By Luke Gygax & Christopher Clark Gaxx Works 1e Levels 11-13
You hear tales at the inn of a vast dragon’s hoard that may no longer be guarded. A well-dressed and highly persuasive Ranger even agrees to show you the way to this vaunted treasure, and help you secure it, if she might lay claim to a single dagger from the loot. What a great opportunity! Why do you feel its too good to be true?
This 45 page adventure describes a dungeon with about thirty rooms, featuring a really dumb Mammon scheme. It’s essentially a long list of set-pieces … or what passes for set pieces in 1e. Each room is about a page or longer because Luke/Christopher and/or the editors seem to think that’s what people want. A long conversational style. I don’t want that. I just want to play D&D tonight. I’m guessing most people are in my same position.
There are a few clues that something will not be good when you pick up an adventure. I’ve talked about page count before, the ratio of the number of pages to number of encounters. Or, the fact that something is written for Mork Borg. Another clue is Names From The Olden Days. While it’s not always a given that these clues will mean a bad adventure, there are trends in that area. I try to look at everything with fresh eyes, which is one of the reasons I’m frequently disappointed.
But man, it’s hard when you come across something like this. It turns out it’s a tournament adventure, and, I make allowances for tourney adventures. To a certain extent. It’s frequent, in my experiences running at cons, at tourney adventures are dumped in a DMs lap at the last minute, making ease of use more of an issue than most. The Gygax name sells, though, as does, I assume the Clark name. This adventure is essentially a set of 1e set pieces, or what passes for a set piece in 1e. Each room a puzzle. Each room a bit overloaded with a gimmick. This is not in and of itself an issue; The Tower of Gax at GenCon is one of my favorite things to play in and they are essentially the same thing. Each room a kind of weird puzzle, of sorts. Or, maybe, rooms that look straightforward but you have to beware because something is lurking for the inattentive.
We start this adventure is a LONG piece of fiction, always a good sign tha the designers attention is in the right place instead of, say, paying attention to the experience the DM will be having running the room. There is A LOT of backstory in this. The principals all get a long couple of columns of their history. This includes, for a dragon, the line “This trauma of childhood has made her bitter and vengeful.” Well, fucking great. It’s fucking dragon. Stab stab stab. That’s the backstory you need. Even when, in this case, the dragon is LE and goes along with tha party in each room, turning invisible in most combats, hanging back and, of course, inevitably betraying the party. Gee, didn’t see that coming. The pretext is tha ta dragon has sold its soul to Mammon and is going in to the dungeon to get it back, with the parties assistance, as a poly’d elf who hires the party. But, whatever. To the adventures credit it doesn’t gimp the parties spells … or offer any advice on what to do when they cast detect alignment on the elf and see it’s LE. The betrayal is just a “i turn back in to a dragon and flee the dungeon”, so, it’s not as bad as most.
The individual set pieces in this, which essentially means every room, are good. They are interesting and varied, if a little pushing the sense of disbelief. Each room has something a little special to upset the applecart of “i stab it in a straightforward manner.” None of them feel like outright gimps, it’s more “the quicksand has a shell over the top of it that will support one persons weight so it’s not obvious.”
You’ve got to fight through a lot of read-aloud, as one would expect from designers of this generation, as well as a conversational style of presenting the rooms that one would also expect from this generation. Almost no consideration is given to actually RUNNING the adventure at the table; the core conceit of this blog. It doesn’t matter how good the adventure is, if it’s a pain to run then my eyes are gonna glaze over and I’m not going to put the fucking effort in, in 2022. I’m going to pick an adventure that is at least as good and is far FAR easier to run. I’m not reading and rereading, highlighting and taking notes for each room. Not when the fucking dedigners and editors didn’t put any effort in to make it easier to run.
It’s FULL of conversational bullshit mucking up the text. Which is great if you are only reading the adventure and no so great if you want to scan it quickly, at the table, to run it. This gem sums up a lot “In any event, the manticores take their jobs seriously, and will attack. Within their nest these manticores keep hidden several gems given to them by Mammon for outstanding work:” These words have absolutely no impact on running the adventure, and yet get the way of scanning the text following it and around it. No attempt is made at any formatting other than an occasional paragraph break. At this point I think the Mork Borg crew should exclusively be involved in idea generation and fmatting and layout and the old crew of designers should be involved in the design of the adventure encounters and making things work together. Both groups seem to have a fatal flaw in seeing the utility the other group brings.
