29 November 2019

From the Vaults - World of Greyhawk Rarities for Your Games

In this "From the Vaults" series of articles, I'm going to present and summarize information about obscure, rare, and less-well-known World of Greyhawk content.  

There are many Greyhawk rarities well-worth digging into.  Some add significant lore to the setting, while others are simply solid Greyhawk adventures that are fun to run and play.  Some are old, rare, obscure, and very difficult to find, while others are hot-off-the-presses and being actively published by fans today!

What Greyhawk Rarities? 

The first question* to ask about this topic may be, "How does Allan (or anyone else) know what constitutes a rare item in the world of Greyhawk publishing?"  

Well, Ant "Echohawk" Brooks maintains a Greyhawk Collector's Guide on ENWorld, and it's amazingly comprehensive.  I link to it on my Greyhawk Links page, and while there are still bits and pieces of info that trickle in with new discoveries, new versions or editions of books, additional Living Greyhawk tourney scenarios catalogued, and new titles written by and for Greyhawk fans being published each year, Echohawk's work is my go-to guide whenever I want to dig into the history of Greyhawk publishing over the decades.

I've written about some of these curios here and there in my web site, and in some previous blog articles, and some of these items are somewhat better-known or are already well-documented, but I may still touch on some of them, either in passing, or directly:

  • "The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth" is Gygax's 1976 tourney from Wintercon V and the precursor to TSR's 1982 S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth:
    Gary Gyga's 1976 WinterCon V tournament,
    The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth

    I've written extensively about both versions---see http://greyhawkonline.com/grodog/gh_s4.html and http://www.greyhawkonline.com/grodog/gh_s4_encounters.html in particular and have some new research to reveal about its development soon, too!
  • "Quest for the Golden Orb" - an Origins 1984 Greyhawk tournament written by Elaine Walquist:
    "Quest for the Golden Orb"---
    1984 Origins tourney

  • Empire of the Ghouls - 2008 Open Design campaign module by Wolfgang Baur, and sequel to his "Kingdom of the Ghouls" from Dungeon #70:
    Wolfgang Baur's 2008 Open Design project,
    Empire of the Ghouls

  • The 1975 Origins I version of "Tomb of Horrors"---which was reprinted as part of the deluxe edition of Art & Arcana (the Gygax tourney, not the Alan Lucien original---although I am familiar with that as well):

    1975 Origins I "Tomb of Horrors" booklet,
    Art & Arcana special edition

  • Rob Kuntz's various projects from Creations Unlimited and Pied Piper Publishing up through his current books and projects with Three Lien Studios:

    Rob Kuntz's prodigious publishing!

  •  RPGA Adventurer's Guild scenarios from the TSR Silver Anniversary and "Greyhawk 98" revivals
  • "Finger of the Wind" GenCon 2000's D&D Open tourney by Robert Weise


What's in the Vaults? 

So, to kick this particular series off, I'm going to focus (sometime next week) on Carl D. Perkins' "In Quest for the Hand of Vecna"---a non-TSR adventure self-published in 1984.   

I'd already begun drafting this article when Mike Bridges announced an upcoming Vecna movie (!), so the timing seems quite good.

In Quest of the Hand of Vecna!,
by Carl D. Perkins

Here are some other Greyhawk titles that I will probably dig into in the series:

  • Return to the Tomb of Horrors flyer "The Catacombs of the Necromancers" and other TSR Gold late-2e promotional retail items
  • The graphic novel, Vecna: Hand of the Revenant by Modi Thorsson (Iron Hammer Graphics, 2002):
    Vecna: Hand of the Revenant,
    by Modi Thorrson

  • The Fist of Emirikol and Olidamarra Dice from Wizards of the Coast
  • True Dungeon's various early (2003-2007) World of Greyhawk-based scenarios
  • The various RPGA DM Rewards and D&D Encounters scenarios published by Wizards of the Coast during the 4e era:  Tomb of Horrors, Village of Hommlet, Beyond the Crystal Cave, etc.

So, take a look at the stuff I've mentioned in here, and in Echohawk's Guide, and what you already know about that I don't, and chime in via the comments to let me know which titles most-catch your eye:  I'll prioritize the wriring accordingly if I own the books already and/or have detailed information on them, of course (and if they sound very interesting, they'll go into my "to hunt for" list =) )!


* beyond the obviously cynical, "Does Allan really need to start yet-another blog series?" ;)

25 November 2019

grodog's Castle Greyhawk - Levels Inventory and Updates

I've been working on the design and redesign of my version of the Castle Greyhawk mega-dungeon for nearly as along as I've been playing D&D:  I began construction of it in the early 1980s, when I designed the schema below for my vision of the castle dungeons' depth and breadth of levels---it's "footprint" in the Oerth of the Cairn Hills. 

grodog's Castle Greyhawk - levels 1-10 elevation


grodog's Castle Greyhawk - levels 10-17 elevation

I conceived the plan for my castle to fit within this elevation footprint of the levels, which would allow me sufficient depth and distance between the levels that I could flexibly add to overall structure with new levels, sub-levels, side levels, and such, easily as needed.  Or so I thought at the time....

