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.


Tregenza said...

This is very old-school idea that dates back to when there was no attempt to make dungeons make sense (.e.g. No one asked what the dragon in deep dungeon, only accessible via a 5' door, had been eating for the last 100 years).

Dungeon bashing was a lot more whimsical then. I think Tunnels & Trolls really focused on this. with light heart spells and arbitrary strangeness.

D&D's roots in medieval war gaming and Dare Arneson's Blackmoor campaign always lent it towards more nitty / gritty adventuring. Though there were some weird modules for AD&D, e.g. the two based on the Alice in Wonderland / Through the Looking glass stories.

6d6 Fireball

James Maliszewski said...


Lord Zaboem said...

Did you know that this article was featured in the last episode of the Dragon's Landing Podcast?

Joseph said...

Hi Zaboem,

No-- hadn't heard about that. I'll take a listen.