Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Migration Underway

Hey all!

Just a quick note that the migration to the site has begun. New content will be posted there, rather than the Blogger site, going forward.

Expect to see changes in the design in the coming days as things get finalized, but I think it's much cleaner and easier to read. Hosting it on my own domain will also give me some additional flexibility to do other things that I didn't have over at Blogger.

If you have the site linked from your own site, please make the appropriate change to the URL.


Monday, April 23, 2018

Greyhawk Module Machete Order

A few weeks ago, I puzzled through the chronological sequence of some of the iconic adventure modules of early D&D and the Greyhawk setting; the Giants/Drow/Queen of Spiders series, the Temple of Elemental Evil, and the Slave Lords adventures.

Now, looking at the suggested levels for those modules, that sequence doesn't seem to work, even though it is how the chronology of the Greyhawk campaign records things:
  • G1-3: 8th - 12th
  • D1-2: 9th - 14th
  • D3: 10th - 14th
  • Q1: 10th - 14th
  • T1: 1st - 3rd
  • T1-4: 1st - 8th
  • A1: 4th - 7th
  • A2: 4th - 7th
  • A3: 4th - 7th
  • A4: 4th - 7th
There are a few things to point out, here.

First, the suggested character levels for T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil never made a lick of sense to me. There's simply no way the PCs can get enough experience points in the Moat House to get powerful enough to take on the Temple.

Second, the Giants/Drow adventures and the Temple are linked thematically. That is, no matter which you put before the other, one of the keys is recognizing the imagery of the Elder Elemental God (the elder elemental eye, etc.) in both. If you want to push the envelope beyond the written text, there's a whole implied and planned-but-never-executed sub-plot where the PCs can free or completely imprison the EEG while fighting Lolth at the same time.

Point two-A: If we keep the above chronology, and include the new sub-plot where the EEG is locked away for good, it adds something entirely new to the mix, because the PCs will know that the Elder Elemental God is no longer able to enter the Material Plane! Since there are plenty of clerics in the Temple of Elemental Evil still casting spells beyond 2nd level, that should be an immediate tip-off that there's something fraudulent going on there!

Point two-B: If we keep the above chronology, and it turns out the PCs accidentally free the Elder Elemental God from its prison (which Gygax mentioned was a distinct possibility in his original conception) then it still has a profound impact on T1-4, as it could very well be that the EEG is able to exert a great deal of influence within the Temple and might even be on its way to pushing out Iuz and Zuggtmoy!

So either way, in terms of plot and theme, putting the intended encounter with Lolth and the EEG (which I call Q2) before the Temple of Elemental Evil adds entirely new dimensions to that latter adventure, depending on whether or not the PCs were successful or failed in their attempts to deal with the EEG.

Third, the transition between the Temple of Elemental Evil and the Slave Lords is the easiest. If, as noted above, the PCs don't make it up to the maximum level, they should be in prime shape to take on the Slave Lords.

Fourth, I should point out that it's entirely workable to do what most people do and move the Giants/Drow modules three years later to 581, and have them take place after the Slave Lords. This is the standard play; Temple, Slave Lords, Giants, Drow. It certainly works, and it still includes the EEG payoff, but it seems a bit... jejune to me. Not to mention the fact that it requires bending the time-line. But there's nothing wrong with the idea, and it still has the necessary EEG theme on either end.

Switching the order, so the Giants/Drow modules come first, is akin to the "Machete Order" for watching the Star Wars films. It's counterintuitive, but it does have advantages.

Now, going with this Machete Order (Giants/Drow, Elemental Evil, Slave Lords) still leaves us with the following conundrum:

  1. The encounter with Lolth (and possibly the EEG) comes before the Temple of Elemental Evil
  2. The PCs are way too high level to go to Hommlet after going through the Drow modules
  3. The same characters need to go through both to give a real payoff on the shared EEG iconography
So here's my brilliant idea.

The PCs that go to Hommlet aren't the main characters who went through the Giants/Drow adventures. They're the hirelings and henchmen of those characters.

This can be done very elegantly, if the DM could arrange everything with the players ahead of time, and turn the Giants/Drow modules into a version of a DCC-type "character funnel" for their low-level hirelings, which will form the party that will go on from there. So, each player starts with an 8th or higher level main PC, plus 2-4 1st and 2nd level characters as henchmen. Win, lose, or draw, the players all know their high-level guys are going to retire (at best) after the climax with Lolth (and possibly the EEG). The Giants/Drow adventure almost becomes an extended prologue to the rest of the campaign.

I think this works really, really well. Not only does it give new players a taste of playing relatively high-level characters, but it gives their future PCs the necessary knowledge of the EEG to make the Temple of Elemental Evil really pay off (especially if you take my advice on that adventure, and put a real shrine to the EEG below the Iuz/Zuggtmoy sham temple). If the "parent" PCs shut the door on the EEG, then their henchmen (the new PCs) will know that the EEG can't possibly be granting spells to the clerics in the Temple. If the EEG was fully loosed, then there could be a new faction in the Temple, which is seeking to purify it from the adulterations introduced by Zuggtmoy and Iuz.

Then, once the Temple has been dealt with, they can move on to the Slave Lords, at a (hopefully) appropriate level.

Loving this!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

On Divination

In doing my analyses of various early adventure modules, it strikes me that some of the things that players are expected to figure out are pretty damn impossible. How to know that wearing the robes of the clerics of Tharizdun will protect against the numbing cold of the Black Cyst? How to know that the chain in the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief has to be put in the form of a figure 8 to become a teleporter to the Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl? They're way too specific, and way too improbable. There has to be a way in-game for the players to be able to figure this sort of stuff out.

And there is. Divination.

