When I had first started gaming, we used a style that we don’t use anymore. The Dungeon Master would tell us very specific things about the place that we were in, and another player would draw it on graph paper, mapping our progress. The point behind this was not OCD, it was because we knew that we were in a labyrinth, basically playing “find the flag”, the map that we had told us where we had already been and gave us clues as to where to go.
We abandoned this style many years ago for something more descriptive, it wasn’t intentional, it just happened. Underground complexes got smaller, and easier to manage, I wanted the underground section to only last a session or two. We all know that they call it a “Dungeon Crawl” for a reason, it slows down the game. Most of my story would take place above ground, with the dungeon typically being the climax. They weren’t ever all that long, it wasn’t anything so advanced that the players really needed a map, they were more or less cattle shoots, my monsters were finite, I knew exactly how many beings were down there, they weren’t static, but it was possible for the players to kill every last one of them and successfully clear a dungeon.
If I had a feeling that the dungeon was larger than what can be accomplished in one session, I’d create rooms that could easily be made safe, the players didn’t have to worry about this. Once they killed the big bad boss, the scenario was over, they got their treasure, we calculated XP, and the next scene would take place back at the inn or whatever. All of this is incredibly lazy. It was instituted to make play faster, more story-like. Also, now that I think about it, more video game-like.
A few years ago, one of my players wanted to DM, he had bought the Forgotten Realms box set Undermountain and he never got a chance to actually use it, so I rolled up a character and let him DM. We had a great time until we found the entrance that we were looking for, then he suddenly started telling us how long the hallways were, how big the rooms were, boring colorless information. Once in a while he’d give us a real description, but not to often. We all laughed and ribbed him about it for years, assuming that he was just that rusty at game mastering. We had him convinced that the error was his, but now that I think about it, the error was ours.
He was playing a different game, we were playing one of our typical story driven games that we were used to, and he was playing that classic style of old-school D&D. Instead of listening to what he was telling us, turning around and grabbing the old fashioned graph paper, a ruler, and some tape; we laughed at him. Here is the deal, as soon as we crawled down into that hole, and failed to start mapping our progress, we were dead. Total Party Kill. We just didn’t have the sense to know that we were dead. Our characters are still down there, either dead from starvation, eaten by some hideous beast, or enslaved by something even worse. It didn’t end well.
I used to cringe at the mere thought of such things, today they are referred to as Underdark™ so technically they are still with us, but for the most part and by most tables, ignored for whatever reason. I think that the reason why we ignore it so much is that Dungeon Crawls as my table uses them today are incredibly slow, I cringe about drawing them out even further, and I kind of associate them with my early days of DMing, when I was still learning and not very good at all, but here is the weird thing, I didn’t hardly ever run this style of game. I quickly abandoned it and instead worked on descriptions and ways to bring NPCs alive. I played that style WAY more than I ran it. I associate it with our days of sitting down and actually drawing PC Player Sheets because we couldn’t afford to buy them. I also am always going to be in a state where I am unlearning, just when I think that I have all of the Edition lies wiped from my mind, I find something like this that is still there, and it is telling me that Mega-Dungeons aren’t fun. That they are old-fashioned and were just something that people used to do. That they limit games and hog the spotlight. I could go on and on, but none of it is really true.
As a DM I still prefer Graph Paper when doing my mapping. To me it is a lot faster and easier than using a computer. I have also gotten lazy about the size of my maps, esthetically, a one sheet map is pleasing, but what is esthetically pleasing isn’t always what is best for the game. I have also gotten in the habit of cheating with my maps. Instead of charting them accurately, I’ll make notations, like ‘This passage really extends 4 miles’ when the players hit it during play, I roll for 1 encounter and skip all the way to the end of the passage, which is horrible!
I digress, when we took away Graph Paper as a player tool, I feel that we dumbed down the game, there are things that this style allows that you can’t achieve when you don’t use it. While initially it is slow, and the DM will have to refigure how to accomplish his descriptions, we can do something that we can’t normally do, which is change the map. Advanced users enjoy making sure that their monsters aren’t static, but we do it in a very static environment, when the players draw their own map, we can bring the dungeons truly alive. We can damage the environment and cause the players to rethink things because they can detect them, they have their own map right there!
