Thursday, October 30, 2008

It's Official - TLG Loses Castle Zagyg

Over at the Troll Dens, Stephen has revealed that Gygax Games has officially yanked all of TLG's licenses to Gary's intellectual property:
Gygax Games has withdrawn all licenses from Troll Lord Games. This includes Gygaxian Fantasy Worlds, Gord the Rogue, King of England King of France, C&C Adventures as well as Castle Zagyg.
Now, I can't say that I've not seen this coming, despite the efforts of some pollyannas to say that "no news is better than bad news". There is no news as to what, exactly, Gygax Games is planning on doing with all the properties that TLG had spent so many years developing, although it seems pretty obvious that they're going to need to spend quite a bit of time ramping up their own development process just to catch up to where TLG was as of this week.

The implications for Castle Zagyg are clear; if and when the series is released by Gygax Games, it's not going to be as a Castles & Crusades product. The most likely scenario is that they will be releasing it as a 4E product, because the market is much larger for such material. I fully understand that decision, if it actually materializes, even if I do not support it as it is clearly not what Gary Gygax wanted to do with the material. But that is only speculation on my part, and I shall wait to see what comes out of Gygax Games in the coming months in terms of announcements to the gaming community.

What this means to me, specifically, in the context of my own Greyhawk campaign, is that I will be using the published version of Upper Works produced by TLG, as it is an excellent product and conversion to my own system of choice (AD&D) is quite simple. I had originally been waiting for the next boxed set in the series, so I could have a good half-dozen or so levels for my players to explore, but now I will then be producing my own dungeon levels, based on both the announced plans for the TLG product line and the many and varied bits of Greyhawk lore scattered hither and yon on the web. I simply don't want to have to wait for Gygax Games to get its act together, especially when it seems pretty obvious that their product will be released in a game system that is light-years away from being compatible with the game I play. I might retro-fit converted versions of their material into my own at some point, but I'm not going to worry about that until we get some more information from Gygax Games, and close to an actual delivery date.

If you can, buy TLG's Upper Works now, while they have them in stock. They're ceasing sales of UW (and other Gygax products) on December 31, 2008.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Castle Zagyg Original Release Plans

Over on the Troll Lord Games message board, there's a thread about how they had originally intended to roll out their Castle Zagyg line (which is, of course, only the latest incarnation of the long-awaited Castle Greyhawk). Someone was kind enough to post links to the original announcements as are still to be found on the TLG website, but since things on the web can be somewhat ephemeral, I repost them here in the interests of completeness and as a memory aid for my own design work in case TLG gets shut out in the latest Gygax Games IP reshuffling.

Gary Gygax's Castle Zagyg: Yggsburgh
Beneath the shadows of the ancient, dreaded Castle Zagyg stands the fortified town of Yggsburgh. Its stout walls and cobbled ways give ample refuge to those bold and worthy adventurers who come to the Four Tors to plunder the dungeon deeps of the Mad Mage. Beyond the protective covering of the town's walls and the deep waters of the Urt and Nemo Rivers, lie a vast rolling countryside from the Glittering Knobs, the Uplands to the Lonely Valley.

Enter the environs of that most dread of magi, test your mettle and make ready for the heroes forge that is Castle Zagyg!

The book you hold in your hands is the Setting for the famed Castle Zagyg, the monstrous dungeons of which are detailed in the following six volumes of this series.

More than a Campaign Setting!

This book consists of the town of Yggsburgh and its Environs, which include the town of Garham and 60 different geographic locales, each with their own peculiarities and adventures. The map charts over 1500 square miles of adventuring terrain, allowing the inclusion of Yggsburgh and Environs into almost any fantasy campaign setting. Each geographic locale has one or more adventures associated with it, offering hundreds of different plots, themes and escapades, players can take their characters on.

