Tuesday 21 June 2022

Original Scenarios Resurrected I: The Solo Dungeon (1977, Richard Bartle)

Welcome to a new series where out of print D&D scenarios from the 70s are resurrected (and often expanded with contemporary material by the original author). These Original Scenarios are resurrected as opposed to being reincarnated, since (as everyone knows) in D&D when you're reincarnated you have only a slim chance of coming back in the same form and are of a lower level - an OD&D adventure would be in danger of being reincarnated as a 5th edition adventure...

To start with, we present The Solo Dungeon by Richard Bartle from 1977, wherein you can get a truly authentic 1970s dungeon crawling experince. Richard wrote this adventure shortly before he co-created the world's first MUD - MUD1 - in 1978. Along with a scan of the adventure, we present a scan of the original manuscript along with the original introduction. 

Copies of this do come up on ebay from time to time, but not often, and they're not cheap. Last Saturday a copy sold for rather a tidy sum:

That's a health rate of return on your investment. I wonder how much the original '77 version would fetch?

Fortunately I manage to snag a copy for a more reasonable price, though it does have a bit of staple rust: 

Richard originally self-published The Solo Dungeon via a stencil-based duplicator in 1977, then it was published by GAMES PUBLICATIONS in 1978, and they printed a second edition in 1980. The first was spiral bound, the second digest-sized - the only other difference appears to purely be that the copyright notice is moved out onto a separate page along with a repeat of the cover illustration, presumably to move it off the inside of the cover. I don't know if there were any differences in the original '77 version (if you have a copy, please add a comment to let people know). Richard wrote a sequel but the publisher went under before it was published - this will be released for the first time later on in this series of Original Adventures Resurrected.

As described earlier, The Solo Dungeon is (as the name suggests), a solitaire dungeon; but if you expect a "Choose Your Own Adventure" or "Fighting Fantasy" style you'll be surprised. Although fun, the options presented in those books don't allow you full freedom, they are often more akin to a railroad. In contrast The Solo Dungeon emulates a full D&D dungeon crawl experience - you wander the dungeon at will, mapping as you go, and the choices attempt to be many of the choices you could make as a player.

Many D&D players look down on solitaire adventures, and in general I agree wih the sentiment, but I find the solo adventures of Richard Bartle (and Brian Asbury) to be not only greatly enjoyable but also they act as a time warp back to the early days of the hobby. When you play an old dungeon, you're playing it with modern sensibilities, and despite it being the same dungeon with the same rules, it's not the same experience (as evidenced by the amount of online drama about how the games were really played). These solo dungeons however capture a playing style of D&D, which can be directly experienced exactly as it was 45 years ago.

Richard's made The Solo Dungeon available on his website for a number of years, but recently he scanned in his original draft for The Solo Dungeon and has been kind enough to allow me to share it here. It has a slightly different introduction, which in particular confirms that it was for OD&D (with Greyhawk).

So without further ado, here is the original draft, and Richard's scan in a more usable-form as a pdf (all text is copyright Richard Bartle). (Click on the top RH corner to open larger in a new window).
Richard himself describes his writing as "unfortunately unreadable" so I've made a transcript of the original Preface + Introduction from the draft below, plus Richard's covering letter to the publisher.


     This is the solo dungeon. It's all pretty rough, especially the maps, and unfortunately unreadable, but have a look anyway (suggest you read the letter if you're reading this first).

     It's only an idea to set about printing this, and I don't mind if it's too expensive, the dungeon isn't any good etc (I think I rather kept(?) in your examples that you thought printing a game would be a good idea) or that you changed your mind – I'll be doing a small stencil print run anyway unless you want me to call it off for some reason. Have a look, anyway – it'll save you buying a copy when I do my printing of a few copies anyway, if nothing else!

             Best Wishes,



PS: Maybe there's too little writing on each page to do on your typer (there's too much on mine sideways on!) but I don't think so: fill up with maps if so.

PPS: Can you think of a name for it?


     Congratulations on your good taste. You have just purchased the first solo dungeon by Richard Bartle (who is writing this almost as modestly as he can). It is a very good dungeon, using the rules of the game "Dungeons & Dragons" as its basis. Most of you will already know how to use a solo programmed dungeon – just turn to page 1, letter A, and read following instructions as necessary – but I think I'll first of all give you a run-down on the peculiarities of this particular dungeon...

     Well first of all, it's pretty obvious that you mustn't cheat and look at a number unless instructed to do so. If you do peek then you are only cheating yourself, and you can only console yourself in the knowledge that you have just wasted 80p.

