Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Retrospective: Castle Greyhawk

Worst. Module. Ever.

I try very hard not to be hyperbolic on this blog; I know I often don't succeed. But I am hard pressed to think of any module published under the Dungeons & Dragons banner that was worse than 1988's Castle Greyhawk. Consider: Gary Gygax's legendary Castle Greyhawk had never seen publication except in snippets (such as Dungeonland, Land Beyond the Magic Mirror, and Isle of the Ape). There were occasional -- unrealized -- intimations by Gary that TSR might one day published this megadungeon in a more complete form. When module WG7 was released, as part of the World of Greyhawk brand, no less, I am sure many expected it to be the fulfillment of a long-held dream. I know I did.

Unfortunately, Castle Greyhawk is more nightmare than dream -- a puerile, unfunny collection of shlock. "The common theme of this dungeon is that no joke is so old, no pun is so bad, and no schtick is so obvious that it can’t be used to confuse and trip up PCs!" That sums it up pretty well in my opinion and, if it hadn't been for the fact that the module was released in the wake of Gygax's ouster from TSR -- an event that shook the industry and the hobby -- I probably wouldn't regard this module with such bile. As it is, the entire thing comes off as a sophomoric attempt to belittle one of the co-creator's of the game and to destroy the game world he created for it.

Now, I'm not sure that it was in fact such a thing. Given that its twelve levels were written by a variety of freelancers, some of them extremely talented and well regarded (Paul Jaquays and Steve Perrin being stand-outs), it's quite possible that the whole thing wasn't so much a concerted attack on Gygax as a project that got out of control and took on a ridiculous life of its own. On the other hand, as many on this blog can attest, the late 80s were a time when many at TSR did make a real effort to besmirch Gary's reputation (This is when the ludicrous "Gary was a cokehead" rumor was started, after all). Likewise, Castle Greyhawk's ham-handed use of puns and pop cultural references (to Star Trek, for example) could quite plausibly be interpreted as pointed at Gygax, who both enjoyed humor and often included allusions and outright borrowings from pop culture in his home campaign.

My own sympathies lie with those who see WG7 as anti-Gygax, but I can't be certain there's any truth to it. Another possibility might have been that, while its origin wasn't defamation, the fact that it could be read that way tickled some of the higher ups at TSR, knowing they could hide behind plausible deniability should anyone confront them on the matter. Interestingly, this module's implicit criticism of Gary lives on at the Wizards of the Coast website, where an article by John Rateliff blames Gygax himself for laying the groundwork for this terrible module: "the parody element [of Dungeonland and Land Beyond the Magic Mirror] opened the door for the later WG7, Castle Greyhawk (1988)."

Since the article contains numerous factual and interpretive errors about the history of the hobby (such as not knowing who Eric Shook was, for example), it's easy to dismiss as errant nonsense, but it speaks volumes about the long shadow Gary casts over this hobby. He was a colossus and it's perhaps unsurprising that so many people wanted to "expose" him as having feet of clay. It's regrettable that Castle Greyhawk was ever published. Whether or not it was intended as a jibe against Gary, few can say, but I think it's certain that this module was ill-conceived, badly done, and a slap in the face of Greyhawk fans, who'd been hoping to see more of the real Castle Greyhawk, a dream that remains unfulfilled over 20 years after the release of this module.

57 comments:

  1. One of my many tragedies of his untimely death was not getting "Castle Zagyg" farther along.

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  2. I have come close to buying this module on so many occasions. When it was first released I had almost compulsive, enormous lust to buy this (I think prevented only by the wierd smell that arose from WGR1 Greyhawk Ruins being published in such a close trime frame).

    More recently, when I learned that Paul Jaquays had written part of it, I again started to think I should have a copy for research purposes. Ugh, I think I know better.

    I still physically flinch a bit when I see the famous title and the clashing tongue-hanging-out parody artwork.

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  3. As you said, James, whether or not this was a jibe at EGG (and, myself, being in the hinterlands of Texas at the time and having zero knowledge of any of the politics going on at TSR until years later), it was by itself not even a good attempt at humor, not to mention the marketing was terrible (I bet if this had been called "Castle Wacko" it wouldn't have received 1/10th the bile from fans).

