Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Getting Off The Pot

I've always been hesitant to do a full-blown design of my own version of Castle Greyhawk. Gygax promised such a thing was forthcoming since about 1980, but several more tangible alternatives to my sitting down myself and doing them have presented themselves over the years.

I might, for instance, look back to the TSR/WotC version of the dungeons, published in both Greyhawk Ruins and Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk. Contrary to the belief of some psychopathic zealots on the Greytalk email list, I don't have a pathological hatred of either module, but neither do I find them a suitable replacement for the dungeons as described over the years by Gygax, Kuntz, and their players. Perhaps most damning is the fact that both have a "plot" of sorts (Expedition much moreso than Ruins, but the latter still has it). I feel that's anathema to the spirit of Castle Greyhawk, and Gygax said as much.

This is a reflection of their time, of course. Ruins was published in the wake of Dragonlance, and Expedition was published when "adventure paths" were The Big Thing in game design. (I gather that they still are, but then again I am willfully ignorant of anything going on with 4E right now.) They are certainly worthy dungeons, and their size and detail is impressive. But they seem somehow disconnected from the _real_ Castle Greyhawk to me. No Jeweled Man? No Great Stone Enigma? No Black Reservoir? No thanks.

Castle Greyhawk was, of course, a sick and spiteful joke published in the wake of Gygax's departure from TSR. Although it has been suggested that parts of it might be useful as a mirthful "demi-plane" level a la Dungeonland, it is hardly suitable for use as the actual dungeon.

So that avenue is closed to me. No using the TSR/WotC material, at least in whole.

I was hopeful that Troll Lord Games would finally come through and publish their Castle Zagyg series. That would have fit my bill perfectly, especially as it was designed by Gygax himself. I was very pleased with The Upper Works, which I reviewed here earlier and which seemed to me to be a fine beginning for the series. The Trolls had some production and scheduling issues, but the finished product was, in my opinion, first rate.

Alas, in about five hours from now, TLG's Castle Zagyg series is no more, with no new modules in the series to be forthcoming, and any remaining stock to end up being fed to pigs after going through a wood-chipper. The Widow Gygax has withdrawn the license from the Trolls.

So that avenue, too, is closed to me.

Which leaves us with Gygax Games. We are told, obliquely, that GG will in fact be releasing products in the Castle Zagyg line. Not, as any normal game company would do, by an actual press release or communication from the leadership, but the fact that they have a message board on their website dedicated to Castle Zagyg at least implies that they're planning on doing something with the series. Will they republish Upper Works and the other material TLG had completed? Will they start completely afresh? Will they simply publish Gygax's notes and photocopies of his original maps? And what game system will be used when it does get published? Nobody outside of Gygax Games knows, and Gygax Games ain't sayin', although they've been asked more than once.

So, I could wait it out and see what Gygax Games is doing. I've actually been doing that for the last month or three, hoping against hope that the Widow Gygax would open up and at least let us fans know what the hell she has planned. I have dutifully waited, and I could continue to wait until they start coming out with product.

That avenue is still open to me, but I hereby decline to take it. I've been waiting for nearly 30 years for this dungeon, and I'm finally tired of waiting.

My gaming resolution for 2009 is thus. My big gaming project will be to design my own Castle of the Mad Archmage. And I'm going to publish it here, level by level. I don't pretend that I'm going to get through the whole thing, but I will get the core levels done. Hand-drawn maps, the way the Gods intended, and a simple one or two-line description for most rooms. Set pieces will be more fleshed out, but the idea will be to bring back the idea of Spartan design to incite GM flexibility and creativity, and the use of random tables to fill in some of the blank spots.

That means that I'll be churning out a level a month, to get the core levels out in 2009. And I'll be giving them to you here, free of charge. In a format that will be "Compatible with most Original, Basic, and Advanced RPG systems." Ahem.

Maybe somewhere out there, Zagig Yragerne is laughing at me. But I'm going to give it a go!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Counterspells in AD&D

Chgowiz has a fascinating post up on his blog tonight, dealing with the topic of counter-spells. Turns out that in the hoary mists of the Chainmail Fantasy Supplement, Wizards could attempt to counter the effect of other Wizards on the battlefield. I looked it up, because I didn't remember that particular rule, but sure enough there it was.

