Help me adapt Castle Greyhawk/Zagyg for my D&D campaign

edited February 2012 in Game Design Help
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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.)

Comments

  • Well the part of Zagyg story that always made me want to explore his castle is that Zagyg managed to capture and bind a handful of demigods within the dungeons of that castle. Just to be in the place where such a thing happened would get many people to quest down there separate from the hopes of finding out how to perform the feat or some remnant of the gods that might remain there.

    As for the impact of the above ground ruins, might I suggest repurposing some content from the Wizard's Guild in Greyhawk. In one of the boxed sets, they spoke of Zagyg's time as head of the guild and in particular a position called the Master of Ceremonies. He was tasked with making sure that all sorts of bizarre rituals were adhered to, such as making sure everyone was wearing their pixie hat and eating a boiled egg at noon on St. Swithin's day, that had been ordered during the Mad Archmage's tenure. Because Zagyg was known for tying his magics to such chaotic things, the current faculty does not dare to not observe these things in case some unknown enchantment fails by not observing them.

    So this enables two things. One, for lack of ritual an enchantment wears off in the Castle and you have free rein to have something weird occur in the surrounding area. No doubt there are many stories of what has happened if are in the area of the Castle during a new moon or other astronomical time. Second, you could have a scholarly cult in the wilderness around the castle, performing what rituals they have been able to piece together from scraps in the ruins and dungeons and elsewhere, convinced they are holding back the forces of chaos with there somewhat bizarre actions. Perhaps an encounter with one of these seekers in the wider world could encounter your group as he seeks more information on the Mad Archmage.
  • Eero, I'm not familiar with this module, so I can't help you too much directly, but whenever you get back to this thread, I do have a question for you.
    Posted By: Eero TuovinenThis 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 looking through the module a bit, and the stuff in there is... well, VERY D&D, complete with total silly stuff (like the notes on the Greyhawk Construction Company, which has orc workers who stop when the bell rings and eat sandwiches out of their lunchboxes).

    How much or how little adaptation do you carry out on these modules to make them fit into the aesthetic of your overall campaign? It has a very different feel, after all, and it seems to me that many of the details of these dungeons wouldn't be a great fit for your aesthetic. Or is it really "anything goes", down to the very last word, for these dungeons?

    I ask particularly because of how you've said you adjust the "goblins" to be primitive tribal humans. How much of this sort of adjustment do you use when running these modules?

    If you do quite a bit of it, I'd love to hear *how* you do it. I get the impression from your post that you do NOT read the modules in their entirety before playing, so such adjustments would have to be made on the fly. That sounds like quite a challenge!
  • edited February 2012
    I ran CotMA at FalCon as a two-party simultaneous competitive delve using LotFP:WFRPG, and again at AnonyCon using the DCC RPG playtest rules. I think that sentence needs more acronyms, YMMV.

    In both cases I used Zagyg as the upper levels; either via email or elsewhere publicly, Joseph has said this is explicitly meant to be the Upper Works. I still found it to be very hard to figure out where inter-level connections ran (this is something I'd love to see improved in the upcoming Black Blade release) but it worked great to just be like "I declare that this takes you there."

    Depending on how much research you want to do, the city of Yggsburgh was published as part of the environs of the Castle, and I have a line on some unpublished manuscripts that also fill in the region around the dungeon. I think it's certainly worth putting a city quite near the Castle; for me, the most evocative part of the legend is that the great City of Greyhawk began as a boom town exploiting the gushers of gold that adventurers tapped when its dungeons were last open for exploration. Meta-textually, you can see all of the canonical World of Greyhawk as having poured forth from this fount of exploration and looting.
  • edited February 2012
    First, thanks to Tavis for pointing this thread out to me. I'm the author of CotMA.

    He's exactly right when he says that Castle of the Mad Archmage can be used as a continuation of Troll Lord Games' Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works. The connections will line up properly if you look hard enough (unfortunately due to copyright reasons, I am unable to include those in the module itself. Unfortunately, CZ:UW is now out of print and very difficult to find. I should point out that the module is going to be published by Black Blade Publishing later this year, and that edition will have my own version of the upper ruins and level 1.