    I do have a rather sad story concerning this module: I happened to be in a game store the week this was released, and my eyes bugged out "They have finally released EGG's Castle Greyhawk!!!" So I RAN to the counter with this in hand (not bothering to read the back blurb, which might have given it away, or glance more closely at the cover illustration) and bought it, then drove back home to read through it. Soon, very soon, after tearing off the shrink and sitting down to a read, I realized wht a load of garbage I had just purchased...and was furious. It was the last product I purchased from TSR that I didn't very thoroughly examine (up until then, I had been a "TSR Zombie" and bought anything new appearing on the shelf). In retrospect this saved me from some spectacularly bad purchases in the near future (the rest of the WG line, for one!)

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  4. Re, Badmike: Ouch. There but for the grace of gods go I.

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  5. I've always found the cover intriguing. I want to know the story behind these muppet-like malformations that have come boiling out of the Castle's gate, but the module's reputation has kept me clear of taking any steps to find out.

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  6. I never bought the module and aside from some anecdotes, I have no knowledge of what actually lies within this module. So I have to ask the question - WHY is it so bad? What are some examples of the BadThings within? (I'm asking in all seriousness, not trolling.)

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  7. When this module was released, I was living in Japan. I worked at a bookstore, and I saw Castle Greyhawk on the list of new releases that could be ordered. Extremely excited, I immediately did so, ordering one for me and several for the store.

    You can imagine my disgust and disappointment when I finally received the module. It was the biggest disappointment in what seems like an almost constant stream of D&D purchase disappointments from this time period. (I was still buying TSR D&D products, and I kept trying to like them, but it just wasn't working out.)

    I hate this module. Castle Greyhawk is the premier, legendary dungeon of the Greyhawk setting. We'd waited years for it. This module (like other releases in the Greyhawk line) said to me "We think Greyhawk is a joke." I don't mind "joke modules," but releasing TSR releasing Castle Greyhawk as a joke module was an insult and disappointment that still burns. That this module was released as "Castle Greyhawk" was either malicious or it was just plain stupid and incompetent. Either way, I don't like it.

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  8. I do have a rather sad story concerning this module: I happened to be in a game store the week this was released, and my eyes bugged out "They have finally released EGG's Castle Greyhawk!!!" So I RAN to the counter with this in hand (not bothering to read the back blurb, which might have given it away, or glance more closely at the cover illustration) and bought it, then drove back home to read through it. Soon, very soon, after tearing off the shrink and sitting down to a read, I realized wht a load of garbage I had just purchased...and was furious. It was the last product I purchased from TSR that I didn't very thoroughly examine (up until then, I had been a "TSR Zombie" and bought anything new appearing on the shelf). In retrospect this saved me from some spectacularly bad purchases in the near future (the rest of the WG line, for one!)

    Same story here, and same end result (though I did pick up WG8, based on Rob Kuntz's contributions which are almost (but not quite) enough to make that book worthwhile). The publication of Rose Estes' Master Wolf under the "Greyhawk Adventures" novel line around that same time had a similarly traumatic effect and put me permanently off TSR's fiction lines. Even to my 13-year-old mind the puzzle pieces began to fit together when quickly on the heels of these twin travesties TSR unveiled the Forgotten Realms as the new "default AD&D" world (but then I also knew something about Gary's ouster from TSR -- not as much as I'd learn later -- because he was the GOH at our local gaming con in 1987, pushing New Infinities and the Gord the Rogue novels (which came as such a relief after being violated by Ms. Estes).

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  9. I, too, bought the thing on first sight because, c'mon, it was CASTLE GREYHAWK. Walking out of the mall (I bought it at a Waldenbooks) I thought the cover art looked a bit odd for such a momentous release.

    I opened it, began reading while walking home, and OMFG...

    Now, some of the humor I found a bit funny in a stupid way. But I never played the thing. (I've heard that some people really did. Why?!?) I knew nothing of the TSR politics, so none of that was on my mind.

    In retrospect, I think the saddest part of this module's story is the fact that the REAL Castle Greyhawk never got out there.

    And it SHOULD have been called CASTLE WACKO. I have trouble believing that this was not an intentional slight, given the title.