It also provides a game which your players won’t expect, typically, in your modern game once you find the flag (the boss), the game is over, but with this method, you now have the added challenge of navigating and fighting your way back out, while you are injured from your initial target. Actually escaping this thing successfully becomes a reward all unto itself.
Reviving the Mega-Dungeon Concept
Drawing a map is a skill, DMs have it but players may not, so just handing them a sheet of graph paper and leaving them to it will probably just lead to frustration. Even if they had played this way in the past, they’ll need a little bit of time to re-acquire the old skill set, and we DMs will have to acquire it too, as it is really up to us to give them descriptions accurately so that they can draw the map. It is best to start gradually.
Create a Novice Dungeon, which will probably be bigger than what you had done in the past. You want lots of passages, but mind the doors! You are going to find things in this Novice Dungeon that you did wrong and only serve to make accurately describing the dungeons too difficult. During regular play, we can put 3 doors on the side of a passageway, but how are you going to describe these doors to your players in a way that they can map? Our design has to factor this in. It is fine to add detail, but pay attention to what is happening.
Perhaps it would be best to have the players find a map, which you hand them partially completed. The map itself is old and is now inaccurate, but they won’t know this. This map should have your basic symbols on them, Doors, secret doors, traps, ambushes, stuff like that, but it is only a partial map. At some point they will encounter a blockage, one that they can’t bypass and are forced to leave the safety of this map and start charting their own progress. Since this is a novice scenario, create the map with them. If they make errors, correct them right away so that they can fix it. This helps the DM too, you cannot allow yourself to give them bad descriptions.
Now we’ll play a similar scenario, roughly the same size, but have them go in blind. They will be creating the map, and if we were satisfied with our progress from the novice play-test, we’ll let them make this map independently. We won’t help with the process, and not check it ourselves until the players have found the flag. Once the goal has been completed, we’ll ask to see the map that they created and check it. If it is inaccurate then they had failed the scenario and must find their way back out, but if they succeeded, you can start using the more advanced methods.
NOTES ON PLAY-TESTING
The focus need not be on play-testing, I’d suggest keeping it core to your campaign.
If you need to, light the dungeon the first couple of times. Once you are comfortable with this style, then you can start limiting the descriptions to just the field of view, which allows more of a complex dungeon to be designed. The light will also clearly show the boundaries of our gaming scenario. Leaving the map should not be allowed until the basic skills have been mastered.
Traditionally, the deeper that you go, the harder the monsters, sometimes there are stairs, but sometimes there isn’t, it is a ramp that may not be detectable unless there is a dwarf, gnome, or Halfling in the party. If you want to be nice, you can show them how to draw one-dimensional maps, a hall that extends under or over a room and doesn’t dead end is a clue that you’ve changed levels and it is time to start a new map.
Stocking a big map like this is exactly like stocking a large city map, you’ll have your triggered events, but mostly it will be randomly generated, so put some care into creating your tables. It helps to break the dungeon down into sections, with each section having its own random encounters lists. It doesn’t hurt to have non-combat events either, but make sure that these are temporary, if they aren’t, you’ll have to add them to the map.
Drawing always aids my creativity, I think about ecology and what is happening in this place. The dungeon itself tells me a story, for the most part, the halls are made of either rough or worked stone, if this changes, if they enter a section of hall that has something different than that, then I will tell them. I don’t make a complete key, as we don’t know what rooms the players will and won’t explore, and I hate doing too much work. Much of the fine details can be established during play. I might mark a trap, and then if the players stumble into it I’ll iron out the fine details. The most important thing is the maze itself, this should be logical, as we’ll be using the structure to give clues. If the players fully map around a small section of map, that may indicate a secret room. It is okay for halls to dead-end, this place is old and has been modified for centuries to fit the needs of different occupants.