The redesign work began again around 2006-2008, in response to the many discussions over at the Knights & Knaves Alehouse and Dragonsfoot on mega-dungeon design, and I eventually began to codify my new vision for both the castle and the levels beneath it:

grodog's Castle Greyhawk - new sketch map
for ruins and wilderness environs

The environs map above replaced my original castle ruins level, which was much more prosaic, was designed with little regard for actual castle construction techniques, and was drawn before I'd even visited a real castle, all of which informed the newer design.

The image below is my first pass at a comprehensive inventory of my Castle Greyhawk dungeon levels:

A partial inventory of the dungeon levels in
my version of Castle Greyhawk

I've gone through my Castle folders and binders to compile the levels that weren't already listed in my web site, on my blog, online in FB, or in discussions at the Knights & Knaves Alehouse or Dragonsfoot, and think I've got them all in the mix now (or at least the ones that I've mapped and/or mapped and keyed---I've got other ideas for levels that aren't more than just concepts yet, of course). 

In the lower-right quadrant of the inventory, I also listed notes on levels designed by Gygax, Kuntz, Eric Shook, and other folks that I've considered incorporating into my overall schema for the dungeon environs. I've always planned to cherry-pick favorite levels and/or maps to insert alongside my own designs, but hadn't quite gotten around to making those selections, inter-connections, and "to-design" decisions---for example, for some of Gygax's levels that I only have a map for, without a key, so I'd need to do that design work myself in order to play that level map.  

In addition to the level maps, I need to inventory the keys too; these are somewhat centralized in my keys binder, but many associated notes are also scattered in my gaming design journals, too, which complicates pulling them together:

grodog's gaming journals and notes

The open journal is my older one, and spans from 4 February 2001 (it was a Y2K Christmas gift from my sister) to 31 January 2007.  The larger, closed book (another Christmas gift) runs from 24 February 2007 to the present, but it's almost out of pages.  You can also see a small clipped together pile of scrap notes, many of which are also inserted into the pages of the journals willy-nilly, just to keep things interesting (ha!). 

All of this info is linked to from my Castle Grehawk web page, but it isn't readily apparently and accessible---that page needs some serious updating, which will follow-on from this work, too.  Until that's done, here are some quick links to give you a sense of the ruins level for my version of Castle Greyhawk and its top-most dungeon levels:
Dig in, and if you have Qs, let me know! =)


18 November 2019

grodog's Mega-Dungeon Maps - The Heretical Temple of Wee Jas

So, today's my first new Mega-Dungeon Mondays post, and I thought I'd share a bit about my mapping design process. 

"The Heretical Temple of Wee Jas" level was the map that I began to design immediately after The (First) Landings Level, and its original name was The Second Landings Level (original, eh? ;) ).  Like "The Landings Level", I playtested this dungeon at GaryCon, the North Texas RPG Con, and KantCon, among other events. 

I completed the first iteration of the map over several nights, noodling through a few different options on how best to design the lower half of the map, particularly the large temple in the SW corner:

Draft 1:

grodog's Heretical Temple of Wee Jas---
draft 1 dungeon level map

When I'm unsure how I want to work out a particular section, or when I'm working on keying for a level with a completed map draft (I almost always draw my maps first then work on keying), I'll make photocopies of the level to play with variations until I'm happy with how the design turns out.

I did that several times with the temple in the SW corner, as you can see in the various second drafts:

Draft 2a:

grodog's Heretical Temple of Wee Jas---
draft 2a dungeon level map

Draft 2b:

grodog's Heretical Temple of Wee Jas---
draft 2b dungeon level map

In the end, the completed first draft 3 of the level looked like this, but you'll note that I still hadn't decided on how to trick out the temple area:

grodog's Heretical Temple of Wee Jas dungeon level map
grodog's Heretical Temple of Wee Jas---
completed draft 3 dungeon level map

I was also still drawing non-narrowing stairs as stairs up at this point in my design process, but I eventually switched to use tapering stairs with the tapering side indicating the up/down direction, depending on how the tapering side was placed. 

I initially playtested the level using the draft 3 map, but even after my various iterationings on the temple settled out, I was never terribly pleased with the caverns section in the SE corner.  I also added some areas immediately above the main level of the map---"upstairs" zones for murder holes, some apartments for a lich, etc.  Those got taped onto the level as additions, that look like this:

grodog's Heretical Temple of Wee Jas
completed draft 4 and updated dungeon level map

So this level will eventually be redrawn as The (First) Landings Level was along with "Diamonds on the Rough"---and will likely be bumped up to a 6 spi map treatment in the process, too, in order to give me some more wiggle room for the cavernous section and other areas on the periphery of the sheet of paper.

