Table of Contents - A handy way to check out my articles by topic
My most recent Guides:
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
You can reach me at:

Friday, January 2, 2015

Dungeons & Dragons - Gary Gygax Castle Greyhawk Encounters

After writing an article about Gary Gygax and the original Castle Greyhawk campaign, I again got the urge to try to run a campaign in the ruins of the castle on my own.

I had visions of heroes making excursions into a dark and deadly dungeon, fearfully listening at doors, and returning to the city of Greyhawk to sell their treasure and celebrate in drunken splendor at the Green Dragon Inn, while mysterious wizards play three-tiered games of dragonchess.
I'm not actually going to run this, so I figured I'd scratch the itch and cook up a column that details rooms and encounters from Gary Gygax's actual Castle Greyhawk sessions. This could be useful to you in a number of ways. Maybe it will have an encounter for you to use. Or, if you have a session coming up and you're drawing a blank, you could cook up a whole castle greyhawk-inspired dungeon which would make for a really fun and interesting evening of gaming. There is something about these Castle Greyhawk scenarios that captures the essence of D&D.

I decided to use art by Jeff Easley for this column, as in my opinion his work is very symbolic of "old school" D&D art to me. I think he is somewhat under-appreciated. There was something about the way he painted that made him the perfect D&D cover artist.

If you need a dungeon map, I'd suggest using the one in the Dungeon Master's Guide on page 311. I believe it is an updated version of the generic dungeon in the AD&D 1st edition DMG.

It should be noted that Joe Bloch, who has spent a great deal of time researching Greyhawk, has already made an entire megadungeon that is based on what is known about Castle Greyhawk. Check out Castle of the Mad Archmage here

These encounters and concepts have been gleaned from forum posts of Gary's Castle Greyhawk campaign from about ten years ago.

You should definitely use some of the stuff I talked about in the Gygax column. Particularly:
  • The Jeweled Man: A mysterious man man of gold and gems who flees when spotted. Adventurers often chase him, and he leads them into a trap or horde of monsters. Magic doesn't seem to affect him normally.
  • The Pit of Gems: The heroes come upon a room with a pit full of gems. The idea here is that the heroes climb in to loot them, only to find that the pit is actually full of quicksand with a few layers of gems on top.
  • Obmi the Dwarf: A sinister dwarf mage who wears boots of speed and has a weird device on wheels that fires a magic ray that causes adventurers to run at full speed in the opposite direction. He was one of the most hated villains in Castle Greyhawk, and would make a good "final boss" for this little mini-dungeon.
The "Uber" Old Guard Kobolds 
The kobolds here have slain many adventurers and are extremely well-armed. They have plate mail and shields, and even magic items. They have powerful chieftans and sub-chieftans leading them.

There kobolds have some rooms protected by sturdy doors with a sliding panel for viewing and holes for javelins to stab through.

The Rumbling Room

The heroes come upon a room with a message on it that states:"The whole party must enter to find the treasure". Once all of the heroes enter, the door shuts and the room starts to rumble. The rumbling lasts for a round, then stops. In Gary's game, the PCs then tried the door, and it opened. They never figured out what the deal was with that room. But there's this charming quote from a player: "After that, we knew something wasn't right. One, because the hallway wasn't the same anymore, and, secondly, Gary had a smirk on his face and was humming - which usually means he's enjoying himself."

The hallway wasn't the same. Had the room swiveled and connected to a different hallway? Or had it been like an elevator, descending to another level down?

The Empty Chest

Our heroes find an old, rusty, iron chest. It opens with no problem. It's empty. But wait, there's a secret compartment... which is trapped with a poison needle. The poison does some damage. In the secret compartment is 6 gems.

Pit Traps Within Pit Traps

Throughout the dungeon, the heroes should encounter pit traps of increasing complexity. It should go roughly like this:
  1. A pit trap, 10 feet deep, maybe with spikes
  2. A pit trap that has a secret door in the bottom, containing a room with some treasure
  3. A pit trap with a secret door in the bottom, that leads to another trapped room!
  4. Obviously, an amusing idea is to have a pit trap with a secret door that leads to another pit trap with a trapped secret door.
A Magic-User

There's a secret door that leads to the lair of an "evil magic-user" (actually, there's multiple instances of this in the dungeon). In general, evil wizards try to charm powerful PCs and turn them against the party!