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  10. So I have to ask the question - WHY is it so bad? What are some examples of the BadThings within?

    I actually went through some of this module as a player. I was invited to play in a weekly game run by my philosophy prof. when the thing first came out. He wanted to give it a try. Not knowing any better, I played.

    I don't remember any specifics, because there weren't any that were worth remembering. I can tell you this, however: the dungeon did not play as a dungeon. Rather, I felt like we were on some tripped out Japanese game show where the losers went home in a casket, and the survivors had to put up with really bad attempts at humor.

    We abandoned playing the thing after a few sessions and we went on to delving into a real dungeon.

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  11. Okay, okay -- there was much to hate here for the hardcore gamer. However, this decidedly silly module helped me coax three new (and now longtime) players into my group.

    It also introduced the "Minitaur" into my crew's gaming lexicon. Now, maybe we were more open to it since we were in our early and mid-teens when it came out in 1988, but it was a nice diversion from our long-term, much more serious campaign.

    I do think that it should never have been staged in the official World of Greyhawk, however. We just ignored it as part of that world's continuity.

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  12. (apologies if this is a repost, doesn't seem to have posted first time)

    This is an ironic day to bring WG7 up, since I think that's largely what WG7 is: a book full of practical joke levels, things you could pull on your players once a year.

    I own it, and have run a few of the levels. "There's No Place Like Up" by Paul Jaquays is quite interesting, in making a different sort of 2-dimensional dungeon with up/down replacing north/south. "It's My Party and I'll Die if I Want to" by Rick Swan is also entertaining, with monsters busily planning a summoning party for Demogorgon.

    Most of the levels aren't badly designed, merely the tone cranked too far to "zany". Running it as a campaign (and there is a campaign framework presented, and a running storyline, of sorts) would be soul-crushing, but it's not "THE WORST TSR MODULE EVER". I would give that title to WG9 Gargoyle, which combined railroading, gargoyles with removable wings, and "humor" that wasn't. Truly vile.

    The freaky monsters on the cover are from the random monster generator in the bottom level, which is the cause of the dungeon's problems.

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  13. It sounds like Badmike was right, the module might have been appreciated more if it hadn't been connected with something that was pretty near and dear for some gamers. At the same time, I like a good laugh, so a goof module could be a lot of fun.

    It would have been perfect for the Munchkin (D&D 3.5) based game that I played in a few years ago now. It sounds like the lame puns and goofs of the module would work great with a game that willingly incorporated freeze tag and Pac-Man in a dungeon crawl setting. It was wonderfully ridiculous, and we all got into the spirit to the point that someone had their original character killed off so he could create a new PC, that was a fanboy of another PC complete with ranks of knowledge in that PC. Trust me, it was comedy gold.

    Always remember to give a laugh its due in a game.

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  14. I actually own a copy. I bought it about ten years ago, in the tender age of thirteen, from someone offloading their old RPG stuff at Ropecon. It was the cheapest thing they were selling, the name seemed promising, so I bought it.

    On hindsight, that should've been a clue.

    Once I got home, I read bits of it, concluded I'd wasted my money, and stuffed it in the shelf. It's still there. I've since read most of it and seen nothing that'd cause me to reconsider my original judgment.

    However, it is not the worst module ever, though it does make the top (or bottom) ten. The worst module of all time is a Living Greyhawk module named Seeds, which fails at everything, including legibility.

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  15. >There's No Place Like Up" by Paul Jaquays is quite interesting, in making a different sort of 2-dimensional dungeon with up/down replacing north/south. "It's My Party and I'll Die if I Want to" by Rick Swan is also entertaining, with monsters busily planning a summoning party for Demogorgon<

    OK, this actually sounds good to me, and makes me want to know more! Where's the bad shit? Do I have to actually seek this fucker out on Ebay to find out more of the schlocky cheese that lies within? Please, somebody spend about a dozen paragraphs giving more examples. I want to hear about how Star Trek got worked in there most of all.

    >Always remember to give a laugh its due in a game<

    Yeah, well, I think a laugh for the sake of a laugh is just shit in a game. In my games the humor generally comes from things related to irony generated by players and their actions/reactions to things in the real world. Jokey D&D is a sign to me that it's perhaps time to move on to other things.