    In the meantime, I can suggest just having the above-ground ruins just be a pile of uninteresting masonry with several rubble-choked staircases leading into the earth. In the original campaign, Gary Gygax related that the players never really did much of anything in the ruins themselves; all the action was underground. You can simply have your own action start on level 2. (You do realize there are both a dwarven and an elven "taxation station" there, right?)

    In regards to your first question, I'm not really sure what you're looking for. In-game background, or out of game historical background? For the latter, the broad background given in Greyhawk Ruins should suffice if you omit the last paragraph about the three towers, when mixed with the background in Castle of the Mad Archmage itself.

    Hope that helps.
  • Oh, and there are indeed entrances from the surface to lower levels of the dungeon. If you look at the maps, on some levels you'll see passages that lead off the edge. That's your cue that there's a special entrance from outside leading straight to a lower level (from a well, under a pool of quicksand, etc.).

    Joe
  • Posted By: RichDWell the part of Zagyg story that always made me want to explore his castle is that Zagyg managed to capture and bind a handful of demigods within the dungeons of that castle. Just to be in the place where such a thing happened would get many people to quest down there separate from the hopes of finding out how to perform the feat or some remnant of the gods that might remain there.
    This is good. Perhaps Zagyg was involved in the great purge that apparently happened in our campaign setting as the Classical faiths were replaced by the fantasy-Christian monotheism. Sort of like a Solomon/Merlin, a man of the old faiths who used his power to put the old gods aside. Great stuff.
    Posted By: RichDSo this enables two things. One, for lack of ritual an enchantment wears off in the Castle and you have free rein to have something weird occur in the surrounding area. No doubt there are many stories of what has happened if are in the area of the Castle during a new moon or other astronomical time. Second, you could have a scholarly cult in the wilderness around the castle, performing what rituals they have been able to piece together from scraps in the ruins and dungeons and elsewhere, convinced they are holding back the forces of chaos with there somewhat bizarre actions. Perhaps an encounter with one of these seekers in the wider world could encounter your group as he seeks more information on the Mad Archmage.
    Good stuff, good stuff. I've got a Pythagorean cult (or what Pythagoreanism might have evolved into, anyway) already messing with things in some other dungeons, so they'd fit right in here. Maybe Zagyg is in fact Pythagoras, the man was known for his unparalleled control over his reincarnation. This could tie together quite a few strands in our campaign.

    In fact, I also have a small Pythagorean cult ruin that doesn't have a dungeon, now that I think about it. It might be too much of a stretch from the mad archmage concept, but perhaps I could cut that up and use it as fodder here. Have to think about that.

    -- Let me insert here after writing the rest of this post, Rich already wins this thread by my royal proclamation. I'm just composing this post in order of replies, so it gives the impression that I sort of skim over the good stuff. Not ignoring it, these things are going in there. Any other ideas?
    Posted By: Paul T.How much or how little adaptation do you carry out on these modules to make them fit into the aesthetic of your overall campaign? It has a very different feel, after all, and it seems to me that many of the details of these dungeons wouldn't be a great fit for your aesthetic. Or is it really "anything goes", down to the very last word, for these dungeons?
    I don't generally change anything about the challenge structures, I just recolor details. Sometimes this of course ends up changing the nature of the challenges: for example, the adventure designer might assume that parleying with goblins is much less likely to succeed than it is in my campaign, where goblins ultimately are just different humans. (Might be a bad example in that perhaps the majority of authors actually write goblins like they are just genetically inferior humans - I don't usually feel that I'm doing much violence to original intent in this.)

    Most of the time, though, my recoloring is about simply choosing between two things: will I play this given element according to intent (how the thing is depicted in standard D&D), or according to how the equivalent thing has been depicted in our campaign so far. For example, if a given dungeon ascribes orcs to some dungeon encounter, I have a choice to make: in our campaign orcs are mindless drone monsters, so will I play with these things, or will I substitute goblins, my go-to savage humanoids? If I absolutely need to have something that is both inhuman and intelligent, then it's either a faerie thing (elves, basically) or lizardman/snakeman sort of thing, at least so far - the campaign expands, so maybe there are other intelligent non-humans. I try to make the choice that makes the most sense in the overall context of the adventure: sometimes this means that I swap orcs for goblins, sometimes I swap goblins for orcs, so on.