Essentially, a more powerful Wizard can spend his turn attempting to counter an enemy Wizard's spells. If he is more powerful than the enemy, he counters the spell on a 7-12 on 2d6. If less powerful, he needs to roll 8, 9, 10 or 11. That works out to around 58.3% and 38.9%, respectively. There's no such thing as equally matched Wizards, apparently; in case of a tie, a die roll determines relative strength.

Obviously, the AD&D rules are more granular when it comes to magic and magic-users, so a tad more expansion is called for if deciding to adapt these rules to AD&D use. I've not playtested this, of course, but I might do something along the following lines.

Counter-Spells

Any magic-user is able to use the magical energy stored in his mind to attempt to counter the effects of another magic-user's spell. A counter-spell has an effective casting time of instantaneous. The countering magic-user informs the Dungeon Master of his intention to attempt to disrupt the casting of another magic-user (magic-users and illusionists can disrupt one anothers' spells in this fashion, but not clerical spells), and chooses a spell from his own list of memorized spells to use, before the nature of the enemy spell is known.

(In this way, the choice of which spell to "burn" becomes a real decision and something of a blind bid; do you waste a fireball spell when the enemy could only be casting magic missile?)

Roll 2d6 and compare the level of the spell burned vs. the level of the spell being countered.

















































Level DifferenceCountered On Role Of...
-9automatic
-7 - -83-12
-5 - -64-12
-3 - -45-12
-1 - -26-12
07-12
1 - 28-12
3 - 49-12
5 - 610-12
7 - 811-12
9*12


* Counting cantrips as 0-level spells, it is possible, however unlikely, that a cantrip could be used to counter a wish spell. Yes, I like cantrips. Wanna make something of it? ;-)

The difference here between this and the system found in Chainmail is not only the granularity of the odds, but also using the level of the spell as opposed to the level of the caster. If you really want to get into it, a modifier for level of caster could also be included, but you'd need to jig it so as to bear the minimum caster level for a given spell level in mind. I would probably give an automatic success if one happened to burn the exact same spell being cast, especially since it's a blind choice.

Playtesting might also indicate that my own table above is too generous; a 7th level spell should be able to squash a cantrip with no chance of failure. I could also see spreading out the energy in the case of multiple spell-casters, attempting to counter several lower-level spells with one high-level spell in a single go. But I'll save that for another day.

This is just a first pass, inspired by that great post. I will drop this into my next AD&D campaign and see how it works.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Ol' Switcheroo

I've been giving some serious thought to running a game or two at a local convention. I'd like to solicit some opinions from the readership. Imagine if you were attending a con and signed up for the following game:

You and your team of hand-picked Special Forces operatives are sent into the jungle to rescue hostages taken by a group of narco-terrorists. Can you get the hostages back to the pick-up point in time?
Or maybe this one:

J. Edgar Hoover has tasked you with taking out the bootleggers in northern Massachusetts. Three other agents have disappeared while trying to infiltrate the smugglers' network. Can you succeed where they failed? Tommy-guns are NOT optional.
Both would be done using Savage Worlds, I'm thinking.

Now, my question is, if you signed up for either of those games (and they are both just examples, not the actual game I'm planning on doing), would you feel somehow cheated or otherwise ticked off if in the course of the game it turned out that you were facing off a "Predator" in the first game? Or a Lovecraftian cult in the second? If you were expecting a "straight" military or law-enforcement game, would you be disappointed if it took a sci-fi twist that was otherwise unexpected?

My theory is that having such a plot-twist would be really cool, and an essential part of the "zing" of such a scenario (Arnold Swartzenegger didn't set out to fight an alien hunter), but I am afraid that I'm missing the fact that folks might find such a bait-and-switch not to their taste.

Thoughts?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

Old School Campaign Tent Poles

James over at Grognardia is about to launch his "Dwimmermount" campaign, and I wish him nothing but the best of luck with it. It did get me to thinking about the notion that an old school campaign should properly have a "megadungeon" as its tent-pole adventuring locale. James himself admitted that on reflection Greyhawk and Blackmoore were based on that idea, and it's what led him to conclude that Dwimmermount would be a needed component of his own campaign.

