26 July 2020

Virtual Greyhawk Con: 2-4 October 2020

In case folks haven't heard about this virtual convention for Greyhawk fans yet, here's some info/details:
    I hope everyone is staying safe during these times! It is good to see things starting to open up once again!

    To continue with the online gaming momentum, I am organizing a brand new convention: Virtual Greyhawk Con 2020! This is a "Fan Content", not for profit convention, that will take place the first weekend of October, 2nd-4th.

    I have commitments from NINE of my Twitch Community Live Streamers, over two continents, to provide World of Greyhawk content for those wishing to experience some of the best ever made Campaign Setting for D&D. Also we will have fantastic seminars from the likes of the great Anna Meyer, and main Sponsorship from Troll Lord Games.

    For continuing information, please go to the following: https://tabletop.events/conventions/virtual-greyhawk-con-2020

    Our Virtual Greyhawk Con 2020 Discord Server is setup at: https://discord.gg/yHyG75

    More information during Twitch Live Streams: https://www.twitch.tv/lordgosumba

Events that are already registered can be searched at https://tabletop.events/conventions/virtual-greyhawk-con-2020/schedule#?query=

VGHC Key Dates
Registration and Event Submission............July 1st, 2020
Event Registration............August 1st, 2020
Last Day Event Submission............September 28th, 2020
Virtual Greyhawk Con............October 2nd to the 4th, 2020

I submitted events this evening, and will playtest a previously-unexplored section of my Iounic Caverns level in my version of Castle Greyhawk (on Friday and Sunday afternoons), and will submit another TBD iconic Greyhawk event for Saturday.  I'll also participate in the wrap up seminar on Sunday night.

Here are details on my events, for those curious:

I also will be playing in Carlos Lising's Reflections from a Smoking Mirror on Friday night.

More convention information is available at https://tabletop.events/conventions/virtual-greyhawk-con-2020


02 July 2020

Jim Holloway - RPG Artist

Jim Holloway passed away on Sunday, 28 June 2020, per the note posted by his son Mike Holloway in The Art of Jim Holloway group on Facebook:

I feel like it’s necessary to post this because of all of the support everyone has given my dad over the course of this group. Earlier today, he passed away peacefully. My brother, uncle and I were there for him, holding his hand and telling him we loved him. To everyone who reached out or commented on my post about him being sick, thank you so much. It means a lot to us, and it meant a lot to him. Afterwards, I went to his house and looked at all of his old paintings. I wanted to share this one from the ‘70s with you all — a scene from The Hobbit, a book my dad forced me to read as a kid (I’m not complainin!) it’s a picture of the painting, not a scan, so I apologize for the unlit sections. But if everyone could please continue to share his art in this group and wherever else, my family would really appreciate you helping us keep his memory alive. He was a talented man, and I love seeing the stuff everyone shares.

Jim contributed to many RPG publications over the years, and I had the pleasure of working with him on a few different projects.  Jim was always easy to work with and kind---a true professional who managed changes as requested and always delivered his work on time.  I wish I'd have had the opportunity to work with him more.  

I pulled a few of his pieces from those books, as well as some other personal favorites in the sampling below.  In all of the captions I've described each work---they're not "official" titles in any way, either from Jim himself or from the respective publishers. 

This is one of the full-page chapter pieces to the Black Blade/Usherwood Adventures edition of OSRIC, the AD&D 1e retroclone.  It's the header for Chapter 6 Monsters, and depicts a wonderful (if brutal!) coup de grâce:

Dwarven Coup De Grâce - OSRIC -
Art by Jim Jolloway

Jim also provided the covers and most of the interior artwork for Rob Kuntz' first two modules from Pied Piper Publishing, Cairn of the Skeleton King and Tower of Blood.  When we republished the two adventures with Black Blade, we were able to bring the two Tower of Blood pieces of color art together for the front and back covers.  Here's Tower of Blood: 

Tower of Blood front and back covers -
Art by Jim Holloway

Jim mentioned in email that he was planning to revise or update the Tower of Blood artwork to suit his own preferences, and as I consider these some of the best pieces of his work, I'd love to see those someday.