There’s a gimp or two in this, but they are not serious. One door, in particular, stands out. You can only lockpick to get in t othe room easily/quietly. If you KNOCK it then the door opens, and then falls of its hinges making a loud sound on the floor. With no advance warning.
Which is weird because the rooms otherwise do a decent job of telegraphing whats to come, to people who are paying attention. A read-aloud, in room one, mentions a greta pile of sticks and logs in front of a door … which are actually sleeping manticores. It also mentioned a musty smell, another clue, and a sandy floor, made up of fine sand, which also gives a clue to whats to come with the quicksand. These are clues for the players to ask more questions, which is what a good read-aloud should be doing. The RA also mentioned the large clusters of tall mushrooms in the rooms, which should set off some player caution as well, telegraphing the shriekers. The PAGE of text to follow up on this RA is the issue, with no clue as to what is what is in which paragraph to come to allow the DM to quickly reference them when the players follow up. I’m not holding a page of text in my head, much less scan is quickly or pause the game for five minutes while I read and grok the room.
This does, though, reveal the set piecey nature of the 1e rooms. Obvious mushrooms to set off warning bells. Logs/sticks that are something else. And the looming threat of the quicskand for those that are paying attention. Not just a shrieker fight, or a manticore fight. This can go overboard in some rooms, with Monster Zoo 4e enocnters, where Lurkers drop down on the party in the middle of an otherwise “normal” encounter. I don’t do rando monsters working together.
The Mammon theme here isn’t the strongest, but it is well done, with things being telegraphed in most of the encounters that someone is making bargains somewhere. Combined with some bargains being offered by Mammon, in near-death cases, it comes across pretty well. I’m happy to see a devil acting like a devil, even if he’s not the star in this … or even shows up in a meaningful way.
I’m trying to be nice here. The rooms are pretty good and it’s a decent high -level adventure that doesn’t gimp you. But, the complete lackof making it easier to run, along with the length and complexity of the rooms, makes this one I would skip. Just fucking highlight a few word with bolding or something and cut the bullshit pay per word text padding and you’d have a decent 1e adventure.
But that didn’t happen.
This is $20 at DriveThru. That’s a little fucking steep. I mean, not if it were good, but for this? And the preview just shows the fiction and the NPC motivation pages. PAGES. The preview needed to show a room or two tl let the DM know if they want to fight through the text to run it.
With an Elmore cover, even!
5$ on sale right now, and I always think high level adventures are a challenge to write so was curious…but that preview….is it a novel or an adventure? I don’t mind a little backstory, even embedded in the adventure to set the tone for the DM if used sparingly, but I don’t want my DM or myself to read a novel to players.
>This is $20 at DriveThru. That’s a little fucking steep. I mean, not if it were good, but for this?
Dudes gotta pay for that fucking Elmore cover!
LOL I remember playing The Tower of Gygax at Gen Con and I’m confident that it was everything Gary did not want in an RPG. ToG was cranked out as a lame tribute to him on short notice, and I was dumb enough to play it twice. It was one of the dullest things I sat through at Gen Con ever. For 1 hour you played a single room with about 6 to 12 other players with no backstory other than here you are in a random room in a wizard’s tower/dungeon. A different writer created each room. Just about everything you touch in the room is trapped (often instant death) or summons a monster. Get some treasure that doesn’t matter. No role playing, no continuity, end of game. Bryce must have been lucky by randomly getting a well-written puzzle room.
If a 1E module is a half-decent bundle of rooms drowning in purple prose, doesn’t that make it a 2E module? 😀
This bumps up Luke Gygax’s bibliography to a whopping 3! Apparently what made Gary great was not his last name.
OEF. Shots fired 😛
Perhaps I’m onto something what with not venerating the name Gygax?
Sound like some practice and a rigorous editor might this more useful. I do like the inclusion of quicksand though, that’s a staple of 1970’s and 80’s adventure. I’d would love to see someone do a real deep dive into the cliches of that era’s pulp peril as an adventure theme: army ants, pyramids, quicksand, angry gorillas, Sean Connery etc.