The other articles in my Mega-Dungeon Maps series include:

and the Mega-Dungeon Mondays posts are linked for your easy reference too.  



13 November 2019

grodog talking 1e Undead and Greyhawk on Twitch tonight @ 8pm EDT

Just a quick announcement:   I'll return to talk Greyhawk and undead on Twitch again tonight, with Jay Scott, Anna Meyer, and Mike Bridges on Wednesday, 13 November 2019 at 8pm EST, livestreaming at https://www.twitch.tv/lordgosumba
Here's Jay's full announcement:

Legends & Lore - Season 4 Premiere on Twitch

Wednesday Evening on the Lord Gosumba Channel
Hello Friends and Greyhawkers! Legends & Lore has moved to the Lord Gosumba Channel starting this Wednesday, Nov 13, 8pm EST. To Kickoff their 4th season, the discussion will be about Undead of the Flanaess; this will include the various types of the non-living, and specific names of renown that put a shiver down the heartiest of adventurers! Join Anna Meyer, Mike Bridges, and me, as we welcome, Allan T. Grohe Jr., "The Grodog", to this weeks discussion!

Thank you all for the wonderful support and stream participation! See you Live Stream! www.twitch.tv/lordgosumba

It feels like I've been doing quite a few more of these live/streaming discussions lately, and I guess I feel like I'm starting to get the hang of it!  

I've also done some others in the more-distant past too, and I should put together a compilation of all of them, I suppose---my son Henry at least is interested in going back to watch (or listen) to some of them ;)  

See you later tonight! :D


11 November 2019

Mega-Dungeon Mondays - a new blog series from grodog

I'm trying to get back on track with writing more in general, and decided that a more-regular series of posts on mega-dungeons would be a good way to do that.  I also figure that if can get a regular posting schedule on Mondays, that I should also be able to do a bit more during the week between Mondays too. 

So, starting next week, and on Mondays henceforth ever after, I'll post something new and hopefully interestingly useful on the blog concerning mega-dungeon design stuff.

This week as the kickoff, I present a TSR blue rendering of my First Landings Level from my version of Castle Greyhawk:

The Landings Level Map - grodog's Castle Greyhawk
Charley Phipp's TSR Blue version

It's somewhat fitting that this level kicks off the new series, since it also began the most-recent phase of my design work on the Castle (back in 2008).  This particular version of that map was created by Charley "Druvas" Phipps in 2010, and I just refound it on my PC while digging through files this weekend.  He graciously gave permission to share it here, and I've also added it to my original post linked above, too.  

Until next week---or sooner! ;)


08 November 2019

The Starless Sea---Campaign Structures vs. Adventure Structures

How much thought have we collectively given to game elements/structures that are part of a campaign's flow and evolution, independent of the structure of the individual adventures that make it up? 

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

I've been reading Erin Morgenstern's new book _The Starless Sea_, which is a fairy-tale-like novel told through nested stories like the 1001 Arabian Nights; the book explores the stories' structures, some of which are meta-fictionally self-reflective/-reflexive, a la Borges or Robert Coover.  It's a bit like a mega-dungeon of a book, really.

So, it got me thinking about elements and structures that drive campaigns over the medium- to long haul, like:

  • active foreshadowing through backgound/history/sage advice, spies/spying, divination and research spells, prophecies and divine/infernal guidance, etc.
  • hidden foreshadowing through returning to earlier locations/NPCs/items/prophecies/etc. that have a newly-realized meaning or significance in retrospect after learning D after A, B, and C ("we should never have sold that wand at 3rd level so we could pay our training costs---it's the X"; "whoa!:  we need to head back to that well in level 6 and open that unopenable door with this key now"; etc.); this works best, of course, when specific items, content, histories, etc. have layers of additional meaning/mystery to them to be found
  • assembling pieces and parts of multi-part magic items (Rod of Seven Parts, Eye and Hand of Vecna, etc.), maps, information/lore, paintings, etc.; Anthony Huso's Black Journal falls into this category, I think, in addition to being an awesome prop
  • red herrings, false trails/false alarms, and misinterpretations:  player agency means that they'll get distracted by the fake ghost's tricks rather than unmasking the fake ghost, sometimes; this is possible through their own misinterpretations, as well as through being distracted by false trails/fake news clues intentionally created by NPCs---I'm thinking of  Urgaan of Angarngi's map from Leiber's "Jewels in the Forest" here, or Eclavdra's false trail luring the classic GDQ players to assault Lolth as the root of all of their woes.
  • independent actors with their own agendas that drive their goals, priorities, relationships, etc.---this is the whole "putting it all in motion" to create verisimilitude
What other kinds of tools like these do we use to structure long-term campaign play?