What to Expect:
  • 1 Full Color, fold-out, 24" x 30" Map of the Environs of Yggsburgh
  • 1 Full Color, fold-out, 24" x 30" Map of the Town of Yggsburgh
  • Nine Interior Maps of Points of Interest
  • 600+ Non-Players Characters
  • 30+ Random Encounter and Event Tables
  • 50+ Random Encounters, offering hundreds of adventure venues
  • Orders of Battle for everything from Goblins to Knights
  • New, Monsters, Magic Items & Spells for the Castles & Crusades© Role Playing Game
  • Crime and Punishment for Yggsburgh
  • Over 1000 Adventures and Adventure ideas!
Gary Gygax's Castle Zagyg: Upper Works

The curse has finally lifted!

The most legendary and fabled castle of them all, Castle Zagyg materializes from a dread fog that has long held it enthralled and thus averting its many seekers.

As your party emerges from the tangled brush, briers, and vines that fence the Old Castle Track, you observe the sprawling ruins of an enormous castle complex built upon a sloping bluff of rock. Crumbling, battlemented walls join towers square, round, and pentagonal. Gatehouses, courtyards, and craft shops lie in varying states of disrepair. High above the ruins, at the culmination of the bluff, rise two impressive towers: one round, the other hexagonal. The great east towers flank an enormous fortress of stone from which carved spires rise, piercing the very sky. This edifice can be none other than Castle Zagyg, the dwelling of the Mad Archmage.

An outer gatehouse presents the most immediate structure before you. A ravine stretches north-south behind it, forming a natural barrier in juxtaposition with the castle bluff. Closer inspection reveals a series of caves, toothy maws, dark and treacherous that riddle the sheer walls of the ravine and castle bluff.

Your quarry looms ahead! Explore the ruins at the foot of Castle Zagyg, plunge within the murky caves that dot the rocky bluff, or make for the castle fortress, seeking ingress to Mad Archmage's many and sundry dungeons below -- your choices are myriad. Adventure and derring-do beckons, seekers, though discerning individuals will no doubt note that a horrible death is as probable as attaining both fame and vast treasure. Are you and your fellow explorers brave enough to undertake the challenge, the mystery, the weird whimsy and lurking horrors that are Castle Zagyg?

Castle Zagyg, Volume II: The Upper Works is a Castles & Crusades mega-adventure for character levels 1-4. It is strongly suggested that adventuring parties contain at least one thief and be prepared to encounter all manner of dangers in the haunted ruin and in its subterranean mazes. With an estimated 272-page count in five books, this boxed set will contain the following adventures:

  • Mouths of Madness: Explore the ancient wilderness surrounding Castle Zagyg, then investigate the many caves that pock the rocky bluff on which the ruins lie. The Mouths of Madness are infested with humanoids such as bugbears, goblins, gnolls, kobolds, orcs, and a sly hill giant. Rumors persist of a prowling werewolf, a deranged owlbear, bizarre fungi, and deadly blobs that drink flesh from bone!
  • Ruins of the Castle Precincts: Broach the ruined walls, courtyards, towers, and outbuildings that comprise the precincts of Castle Zagyg, including an Oriental-style pagoda gatehouse and an Egyptian-style pylon gate. Human bandits and a formidable goblin tribe claim several structures, but some horrors are well beyond their mortal ken.
  • The East Wall Towers: Flanking the castle fortress loom a pair of colossal towers: The Great East Wall Tower and the Hexagonal East Wall Tower. One is inhabited by an enigmatic hermit and his horde of "pets"; the other is controlled by malign cultists of an ambitious sort.
  • Castle Fortress: Legend speaks of Zagyg's Castle lying in a state of ruin, much like the walls and towers below it. But when that eldritch fog parted, the fortress of the Mad Archmage was revealed an intact and most imposing edifice. Now bandits hide out there, but even they live in fear of prowling and ravenous monsters, ghostly hauntings, weird machines, animated statues, and tricks and traps galore.
  • The Storerooms (Level 1): Below the castle fortress lies the first dungeon level of Castle Zagyg, where militant kobolds march and potent goblins congregate. Beware the tricks, the traps, and the whimsy enchantments of the Mad Archmage, for here begins the true zaniness of Zagyg, the Mad Archmage who invites all adventure seekers to engage in a bit of derring-do.
  • Upper Works Map & Illustration Booklet: This resource contains maps, floor plans, and dozens of illustrations that pertain to the adventure.