Damn bitch can you ever post a comment without a strawman or revealing how ass-ravaged you are by people liking Gygax
I’m generally in agreement with GusL on this. He did some good things, especially as the “first” in breaking new ground, or at least defining and popularizing the model without trashing it. But St Gygax he was not and I will continue to assert that the good things today are light years ahead of most of the older product. G1, S3, N1, T1, all great. Thracia, great. G2 is borderline for me, and then there’s a steep curve down. Tegal vs Xyntallian? No contest.
Oh! And the DMG and Ready Ref Sheets, of course!
True, Gygax lost his way after the LBB, much like Tertullian once did. However, Gus is being a provocateur on purpose by making a false equivalency (the guy who made elfgames vs the son of the guy who made elfgames), throwing shade on grogs (because like those EVIL BACKWARDS Xtians they “venerate” rather than “critically examine” dead white men), and being a smug asshole about it too.
And if you ain’t down with that I got three words for ya.
Attempts to punch up *always* come off as sad, petulant and at least a little petty (usually more than a little). Has any fantasy author ever actually come away with improved stature after attempting to cast shade on Tolkien? Personally, and this may just be me, but whenever I hear gamers trying to dismiss Gygax as “vanilla” or “orcs in a hallway,” I know they’ve never actually read any of his works. There’s a tremendous overlap between people who deride S1 and people who have never actually read S1. Also, you just throw G3, D3, S1 and WG4 on those lists of greats. Everyone is still, forty years later, trying to figure out how to write good and challenging high-level adventures yet, voila; he made it look easy which, isn;t that surprising since he (largely) created the game we’re all playing and certainly created the concept of the D&D module as we know it. All of which is a crazy aside, given that we’re talking about a product written by *an entirely different person.* But hey, it’s the IntarWeb, punch up and away.
The one word I would use to describe Gygaxian classics is “fun”. How did he achieve this magic? (His quintessential thrill ride S4 hasn’t even been mentioned yet.) Maybe some of the people being dismissive have read his works; but did they learn anything? For clarity, I’m not looking for bloated dull old retreads; instead use some of his tricks to make your own ideas shine.
In terms of innovation it is difficult to understate the primacy of these earlier authors. There is much experimentation w.r.t. the setting or funky rules-systems in the OSR but the core of dungeoncrawling is mostly untouched, especially in this era. The focus on layout and evocative description rather then structure produces work that reads well but is simplistic. There are a few luminaries with understanding; Huso, Lux, Curtis, Fullerton, Kowolski.
Megadungeons was a format that was mastered in the OSR era, genuine good work.
Gus L is just salty he went away and no one cared, so now he wants to come back and replace all the grognards. Write a dirge for your own credibility and have the Boners squeeze it in between the one-page Troika dungeon reviews. Lmao.
Gus hates white men. All the OSR is white men. Even the women are white men. Sad!
But it does sometimes seem as if Gus just joined a garage band and wants us all to know how overrated The Ramones are.
“Show me on this copy of B2 where Gus hurt you …”
That would be Room 59.
Were you just gaslighting when you said you didn’t hate Gygax? It sure is coming across that way. Perhaps hate is too strong a word…just a fervent desire to see his status diminished? Is this a point of pride for the next generation?
Tell me if I am misreading you.
Who then are the great exemplars of good adventure design? Who should the student learn from? A list of a handful would be nice to understand where your head is at on this.
I don’t think the guy is gonna repond. He already told you his views in the last thread where you and your friends were calling him names. This isn’t a place for discussion, it’s Bryce and his boss insulting Gus, and it’s what ruined this blog since Prince took over managing it.
Byrce seems to be pretty supportive of Gus here. Check his comments.
Yeah! Ever since Prince and Bryce teamed up and bashed Gus last post and somehow Prince was made to manage it, this blog has been ruined and all discussion has been pointless! Before that it was excellent and all discussion was great! I am voicing my concerns!
Many of the reviews here for the past year are Bryce posting a review and then Prince or one of his sockpuppets/cronies jump in either to pimp his friends’ stuff and bellow about how it’s the best because it’s not “Artpunk” or bellow about stuff that’s not his friends’ and therefore “Artpunk” to shit on.
He’s the worst when Gus or someone posts or someone says they like the “Artpunk” stuff, but if I wanted to read a whole forum of Kent, I’d just read 4chan.
