Friday, July 23, 2021

Gary Gygax's Necropolis - AD&D Conversion Notes

As I've mentioned many times before, I was lucky enough to play the Tomb of Rahotep section of Gary Gygax's magnum opus adventure Necropolis with the man himself back in 1988. At the time, the adventure was planned for publication under the generic-stats "Fantasy Master" line, but in those games Gary used AD&D rules. The PCs were all 18th level and the adventure was billed as the toughest and deadliest thing Gary Gygax had ever written - the next step in challenge and difficulty beyond the infamous Tomb of Horrors. It lived up to that billing and then some, combining the deviously punitive and unfair tricks and traps from that module with a ton of really difficult combat that puts the Hall of the Fire Giant King and Isle of the Ape to shame. This was, to me, the ultimate expression of AD&D - by far the most difficult and challenging adventure I ever played in, but also by far the most fun and exhilarating. 

Alas, Gary's company New Infinities closed up shop before Necropolis was published, and when it finally did emerge five years later it had been converted to Gygax's Dangerous Journeys: Mythus system which (TSR's lawsuit claims notwithstanding) is a totally different and incompatible game system that maintained and expanded the flavor and feel of Gygax's AD&D but with a totally different set of rules. A decade later Necromancer Games released a version of the adventure converted to the then current d20/D&D 3.0 rules, but that wasn't much help to AD&D fans.

In much there same way as I mined ideas from Dangerous Journeys and converted them over to AD&D in The Heroic Legendarium, I also wanted to be able to run this adventure under AD&D to recreate something like my experience playing in it. So, relying on my memories of those games, as well as my knowledge of both the AD&D and Mythus rules, I created a conversion document for the final section of the adventure, the Tomb of Rahotep, and ran it for an all-star group of players at SoCal Minicon in 2010, where it lived upon to its reputation as the ultimate meat-grinder - to quote one of the players from that game, "Gary must have been in a very, very dark place when he wrote this module."

Around that same time, Necromancer Games' assets passed on to Frog God Games and I learned from my friend Matt Finch (one of the principals in that operation) that their license for Necropolis was one of the assets they had rights to and that eventually they were likely to produce a new edition converted to the Swords & Wizardry retro-clone system. I mentioned the conversion work I'd already done (and the basis for it from having played in it with Gary) and he assured me that when the time came they would definitely reach out to me to leverage that knowledge and work. 

That was the last I heard about this until yesterday when I learned that Frog God has launched a Necropolis Kickstarter for 5E and S&W. I wasn't consulted, which is okay (although it would have been nice if I had been), but what really bothered me about the announcement is the repeated notes that the adventure is "based on the original work by Gary Gygax" but has been "updated and rewritten" (further quotes from the Kickstarter comments: "a very deep conversion, with lots of changes" and "the essential plot is the same, as are the characters, but it's a very heavy re-write"). Compounding those red flags is the fact that the adventure is being billed for character levels 7-9. There is simply no way that the spirit and feel of the original adventure can be accurately portrayed in the context of a mid-level adventure - the entire premise that this was the ultimately deadly and most challenging adventure to reduce even the most expert veteran players to tears, the capstone achievement in Gary Gygax's adventure-writing career, is undermined by making it suitable for mid-level characters. So although I haven't seen what Frog God is producing, and am sure that in terms of art and cartography and printing quality with deluxe leather-bound hardcovers and such, it will be very nice, the entire premise is fundamentally fatally flawed and it's impossible that this shadow-version won't be an insulting travesty compared to the original.

So, as a counter to that, and because there's no reason to hold onto them now that Frog God isn't interested in them, I've decided to share my conversion notes, based on my memories from those 1988 sessions and as used in that 2010 game, for anyone who's curious. These notes only cover the final section of the adventure (though following their example you could probably convert the rest of the content without too much difficulty) and you need a copy of the original to actually use these notes (they're written based on the Dangerous Journeys version (GDW, 1992) but can presumably also be used with the d20 version (Necromancer Games, 2002) since from what I can tell that was a very close conversion), but using that text and these notes I am confident that the end result is something that will be MUCH closer to Gary's original conception and how it was originally run that whatever ill-conceived, watered-down version Frog God is releasing. 