Castle Zagyg, Volume II: The Upper Works is the first of at least three boxed sets to comprise this unparalleled mega-adventure. Never before told, these adventures are Gary Gygax’s personal creations. For 30 years, whether at Gary's table or on the convention floor, players have dashed themselves against the shoals of Castle Zagyg. So many have tried plundering these deeps of Gary's favorite wizard that the dungeons have become legends throughout the gaming world

Gary Gygax's Castle Zagyg Volume III: The Dungeons

Beyond the gates and beneath the rooms of the mighty castle lie the upper chambers of the dungeons. Here, Zagyg gathered great store of supplies, built cellars and made room for the host of his minions. Too, he built a great Arena for his evil sport and opened the gate to the dread depths of the Ebon Well.

More than a Campaign Setting!

This third installment of the Castle Zagyg series brings the adventuring party beneath the ruins of the dread castle itself.

Gary Gygax's Castle Zagyg Volume IV: The Deeps

In the Deeps, the true terror and horror of Zagyg's mind was revealed, for here he built his laboratories. And ever his minions carted creatures great and small, proud and downtrodden to the rooms of the menagerie and these fed the vile experiments of his temper. The remains of tortures peopled his museum which led to the great ramp of the Inclined Way and the Catacombs beyond.

This fourth installment of the Castle Zagyg series brings the adventuring party into the labyrinthine corridors of the midlevels of the castle.

Gary Gygax's Castle Zagyg Vol V: Chambers of Stone

Zagyg's power burrowed into the deeps of the earth, where only dark things dwell. In these parts of the dungeons even his minions dreaded to go and they called these places the "Lairs" and the "Chambers of Stone". Here were the lesser and greater Crypts, the Warrens and the nightmare of the Endless Rooms.

More than a Campaign Setting!

This fifth installment of the Castle Zagyg series brings the adventuring party into the caves of the underdark.

Gary Gygax's Castle Zagyg Vol VI: A Lightless Lake
The foundations of Castle Zagyg were built upon the great caverns where sat the foul reek of the Pools of Chaos. Snaking from their deeps were a host of caverns, networks of tunnels that led to countless pits and the deep places of the earth. Here, all manner of evil came to dwell.

More than a Campaign Setting!

This sixth installment of the Castle Zagyg series brings the adventuring party into the magical worlds of Zagyg's making and the heart of his dark realm.

Gary Gygax's Castle Zagyg Vol VII: Zagyg's Way

Beyond the confines of the dungeons of Castle Zagyg, in the deeps of the world, stands the Lightless Lake, bound only by the ever burning flames of the Infernos. Zagyg himself tread those halls with caution, and even then, only when girded in his greatest sorceries. For there, if the legends are believed, were the gates to other worlds . . . worlds of dread and death.

More than a Campaign Setting!

This seventh and final installment of the Castle Zagyg series brings the adventuring party to the point of no return.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Geography Humor

One of my favorite comics. Now with geographical humor goodness! If you don't read it regularly... start.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

New Monster: The Worry-Hag

WORRY-HAG (Least daemon)

FREQUENCY: Very Rare
NO. APPEARING: 1
ARMOR CLASS: 9
MOVE: 9”
HIT DICE: 2
% IN LAIR: Nil
TREASURE TYPE: Nil
NO. OF ATTACKS: 1
DAMAGE/ATTACK: 1-3/1-3
SPECIAL ATTACKS: See below
SPECIAL DEFENSES: See below
MAGIC RESISTANCE: 35% against first-level spells
INTELLIGENCE: Average
ALIGNMENT: Neutral evil
SIZE: S (3’ tall)
PSIONIC ABILITY: Nil
Attack/Defense Modes: Nil

The worry-hag is a denizen of the lower planes, specifically the glooms of Hades, where they act as minor servitors to the various forms of greater hags and daemons that rule those planes. They are also not unknown on the adjoining planes of Gehenna and Tarterus. It pleases the rulers of these planes to sometimes send their minions to the Prime Material Plane to either serve wicked spell-casters as familiars, to act as spies or advance scouts for their masters, or simply to wreak havoc on their own. Worry-hags are created from larvae in a process similar to that by which imps and quasits are created (q.v.). If a special familiar is indicated when casting a find familiar spell, and the caster is of neutral evil alignment, a worry-hag will be the result.