To Gus “Gygax” is a shorthand for too much Tolkien influence, mindless combat vs orcs in featureless gray hallways, and the generic ren-fair fantasy vibe of the Forgotten Realms. Luckily Gus is here to push back at those hoary cliches and bring us new and innovative stuff influenced by authors like Jack Vance, because nothing could be further from “Gygax” than Jack Vance, except for maybe Fritz Leiber.
Exactly! Aside from the thief class, spellbooks, spell names, the entire magic system, ioun stones, hryphs, bullywugs, demodands, “High Gygaxian” (which some recognize as “Average Vancian,” and the word “libram,” is anyone certain if Gygax ever *read” any Vance?
I’m gonna guess from reading Gus’s blog that this is kinda the point of his comments. Gygax doesn’t really seem like what he’d call Gygaxian. Gus’ posts are too long, and pretty impenatrable, but I think he uses the Gygaxian something to describe stuff written to be like Gygax in the sort of modern dungeon fantasy way that’s a watered down boring version of something like Vance or Tolkien. The only thing I’ve seen him really tear into for being terrible are WotC products. When he reviewed Stonehell he spent time talking about how it was vanillia D&D style, and how that wasn’t his thing, but also that to do a megadungeon it helped a lot. His complaints were that the treasure was low for the size and it didn’t have enough entrances.
It really sounds like you agree with him mostly, but maybe don’t like the guy?
Gary was an A. Merritt fan saddled with too many Tolkien fans as players. If you want that Pure Gygaxian Flavor, nothing beats Dwellers in the Mirage or The Face in the Abyss.
G1 and G3 are pretty much DeCamp and Pratt’s The Roaring Trumpet (itself ‘Thor and Utgardloki’), stripped of its corny jokes, and reimagined as something deadly serious. something much more compelling.
Gary stole from a lot of people, and tended to improve upon the material (I’m looking at YOU, Margaret St Clair). It’s unfair that so many people thought Tolkien was the primary source (D&D elves are Poul Anderson elves).
As far as Gus goes, he’s a good fellow who provided a ton of quality content at no cost, and I would guess that one of his primary inspirations is M. John Harrison.
LEAVE GUS ALONE!!!!!
I think Gus loosely rants about some stuff in a casual way that is probably accepted in the social circles of his peers, but rubs older folk the wrong way. I think he knows it too. How does one finish the name of his new blog “All Dead Generations [can…]”?
I’ve never run one of his dungeons, but I appreciate their creative spark from afar. Ah. Youth! I was an arrogant irreverent bastard once too.
I generally try to make allowance for social norms when I converse, and feel you can only grok something if you understand the context in which it happened. For example, Prince is Dutch—along with all that implies! ;P
All-in-all we are not so far apart. Debating “what is good?” is as old as history.
(Calling someone a Nazi has only been around for 80 years. Before that: Philistine? Mongol?)
I am pretty sure Gus’s blog name comes from a Marx quote, the second paragraph of “The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”.
“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of **all dead generations** weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language.”
Not sure what to make of that though.
It is interesting to note that Christopher Clark and Inner City Games Designs (a company from 1982!) were “OSR” over a decade before the acronym was coined. Christopher wrote and published unofficial third party AD&D 1st edition-compatible modules in the 1990s, and gained Gary’s endorsement in this endeavour (you might get the idea Gary was over-generous this way, but he was probably also happy he still had enthusiastic fans left).
Unfortunately, the materials themselves are really, really bad. You can look up Bryce’s earlier reviews (he has written a few about Christopher’s modules), and even my comments there. Bottom tier stuff, no redeeming qualities except their historical significance.
From the review, this looks like a late 1E/early 2E Dungeon adventure. Anyone recall that mag’s high-level series about a red dragon?
The problem with all that detailed backstory: 1) is it relevant? 2) if it’s relevant, is it necessary? 3) If it’s necessary, how do you deliver it to the Players short of having them read your novella? Do NPCs just show up to recite portions of it?
What is a set piece? Is it good or bad, and why?
The same thing OD&D called “Specials” – rooms with multiple things going on, or a complex puzzle, or an encounter with negotiation… Basically the kind of stuff your average dungeon expedtion would spend some time discussing, then coming up with a plan to handle it. B1’s pool room is a set piece.