I happen to agree whole-heartedly, but it's important to remember (as James has) that just because a campaign has a central megadungeon as its focus, it is by no means the exclusive province of the campaign. Adventurers are free to delve into its mouldy depths if they choose, but they're just as free to poke around in the local town or city, hie off into the wilderness, or explore smaller dungeons that the DM should properly have waiting for those eager for a change of pace.

But what I think is important is that the tent-pole dungeon is there, for those days when the PCs weary of tracking down clues and following whatever plots they have been pursuing throughout the campaign. The tent-pole should, I think, be a sort of refuge from such things, existing in the world but not of it, a place where the PCs can set aside their plot-induced cares and just go someplace, kill things, and take their stuff. In my own campaign, the dungeon of Quasqueton served that purpose; when they needed to take a break from witches, brigands, and conspiracies the PCs would delve into its depths. It helped to bolster them in terms of x.p. and magic items, too, getting them to a place where they could more equally interact with some of the bad guys.

That doesn't mean that the tent-pole needs to be 100% divorced from the rest of the campaign; surely NPCs encountered therein could be found elsewhere later (as the evil dwarf Obmi was in the original Greyhawk campaign), and actions in the dungeon could lead the stalwart PCs to other locales in the wilderness (the most famous example of this being, of course, the fact that those who made it to the lowest level of Castle Greyhawk were sent to the other side of the world and left to make their way home via an extended wilderness trek). Items needed in the broader campaign might be found in the dungeon (special magical items, for instance, or even a piece of vital intelligence regarding a personage or locale), necessitating a trip into the megadungeon to retrieve it. The megadungeon needn't exist in a vacuum.

It should also be remembered that the campaign tent-pole need not be a conventional mega-dungeon. Certainly that's one of the easiest, and most commonly found, devices, but a little brainstorming can provide some other ideas that serve the same purpose.
  • The ruined city. If you decide to go with the notion that the players should have at least a rough idea of how tough the territory is (as with the megadungeon idea that lower levels = harder monsters), you could have lower level encounters closer to the walls, getting more difficult as the PCs get towards the central palace.
  • The haunted forest. A maze of twisting forest paths through the underbrush, with clearings, large tree-houses, streams and ponds, etc. filling the role of corridors and rooms. If the PCs dare, they could try to hack through the dense underbrush, but at the risk of getting lost and disturbing the really dangerous things that live off the paths and trails.
  • The depths. Rather than a single megadungeon, the PCs forray into the vast underground realms known in some places as the Underdark, Depths of the Oerth, the Wormroad, etc. The essential difference is that miles of caves and tunnels separate encounter areas, some of which could count as dungeons unto themselves, others of which are more modest. The strains upon the PCs are greater, as the logistical challenges of negotiating a miles-long dungeon are necessarily tougher than a megadungeon contained within a fairly compact area. Entrance and egress could be interesting problems as well.
  • The uncharted wilds. A "standard" wilderness should never be discounted as a possible tent-pole adventure locale, as long as it is built up as such. Though it may be spread out over many miles, a specific wilderness could fit the bill nicely. Punctuated with small ruins and dungeons, varying sorts of terrain giving rise to very different encounters, the sort of thing the legendary West Marches campaign was built on. I would only change things inasmuch as there would be adventures to be had in the town, and of a different nature in the more civilized areas, but the call of the wilderness would always be there and available.
  • The Infinite Planes. Here's something I'm not sure I'd ever have the balls to try to pull off, because it would take a LOT of prep-work, but if you did it right it could be the stuff of legends. Give the PCs access to something akin to the Codex of the Infinite Planes. Each adventure is a jaunt to another plane, or demi-plane, or even epoch. One day they find themselves in the far future, the next in Willie Wonka's chocolate factory, and the next dodging sleestaks and t-rexes. The trick would be to keep it fresh and interesting every time; you don't want to wing this one. One trip to "the infinite desert of nothing notable", while it might make the end of a spiffy Twilight Zone episode, could spell the end of an RPG campaign.
  • The sewers. Who's to say the PCs even have to leave the walls of the home city? I once did a game where the dungeon was the sewers. In practice it's little different from a standard mega-dungeon, but the key is that there can be a LOT more connection with the PCs supposedly safe home base. Every building has a cellar, and many of those have secret doors leading to sub-basements and hooking up with the sewers. Hidden temples, an entire zone of crypts and tombs, thieves and assassins who use the sewers as a highway and think they know what's going on, but in reality they only know but a smidgen of what's going on beneath the streets... This is a nice way to combine intrigue and the mega-dungeon directly.
Just some thoughts to get the ol' creative juices flowing. There are hundreds of possibilities.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

New Batman Movie News

And The Sun Is There! (That's their copyrighted image to the left, btw, used without permission and please don't sue me; I thought it was brilliant.)

