Saturday, October 24, 2009

Greyhawk Fetish

James and Joseph posted recently about how Gary Gygax never published a full megadungeon, and have differing views of whether publishing a megadungeon is even possible.

To me there are really two issues in this discussion. The first, whether a megadungeon can be published, I think can be answered with "yes." The followup question is whether it would be a product people would want to buy. I would envision the "best" format being maps with some keyed rooms, but with a lot of tables for random encounters, random placing of weird phenomenon, generation of treasure and other situations or encounters idiosyncratic to a dungeon level or even subsection. It would very much be a campaign book rather than a ready to go dungeon. In many ways I think writing such a book would actually be harder than a fully fleshed out dungeon, but would the payoff be there? Do people even want it?

This leads to the other issue in this discussion, which is the (non-sexual) fetishism of Greyhawk and Gary Gygax in general. If we take a step back for a second I think what people really want is a megadungeon published by Gary, or maybe even one of the other TSR guys, but not by anyone else. If anyone else publishes one, then by definition it will not be the "real thing." The only authority that will be accepted by a certain crowd is the product penned by an exclusive, very small collection of people.

I do agree that just for fun, and from a historical perspective, it would be cool to see Gary's actual notes and hand drawn maps published. Do I think there is any deep insight waiting in those note that will revolutionize the way we play? No, I actually think that's a silly idea and more of an idea that comes from the phenomenon of fandom than anything else. It is interesting how the people who played in Gary's regular home game do not seem to pine away for those materials to be published as much as other people do. I only played in one short session Gary ran in his Greyhawk dungeon. He had a three-ring folder with his maps in it, and paper with room keys and other notes. It looked just like any other gamer's way of doing things to me. I did catch a glimpse of some of the maps, which looked just like other gamer's hand drawn maps. There is no deep method of play waiting there guys. It is the same stuff everyone already does.

So in the end what people really want is to share the actual experience of playing with Gary, but people won't get that from his notes even if they were published. I might be a heretic for saying this, but it seems to me Gary would scoff at all the fetishizing going on because it hearkens back to what he talked about before about how so many people looked to him and other folks at TSR for "official" ways of doing things. The truth is that those guys at TSR were just gamers like everyone else, and the way things are done at your own game table is just as creative and works just as well. When enough people would write or call to ask for a way of doing something, they might crank out an "official" system of doing it, but that system would not likely be the way they did it at home. At home, they played like everyone else did. The idea that you can take Gary's home game notes and use them to play "the way the game is supposed to be played" if only they would publish them is not only untrue but tragically misguided. We already have so much that Gary published. We already have the tools to play the way he intended, with countless archived message board posts to guide us in addition to all the material from the old rule books and modules.

That's as close as anyone will ever get to Gary now, and even though the psychology of fandom seems to pine away for more I think it would be far more productive to write the things you want yourself instead if wishing they existed.


A Paladin In Citadel said...

Thanks for saying that, my thoughts on the subject are quite similar.

Joseph said...

Apologies for stubbornly sticking to my guns on this subject, but I must disagree on several points.

First, I disagree that a stripped-down dungeon, with only a few key areas depicted and lots of random charts tossed in to make up the difference is the way to go (obviously). I think a fully-done dungeon key is the proper way to *start* a megadungeon campaign.

Over the course of play, of course, such a key becomes outdated, by design. As play continues over the course of weeks, months, and hopefully years, the actions of the players (and the DM's reactions) force the key (and sometimes the map) to be replaced by a more relevant version. This, then, is the intent of the megadungeon campaign; each DM (and playing group) will make it their own, regardless of whether it began as the brain child of the DM or if it was purchased. If you and I ran Undermountain for a year, I guarantee our versions would both look very different at the end of that time.

But when you say:

He had a three-ring folder with his maps in it, and paper with room keys and other notes. It looked just like any other gamer's way of doing things to me. I did catch a glimpse of some of the maps, which looked just like other gamer's hand drawn maps. There is no deep method of play waiting there guys. It is the same stuff everyone already does.

I have to ask, is it *really* the way "everyone" already does? I don't think it is, and it certainly wasn't the case in, say, 1983. The fact that he had his hand-drawn maps in a binder is inconsequential; it is what was on them, and how they were played, that matters.