Divination spells seem to get the short end of the stick, especially since most of them are on the cleric spell lists, and everyone knows that clerics are supposed to stock up on as much healing magic as possible.

But I submit that divination spells are really where the cleric shines, and the reason there are all these impossible-to-figure-out puzzles is that they're there to form yet another layer of logistical challenge in terms of spell memorization. A party whose spellcasters don't have at least a few divination-type spells will find themselves blocked out of some of the choicest treasure and other goodies.

Let's look at some of the divination spells from 1st edition AD&D.

Identify (1st level magic-user spell). Discover the dweomer of some magic item, with a base 20% chance per round of discovering one power.

Augury (2nd level cleric spell). Base 70% chance of knowing whether a specified action within 30 minutes will be positive or negative.

Locate Object (2nd level magic-user/3rd level cleric spell). Finds a known or familiar object within 100 feet or more.

Clairaudience (3rd level magic-user spell). Lets you hear what's going on in some known location, such as on the other side of that door.

Clairvoyance (3rd level magic-user spell). Lets you see what's going on in some known location, such as on the other side of that door.

Speak with the Dead (3rd level cleric spell). Ask 2-7 questions of a dead creature (how long dead depends on your level). Interestingly, the spell description never says the dead are compelled to answer truthfully, but I think that's how it was generally taken.

Divination (4th level cleric spell). Lets you know strength of monsters, general amount of treasure, and whether a powerful supernatural creature might become involved (!). Applies to a building, small patch of wilderness like a wood, or a part of a dungeon level. This is clearly one of those mechanics in the game that were specifically geared towards megadungeon play, and whose significance was lost when that style of adventure design quickly dropped out of fashion. And let's not ignore the fact that it requires an animal sacrifice as the material component!

Wizard Eye (4th level magic-user spell). Lets you see what's going on, at a rate of 3" per round.

Commune (5th level cleric spell). Ask your deity one yes/no question per experience level (at least 9 of them, then). You can find a lot out with a 9-question game of yes/no.

Contact Other Plane (5th level magic-user spell). Ask a... um, plane of existence... one question. The greater the likelihood of success, the greater the likelihood you'll go insane. And you could get a deliberately false answer. Maybe stick with a cleric for this stuff.

Find the Path (6th level cleric spell). Gives you the most direct route to wherever you want to go, whether it's home or to some locale within a dungeon or spot in the wilderness.

Legend Lore (6th level magic-user spell). Learn all about some person, place, or thing. But you'll need to sacrifice a magic item to do it, and it takes a long time.

I think a large part of the reason these spells exist is to give players a fighting chance of figuring out some of those incredibly specific and picayune puzzles, for which there really aren't any actual clues. Rather than pure trial and error, or the tedium of checking for secret doors in every 10' of wall space, these spells allow the players to use clever questioning to at least know that there's something to know. It's also good to know that clerics have another use other than walking healing stations (although it's once more interesting to note that there's now a logistical choice to be made when one gets access to 4th level cleric spells - do I choose cure serious wounds or divination?).

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thoughts on The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun

I'm going to take a break from my ongoing delvings into the inner workings of the Giants, Drow, and Temple of Elemental Evil adventures to venture into new territory. I'm going to start picking apart the Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, and see if there's anything that we might glean from a close examination.

I should begin by saying there's a lot more to this adventure than my recollection led me to believe. It's been years since I've done more than crack it open for a quick glance, and it's much denser than I remember.

In terms of physical and narrative structure, the most obvious aspect of the module is the fact that the really cool stuff is completely hidden and almost entirely cut off. In fact, it's entirely likely that a party will battle the humanoids on behalf of the gnomes, grab their treasure, and not even realize there's an Undertemple to be explored. the PCs would have to discover one of two secret doors in a very out of the way place to do so, and then more secret doors to get to the really good stuff.

This seems to be a recurring feature in Gygaxian dungeons. Very elaborate encounter areas filled with interesting stuff, but which could easily be ignored or which could go undiscovered entirely. The original Castle was like this, and we see it in G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief with its secret third level and in S4 the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth with the underground river and lake, among many other examples.

[As an aside, I think my proposed hidden shrine to the Elder Elemental God as the lowest level of the Temple of Elemental Evil would fit into this category, and doing so would be tonally consistent with this aspect of Gygaxian design.]

This design philosophy speaks of a sort of "strategic patience" in dungeon design, which pays off in ongoing campaigns run over the course of years with many players, wherein areas once discounted as "cleared out" are re-explored for things that might possibly have been missed, or moved in since they were first mapped out. This is at odds with contemporary dungeon design, which regards such "one missed secret door check means you miss the good stuff" as a serious flaw. In modern games, which are much more plot-driven and which demand the PCs move on to the next location to advance the story, this would indeed be a problem.

In a location-based adventure, however, which is still there years later for the PCs to return to and see what they might have missed, it's a jackpot which the patient DM can wait for years to see discovered, and he (and his players) can gain all the more satisfaction therefrom. I think this is an aspect of Golden Age dungeon design that is little recognized, let alone appreciated, today.

For all its near-inaccessibility, it's exactly this hidden area of the dungeon that stands out in one's memory of the adventure. It's not the well-organized waves of humanoids who will swarm over adventurers who invade their lair. It's the cyst, and the needlerock altar, and the rest. In fact, there's very little in the humanoid areas that isn't completely prosaic and ultimately forgettable as nothing more than a well-organized humanoid lair complex, a la the Caves of Chaos from B1 Keep on the Borderlands. There are a few trappings in the Lower Temple area, such as the columns and the carvings in the aisle, but even those are pretty low-key bits of weirdness that only set up what is to come below. And so it is to the hidden area that I will now turn my attention.