I've got to say I can think of a lot worse people to play the Riddler in the next Batman film, "Gotham". Actors known for their comedy are often some of the best dramatic actors in the right role-- look at what Jonathan Winters did in the Twilight Zone episode "A Game of Pool". And I like the choice of the Riddler as the next villain as it is in keeping with the stated intent of the new series to be less campy and less fantastic. Sticking with a villain who doesn't have a sci-fi origin (like Mr. Freeze) is a good choice.

What bothers me is the insistence that a single villian can't sustain an entire movie. Jack Nicholson proved that wrong in "Batman", and it pains me that the new series is sticking with the necessity of throwing in Catwoman. And they're introducing Robin! The first two films got away with this gimick by linking the two villains in each, but it's getting old. Riddler or Penguin or Catwoman could carry an entire film by themselves, especially when you include a lot of deep character development of Bruce Wayne and his friends which has been some of the best parts of the new films. I wish the producer would have enough confidence to realize that.

I must say I love the decision not to include the name "Batman" in the title of the sequels. Beautiful move; we don't see "James Bond and the Diamond Laser Weapon". But Shia Labeouf as Robin? I think we could have done a tad better with the casting on that one, guys.

UPDATE: Apparently this is a false rumor floating around teh intarwebs. PHEW! The comments on multiple villains per movie, of course, still stand.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Fortean Flanaess

Over at Scott's World of Thool blog, we are reminded that many of the works of Charles Fort are in the public domain and available online. I'm a fan of such things, so I skimmed through one or two of the books over at Mr. X's Fortean Site for inspiration and came up with the following table of weird events that can be used to liven up a campaign. Just roll percentile dice or pick one from the list that strikes your fancy.

They can happen as often or as rarely as you like (I would recommend leaning on the side of rarity) and they can be as significant or red-herringesque as you please. Is that rain of snails a sign of diabolic visitation, or is it just some random weirdness that will never be explained? You decide.

The list can also be used to come up with bizzare events for prophecies and omens, side effects of magical or divine occurrences, etc. There are a few references to the fact that Oerth has two moons (Luna and Celene) but other than that it should be portable. I would also say that most of the effects should be pretty local, even the ones that involve figures and lights on the sun and moons (since that only adds to the mystery to me), but if you want to have a planet-wide grey sun for some reason, knock yourself out. Enjoy!

  1. Purple gelatinous substance falls from the sky.

  2. Orange rain

  3. A farm animal with two heads is born. It dies shortly thereafter.

  4. A rain of snails

  5. Green Sun

  6. A meteor shower appears in the night sky. It is not a “regular” event.

  7. Green Sunset

  8. Purple Moon

  9. Black hail

  10. Green snow

  11. In a stone quarry, workers cutting stone find a mysterious inscription inside the rock.

  12. A rain of fish

  13. 1d6 luminous objects are seen in the sky, remaining for 1d10 minutes before disappearing at vast speed.

  14. Blue gelatinous substance falls from the sky.

  15. Black snow

  16. A single stone sphere the size of a grapefruit falls from a perfectly clear sky.

  17. A humanoid shape is seen briefly obscuring the face of the sun. 35% chance it has wings.

  18. Hailstorm with stones the size of hens’ eggs

  19. Green gelatinous substance falls from the sky.

  20. Orange snow

  21. Pink snow

  22. Hailstorm with normal-sized hail except one the size of an elephant

  23. Purple snow

  24. Clouds over a particular area are seen to form geometric shapes (lasts for 1d6 hours).

  25. A beam of light of unknown origin illuminates a small area (such as a particular farm, a park, an inn, etc.) for 1d4 hours. The light is as bright as daylight, but has no discernable source.