In their natural state, they appear as miniature and very ugly women, with black faces which are at once withered and bulbous. They are fond of dressing in many layers of gloomy clothing, with various shades of black, brown, and grey. Their eyes are deep pits of glossy black. The worry-hag can assume two of the following forms, at will: owl, black faun, hare, or constrictor snake.

When in its natural form, the worry-hag's attack is by its tiny horny fists. In addition, the worry-hag is able to spit forth venomous bile once every 2 rounds. If it hits its target (range 2", save vs. breath weapon or be hit), it will cause blindness (per the spell) for 2d6 turns. They also regenerate 1 h.p. per round. When in their fawn or hare forms, they have no physical attacks.

Regardless of its form, the worry-hag has at its command the following magical powers: ultravision, detect good, detect magic, and invisibility, all at will. Once per day it can cause confusion (as per the 7th level druid spell). They are immune to poison, paralysis, charm, suggestion, and normal weapons. Acid, fire, and cold-based attacks do half damage. For purposes of spell attacks against them, worry-hags are considered 7 hit dice creatures. They can also draw on the awesome intellects of the daemon-lords who create them. The worry-hag's magic resistance functions as does that of all daemons; it is 35% vs. first-level spells, then subtracts 5% per spell level. It is still as if the caster were 11th level.

When in the role of a familiar, the worry-hag gives to its "master" the following benefits and powers: a telepathic link allowing the "master" to share the worry-hag's senses (including ultravision) up to a mile away. Within 1" of its "master", the worry-hag imparts its magic resistance of 35% against first-level spells and allows him or her to regenerate 1 h.p. per round. When within a mile of its "master", the worry-hag adds one level of experience to him or her; when more than a mile away, one level is subtracted. If the familiar is slain, the "master" will lose 4 levels. Lastly, in addition to the normal course of its advice, it is able to open contact to the pits of Hades once per week, in order to help its "master" decide on a course of action. This contact functions as a commune spell, but 6 questions are allowed.

(This article is best viewed with the Tw Cen MT font installed on your PC.)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

How to start a "Gygaxian" Greyhawk campaign

On a game board that I frequent (Pied Piper, if you are curious), someone asked what sort of things they should use in order to start up a Greyhawk campaign with the "original Gary's vision" feel. Here was my response; I think it illustrates some of my thinking about what a good Greyhawk campaign would use. There are a few edits.

You'll want a huge dungeon-crawl, and I would highly recommend "Castle Zayg: Upper Works" recently published by Troll Lord Games, but with the caveat that you might end up having to do a lot of design work yourself to expand the dungeon, as it is currently unclear as to whether, when, or for what game system the next module in the series will be released. I would definitely include Rob's work offered for sale here, as well; I'll definitely be placing the Living Room and Bottle City somewhere in my Castle Greyhawk when the time comes. I know some people will end up including some of Rob's Maure Castle levels to make up some of the missing levels, and that seems workable, with a little effort. You can also have fun putting in gates to Dungeonland/Beyond the Magic Mirror and the Isle of the Ape.

Adventures outside the dungeons of Greyhawk would be called for as well. You will obviously want to concentrate on the earlier material, given what you say. The original Greyhawk boxed set, definitely. Village of Hommlet/Temple of Elemental Evil. The Giants/Drow series. Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth and Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun. White Plume Mountain. Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. Not necessarily in that order... Personally, I would tend to ignore the books that TSR/WotC published on various kingdoms (Iuz, Marklands, Scarlet Brotherhood) and the Living Greyhawk stuff and concentrate on the earlier modules. But then again I've been told that I'm an atavistic jerk, so take it as you will. :-)

Depending on how creative you want to get, you could cobble together a very workable City of Greyhawk with bits and pieces from the TSR boxed set, material from Gary's books (especially City of Hawks and Night Arrant), and the new city of Yggsburgh material from TLG. The boxed set maps are atrocious, but feel free to use the hand-drawn maps I've got up on my blog.