It's important to note that the Temple itself was very significant in the cult of Tharizdun. This isn't just some random temple that was lost to the ages - it was a vital center of the cult, and thus should hold a properly important place in the campaign as a whole. Behold this passage from the introduction:
The Temple was built in a previous age, a secret place of worship to Tharizdun, He of Eternal Darkness. It drew the most wicked persons to it, and the cult flourished for generations, sending ot its minions from time to time to enact some horrible deed upon the lands around. However, a great battle eventually took place between Tharizdun and those opposed to his evil.  Unable to destroy him, they were strong enough to overcome his power and imprison him somewhere...
After a time his servants returned again to the Temple, deserted as it was of any manifestation of their deity. Amongst these wicked folk were many powerful magic-users and clerics. All sought with utmost endeavor to discern what had happened to Tharizdun, so that he could be freed and returned to rule over them once again. All attempts were in vain, although the divinations and seekings did reveal to these servants of Eternal Darkness that a "Black Cyst" existed below the temple. ... In the hemisphere of black needlerock (floating as if by manifestation) a huge form could be seen. Was this the physical manifestation of Tharizdun?
The rhetorical question at the end there is of course intended to lead the reader to the conclusion that it is Tharizdun in there, although there's no actual evidence to that effect whatsoever. All we have are intimations and suggestions. In the description of the Black Cyst itself, and the block of needle-rock, no definitive answer is given as to what is within, nor is there any way to determine it. The PCs are able to get to the treasure (using means doubtless used by the ancient priests - more on that in a minute), but the hemisphere of needlerock remains an enigma.

That leads us to the biggest enigma about this adventure. Why? What is the point of the PCs coming into the Undertemple and the Black Cyst? There's a treasure to be had, sure, but it's pretty meager; 333 gems, worth about 40,000 gp or so all told. Plus a wand of force, a cube of force, and a book worth 33,000 gp. That's a lot, but for a party of 5th - 10th level characters, it's really not that much of a payoff for enduring all the weirdness of the place.

Speaking of the book, we're left with this tantalizing description:
If anyone other than a cleric of Tharizdun opens and attempts to decipher it, he or she will, with the aid of a read magic spell, be able to understand that it is titled LAMENT FOR LOST THARIZDUN before their mind goes blank for 2-12 rounds and they take 3-30 points of damage. What this tome is, says, and does is the subject of some later revelation.
This module literally forces the PCs to dress up like
Tharizdun cultists or take damage
"Later revelation???" What the heck could that be? Was there to be some sort of follow-up to the Lost Temple at some point? It was published in 1982, so not right on the cusp of Gygax's removal from TSR, and to my knowledge there was never a hint as to what that later revelation was to have been. Alas.

What intrigues me with the whole thing is that it seems designed to force the PCs into taking on the role of worshipers of Tharizdun.

Think about it - in the Inset Area, there are robes for them to find, which are required down in the Octagonal Chamber of the Undertemple, or else they'll start taking damage. There they will also find balls of incense which are used in the Undertemple and are necessary to reach the Black Cyst. Once there, the incense is again needed to get the gems and book, and leave. The iron horn called the Wailer for Tharizdun must be blown in order to activate the idols of Tharizdun in the Dungeon Level. Recalling what is said in the introduction:
As generations passed, various other things necessary to survival in the Black Cyst were formalized into a paeon of lament and worship for Tharizdun, and endless services to awaken the being were conducted by rote. Then, as time continued to pass, even this ritual grew stale and meaningless. The clerics of Tharizdun began to pilfer the hoard of beautiful gems sacrificed to him by earlier servants -- 333 gems of utmost value, ranging in worth from 5,000 to 50,000 gold pieces each. Replacing these jewels with stones of much less value, the former servants of this deity slipped away with their great wealth to serve other gods and wreak evil elsewhere.
That's exactly the funnel the module demands the PCs move through; the very "various other things necessary to survival in the Black Cyst" are exactly what the PCs have to do. Sounding the Wailer. Donning the robes. Lighting the incense. Devoting themselves to Tharizdun in the Shrine, to get the benefit of the water. Touching the walls in the Aisle might cause one to subconsciously call on Tharizdun in a time of need. On and on and on. The module is designed to turn the PCs into worshipers of the Chained God.

This is done in a way that we don't see in other Gygaxian evil temples. Certainly the Elder Elemental God's shrines will only (!) cause madness. Tharizdun's temple seems designed to convert intruders to his dark service, whether through their own conscious actions, or purely through ignorance of the significance of their actions. It's downright subversive. I've got to say, that seems a bit more Kuntzian than Gygaxian in its own right, and let's not forget that Gygax gives "Special Thanks To" Rob Kuntz at the very end of the adventure.

And don't get me wrong - I think that's a Good Thing. That "if you keep going, you're going to be corrupted whether you want to or not" aspect is what I think makes this adventure unique, all said. Tomb of Horror will (almost certainly) kill you, but Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun will pollute you. It's as close to actual "character horror" as you can get. It certainly lends a much deeper and more layered aspect of horror to the second half of the adventure than one typically sees in the early TSR modules. I like it!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

More Black Moon Chronicles Maps

Those of you who've been following my blog for a few years might remember the Black Moon Chronicles, a series of graphic novels by French author François Marcela-Froideval. That name might also sound familiar because he was one of Gary Gygax's cohorts, who did a first draft of Oriental Adventures (which was never used), was the co-creator of the Greyhawk quasi-hero Kelanen, Prince of Swords, and it is said that he was to be "given" a section of the far western portion of Oerik to develop.

The legend/theory then goes that his later Black Moon Chronicles graphic novels were an expression of that intent, and thus they assumed the status of sorta-kinda-maybe-canon. The fact that the much-maligned Dragon Annual #1 map of Oerik has some names in that very region that are very similar to his own creations (specifically the Empire of Lynn, as opposed to his own Empire of Lhynn), adds credibility to the case.