This style is very easy to master, and its benefits are to be explored. We’ll be able to do things that we couldn’t normally do if the players didn’t make a map; Things that normally would present problems, or have to be rehashed over and over again. They shouldn’t be mapping just to map, there should be a benefit of some kind, it will allow them to avoid traps, and ambushes, tell them where they had been so they don’t run around in circles. You can make weird effects happen, like all of their metal equipment turns to wood when they walk through a pillar, when they walk back through it, the effect reverses. You can get really creative and wild here!
If you had never done this before, then there are probably some things in the handbooks which may not had made sense to you before, that could be because it is assuming that you are playing this style, it’s built into the system. In this environment it is safe to really cut loose, make it as deadly as you want, all of those unfair monsters that newbies bitch about, this is where you use them. They don’t have to walk through a section that is trapped, it is faster, but they’ll pay with damage, they can take a different route if they want to, or this was planned and they have to walk through it on their way in, weakening them some, softening them up for the enemy, or maybe it will work in their favor, perhaps the enemy thinks that since that section is trapped, then they won’t expect an attack from that direction?
This system is meant to make tracking the passage of time easier, 1 session typically = 1 day. Spell casters should prepare their spell lists, and it makes it easier to calculate expendable equipment, such as torches, lantern fuel, and food/water. Resources can play an important part in this game. 1 hour of real time, can equal 1 hour of game time.
This map is also equipment, and subject to the laws of physics, if the player who is drawing the map is blinded, he can’t draw his map, nor can he see it. If the party irritates a fire-breathing something or other, the map must make a saving throw or burn. You can be as mean or as nice as you want. If the map is destroyed, then take it away. It is best to spend money on some nice paper, and figure out a good method of drawing, as well as a case of some kind because everybody’s lives depends on keeping this map safe! Especially in the lowest pits of the earth where light isn’t welcome.
I don’t know about you, but I am a much better Dungeon Master than I was in the 90’s, and I think that if I apply all that I had learned over the years, and put it into this concept that I can really rock this out! What I refer to as “stories” actually has been reduced considerably, and my underground sections have gotten admittedly stale compared to my wilderness games.
How about you? Have you ever played this style of game before? Are you still playing it now, or did you abandon it as well? As a player, would you be interested in this style or not? Let me know in the comments below!
TSR had developed a new style of play, one which added more story elements to our games, which is healthy to long term play. Today you have many people rebelling against the concept, as it does take some skill to pull off properly: what it does is that it gives the DM more of a presence in their games. The Dungeon Master isn’t simply refereeing the game, and judging, s/he is an active participant, inventing a series of events that are not random, but serve to draw in the players; providing direction and intrigue. Deep to the core, it allows the DM to figure out what is going on around the PCs very quickly. A well written scenario doesn’t feel like it is written at all, it still captures all of the magic of random play as the players aren’t confined to story elements; instead they must try to find story elements. They aren’t restricted the story if they don’t want to be, but the story is still playing itself out around them.
The end product shouldn’t be a module at all. This story shouldn’t be scripted, if we do that then we eliminate the player, which serves no point. TSR’s meta-gaming philosophy was dual-sided, on the one hand, the modules introduced a more interactive and rewarding concept, but on the other, they hijacked our tables. From a marketing standpoint, this was how TSR was able to finally make the company profitable again; where the Gygax team gave you the methods to enrich your playing experience, giving clear and concise examples of exactly what you should do from now on, the module itself being more of an example of the principles in action. In 2e these lessons could only be gleamed by critical thinking. They were still there, but they weren’t obvious. The DM had to have some background in fiction writing and find the concepts themselves, they weren’t pointed out to you, they weren’t explained, they were there but they were hidden. They didn’t encourage you to take the principles presented and use them yourselves; they wanted you to buy the next module.
TSR developed a subversive marketing plan that is still used to this day within the industry, and that is to target almost all of your products at new players. The longer you can keep the users from actually figuring out how the game works, the more products you can sell them! This marketing plan began as soon as Gygax was sacked, but it really took root in 1991.
Within the industry, the Forgotten Realms franchise was selling very well, that is because the company itself was fleshing out the world, and many users who were new to the hobby, as well as experienced players who didn’t want to do it, purchased into it. The advanced users were either ignoring most of the Forgotten Realms products, or sticking to Greyhawk; this made the Greyhawk Adventures setting appear to be stagnate. How do we get money from advanced users cheaply? The answer is gimmicks!