In his or her lair is furniture and 3 spell books. There was a spell book of level 1 spells, a spellbook of level 2 spells, and a spellbook of level 3 spells. There was also a locked chest (the lock is apparently very difficult to pick) whose key is actually hidden in the cover of one of the spell books.

The chest is protected by a dart trap. Inside is a live toad (which is poisonous!), 2 scroll cases, 2 potions, and a small wooden box. The box is a puzzle box that, if figured out, has 8 gems in it.

The Evil Fighter
A fighter in plate mail has 13 orc henchmen. On him is a map that describes how to get to a room on this level of the dungeon. Following the map, the heroes will have to deal with an ochre jelly (which can be split into two smaller versions of itself with physical attacks). The heroes will also have to figure out that the map leads to a secret door. Finding the secret door is up to them.

The secret door leads to a room with two sets of elven cloaks and boots, a +1 good-aligned sword, a quiver of +1 arrows, and a tube with a wizard scroll in it. Now sure why the fighter wouldn't have armed himself or his henchmen with this stuff..? Maybe he knew it was there but couldn't get past the ochre jelly?

The Nixie Pool

This is once of the most notable locations on the second level. There's a large pool of water with nixies swimming in it.

I looked up the AD&D Nixie:
  • They are "slim and comely", with pale green skin, dark green hair and wide silver eyes. They wear tight-fitting wraps woven from seaweed.
  • They can breathe water and air.
  • They can charm people. They charm people and keep them a slave for one full year, forcing them to do heavy labor. A water-breathing spell is cast on the charmed person. They have to re-cast the charm spell each day.
  • Nixies fear fire and bright lights.
The nixies will try to charm and "keep" some of the PCs. Other PCs can trade or barter to get their friends back (or attack, of course).

In the nixie pool is treasure - a magic sword (+1 flame sword that is neutrally aligned, is also +2 vs. trolls and +3 vs. undead) and a ring. Remember that swimming while wearing armor is not easy in any edition!

In a dry section of the room is a bronze urn . It's trapped with a magic lightning trap. Inside is a scroll with three magic-user spells on it.

Evil Wizards Wearing Pointy Hats
Wandering the dungeon are "six robed men who wear pointy hats with symbols on them". They are a sinister band of low-level magic-users! I find this very amusing. Why are they roaming the dungeon? Looking for treasure, I guess. It's rare to have to fight 6 spellcasters, it's a really fun idea. These wizards seem to have tried to charm the heroes. Imagine that, the entire party charmed by these guys and used as trap bait!

The Hallway Trap

The heroes are walking down a hallway, and a trap is triggered (by a lever in a nearby secret room). Metal gates fall from the ceiling in front of and behind the heroes, trapping them in the hallway. Then a side door opens, and a fighter and his smelly ogre buddy attack!

In their room are two beds, a table and chairs. There's a lever that lowers and raises the gates.

I love the monster pairings. Why are this ogre and fighter hanging out? Did they become fast friends or something?

The Three Toads

This room is 20 feet by 20 feet and has a medium-sized wooden statue of three toads (in the positions of see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil). If you hack a statue open, 3 real giant toads hop out and attack.

In this room also are small malachite versions of the three toads. It turns out that if you place the small statues near the big ones and say "see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil" out loud, the malachite toads come to life (and grow?). The heroes couldn't figure out how to control the toads. I like the idea of these magic toads being usable as mounts or to carry loot in their mouths.

Also in this room is the corpse of an adventurer. If it is bothered, it attacks as a leather-skinned zombie that is not able to be turned by clerics (?). The zombie is wearing a cloak that may be magic.

The Well
The heroes come upon a room with a well that is 20 feet in diameter. It looks as if the well is empty. If PCs lower themselves down with a light source (the heroes in Gary's game used a flying potion), they will find faces carved into the walls and strange markings. 50 feet down is a landing and a hallway that proceeds south. The well drops to 130 feet total, and has no water in it.

The purpose of the faces and markings is never revealed.