  26. Orange Moon

  27. Beautiful singing and music is heard coming from a cloudless sky. This lasts 1d20 minutes.

  28. A black spot is seen moving swiftly across the face of the sun.

  29. Yellow Moon

  30. A bright spot is seen moving swiftly across the face of Luna.

  31. Green rain

  32. Pink Moon

  33. Yellow rain

  34. Red Sun

  35. A rain of dead birds of various types

  36. Purple Sun

  37. Loud thunderous noise is heard in an otherwise clear sky, lasting 1-100 minutes.

  38. Blue Sunset

  39. Pink rain

  40. A rain of perfectly cubical pieces of ice

  41. Grey Sun

  42. Blue snow

  43. Pink Sunset

  44. A freshwater fish is caught in the ocean with no ill effect.

  45. Purple Sunset

  46. An area is subjected to night-like darkness in the middle of the day, lasting 11-30 (1d20+10) minutes.

  47. Red gelatinous substance falls from the sky.

  48. A luminous ring appears around Luna (50%), Celene (25%), or both (25%).

  49. A single smallish stone falls from a perfectly clear sky (5% it has strange writing on it, 5% it is a lodestone).

  50. A hitherto-unseen star shines very brightly in the night sky, brighter than any other object save the moons. This lasts for 1d6 days, and then the star disappears.

  51. Pink hail

  52. A rain of pebbles

  53. Hordes of (ordinary) caterpillars are seen after a snowstorm.

  54. Red rain

  55. Red hail

  56. Blue rain

  57. Snowstorm with flakes the size of saucers

  58. The footprint of a horse (25%), goat (25%), or man (25% bare, 25% shod) appears in a stone floor, step, or street suddenly, overnight, with no witnesses.

  59. A large stone found completely inside a tree (5% it has unknown writing on it).

  60. A human or demi-human baby is born with a tail.

  61. Orange hail

  62. In a stone quarry, workers cutting stone find a human footprint inside the rock.

  63. Yellow hail

  64. Yellow gelatinous substance falls from the sky.

  65. Blue Sun

  66. A comet appears in the night sky, visible for 1d12 days.

  67. Red Moon

  68. A rain of small stones

  69. A rain of milk

  70. A single bright light (50%) or group of lights (50%) is seen in the dark area of Luna.

  71. A salt-water fish is caught in a lake or river with no ill effect.

  72. A rain of oil (non-flammable)

  73. Black rain

  74. Pink gelatinous substance falls from the sky.

  75. A rain of butter

  76. Lightning strikes from an otherwise-clear sky.

  77. Orange gelatinous substance falls from the sky.

  78. A gold ring is found in the egg of a hen or duck.

  79. Red snow

  80. A rain of urine

  81. Blue hail

  82. Green hail

  83. A child is born entirely blue-skinned. The color fades away in a few weeks.

  84. Green Moon

  85. A rain of meat (of unknown type)

  86. Yellow snow

  87. Black gelatinous substance falls from the sky.

  88. A rain of snakes

  89. Purple rain

  90. A brilliant fireball-style meteor is seen in the sky.

  91. Pink Sun

  92. Blue Moon

  93. A rain of frogs (50%) or toads (50%) - they are always only a few months old, never tadpoles or adults

  94. A rain of blood

  95. A tree bleeds when it is cut down.

  96. The shadow of the Oerth on the moons is reversed.

  97. An Aurora Borealis is seen in unusually southern latitudes (re-roll if you are already in a locale where auroras are commonly seen).

  98. Purple hail

  99. Two effects in rapid succession or simultaneous (re-roll, ignoring rolls of 99 or 100)

  100. Three effects in rapid succession or simultaneous (re-roll, ignoring rolls of 99 or 100)


[EDIT: I randomized the list; I think it works better this way.]

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Reflections on the Planet of the Apes

I am a huge fan of the Planet of the Apes series. The movies, the television show, even the cartoon. Growing up, I had all the action figures, the play sets, the Marvel Comics magazine, the record album (they had a live tour show to promote the album, and I went to it three times while it was at the Morris County Mall; "Cornelius" signed my album, as I recall). And of course a crush on Linda Harrison. By the way, there as no 2001 film, as has been widely reported. Never happened. Nope.