So, just today, over in the G+ Greyhawk community, W.K. "Icarus" Nolen discovered some new maps in the art of one of the newer volumes of the Black Moon Chronicles. Here's the whole panel in question:

As he puts it:
The main one the half-orc in red armor is holding looks to me like it could be Oerik, essentially from a latitude of the Sea Barons on an angle across to Thalos in the Sundered Empire on the western shore.   the big area of water in the middle would be the Sea of Hyperboria. 
I think the map the orc with the map in his mouth is holding looks like the coastline of Western Oerik, if West were towards his face.
So, the two would line up with the eating orc's right hand being at the same place as the red-armored orc's left thumb.  
Hmmm. Let's see where this goes.

First of all, for reference, here's the DA1 map:

And here's the first map Icarus mentions, rotated and cropped as he suggests:

Even if we are charitable and say the orc's hand is covering up the entire Celestial Sea, I just don't see it. There are peninsulas where none should be, and what Icarus calls the Sea of Hyperborea comes way, way too far south, and is too wide. Plus the whole of eastern Oerik is completely wrong. Even accounting for the vagaries of Medieval-style maps, I think it's a stretch.

But what if we flip the map upside-down? We get this:

To my eye, this makes a LOT more sense. Bearing in mind that even if this is supposed to be an accurate representation, it's going to be an accurate representation of François Marcela-Froideval's western-Oerik-that-never-happened. So a close match to the DA1 map is not going to happen.

But here, we clearly see that big island at the southwestern tip of Oerik, next to the Barbarian Seameast. We see the islands of the Tharquish Empire, and we see the Celestial Sea (including the islands east of Erypt and the Gulf of Ra). 

It's not perfect by any stretch. The island of Thalos (which we know from the Sundered Empire setting) is turned into a peninsula. Nippon is smaller and moved very close to the mainland and south at the same time. The Flanaess is atrophied to the point of near-non-existence. But if one were inclined to make a Medieval-style map increasingly inaccurate as one got further from its point of origin, that might make sense.

Let's take a look at that second map, being chewed on by orc #2:

It's hard to tell when you zoom in like this, but the center of the map is actually overlaid by yet another map, so it's only the coastlines we're looking at here. Here's the relevant portion of the DA1 map zoomed in:

The Elven Lands (aka Empire of Ravilla in the Sundered Empire setting) get turned into islands, and Thalos is more peninsula than island, but we see the big triangular jutting-out of the Tarquis Dominions, and the coast seems to turn eastwards at the right point, even if the details are off. It's possible.

So I come to a firm conclusion of "50-50, but even if it's so, it's not Greyhawk, it's François Marcela-Froideval's setting that never made it into Greyhawk." Still, it's a neat addition to the lore and something else to chew on. Now I have to buy more graphic novels!

Friday, April 6, 2018

Dating Modules - Slavers, Elemental Evil, Giants

A fun, and sometimes necessary when delving into the deep lore of the published adventures, pastime is to try to figure out when, exactly, a given adventure module takes place. Originally, of course, the early modules such as Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, had no definitive date beyond their year of publication. Too, some are completely location-based, like Tomb of Horrors, and thus could take place in any number of time-periods, as needed.

But some do take place in specific years in the World of Greyhawk setting, based either on the characters or events mentioned therein, or in later publications. Using the good but sometimes flawed Greychrondex as a jumping off point, I thought I'd take a pass at determining when some of the classic modules that have been my focus here, might take place.

A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity
A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade
A3 Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords
A4 In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords

This is probably the most straightforward series of adventures to date. In the much-later follow-up, Slavers, we are given specific dates for the earlier events:
After a year of preparation, recruitment, and organization, the Slavelords began their operations in 576 CY. Yellow-sailed pirate ships, under the command of the Slavelord Eanwulf, began raiding the coasts of the Sea of Gearnat, from Onnwal to the Wild Coast. In addition to netting slaves, these raids sowed terror throughout the region. The fact that the local militias proved unable to stop the Slavers only heightened the fear spreading across the land.
The Slavelords' operations ran for four years. (Slavers, p. 121)
So that sticks a pin in module A4 for CY 580, four years after the start of their piratical raids in 576. Nice and neat. Oh, and Slavers itself takes place ten years later, in 590, but that's kinda out of my current period of interest.

T1 The Village of Hommlet
T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil

The timing of Hommlet and the Temple of Elemental Evil begins with the Battle of Emridy Meadows, which the timeline in the Gazetteer and Guide to the World of Greyhawk place at CY 569. In the Introduction to Temple of Elemental Evil, we read:
For five years afterward [after the Battle of Emridy Meadows], the village and the surrounding countryside have become richer and more prosperous than ever before. ... The villagers heaved a collective sigh -- some pained at the loss of income, but others relieved by the return to the quiet, normal life -- and Hommlet continued its quiet existence for four years more. 
But them, a year ago, the bandits began to ride the roads again -- not frequently, but to some effect. ... This information has been spread throughout the countryside, and the news has attracted outsiders to the village once again. (Temple of Elemental Evil, p. 5)
So, 569 + 5 + 4 + 1 = 579. The PCs are supposed to arrive at Hommlet, and take on the Temple, in 579. Crap, I need to revise my latest Greyhawk's World article. Because I put it in 578. Dammit.

G1 The Steading of the Hill Giant Chief
G2 The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl
G3 The Hall of the Fire Giant King
D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth
D2 Shrine of the Kuo-Toa
D3 Vault of the Drow
Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits
GDQ1-7 Queen of the Spiders

Oy. Here we go.

