Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Building the Sandbox: Castle Greyhawk and Surrounding Areas

In part 1 of this series, I defined the D&D cosmology and its many settings.  In part 2, I talked a bit about the core D&D world - the World of Greyhawk.  Now it's time to get into the meat of this thing, and define the elements that I need to fit together for what will be the initial campaign area.  The core  elements of the first D&D campaign were the City and Castle of Greyhawk, and that's where I intend the Ultimate Sandbox to begin if and when I get around to running it in earnest.

(I should note that I'm currently running the Ultimate Sandbox now, with my weekend games in the Tower of Zenopus dungeon from the Holmes Basic Set.  Ideally I'd have preferred to kick it off with a megadungeon campaign, but instead I'm planning to run a bunch of classic stand-alone modules and adventures, mostly because the whole thing was put together at very short notice.  Regardless, everything that happens in those games will count towards my Ultimate Sandbox Greyhawk continuity, and changes to the adventure sites will be carried forward in the future. Anyway, back to Greyhawk City and Castle.)

To set up the initial campaign area, I have to define the elements that I need to put together.  Unfortunately, the Greyhawk campaign, as it was run by Gary Gygax and Rob Kuntz, has never been put into print in any sort of playable fashion.  Bits and pieces of it are out there, but it's all very scattershot.  On top of that, part of what I want to do involves stitching everything together in terms of official D&D canon.  Much of what Gary and Rob did was later contradicted by TSR and Wizards of the Coast, so even if I had everything in front of me I'd have quite the job reconciling it all.

Difficulties aside, it seems to me that I need to define three major things to get the campaign in a playable state: the City of Greyhawk, Castle Greyhawk and the dungeons beneath, and the wilderness that encompasses them both.  I'll tackle each one by one.

The City of Greyhawk

This one is probably the easiest to deal with.  As I understand it, the city as designed by Gary started as a one-page affair, and was expanded to four pages later in the campaign, which was explained in-game as a result of the influx of gold coming from the dungeons beneath Castle Greyhawk.  This is pretty, handy as I can use it to explain any discrepancies between things from the original campaign and TSR's official publications.

Speaking of which, TSR released The City of Greyhawk in 1989 as a boxed set, and given the parameters of my project I'm pretty much locked into using it.  That's not necessarily a knock on the product, as I've never read it.  Maybe it's great, and captures exactly the pulp fantasy spirit that I'm looking for.  I like what I've seen just from skimming it, particularly this poster map.

An aerial view of TSR's City of Greyhawk

The temptation is there to use Yggsburgh, the city designed by Gary Gygax for his Castle Zagyg project, which would probably have a more authentic flavour. But to be honest I don't know how much of that product was actually Gary's work.  Besides, using Yggsburgh in place of the official TSR city would no doubt cause all sorts of continuity headaches that I don't need.  I suppose I could place it elsewhere in the map, but I've made enough work for myself already.

The only other source I can think of for lore about the city is Gary's Gord the Rogue series of novels.  I already have Night Arrant and Sea of Death, but I'd need to acquire the other five, which looks somewhat pricey.  I've been meaning to get them for a while though, as I've been wanting to revisit the series with a greater knowledge of their place in D&D history.

The Wilderness

The area around the city of Greyhawk is pretty well defined in the aforementioned City of Greyhawk boxed set, and as with the city it would be difficult to change it without doing a number to D&D continuity.  The map is shown below.

Map art by David S. LaForce (I think)

The only change I would make to the above would be to add a section that resembles the map from Outdoor Survival, which is referenced in the original D&D booklets.  I recently read this great PDF about what those booklets imply about the D&D setting, and that's how I want the Outdoor Survival region to play.  I'm imagining it as a region of land slightly east of Castle Greyhawk, that's been warped by the magical and dimensional forces leaking out of that place.  At the moment, I'm thinking of putting it somewhere in the lands between the Mistmarsh and the Cairn Hills on the map above, but I need to check the scales of both maps to see if that works.

Castle Greyhawk

Well, this is where things get really tricky.

The dungeons below Castle Greyhawk began as a solo effort designed by Gary Gygax, before being greatly expanded with help from Rob Kuntz.  Neither version of the castle has ever seen the light of day, although more than one attempt has been made to get it out there.  Castle Zagyg by Gary Gygax is one such abortive attempt, and there are also the dungeon levels included in Rob Kuntz's El Raja Key Archive.

In 1988, TSR took its own stab at releasing a version of the castle, with module WG7 Castle Greyhawk.  The results were... regrettable.  A few years later, in 1990, they had another stab at it, with WGR1 Greyhawk Ruins.  I've only skimmed this one, but it looks like a big improvement on WG7, and it's become the offical TSR version of the castle up to the present day.

