Saturday, July 10, 2021

Dicechucker's Greyhawk Canon

Since loads of you haven't got any interest in asking me which TSR-published tomes make up the Dicechucker's Greyhawk Canon, I'll save you the trouble. Below are the sources which I require and/or accept as part of my Greyhawk-ian canon, as well as some that seem canon-y but that I don't put much stock in.

Fundamental:
The World of Greyhawk Gazetteer, this is the 32 page booklet that came with the 1980 Folio edition. Since it predates the boxed set by 3 years, and since the boxed set tended to introduce errors--Invoked devastation of Colorless Fire anyone?--it's probably more accurate.

T1 Village of Hommlet If you've ever read the Gazetteer, you already know that no module is more intrinsically linked to the WoG than T1. Not only is this one of the only modules mentioned by name in the Gaz, the events described in T1 also get a paragraph write up in the Chronology plus further treatment under the Verbabonc heading. 

S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks As discussed elsewhere, this one establishes the origin story of the Oeridian people. 

U1 Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh Thanks to this one we learn that the south coast of Keoland = Southern England.

L1&2 The Secret of Bone Hillenford. You knew it was coming. I like that Len Lakofka took on the role of humanizing the modern day Suel culture. That said, because my campaigns are always left-map-centric, I've moved Restenford and its environs to the Flotsam Jetsam Islands off the coast of the Hold of the Sea Princes.

Supplemental:

C1 Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan I was obsessed with this module as a youth, and I credit it as the primary inspiration for my decision to go to Mexico for a semester abroad when I was in college. Provides excellent campaign inspiration for adventuring in Hepmonaland. I may one day move this up to Fundamental status if I ever get over my left-map-centrism.

C2 Ghost Tower of Inverness While the dungeon itself can be located pretty much anywhere, the backgrounds provided for the pre-generated characters allude to the intriguing state of affairs in the Duchy (County?) of Urnst.

A Guide to the World of Greyhawk, from the 1983 Boxed set, provides some additional information on the setting, particularly the deities and various ethnic groups of the Flannaes. Though I generally appreciate most of the additional info provided in this version, there are things about it I choose to ignore. For instance, there's some mention of a tunnel that the Suel built to escape the Rain of Colorless Fire. In my mind, that event was so sudden and complete in its destruction that it put a fairly immediate end to all Suloise migration in any direction. Maybe the Invoked Devastation left a few people standing, but the Rain of Colorless Fire reduced an entire kingdom to dust! You are not straggling out of that wasteland a few months later.  

Undemental:  Books you might think are essential but I have completely disregarded

S1 and S2: Despite their pedigree, there's nothing about Tomb of Horrors or White Plume Mountain that ties them in any essential way to the WoG, and that's fine. You can port these bad boys to your own game world, or Middle Earth or freakin' Narnia if you want and they'll fit right in. In fact, the second biggest shortcoming of Keith Francis Strohm's disappointing Tomb of Horrors novelization was that the author spent two thirds of the novel shoe-horning the Tomb into the geopolitical context of latter day Greyhawk instead of investigating a creepy, death trap-laden dungeon and defeating a powerful undead mage. [The biggest shortcoming of the book is that he spent the final third of the book failing to make the investigation of a creepy, death trap-laden dungeon seem at all creepy or dangerous--unless you were one of the dozens of unnamed red-shirts the main characters brought along to walk into all the traps for them.] 

the new blogger format has some glitchesS4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth With this module, Gygax really started nailing down the mythos of Greyhawk, and there's some really good stuff in it. But it never grabbed me the way Hommlet did. It's got cool magic items, an interesting backstory, and Erol Otus's excellent cover illustration. That said, I feel like it set the table for the sort of epic power-gaming that begat Dragonlance.
Man, this cover sucks.
Snakes and Wizards anyone?


Though WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun also lays substantial groundwork for the Epic Greyhawk mythos and came out at around the same time as Tsojcanth, it lacked the prestigious S- prefix and was largely overlooked by gamers at the time. I have no idea if that statement is substantiated by reality, but I do know that the gamers in my circle (a small sample size to be sure) held the S- modules in high regard, while no one thought much of this, the first 2-lettered TSR module. Also not helped by the pale lavender cover, the weird cover art depicting a faceless wizard surrounded by bulbous and equally faceless snake-worms, or the fact that lead-in modules WG 1-3 do not exist. I remember the lone copy of this module loitering in the D&D display stand in the store in town for about 3 years before one of my friends finally wiped off the dust and bought the thing.

T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil I was of the generation that played T1 long before this follow up hit the shelves and found the publication of this continuation module to be a nuisance because we'd already made up our own conclusion to the Elemental Evil saga.


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Wednesday, June 2, 2021

A2 Slavers Stockade: Advent of the Ability Check?

Is the dude on the right supposed to be Ogre?
As you may have heard, I've been reading up on the A-series lately and comparing what I read to my fading memories of the '80s. A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade has turned out to be a bit of a reality check for me because none of it matches up to my vague memories of that spring day in 1985 when an invisible Blodgett [the halfling thief from the pre-jens] leapt from the wall of a cavern to backstab a lance-wielding goblin who was riding on the back of a warg--and failed miserably. He was late on his jump, made a flailing attempt at a backstab, landed on his face for 3 pts of damage only to get up just in time to get lanced by the next charging goblin for 12 points of damage. 

For the life of me, I can't find an encounter area in this mod that matches that memory. Is this another case of the Donjon Maestro taking liberties or am I just misremembering things?

Anyway, the purpose of this here post is really to point out an encounter area comprised of a chasm with a bunch of stalagmites sticking up from the floor. One can cross the chasm, the module informs us, by leaping from stalagmite to stalagmite, but the text states that you have to 

"roll equal to or less than [your] dexterity on 1d20 for each jump." 

I pose this question to you dear readers: published in 1981, is this the first appearance of a roll-under ability check in a D&D product?

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

A1 Undercity 2: The Stairway continues

One of my favorite parts of Dungeon Module A1 is this little tidbit from the map of the slave pits.

The cartographer drew this handy sketch to let us know that the northern portion of room #19C is accessed via a corridor that goes underneath room 18B. This is good to know cuz that's not clear from the map; one might otherwise conclude that there is no way to get there. I draw these sort of thumbnail sketches of the more convoluted portions of my dungeons all the time; it's nice to see one in an old time TSR adventure as well. 

That said, what's the significance of the space? Is it essential that it goes under 18B above? More important, is it interesting enough to merit a special sketch? Well, it's the machine room for the works that open and close the slave pits in room 18--the actual levers that control the works are upstairs in 18b--and it's occupied by an aspis drone and a few slaves whose job it is to oil the cogs and such. It's nice that they acknowledge this sort of infrastructure, but is it worthy of the sketch? You be the judge.

But then I took another look at the sketch and thought "That is the widest stairs in the whole modge [that's for you JB]," and if you ignore the context of the underground setting and squint at a spot just to the left of the arrowhead while singing the national anthem of a country you've never heard of, it just seems maybe plausible that this could be what inspired Jeff Dee's illustration of the stairs to the temple from page 3: