Friday, February 21, 2014

Finding the Gems: WGR1 Greyhawk Ruins

This is the first part of a comprehensive review of WGR1: Greyhawk Ruins. Given some of the controversy surrounding this module, I felt like it needed an in-depth look, especially since its available again. 

It was first published way back in 1990, with Black Mobley and Timothy B. Brown as lead designers. It didn't really get much attention back then, perhaps they were leery after being insulted by its joke of a predecessor: WG7: Greyhawk Castle.

White Wolf magazine reviewed in issue #24 back then. But I don't have access to it. Not even Dragon magazine promoted the module outside of its "Previews" section issue #160.

In 1991, Lawence Schick, author of Heroic Words: A History and Guide to Role-Playing Games called it "a classic illogical 'gilded hole' dungeon."

In 2008, Joseph Bloch called it an "anathema to the spirit of Greyhawk" because it has a plot.

In 2012,  James Maliszewksi said " Greyhawk Ruins may not be a particularly inspired example of a megadungeon, but it is a megadungeon and I give it points for that alone."

So let's go ahead address these criticisms before moving on to the good stuff.
--Greyhawk Ruins isn't Gygax's famous megadungeon. True, it isn't. Is it "anathema" to Greyhawk? That's for you to decide. I'm deliberately side-stepping the module's zeitgeist, and asking you to do the same, while focusing on finding the gems within, namely its playability and, if failing that, mining the module for ideas. 

--It is a classic dungeon, though illogical, designed with lots of monsters, traps, and treasure--there's lots of treasure to be found. Some people like this form of dungeon, others don't. But what do you expect from dungeon created by a mad wizard. As for being uninspiring, I disagree.

--Yes, there is a plot. 2e modules were known for there "lead them by the nose plots." Yet the plot here really isn't as overt as you'd find in other modules.

--The maps don't use grids, and are multicolored to indicate elevation. They're also skewed (see the picture to the right).

This is a fair assessment. I don't like these maps much either. But that can be fixed now.

So what do we have here? 
--A megadungeon set in the official World of Greyhawk campaign setting for AD&D 2nd Edition.

--You can base an entire campaign around the exploration of its ruins, since its meant for character levels 2-15.

--There are nearly 1,000 encounter descriptions. The dungeon is stuffed full of monsters, traps, and treasure.

--It introduced new monsters for the 2e game (or updated old ones for those still playing 1e--depending on your take).

--A rumors chart that ties into the general history of the ruins (The Circle of Eight, the escape of Iuz, and so on).

--A megadungeon that's been divided into almost three separate dungeons: The Tower of Power, the Tower of War, and the Tower of Zagig. While there's some connection between the dungeons beneath each tower, each has its own distinct "flavor" and monsters.

--A brief overview and summary of each "dungeon" at the beginning of the module.

--At the start of each level, there's also a brief overview of said level, to aid DMs.

Finding the Gems
I'll cover the Tower of Power, the Tower of War, and the Tower of Zagig in upcoming posts. But here's what's good about the overall module.

--The maps on the inside of the cover show the area surrounding the ruins and a cross section of the megadungeon itself. (See right)

--As an interesting twist, typically "good" races  like dwarves and elves try to extort money from the PCs when they come and go from different parts of the dungeon.

--I think color-coded maps showing elevations are a good idea, it keeps the PCs guessing whether or not they are ascending or decending to a different level.

--Lots of encounters. Even if you don't use this module, there's plenty of ideas to take and plunk down in your own games.

--Some of these encounters reveal clues to the history of the place.

--There's only one example of boxed text.

--An entire campaign can be based on the exploration of this megadungeon.

--You get to adventure in a version of Castle Greyhawk, the dungeon that started it all.

Augmenting the Adventure
--Photocopy/Print the Monster Statistics charts on pages 4-7. They'll come in handy. The same with the wandering monster charts. There are no stat blocks for "standard monsters" in the text.

[EDIT, 3/22/14: In my copy of the pdf, the stats on page 4 are blurred]

--Have some secret entrance points into the dungeon from the wilderness. 

--If you want, using editing software to print off the maps in a non-skewed fashion. 

--Add your own NPCs/Villains. In fact, there's a couple spots where the module encourages you to do so.

--Add dead adventuring parties here and there, so the ruins live up to their reputation. 

--Make the adventure your own. This isn't Gygax's "Castle Greyhawk," its your Castle Greyhawk. Run it as you see fit. Add stuff from other "Greyhawk" sources."  Greyhawk Ruins is generic enough that it can be placed in your own campaign. Add your own levels. Use 1e adventures like EX1 Dungeonland and EX1: Beyond the Magic Mirror for more light-hearted play. 

I can understand the criticisms toward Greyhawk Ruins. Back in 1990, people were expecting something different. like the original notes from Gygax himself. Or they were upset that TSR ousted Gygax.

But that was 25 years ago. Since then the adventure has largely been unavailable, leaving up to a whole generation of younger gamers to just trust the words of their elders.

I paid $75 for my used hardcopy a couple years back. When I started reading through it, I said to myself: "This isn't bad. In fact, some of this stuff in here is quite good." 

Greyhawk Ruins is now available for  $$4.99 in pdf. For that price, isn't it worth taking another look? 

(No. I didn't get paid by WotC to write this review, which is solely based on the hard copy. Though, I own both now. Part 2 will be up next week.)

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