard of the Dragon Queen/Rise of Tiamat), the storm giants (Storm King’s Thunder), and Barovia (Curse of Strahd) (it’s also probably not a coincidence that the next 5E release is Volo’s Guide to Monsters). Similarly, there is a full-page on the five factions (Order of the Gauntlet, Zhentarim, Harpers, Lords’ Alliance, Emerald Enclave) that are introduced in D&D 5E, and have tie-ins to organized play. A lot of this content plays out in the smaller included Volo’s Guide to the Forgotten Realms, which is the location of pretty much any content not about the Sword Coast, and is also the location of the limited discussion on locations outside the Forgotten Realms – Greyhawk, Sigil (center of the Planescape setting), and Barovia (from Ravenloft).
No discussion of dungeons would be complete without monsters, and two two-page spreads are dedicated to ‘routine’ and epic foes. There is an embedded mini-book on dragons (they are the second D, after all), as well as specific discussion of Tiamat. But there are illustrations and blurbs on classics such as beholders, gelatinous cubes, mind flayers, and mimics (and a half-dozen others). Epic foes covered (again each with an illustration) include Lolth (goddess of the drow), Szass Tam (the lich ruler of the Red Wizards of Thay), and demon lords Demogorgon and Orcus. On the flip side, there is a similar presentation of heroes of page and computer screen, such as Drizzt Do’Urden (and friends), Minsc and Boo (“Go for the eyes, Boo! Goes for the eyes!”), and Elminster.
Dungeonology has something for the new as well as the ongoing Dungeons & Dragons player, but it may shine the most for a returning player, who will get both new information and a serious nostalgia kick. For those with feet in both the present and past of D&D, Dungeonology won’t be ‘educational,’ but it will amply serve the purpose of entertainment, with lush illustrations, nostalgia, and writing that strikes just mixed tone of serious and amusing.