    As for the Castle of the Mad Archmage, of course I'm going to have no trouble fitting that stuff in with the color scheme of my campaign: it's the castle of a mad archmage! I know that this is sort of funhouse material and not intended to be that serious, but my campaign is full of comedy as well (ironic for the most part, though - the setting and its inhabitants are serious, we just don't react to it seriously as players), and most importantly, going into this place is the choice of the players: if they choose to go to a place that is basically designed by the Joker in one of his "what if the Joker was a god?" appearances, of course they should expect that the place doesn't make sense by the usual standards of the campaign. Going into this place is even more of a step into an alternate world than your average dungeon.

    In this context things like the Greyhawk Construction Company are entirely in line. Of course it's mind-bogglingly weird from the character viewpoint, but the players won't mind, as they have an in-fiction explanation in the Mad Archmage. This might seem like a lazy "it's magic" answer, but it's not that in the context of this campaign: it's well established that magic is strange and magicians might well go insane, so I think that the players will take this in the spirit I lay it out: the whole place is a massive example of what magic does to the magician, and what the magician does to the magic. It is insane, but that's tragic, not just foolish, and I intend to play the implications and consequences entirely seriously. It all works fine because I don't force the players to go into it, they choose it themselves for as long as they wish to.

    The upper ruins, though, I think I'd like to keep pretty controlled tone-wise. Rich has a good idea with the old, decaying magic thing above: strange things might happen in the ruins now that the magics are no longer maintained, but for the most part the place should only start getting wacky down below, where the archmage's touch is still felt. (I read the Castle of the Mad Archmage material with the interpretation that the place gets constantly crazier the lower down you go, culminating in the extremely hypothetical situation where the party actually encounters the still-alive Mad Archmage on the lowest level. This is obviously a metaphor for descending into the mind of the Archmage.)
    Posted By: TavisI think it's certainly worth putting a city quite near the Castle; for me, the most evocative part of the legend is that the great City of Greyhawk began as a boom town exploiting the gushers of gold that adventurers tapped when its dungeons were last open for exploration. Meta-textually, you can see all of the canonical World of Greyhawk as having poured forth from this fount of exploration and looting.
    This is a strong argument. I was never a D&D kid, as I've explained elsewhere, but I did have the City of Greyhawk box for 2nd edition lying around for some reason; I remember that I was sort of compelled by the whitebread fantasy vision, especially where it hinted on political stuff about eg. the Shield Lands. It's certainly more palatable than your average 4th edition setting for me, to pick an arbitrary example. I'd definitely run all of this straight, city of Greyhawk and all, if I was doing an Oerth-based campaign. It's still easy to see how the whole setting revolves around the castle and city of Greyhawk.

    The current campaign is more grim and less fantastic, though, so I'm putting a bit of distance on the fantastic things as a matter of course. There is no standard magic, non-human beings are practically a myth for the people, "adventuring" as a profession doesn't exist outside the player characters. Totally standard low-fantasy in its own way, at least for a Finnish fantasy sensibility, and also very anti-D&D in ways. I make it work by relying on the methodology of D&D more than its specific rules assumptions.

    This being the case I'll need to put the Castle in some relatively distant place, somewhere where it can attain a bit of mystique among the people of the setting. Perhaps it'll be on some distant cape jutting out into the sea, 50 miles from the closest Christian habitation. Known, but only vaguely. Avalon-like - I seem to be riffing on this grail-quest thing here. There in the middle of wilderness, unseen by the civilized man, the Castle can be just as weird and wacky as it wants. The few survivors of expeditions therein can tell all the stories they want about what lies within, but the truth will only be verified by those who dare travel there. A place where the Castle gets to be a myth instead of part of the everyday economic activity of the local city-state.
  • edited February 2012
    Posted By: Greyhawk GrognardHe's exactly right when he says that Castle of the Mad Archmage can be used as a continuation of Troll Lord Games' Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works. The connections will line up properly if you look hard enough (unfortunately due to copyright reasons, I am unable to include those in the module itself. Unfortunately, CZ:UW is now out of print and very difficult to find. I should point out that the module is going to be published by Black Blade Publishing later this year, and that edition will have my own version of the upper ruins and level 1.
    Thank you for posting, Joseph! I remembered reading something like this at some point somewhere, but couldn't remember this when I started this thread! I've been considering this Castle thing since the campaign started, so I read about the history of the place last fall. Then I decided that because I couldn't have the entirely OOP Castle Zagyg stuff for the campaign, I would pass on the castle entirely, but now I'm evidently reconsidering. I'd go for Zagyg if it was easily available, but as it is I'll have to work out something else.

