Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Greyhawk Ruins, despite its name, doesn't have a lot to do with the real Castle Greyhawk of Gary Gygax. On the other hand, it's also not a bad joke in module form. I'm no scholar of Greyhawk and its minutiae, so I can't speak to whether there's anything in Greyhawk Ruins that owes its existence to the original Lake Geneva campaign except in a general way. Thus, there are lots of references to Greyhawk figures and places, particularly Zagig Yragerne, as one might expect. However, there's little discernible Greyhawk "feel" to the place Mobley and Brown describe. One could easily change all the names and identifiers and no one would be the wiser. The vast dungeon this 128-page product describes is actually pretty generic, branding aside.
Whether one views its generic nature a virtue or a vice is a matter of opinion, of course. If one wishes to drop the dungeon into one's own campaign, it's pretty easy to do so. On the other hand, I suspect most of the people who purchased this module were not looking for a generic dungeon. They were looking for Castle Greyhawk, whose publication had been promised at least as far back as 1980, if not longer. I know I was, which is why, until recently, I held Greyhawk Ruins in very low esteem. I've recently re-evaluated my opinion and have come to the conclusion that, while pretty dull in many ways, this module isn't worthy of the disdain I heaped upon it. Don't misunderstand me: it's still not a great module by any estimation. But it is, as I say, a rare example of a published megadungeon, which makes it worthy of some respect, even if it doesn't engender much affection.
There are some things that Greyhawk Ruins does right. Firstly, it's big. I mean, really big. This is not a dungeon one could ever hope to "clear," even if one spent many months playing through it continuously. That's an important aspect of any megadungeon. Secondly, while there's a backstory that provides some context for the dungeon, there's no overarching "story." Some rooms and levels have a certain connectedness, while others don't. Wandering from place to place, there's a great deal of variety, with factions and power groups local to some areas but not others. Thirdly, the dungeon's levels aren't neatly stacked on top of one another. Instead, there are multiple, parallel ways to enter the dungeon and the relationship between the levels isn't straightforward. Finally, there's a lot of weird -- and occasionally goofy -- stuff in the dungeon, as befits "a vast castle built by generations of mad wizards and insane geniuses." All of these things work together to produce something that has more in common with the earliest dungeons of the hobby than the tournament-style "lair" dungeons many gamers raised on a diet of prepackaged modules see as the norm.
In short, Greyhawk Ruins may not be a particularly inspired example of a megadungeon, but it is a megadungeon and I give it points for that alone.