"Everyone" makes smallish, easily cleaned-out dungeons nowadays. "Everyone" has plots that drive the motivations for the players to enter into said dungeons and clean them out. "Everyone" expects their players to move on to new dungeons, and new pastures, once the dungeon-du-jour has been "finished", the bad guys routed, and either the next layer of bad guys discovered or a new peril unfolds.

The early campaigns (Greyhawk, Blackmoor, El Raja Key, etc.) weren't like that at all. No overarching plot. No expectation that the dungeon would be "done" at some point and the players would move on. Greyhawk was never "done" being built, let alone explored.

My own lament is that we weren't given an actual example of a "complete" 12 or 20 level dungeon back in the early days, to balance out the stream of one-shot clean-em-out 1 or 2 level dungeons that TSR published. Back in 1980 or 1982, that could have had an enormous influence on the development of the hobby as a whole.

So I deny your psychological analysis. It's not a desire to simply have played in Gary's game. I can only speak for myself, of course, but looking back I would have liked to have seen an example counter to the "tournament style" module (which, I think, led to the plot-driven module that began with Dragonlance and continues to this day) in the developmental days of the hobby. I think that method of play was fundamentally different from the method demonstrated by the published modules (and thus adopted by the overwhelming majority of gamers in the hobby).

Matthew James Stanham said...

I think possibly that the "fetish" is a bit of an illusion. I had no real interest in Castle Greyhawk until rather recently when I purchased Castle Zagyg: Yggsburgh. Sure, I had heard of Castle Greyhawk, played in a Greyhawk campaign, and even run a bit of D20/3e Greyhawk, but it was the idea that there was a forthcoming Castle Zagyg product that grabbed me. I was looking forward to collecting the parts and running (or perhaps playing) the game. I always knew there was a chance it would never come to fruition, but I was hopeful.

As things stand now, I feel the same as when a show is cancelled before its story arc is complete or an author dies before he finishes a work I was following, which is to say a bit sad. The larger tapestry of Gygaxian works can be distinguished from the "mega-dungeon" promise, which can only really remain unfulfilled now.

It might have been as big a disaster as the Star Wars prequels (13 years of waiting for this!), or it might have been a triumph, we will never know now. There are certainly some folks who fetishise Gygax, but the desire to see Castle Greyhawk/Zagyg need not be symptomatic of doing so.

Dan of Earth said...


I believe your motivations, I have no reason not to.

When you say:

The fact that he had his hand-drawn maps in a binder is inconsequential; it is what was on them, and how they were played, that matters.

I'm just curious, what do you expect to be in there that is unique? Are you saying you think there is some element of dungeon design there that we're missing, or are you saying you just are curious, or some combination? You say I'm wrong about my "psychological" analysis, and maybe I am. Tell me what you think would be there that we need and that is different from what people already do?

James said...

I think a lot of Old Schoolers are looking to the earliest sources of our hobby, as a way of exploring their ideological stance vis a vis the retro gaming movement, and D&D in general. There may some Gygax Cultists out there, but, to chalk up interest in Greyhawk and Historical Campaigns to "Fetishism," looks like the kind of knee-jerk, condescending attitude which is usually seen coming from some Wotc edition players. Looks like; I have no idea what kind of scary, whacked out D&D fanatics you may be in contact with.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

I suppose some people see it as fetishism because it is about EGG's mega-dungeon, when there are already examples of mega-dungeons out there. I am slightly bewildered, because I still don't understand what value it would bring to game (other than historical).

I don't see a lot of value in all of this "drawing lines in the sand" posturing (including my own).

If someone publishes EGG's Castle Greyhawk, great. Depending on how it is designed, I might buy it.

Joseph said...

Dan, you are focusing on the first half of my sentence and ignoring the second (as well as my larger point).

It doesn't matter if EGG said there were four kobolds in room 17 on level 2, or if he said there were seven.

What I would have expected to be on those pages that is "unique" is the totality. The idea that there wasn't one Big Bad Guy who needed to be killed to get the treasure. The idea that there wasn't a plot; just a lot of monsters, and traps, and treasures, and tricks, and other encounters, and that's all.

It's not the details that I think we would have benefited by, had such a thing been published 25 years ago. It's the overall concept.

