Saturday, November 1, 2008

Four D&D Products That Never Were

With the recent announcement that Gygax Games has terminated Troll Lord Games' license to continue the Castle Zagyg project, I was reminded of several other D&D products that were promised in the past but never came to past.

1. Castle Greyhawk: Unsurprisingly, the top spot on the list goes to Castle Greyhawk, which Gary had been promising to publish since shortly after the publication of the World of Greyhawk folio gazetteer in 1980. In the years since, there have been at least products that called themselves "Castle Greyhawk." None involved Gygax in any way and one (Castle Greyhawk in 1988) was in fact a humorless parody that many took as a deliberate attempt by TSR to belittle and insult him, who had recently been ousted from the company. Castle Zagyg is the closest we ever got to a "true" Castle Greyhawk product and, as of this time, its future is very much in doubt.

2. City of Greyhawk: Gary also promised the publication of a product detailing the City of Greyhawk, which never materialized. A boxed set detailing the city was published in 1989, but Gygax was not involved and its content is a very mixed bag in my opinion.

3. Shadowland: Another long-promised product was an adventure/sourcebook detailing the Plane of Shadow. A collaboration between Gygax and Skip Williams -- or at least it was supposed to be at one point -- the product would have given us some detailed information about this mysterious otherworld, one that Gary was very fond of and that owes its origins, at least in part, to one or more stories of Abraham Merritt, an author whom Gygax consistently claimed was an influence over the development of D&D.

4. D&D Companion:
Had the Moldvay/Cook rules been completed, there would have been a third volume entitled the D&D Companion that would have fleshed out characters up to level 36. While the third volume of the Mentzer rules set was called the Companion Set, it covered only levels 15-25 and, by all accounts, was a wholly original creation that owed nothing to the plan for the follow-up to Moldvay/Cook (if indeed there were such a plan at all). Much as I sometimes talk smack about Moldvay/Cook, I find those rules much more appealing than Mentzer's, which, while praiseworthy in many, many ways, are even more mass market consumer products than their predecessors. Even more significantly, I don't think much of the Master/Immortal endgame of Mentzer and would much rather have seen a Moldvay/Cook-style one, which would have almost certainly been more in line with my tastes than the superpowered conclusion to the mid-80s boxed sets.

16 comments:

  1. its content is a very mixed bag in my opinion.

    It felt like a Forgotten Realms transplant to me.

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  2. I agree with you about the city of Greyhawk. I was so disappointed. The map, my God the map! I though Greyhawk would be a massive, sprawling metropolis. The map depicted anything but that. More like a modest town. So much promise....

    Have ever seen the massive city maps for Waterdeep? I was expecting something epic like that.

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  3. >>Abraham Merritt, an author whom Gygax consistently claimed was an influence over the development of D&D.

    Just got my first Merritt book last week... The Moon Pool... has Descent/Drow feeling atmosphere all over it. Also reading Journey to the Center of the Earth as well (you'd think I'd just read one book at a time, right?) so it's all about the underground right now. All D&D needs is a scientist class, the way all these books have characters that scream "SCIENCE!!!!"

    >>Mentzer's, which, while praiseworthy in many, many ways, are even more mass market consumer products than their predecessors. Even more significantly, I don't think much of the Master/Immortal endgame of Mentzer

    Funny that one complaint is all about the accessibility, and the other complaint is about something that is pretty much the definition of inaccessible. How in the world did that Immortals box ever get produced as "D&D"?

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  4. Another knock against the Mentzer endgame comes from a personal anecdote. I remember talking to an acquaintance who played tons of D&D at his school (jealous!) and had gotten all the way up to the Immortals power levels.

    He was telling me how bored he'd gotten of "basic" D&D because, as he put it, "once your character becomes a god, where else is there to go?" Indeed. The original endgame of building a castle and settling a wild corner of the wilderness definitely left tons more to explore with future characters, didn't it?

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  5. I must add "Wasp's Nest: City State of Stoink" to the list. That is really something I was looking forward to, even moreso after reading the first Gord novel. Seemed like such a cool setting...

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  6. I loves me some Moldvay/Cook, and a compatible Companion would be the rockinest! Now, there was always part of me that enjoyed the Immortal endgame, but these days I just can't see it as part of the D&D experience. (although it could make a fun game of its own, starting at Immortal level). Anyway, I'm wondering: what's everybody's thoughts here about a Moldvay/Cook-style Companion? If you got to call the shots, what shots would you call? What's your vision of a good D&D endgame that really embraces the style of that edition?

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  7. How in the world did that Immortals box ever get produced as "D&D"?