Thanks! Why is it bad if a dungeon has a lot of them? Doesn’t it make it more interesting?
Setpieces can be good or bad, but a preponderance of them leads to a disjointed scene-based game, which Old D&D isn’t.
Although having said that, “funhouse” dungeons are as old as the game. It’s something of a balancing act.
Oh, because instead of exploring the dungeon you are moving room to room and each you have a very dedicated scene?
A preponderance of set pieces (and “preponderance” varies from one person to another) fucks with verisimilitude.
Depending on the reason you play D&D, this may or may not be of importance.
I am not sure I understand. I actually need to check these word definitions first, because that’s not my native language 😛
If verisimilitude is “the appearance of being true or real” – what does it mean in a context of dungeon full of traps with a dragon?
Setpieces are often “scenes”, dynamic situations that are in the progress of unfolding when the party encounters them, and so effectively frozen in a dramatically appropriate moment. Whenever the players arrive is when they really kick off, rather than a set time. Too many of those results in the feeling that the world exists to cater to the PCs, that the entire dungeon is sort of holding its breath waiting for them to arrive.
Thanks for clarifying! This definitely resonates wih me, I don’t like it either.
Maybe because if every room is a “set peice” it’s a complicated thing for the DM to run- lots of mental labour every room making harder to inspire on the fly.
And because if every room is a big, delicately poised set piece then it leaves little room for the dungeon inhabitants to be mucking around doing their own things in the dungeon- so it feels more static & as everything is just there for the players and the inhabitants are just frozen in place until they get there.
So *too many* set pieces and it can feel like that (or a funhouse dungeon) but a few nicely themed whizzbanger set pieces which the locals can interact with/avoid/use is easier to run, arguably has more impact for the players and leaves MUCH more room for players to be scooting around the dungeon doing their own hare brained schemes and the dungeon denizens doing likewise.
One is slightly more “this is my cool dungeon piece and you must do the thing in every room” and one is leaving more room for emergent play around those.
This is very much the argument I would agree with. There are great setpiece-centric modules: Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan is one (although it is helped by the countdown mechanism), and so is Tomb of Horrors. But for general use, it is perhaps better to have a dungeon where there are a *few* setpieces, a lot more rooms which are relatively “quick”, and some space in between to facilitate emergence. Good points.
This is interesting – I thought Castle Xyntillan is full of set pieces. Every room has interesting & unique stuff in it, which made it fun for me. I guess these aren’t set pieces?
Castle Xyntillan is not an ideal module by the standards: it has a definite lack of empty space (connecting tissue), and it *may* have a few too many setpiece encounters that can overload some GMs in unpredictable ways. These are weaknesses.
Where it mitigates against that is twofold:
1) the writing is intended to make the rooms easy to process and run;
2) a lot of the deeper details only enter the picture if the players start interacting with them. You start with surface detail, and can choose to go deeper – but you don’t have to.
Thanks! Does it mean it’s good to sprinkle some boring shit into a dungeon? Rooms with only decoration, that doesn’t necessarily have unique gameplay int them?
I appear to have gained a new principality. I promise to all my administration will be harsh but just. Only enemies need fear my wrath. There will of course be some minor changes.
Starting from this, the 1st day of my benevolent rule, all commentary will be restricted to the following topics, under pain of excommunication;
– Words of the Father: Psalms and prayers from the 1e DMG
– A Meaningful Campaign; How can we keep strict time records even stricter?
– The best module; What is it and why is it WG4?
– 2 minutes of hate: Ritual detestation and the burning of various apostate gaming tracts
– Layout & Bullet points: The Devil’s gateway drug
– Even more Expanded Weapons vs AC tables and introducing the .5 AC. Exciting!
– Humorous anecdotes on how some interaction or architectural feature reminded you of the GDQ series
– The Nirnaeth Lorrainedad; Let us never forget the crimes of the evil one
– Boxed Text; Is it okay to love it again?
Change is always difficult. But you will find in me a benevolent ruler, vigilant, energetic, merciless to my foes, attentive, perhaps a tadd eccentric. To ease the transition Bryce will be allowed to occasionally post a review for the time being.
Looking forward to the “two minutes of hate.”
“The best module; What is it and why is it WG4?”
This is how I manage my group at work. Lovely!
44 comments… OOFA!
Most of it not about the module or it’s creators!