As a question of campaign philosophy, you will need to decide on the timeframe of your campaign. This will be important for the simple reason that it will determine whether or not your PCs are competing with the likes of Robilar and Erac's Cousin, or if they are hitting the ground with those legendary personages already having come before. You could, of course, start off in CY 560 and just not have Melf et al involved at all, but that seems to lose some of the fun, to my mind. My own players really loved their encounters with Melf and crew...

You should also bear in mind that "original Gary's vision" is a somewhat nebulous concept, as his campaign changed in significant ways over the years (not that I ever had the pleasure of playing in it, alas...). It started out as a fantastic version of North America, with Greyhawk equalling Chicago. That turned into something more-or-less approximating the published Flanaess. Castle Greyhawk itself morphed from a dozen or so levels to 30 to 6 and now to whatever the plan for Castle Zagyg ends up being. Suffice to say it seems to me that there's a lot of wiggle-room for you as DM, even if you want to remain true to the spirit of Gary's Greyhawk.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Greyhawk Wars... Kinda

I've got an inkling to do a really huge project. Mostly for my own edification, but naturally I'll publish the results once I get them into something approaching fit-for-public-consumption.

Regular readers will recall that I was an avid wargamer before I was a role-player, and I think that the wars surrounding the Great Kingdom would be excellent fodder for an old-fashioned, SPI-style wargame. Hex maps, cardboard counters, different scenarios... the works. (And, once again, if anyone from WotC is reading, consider this a product pitch!)

Picture this; a large (22" x 34") map depicting the area of South Province, Idee, the Iron Hills, Irongate, parts of Onnwal and Sunndi on a much larger scale than the Darlene maps (maybe 10 miles per hex; I haven't done the math). Lots of colorful counters depicting units of the Iron League and the aforementioned South Province. (Check out the counters here to get an idea of what I'm talking about, oh ye benighted non-wargamers.) Rules would include supply, magic, morale, wizards and heroes, magical artifacts, raising new troops, etc. Scenarios... ah, the scenarios. The Revolt of the Iron League in 455. The attempts of Herzog Chellor to harry the League in 577/8. Scores of attempts to shatter the League in-between. Conflicts between the dwarves of the Iron Hills and both sides. The hordes of Wastri emerge from the Vast Swamp to wreak havock.

Hell, you could even have an alternate combat resolution mechanic that encorporates that Men & Magic update / System 7 Napoleonics fusion I posted about earlier. But that wouldn't be necessary. I think this could really work, and would open up the door for a whole series of games; the wars of Imperial Keoland, Nyrond/Almor vs. the Great Kingdom, humanoids of the Bone March vs. Ratik/North Province... And of course the Shield Lands could warrant an entire game unto themselves.

Well, THIS sucks

Jeffrey Talanian, who collaborated on the Castle Zagyg project, is now apparently off the project. Gygax Games (the company that Gary's widow runs, and which owns all of his IP) are apparently shifting gears on how they want to do things; i.e., it looks like they're cutting Troll Lord Games out of the picture. And, naturally, they're not saying anything, which is just certain to build the confidence of te fanbase and stockpile loads of good-will for the Widow Gygax's future efforts. At the moment, it looks like getting a Volume III is a distant dream, but time will tell if my pessimism is justified.

Looks like I'll be back to designing my own Castle Greyhawk levels. Just when I was all set to do some wilderness mapping...

Fifty Different Terrain Types

I just discovered this post over at John Krygier's absolutely fascinating Making Maps: DIY Cartography blog. The application to both role-playing and wargaming is obvious. These terrain features really remind me of the old Iron Crown Enterprises maps-- those things were absolutely gorgeous.

The listing of those fifty terrain types-- with no fewer than ten different types of "plains" and includes representative art for all of them-- comes from a 1931 article by Erwin Raisz (of whom I had never heard before), who sets out a system to standardize the illustration of terrain according to the geographic type of the area, but with incorporating the peculiar idiosyncracies of the land itself. Raisz is quoted as saying:

For the study of settlement, land utilization, or any other aspect of man’s occupation of the earth it is more important to have information about the ruggedness, trend, and character of mountains, ridges, plains, plateaus,
canyons, and so on-in a word, the physiography of the region.