Two pieces from facing pages in the ICE/North Pole Productions RM2 The Shade of the Sinking Plain (1983):


The Shade -
Art by Jim Holloway

Orc Horde -
Art by Jim Holloway

Jim contributed many covers to Dragon Magazine over the years, but Dragon Magazine #74 (June 1983) remains one of my favorites, and is an excellent issue in its content, too!

Dragon Magazine #74 - June 1983 -
Art by Jim Holloway

In closing, Jim's artwork for TSR's 1982 S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth are one of the many highlights to that classic adventure!   In addition to his interior art, JIm provided the title page artwork, as well as the back cover art:

Demonic Conjuration -
Art by Jim Holloway

Derro Ambush -
Art by Jim Holloway

Stone Giant Downfall -
Art by Jim Holloway

S4 Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth back cover -
Art by Jim Holloway

Rest in peace Jim, and thank you for making RPGs more fun, more engaging, and bringing out the humanity in our fantasies through your works!


15 June 2020

grodog's Favorite Mega-Dungeons

Some info about my favorite mega-dungeons, from the classics to the newest, hot-off-the-presses OSR titles (well, "new" as of today, 15 June 2020 anyway....). 

This post was inspired by some discussions over on the Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea forum, as well as a similar thread over on TheRPGSite.   The questions raised in those boards were:
  • Which mega-dungeons do you like, and why? 
  • Which mega-dungeons have you used in play?

The Quilt Map -
Map by Tony "Wheggi" Rosten

grodog's Thoughts on Well-Designed Mega-Dungeons -- The Stuff that Matters at the Table

I think that for me what I like about a mega-dungeon really varies, based on who I've been playing with (or sometimes, working with).  I've really enjoyed nearly all of the mega-dungeons that I've played in or run, but I've also generally had the wonderful pleasure of excellent DMs and players, which makes all the difference in the world in terms of the game experience at the table.

Thinking through the mega-dungeons I'm familiar with, the stand out qualities that I love to play through, and the mega-dungeons that bring that to the table are:

  • Best Environments to Explore and Map:  Castle El Raja Key, Maure Castle, Caverns of Thracia, Foolsgrave
  • Most-Fun Encounters:  Castle Greyhawk, Foolsgrave, Rich Franks' mega-dungeon
  • Most-Fun Puzzles, Enigmas, and Centerpiece Encounters:  Castle Greyhawk, Maure Castle, WG5, ASE1/2-3, Undermountain
  • Coolest MapsArden Vul, Castle of the Mad Archmage, Foolsgrave, The Quilt Map, Undermountain, Vladikavkaz 
  • Best Presentation in Print:  None*
  • Pulls It All Together:  Caverns of Thracia, Foolsgrave, Maure Castle, Tomb of Abysthor

* In terms of best-published format/presentation for a mega-dungeon, I don't think that we've seen any stand-out products deliver on the goods on that yet.  Necromancer Games build out a good standard template for dungeon levels between Rappan Athuk and Tomb of Abysthor, and The Grand Temple of Jing attempted to design a new layout format for the mega-dungeon (similar to what Ptolus attempted for the massive-city sourcebook), but neither product quite achieved their overall goal on those fronts, due to other, over-shadowing issues with the products (horrible maps in RA the first go-round, while the KS version of GToJ didn't really pursue the usability goals of the first version of the dungeon).  

A well-built layout focused on at-the-table usability, married to a brilliant  book design could really distinguish a future mega-dungeon product, and potentially allow it to leapfrog into the top of the list....