The Greyhawk Adventures module line was still kind of successful. TSR had used it to keep money flowing in while they established Forgotten Realms, but by 1991 the Realms was open for business. They now wanted to focus their attention on 'fixing' Greyhawk Adventures. All they needed was an epic story that would get even the advanced users excited. This story was Greyhawk Wars.
It started with Carl Sargent, a prolific writer from TSR UK; he understood the meta-game concept and was an excellent writer of it! He was assigned to “revitalize” Greyhawk Adventures, and he did, with modules WGS1 Five Shall Be One, and WGS2 Howl from the North. The series was supposed to conclude with a third module in the series, however, even though the WGS line was selling, TSR figured that they could add a gimmick to really boost sales. WGS3 was scrapped and reworked into a board game.
This is exciting! Wargaming is a neglected part of the hobby, it is expensive and completely different from D&D. Even with TSR’s BATTLESYSTEM rules, the size and scope of the battles that we can simulate is still limited. If we want to have all out war, we’ve got a problem. This has always had to be home-brewed, though most of us DMs write around it out of necessity, but what if there was a product that allowed us to simulate a huge war? This is a very sound concept and one that would appeal to even advanced users of the game. They even put their best man on the project, Dave Cook. If anybody could figure out how to get this done, and in a way to not be sued from other companies (namely the manufacturers of RISK and Axis & Allies) it would be Dave Cook. Whether he actually got that done, we’ll never know, because typical of TSR suits, the concept was ruined by interference from the very beginning.
As far as I am concerned, and do take my opinion in regards to this product with a grain of salt because I’ve never actually played the thing, all of my knowledge in regards to it is through research, and looking at it through the eyes of the few people who have and were willing to talk about it, but like I said, as far as I am concerned this thing is not just a failure, but an outright lie.
One would assume that if they bought this box, then they could play a game which would revitalize the World of Greyhawk as a whole, and make the events which take place core to their table. Boarders would change, nations would die, power would be redistributed, and it will be fantastic! And I think that this game can do that, but not on its own. As written, this entire game is pointless. The events which you are allowed to simulate have already been predetermined by TSR. Even if you get different results from the game, you’re told to ignore them. This isn’t the only problem with it either. Not only did Cook have to design a game which was rigged, but he had to tap into two different markets, fans of Table-Top Role-Playing, as well as fans of Board Games. The rules had to be simple, and easy to master. The final results were unsatisfying to say the least.
The World of Greyhawk, which is a complex place, was dumbed down and over simplified to the point where it was unable to properly simulate the actual war, and users at the time who were extremely excited to get this thing had no idea until they took it home and tried to play it. No matter how you look at it, no matter how you spin it, or what happened afterwards, this product was a bold-faced lie. It did not keep any of its promises. This wasn’t due to David Cook, nor Carl Sargent, but to TSR marketing who misrepresented the product and what it could and couldn’t do.
Now, Greyhawk Wars wasn’t a total loss. The users of Greyhawk were angry, but they were still precocious, and typical of the grit and attitude of advanced users, they weren’t afraid of putting forth effort to rework the thing so that it can function. It was a sound concept, and it was a step in the right direction. Simulating an epic war is kind of the holy grail of table top RPGing. At least this product gave us some of the tools that we needed to get the work done. I guess, in a way, this is the product that progressive users like. We enjoy taking concepts and ripping them apart, stripping them down and rebuilding them the way that WE want them to be, so in effect, the people that were most injured from buying this game were the new users, which is a change of pace.
I am not going to insult your intelligence by rating this game, as I haven’t played it. It sounds like a fun concept, and since I myself am also working on methods to simulate huge wars, researching it has been incredibly helpful in pointing out pitfalls that I hadn’t anticipated myself. Greyhawk Wars spawned its own sub-genre as people still network to make the game functional, and many tables were able to succeed! With a bit of research one can find completed alternative rules of play, or join the networks and further develop it, which is attractive!