While obviously not anywhere near as well known as the adventures he wrote for TSR, I remain fully convinced that Necropolis really was Gary's magnum opus as an adventure designer, the ultimate expression of his style and approach to play. And as such it deserves to be preserved in something approximating its original form - as a relentlessly and devastating cruel meat grinder that even the highest-level characters and most expert players will find near-impossible to survive and defeat.

The notes are available for viewing and download here. I hope some of you will get to run it someday for some overconfident players with high level characters and that it will humble and cut them down to size just as Gary intended. Enjoy!

Friday, June 4, 2021

Heroic Legendarium print edition now available at DriveThruRPG

Quick note that although my book got pulled off of Lulu it is now available at DriveThruRPG in a print edition as well as the previously-available pdf. If you're one of the people who already purchased the pdf version you should have received an email including a coupon code allowing purchase of the print version at a discount (the difference between the cost of the pdf version and the cost of the print version, to cover printing costs and mirror the bundle option that wasn't available previously).

I hope everybody who's already purchased the book is enjoying it and finding things in it to use in your games, and that everybody who hasn't purchased it yet will now do so since there's no further reason to wait!

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Heroic Legendarium available for purchase

Finally, just over 20 months after it was initially announced, The Heroic Legendarium is finally available for purchase from DriveThruRPG (pdf and eventually print as well, once I've approved the proof copy). 

This was an extended labor mostly of love, but also of frustration as I realized I utterly lacked the skills and resources to turn my Google Doc text document into a publishable book. Struggles with that ate up more than a year, before I ultimately decided to just release the book as-is and let its contents speak for themselves. Which means you'll get no art, no fancy graphics, and no advanced pdf features like bookmarks and hyperlinks. But what you will get is 154 pages of solid, gameable 1E content, almost all of it new and original (a few spells, monsters, and magic items are adapted from 1E-era sources but have been revised and modified as presented here, and in any event make up no more than about 5% of the total content). 

If you've seen the earlier (non-OGL-compliant) version of this book, copies of which I know are still being privately traded even though I stopped distributing it several years ago, you're already familiar with about two-thirds of the contents, but even so enough new content has been added to hopefully make it worth taking another look, including:

  • Three new PC races (note: the preview at DriveThruRPG includes these pages)
  • The savant class, including 68 new spells
  • Complete system for territory development and management by PCs
  • 32 new magic items
  • 49 new monsters
  • New essays on tips and tricks for players and GMs, dungeon design, and extra-planar adventuring
  • Assorted other minor additions and revisions
The page count of the new version is increased by 42 pages over the old one, but that number undersells the amount of new material because much of the earlier edition's appendix material (i.e. direct copy/paste reprints of magazine articles and monsters and magic items from modules) was removed, or at least reworked and adapted. 

The earlier version had a narrower scope of compiling uncollected Gygaxiana and recreating "lost" system additions that he had mentioned (or were reverse-engineered from his later works). The savant class still fits within that mold, but the scope of the book generally has expanded to include more of my own voice and my own preferences and is less beholden to things that Gygax may or may not have planned or intended to do. While that might make it less valuable or interesting to some people whose interest is more historical or who want to keep their games as "pure" as possible, I am also confident that my additions and modifications maintain a consistency of style and flavor with that other material and are complementary to and will fit seamlessly alongside it. Having spent more than three decades immersed in this material and style of play I have developed a pretty solid feel for it.

Therefore, I would urge everybody who enjoys (or is curious about) the original creative and design paradigm of the First Advanced Edition to check this thing out, even if you already have the earlier version, because I am sure there is at least some material within it that you'll be able to use in your games to expand and freshen them up and help keep your players engaged, entertained, and challenged. 