And I can say that such would be eminently important to the more mundane aspects of both role-playing and wargaming. On the whole, it's very evocative of Renaissance-era maps, to my eye. It is most definitely the antithesis of modern cartography, which is very modern and scientific, with elevation lines and so forth. Much as I can see the appeal of such a modernist approach to mapping, I vastly prefer the evocative nature of this sort of cartography for gaming purposes.

The old Wilderlands maps are something of an adaptation of this sort of map-making; taking these sorts of naturalistic terrain markers (in a simplified form; mountains are mountains) and applying a hex map overlay. The famed Greyhawk poster maps by Darlene are more of an abstraction of that principle; the terrain types, to a large extent, are made to conform to the hex grid (although she does do so in a very aesthetically pleasing way, as well as the way she works the necessary text of the map in with the features they describe). At the other end of the scale, of course, are more traditional wargaming maps (of the AH or SPI school), where the terrain is laid out at the hex level in an almost-abstract fashion.

Krygier also makes the point that this sort of cartography is largely impossible with today's modern digital cartography. I'm not convinced that something reasonable couldn't be done in the Raiszian style, but I hardly claim to be an expert in digital cartography.

All in all, I find myself now inspired to do a whole lot of mapping for my campaign.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Greyhawk Construction Company, Ltd.

In my recent review of Troll Lord Games' Castle Zagyg Volume II: The Upper Works, one of the things I mentioned not liking was the Curse of Fog and Frogs that was designed to keep players out of places the DM didn't want them to go (whether because he had not yet purchased that part of the mega-dungeon, hadn't prepared for it, or whatever). I found it rather heavy-handed and not really in keeping with the often whimsical nature of the place.

In stepped Scott Casper to remind me of the "Greyhawk Construction Company" from the earliest days of D&D-dom (thanks, Scott!). Mentioned in a two-part short story by Jake Jaquet called "Search for the Hidden Chamber" in The Dragon #1 and #2, the GHCC apparently started sprouting up in dungeons all across the gaming world, warning adventurers off of places where the DM wished them not to go, or as a blanket excuse for changes in the dungeon from one session to another. I can't find any references to Gary Gygax actually using the GHCC in his own dungeon, but if some sharp-eyed reader knows of one, I'd love to see it.

Now *this* is a gimmick that I think fits the zany and sometimes anachronistic nature of Castle Greyhawk! It's so obviously a meta-gaming device that it works, in my humble opinion, much better than something that attempts a level of versimilitude, as does the Curse of Fog and Frogs (which, for example, won't fool anyone for a second when it is seen blocking the entrance to a level of the dungeon that hasn't been released yet, so why bother to try to pretend it's anything but a DM's device? Have some fun with it!). I humbly offer it as an alternative, or addition, to the Curse of Fog and Frogs (or for use anywhere, for that matter).