    (Also, I have to admit that the completionist and perfectionist urges make it difficult to "do" Greyhawk, the castle or the setting. It's difficult for me to tell myself to stop if I decide that I need to do the Upper Works canonically, because then I might as well do the wilderness environs canonically, and at that point I'm taking out the City of Greyhawk, too, and then the campaign might as well be set on Oerth. Totally doable, of course, but it's a different campaign. It's psychologically easier to limit myself to just your evocative, crazily expansive dungeon, with some arbitrary stuff of mine set on top.)
    Posted By: Greyhawk GrognardIn the meantime, I can suggest just having the above-ground ruins just be a pile of uninteresting masonry with several rubble-choked staircases leading into the earth. In the original campaign, Gary Gygax related that the players never really did much of anything in the ruins themselves; all the action was underground. You can simply have your own action start on level 2.
    Yeah, this is basically what I've done with the Dyson's Delve and Darkness Beneath megadungeons; both could have something interesting on top, but for the former I've just detailed some stonework remains, and for the latter I've skimmed in case I want to install something more elaborate and interesting later. Here I'm looking at doing something a slight bit more elaborate. I think this inclination on my part is because the dungeon itself is so massive, and the legend of the Mad Archmage should by reason have some impact on the setting. Rich's cult idea and the notion that elves recognize the place and its importance seem like a step in the right direction in this regard. It'd be too sad if the whole place was just a random hole in the ground insofar as the rest of the world is concerned.
    Posted By: Greyhawk Grognard(You do realize there is both a dwarven and an elven "taxation station" there, right?)
    Yes ;) As I explain above, I don't mind the strange underground - as far as I'm concerned, that's all on you if the players start asking questions. They leave my world when the sun stops shining on them, from then on it's all about the insanity of the particular module we're running. I'm more bothered by the commercial ties the standard Greyhawk castle tends to have with its environs, with people selling adventuring gear to the in-going adventurers and so on. As long as the taxation stations and whatnot remain underground, ruled by the whims of the mad archmage in his own little ecosystem, it's all fine with me. Even if it ends up with some ogres or whatnot acting out of character, the explanation is obviously in the archmage, who by his own admission micromanages certain facets of the dungeon in obsessive ways, and even restocks and reconstructs the place from time to time. If Zagyg wants orcs to play cards or wear construction helmets, they'll certainly do.

    Thinking about it, though, I might swap most of the dwarves in the dungeons for kobolds/gnomes (one and the same in this setting). If I had dwarves I would feel the need to explain where they come from, as dwarves in this setting have been established as pretty rare, and mostly living in powerful hidden kingdom(s). All in a day's work, I usually do these substitutions and other module fine-tuning on the run, as we play.
    Posted By: Greyhawk GrognardOh, and there are indeed entrances from the surface to lower levels of the dungeon. If you look at the maps, on some levels you'll see passages that lead off the edge. That's your cue that there's a special entrance from outside leading straight to a lower level (from a well, under a pool of quicksand, etc.).
    Ah, excellent. This'll save me a bunch of trouble in the long run. I know that I seem like a sloppy GM for wanting to run stuff without even reading it through carefully, but as I mentioned up top, the campaign is currently sort of on autopilot, relying on my pretty swell improvisation skills, iron method and lots and lots of premade adventure modules that I dole out like candy. Means that even something as simple as figuring out the entrances myself seems like too much work.
    Posted By: Greyhawk GrognardIn regards to your first question, I'm not really sure what you're looking for. In-game background, or out of game historical background? For the latter, the broad background given in Greyhawk Ruins should suffice if you omit the last paragraph about the three towers, when mixed with the background in Castle of the Mad Archmage itself.
    I'm mostly looking for a bunch of links and a short overview on the real-world history of Greyhawk. The primary sources, as it were. I was mostly thinking of Paul and other similar posters there: I've read this background stuff myself at some point, but if Paul is to give me that killer idea for how to do this, he needs to have some vague understanding of what the Castle is.