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  16. Jokey D&D is a sign to me that it's perhaps time to move on to other things.

    Hey that's cool.

    Sometimes I like irony, and a clever wit. At the same time I'm willing to be sold on a cheap laugh, gags, even slapstick in a game if it's delivered with the right kind of approach. What matters most is how my expectations are set. I came into the Munchkin game knowing it was gonna be played for gags, so it was perfect when they got served up to us. If the same jokes were thrown at me in a more serious game, they'd be headscratchers instead.

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  17. I should point out that there is a wonderful "Fluffy Quest" adventure in there. Rick Reid became famous for Fluffy Quest events at GenCon. Dunno how popular that stuff is today. If you look at that adventure as a stand-alone, it will be fine.

    That's really the only redeeming feature in the module though.

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  18. After all these years, I still cannot believe that this product ever saw the light of day, and kind of saddened by the fact it did.

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  19. It's pretty much the only D&D module that I've sold rather than archived in the vault. Sorry, NiT...

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  20. I also bought it when it was first released, thinking it would be a great Castle Greyhawk. It was so silly that I never ran it.

    I thought Gary ended up releasing at least parts of Castle Greyhawk as Castle Zagyg, for C&C. Is that the case, and if so, what does everyone think of it?

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  21. I'm the same basic story as a lot of folks here. I saw the name, "Castle Greyhawk", said "Finally!!", and hustled a copy up to the counter. Only as I was paying for it did I actually look at it and think, "What's with the goofy cover art?" Little did I realize I was experiencing the high point of my "Castle Greyhawk" ownership experience...

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  22. So the issue here is whether it's a disgrace unintentionally or as a result of a conspiracy?

    Either way, I'm just glad I never wasted money on it. ;)

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  23. The substantive comments in this thread have been pretty consistent: puerile, enjoyable for what it is, not what Gygax would've published under the name.

    The rest of the comments are grousing about the module not meeting expectations - and other than 'It's not EGG!' I'm not seeing actual criticism.

    James, other than offended sensibilities, do you have substantive criticism of its design? Or is this another of those 'I know betrayal when I smell it' things that I probably need to be middle-aged to understand?

    (This isn't trolling. Needling, yes, but I really do wanna hear proper criticism, which is why I come to this blog every morning.)

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  24. Man, TSR still owes me regarding this module (I know they're defunct... they still owe me).

    I was a kid when it came out. Every so often, I would get treated to a trip to the hobby shop to pick out a module to be given to my stepdad for (extended) family gaming (1e or Mentzer). On that ill-starred trip, I picked Castle Greyhawk. Why? Well, because it was a castle, it was big-looking, and it was Greyhawk and Greyhawk was D&D.

    Sadly, after proffering the book to the designated DM, I was sourly informed that my selection was a complete bust - it was so bad that there was nothing even salvageable from it. My choice had failed the family and harmed our prospects for D&D adventuring.

    Even more ironically, when my excellent D&D collection was destroyed by the malfeasance of said parentals, this cursed deadweight was one of the few books to survive (probably due to being put in a non-essential box that somehow lucked its way through the times). So I still have this blasted pustule.

    Maybe someday I'll take it out and burn it. Perhaps if I complete my collection of AD&D modules or something like that.

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  25. I stole Fluffy Goes Down the Drain for a text adventure I'm writing.

    The monster generator is basically what Raggi is selling even now.

    The gag about the party stuck in badger and similar forms because they didn't have a cleric, just a druid, and then he died too, was genuinely funny.

    Most of it is, indeed, one-note jokes that probably wouldn't be funny even once. But Worst. Module. EVAR? Nah.

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  26. "But Worst. Module. EVAR? Nah."

    Now don't get me wrong, Toon is one my favorite RPGs of all time, and it's packed full of the type of humor that's in Castle Greyhawk.

    At the same time, though, when I buy a Toon book, it's labeled as such and hence I know it. When I buy a D&D module and get a Toon book instead, that's just not cool. You simply *have* to take some points off for that, in my opinion.