     Secondly, this dungeon is a real dungeon. The rooms are all given dimensions, the corridors are all given lengths. The standard width of corridors is 5', the same as doors and stairs. You will find it most wise to keep a map, as you could easily get lost or carved up trying to get out the wrong way. For simplicity, all directions are given in terms of North, South, East & West, abbreviated to (you guessed it!) N, S, E and W. A map is somewhere for each room or corridor of any strange shape & you can easily draw it.

     Thirdly, you must do the battles yourself. Magic in most circumstances will be accounted for, but if not then use it yourself and compute your own results. All hit points quoted are in greyhawk system, but adapt to your own if you want to make it easier for yourself, cheat. All A/C are standard, FM=AC2.

     Fourthly, the dungeon is for a party of 6 first level characters only, no magic items. You must give them experience as necessary. Alignment doesn't matter, you can be what you like, but you should not do something against the alignment. You can try if you like, but there is a chance on most deeds that the gods will get nasty (only a smallish chance, about 1/5).

     Fifthly, if you kill a monster or get some treasure, ignore any further reference to it. This includes wandering monsters. It also helps if you make a note of all the numbers you go to, as a) it stops you from cheating so easily, & b) if you're told to go back to the no. you came from you know where it is!

     Sixthly, the vocabulary in the dungeon isn't too standard. Generally if you 'take a door' you get to hear what's behind it before you make your choice. 'Go back & choose again' usually means to pick a way out, and a '5 foot alcove' is a 5'x5' passage just before you get into the main room (no walls the thickness of pencil lines here! All quality stuff this!). Killed usually means all of you.

     Seventhly, keep all your party in a single group, as looking at 2 nos. @ the same time is cheating! This is unless you are instructed to split up (e.g. 6 of you in a 5'x5' passage isn't really on!)

     Eighthly, this is a dungeon for the thinking man. All circumstances have a way out, whether obvious or not to you, although there may be the occasional 'straight fight'. Anything possible in the dungeon is accounted for in the D&D rules, & you will be wise to note that. Also, don't forget some rudimentary rules which could be the key to escape. When you've finished the dungeon, I advise you to follow all eventualities through & see what could have happened. You will also see that in certain circumstances what you thought you were rolling the dice for wasn't what you assumed after all...

     Ninthly no multi-characters (e.g. FM/MU/Thief). Also if you put out torches as you have a party full of elves, it won't help you fighting men as their eyes are accustomed to the dark, smarty. If you can't work out which door you enter a room by from the map, consult the room description; your door is bound to be mentioned somewhere.

     Tenthly, I've made this dungeon as concise as possible. You are never sent to any paragraph which is accessible only by the number which you were sent from, and there aren't many directions to the opposite page (I hope none to the same one) from any single paragraph (this also stops peeking). There are no numbers which keep cropping up again & again so you know what they are before you get there, or questions asked which almost beg a certain response. Luck is cut to a minimum. Please give your comments on this dungeon to me, it's the only way I can improve. Hope you have a good time & don't get killed until the last minute!

                Best Wishes,

                           Richard Bartle


PS: Before you read the introduction, one final incentive to stay alive; if you are killed you are either brought back to life by someone (unlikely) or directed to a number which has sickly, obvious puns on the cause of your death! Avoid at your peril! Don't say I didn't warn you...


     The death of a great FM (Fighting Man) and local personality has reached your ears. His nephew has inherited all the FM's lands, castles and servants. Unfortunately though, the FM stipulated in his will that the nephew could only inherit the lands if he could kill at least some of the creatures in the FM's dungeon. Being a coward, and a poor one at that, the nephew decided to hire someone to go in for him, quite sensibly. However, his financial resources weren't too high & he could only afford you. So here you are, at the top of some stairs leading W-E, with a door at the bottom on the E side. The nephew sends you down, waves one (last) wave, says yes you can keep any treasure you find if his uncle was stupid enough to leave it there, and he clangs the door shut. Now you only know you're in the NE section of this uncharted area, and you must go on. In fact you go to 1A...


As you can see, the pages turned out not to be long enough after all, so the maps were placed at the bottom of each page as per Richard's suggestion. Further there wasn't enough space for the original preface + intro so it was split up and put at the bottom of pages as a how-to-use-this-book tutorial.


  1. Replies
    1. Glad you appreciate it - there's plenty more to come!

    2. Excellent! I have to figure out how to get an email when you update your blog :) But looking forward to it!

  2. Thank you for making this available! To clarify, the artist Chris Holmes credited in the Solo Dungeon, is *not* the same person as J. Eric Holmes' son of the same name, who is also an artist and had illustrations published in Dragon and A&E in the '70s. RPGGeek indicates that they are the same, but I checked with Chris himself.

    1. Thanks Z. I sent a mail to J Eric Holmes' son (via his website) to clarify if it was him, but got no reply - so thanks for filling me in. Richard didn't know as he said he had nothing to do with the art.