[And it's all been designated as "OSRIC Reference Content" so other authors and publishers are not only allowed but strongly encouraged to use this material in their OSRIC-branded adventures and supplements as long as you refer back to this book. Nothing would make me happier than to see this material picked up and adopted by others and for my contributions here to become part of the common lexicon of 1E gamers, existing ones and new ones alike.] 

Edit/update: Lulu has unilaterally pulled this title and terminated my account (and will presumably keep the ~$400 in royalties I had earned from sales to date) because they determined that the old "AD&D Companion" (which I had put up on Lulu for private at-cost sale a few years ago) "may" be in violation of their Member Agreement by including third party IP - without any opportunity to appeal or to take down the possibly-offending title while leaving other titles in place. Since that book was uploaded ~5 years ago, the timing of this account termination feels fishy, like possibly some spiteful anti-fan found a link to that private page and reported me. Sorry to anyone who placed an order through Lulu because I have no idea whether you'll actually get the book - presumably if it's already shipped you will, but if it hasn't I'd recommend contacting Lulu customer support.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

AD&D Alignment Notes

Alignment in D&D is one of those perennial (and perennially frustrating) topics of discussion, because everyone has their own ideas about what the words mean, and the definitions provided in the books are overly vague and generalized to the point of being essentially meaningless, so there's a lot to argue about and for people to accuse each other of being both Wrong and possibly A Bad Person. 

What it ultimately comes down to is that each individual DM should decide how they want to define and handle alignment in their campaign world and let the players in that campaign know what they've decided early on rather than assuming everyone is in agreement and then getting into arguments later on when the players do something based on a different interpretation than the DM. While that's surely wishful thinking (because players who disagree with how the DM defines things aren't going to disagree any less if they see it in writing in advance) I've nonetheless collected some notes both on how I view the alignments in my games along with some representative examples of characters from fiction and media who I feel fit into each of the alignment buckets, and figured since I've gone to the trouble to write this stuff down I might as well share it. The examples serve a second purpose as well, by drawing characters from a variety of sources that I'm interested in and feel are relevant to the style and flavor of the games I like to run (as opposed to other lists you can find online, which tend to be limited solely to examples from comics, Star Wars, and Harry Potter). 


AD&D ALIGNMENT NOTES


Lawful Respects (and expects) authority and loyalty derived from formal structures (title, office) and hierarchical organizations

Chaotic Respects (and expects) authority and loyalty based on individual personal qualities (strength, charisma, renown, family ties) and fluid or informal power-structures

Good Seeks to help others, especially the weak

Evil         Seeks to exploit others, especially the weak

Neutral Pragmatic, opportunistic, or indifferent 


Representative examples from fiction and media:


Lawful Good John Carter (Edgar Rice Burroughs), Agent Dale Cooper (Twin Peaks), Roland Deschain (Dark Tower), Hermione Granger (Harry Potter), Spock (Star Trek)

Neutral Good Cazaril (Curse of Chalion), Jake Chambers (Dark Tower), James T. Kirk (Star Trek), Harry Potter, Shimrod (Lyonesse)

Chaotic Good Lyra Belacqua (His Dark Materials), Eddie Dean (Dark Tower), Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games), Kickaha/Paul Janus Finnegan (World of Tiers), Peter Pan

Lawful Neutral Judge Dredd, Inspector Javert (Les Misérables), Agent Albert Rosenfield (Twin Peaks), Severian (Book of the New Sun)

True Neutral Ged/Sparrowhawk (Earthsea), The Gray Mouser (Fritz Leiber), The Man With No Name (Sergio Leone movies), Nifft the Lean (Michael Shea), Rhialto the Marvelous (Jack Vance)

Chaotic Neutral Harry Mudd (Star Trek), Loki (Marvel movies), Skafloc (The Broken Sword), Captain Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean)

Lawful Evil Casmir (Lyonesse), Lady/Dorotea Senjak (The Black Company), President Snow (The Hunger Games)