    Wikipedia on Castle Greyhawk doesn't really touch on what it is like aesthetically, but it does explain some of the publication history. The two TSR adventure modules mentioned here, Castle Greyhawk and Greyhawk Ruins are neither too useful for me due to the differences between the campaign settings, and differences in architecture. The Ruins, for example, has this weird-ish three-tower set-up for the castle, which is not compatible with anything in my primary material, which for the purposes of this exercise is the Castle of the Mad Archmage. Both of these are also pretty wedded to the general D&D aesthetics, so most of the ideas involve way too much magic and simple typecasting for me.

    Grodog's archive is a prominent Internet source for interesting reading on the topic, and it includes a pretty good overview on the early canonical sources. Unfortunately I'm not as interested in the minutiae of Gygaxiana, so I don't have any immediate use per se for these observations - I'm just looking for good ideas on what the Castle means to the outside world, and what it might mean when I transplant it into our campaign.

    Any other interesting web resources we should read when considering the Greyhawk castle? I seem to remember from my fall overview that I read some actual play stuff from some people who'd used the castle, but I think I never encountered any detailed plans from anybody else on what the topside might look like.
  • On my blog, off to the right in the "Free resources" section, you'll find a link called "Greyhawk Lore Project".

    If you open it up, you'll find a text file with hundreds of references to the early Greyhawk campaign as run by Gygax and Kuntz, pulled from all of the various Q&A threads on places like enworld, Dragonsfoot, K&K Alehouse, etc. That might give you some of what you're looking for. Beware, though; it's long!

    http://greyhawkgrognard.blogspot.com

    Joe
  • Posted By: Greyhawk GrognardOn my blog, off to the right in the "Free resources" section, you'll find a link called "Greyhawk Lore Project".
    Ah hah, I haven't seen this one before. Most excellent, and certainly full of inspirations of all sorts. It's always interesting to see eg. Gygax use mechanical and methodical processes that mirror your own choices decades later in your own campaign. I'll have to read this over to see if something might inspire me specifically regarding the Castle.

    In case you don't hear enough of it, I should say that I for one rather appreciate the work you've done with the Castle of the Mad Archmage. A dungeon like this is a specialty product that can only properly be understood in the context of a D&D campaign, so even most roleplayers don't really have the chance to be of one mind or another about even something as massive as this. I'm pretty happy on my part to be currently running a socially robust campaign that has a good chance to at least scrape the surface of this and other interesting dungeoneering rpg products. Most people will have to settle for just checking out the text and the maps, so I feel like I'm privileged to be able to plan seriously for using these things in play.
  • Also, as a point of general interest, I should note that I already started hooking players with the Castle in yesterday's session, with just a tiny bit of possible motivation for visiting the place at some future point. One of the characters is a questing cleric, a sort that initiates into new clerical orders to learn new magic. He's been corresponding with a certain hermit saint who is now preparing for a bit of a pilgrimage come spring (so about a month or two from now), and he has the opportunity to catch the saint before he leaves, or perhaps follow him later if his own commitments prevent him from coming to meet the saint earlier on. The prospect is that the saint could initiate him into certain mysteries that would enable him to counterspell wizardly magic. (As the group has not leveled any wizards, they're beginning to have trouble with mid-level adventure modules.) Little does the player suspect that this "pilgrimage" is going to be to the Castle of the Mad Archmage, so the player has a good chance of either escorting the hermit or following him to the heart of insanity if he persists in his quest ;)
  • Many thanks for the kind words. Please do let me know how it works for you in play. If you hunt around the OSR blogosphere, there are a number of different play reports.
  • Very interesting!

    Eero,

    So, just let me get this straight:

    You re-skin things like goblins and orcs to fit your campaign's aesthetic sensibility, but you'll be playing things like the Greyhawk Construction Company straight-up, construction helmets and all?

    Not that there is anything wrong with that... it just sounds incredible!

    Is it your game group's approach to laugh at some of the more comical elements in these modules? Like, "Hey, the next room says it has a Jell-O golem in it. Isn't that hilarious? Well, let's say it has long, scary teeth stained by blood." If so, then is there any effort to recreate the characters' reactions to this kind of weirdness?

    (Also, I agree that Rich provided the best advice: it kind of blew my own ideas out of the water, and anyway I don't know enough about this to contribute meaningfully just yet--that link might remedy that in the near future, however.)
  • Posted By: Paul T.You re-skin things like goblins and orcs to fit your campaign's aesthetic sensibility, but you'll be playing things like the Greyhawk Construction Company straight-up, construction helmets and all?

