As I've mentioned before, my D&D campaign runs mostly on autopilot since last summer or so - I've other creative things to work with, so I can't put too much effort into this with good conscience. Fortunately the method seems robust and the adventure content is provided in the form of a never-ending march of adventure modules, so all is well in the world.
What I have to do periodically, though, is prepping and hooking some of that content into the setting. Mostly this isn't a lot of work, I just read some modules and start dropping more or less overt hints about them for the players. 1-10 session later the players go for the hook, or not; some things like the Courtyard of Gerald the Red
haven't hooked the players to investigate, which isn't a problem - they're just backstock I can take out later on, when the situation changes.
Now, you should know that I am completely insane in terms of the extent of the material. There simply can't be too much stuff in the campaign world for the players to choose from when they navigate the sandbox. We have two megadungeons under more or less active consideration (Darkness Beneath
and Dyson's Delve
), for example, despite the fact that a campaign would pretty much by definition get by with one. I've been looking into adding the Castle of the Mad Archmage
into the setting to further the madness. The Castle is Joseph Bloch's minimalist old school interpretation of the famous Castle Greyhawk, and I like it for its terseness, insane scope and the metatextual relationship it has to to the history of D&D. I'm planning to use the Mad Demigod's Castle
as the missing first floor of the place, so that part's well in hand.
However, here's where I could use some ideas, inspiration, principles, theory and other general discussion:
- If some good soul desires to write shortly about what Castle Greyhawk is, why it's interesting and what prior material exists on the topic, I'd be grateful. Basically, what is well known and appealing about the place even without any newly creative work. I have a relatively good handle on the topic (I know about the two TSR publications on the matter and have skimmed them, I know about the unfinished Castle Zagyg series, etc.), but many others don't, so I'm thinking that somebody should go over the basics for my second point to carry fruit. I would do this myself to contextualize my problem, except I'm leaving for our game session in half an hour. Also, if somebody has direct experience with some of these products and I absolutely need to use some of them for this, let me know.
- My actual quest here is to sketch out a basic idea of what the immediate environs of the Castle itself are like: the Mad Archmage material does not deal with what is above the ground-level nor with the wilderness, and the TSR products I skimmed don't seem credible to me. This credibility problem is largely because I reject the D&D setting aesthetics out of hand: underground anything goes, but I don't want to have e.g. an adventurer's pub run by demiogres in the castle ruins, or a dwarven taxation station, or stuff like that.
I'm thinking that I don't need dungeon-level detail on the ruins aboveground, but my gut feel for this material is that the ruins of the Castle should have some local impact, and some small adventurous interest by themselves. I could do what I've done with many similar dungeons and just say that the ruins are a disinteresting pile of rocks and the only important bit is the entrance underground, but it seems that I could do a little something more with a place that's supposed to be a huge castle crafted by an enormously powerful and long-lived wizard. The dramatic conceit of the whole dungeon is that it is the creation of an ill mind; my method of GMing would like to reinforce this and enable the players to appreciate the concept by having some stuff and hints above ground. Some of the vague things I've been considering:
- Some source made mention that elves have been "guarding the castle", presumably because it is somehow important. I like this - my elves are distant faerie beings, they do indeed have inhuman and unexplainable motivations. So perhaps there are elves in the environs, a camp or something. They could make demands or ask for help or just ominously ignore any adventurers.
- The dungeon features goblins, as do most upper levels of D&D dungeons. My conceit in this regard is that goblins are primitive human tribesmen, and they come to the dungeons from the above wilderness, not from below as the case might be. So I also know that there's goblin habitation in the ruins. There's no need for a genocidal war between the aforementioned elves and goblins, note. The goblins might or might not have a good feel for adventurers - definitely parley is an option, the ideal solution would be to convince the goblins to allow the characters to have a base camp with them.
- I'm thinking that it might be interesting if a part of the ruins has been well-preserved enough to feature a partially ruined library. This would enable me to seed the players with all sorts of vague historical data and misinformation on the Mad Archmage, his life and deeds and thinking. Perhaps a bit about his dungeon as well. Bonus points if I manage to set this up so it involves a well-hidden secret portion that is not mostly ruined and illegible, and if the library is somehow difficult to access and move, so that the players need to face something mildly challenging to access it later on, whenever they decide that they need more lore to get anywhere.
- I have a vague notion about the social position of the Castle in the setting: in Greyhawk the Castle is this famous dungeon where adventurers as an occupational class converge to brave its depths. This doesn't match my setting aesthetics, so I'm thinking instead that the Castle is an ominous and forlorn place better left alone, except that questing "knights" (adventurers, that is) sometimes tend to get "Grail visions" that encourage them to journey to the distant wilderness where the Castle resides. What exactly are they seeking I don't know yet, but that might be the general background for how the rest of the world aside from the player characters sees the place. Distant, perilous, tragic - except sometimes a questing knight returns alive.
So that's pretty much it, I'll have to get going for now. Does anybody have suitable overground castle ruins that are mostly but not quite empty, for instance? Or ideas for what, exactly, is going on above the massive dungeon complex? I'll take entertaining rumours, NPCs, possible rooms or basic layout plans, whatever.
A bonus question, if somebody happens to be intimate with the Castle of the Mad Archmage: are there surface entrances in the dungeons aside from whatever is on the 1st floor? This is totally something that could be ascertained by reading through the material, but that's too much work at this stage, when I don't know if the players are ever going to go there, or how deep they would delve. Ideally the text would set its own requirements for how the wilderness over the dungeons looks like, but I don't think it does; I fear that I'll be totally blindsided by it when ten sessions into the thing I notice a room that says that it connects to the surface, and then I need to retroactively add that connection. (Of course that's not a big problem, but I would prefer to have the secret alternate entrances available from the start in case players decide to explore the dungeon environs in more detail.)
(The above is an issue with Dyson's Delve as well, it doesn't warn at the start that there'll be a second entrance at level seven or whatever. Fortunately another GM who's running the material warned me about it well in advance, so I've been able to set it up well - won't seem artificial when the players finally discover it.)