Here we have something of a confused muddle, when it comes to the giants, and the drow, and all that. On the one hand, Temple of Elemental Evil implies that the events of G1-D3 happen before that module:
Lareth was one who sought to serve both the Temple and Lolth. And although Lolth hated Zuggtmoy's Elemental Evil, she so lusted for power that she accepted such service. Had she not been routed, her dark followers so crippled, much might have come of this.
But as it transpired, Lolth could -- and can yet -- give only encouragement, without physical or magical aid, to those who call on her. (Temple of Elemental Evil, p. 29)
That certainly sounds like a description of the aftermath of a bunch of PCs going through the Vault of the Drow and slaying Lolth's mortal form. So, based on that tidbit, we might be strongly tempted to put the GDQ modules in the 577-578 time-frame. That mostly squares with the later module Against the Giants - The Liberation of Geoff, which explicitly says they take place "in the years 576-580 CY" (p. 2).

However, if we accept that Temple of Elemental Evil took place in 579, and D3 took place before that (with Lolth's mortal form being slain), that 580 reference cannot be right. It has to be earlier, because T1-4 takes place in 579, and Lolth has already been slain.

It gets worse, though, because in the combined version of the modules, GDQ1-7 Queen of the Spiders, which has a different introduction, explicitly claims that the Eilservs were backing the Slave Lords!
Two noble families, House Eilserv and the lesser House Tomtor, have sought to extend their power over the surface world through actively encouraging evil agents in the lands above. It is house Eilserv that provided the support for the slave lords of the Pomarj, and have been rallying the giants of the Crystalmist mountains to raid the human lands. (GDQ1-7 Queen of the Spiders, p. 4)
So we have:
  • The Giants modules take place between 576 and 580 
  • The Giants modules take place before 579 
  • The Giants modules take place after 576 and before 580 
So here's my brilliant theory as to how the drow could have been supporting the slavers after the events of Vault of the Drow.

The support for the Slave Lords given by House Eilserv was early on, while the slavers were still getting organized. It had certainly ended before the Slave Lords themselves were destroyed, since by that time the events of D3 happened, and Lolth had already been destroyed. One point that would support this even further is the background of one of the Slavers, the drow fighter-cleric Edralve:
Edralve is an exile from Erelhei Cinlu, from which she barely escaped after an abortive coup. (In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords, p. 20)
And I think that fits perfectly. The whole motivating force behind the actions of Eclavdra and House Eilserv in the whole Giant/Drow series of adventures is to seize control of the Vault of the Drow away from the priestesses of Lolth. If Edralve was indeed the representative of House Eilserv among the Slavers, it makes perfect sense that once the Eilserv plot was undone by the PCs, she would be stuck in the Pomarj, unable to return home. And that would also fit in neatly with the original plan for Q1, which would have seen both Lolth and the Elder Elemental God dealt with once and for all, because the full imprisonment of the EEG would render the Eilservs and Tormtors largely powerless.

Okay, so that works out pretty well.

The other fly in this ointment is the fact that later on in the timeline, we see that the giants actually won. They overrun Sterich and Geoff in CY 583, according to the Greyhawk Wars Adventurers Book:
Atop these other setbacks came a new threat from the Crystalmists: giants, ogres, and other hideous creatures, long held at bay, surged into the mountain vales of Geoff and Sterich. The rulers of these lands sent frantic appeals to King Skotti of Keoland, but, with the bulk of his army gone, the king had little help to offer. Even his reserves were largely committed to the Ulek frontier. Nonetheless, King Skotti scraped together what forces he could and offered them to Earl Querchard of Sterich, provided the earl recognize Keoland's authority over him. Negotiations wasted precious time: before the two could come to terms, Sterich and Geoff were overrun. (Greyhawk Wars Adventurers Book, p. 20)
The CY 583 date is explicitly corroborated in Against the Giants - The Liberation of Geoff: 
In Fireseek of 583 CY, the cluster of cloud islands reached the southernmost tip of the Crystalmists. ... Coordinating the alliance had taken several months, and devising the plan of attack would take several more (especially considering the dull minds of some of the lesser giants). Gorroda was finally ready to strike in the middle of High Summer, sending messages to all of her subject tribes to attack when the large moon was new. (Against the Giants - The Liberation of Geoff, p. 4) 
Now, that still doesn't get us too twisted yet, because it's entirely possible that the reference to the giants being "long held at bay" could refer to the original G1-3 series, with PCs coming in and blunting their attacks. Fine. The attack in 584 is a follow-up to the original raids in 577-8.


Here we come back to Against the Giants - The Liberation of Geoff. And here's where things go all cattywampus. From the Using the Classics with the New Material section:
If you wish to use these classic adventures [G1-3] as part of the "Liberation of Geoff" plotline, there are two main ways to do this. The first is to have these events take place ten to fifteen years in the past and set them somewhere in Geoff or Sterich; the new material can represent a new crisis which the heroes who defeated the last giant incursion have been asked to deal with. In this case the three original adventures can be run "as is." The second is to move them to the present day (591 CY) and shift their settings for easier use withthe new information in this product.
Ugh. Honestly, things would be easier if they just left well enough alone, but here they have to go around talking about moving things in the timeline. Fortunately, the whole thing starts with a great big "if", so I'm going to go with a canonical assessment that moving the classic modules around was simply presented as an option, and their inclusion in the module does not necessitate such movement, even if it is seemingly encouraged by filling up more than a third of the book with a reprint of those three modules.

So basically, ignore the "you can move those old modules to the new era" stuff, and keep the background as written, for Liberation of Geoff. We're still left with the original giants in 577-578, and have some more supporting evidence.