Castle Zagyg - Mouths of Madness and The Storerooms
Dungeon Level - Cartography by Jeff Talanian

Mega-Dungeons grodog has Played

  • Castle El Raja Key - written and DM'd by Rob Kuntz (pre-published version)
  • Caverns of Thracia - written by Jennell Jaquays, DM'd by Jon Hershberger
  • Dark Tower - written by Jennell Jaquays, DM'd by Jon Hershberger
  • Foolsgrave - written and DM'd by Chainsaw (pre-published version)
  • Jakallan Underworld - written by Phil Barker, DM'd by Victor Raymond (pre-published version)
  • Thieves Fortress Badabaskor - written by Bob Bledsaw & Mark Summerlott, DM'd by Jon Hershberger

Mega-Dungeons grodog has Run

  • Castle Greyhawk - grodog's version/The Lair of Thelmon Onvalth - my own version of Castle Greyhawk (pre-published version)
  • Castle Greyhawk - EGG and RJK - Bottle City, EX1-2, WG6, etc., etc.
  • Castle El Raja Key/Maure Castle - RJK - WG5, The Statuary, Chambers of Antiquities, Warlock's Walk (co-DM'd with Rob Kuntz at GenCon 2007)
  • Mythrus Tower - Matt Finch
  • Temple of Elemental Evil - Gary Gygax with Frank Mentzer
  • Tomb of Abysthor - Clark Peterson and Bill Webb 
  • Undermountain - Ed Greenwood - Box set 1, Dragon articles

Bottle City level of Castle Greyhawk -
map by Rob Kuntz

Mega-dungeons grodog has Helped to Design, Develop, Edit, and/or Publish

  • Castle Greyhawk - grodog's version/The Lair of Thelmon Onvalth - my own version of Castle Greyhawk, including my version of The Black Reservoir (based on EGG story vs. RJK level) and The Quilt Map (based on Tony Rosten's map)
  • Castle Greyhawk - RJK - Bottle City (editing, development)
  • Castle of the Mad Archmage - Joe Bloch (editing/development work abandoned when Black Blade contract expired and Joe pursued publication on his own)
  • Maure Castle - Warlock's Walk - RJK (editing)
  • The Twisting Stair centerfold mega-dungeon - Tony Rosten and Allan Grohe
    (editing, development)

Oerth Journal # 23 -
dedicated to Maure Castle

Mega-Dungeons grodog has Read but Neither Run Nor Played

  • Anomalous Subsurface Environment - Patrick Wetmore - Levels 1 and 2-3
  • Arden Vul - Rick Barton (pre-published version)
  • Barrowmaze - Greg Gillespie (first versions from Kickstarter, prior to expansion in Barrowmaze Complete)
  • Castle Blackmoor - First Fantasy Campaign as well as the 3.x versions
  • Castle Greyhawk - Castle Zagyg, WG7, WGR1, Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk, etc., etc.
  • Castle Xyntillian - Gabor "Melan" Lux
  • The Darkness Beneath - many levels published in Fight On!
  • Dwimmermount - James Malizewski
  • The Grande Temple of Jing - Danny O'Neill & Diverse Hands
  • Mines of Khumar - Stefan Poag
  • Rappan Athuk - Clark Peterson & Bill Webb - R1-3, Rappan Athuk boxed set (original)
  • Ruins of Kwalishar - Tim Kask (pre-published version)
  • Stonehell - Michael Curtis - Vol 1: Down Night-Haunted Halls
  • Undermountain - Ed Greenwood & Diverse Hands - Box set 2, the Fireplace level (Dungeon Magazine), a smattering of modules too
  • Vladikavkaz - Keith Sloan (pre-published version)

Castle Xyntillan - by Gabor Lux,
Cover art by Peter Mullen

Mega-Dungeons grodog has Neither Read Nor Played

  • Arden Vul - Rick Barton (final/published version)
  • The Black City - from Dreams in the Lich House blog 
  • Castle Triskelion - from eponymous blog
  • DCC #51 Castle Whiterock - Goodman Games
  • Forbidden Caverns of Archaia - Greg Gillespie
  • Gunderholfen - G. Hawkins 
  • Highfell: The Drifting Dungeon - Greg Gillespie
  • Mike's Dungeons - Geoffrey McKinney
  • Numenhalla - published serially in Megadungeon magazine
  • Stonehell Vol 2: Into the Heart of Hell - Michael Curtis
  • The World's Largest Dungeon - AEG