The question is, how do I reconcile all of these elements?  It would certainly be difficult to make all of it work together as a single dungeon.  My initial idea, posted long, long ago, was to feature a sort of "time-travel chamber" in the dungeon, which would allow the PCs to switch back and forth between different versions of the castle.  I still think it's not a bad idea, but I'm not as enamoured with it as a solution as I was back then.  My current thinking is to just have two separate castles, and two distinct dungeons.

As I understand it, the official TSR version of the castle sits somewhat north and east of the city, across the Selintan River.  Reports about the original castle place it east of the city, which isn't entirely contradictory to the above.  Regardless, if I'm going to use Castle Zagyg and also include WGR1 Greyhawk Ruins, there would be a lot of trouble in integrating the two into a single location.  So I'm going to leave TSR's castle where they placed it, and give it a rename: Zagyg's Palace.  In TSR continuity Zagyg ruled over the City of Greyhawk for a time, and this is where he did it from.

As for Castle Greyhawk, I'm going to place that further east, next to the Ery River.  I'm thinking that perhaps Zagyg used it as his home base when he was still consolidating his power base, before he became the ruler of the city.  This might necessitate changing the maps in Castle Zagyg, in which the castle is up against the False Urt River, although I might just use Gary's name instead of the Ery.  We'll see.

That leaves WG7 Castle Greyhawk, which by the rules of my project I must include even though I'd really rather not.  Currently, my plan is to make the levels accessible via Zagyg's Palace, and to make them very, very difficult for players to discover.  Just because I have to include them doesn't mean I have to include them in a way that's easy to access.

The Dungeons of Castle Greyhawk

The above is all well and good, but eventually if I run this campaign I'll need to get down to the hard work of designing the dungeons.  I plan to use the following elements:

  • Castle Zagyg Vol. 1: The Upper Works.  I forked out for this bad boy, so I'm definitely going to use it.  And it is the only published version of the castle that Gygax ever put his mark of approval on, even if a good chunk of the work was done by Jeff Talanian.  This will cover the ruined castle and the first dungeon level.
  • The image of level 1 of the dungeon from Gygax's folder that's been floating around for quite some time.  I might keep this as an "alternate" level 1, perhaps accessible by means such as Rob Kuntz's Dark Chateau module and the Greyhawk city sewers.  I believe Gary's key for this map has been deciphered as well.

  • The image of Gary's dungeon level 3 that also out there.

  • This dungeon level, another of Gary's, which is labelled as the "Museum of the Gods".

  • The many dungeon levels included in Rob Kuntz's El Raja Key Archive.  Unfortunately I still need to acquire this one, and with the Aussie dollarydoo at its current value that won't be happening soon.
  • Joseph Bloch's Castle of the Mad Archmage.  Not long after the Castle Zagyg product line was discontinued after Gary passed away, Joseph Bloch took it upon himself to write a megadungeon that connected seamlessly with the levels already released.  This will probably form the spine of my version of the dungeon, with some heavy revisions.  My main concern with Bloch's dungeon (what I've read of it) is that it uses quite a bunch of monsters that go beyond the scope of early D&D.  I'd like to keep it confined to things from the AD&D Monster Manual, plus some monsters of my own devising.
  • The modules that connect to the dungeons via portal: EX1 Dungeonland, EX2 The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror and WG6 Isle of the Ape.
  • Later Rob Kuntz products that connect to the castle, such as The Living Room and The Bottle City.
  • Some levels of my own design.
  • On top of all that, Rob Kuntz has recently started posting about something he calls Castle Greyfalkun, which looks to be another release of levels from the castle, or possibly some newly designed material, I'm not entirely sure.  I'll keep an eye on it though.

Putting all of these together in any sort of coherent fashion is going to be a hell of a job.  I've got time though.  Hopefully my current classic modules campaign will run for a couple of years, and there's also my long-running-but-infrequent 3rd edition campaign, which I'd like to actually wrap up at some point.  It'll be a while before I'll need to use Castle Greyhawk.

All of the above gives me a pretty extensive reading list:
  • The City of Greyhawk boxed set
  • The Gord the Rogue novels (or perhaps just those relevant to Greyhawk and surroundings)
  • WG7 Castle Greyhawk (ugh)
  • WGR1 Greyhawk Ruins and maybe the 3rd edition adventure Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk
  • Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works
  • Castle of the Mad Archmage
  • The Up on a Soapbox articles by Gary and Rob Kuntz that reminisce about the original campaign
  • Various blogs and discussion threads from the original players that will help to fill in some of the details.
That's plenty to keep me occupied for the time being, but if I've forgotten any other possible sources I'd appreciate any Greyhawk experts out there letting me know.

1 comment:

  1. Starting to read your series on this and enjoying.
    I had a similar idea past weaks but instead to start with castle greyhawk i started with my own dungeon based on the monastery of DMG. Then i add the classical modules in release order. Is a work in progress but i'm already running.