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  27. Hm. Did anyone here read 3.5's Expedition To Castle Greyhawk? Ive got it but haven't given it a serious look, whough my understanding is it's rather more serious than this.

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  28. @brunomac "OK, this actually sounds good to me, and makes me want to know more! Where's the bad shit? Do I have to actually seek this fucker out on Ebay to find out more of the schlocky cheese that lies within? Please, somebody spend about a dozen paragraphs giving more examples. I want to hear about how Star Trek got worked in there most of all."

    There's a PDF (image scan only, alas) on Paizo for $5:

    http://paizo.com/store/downloads/wizardsOfTheCoast/aDAndD1/greyhawk/v5748btpy7meg

    I mentioned two good adventures, and "Fluffy Goes Down the Drain" by Rick Reid is also good, especially if you really like slimes and a certain slimy demon lord, and tormenting your players with annoying little girls won't lead to bloodshed. Oh, and I used the feud of the druids vs. the magic-users' "Fireball Fun in the Forest" promotion, and a bunch of other elements (the "What's It Worth To Ya?" reaction table was a permanent part of my old DM screen) as tension-breakers even in otherwise serious games.

    The Enterprise crew appears "The Name of the Game" by John Terra, which has thinly-veiled imitations of various RPG and fiction characters from our world, summoned by an annoying wizard. It's just a dumb monster bash, but has that Dungeonland feel of "hey, I just recognized the monster that ate my spleen!"

    The Jim Holloway illustrations, though few in number, are... insane.

    The bad? At least half the levels use such idiotic humor that I could never make use of them as-is; again, the level designs and challenge were generally pretty good, but the flavor text was a mess.

    I think the main reason people complained was that it was labelled "Castle Greyhawk", and it's obviously not. I complained initially, then got over my nerd rage after a day or so and read it on its own terms. Many people never got over it.

    The back cover says very clearly "The common theme of this dungeon is that no joke is so old, no pun is so bad, and no schtick is so obvious that it can't be used to confuse and trip up PCs!", so really, I don't know how anyone bought it expecting a serious Castle Greyhawk.

    I've never regretted buying it. Flipping through it now makes me feel like running some of it under Tunnels & Trolls.

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  29. At the same time, though, when I buy a Toon book, it's labeled as such and hence I know it. When I buy a D&D module and get a Toon book instead, that's just not cool.
    Well, to get philosophical for a moment, that rather requires a distinct conception of what D&D is (ie, "serious"), and that seems like a mistake when we're dealing with something to be played with "some dice, a pencil, and your imagination". Furthermore, surely the existence of a humour module means that someone recognised that there were no such boundaries to imaginative play?

    All that said, it's no excuse if the humour isn't actually funny.

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  30. The largest problem with this module (for the humor-apologists) is that it was indeed named "Castle Greyhawk" in a bait-and-switch tactic.

    "Castle Greyhawk" was a concept that had specific meaning, details, and tone, as given by EGG over about 15 years prior to that point (some rules supplements, some adventure modules, some magazine articles, etc.) The fact that TSR deliberately took advantage of that goodwill with a work of precisely the opposite tone is really just flat-out low-class.

    Consider this: Rodin's famous sculpture "The Thinker" was really just a study, one piece for a larger work called "The Gates of Hell". This latter work progressed for almost 40 years, and was not complete when Rodin died. How reprehensible would it have been for someone to use the name "The Gates of Hell" after he died, and surround The Thinker with clowns and comic figures, and knowingly trick people into assuming it was Rodin's own work?

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  31. So I have to ask the question - WHY is it so bad? What are some examples of the BadThings within? (I'm asking in all seriousness, not trolling.)

    Let's see:

    - Indiana Gnome
    - a djinn named Kork, whose companions as Mees Taspak, and a skeleton cleric.
    - Bugsbear Bunny
    - Mordenkainen's movie studio
    - Elfin John
    - Granting bonus XP to people who can quote lines from Star Trek
    - Colonel Sandpaper and King Burger

    Need I go on? The problem is not that this is a humorous module, but that a) the humor is unremittingly bad and b) this module bears the name of a product promised beforehand. Had this module been called "Castle Wacko" as some have suggested, it'd still be bad -- really, it's not funny at all -- but it wouldn't be viewed as a slap in the face of Greyhawk and Gary.

