Monday, September 14, 2020

T2, Castle Greyhawk, and More

The arrival of Gary Gygax's sequel to The Village of Hommlet (1979) was much anticipated, by myself if no one else. I had hoped that module T2, entitled The Temple of Elemental Evil, would appear sometime in 1981 or '82 – my memory is hazy – given that I had earlier that year purchased and run The Village of Hommlet (with cover art by Jeff Dee). Alas for me, that didn't happen; it wouldn't be until 1985 that we finally got a module bearing the title The Temple of Elemental Evil and it was not at all what I was expecting. (Instead, I started creating my own version of the Temple, a project I never finished but one of whose maps I recently found among some old papers)

Had I been a member of the RPGA in 1981 and read the second part of the Gary Gygax interview that appeared in issue #2 (Autumn 1981), I might have learned that T2 was still unfinished at that time. I might also have learned a little bit about Gygax's other projects – some eventually completed, like The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, and some not – as well as the state of the Greyhawk campaign. 

Gygax's talk of "the plane modules" is intriguing. Skip Williams talked briefly about one of these modules, to be entitled Shadowland, which would have dealt with the Plane of Shadow. Beyond that, I know very little about these modules beyond vague recollections that Gygax felt that high-level characters should chiefly adventure on other planes of existence. 

Equally intriguing is what Gygax says about his Greyhawk campaign. By 1981, he wasn't refereeing it regularly anymore and, when did, it was primarily for his "young children, their friends and associates" with occasional get-togethers with "some of the old-timers." He mentions "Ernie [Gygax] and Brian [Blume]" as among the latter group. That's frankly not surprising, given how busy he undoubtedly was with TSR business, but it's disappointing to read nonetheless. The clash between "Gamer Gary" and "TSR Gary" was a real one and it colors not just what Gygax said but also how he led his life, as the comments above suggest. 

17 comments:

  1. The bit I find interesting in this portion of the interview is the (throwaway?) line about "test[ing] some ideas I had about random dungeons". Now obviously Gygax may mean "random dungeons" in the sense of an assortment of various dungeons, but I can't help wonder if he's expressing an interest in, and perhaps a difficulty with, procedural generation?

    Certainly both B1 (not Gygax, but early D&D design) and the appendixes of the Gygax DMG show interest in the idea of randomized adventure creation. I wonder how much it's something Gygax was getting into in the 80's? It seems particularly interesting because Gygax's best work always seemed to me to be his dungeon design - G1 and B2 especially - and his design principles, process and goals might be worth interrogating.

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    1. The DMG bit is, I'm pretty sure, a development of an article from the first issue of The Strategic Review on "solo dungeon adventures." It's clearly something that interested Gygax, as an intellectual exercise at least.

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    2. The DMG tables are indeed a very-lightly-revised version of the tables that appeared in The Strategic Review. I've always wondered if those tables are what Gary was talking about as the random dungeons he tested in the TOEE game. Rob Kuntz's timeline says the TOEE game began in 1975, the Strategic Review issue with the random dungeon tables was published in the spring of '75 so it's probably too early but who knows. If it wasn't these tables then whatever he was testing must not have worked out because he never published anything else about random dungeons besides the revised version of those tables in the DMG (unless he was perhaps referring to what eventually became the Dungeon Geomorphs and Monster & Treasure Assortments? We know that the latter were created by Ernie Gygax as an after-school project - literally rolling on tables and writing down the results - but maybe the contents of those tables (which analysis has shown don't match any published procedures) are what Gary was testing in the TOEE games.

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  2. Hmmmmmm, that interview is from 1981 and in 1982 we get WG4 - The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun. I wonder if its wilderness portions are "repurposed" from the front end outdoor adventure to S4 he mentions?

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    1. It's possible. There are a number of connections between the WG4 and S4. I wouldn't be surprised in the least if material intended for one got re-purposed for another when it came time for publication.

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    2. The tournament version of "Lost Caverns" begins at the dungeon entrance, so the "front end outdoor adventure" is the wilderness section of the published S4. WG4 was (apparently) added as a side-adventure during the playtesting of the expanded Tsojcanth module which Gary ended up liking enough that he decided it was worth publishing as a module as well.

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  3. Don’t know if you’re familiar with the “Grogtalk” podcast, James, but they have had some excellent interviews with several “old timers,” including Ernie, Skip, Mike Mornard, Tim Kask, etc. I seem to recall Skip talking about Shadowland and that the idea of other planar adventures was quite “under baked” (at least in Gygax’s end).

    I think it’s interesting he refers to Tsojcanth as “S5,” when it was eventually published as S4. Was this a typo? Was there supposed to be a different “Special” module that would have carried the S4 designation?

    Always fun to read these old interviews and look back through time.

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    1. I don't know that podcast, but that's interesting. I may have to seek it out.

      On the S5 front, I think that WG4 was originally designated S4, but I may be misremembering.

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    2. Yeah, that might be. I thought Tharizdun was written AFTER Tsojcanth (that’s why it was the 4th WG module: because T1, T2, and S4 were the “unofficial” WG1-WG3). But who knows what TSR’s R&D department looked like at that time.

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    3. I am not deeply knowledgeable in these matters, so I will happily defer to someone like Alan Grohe has forgotten more about Greyhawk than I ever knew.

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    4. I recall reading somewhere (the Acaeum, maybe?) that "Dwellers in the Forbidden City" was originally designated as S4 before ultimately being published in late 1981 as I1. So in August 1981 that's presumablty what is filling the hypothetical S4 slot.

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    5. The Greyhawk modules' codes are interesting in their history of changes:

      GC S8/X1 --> GC1 --> EX1 Dungeonland
      GC S8/X2 --> GC2 --> EX2 Land Beyond the Magic Mirror

      WG1 Village of Hommlet --> T1
      WG2 Temple of Elemental Evil --> T2 --> T1-4

      Tsojconth (original tourney) --> WG II The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth --> S5 Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth --> WG3 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth --> S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth

      I didn't recall that I1 was originally slated to be S4, but Trent's memory is spot-on: https://www.acaeum.com/ddindexes/modpages/i.html and some good discussion at https://www.acaeum.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1098 which also mentions this:

      F1 Beyond the Crystal Cave --> S5 or U4 --> UK1

      Allan.

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    6. Thanks, Allan. This is very useful information.

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    7. FWIW I just confirmed that the TSR 1981 "Gateway to Adventure" catalog lists Dwellers of the Forbidden City as module S4 "coming in 1981"

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    8. That's an excellent catch. Thank you.

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  4. Given that S4 recycled a level from the Expanded Greyhawk Castle (Core Level 7), I think it's interesting to consider just how huge a project the Greyhawk Castle megadungeon would have been, had it received the treatment one of its levels got.

    Probably something on the order of 10 modules for the core stack of 20 levels alone, with another 5 modules for each of the North, East, South, and West stacks, for a total of 30 modules! The sheer immensity of it and the work involved is likely what shelved the project, more than anything else.

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  5. In addition to Skip's Shadowlands, Steve Marsh was working on his Starstrands planar setting, which he has shared quite a bit of info on via his personal web site at https://adrr.com/story/index.htm

    Eric Shook had produced a very cool draft map for one of the Starstrands modules, which was sold by Paul Stormberg in May 2008, too, although I can't find a ready image online to share :-/

    Allan.

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