Dan of Earth said...

Sounds like you already have the concept...just sayin'...;-)

Dan of Earth said...

There may some Gygax Cultists out there, but, to chalk up interest in Greyhawk and Historical Campaigns to "Fetishism," looks like the kind of knee-jerk, condescending attitude which is usually seen coming from some Wotc edition players.

Nothing like that intended here. Your not talking to someone who has ever played a WotC editon of "D&D". I never said all interest is a fetish, I wouldn't mind reading
Gary's notes either. I'd buy them if printed. It's just that as cool as it would be I think we're missing out on something that would be fun to read, not necessarily any profound new insight. New being the key thing.

Norman Harman said...

The fetish exists, certainly amongst some. Cause there are numerous published mega dungeons. People use various excuses to dismiss them but I think most of those a dishonest and the real reason is as you state.

Wasn't made by Gary.

John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

I wouldn't call a desire to see Gary's work fetishistic. I do think a lot of people still have a dream of Gary never having been exiled from TSR. And there are GH fans who consider what he writes "canon" if it contradicts what is written elsewhere. Gary and TSR was a messy divorce, and some of us still feel the sting.

But I see a different level of fetishism. I have noticed a tendency to turn Gary into a more or less "original fetish", that being the original use of the word, a religious icon. There's a lot of over analysis and pondering of the words and wisdom of EGG. I doubt he'd scoff, rather he'd be a little more amused.

What bothers me about this drive is that I see it people caring more about specific material than the total output of the man. I've noticed that the die-hards pining over Castle Zagyg never seemed as interested in Gary the total author. People would be more willing to get an interview with a janitor who was at TSR than any of the gang who worked with him later, such as Dave Newton, or people like Jon Creffield, Dan Cross, myself, etc.

Unlike CZ, just to Clarify Dan, I know that there are several unpublished manuscripts involving Lejendary Adventures, some which Gary had mentioned, and a few other creations, some that were written over a decade ago. So there is lost stuff waiting to be published. I just don't think CZ is in similar shape. Gary avoiding doing production on CZ for almost 15 years--that sort of tells me he wasn't interested in that.

I think the saddest thing about this is that people have treated Gail badly for cancelling the existing project while she retrenches, and I usually only see this among the "die hard crowd". People make statements about her "doing it for the money" (and Gary didn't?), or express panic that CZ might use one of Gary's other games like LA since C&C is no longer an option. There's a lot of general assumptions out there regarding Gary's "final wishes", etc. Do people really believe that Gail would work contrary to being respectful of Gary's work? I see a lot better treatment of Gail on ENWorld and other more general gaming forums.

I think people see CZ as some sort of "holy grail" of gaming, and I think it's become a fetish of its own. And I have to wonder if people would end up being disappointed in whatever was published, even if Gary was alive doing it.

grodog said...

Some of the things that excite me about having seen a number of unpublished Castle Greyhawk levels, and would continue to excite me if I could peruse them all in some published format:

1. map designs: the maps drawn by Gygax and Kuntz are, in general, far more complex and challenging to navigate and explore than those published anywhere else; I have learned design tips and tricks from the maps I've perused to date, and fully expect to learn more with exposure to more maps

2. inter-level connections: tracing them out, comparing how they're managed (detailed vs. hand-waved), analyzing the accessibility and ease-of-finding certain levels/sub-levels; all of these things strike me as good ways to learn from CG or ERK; Rappan Athuk has some good inter-level connections, as do Tomb of Abysthor and Undermountain: so, other sources can be learned from, yes, but most such sources lack potential depth of learning available from Castle Greyhawk (RA excepted: ToA is only 6 or 7 levels, UM is only 3 in the original boxed set, with 4 more in the generally-reviled UM2 set)

3. the evolution of the dungeon environment in play: this would require essays/stories to be made explicit, or before/after entries in the dungeon keys and maps, but regardless of how it's implemented, hearing tales of the original environs, and how they changed over time, would provide that mentoring context to show how the dungeons evolved in response to player actions (for example: Rob Kuntz almost didn't recognize the original level 1 Castle Greyhawk map when I showed it to him, because he and Ernie and others had so heavily modified after they took it over and rebuilt the level as their personal barracks and staging grounds for deeper exploration of the Castle).