In response to that original question, Anthony Huso offered several comments, and suggested a pair of additions to my list above:
  • an actual calendar with slow-moving but time-critical plot points
  • real consequences to player choices
and to which I replied:
Great points, Anthony!  I definitely use the Greyhawk calendar---my favorite version is the one created by Clay Luther, since it's a great tracking calendar---and I find that Greyhawk's alternative dating systems (along with my own in Mendenein) are very useful in-game to help ground the players (and their PCs) in Greyhawk's history.

I finished reading _The Starless Sea_ last night, which got me thinking further about the pacing of stories and their endings, and about their differences in application to campaigns and to games vs. to literature.  Foreshadowing is a literary technique, and not all literary tropes and techniques will be as applicably useful in an RPG.  In addition, stories have endings, but RPG campaigns don't necessarily have endings (although they do have a natural rising/falling pacing of action in play).  So what techniques and tropes (and other tools) exist uniquely in RPG campaigns that aren't literary in nature, and how do they impact the structure of campaign play?
That's an open question that I don't have a definite answer to, but here are a few mulled thoughts.

There's a lot of overlap in literary and cinematic techniques with RPGs, but I think that's in part due to the still-nascent nature of RPGs as a form of play, art, and creative expression: we know drama, literature, and movies since they've been around longer, so we naturally incorporate the terminology, structures, and tools from those genres into RPGs; Justin Alexander has written several sets of posts on his blog The Alexandrian about dramatic and cinematic structures in RPGs, for example. But RPGs are distinct from these forms, on several key fronts:

  • RPGs are creative ensembles, not performing ensembles (Critical Role, et al, aside): the players and the DM build the campaign together, one encounter, one adventure at a time, and it is through their interplay that the campaign flourishes
  • the DM is not the author: this follows logically from the previous point, but it's worth being explicit about it, I think; the DM doesn't own the story of the campaign---the DM is more like the director of an orchestra, since without the other players' PC activities as participation in the game, the DM's actions are silently meaningless (the DM's behind-the-scenes design work is far from meaningless, but you get my point still, I hope; note to self: ponder the DM as architect vs. director)
  • RPGs are games, so their primary motivation is to entertain and to have fun, and that "fun" piece colors the RPG genre distinctly from drama, literature, and movies---which set out to entertain, but are not in and of themselves expected to "be fun" in the way that games are
  • As long-term games, RPGs are expected to have "replay value"---that secret sauce which keeps players returning to the table week after week, year after year, to explore the game that they're building together. One-shots, asides, and classic reruns (playing modules from our youth?) are certainly part of the pacing model of the campaign, but without that continuous draw to re-engage, a campaign will probably stagnate (this is probably one of the best reasons to have a stable of recurring villains as an organization vs. single-figures---if the PCs are pitted against The Cult of Vecna, even when they take out the EHP at some point, there are still other foes standing who need to be dealt with)
  • RPGs are games with systems, so random events can and do significantly impact the play of the game and the outcomes of actions in the campaign, within the scope of the systems used. When the key villain rolls a 1 on a saving throw and is charmed, or disintegrated, or plane shifted away to the Seven Heavens---or whatever!---that's probably not a result that the players (and their PCs) or the DM (and the NPCs, monsters, etc.) have necessarily prepared for. So the nature of random results inject random outcomes into gameplay which the players and the DM have to run with, respond to, and manage as complication during each and every session.

The flow and pace of these many random events play out in retrospect as the sense-making stories that we tell ourselves to summarize the encounters, interactions, combats, and explorations of adventures in the context of the campaign, but that's still a literary layer thrown over and summarizing the action of the gameplay. 

What more falls into this bucket?

Please share your thoughts, analyses, speculations, ideas, and inspirations in the comments!


P.S.  There's also something in the zone here worth considering on processes vs. outcomes. See https://seths.blog/2019/11/the-process-vs-the-outcome/ for a kick-off point, but an RPG needs to be fun in the process of playing it, which will reinforce the longer-term replay value ideas above. Milestones and outcomes are important too, in particular for longer-term campaign play; not just the in-the-moment process of playing. So this starts to get into sub-processes building into processes into workflows of processes into complex systems of processes*---which is why system selection is an important factor in campaign viability: if the system for your game is designed to product disposable one-year-long campaigns, as the 3.x and later editions of D&D are, then you shouldn't be surprised that the game design doesn't scale to support epic-level play over three or more years.


*I'm also not jumping down the rabbit hole of Rob Kuntz's "open forms" book concept yet, but that is a quite possibly an ending point for this analysis, I suppose.