I write this as a sort of response to Grodog’s review of Troll Lord Games “Castle Zagyg: Upper Works” product, which I mentioned immediately previously. I was somewhat reticent to make this post, as I did not want to be perceived to take an adversarial tone with his review, but after he and I had some back-and-forth I am convinced to set forth some of my disagreements and we can hash out the details in the comments.
In Grodog’s review (which I still wholeheartedly recommend reading), he makes the observation that he “expected to read more newly-revealed Greyhawk lore” within. While he acknowledges that there are many overt and subtle references to long-established Greyhawk campaign canon, “the hints and teasers remain (for the most part) at that level only.”
My specific disagreement here is that, given that the Upper Works boxed set only covers a single level of the underground dungeons, I am rather at a loss as to what he would have expected to find here, other than giant centipedes. He acknowledges that there are hints and mentions of other things (such as the Black Reservoir, the Arena, etc.), but laments that there is not more.
But these are elements of the original dungeons which we know are not to be found on the first level of the dungeon. I don’t know of anyone who was expecting to find the lair of the black dragons, or the gates to the “horsing around” demi-plane, in this product. It is, by its very nature, an introductory piece, and one which only serves as the entrance-way to the further levels beyond, within which we would find the sort of meaty references to known Greyhawk lore that those of us who have entire websites devoted to the subject would expect to find. Knowing the limited purview of the product, I admit I was not disappointed to find no detail about the black reservoir, as I know it was destined to be included in a future release in the series.*
More specifically, Grodog states that “At the very least, I expected the most-accessible content—such as the example from Joe Fischer’s article that I quoted above—to be reflected in the adventure. It is not.” The Fischer article he quotes gives a recitation of several entrances to the dungeons below the castle in unusual places, such as dry cisterns and beneath puts of quicksand. I would point out that it has been reported that Gygax himself has called Fischer’s recollections into question about the existence of some of those entrances. I would also mention that Upper Works itself makes clear that it does not pretend to be any particular version of the Castle, but rather an amalgam of the best ideas of the several different versions thereof, presented in a workable form. Given the (apparently) new additions of the Mouths of Madness as means of entrance into the first level of the dungeon, perhaps Gygax felt the other means were superfluous. Finally, it is clear that he realized the dungeon, in its to-be-published form, was fluid. One has no further to look than the “Curse of Fog and Frogs” which I have eariler lamented here, to see that he had recognized the need to limit player access to areas which had not been yet published.
Perhaps he meant to include those other means of entrance in later installments, as it is entirely possible that deeper dungeon levels would have entrances that were outside the boundaries of the grounds of the Upper Works, and Gygax felt it inappropriate to detail such entrances until the levels to which they led were published. Hell, for that matter, he might have had some hand-wave in mind– a reverse Curse of Fog and Frogs– by which such entrances would become accessible as more levels were published. But I hardly think an omission of such entrances is necessarily a strike against the product. It certainly was not something I “expected” to see, and was not disappointed to have missed.
But I most take issue with Grodog’s assertion that “I can’t shake the comparison because “name-dropping” remains a mostly-accurate description of how Greyhawk appears in CZ:UW—the names are dropped in CZ: UW more eloquently (so to speak) than in WotC’s contextlessly-clueless 3.x efforts, but in kind the two usages of Greyhawk are closer than I would prefer them to be.”
I confess this notion baffles me. The inclusion of elements from the World of Greyhawk, either under an obvious name-change or not, in this product seems to me to be hardly name-dropping. I cannot imagine how such elements as the deities, the Scarlet Brotherhood, etc. could have been incorporated to make them “more” Greyhawkian. At least, I cannot distinguish between their use in Upper Works and the apparent “dropping of names” in classic modules such as White Plume Mountain, G1-D3, etc. In fact, the only classic module I can think of in which the Greyhawk elements were absolutely central was T1-4. How are the uses of Greyhawk elements here any more egregious than those used in Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth? A Witch-Queen by any other name would fit into any setting as sweetly…
I daresay that, had the Castle Zagyg series been allowed to continue, the Greyhawk elements would have been more central and less name-droppy. As it is, the fact that we are only seeing the first level of the dungeon I think accounts for the relative scarcity of ingrained Greyhawkiana. We’ll never know what it would have been like had Gygax lived another few years and the series been taken to its conclusion (if there was one) but I think the “Greyhawkian” nature of Upper Works is indisputable, and goes deeper than the mere dropping of names.
That having been said, please bear in mind that I think the remainder of Grodog’s review is right on the money, and if I can only find a couple of sentences to take issue with out of a 15 page review, that should speak to the fact that he and I are of one mind in finding this a worthwhile product, and one which any Greyhawk aficionado should have on their shelf.
* The fact that the series has, for all intents and purposes, been cancelled in its current form, does not bear on this analysis, as when the product was initially released, at least two more installments were intended.