At one point, the cost of it was stupid high. At the end of the day, this is a paper product and not worth the $100+ resellers were trying to milk out of it, especially considering that the game isn’t functional for what most of us want it to do. Our friends at DriveThru RPG, I feel, had fixed this issue by selling the PDF for $5. This allows the user to just print and assemble the game themselves. Now you can find the game selling for around $35, which is a lot closer to what it is really worth.
Do I recommend this game? No. I think that more can be learned by reading about Greyhawk Wars than actually trying to play it. If you are like me, and would rather spend your time actually gaming than developing a new system, you’d be best served by avoiding it. If the game was functional out of the box, that would be a different thing, but it isn’t.
If you have played this game, I ask you to please speak up and give your impressions of it, there really isn’t much out on the web when it comes to the product, and any contribution that you may have is highly valuable. Much of what I have written is based upon the observations of the handful of people who had experienced it and wrote about it, reading between the lines, and reaching my own speculative conclusions.
Regardless of if you have played the game or not, TSR attempted to hijack Greyhawk Adventures with “From the Ashes” a box set released in 1992 that fleshed out the setting, divorcing it from its original concept of a user generated milieu, and inserting their meta-gaming concepts which boosted sales, and pleased new users, but alienated and ultimately led to the abandonment of TSR's involvement with the Greyhawk Campaign Setting.
While the WGS series was successful and is mostly well-remembered today, the implications of TSR’s meta-gaming (verses user created storylines) was catastrophic. It should have served as a lesson to the company, as well as other game publishers, but it didn’t. They wanted to provide games with rich and deep storytelling elements, but they did so at the expense of their advanced users. It is one thing to publish a module and flesh out a small part of the world map, and provide a few simple scenarios which can be shared between all users, but it is another to modify an entire setting just to make money.
I don’t think that TSR ever figured out what advanced users really wanted from Greyhawk. All we wanted was a muse. We wanted design concepts fleshed out, not completed. We wanted to learn new styles of play, not have things dictated to us under the guise that it is now a Living Greyhawk. We wanted difficult and boring things to be done for us, so that we could focus on having fun. We enjoyed the story and fictional theories presented, but we resented that TSR began directing traffic, implying that events in the modules were core and your games are garbage. Greyhawk was supposed to be a different experience depending one who was DMing; that has always been its charm. Experts like Joseph Bloch have found things in the setting that I had never notice before because they took their time really learning and enjoying the setting. They were allowed to interpret the same source material as the rest of us had, but spin it in unique ways. This can still be done, but not until you acknowledge when gaming companies are micromanaging the users, and take the proper steps to take your creative control back.
Are advanced users still in the market for new products? I think that we are, but those products are a lot different from the ones that are typically being published. As far as our delving into 2e, friends, our journey is about to get darker.
James M. Ward, who together with Rob Kuntz wrote the original Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-gods & Heroes in 1976; the two would be assigned to update this to Deities & Demigods in 1980, a book steeped with controversy so fierce that the title was changed to 2013: Legends & Lore in ’85, but besides losing some content, the text itself had gone relatively unchanged for 10 years.
If you ask around the web, which Legends & Lore book is the best, you will usually be told 1st Edition. I myself had suggested 1st Edition, but until writing this, and directly comparing the two, I have come to a very surprising conclusion. You can’t talk about one and not talk about the other. There is a glaring problem with the 1st Edition book: Forgiving the absurdity of a Monster Manual filled with gods, the title did not support TSR’s existing product lines, nor was it all that useful for world building. This isn’t a new complaint. Visually, the 1e book is superior, the artwork is what people love, they even let it slide that they were marketing nudie pictures to 10-year-olds. While visually appealing, the content itself left something to be desired.
Rob Kuntz had left the company with Gary Gygax, so James M. Ward was teamed up with Troy Denning to once again rewrite Legends & Lore in an attempt to make it more functional. The work the two did was impressive, as the content was completely revised. All of the entries were researched again, and a new templet was designed.
