Tuesday, June 22, 2010

On Castle Greyhawk and My Campaign

The initial plan for my Ultimate Sandbox campaign was to centre the whole thing around Castle Greyhawk, the original megadungeon from Gary Gygax’s campaign. I was going to use the Castle Zagyg supplements from Troll Lord Games for this, in conjunction with the stuff that Rob Kuntz has been putting out. But it seems less and less likely that Castle Zagyg will see the light of day beyond what has already been released. So what’s a DM to do when the vagaries of life and business get in the way of a good campaign? As usual, it’s time to put on my thinking cap. Or should that be my cap of thinking?

The first thing that springs to my mind is that the castle has had a number of incarnations over the years, both official and unofficial. Let’s take a look at them!

The Original Castle: This is the original dungeon designed by Gary that was used for the first year or so of his campaign. I think it was about 13 levels deep, with a similar number of sub-levels, and had a chute at the bottom that led to China. So far as I know, this baby hasn’t seen publication anywhere, though some of the sub-levels became TSR modules EX1, EX2 and WG6.

The Rob-Gary Castle: After Rob Kuntz became the first player to 'beat' Castle Greyhawk (by finding that chute to China) Gary brought him in as a co-DM. Castle Greyhawk and Rob’s El Raja Key dungeon were merged to become one gigantic sprawling megadungeon. Again, this dungeon was never published, although Rob Kuntz has released a number of products detailing small portions of it.

WG7 Castle Greyhawk: Now I’ve never read this one fully, but the brief skimming I’ve given it, in combination with the general scorn it receives in old-school circles, leads me to have a negative opinion. For those who don’t know, this is an out-and-out comedy module, with absolutely no basis in Gary’s campaign. Now Gary was not averse to humour and a good pun, but I can’t bring myself to consider this a proper incarnation of the castle.

WGR1 Greyhawk Ruins: This is a pretty solid bit of dungeon design, but it hardly qualifies as a megadungeon, nor as a design by Gary. Even so, it’s the official TSR/WotC version of the castle, so I’ll need to get it into my campaign somehow.

Castle Zagyg: This was the real deal, Gary’s version of the castle brought into print for the first time. Alas, he passed on before the project could be completed, but we did at least get the first set detailing the actual castle and the first dungeon level beneath it. As I understand it, this was sort of an amalgamation of the different versions of Castle Greyhawk that Gary had run over the years.

So the first question is, how do I incorporate all of these disparate versions of Castle Greyhawk into my campaign? The answer I came up with was inspired by the Castle Zagyg supplements, most notably Dark Chateau. In those products, the castle was surrounded by a strange mist that prevented PCs from entering the area, no doubt because it had yet to be published. It’s a pretty clunky bit of adventure design, but it lead me to the conclusion that Zagyg (the mad wizard who created the castle) would periodically seal off the area with his magic while he redesigned the castle. So Gary’s design was the original castle, then Zagyg redesigned it as the Gary-Rob merged version, then as the Castle Zagyg version, and finally as the official TSR version. You’ll note that the comedic version from WG7 was not included, but that’s not to say I’ve ditched it completely. I’ll probably use it as a cursed demi-plane within the castle, as I’ve seen suggested elsewhere.

But this leads me to another problem: I don’t want to get stuck with a crappier version of Castle Greyhawk once I make the switch to WGR1. To get around this, I envision that there will be a room or a machine or something that can be used to transport the PCs through time with regards to the castle. So if you still want to adventure in the Castle Zagyg version, you zip into this special room, pull the lever, and zam, you’re there. The time travel won’t affect anything outside the castle, but it’s a good way to keep all the versions in play (and to make the place even more sprawling and confusing.)

The first two versions of the castle, those from the original campaign, will probably never be made public, so I doubt I’ll ever use them in a game. These will both have been around in the nebulous pre-history of my campaign. I may design my own versions of them should I ever decide I want my PCs to be able to travel back in time to explore them.

As for the Castle Zagyg version of the castle, the one I had planned to centre my campaign around, that’s another problem entirely. I’ll definitely use what has been released by Troll Lord Games, that’s for sure. With no guarantee of more releases, though, I need an alternative. Luckily one has been provided, in the form of the Castle of the Mad Archmage. No, it’s not Gary’s work. But it’s better than anything I could come up with myself. It will be the basis of my campaign, and if more official Castle Zagyg releases do come out, I can just have Zagyg summon the mists for another redesign, and the Castle of the Mad Archmage goes into the time travel vault. Lovely!

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