To recap, here's what we come up with looking through the source material:
  • CY 576: Slavers appear and have drow support
  • CY 577: Giant raids start
  • CY 578: Giants/Drow modules events occur, Temple bandits start to re-appear, drow support for Slave Lords ends
  • CY 579: Temple of Elemental Evil events occur
  • CY 580: Slave Lords modules events occur
That is certainly different than the "accepted" mega-campaign sequence that's been described over the years, which is Temple of Elemental Evil, then Slave Lords, then Giants/Drow, with the expectation that it's all one PC party doing all the work, and the modules increase in difficulty as they rise in level.

That leaves us with a few implications as to how to make the sequence work "as is" from a canon timeline perspective. More on that anon, perhaps. For now, we've seen where the evidence leads us in terms of where these modules belong. Sweet Myhriss's Lips, I hope they're not all this hard to work out!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Initial Thoughts on Mythic India

So no sooner do I make a post about the projects that I've got going on at the moment, but I start knocking out the "in progress" stuff almost immediately. Obviously that leaves a hole, and my nature abhors a creative vacuum.

I've not committed to it yet, but I'm toying with doing a "mythic India" version of my Golden Scroll of Justice book, which was centered on mythic China. So, essentially a supplement to provide Indian-themed races, classes, skills, magic, and monsters to your 1E, ADD, LL, SW, and so forth, games.

The obvious player in this sphere is the RPG Pundit's excellent Arrows of Indra, which I absolutely love. So if I do decide to go this route, I will be consciously trying to take a different direction than the one he took. Where his work is firmly based in history, with magic thrown in, mine will be analogous to "Medieval Europe is to AD&D as Medieval India is to mythic India".

Terrific game, and one I want to
consciously avoid copying
In other words, I'll play (much) faster and looser with the material, in the same way that Gygax and Arneson took Biblical miracles and turned them into spells (part water) and magic items (staff of the serpent), and took Ancient and Medieval European realities and turned them into 2nd century BC druids, 11th century clerics, and 17th century cavaliers rubbing shoulders in gleeful defiance of historical timelines.

History and mythology will be an inspiration, but not a guide. The tropes of Dungeons and Dragons will be maintained, and the source material will be changed to serve them, if needed.

But there are other fantasy India products out there. Against the Dark Yogi. Sahasra. Tales from the Ganges (sadly no longer in print). Probably others, too. I'll want to make sure I do something that stands out from that crowd, and takes the source material in a unique direction.

In one way, I have an advantage because I'm putting everything into the larger 1st edition meta-setting and using the ADD rules. For instance, take the elements. In classic Hindu cosmology, there are five elements - air, earth, fire, water, and void. So, like I did with Golden Scroll, I'll have to account not only for the new void elemental, but the resulting para- and quasi- elementals that result from the introduction of yet another elemental plane. (That's in addition to the elemental plane of metal which Golden Scroll introduced.)

As an aside, I love the metaphysical ambiguity that having such relative planar geography causes. It's one of those things you can just say "it's a mystery that sages cannot explain" and it adds depth to the whole cosmology.

It's also the case that I will not be including a setting with the book. Like AD&D and Golden Scroll, there will be some "implied setting" stuff by necessity, but this will be a sourcebook for DMs who want to create their own mythic India, not a setting unto itself.

I want to turn this into a gameable mechanic
Since I'd be using Golden Scroll as a model, I'd want something to use in the same way that I used the skill system for kung fu. The obvious choice is yoga. There are some pretty out-there types of yoga, many of which claim all sorts of supernatural benefits. That will be my framework.

New sub-classes of clerics and mages are a given. Races? Monkey-men (vanaras) to be sure. I'd like to come up with at least one more. I'm thinking apsaras and gandharvas might be a good choice for the basis of a new sub-type of elf. Pointed ears aside, they could be good choices; associated with music, dancing, and sex. Remember, these aren't supposed to be exact correspondences - in a game where "medusa" becomes a type of monster rather than the specific name of one of only three Gorgons, it makes sense, in much the same way as the Norse Alfar don't map to elves in the details, but they do in the broad strokes. Is there an Indian analogue for a dwarf? Research will tell (or maybe someone in the comments).

I'm not saying it's aliens, but...
Now, much like I tried to make Golden Scroll an amalgam of Chinese folklore and mythology along with some of the tropes of modern kung-fu movies, so too would I really love to figure out a way to bring in some Bollywood tropes into the mix. Is this my chance to write rules for romance? Or will I be able to bring in some sort of weird song and dance number into adventures. This will take a lot of thought, but as they say "you make rules for things you want to happen in the game." I would add as a corollary that "you make things meaningful, fun, and rewarding, or else the players will ignore them." Ahem.

Finally, I have to put some ancient astronaut weirdness in here. Several episodes of the History Channel show Ancient Aliens dealt with India, and specifically called out vimanas as being flying craft or spaceships that would sit on top of Hindu temples. Oh MAN do I have to include that.

Now, this doesn't mean I'm necessarily throwing my hat into this particular ring. I've got a bunch of other ideas that are percolating in my mind, which I might talk through in some subsequent posts. But getting these sorts of initial thoughts down helps me organize things in my mind, which is a good thing.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Greyhawk's World: Events of the West-Central Flanaess

Since my first effort at continuing the Greyhawk's World articles was so well-received (and I had so much fun doing it), I thought it only proper to keep going. For those who don't know, Greyhawk's World was a series of articles in Dragon Magazine from the early 80's describing the ongoing events of the Greyhawk campaign in the years CY 577 and 578, right after the Gazetteer itself was published.

This one was a bit trickier than the first, since some of the events described herein were already covered in previous articles, albeit from the point of view of Iuz and the Horned Society.

Hopefully I did a good enough job of making everything fit together, as well as setting the stage for what will ultimately be called the Greyhawk Wars (ugh... I don't mind the concept per se, but that name is terrible). So I tried to make sure nothing herein would contradict that timeline.

