Entering The Dungeons of Castle Greyhawk

Those who have explored the countryside between the bustling city of Greyhawk and the castle ruins of the same name which lie on the hill not a league to the east of the city will testify to the fact that there are a number of strange tunnels and wells about. Wise folks avoid them, for they know that these are but entrances to the fiendish maze of dungeons, pits, labyrinths, crypts, catacombs, and caverns which honeycomb the hill and the rock far beneath it. There are those, however, who eagerly seek these ways, for it is likewise well-known that incalculable treasure also rests within these twisting mazes. Dauntless adventurers sally through these entrances to a hideous underworld, determined to gain great fortunes or die. – Gary Gygax, writing in Wargamer’s Digest, June 1975.

That quote, part of the introduction to the story “The Magician’s Ring”, is to my mind both evocative and practical. Later in the story, we are told that at least one of those entrances leads to the lower levels of the dungeons directly. Look for such entrances as I continue my own Castle of the Mad Archmage, naturally, but also consider the practical implications.

By providing a means of entrance and/or exit from the dungeons, even into the lower levels, higher-level adventurers are able to bypass the upper (and, to them, boring) levels and get straight to the action. Such entrances need be nether obvious nor easy to find, making an expedition merely to scout out the terrain surrounding the Castle a possible adventure in and of itself. Also, those using such entrances might not be certain of which level of the dungeons they had entered, unless they explored enough to run into rooms or features which were familiar.

Too many of my own dungeons in the past have been of the “one way in or out” variety. I’m going to take Gygax’s description to heart.

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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.

5 thoughts on “Entering The Dungeons of Castle Greyhawk

  1. I’ve been keeping that same passage in mind for a while now. Gloomrisk was set up so that there are at least five entrances into the dungeon, some known, others not so much.

    One can gain entrance through the crumbling keep directly overhead, through the basement of an outlying tower, through a direct entrance into the 1st level through an overgrown orchard, down a trapdoor in a gazebo on the property, and through a series of caves that lay in the gorge next to the keep. There will be more added as work on the dungeon continues.

  2. This is something that I’ve been toying with as well, Joe, but there are some additional consequences to having deeper-level entrances at or near the surface, that I’m still not sure I how I want to handle. In particular, it seems like WM in and around the Castle environs would be much more deadly than the usual mix, due to the regular presence of higher-level monsters. Relatedly, it seems like many of those monsters would also likely be more-available to the upper levels, in particular where the lower levels and upper-levels entrances are nearby.

    Got any thoughts on juggling these issues (and any others you’ve thought of as well 😀 )?


  3. In my second level, I used a one-way door. I think other sorts of ways of discouraging the sort of interaction you’re describing are fairly easy to set up without becoming trite. Plus, it may well be the case that the denizens of the lower levels have little incentive to visit the surface, bent as they are on their own agendas in the dungeons. I’m not too worried about it, frankly, and bear in mind that the Castle dungeons were never too concerned with such matters of verisimilitude.

  4. The more entrances from the surface, and to the Underworld areas, the more consistant you can consider the environment to be. I always thought of a dungeon as having a natural flow, like a tidal pool. Life comes and goes when there are many directions to come and go from. I like those magical statue and pool rooms that seem to stay forever, but that orc troop will eventually be replaced by ogres or Gnolls or what not.

    The less entrances to dungeons and their environs, the more it seems like magic is keeping everything going – and that is just a little bit too much godly magic for my tastes.

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