On Thanksgiving weekend, Fox Movie Channel played nothing but Apes. All of the original films, multiple times. The movies they made by mashing two of the television episodes together. Tons of mini-documentaries in between. I was in hog heaven. But it also got me thinking about some issues with the Apes time-line, and what do you know? I happen to write a blog that might be a good fit for those thoughts.

As with most things involving time travel (occasioned by when Cornelius, Zira, and Milo go back in time to 1973) there are two timelines in Apes. T1 is the "original" timeline, created before the paradox of the three apes time-travel was introduced. In T1, we know that Taylor et al take off from Earth in the spaceship Icarus in 1972. Brent does too, on his rescue mission. Cornelius tells us (in "Escape") that sometime after that, the dogs and cats of Earth would be wiped out by a plague, and eventually replaced by apes. Eventually those apes would be enslaved, and revolt on an historic day when an ape named Aldo dared to speak up and say "no", sparking the ape revolution, presumably the nuclear war that wiped out human civilization, and leading to a time when humans were mute and their glorious history forgotten. That's the time we see in the original film, in the year 3955.

However, that timeline is thrown into chaos, and a new timeline (T2) created by the time-travel of the three apes as recorded in "Escape". The introduction of the baby Milo (aka Caesar) changes everything. No longer is it Aldo who leads the ape revoltion, but Caesar. The dog and cat plague happens on schedule, in 1981, but the revolution happens in 1991. We get the impression that in T1, the apes were enslaved for much more than ten years; Cornelius seems to imply that it lasts for centuries. But in T2 the whole process is accellerated; Caesar leads the ape revolt after only a decade of servitude (less than that, as it would have taken some time to ramp-up the whole institution of Ape Management).

Aldo is still there in T2, but now he is forced to play second bannana (heh) to Caesar in the post-nuke ape/human society we see in "Battle". Given the glorious role he seemed destined to play in T1, it turns him into a somewhat more sympathetic figure. His thunder was stolen by Caesar, even if he had no way of actually knowing it.

The events at the very beginning and ending of "Battle" show the very different direction that T2 has taken. Rather than being persecuted and descending towards mute savagery, humans and apes seem to be at a rough level of equivalancy. This, I think, is where the television show come into play. Apes are in charge in the year 3085, but humans are at least equal technologically. The change of Caesar for Aldo as leader of the ape revolt has set history on a different course.

More on Grodog's CZ:UW Review

I write this as a sort of response to Grodog's review of Troll Lord Games "Castle Zagyg: Upper Works" product, which I mentioned immediately previously. I was somewhat reticent to make this post, as I did not want to be perceived to take an adversarial tone with his review, but after he and I had some back-and-forth I am convinced to set forth some of my disagreements and we can hash out the details in the comments.

In Grodog's review (which I still wholeheartedly recommend reading), he makes the observation that he "expected to read more newly-revealed Greyhawk lore" within. While he acknowledges that there are many overt and subtle references to long-established Greyhawk campaign canon, "the hints and teasers remain (for the most part) at that level only."

My specific disagreement here is that, given that the Upper Works boxed set only covers a single level of the underground dungeons, I am rather at a loss as to what he would have expected to find here, other than giant centipedes. He acknowledges that there are hints and mentions of other things (such as the Black Reservoir, the Arena, etc.), but laments that there is not more.

But these are elements of the original dungeons which we know are not to be found on the first level of the dungeon. I don't know of anyone who was expecting to find the lair of the black dragons, or the gates to the "horsing around" demi-plane, in this product. It is, by its very nature, an introductory piece, and one which only serves as the entrance-way to the further levels beyond, within which we would find the sort of meaty references to known Greyhawk lore that those of us who have entire websites devoted to the subject would expect to find. Knowing the limited purview of the product, I admit I was not disappointed to find no detail about the black reservoir, as I know it was destined to be included in a future release in the series.*

More specifically, Grodog states that "At the very least, I expected the most-accessible content---such as the example from Joe Fischer’s article that I quoted above---to be reflected in the adventure. It is not." The Fischer article he quotes gives a recitation of several entrances to the dungeons below the castle in unusual places, such as dry cisterns and beneath puts of quicksand. I would point out that it has been reported that Gygax himself has called Fischer's recollections into question about the existence of some of those entrances. I would also mention that Upper Works itself makes clear that it does not pretend to be any particular version of the Castle, but rather an amalgam of the best ideas of the several different versions thereof, presented in a workable form. Given the (apparently) new additions of the Mouths of Madness as means of entrance into the first level of the dungeon, perhaps Gygax felt the other means were superfluous. Finally, it is clear that he realized the dungeon, in its to-be-published form, was fluid. One has no further to look than the "Curse of Fog and Frogs" which I have eariler lamented here, to see that he had recognized the need to limit player access to areas which had not been yet published.