What should leap out is just how much the Gygax and Kuntz articles were setting the same trajectory as was eventually taken by Zeb Cook and Carl Sergeant in Greyhawk Wars and From the Ashes. The wars between Iuz and Furyondy and the Vesve, the wars between the Great Kingdom and the Iron League and Nyrond/Almor, and lots more. I'm not sure if Gygax would have broken up the whole Great Kingdom, but its fascinating to re-read those old articles and see just how much they presaged the events that happened after Gygax left.

You can see a thumbnail of the article in the upper-right. You can download the whole thing here.

Update (4/14/2018): The file has been updated to correct an error in the timing of the events of Temple of Elemental Evil.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Irons in the Fire

I just wanted to give a quick update on the various thingamabobs that I'm working on.

Musicland: The Kickstarter campaign was a huge success (and thanks to everyone who supported it!). The manuscript is off to the editor, the cover is done, the interior artist has given me sketches that have been approved. So all systems are go, and we're right on track for the summer release.

Bitterbark's Circus: As part of the Musicland Kickstarter (since it's technically another side-level for Castle of the Mad Archmage, albeit one which is eminently suitable for inserting into any campaign), we reached a stretch goal wherein I promised to prepare Bitterbark's Circus for print on demand. That is currently scheduled for April. Update (3/30/18): The files have been submitted for review. Once they're approved, I'll get a proof copy, and then it'll go live if all is okay with it.

DM's Guide to Greyhawk 576: Should be done this weekend; there are just a couple of monsters left to convert. Wizards of the Coast is still calling the shots as to if and when Greyhawk will be opened up on DM's Guild. Over that decision I have no control, of course. Update (3/29/18): Done! Last monsters are statted up, and this one is in the rear-view mirror.

Greyhawk's World: I'll probably finish out the last few installments of that venerable series of magazine articles by Gygax and Kuntz, since it was so much fun the first time. One correction I'll be making, though, is to remove the reference to the fall of Strandkeep Castle, which it turns out should probably be a few years down the line, given the time frame of the novel Artifact of Evil.

Armies of Greyhawk: I've been neglecting my miniatures painting for a long, long time. One of the things I've really wanted to do is put together some 15mm armies with livery from the Flanaess. I'm hoping to start doing just that this spring, and of course there will be plenty of pictures.

Moving the Blog: For years, has pointed to the Blogspot home of my blog. I'm thinking of moving it over to the domain completely, which would give me some flexibility to do some other things besides pure blogging under the GG moniker.

After that, there are a few things I've been toying with, but since I haven't taken the plunge on any of them yet, I'm loathe to make any announcements just yet. Stay tuned...

Thursday, March 22, 2018


Tucked away in one of the corners of the Sundered Empire on the far northwest of Oerik is an island called Thalos. When I did my Beyond the Flanaess series of posts a few years ago, I naturally included it, but recently there's been a request to show the full-size version because someone is thinking about setting a campaign there.

As an impulsive whim of beneficence has overtaken me (quite alien to my normal nature as a Dungeon Master), I have decided to put together a composite map from the earlier ones, and post it here at full size. It's not a perfect map, because I just superimposed one atop another (you can probably see where, where the coast line sort of disappears), but it's serviceable. If I ever do the area in detail, it'll certainly get redone.

Click to embiggen.

I'm not going to get into the history of the place. Those with access to the Chainmail setting know it all already, and a quick Google search of "Thalos Chainmail" will get most of the broad strokes to everyone else. Part of the problem is that my own focus is on CY 576 at the moment, and Chainmail takes place years later. But it will be interesting to explore what the place looks like before the death of Stratis, won't it...?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The fall of Molag

The conquest of the Horned Society by Iuz is one of the seminal events of the Greyhawk campaign. It is a It is described in both Gary Gygax's novel Artifact of Evil, as well as the history of the Greyhawk Wars written after Gygax's departure from TSR, after which the setting took a somewhat different turn.

In the book, this happens after a siege of Molag, the capital of the Hierarchs' realm. Devils and the spawn of Tarterus came to their aid, but the hordes of Iuz prevailed:
First the wild kin of these humanoids made up the bulk of the attackers, but soon enough things far worse than troll and ogre, bugbear and gnoll, were there. The masters of the Hierarchs summoned monstrous creatures from the lower planes to fortify the defense of Molag. ... In answer to this, the besieging force was sent demons when they called for aid. ... Then the Dukes of Hell took an interest in what was happening. They sent legions of their servants to assist the masters of the Hierarchs because their cause was one with Nerull and the rest. ... The terrible battle waged day and night for a week. When it finally ended, all of the things summoned were dead or returned to their own planes. ... Molag fell to the mundane armies of Iuz. ... Of the Hierarchs, not even Iuz knew for certain. ... the Ten had surely managed to flee somewhere. Rumor said that they had been carried far to the south, but nothing was known beyond this tale. As the month of Sunsebb brought the chill of winter to the land, the ones who opposed Evil wondered what would follow. (Artifact of Evil, pp. 341-343)
The takeover of the Horned Society by Iuz is somewhat different as depicted in the Greyhawk Wars Adventurer's Book:
Nor did the Lord of Evil stop at rebuilding his own lands, but reached also into the Horned Society to replace leaders there. The Dread and Awful Presences, the Hierarchs, made the task easy for him. The Hierarchs reigned in veiled seclusion, hiding their human identities from their humanoid minions. Rumors that the Hierarchs were fiendish overlords arose among the humanoids of the Horned Society -- rumors the Hierarchs fostered to cement their power. Iuz decided merely to make the rumors reality. In the month of Coldeven, at the height of the Blood-Moon Festival, the citadels of Molag ran red with blood as Iuz staged his coup. In less than a fortnight, the Hierarchs became creatures of mere legend and Iuz held absolute control over the Horned Society. (Adventurer's Book, p. 9)
To be sure, the details of the two accounts seem irreconcilable. The novel places the fall of the Horned Society in winter, while the guide specifically mentions late spring. The novel presents us with a full-on invasion crowned by a siege, while the guide frames the events more as a bloody coup, with Iuz's troops coming in afterwards. In the book the fate of the Hierarchs is uncertain, while the guide strongly implies (but interestingly never explicitly states) that they were slain.