4. the early development and playtesting of D&D as a whole: few non-Castle-Greyhawk campaign dungeons out there can offer this insight---Blackmoor, El Raja Key, perhaps EPT's Jakalla dungeons, perhaps Ward's DragonWorld, but not too many others; I think some folks see this interest in the development of the game (and also the setting) and read too much into that interest as fixed on Gary or on Greyhawk, not realizing that much of the interest is less on it being Gary's work than it being the original crucible from which the game evolved as we know it; the two do go hand-in-hand, but I think there are aspects of that interest that get glossed over too easily from time-to-time.


Anonymous said...

Check out Temple of Elemental Evil (plus Hommlet) for a good example of what Gygax would have written for a section of Castle Greyhawk. Not that the Temple would appear therein as a set of sublevels, because the Temple really works rather well as a separate environment.

But the Temple was "busted" in the past, and presumably was able to be "busted" in the module. A follow-up module details efforts at a third "bust".

Castle Greyhawk saw players bust a level and take up residence there.

I think the difference here is that Gygax had set up Castle Greyhawk as his tentpole. All the littler things around the world could be cleared out, removed, settled, whatever. You could do the same to a part of the tentpole. But you couldn't realistically bust the entire tentpole because it was just way too big.

This isn't an issue of the DM setting up a Mary Sue dungeon that can never be conquered. It's a side effect of the scope of the dungeon.

It's like a few Allied commandos going out to fight some Axis forces. Sure you can take out the fortified compound or bust the dam. No, your little group can't take out Italy. Not because the DM says no, but because of the work required to do it.

I can tell the DM I want my character to move a pile of rocks. No problem, he says, the pile is moved. When I say I want to move a mountain, the DM says sure, it'll take you a few centuries, I'll start rolling random encounters.

There's nothing fundamentally different about a megadungeon. It's just bigger and has more parts. Because of this you can't ignore relationships between elements like you can in a smaller dungeon.

Lord of the Green Dragons said...

Yeh. We busted the 1st level when we were a party (triumvirate) of three well-heeled PCs: Robilar, Tenser and Terik. I busted TOEE as Robilar, but in turn lost my castle holdings for doing so.

Grodog's remarks are pretty spot on. As are Joe's. If there is a fetish, it is in the minds only of those that would type those days as either one way, or as another, but not through a holistic view.

Of course the dungeon environment was constantly changing (as I have noted in the AFTERWORD in the Original Bottle City and elsewhere). The watering down of homebrew came through the proliferation of ready-made adventures in the torunament style. DMing a megadungeon flies in the face of that very concept. It reflects the core where people create and recreate and does not perforce lend itself to the the "disposable/completed" model served up in TSR's later publication history. This is where TSR diverged from the original vision of the game, and this is where the split occurs in the ranks of TSR product purchasers that persists to this very day. However, diversion aside, this is where the test comes in for all good product, created by oneself or otherwise in-house and published for consumers. No matter what product one holds, IMO, it must raise the bar and embrace the original vision. If I have a fetish, it's this one. :)

donna said...


jbeltman said...

I would love to see it but I don't even know what I could learn from it. How could I?

For me it is about the imagination. That is something I cannot reproduce. Some people have it and some don't. That is why writers are always being asked where they get their ideas from. It is like saying "why do you want an unpublished fantasy novel from Tolkien when David Eddings has just released one?" Well because Tolkien is better. You are asking me to compare some blogger's effort or that of some small publisher compared to the guy who invented the game and had been doing it fulltime from before it was on sale to the public. There is no competition.

I cannot create something that is as good either. Maybe in thirty years I could come up with something half as good. I am just a hobbyist who plays occasionally and reads a bit. I find out stuff all the time. eg
There were Elves that guarded the entrance down.
The ruins above were an adventure themselves.
He deliberately designed the maps to trick players sometimes.

I doubt I would have thought of any of these myself.

It would also be great to have all this information in the one place rather than in a multitude of books, magazines and blog and forum posts like it is at the moment.

Having the Greyhawk dungeon by Gygax would be an amazing learning tool for me that would be filled with things I could never have come up with on my own in a million years and would be a lot more worthwhile than anything any other author could come up with.



It would also be great