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  32. but it's not "THE WORST TSR MODULE EVER". I would give that title to WG9 Gargoyle, which combined railroading, gargoyles with removable wings, and "humor" that wasn't. Truly vile.

    Never saw that one.

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  33. Always remember to give a laugh its due in a game.

    Oh, I agree wholeheartedly. I love a good joke, even a silly one, in my games and most sessions of my campaigns include several of them. But this module neither contains good laughs nor pays proper respect to Gary and the world he created.

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  34. Is that the case, and if so, what does everyone think of it?

    I wrote a three-part review of it in November of last year. Short version: it's a very flawed piece of work with some elements worth stealing. However, it's not Castle Greyhawk and, even if it had been completed, never would have been.

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  35. not that there's a need for more theories, especially one that is based completely on conjecture, but here goes:

    1) the individual pieces were written pardoies in a teasing, in-jokey kind of way. none of it's funny but might have been funny among people who knew each other.

    2) the business "minds" at tsr had a very superficial understanding of their "market" ("these people like star trek, right?") and saw this as their last chance to sell something related to Gygax. from what little I know about them they seem too souless to be able to deliberately insult someone.

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  36. Bugsbear Bunny
    Oh, now I actually rather like that...

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  37. James, other than offended sensibilities, do you have substantive criticism of its design? Or is this another of those 'I know betrayal when I smell it' things that I probably need to be middle-aged to understand?

    With a few exceptions (Paul Jaquays' level, primarily), the dungeon levels are not very interesting in and of themselves, being both small and predictable. The encounters are almost entirely jokes, lacking both in challenge or in logic. Again, there are a few exceptions but the thing is riddled with sight gags, bad puns, and lame slapstick. Even as a "funhouse dungeon," it's sub-par.

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  38. Hm. Did anyone here read 3.5's Expedition To Castle Greyhawk? Ive got it but haven't given it a serious look, whough my understanding is it's rather more serious than this.

    I own a copy and think it's probably about as good as you could get, given the constraints of its format and rules set. It's not the whole dungeon, but rather an "impressionistic" take on it, which I actually think is a plus. On the other hand, it's got an overarching plot that I think is both unnecessary and intrusive. But it's definitely closer to the spirit of the Gygax original than anything we'd seen before.

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  39. James: Thanks for the comments explaining it. I missed a lot of these types of things - not really ever getting into Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms, but I can see why it would feel like a kick in the groin.

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  40. >- Indiana Gnome
    - a djinn named Kork, whose companions as Mees Taspak, and a skeleton cleric.
    - Bugsbear Bunny
    - Mordenkainen's movie studio
    - Elfin John
    - Granting bonus XP to people who can quote lines from Star Trek
    - Colonel Sandpaper and King Burger<

    Oh. Goddamn. I ain't spending 5 bucks for a PDF of that crap.

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  41. James: Hrm. Might be worth running eventually then. Glad to know eventually someone tried to do some justice.

    James and Bruno: Hah. That's awful. But I love it. Maybe it's just my inner 4th-grader, but I love really lame jokes like that.

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  42. The largest problem with this module (for the humor-apologists)
    Well, hang on there a minute. There appear to be three main criticisms of this module. One, that it's not very good, and two, that it's disrespectful (at best) to Gary Gygax and his work. Both fair points. What I can't agree with is the third complaint, that humour has no place in D&D. One of the chief selling points of the game is "you can do whatever you want with it", so are we really qualifying that with "except be funny"? It's one thing to excuse this particular module based on it being a joke, but to extend that to a general moratorium on humour in the game seems like a mistake.

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  43. Oh. Goddamn. I ain't spending 5 bucks for a PDF of that crap.

    Okay, I can agree with that. At the same time, it makes me wonder, what would make a good pie-in-the face dungeon. Not just funhouse, but a workable dungeon that is also willing to be genuinely silly. It wouldn't be for any campaign, that's for sure, but even as a thought experiment.

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  44. Wow. There's a lot of vitriol out there for this guy. Politically I understand, but for a silly time, it's honestly not that bad.

