The cover to the Kobold Guide to Dungeons, which shows an adventurer holding a lantern, lowering themselves down into a cavern. There are many arches in this cavern, as well as mounts of treasure, and a coiled dragon skeleton.

This time around I wanted to do something a little different. We’re going to do a First Impression, because I wanted to address TTRPG gaming advice books that have made the transition to audiobook. Since it was recently released (as of this writing), I’m going to address this by way of looking at Kobold Press’ new Kobold Guide, Kobold Guide to Dungeons.

Kobold Guide to Dungeons

Essays: Keith Ammann, Keith Baker, Wolfgang Baur, Bryan Camp, Christopher M. Cevasco, David “Zeb” Cook, Dominique Dickey, Kelsey Dionne, Basheer Ghouse, Rajan Khanna, Sadie Lowry, Frank Mentzer, Bruce Nesmith, Erin Roberts, Lawrence Schick, James L. Sutter, Barbara J. Webb

Editor: John Joseph Adams


Frank Mentzer has an essay in this collection. I wanted to make sure to post a link to this article, that explain why Mentzer’s inclusion warrants a content warning. The further from an event that we get, the easier it is for important context to be lost.

Dungeon Layout

The primary work I’m looking at today is the Kobold Guide to Dungeons, which I own both in PDF and in audiobook format. I don’t have the physical book. The other books that I’ll mention later are all audiobooks that I own and have listened to prior to this article.

The Guide Itself

The guide is 110 pages long in PDF form, and the audiobook is four hours and seventeen minutes. It is broken up into an introduction, seventeen essays on the topic, and five pages of author biographies. The PDF also has two pages of ads for other Kobold Press products.

The Authors

Generally, I enjoy the Kobold Guides, and this one isn’t an exception. I don’t want to do a deep examination of each of the essays, since many of these are worth the read, and I wouldn’t do it justice. That said, there are a few notable essays and authors I wanted to touch upon.

Wolfgang Baur, David Cook, Frank Mentzer, Bruce Nesmith, and Lawrence Schick are all people that have been working in the RPG industry going back to the 70s, 80s, and early 90s. These are people with long term opinions on the topic, and some of them view the topic through the lens of having a hand in creating the expectations that shaped the games for the next several decades. It is interesting reading these essays in light of the author biographies, as some people stayed in the TTRPG industry, others moved on to video game design, and some move to a more ancillary role.

Another block of authors are professional writers and editors working in science fiction, fantasy, and/or horror. Bryan Camp, Christopher Cervasco, Rajan Khanna, and Barbara Webb fall into this camp. All of them have the perspective of the RPG industry filtered through the lens of using the elements of a game to tell a specific story.

Keith Ammann, Keith Baker, Dominique Dickey, Kelsey Dionne, Basheer Ghouse, Sadie Lowry, Erin Roberts, and James Sutter are all people that have worked in the TTRPG industry in the eras from the 2000s on. I can’t speak for any of these designers, but these are designers more likely to have seen other RPGs in addition to Dungeons & Dragons while forming their views on how and why elements are used in games.

A Quick Tour of the Essays

Lawrence Schick, who worked on the team that created Baldur’s Gate III, had one of my favorite essays in the book. It provided a nice breakdown of the purpose of dungeons and how the dungeon modifies the core assumptions of RPGs. I’ve got my own preferences when it comes to RPG essays. I enjoy general advice and information, but in something that is a guide meant to help those that are playing or running the game, I like structured, actionable information. Schick breaks his essay into five parts. This lets him focus on each of these elements, breaking the topic into digestible information that can sink in to someone reading/listening to the essay.

Dominique Dickey’s essay was another strong entry for me. They also break their essay into clearly defined topics and subtopics, as well as creating meaningful subtopics. Additionally, they bring in adventure design tools that were introduced in other RPGs, like the Decipher Star Trek RPG. Sometimes it feels like when we discuss D&D and best practices, we veer from traditional D&D logic, and then attempt to rope in concepts and themes from less traditional and more narrative games. It’s nice to see some wisdom being drawn from other traditional games that may also have a looser structure and a greater emphasis in emulating narrative media.

While it touches on some topics that I’ve seen addressed elsewhere; I love the perspective that Basheer Ghouse introduces to the topic. While the essay is addressing the potential problems of adventurers resting in a dangerous location, it flips the topic to look at it from the perspective of when and how the denizens of the dungeon would need to rest and recover.