If you know of other mega-dungeons that I should check-out that don't appear in the lists, do please chime in! :D


28 May 2020

Planar Architecture for grodog's Current Greyhawk Campaigns

Part of what I'm working toward, by defining and incorporating the forgotten Folio forest into my current Greyhawk campaigns, is to play a more gates-oriented game.  This is one of several campaign concepts on my DMing bucket list, and in this case they appear excerpted here as a cluster of related ideas:
Games/campaigns I'd most like to run, in rough order of my desire:
  • gates-driven AD&D campaign starting out at fresh at low level (1st-3rd-ish), where gates are sufficiently common that they drive the entire campaign:  economy, weather, culture, travel, etc. (think The Primal Order meets Stargate meets World of Tiers meets Moorcock's multiverse meets Greyhawk)
  • AD&D "Treasure of the Dragon Queen"; I'll have to write it first, of course:  http://www.greyhawkonline.com/grodog/gh_tourneys_dragon_queen.html
  • AD&D Greyhawk drowic adaptation of MERP 1e Courts of Ardor campaign (could be played as an evil campaign by drowic PCs or traditional good-ish PCs; could merge with previous gates-driven entry)
  • AD&D Abyssal campaign (PCs are a new generation of demons, vying for power amidst the chaos; could combine with gates or drowic ones above); I've slowly been building the framework for an AD&D game where the PCs run demons and explore the mythic geography of the multiverse

In order to play a gates-oriented game, I need to design elements that specifically introduce gates and related magics into the game.  Some of that is easier, some harder.  We'll see how it goes as the games continue, but here's the framework that I've been working up for Oerth's immediate multiversal neighborhood.  I wrote the bulk of this post in response to some discussion in the Greyhawk sub-reddit, in which the user u/P4TR10T_96 asked A Question About the Planes:

Are [the planes] connected to all prime material planes, with the exception of worlds that are explicitly stated to be separated from the rest (Eberron for example)?

but I'd drafted the bulk of the content below in my design journal back on New Year's Day:
This is in your purview to define as the DM. There's not a lot of explicit guidelines on defining your own multiverse(s), but I do list a bunch of resources you can dig into in my two gates/planar articles from Knockspell Magazine:
Greenwood's seminal article "Theory and Use of Gates" and the bibliography at the end of part 1 should both be particularly useful for your purposes, I think.

In my current Greyhawk campaigns, I'm boosting the gates/planar aspect of play through a few different methods:
  1. I'm leveraging alternate Prime Material Planes to Oerth, in a Norse-like model with some known/planarly "nearby" worlds as "sister worlds." *
  2. Adding more gates, magical pools, free-standing portals, and such into the mix early in the campaign, so that the PCs grow in power with these as baseline "givens" in the game world/setting and in their campaign adventures. NPCs dwarves will be encountered that are from "Nidavellier" for example (or whatever name I settle on for that place).
  3. Adding some more spells (see my 2nd KS article above) into the mix, along with some planar-related magic items that will make planar-related "stuff" more accessible for the PCs
* The list of sister worlds is not fully-baked yet, but will likely end up looking something like this:
  1. Oerth/Greyhawk - home plane for the current batch of PCs
  2. Mendenein - my homebrew campaign that is interleaved with Greyhawk and is its "closest" sister world: many permanent portals exist between the two planes, including some that are always open and allow cross-planar trade, for example; if you're curious, you can see some of my maps in on Dragonsfoot at https://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?p=2025364#p2025364
  3. Hyperborea - the plane for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, from my friend Jeff Talanian's publishing company Northwind Adventures: https://www.hyperborea.tv/store/c1/Featured_Products.html
  4. "Jotunheim" - in some form or other: the homeland of giants, which will likely have multiple layers/sub-planes associated with it (Muspelheim, for example)
  5. "Faerie" - in some form or other - the homeland of elves and fey; probably won't be an alternate Prime, but more like the Shadow Plane or Ethereal, in that it's accessible from many Primes (via regio-like zones from Ars Magica/Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood)
  6. "Nidavellier" - in some form or other: the homeland for dwarves; connects to Oerth in the Underdark
  7. Arabian Nights desert plane: more Dune, The Eight, Rodney Matthews, Thieves World and Tattooine than Dark Sun or Al-Qadim
  8. Archipelagos and Islands watery plane: Blue Planet meets the Greek Aegean; a likely homeworld for the Oeridians, perhaps
  9. Other: various other settings will be linked and in the mix, but not as "close" and therefore not as easily accessible as these planes. The other settings will include Avremier (from Mothshade Concepts), Helveczia (from u/GaborLux), Averoigne (from CAS, and perhaps other of his worlds like Zothique), the Old World (from 1e Warhammer FRPG), perhaps the Known World (from B/X), and the usual smorgasbord from fiction (Moorock, Leiber, REH, etc.)