    I pulled it out last night (yes, I still have it) and gave it a look over. Paging through, I remember having a lot of fun with it. The jokes are bad (but often "good" bad) and the circumstances ridiculous, but there was a lot of fun to be had for a group looking to blow off steam. I remember my crew created characters in this same silly spirit to tackle the dungeon (one of my guys played a dwarf named Rand McNally). I think in the hands of the right DM, with the right crew in the right mindset, there's much fun to be had here, if you can forget (if not forgive) the way TSR was trying to capitalize on our love for Gygax's "lost" adventure.

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  45. - Mordenkainen's movie studio

    OMG I'd actually forgotten about this part (I haven't so much as looked inside this module in more than 20 years -- since about 2 days after I bought it, in fact) but surely even the people denying that the module as a whole was an intentional slam against Gary have to admit that this particular section couldn't have been anything else.

    Remember, from 1983 to 1985 Gary (i.e. Mordenkainen) was off in Hollywood running "Dungeons & Dragons Entertainment Company," developing the D&D cartoon and movie, living the Hollywood lifestyle and partying hard (and, at least reputedly, doing a lot of coke), totally divorced from what was going on in Lake Geneva (for instance, the entire Dragonlance multimedia concept -- in 1983 it was in early planning stages, but by 1985 it was responsible for a ton of successful modules, best-selling novels, calendars, and other tchotchkes (remember the Dragonlance cookbook?) and had significantly changed a lot of folks' opinions of what an rpg, and especially an rpg adventure, should be -- pre-Dragonlance the idea of giving players characters with pre-defined personalities and having them essentially re-enact a pre-written story was unheard of; post-Dragonlance it was the assumed norm).

    Then he swept back into town, fired a bunch of folks, and announced that from now on he was back in charge and things were going to be a lot different than they had been for the previous couple years (see, for instance, a Dragon editorial from this time about "swinging back the pendulum" from story to game).

    For people who had been hired, or at least had risen to prominence, in that period, it's understandable that there would be some resentment against "crazy coked-out Mr. Hollywood" acting like he still knows better than everyone else how to run the company/industry that's nothing like it was when he was running things out of his house back in the primeval '70s. How dare this guy who's been off living the high life for the last two years act like he knows better than us!

    There was undoubtedly a lot of schadenfreude among these folks when things went south for Gary, and a lot of petty satisfaction, and at least a bit of "the king is dead, now is my opportunity to become the new king." You may not believe that people would hold petty grudges to the point of deliberately maligning him in print, but 1) I know they did -- I "met" some of these people and overheard their conversations at GenCon, and their dislike of and contempt for Gary cannot be overstated, and 2) it's not like they were calling him out in the pages of Dragon magazine, this was all inside-baseball roman a clef stuff that the peons (i.e. us) wouldn't get, but the intended audience (Gary, and other industry folk) would know what was going on.

    Sure, most of the actual contributors were innocent of malicious intent -- they were just freelancers fulfilling an assignment for comedy/joke modules along the lines of Toon, Paranoia, the "Fluffy Quest" RPGA tournaments, and Dragon's "April Fools" issues (in a previous discussion of this module at ENWorld John Terra came forward and swore up and down that when he wrote his level he had no intention of slandering or disrespecting EGG, whom he'd never met and had no opinion of one way or the other) -- but the people in charge of this project at TSR knew exactly what they were doing. There is not a speck or smidgen of doubt in my mind about this. There can be no doubt that WG7 was a deliberate middle finger aimed at Gary Gygax.

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  46. Politically I understand, but for a silly time, it's honestly not that bad.

    One one hand, I can see how some folks see that snippet of corny puns as pretty lame, and I gotta say it sounds pretty lame to me.

    However, I completely understand those moments like David N had, where he had the right people and mindset to have a ball with it. I've run whole games under that aegis, against the railings of forum know-it-alls whole declared such games and their rules as "broken" or "unplayable".

    IMO, the saints of D20s are with the latter in this case. It's all about personal taste here, but I find more to admire in people who can find the enjoyable in a product, than those who dismiss it, however justifiable. In a larger sense, I'm finding that I consider even the worst material I've read as mere diamonds in the rough, looking for the right mix of polish and elbow grease to be at least inspirational.