    Not that there is anything wrong with that... it just sounds incredible!
    Yeah, but it does make logical and narrative sense to me. You see, goblins and orcs are things that can intrude upon the waking reality of the aboveground world. They are a more general part of the setting, one that gains strength from consistency. The Greyhawk Construction Company, on the other hand, is a specific case: this mad archmage here twists reality, and part of his dweomer substantiates in this manner. GCC is strange and off-color, but it's not that because of a stylistic clash, it's because it is effectively in its own world, a pocket dimension controlled by the Mad Archmage. If the concept explicitly required the same company to be present in every city of the campaign setting or something like that, then I'd need to revise it or likely drop it entirely; as it is, the silly elements just serve to accentuate the dungeon's theme.

    I realize that the above makes no sense whatsoever if you don't consider staring in the eyes of madness a worthwhile and coherent theme. I expect the players to maybe even use the background of the dungeon as some sort of leverage; perhaps they'll manage to predict elements of its general construction by getting into the head of the Mad Archmage via proxies like his memoirs or by interviewing those who knew him. He will be painted as a brilliant man, the Godbreaker, a driven individual - but also a shattered one, and whether his final years were a result of slow descent into the darkness or one flash of shattering dementia, that'll probably play some role in the practical operations. The point is, when we're talking about insane godlings, having that insane godling throw weird stuff at you is perfectly reasonable, and one of the solid excuses for having a funhouse dungeon in an otherwise pretty serious campaign. When the dungeon of a diseased mind is silly, you don't need to blame the GM for it - you can be a bit sad about how low the mighty have fallen.

    (As an aside, I've described the tone of the campaign earlier: as a matter of method we take the setting and events of play seriously intradiegetically, but not that seriously as external observers. This is a bit difficult to explain in words, even if it's really simple in practice. What this kind of attitude looks like in actual play is that we will make ironic fun of everything that happens in the game, giving things punny names and so on, but the player characters will at the same take the world around them with deadly seriousness. So there's no contradiction when I say that our campaign is too serious to have funhouse dungeons without careful backstory justifications, despite all the punning going on all over the place. The material is serious, but we as audience aren't.)

    Superhero comics sometimes do similar stories. Superman has Mr. Mxyzptlk, for example, who is occasionally used for stuff like this. The Joker has gained godlike powers on two occasions at least, and it's been serious despite the superficially gag-comedic props. I'm striving for similar deadly seriousness from the in-fiction point of view.
    Posted By: Paul T.Is it your game group's approach to laugh at some of the more comical elements in these modules? Like, "Hey, the next room says it has a Jell-O golem in it. Isn't that hilarious? Well, let's say it has long, scary teeth stained by blood." If so, then is there any effort to recreate thecharacters'reactions to this kind of weirdness?
    I do sometimes "break the fourth wall" when something particularly amusing comes up in the module text, or when player rights are in peril. In these situations I tell the players what the foolish module author expects me to run for them, but because that runs counter to the method, we'll just swap things out like this. I don't do this for routine stuff like switching up monster or other things where the solution is clear, but sometimes it's too funny to stay quiet about how clever I'm being in adapting stuff. If it's tactically important stuff, I'll only talk about it afterwards.

    We haven't yet played anything truly silly, but I expect that I'll be running the silliest stuff entirely seriously. Not a smirk from me, I'll just describe things and let the players draw their own conclusions. Once the material is engaged. the players might figure out the silly things, at which point we can laugh at it. Or it might prove that this thing wasn't that silly after all. The characters take care of themselves for the most part, all according to ordinary procedure.

    A good topic, by the way - this should perhaps be treated generally in a new thread, I'd be sort of interested in other thoughts on how this "funhouse" element of early D&D is handled by people. My creative background in roleplaying is just about as far from funhouse dungeoneering as could be, I never could have imagined running something like that on a whim during most of my rpg playing career. When we did comedy in my youth, it was strictly preplanned to be Comedy from the start. It's interesting how my view on this has shifted alongside things like genre purity. Now I've apparently figured out how to be comfortable with silly stuff, considering that I'm planning to put the Castle into our campaign.
  • I'm glad you found my suggestions useful, Eero. I've never won a thread before. I'm thinking of printing it out and framing it. ;)

    As for further ideas, most of the stuff I used to use on Zagyg was his effect on City of Greyhawk when he was mayor and I can't think how you would re purpose it without the actual city being present somewhere nearby.