Many of the essays balance useful information with entertaining writing. Many of them present good information, but not information that is radically different from existing advice either in form or in presentation. Some of them rely on referencing adventures and famous dungeons from across the editions of D&D as examples of what to do, but with an eye towards pointing out what those dungeons are doing right.

One essay in particular wasn’t personally to my taste. It reads like it could have been written in the early 80s. By this, I mean that it enshrines the DM as an elite position and discusses the kind of people to whom RPGs appeal in a proscriptive manner. Additionally, there is a pedantic digression over what to call RPGs, and how the terminology isn’t actually correct. The digressions and overly officious tone make it hard to absorb useful information from the essay.

Dungeon Turns

This Kobold Guide is similar to most of the other Kobold Guides. Entertaining writing, solid if not revolutionary content, and a few gems. My personal preferences are towards easily summarized essays, with actionable information. This touches on a bit of what I wanted to mention when it comes to the audiobook format.

When there is an essay that speaks to something I want to implement, I’ll often reference those essays. Sometimes, it’s because there is a process to follow, and I want to make sure I cover every aspect of the process. Sometimes it’s because I can’t quite remember exactly the turn of phrase that appealed to me. However, in a book, it’s a lot easier to look at individual pages and identify the section you want to reference. It’s harder to do this with an audiobook.

I don’t mean to advocate against audiobooks. It is extremely convenient to be able to listen to content in audiobook format. Having a professional narrator reading the book makes it a lot easier to listen to the text to speech function on a PDF reader. I really want more content like this in audiobook format. I’m just not sure the best way to bridge the gap between that information that is more useful to reference out of context of the rest of the work. I don’t have a great answer for this. Given that Audible has a lock on accessible production of audiobooks, it may be harder to just bundle a professional reading of a book with a PDF at a higher price point. I bring this up because listening to the work, and then having the PDF available for specific references, is the combination I prefer using.

Deeper Into The Dungeon

This is where I want to transition to listing some of the TTRPG books that are currently available on Audible, which appears to be the provider of choice for most companies that have ventured into this format. I’m going to note which ones have PDF references included. These aren’t the text of the book, but usually key charts, worksheets, or other items that are better presented through visualization.

Keith Ammann

  • The Monsters Know What They’re Doing
  • Moar! The Monsters Know What They’re Doing
  • Defend Your Lair

Robin Laws

  • Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering (accompanying PDF reference sheet)

Kobold Guides

  • Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding
  • Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding II
  • Kobold Guide to Magic
  • Kobold Guide to Gamemastering
  • Kobold Guide to Plots and Campaigns
  • Kobold Guide to Dungeons

Monte Cook Games

  • Your Best Game Ever

Sly Flourish

These are very interesting, because they include some of the first audiobook adventures that I’ve seen. Those audiobooks have some extensive PDF support in the form of maps and GM information but are short of the full book.

  • The Lazy Dungeon Master (accompanying PDF reference sheet)
  • Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master (accompanying PDF reference sheet)
  • Fantastic Locations (accompanying PDF reference sheet)
  • Fantastic Adventures (a great example of an audiobook that works better with the PDF of the product)
  • Ruins of Grendleroot (accompanying PDF reference sheet)
  • Fantastic Lairs

Phil Vecchione

  • Never Unprepared (accompanying PDF reference sheet)

 With another Kobold Guide released recently, the Kobold Guide to Roleplaying, I hope to see that series continue to release audiobook options. 
Despite some of my questions about the best way to reference information, I look forward to more TTRPG books being available in audiobook form. In addition to the convenience of using audiobooks at times when a traditional book or PDF on a tablet isn’t available, audiobooks provide an accessible option for the visually impaired.

There are several other books that are TTRPG advice and game philosophy books for which I would love to see audiobooks. With another Kobold Guide released recently, the Kobold Guide to Roleplaying, I hope to see that series continue to release audiobook options.

Even more than that, I hope that the market for professionally read audiobooks will become more accessible, so one company doesn’t have a monopoly on their sale, and I would love to see more work done to play with the synergy between electronically books in both written form and audio form. The more the RPG hobby grows, and the more people engage with the hobby, the more we need to change and adapt to make the hobby as accessible as possible.