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  47. There is not a speck or smidgen of doubt in my mind about this. There can be no doubt that WG7 was a deliberate middle finger aimed at Gary Gygax.

    I think you're right, having had more time to reflect on it. I was trying to be even-handed in my treatment of this thing, since, as you say, many of the people involved in it (at least two of whom I know), have claimed that they meant no insult or disrespect to Gary. But the evidence is pretty damning if you take the time to read more in-depth, as I am doing now, and it doesn't speak well of the people who let this travesty be published in the first place.

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  48. My recollection is that this "module" is as bad as many of the rest of you remember. Very insulting, not very funny, and not a Celebrity Roast style send-up at all.

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  49. This Greyhawk Module is still getting suckers. I found it in an old hobby store with a bunch of other D&D stuff that has been around since the early 90's when he stopped buying new product. I grabbed it and thought "Ah, the original Greyhawk Castle, and only $10.50".

    Now I'm not as big into old school gaming or Greyhawk as the rest of you. I'm a happy 4e fanboy. But damn, this module was so bad I felt cheated out of $20, not the $10.50 I payed for it.

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  50. Every year while waiting for Dragon magazine to arrive, i waited with dread when April rolled around.

    I HATED the april issues of Dragon, feeling it was a waste of my time and money.

    I bought Castle Greyhawk,being young at the time not knowing poltics at TSR nor anything background wise. But once I got it home and read, I had the same feeling I did with APRIL issues of Dragon....

    It was just a waste of my time and money.

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  51. Yes, Castle Greyhawk is a very bad module.

    But, what about Castle Zagyg (Troll Lord Games)? It is Castle Greyhawk at its best, isn't it?

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  52. I come from a very different mind set from most D&D gamers as D&D is not (by far) my favorite game in any of its incarnations. From the first game I ever played at age 8 (1977) to today, we don't just kill and loot the bodies, we aren't powergamers and we could care less what the rules say in favor of fun and cool.

    To that end I think the problem with Castle Greyhawk is the perception that it should not have been part of 'Greyhawk Canon'. As a Star Trek fan who has lived through ST V: The Final Frontier and ST: Voyager I can relate. At the same time this is far from the worst module ever (D&D had a lot of bad modules) and I wasn't so aware of TSR's political climate at the time of its release (though maybe not unaware).

    I've used parts of this module (modified) for games of Tales of the Floating Vagabond, Paranoia, Ghostbusters, Teenagers from Outer Space and a homebrew Fantasy Comedy campaign inspired by Tunnels & Trolls and the Anime series Slayers. I love(ed) the April Issues of Dragon. I'd play a Jester in a second before an Anti-Paladin or any of the other 'More-Kill'em' classes that I see all too often.

    Take a deep breath, let it out slow and take another look at that cover. It's an awesome illustration. We're talking about a game that said Elves (who live waaay longer then Human) could reach the levels in Magic Use Humans could. Your heavy, metal armor makes you harder to hit instead of hurt. A high level warrior can fall off a castle battlement and live. Are you kidding? This game is hilarious!
    I guess I'm just able to find D&D funny from the get go.

    AD
    Barking Alien

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  53. It is Castle Greyhawk at its best, isn't it?

    Castle Zagyg is not Castle Greyhawk at its best IMO. It shows flashes of the old brilliance but it's a very flawed product in both its conception and execution, made worse because it's only one part of a planned multi-part product.

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  54. Speaking of castles and dungeons, what do you think of Dungeons of Castle Blackmoor?

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  55. Oh, oh! Blackmoor! I so wanted to be able to run (or play in!) that, just as I wanted to run Castle Greyhawk. I have the First Fantasy Campaign from Judges Guild, but it wasn't much but random notes. Nice map, of course. Then I bought DA1 thru 4, and knew that the best I could hope for was something inspired by Blackmoor. Is there anything more genuine out there now?

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  56. Speaking of castles and dungeons, what do you think of Dungeons of Castle Blackmoor?

    I own it, but never spent much time examining it, primarily because it didn't appear that Dave Arneson had very much to do with it. It's probably a less "authentic" presentation of the original megadungeon than was Castle Zagyg.

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