The DM should, of course, use the GHCC whenever he or she deems that a given section of the dungeon should remain inaccessible, or, perhaps, as a signal to long-term players that something is no longer the way it was. The signs of the GHCC being at work, or recently having been at work, can vary:
  1. Yellow construction tape with black stripes. The tape reads "Greyhawk Construction Company - DO NOT CROSS" in Common, and is easily broken or cut.
  2. 1d4 black and white striped barricades, of wooden construction (like a sawhorse), each with a yellow flashing light atop it. They bear the notation "Greyhawk Construction Co., Ltd." The flashing lights stop working if moved more than 30'.
  3. 1d4 orange and white striped barrels, with the letters "Gh.C.C." stenciled on them in black.
  4. 1d6 orange cones made of some durable but flexible substance.
  5. A yellow diamond-shaped sign with a black stylized figure on it with a shovel. If examined closely, the figure doesn't look like it was quite designed to depict a human, but it is impossible to put one's finger on how.
  6. A combination of 2 of the above. Roll twice more, ignoring and re-rolling on a 6.
PC's being what they are, of course, they are likely to want to cross such barriers anyway, assuming that they are put up as some sort of deterrent or bluff. If they should choose to do so, roll on the following table for effect, but always with the DM's understanding that no progress will be made, no matter how much the PCs persist:
  1. When they go past the warning, the party is immediately teleported back into the same corridor/room they came from, going in the other direction. If this is in a fairly nondescript corridor, they could go quite a while before figuring out they are actually retracing their steps. If the barricade blocks a staircase, PCs will find themselves emerging at the top/bottom of the stairs they thought they were going up/down, and possibly will think themselves on another dungeon level.
  2. The obstruction blocks the way. Trying to move it causes 2d6 magical electrical damage to the person touching it, no saving throw. If they persist, the PCs encounter another GHCC barricade 20' in.
  3. A plain brick wall (especially effective if they are trying to go through a door).
  4. An apparent cave-in.
  5. A traffic control orc stands in the way. He is a typical orc, but entirely non-threatening. He wears a bright yellow helmet and carries a large octagonal sign on a pole with the word "STOP" in common. If the PCs kill the orc or otherwise bypass him, they will encounter another GHCC barricade 20' further in. Re-roll everything, ignoring and re-rolling a 5 on this table. The orc will not converse with the PCs.
  6. PCs enter the Construction Site (see below).
The Construction Site is a pocket dimension which is a magical metaphor for whatever sort of physical construction is going on in the dungeon. It takes the form of a large sandy field, some 100' on a side, surrounded by wooden clapboards (which will prove completely impenetrable if such is attempted). Signs bearing the legend "POST NO BILLS" may be found in several places on the walls. The sky is a formless gray haze. It is a blur of activity as some 20 or so orc workers are constantly moving bricks on hods, carrying boards, pouring concrete, operating large steam-driven machines, and so forth. All are wearing bright yellow helmets and will completely ignore the PCs. There is also an ogre Foreman, who is constantly referring to blueprints in his hands and shouting orders to the orcs. He will at least take notice of the PCs if they insist on interrupting his work, and will annoyedly inform them that they are already behind schedule, have no time for gawkers and interruptions, time is money, etc. Under no circumstances will the PCs get any useful information from the Foreman, and if they do manage to get a look at the blueprints, they will prove to be blank. For all the frenetic work of the orcs and the shouted orders of the Foreman, no progress ever seems to be made. There is an obvious door in the wooden wall, which will lead the PCs back whence they came.

There is no treasure to be had in the Construction Site, and the DM is encouraged to have fun with it as an encounter to befuddle the PCs; a steam whistle will blow, and all the orcs will stop their work and produce lunchboxes, etc. If they dawdle in the place, it should be demonstrated to the PCs that construction sites are dangerous places; beams fall from seemingly great heights, wrecking balls swing out of nowhere, red-hot rivets get driven into armor, etc. With each such "accident", the Foreman would naturally shout at the PCs, telling them not to be so clumsy, to get out of the way, pointing the way to the door, etc. If the PCs persist in staying, no rest can take place in the Construction Site due to the constant noise, and thus no healing or memorizing of spells can take place. In any event, after 1d8 hours, the PCs will hear a shrill steam whistle and find themselves suddenly back where they started, at the GHCC barricade. In short, being in the Construction Site should not be able to be turned into an advantage for the PCs. Be creative. Be evil.

If they attempt to re-enter the Construction Site, the PCs will find their way blocked by solid stone.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Review: Castle Zagyg, Vol. II: The Upper Works

I've already posted a few times about this boxed set from Troll Lord Games, but held off doing a full-blown review until I had time to read through the books. Well, I've read 'em, and I'm ready to go. Any possible spoilers have been hidden through the wonders of inviso-text which is marked by a pair of asterisks; just highlight between the two asterisks to make it magically appear; read at your own peril.

Simply put, this is a magnificent product, with only a few flaws that keep it from being a masterpiece.

The box comes with six separate books plus maps, including illustrations for the DM (well, Castle Keeper, I guess) to show players in certain locations. Most of the books cover the above-ground portions of the most famous castle in all of RPGing; the place is so detailed that separate books are given for the castle ruins, the towers along the walls, and the fortress proper. Two books are devoted to underground locales; the Mouths of Madness and the Storerooms, which together form the first level of the dungeon proper. The other book holds the aforementioned illustrations and a passel of maps.