The Network of Teleportation Statues

This is a major, mysterious scenario which unfortunately is never fully revealed. Your best bet is to use what you like and make it your own. These statues seem to be a major feature in the third level of Castle Greyhawk.

There is a 30 foot by 30 foot room. In it is a statue of a jester on a plinth that is in the center of a pool of clear water. If you touch the statue, the water turns murky and the jester statue "becomes" a nymph statue. The PCs eventually surmised that touching the statue actually teleported them to a room with another statue in it, as they came upon another room with a statue of a lion on a plinth in the center of a pool of clear water. They found rooms with other statues, including an oliphant, a wizard and a female shepherd.

A secret door in one of these rooms led to another room with a plinth in a pool. But on the plinth was not a statue but rather a real, live gorgon! Seeing that a gorgon turns people to stone, maybe this means all of the statues were once living people.

In the gorgon room are double doors. When opened, sunlight shines through and may momentarily blind the PCs. The area beyond is a 30 foot by 10 foot room with tall grass and magical sunlight. Searching the grass reveals three potions, all stone to flesh. Maybe these potions were meant to be used on the statues?

The heroes later found a thief statue with a pool of murky water. The pool is full of pirahnas! Worse, when touched, the statue came to life and attacked the group.
The central idea is that to touch a statue, you need to get in the pool. The pools with murky water obviously may conceal a danger. I wonder why some pools are murky and some are clear?

The Rescue of Erac

The notes for the next session are the last. The player said that his group had figured out the way out of the teleporting statue area, but Gary didn't want the players to post it online. Maybe this was a concept he planned to use in a future published adventure?

Here's another crazy bit. Remember in my Gary Gygax column how I talked about how Erac got trapped in a room with stars painted on the ceiling and that he couldn't figure out how to escape and died of starvation? Check out what happened in the last recorded session of the 2005 excursions into Castle Greyhawk:

"...But, I will say this. We knew it was Erac's remains because he had written a message on the wall. It indicated that he could not find a way out and that if others were successful in doing so, to take his remains along and have him resurrected.

We did so and were greatly rewarded!!"

"...Erac belonged to Ernie Gygax!

And yes, he was resurrected! His character is alive and well (after a 25 year nap!). So, who knows what might happen in the future!!"

Monsters in Level One: Kobolds, goblins, swarm of rats.

Monsters in Level Two: Hobgoblins, carrion crawler, giant scorpion, orcs lead by a fighter in plate mail, ochre jelly, zombies, gnolls, giant spiders (wit a skeleton collection), giant lizard (with gems in his innards),

Monsters in Level Three: A wight wearing a gold chain with gems (worth 16,000 gold!), a hill giant with a bag of 5,000 gold, ogres

Things To Consider
Here are a few observations of how Gary did things when he ran Castle Greyhawk:
  • Often, the sounds of combat attracts more monsters nearby. The kobolds on level 1 came in waves of about 10 each. On level 2, a battle with 8 gnolls attracted a band of 6 more gnolls. 
  • When the PCs spend money in town, the people of the town use that money in a way that the PCs notice. For example, the PCs would go to a church and pay for spells and healing. The church used this money to build a new wing, which included... a jacuzzi.  
  • Charming NPCs in the dungeon to use as henchmen seems to be a pretty common tactic in the dungeon. The heroes were attacked by three fighters in plate mail. They charmed one and were quite pleased to learn he was 5th level, possibly higher level than the PCs themselves. Remember some evil wizards may try to do the same to the heroes.
  • I found this very amusing: "Starting down the stairs to level three, one of our fighters forgot that there was a trap in the floor landing and promptly fell in. So, after dragging him back up, we proceeded down.
  • There are plenty of hallways that have dead ends. Many of them have secret doors.
  • A PC refused to believe there was no treasure in a room. He eventually found a secret compartment in a hill giant's club that had as scroll tube. I kind of wonder if Gary just made this up on the spot. It's a cool idea, regardless.
I'll end this here with my favorite Gygaxian quote:

"It is certain that both vast treasure and horrible death await, so you must gain the one while cheating the other."

1 comment:

Greyhawk Grognard said...

Nice recap!!

I'm pretty sure the Rumbling Room is an elevator room.