    I would point out though that Zagyg is demigod in the Oerth pantheon and it is said that imprisoning the demigods was part of his ascension to immortality. Perhaps the Holy Grail they quest for is actually a Philosopher's Stone instead.

    One little thing you might want to work in is the magical item, the Prison of Zagyg. Essentially it is a brass cage about the size of a birdcage that allows you to shrink a creature down and imprison it in the cage. While inside the cage, the creature inside does not need to eat or drink and does not age. It is a useful way to bring a little past into the present if such would prove useful.
  • @ eero "Perhaps Zagyg was involved in the great purge that apparently happened in our campaign setting as the Classical faiths were replaced by the fantasy-Christian monotheism. Sort of like a Solomon/Merlin, a man of the old faiths who used his power to put the old gods aside."

    This reminds me (by way of a tangent) of the portion in the original version T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone with Morgan Le Fay's castle in its "hollywood" incarnation (the version in Once and Future King oi very different.) Especially given the 'grail quest' of the dungeon aspect.

    I understand you're using and adapting mostly published-module material for your Primitive-D&D game but I'm curious why you chose to go with "greyhawk" vs. constructing a dungeon given that the "DM-as-proprietor-of-the-megadungeon" aspect seems to be the primal heart of the atavistic megadungeon meme. (After all the archmage is gygaX/Xagyg.)

    That reminds me of Scott Driver's (of http://hugeruinedpile.wordpress.com) evocative reinvisioning of the "Mad Archmage Thing" :

    For centuries, decadent Ichneumon, the City State of the White Otters, has been ruled by generations of mad wizards and insane geniuses. The last of this line was the Arch-Mage Tox, a lunatic warlock of unparalleled arcane power. Fifty years ago, the Arch-Mage disappeared with his retainers, slaves, and pets into the catacombs beneath decrepit Mordant Castle and has not been heard from since. Until now ...

    The strange lights and eerie sounds of the abandoned castle environs have become more intense and frightening of late, and travelers and interlopers are set upon with increasing frequency by horrible and unnatural creatures. Ichneumon's ruler in regency, the cruel and eccentric despot Count Pnamtu, has recently revealed that Tox the Mad left behind a sealed edict to be read upon the fiftieth anniversary of his disappearance. This taunting missive beckons those as would brave the terrors of ancient Mordant Castle, the Huge Ruined Pile, to enter its hellish precincts and claim the uncountable fabulous treasures which lie therein for the taking, virtually unguarded.
  • Posted By: FigaroI understand you're using and adapting mostly published-module material for your Primitive-D&D game but I'm curious why you chose to go with "greyhawk" vs. constructing a dungeon given that the "DM-as-proprietor-of-the-megadungeon" aspect seems to be the primal heart of the atavistic megadungeon meme. (After all the archmage is gygaX/Xagyg.)
    The reason is simply that the campaign is about playing and understanding modular D&D adventure design. It's the topic. I don't have serious time allotted for working out my own dungeon designs at the moment, anyway. Nothing deeper than that.
  • The reason is simply that the campaign is about playing and understanding modular D&D adventure design. It's the topic. I don't have serious time allotted for working out my own dungeon designs at the moment, anyway. Nothing deeper than that.

    Makes sense.

    What are your thoughts on procedural generation for adventure material? (a digression)
  • That's an interesting question. I haven't considered it in depth for this campaign due to the aforementioned approach: focus means blinders, to a degree, so I simply haven't thought much about things like how to most efficiently create my own content here. I feel guilty enough about playing D&D all the time instead of playtesting my own game as it is, without starting to explore new angles.

    That being said, I am totally on board the procedural random generation method where and when it brushed into the needs of our campaign. For example, I use a heavy combination of random techniques and pre-planning in generating wilderness content for the campaign. This is the most original content in the campaign (aside from when an adventure module delightfully overflows into something greater), and I create it mostly by various randomization procedures. I could imagine creating dungeon material in this way, too, were it the method of the campaign.
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