In addition to what I'd posted in the reddit, there are some other planar decisions that I'm still working through, too:

  • The Rhenne home plane of Rhôp will be in the mix as well many of Greyhawk's famous and infamous demi-planes and Fading Lands.  I don't plan to place Rhôp planarly "close" to Oerth, and am pondering that it may have been destroyed (or presumed destroyed, with the Rhenee always holding out hope that it survives still---a way to reverse-exploit their chicanery against them, perhaps:  Rhôp being the one thing you can reliably gull the Rhenne with), making the Rhenee into planar refugees/expats of a sort.  I sort of envision them having fled a planar rift, so portions of Rhôp may survive as fragments in the Ethereal, Astral, Shadow/etc. planes....
  • I've sketched out a simple planar relationship diagram over Memorial Day weekend:

    Oerth and Mendenein Prime-Planar Environs diagram by grodog
    Oerth and Mendenein Prime-Planar Environs

    I'm not sure that it really reflects the planar relationships that I want I to define yet, and since I'm still thinking of a Tree of Life structure for the planes too, that may necessitate bumping one or more up to the level of "primary Primes" perhaps.
  • I have another similar diagram and/or notes that take the planar concepts from Dragon #73 and leverage 2d4 joined into a pointier six-sider as the basis for that planar structure (no doubt inspired by Steve Marsh's d4 structure proposed in Dragon #73), but haven't refound them yet.  That's more important for the Inner vs. Prime planes, so not super-necessary, yet.

More to come as it percolates into play! :D


25 May 2020

grodog's Mega-Dungeon Maps - Revising and Expanding the First Two Dungeon Levels of My Castle Greyhawk

In one of my two concurrent Greyhawk campaigns, the players are exploring the dungeons beneath Castle Greyhawk, which has been pushing me to revise and expand the first two levels of that infamous death trap.  The inventory work for all of my newly-designed levels from the past 15 years began a few years ago now, and continues as play evolves the environs.

*** Saturday and Sunday campaign spoilers ***


*** Saturday and Sunday campaign spoilers *** ***

*** Saturday and Sunday campaign spoilers ***

*** Saturday and Sunday campaign spoilers ***

*** Saturday and Sunday campaign spoilers ***


Level 1

My first and second levels were originally drawn in the early- to mid-1980s.  I was never deeply satisfied with the second level, so I began to redesign it significantly in 2017 as my sons began to explore beyond the first level.

grodog Castle Greyhawk map - level 1 left
grodog Castle Greyhawk map -
level 1 left
grodog Castle Greyhawk map - level 1 right
grodog Castle Greyhawk map -
level 1 right

I still rather like the design of the first level, but decided that I needed a bit more "breathing room" while running the current crew of players in it, and began to expand it earlier this month.  The original map was designed on 4 spi graph paper, and I began to worry that the players would soon exhaust its exploration potential, and that they may need a bit more breadth to pick-and-choose their level of challenge across the encounters among its inhabitants.  Unlike my revisions to the second level, I preserved most of the first level as-is, and simply extended its expanse, primarily to the south and a little to the west too.  