There are two sets of index, one in the form of the Table of Contents, in the beginning, and a detailed index in the back, which is nice, but the content itself is what counts, right? Each pantheon is divided into separate chapters, just like the 1st Edition, but a lot was added. We can learn a lot about a culture by examining the gods that they worshiped, but the 2nd Edition took this a step further, each chapter starts with a very quick history of the people, not the gods. Granted it isn’t of high quality, this is a gaming book, the idea is to emulate a culture. It edits it down into a formula which is believed to function well for writing pulp fantasy stories set in historic times. It basically gets a DM interested, points him in the right direction and lets him go! There is some really great stuff in here that serves to add color.
Next it adds a few new spells; spells that are unique to the pantheon and placing examples of unique Magic Items as well, not the things that the gods necessarily use, but things that your players might be gifted or able to find along the way. They also had some maps drafted which allows a DM to get an idea of their temples or what-not.
This book isn’t just for DM eyes only, it was also written to aid players.
So, you have a really superior product to its predecessor! Unfortunately, it isn’t all sunshine and roses. With the high level of detail going into the entries themselves, decisions had to be made and material had to be cut. The 2nd Edition created a fictionalized American Indian culture (which I kind of wished that they hadn’t), the Arthurian, Celtic, Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Indian, Japanese, and Norse mythology were all maintained, the Central American mythology was rename Aztec, and the Nehwon property which TSR had permission to use from its creator, Fritz Leiber was also included, but much was dropped.
I want to say that most, if not all minor gods have been removed, the oriental monsters found in 1e had been moved to MC6 Monstrous Compendium Appendix, non-human faiths would get their own book as well, but Finnish, Babylonian, and Sumerian mythology were dropped completely, leaving many of us wishing that they had published a second volume.
I think that the problem is, even if TSR were to ask the consumers what they wanted, just as Dave Cook did when writing the Players Handbook, they would had still ended up with the same finished product, as people who had no intentions of buying the book would respond with common answers, and that is exactly what this book is: Common answers.
Now, to really be honest, the cultures detailed in this book are familiar tropes within fantasy fiction; Fantasy authors want them to be different but still identifiable, so they generally tend to stick to them. How different is Finnish Culture from the Norse? It probably isn’t too different at all, though we like the Finnish pantheon because it is distinctive. Then we have Sumerian and Babylonian, these faiths are unique from everything in the book, but are mirrors of each other; just as Roman mythology is common with the Greek. Why wasn’t one of them in the book? I think that TSR made some inappropriate choices.
There is also, and always has been, an element of racism in the system when it comes to black cultures. They are notably avoided, as is the case with this book. Where are the examples of South African faiths? Now, to be honest, we could convert the fictionalized American Indian Mythology as the belief in spirits were common, but then again, Shamanism is very easy to simulate, but that really isn’t the point.
I suppose that it is easy to fault this book for racism, it is an old argument, but placing that aside, TSR has notably always made It difficult to play specific characters out of stereotype, but beyond that I think that we expect to get a fairly broad view of the old world with this title, and it really never did deliver. What we got was a perpetuation of our very Western World view. To make as much money as possible from the product it didn’t really challenge us with the Slavic influence upon Europe, the Oriental Faiths are all bastardized into one undefined time-period which only serves to conform to pop-history, which really is the purpose of the book. Pop-History, written for a Western Audience: This defines all incarnations of Legends & Lore; I just wonder how much of an influence this book actually has upon Fantasy Fiction. If Slavic was ever included, would we see it more often in popular literature? This is something that I will never really know.
The physical specs of this book are fantastic: it is hard bound and constructed to last with normal use and since this book has haunted our bookshelves, rarely coming out, it has fared very well. It is not a collector’s item; it is worth $7-$20 with a mint book worth no more than $25.
As far as rating the book goes, at the time, I would had given this book a D, preferring the previous editions, but once actually sitting down, comparing them and really looking at the content, I now give this book a B. The information is very good, it can be used to add different cultures to the published settings, but its usefulness is primarily limited to world builders and your more experienced Dungeon Masters. Since it doesn’t cover all of the work done in previous editions, there is still a lot of work left for DMs to supplement themselves, but the fact that it prizes the people over insanely bloated stats which conform to no rules outside of it, is a huge factor to me. Many of those that choose to knock it as inferior probably never actually read the title; I know that that was the case with me.
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