Gary Gygax’s Greyhawk campaign is the single most iconic setting ever. Greyhawk castle, overlooking the free city of Greyhawk, is the signature dungeon within that setting. Sadly, details of the castle have never been released.
Over the years, there have been teasers. TSR released two related products. The first was a bad joke at best, but the second was quite interesting. Later, Gary was working on a project that would publish Castle Greyhawk, its dungeons and surrounding area in great detail. Unfortunately, the project was never completed.
WG7 – Castle Greyhawk
In 1988, TSR released WG7 – Castle Greyhawk. This is not Castle Greyhawk! This travesty should never have existed. It is nothing but a series of bad jokes and juvenile puns with no redeeming features whatsoever. It shares nothing of the actual castle whose name it claims. After years of waiting for a glimpse of the immortal castle, the place in which all the forefathers of the game fought and died, it was a cruel slap in the face to thrust this vile product upon the fans.
WGR1 – Greyhawk Ruins
In 1990, TSR released a second product: WGR1 – Greyhawk Ruins. This was a much more serious module that detailed an expansive dungeon that was believable and offered an enjoyable adventure. According to various sources though, it was a complete fiction and was not based at all on the actual castle. Even so, it was an excellent product and offered a very usable castle where none previously existed.
Castle Zagyg – The Upper Works
Troll Lord Games published Castle Zagyg – The Upper Works, written by Gary Gygax. It was our first peek at the fabled castle. Although it was an extensive product, it covered only the entrance to the area (not the dungeon portion itself). There were plans to publish the entire castle (and dungeons below) in future products, but Gary’s poor health (as well as other production issues) slowed the product which finally was set aside after Gary’s death.
Those “in the know” claim that the Castle Greyhawk described in this product was not the actual castle, but instead an amalgam of various interpretations of the castle, drastically different from the original.
Never having seen either the original Castle Greyhawk nor this new Castle Zagyg, I can’t offer any opinion on whether they were that different or not. The only thing that is certain is that we are unlikely to ever see either at this point.
A Small Glimpse from Gary Himself
The magazine is interesting all by itself. It is hand-typed (not many personal computers in 1975) and offers a wonderful snapshot of the gaming community back in the olden days of 35 years ago.
Gary’s article discussed how to set up your own campaign (It’s worthwhile to read the entire article yourself). But what I found particularly interesting was that, as an aside, Gary gives a bit of detail on the original Castle Greyhawk:
Before the rules for D&D were published, Old Castle Greyhawk was 13 levels deep. The first level was a simple maze of rooms and corridors, for none of the participants had ever played such a game before. The second level had two unusual items, a nixie pool and a fountain of snakes. The third featured a torture chamber and many small cells and prison rooms. The fourth was a level of crypts and undead. The fifth was centered around a strange font of black fire and gargoyles. The sixth was a repeating maze with dozens of wild hogs (3 dice) in inconvenient spots, naturally backed up by appropriate numbers of wereboars. The seventh was centered around a circular labyrinth and a street of masses of ogres. The eighth through tenth levels were caves and caverns featuring trolls, giant insects, and a transporter nexus with an evil wizard (with a number of tough associates) guarding it. The eleventh level was the home of the most powerful wizard in the castle. He had balrogs as servants. The remainder of the level was populated by Martian white apes, except the sub-passage system underneath the corridors which was full of poisonous critters with no treasure. Level twelve was filled with dragons. The bottom level, number thirteen, contained an inescapable slide which took the players “clear through to China”, from whence they had to return via “Outdoor Adventure”.
It was quite possible to journey downward to the bottom level by an insidious series of slanting passages which began on the second level, but the likelihood of following such a route unknowingly didn’t become too great until the seventh or eighth level. Of the dozen or so who played on a regular basis, four made the lowest level and took the trip: Rob Kuntz, now a co-referee in the campaign went along; and three of his friends managed to trace part of his route and blunder along the rest, so they followed him quickly to the Land of China. Side levels included a barracks with orcs, hobgoblins, and gnolls continually warring with each other, a museum, a huge arena, an underground lake, a giant’s home, and a garden of fungi.
Needless to say, I was very excited to find this! There’s an awful lot of detail there. Enough that I hope to create a series of maps based on that description. However, a lot of detail is missing as well. First off, there is no mention of scale. How many rooms? How many monsters? What else was there that wasn’t mentioned? What traps were used throughout and to what effect? Not to mention that there are no specifics on things like the nixie pool, fountain of snakes, font of black fire, etc. A level with a wizard who had balrogs as servants and a level “full” of dragons are more than a little intriguing. I’d sure like to have a bit more detail on all of this.
It’s easy enough to fill in the gaps myself, but I’d sure like to find more information on what was actually there. The Gord the Rogue series included a foray into the depths of the castle. My recollection does not match the description above though, so I’m not sure how useful that would be. Gary was prolific on various forums so there may be tidbits to be found out there. Also, there are people around who have been players within Greyhawk who would make wonderful sources of information. I hesitate to contact them though, as I am sure they have already been contacted by more fans than they would wish.
Whether I gather more info or not, I will eventually draw up some maps based on Gary’s description above and I will be sure to post them here when I do.
If anyone has any info on the original Castle Greyhawk, please let me know!