The original design for the first level spans ~660 feet (4 spi = 33 squares on each of 2 sheets @ 10' per square) by ~840 feet (4 spi = 42 squares on each of 2 sheets @ 10' per square), with a total area of ~554,400 square feet.   

The new level is drawn on Black Blade Publishing 11x17 6 spi graph paper, which significantly increases its size to ~1320 feet (6 spi = 66 squares on each of 2 sheets @ 10' per square) by ~1020 feet (6 spi = 102 squares on 1 sheet @ 10' per square), with a total area of 1.34 million square feet.  So it's more than twice the area of the original design, which should help with providing more exploration options for the players.  I hope!

My old 11x17 scanner is still on the fritz, so these are pictures taken with my cell phone:

grodog's Castle Greyhawk map -
level 1 - revised and expanded

As you can see, the original first level ends about 1/4 of the way into the bottom half of the new design. 

Level 2

grodog Castle Greyhawk map - level 2 left
grodog Castle Greyhawk map -
level 2 left
grodog Castle Greyhawk map - level 2 center
grodog Castle Greyhawk map -
level 2 center
grodog Castle Greyhawk map - level 2 right
grodog Castle Greyhawk map -
level 2 right

The second level shows remnants of old changes---particularly around the entry location in the top center, and in its level name as "The Lair of Thelmon Onvalth"---as I wrestled with whether to step away from Castle Greyhawk and all its lore, canon, and known history.  Hard to believe, eh? :D 

grodog's Castle Greyhawk map - level 2 - revised and expanded
grodog's Castle Greyhawk map -
level 2 - revised and expanded

The second level maps were expanded, and significantly revised to create a tighter adventuring environ.  Unlike the first level, while I did preserve aspects of the original second level design, I mostly took inspiration from the old level, cherry picked some specific elements I wanted to keep, and then began a wholesale revision.   

The new design replaces and builds out further from my old 6-sheet map for level two (on 4 spi paper). The old level included 193 rooms and the level was 1300 feet across at its greatest length.  The new 4-sheet level (with two added half-sheets, so I suppose it's really a 5-sheet level!) is built using Black Blade Publishing 11x17 6 spi graph paper.  I haven't tried to count rooms or to fully measure the level yet, since it's not completely designed, but the sheets' width will accommodate a level 2040 feet wide, or so.

Good Enough To Play

Neither level's design is complete.  The first level is prett close, probably about 85-90% or so, while the second level is more like 65-70% or so.  

However, both are good enough to DM with as-is, along with the expanded keys (which I'll touch on in my next update).  I'll plan the next design work in response to the players' explorations, since they may-well decide to delve into a sub-level, bypass the second level for a deeper one, jump outside the Castle to follow a treasure map, or whatever.  

You just never know where they'll take the game, which helps to keep me on my toes! :D


P.S.:  Feel free to explore previous entries in my "Mega-Dungeon Mondays" series if you enjoyed this one.

29 April 2020

Foodling: DungeonMorph Dice Geomorphs --> Castle Greyhawk Sub-Level

Last night, I created a new sub-level for my version of Castle Greyhawk, using the DungeonMorph dice from Inkwell Ideas.  I was a backer of their original Kickstarter in 2011, and remain quite fond of their geos dice, and of dungeon geomorphs in general!

Here's the original geomorphs dice used for inspiration:

DungeonMorph Dice -
level arrangement by grodog

And here's the level as I rendered it:

Convection Sub-Level in Castle Greyhawk-
draft map by grodog

You'll note that I largely ignored the caverns in the eastern half of the dice image, save for general sizing and some shape inspiration.
If you're curious, full-sized versions of the images are at:
Enjoy, and stay safe amidst the covid-chaos!