Getting Off The Pot

I’ve always been hesitant to do a full-blown design of my own version of Castle Greyhawk. Gygax promised such a thing was forthcoming since about 1980, but several more tangible alternatives to my sitting down myself and doing them have presented themselves over the years.

I might, for instance, look back to the TSR/WotC version of the dungeons, published in both Greyhawk Ruins and Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk. Contrary to the belief of some psychopathic zealots on the Greytalk email list, I don’t have a pathological hatred of either module, but neither do I find them a suitable replacement for the dungeons as described over the years by Gygax, Kuntz, and their players. Perhaps most damning is the fact that both have a “plot” of sorts (Expedition much moreso than Ruins, but the latter still has it). I feel that’s anathema to the spirit of Castle Greyhawk, and Gygax said as much.

This is a reflection of their time, of course. Ruins was published in the wake of Dragonlance, and Expedition was published when “adventure paths” were The Big Thing in game design. (I gather that they still are, but then again I am willfully ignorant of anything going on with 4E right now.) They are certainly worthy dungeons, and their size and detail is impressive. But they seem somehow disconnected from the _real_ Castle Greyhawk to me. No Jeweled Man? No Great Stone Enigma? No Black Reservoir? No thanks.

Castle Greyhawk was, of course, a sick and spiteful joke published in the wake of Gygax’s departure from TSR. Although it has been suggested that parts of it might be useful as a mirthful “demi-plane” level a la Dungeonland, it is hardly suitable for use as the actual dungeon.

So that avenue is closed to me. No using the TSR/WotC material, at least in whole.

I was hopeful that Troll Lord Games would finally come through and publish their Castle Zagyg series. That would have fit my bill perfectly, especially as it was designed by Gygax himself. I was very pleased with The Upper Works, which I reviewed here earlier and which seemed to me to be a fine beginning for the series. The Trolls had some production and scheduling issues, but the finished product was, in my opinion, first rate.

Alas, in about five hours from now, TLG’s Castle Zagyg series is no more, with no new modules in the series to be forthcoming, and any remaining stock to end up being fed to pigs after going through a wood-chipper. The Widow Gygax has withdrawn the license from the Trolls.

So that avenue, too, is closed to me.

Which leaves us with Gygax Games. We are told, obliquely, that GG will in fact be releasing products in the Castle Zagyg line. Not, as any normal game company would do, by an actual press release or communication from the leadership, but the fact that they have a message board on their website dedicated to Castle Zagyg at least implies that they’re planning on doing something with the series. Will they republish Upper Works and the other material TLG had completed? Will they start completely afresh? Will they simply publish Gygax’s notes and photocopies of his original maps? And what game system will be used when it does get published? Nobody outside of Gygax Games knows, and Gygax Games ain’t sayin’, although they’ve been asked more than once.

So, I could wait it out and see what Gygax Games is doing. I’ve actually been doing that for the last month or three, hoping against hope that the Widow Gygax would open up and at least let us fans know what the hell she has planned. I have dutifully waited, and I could continue to wait until they start coming out with product.

That avenue is still open to me, but I hereby decline to take it. I’ve been waiting for nearly 30 years for this dungeon, and I’m finally tired of waiting.

My gaming resolution for 2009 is thus. My big gaming project will be to design my own Castle of the Mad Archmage. And I’m going to publish it here, level by level. I don’t pretend that I’m going to get through the whole thing, but I will get the core levels done. Hand-drawn maps, the way the Gods intended, and a simple one or two-line description for most rooms. Set pieces will be more fleshed out, but the idea will be to bring back the idea of Spartan design to incite GM flexibility and creativity, and the use of random tables to fill in some of the blank spots.

That means that I’ll be churning out a level a month, to get the core levels out in 2009. And I’ll be giving them to you here, free of charge. In a format that will be “Compatible with most Original, Basic, and Advanced RPG systems.” Ahem.

Maybe somewhere out there, Zagig Yragerne is laughing at me. But I’m going to give it a go!

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

11 thoughts on “Getting Off The Pot

  1. Now that sounds like a wonderful New Year Resolution, Joe! 😀 I’ve been reinvigorated in my Castle Greyhawk plotting, planning, and designing in the past few months, and I’m looking forward to your new levels each month, and–quite likely—incorporating them into my version of the Castle!

    (BTW, I haven’t forgotten about replying to your reply to my CZ review, just haven’t carved out time for it yet, given the holidays).

    Happy New Year!


  2. As a co-author of “Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk,” I can say officially that the reason none of that stuff (the jeweled man, etc.) was in that version of the Castle was that we felt, at the time, that it was GARY GYGAX’S dungeon, and that he was the one best suited to include material from his campaign.

    The adventure does, admittedly, have a “plot” and is an artifact of its day, as you say, but the idea was always that further exploration could be done by adding on levels from “Greyhawk Ruins,” or “Castle Zagig,” or whatever dungeon you wanted to add to our skeleton design.

    I am eager to see what you come up with, and in many ways I would have preferred to create straight-up dungeon levels, but that just wasn’t the product we were hired to create.

    I suspect that some of the levels you design for this project could easily be added to an “Expedition” campaign arc to further flesh out the dungeon beyond the “plot points” suggested by our adventure.

    Good luck with it! I’m eager to see what you produce, and have great respect for your talents and knowledge in the realm of Greyhawk, and regarding Castle Greyhawk in particular.

    –Erik Mona

  3. I am assuming no further books in the Castle Zagyg set ever came out? …since I can't find any details about them and your posts on the topic end here.

    I'm reading through Greyhawk Ruins right now and I find it kind of underwhelming. It doesn't strike me as very "Greyhawk" in any way, but then there are alot of things about the Greyhawk setting that I just never got.

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