Tegel Manor vexes me.
First published in 1977 and revised in 1980 (and expanded in 1989) by Judges Guild, Tegel Manor is without a doubt one of Bob Bledsaw's masterpieces. Describing a sprawling 240-room haunted castle, the module is a textbook example of a funhouse dungeon, utterly lacking in anything resembling an ecology and filled with many encounters for which the adjective "whimsical" is charitable at best. The contents and/or inhabitants of each room are random -- in some cases literally -- meaning that, here you might find nothing more threatening than some giant beetles but next door you might find a Type III demon polymorphed as a kindly old beggar.
Now, I've come clean on the fact that I'm not a huge fan of funhouse dungeons, with a few exceptions. At the same time, I recognize their importance in the history of D&D and see them as an important antidote to post-Hickman tendency to treat adventure modules primarily as a vehicle for "story." But, even within that context, Tegel Manor irks me. I'm not entirely sure how to take it. Is it intended as a joke, a Castle Greyhawk before its time? With its random encounter charts containing 100 members of the cursed and unfortunately named Rump family (all of whose names start with the letter R) and its goofy encounters ("Four Zombies ... bowing to a Giant White Rat ... in a pink cape and red plumed hat"), it certainly seems that way. It's one thing to sidestep naturalism, but Tegel Manor goes above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to "gonzo."
But the map is a think of beauty. Nothing -- and I mean nothing -- has ever beaten it. You can see a bit of it in the image above, but it doesn't do justice to the thing. It's filled with winding passages, secret doors, mazes, empty rooms, weird features, and more. Best of it, the map is completely legible and usable in play, despite its complexity. I think the quality of Judges Guild's maps is often overlooked. Compared to what others produced at the time, JG's output is often unparalleled. Bill Owen, in his reminsicences about the Guild, commented on the difficulties Bob Bledsaw encountered in fnding printers capable of producing maps of the quality he wanted to include in his modules and I can believe it. Even now, with so many advances in technology, very few gaming maps are as multifaceted yet usable as Judges Guild's best work. It's really a testament to the company that they did so much first and best.
Tegel Manor isn't a module I'd ever run as written. There's too much about it that rankles me and, if it rankles me, you can be sure that it'd get even less warm a reception by today's gamers. Yet, despite that, there's something very compelling about it. Perhaps it is because it's so different from my own tastes that it elicits a frisson in me whenever I read it. Perhaps I can't shake the feeling that I've yet to reach the zen state where, suddenly, the whole thing will make sense to me. Or perhaps it's simply that the maps are so damned cool. Whatever it is, I find it hard to dismiss Tegel Manor outright, even though I want to. It's simply not the kind of module I'd ever run, let alone write, but that may be the point. One of the joys of my exploration into the history of the hobby is encountering stuff that is so different from my own preferences. Even when I don't change my mind, I still come away enriched by the encounter.