The module (if so small a word can legitimately be used to describe such a massive product) is designed for use with TLG's Castles and Crusades game, which has the benefit of being almost 100% compatible with AD&D. Only some quick conversions of money and armor class (and a couple of other minor things) are required, and these can easily be done by the DM on the fly. Where needed, conversion notes are conveniently given in the product itself, either in the beginning or interspersed throughout the text, as appropriate. Very helpful.

The module's origins in the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting are deep and clear; only the names have been changed due to obvious legal ramifications. But even those changes are not overwhelming, and most DMs with a fair knowledge of Greyhawk should be able to make the appropriate substitutions with little trouble. * One example is the presence of agents of The Crimson Hand, which is an order of monks dedicated to both evil and the superiority of their ethnic group; obviously a gloss for the Scarlet Brotherhood. * Deities are described in generalities rather than by name (with a few exceptions), so it shouldn't be too hard to figure out that "a Celestial Deity from your campaign" is Celestian, "a god of darkness and death" is Nerull, etc. Even when gods are named, the conversion to a Greyhawk equivalent is obvious. There are also much more obscure "Easter eggs" thrown in for aficionados such as myself to find, sometimes setting things up for future releases in such a way that demonstrates that great forethought went into the overall design of the project, and the mindset was not "well, we got this boxed set out the door; what should we do now?" * (Just one example, the secret door that will ultimately lead to the land of Yin and Yang, exactly as described in one of the Gord the Rogue short stories.) *

I've already covered the question of Gary Gygax's authorship of the module in a previous post; he apparently handed over detailed notes, those were turned into text by Jeffrey P. Talanian, and Gygax then edited the text with a heavy hand. That's more than good enough for me. The tone of the prose is pure Gygax, and harkens back to the heyday of Temple of Elemental Evil (only in terms of the writing; not the contents of the module). The interior artwork looks fine to me, but I've never really focused on those pictures that are intended only for the DM; others will I'm sure have much more to say on that particular subject. The maps are simply gorgeous; not only clear and useful from a utilitarian point of view, but aesthetically pleasing and beautifully executed.

It should be pointed out that the surface ruins were entirely ignored in previous versions of the Castle that Gary had designed; all the action was focused on the dungeons themselves. I like the fact that they are now fully fleshed out, but * I wish that more obvious and direct means of entering the dungeons had been included (other than the Mouths of Madness-- see below), so characters wishing to focus more on them as did the likes of Robilar and Melf could do so.*

The module is designed for PCs of levels 1-4 or thereabouts, but I think it's incumbent on any DM to remind his or her players that in this style of game not every encounter is meant to be overcome. Sometimes the proper strategy is to run away, and that's one of the fundamentals of "old school gaming" that this adventure definitely reinforces. That said, the DM must not be afraid to punish overly-confident players.

I'm not sure I like the Mouths of Madness, which comprise a portion of the first dungeon level. It is too much an allusion to the Caves of Chaos from Gygax's module B2 Keep on the Borderlands, and I don't think they fit with the concept of the mega-dungeon as a whole. They're almost too... mundane for the place. When I DM the Castle, *I might just keep them cut off from the rest of the Storerooms level.*

I definitely do not like the "Curse of Fog and Frogs". It is a ham-fisted device designed to keep players out of areas of the castle or dungeons that either have not been released by the publisher or that the DM has not yet purchased (or is not ready for his players to explore). The fact that, once the full series of boxed sets (at least one more and most probably two more) are released the entire concept will become an unnecessary anachronism, makes it all the worse to me. I would much rather the whole problem be left to the DM's ingenuity, as it would eventually disappear anyway. But in the grand scope of this mega-adventure, these are relatively minor problems, and they are obviously not deal-breakers in any sense of the term.

It is my sincere hope that future releases in this series are many and often. I also hope that Gary's untimely death will not negatively impact the quality of future modules. If they are as good as this one, TLG will have done the entire role-playing community an enormous service.

FINAL RATING: Four stars out of five