But what if these two accounts are merely two phases of the same event?

In the winter, Iuz invades, laying siege to the city, involving many hundreds or thousands of demons, demodands, devils, and daemons. The city is taken, but the Hierarchs are able to hide or escape. However, the fact that their fate remained unknown would naturally lead their loyal supporters to resist the occupation by Iuz. By the spring, however, their hidey-holes in the citadels of Molag were discovered, the Hierarchs finally destroyed, and Iuz's "absolute control over the Horned Society" became a reality.

So, basically, the massacre of the Hierarchs during the Blood-Moon Festival happened months after the siege of Molag. It essentially cemented Iuz's control over the Society by eliminating their leaders, the only possible source of resistance.

I make no claims that this was the intention of either Gygax or Cook. I'm just trying to reconcile the two accounts so they make some sort of narrative sense.

In my construction, the narrative lays out thus:
Nor did the Lord of Evil stop at rebuilding his own lands, but reached also into the Horned Society to replace leaders there. ... First the wild kin of these humanoids made up the bulk of the attackers, but soon enough things far worse than troll and ogre, bugbear and gnoll, were there. The masters of the Hierarchs summoned monstrous creatures from the lower planes to fortify the defense of Molag. ... In answer to this, the besieging force was sent demons when they called for aid. ... Then the Dukes of Hell took an interest in what was happening. They sent legions of their servants to assist the masters of the Hierarchs because their cause was one with Nerull and the rest. ... The terrible battle waged day and night for a week. When it finally ended, all of the things summoned were dead or returned to their own planes. ... Molag fell to the mundane armies of Iuz. ... Of the Hierarchs, not even Iuz knew for certain. ... the Ten had surely managed to flee somewhere. Rumor said that they had been carried far to the south, but nothing was known beyond this tale. As the month of Sunsebb brought the chill of winter to the land, the ones who opposed Evil wondered what would follow. ... [Three months pass.] The Dread and Awful Presences, the Hierarchs, made the task easy for [Iuz]. The Hierarchs reigned in veiled seclusion, hiding their human identities from their humanoid minions. Rumors that the Hierarchs were fiendish overlords arose among the humanoids of the Horned Society -- rumors the Hierarchs fostered to cement their power. Iuz decided merely to make the rumors reality. In the month of Coldeven, at the height of the Blood-Moon Festival, the citadels of Molag ran red with blood as Iuz staged his coup. In less than a fortnight, the Hierarchs became creatures of mere legend and Iuz held absolute control over the Horned Society. 
I think it works. In fact, it makes things even more dramatic, as it implies a few months between the conquest of Molag described in the novel, and the final destruction of the Hierarchs by Iuz described in the adventurer's guide, were marked by some sort of guerrilla campaign of resistance by the Hierarchs and their minions, until their final defeat. I like that!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

GaryCon 2018

The original plastic castle that was the model for
Gary's Castle Greyhawk
I had the pleasure of spending this past weekend in beautiful Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, for my first ever GaryCon.

I drove out (twelve and a half hours, for those who are counting) from New Jersey, as I had a car load of products to sell at the BRW Games booth. Sales were very good throughout the weekend, but I was amazed at how many people had already heard of me and my work. The kind words were really appreciated, everyone!

I got to hang out with a bunch of OSR luminaries over the course of the weekend. Putting names to faces was a great thing; Erik Tenkar, Jeff Talanian, Jon Hershberger, and many, many others. But the highlight for me was meeting Anna Meyer (of fame) and Darlene the artist, who created those magical Greyhawk maps many years ago.

Unfortunately, being a solo vendor means that most of my time was spent in the exhibition hall, but I did manage to run a game of Castle of the Mad Archmage on Saturday night, and got to see a lot of other games being played. Tons of pics beneath the fold:

Saturday, March 3, 2018

If only...

Back in the early 1980's I was a huge fan of the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting, and especially of the articles in Dragon magazine by Gary Gygax and Rob Kuntz, which "advanced the timeline" and laid out the goings-on in setting during the two years after the established date of CY 576 for the folio/gold box era.

I know "advancing the timeline" has a bad reputation in many quarters of Greyhawk fandom, thanks to the bad taste that Greyhawk Wars and From the Ashes left in folks' mouths, but I loved these articles at the time. I really wish that Gygax/Kuntz had been able to at least cover the whole of the Flanaess, but unfortunately the series was discontinued before the south and central Flanaess could be covered.

I hereby present a wish, an "if only this had been able to be", in the spirit of the original articles. It hopefully adds a little color to the setting at this time, without directly contradicting anything that comes afterwards.

Man, I would have given up a lot to have actually read this article back in the day.

You can see a thumbnail of the article in the upper-right. You can read the whole thing here.

Edit: The pdf has been updated to change the reference to Strandkeep Castle, which didn't fall until a few years later, according to the time-frame of Artifact of Evil.

Friday, March 2, 2018

See You At GaryCon!

Just a reminder - next weekend I'll be at GaryCon for the first time (woo-hoo!). I'll be manning the BRW Games table in the dealer's room, and running sessions of Castle of the Mad Archmage on Friday and Saturday nights (both are sold out, sorry!).

Do stop by and say hi, if you're in the neighborhood!