    That's a question I'd love to know. Maybe I'll try and wrest an answer out of Mr Mentzer one day. My guess is that, by the time those boxed were produced, it was already taken as given that the ultimate endgame of D&D was godhood. It's an assumption most players of the game have held since the mid-80s at least and the latest edition of the game accepts it. That wasn't always the case.

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  8. Joseph,

    I'd forgotten about Stoink. Yes, that's another one I'd have liked to have seen.

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  9. Anyway, I'm wondering: what's everybody's thoughts here about a Moldvay/Cook-style Companion? If you got to call the shots, what shots would you call? What's your vision of a good D&D endgame that really embraces the style of that edition?

    Sounds like a topic for a post ...

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  10. "once your character becomes a god...." The original endgame of building a castle and settling a wild corner of the wilderness definitely left tons more to explore with future characters, didn't it?

    The godhood path was, for better or worse, definitely how I understood D&D's arc through the early 80s - and it remains the only game to address the full transition from near-shlub to demigod as a series of incremental stages. As soon as deities and demigods came out it was clear the gods were very high-level monsters, and that PCs could eventually overpower them through diligent and tireless gold acquisition. I can see that Immortals was an inevitable product of this design path, because there was only a handful of abilities forming a glass ceiling between PCs and god status.

    I'm ambivalent about the whole issue: I've spent longer than I should have during my life wondering about this end point of leveling up, and I still haven't come to any useful resolution. It strikes me that every game world needs some aspect that's bigger than the player characters; that the god-path distorts player goal-setting; that it damages suspension of disbelief and fundamentally changes the gameworld for worse. OTOH, why shouldn't a game explore any wild thing you can imagine? And if you really can't think of any plots for gods, is that a fault with the game, or a supplement hole waiting to be filled? After all, there are plenty of plots out there that involve gods meddling in mortal affairs or threatening each other in various ways, and superhero stories have been dealing with the issues of ludicrous power for generations (although, I should note, I personally have never had the slightest interest in superhero games). Is it because, having achieved godhood, you consider yourself to have 'won?'

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  11. Hm. I now desire to slide into a dimension where these books got published.

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  12. It strikes me that every game world needs some aspect that's bigger than the player characters; that the god-path distorts player goal-setting; that it damages suspension of disbelief and fundamentally changes the gameworld for worse.

    That pretty well nails it as far as I am concerned, but I'm sure others have different perspectives on the matter.

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  13. It’s been a while since I looked at it, but I don’t think I’d call Castle Greyhawk “humorless”.

    Incidentally, didn’t Jaquays write one of the levels?

    How Immortals got published as D&D is easy: Gary completely trusted Frank and gave him free reign. Gary also explicitly told him to make D&D different from AD&D.

    To me, a B/X Companion wouldn’t be about an endgame. It would be a “companion” that included much of the stuff from the oD&D supplements that didn’t make it into the first two sets. More supplement than expansion.

    I wonder where there idea of 36th level being the limit came from.

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  14. It’s been a while since I looked at it, but I don’t think I’d call Castle Greyhawk “humorless”.

    Perhaps "unfunny" would have been a better word choice.

    Incidentally, didn’t Jaquays write one of the levels?

    He did.

    How Immortals got published as D&D is easy: Gary completely trusted Frank and gave him free reign. Gary also explicitly told him to make D&D different from AD&D.

    Interesting.

    To me, a B/X Companion wouldn’t be about an endgame. It would be a “companion” that included much of the stuff from the oD&D supplements that didn’t make it into the first two sets. More supplement than expansion.

    That's also an interesting thought.

    I wonder where there idea of 36th level being the limit came from.

    I've often wondered that myself, since there's never, so far as I can tell, been an explicit "top level" listed in any D&D book prior to the Cook Expert Rules (the first place 36th level appears in that role so far as I know).

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  15. A few comments:
    On 36th level
    I'm not sure where I read that but I think that 36 is a magical number or one with metaphysical/spiritual relevance in the real world.
    So 36 could have been a sort of injoke.

    Immortal endgame
    The Deities and Demigods book of 1980 already had a paragraph on divine ascension.
    Probably that's where the idea first sneaked in to the game.
    BTW I have nothing against a "game of gods" but the BECMI implementation was silly and broken.
    The Wrath of immortals boxed set tried to get it done properly but was only partially successful IMHO
    Best regards
    Artikid

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  16. The Deities and Demigods book of 1980 already had a paragraph on divine ascension.
    Probably that's where the idea first sneaked in to the game.


    I'm pretty sure the idea is older even than that. I recall meeting another young gamer who proudly proclaimed that his character was a "42nd-level demigod" and this was before the DDG was released. I expect that becoming a god has seemed a perfectly natural progression for a lot of players since the beginning.

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