Gary Gygax was the ultimate storyteller. As I gamed with him the only time he consulted the rules was when he gave out experience points for killed monsters and treasures. He made moving through his dungeon come alive. We could easily imagine the sights, sounds, and even the smells as he described the chambers and the corridors.
He would change his style depending the experience of his gaming audience. If there were no mappers, he would talk about moving north or south down a corridor. If people trail mapped he would count out the ten foot squares and we would find out exactly where the doors were positioned in a chamber. Ernie, his son and soon myself would use graph paper and we would plot out the areas and Gary would give us exact dimensions so that we could easily make copies of his complex dungeon. We would hear about dripping ceilings, the musty smell of mold covering a wall, or the stench of a refuse pile.
Although he was a storyteller, there was no effort to thread a plot through his dungeon. Keep in mind that this was the dawn of role-playing and some concepts of 2020 gaming weren’t know then. It was entirely find the monsters, fight the monster, and take his treasure. Some of the dungeon chambers were filled with surprises. There were creatures hiding above the doors, there were creatures looking like tables and chests, and there were surprises in plain sight that would attack as we moved in the rooms. It got so that I would say upon entering any new area, “Gary, I look up, and down, and all around the area before I walk in. That stopped a lot of ugly surprises from happening.
We learned to be very cautious in Gary’s dungeon. We started tossing torches and then lanterns into dark rooms. It wasn’t too many burnt scrolls and broken potion bottles to have us change our ways. Soon, we were tossing in coins with Continual Light tossed on them. This caution had consequences as wandering creatures would be attracted to the magical light.