Perhaps he meant to include those other means of entrance in later installments, as it is entirely possible that deeper dungeon levels would have entrances that were outside the boundaries of the grounds of the Upper Works, and Gygax felt it inappropriate to detail such entrances until the levels to which they led were published. Hell, for that matter, he might have had some hand-wave in mind-- a reverse Curse of Fog and Frogs-- by which such entrances would become accessible as more levels were published. But I hardly think an omission of such entrances is necessarily a strike against the product. It certainly was not something I "expected" to see, and was not disappointed to have missed.

But I most take issue with Grodog's assertion that "I can’t shake the comparison because “name-dropping” remains a mostly-accurate description of how Greyhawk appears in CZ:UW---the names are dropped in CZ: UW more eloquently (so to speak) than in WotC’s contextlessly-clueless 3.x efforts, but in kind the two usages of Greyhawk are closer than I would prefer them to be."

I confess this notion baffles me. The inclusion of elements from the World of Greyhawk, either under an obvious name-change or not, in this product seems to me to be hardly name-dropping. I cannot imagine how such elements as the deities, the Scarlet Brotherhood, etc. could have been incorporated to make them "more" Greyhawkian. At least, I cannot distinguish between their use in Upper Works and the apparent "dropping of names" in classic modules such as White Plume Mountain, G1-D3, etc. In fact, the only classic module I can think of in which the Greyhawk elements were absolutely central was T1-4. How are the uses of Greyhawk elements here any more egregious than those used in Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth? A Witch-Queen by any other name would fit into any setting as sweetly...

I daresay that, had the Castle Zagyg series been allowed to continue, the Greyhawk elements would have been more central and less name-droppy. As it is, the fact that we are only seeing the first level of the dungeon I think accounts for the relative scarcity of ingrained Greyhawkiana. We'll never know what it would have been like had Gygax lived another few years and the series been taken to its conclusion (if there was one) but I think the "Greyhawkian" nature of Upper Works is indisputable, and goes deeper than the mere dropping of names.

That having been said, please bear in mind that I think the remainder of Grodog's review is right on the money, and if I can only find a couple of sentences to take issue with out of a 15 page review, that should speak to the fact that he and I are of one mind in finding this a worthwhile product, and one which any Greyhawk aficionado should have on their shelf.

* The fact that the series has, for all intents and purposes, been cancelled in its current form, does not bear on this analysis, as when the product was initially released, at least two more installments were intended.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Rest in Peace, Forrie

Forrest J. Ackerman, Grand Old Man of science fiction fandom, has died at the age of 92. As a boy growing up, I remember waiting for the new issue of his magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland to hit the local newsstand, with its wonderful write-ups of modern and classic science fiction, fantasy, and horror films, stars, and behind-the-scenes folks, complete with scads of pictures. The advertisements alone were worth the price of the magazine to an eight-to-fifteen year old like me, with their promises of film clips from the Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Murder in the Rue Morgue, latex masks of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Robbie the Robot toys, and Planet of the Apes model kits.

I would credit Famous Monsters, and the late Mr. Ackerman who was its editor for so long, with sparking my life-long love affair with all things "genre" related, and nothing else so neatly encapsulates what that genre really is. Although he and I never crossed paths at conventions, I know the fandom community will feel the loss it has suffered.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Grodog's CZ: Upper Works Review

My friend Grodog has finally posted his review of Castle Zagyg: Upper Works. It runs 15 pages(!), and I confess I don't agree with everything he says about it (in particular his comments that the Greyhawk elements are limited to mere "name dropping"), but it's well worth reading. Grodog is a lover of all things Greyhawk from way back. In fact, his excellent site was one of the inspirations for my starting up this blog.

Read the review, read my review again, and go out and buy CZ: Upper Works while you still can.