Neutral Evil Kane (Karl Edward Wagner), Khan Noonien Singh (Star Trek), Steerpike (Gormenghast

Chaotic Evil BOB (Twin Peaks), Cugel the Clever (Jack Vance), Voldemort (Harry Potter)

Friday, November 27, 2020

AD&D Poison Notes

In Dragon magazine #81 (January 1984) the article "Taking the Sting Out of Poison" by author Chris Landsea offered truly exhaustive coverage of the topic of poison in AD&D, filling in many gaps and holes in the official rules. The rules in that article make poison much more interesting, both by providing more details for its use in the game and also some ways to mitigate its effects and make it feel less like a "screw you" when used in the game - especially with low-level characters who don't have access to magical means of neutralizing it. 

However, like many Dragon articles of that era, Mr. Landsea went overboard in presenting 10 full pages of text and 10 tables - too much of a good thing that adds so much extra complication to make things hard to remember and make use of in-game. Therefore, in order to strike a happy balance and achieve the best of both worlds, I've extracted and summarized (and revised) the essence of those 10 pages and 10 tables into a simpler and more user-friendly set of guidelines that allow the additional flavor and options introduced in that article to be incorporated into AD&D games without becoming overwhelming. 

This material is being incorporated into The Heroic Legendarium (which I promise is still going to be released - just as soon as I master the challenges of art and layout in order to transform a roughly-140,000 word Google Doc into a reasonably-professional-looking pdf and print book), but since this blog has been sitting idle for far too long, I figured there's no harm in sharing it here as well, as another preview-of-sorts of what that book will eventually contain:

AD&D Poison Notes

Blade venom: One dose of blade venom is sufficient to coat one melee weapon or up to four arrows, darts, or crossbow bolts. A character using an envenomed weapon has a 5% chance per round (check every round the weapon is in use) of nicking and poisoning him or herself, + or - the character’s reaction bonus for high or low dexterity (i.e. 2% for a character with 18 dexterity). This chance is halved for assassins (i.e. 2% for an average-dexterity assassin or 1% for an assassin with a 17 or 18 dexterity).

Poison Gas: Types are equal to ingestive poison Types A-D, but sufficient gas to fill a 10’ x 10’ x 10’ area costs 10 times more (i.e. 300 g.p. for a vial of Type B poison). Once the vial is opened or broken the gas will expand to fill the area in 1-2 rounds and remain effective for one turn before dissipating. Characters who make their saving throw against poison gas are holding their breath and do not suffer partial damage. Type E poison gas costs 1,000 g.p. per dose and has an onset time of 1-3 rounds but a failed saving throw causes sleep for 1-6 turns instead of damage or death.

Contact Poison: Types and effects are equal to insinuative poison, but only require contact with skin, not injection into the bloodstream. Contact poison retains full effect for one month, drops to 50% effectiveness for up to six months, 25% effectiveness for up to a year, 10% effectiveness for up to 18 months, and after that has no effect. For contact poison Types A-C this lessening of effect equates to reduced damage, while for Type D it equates to a +2, +3, or +4 bonus on the saving throw. One dose is sufficient to coat one regular-sized object (such as a weapon hilt, doorknob, chest handle, or bejeweled item) or up to a dozen coins or gems.

Monster Venom: Onset time for most monster venom is 1-6 rounds, however for venomous monsters with 5 or more hit dice the onset time is one round. An assassin trained in poison use has a 50% chance of being able to recover usable venom from slain monsters: one dose from a size S monster, 1-3 doses from a size M monster, and 1-6 doses from a size L monster. This recovered venom can be used by the assassin as ingestive or insinuative poison, or may be processed in a lab into gas or contact poison. Unprocessed venom retains potency for one week, but once processed it retains potency as per normal poison of its mode. The Assassin’s Guild uses recovered monster venom to manufacture other types of poison and does not sell unprocessed monster venom, so it always must be recovered directly.

Poison Antidotes: Antidotes to ingestive, insinuative, gas, and contact poison may all be purchased at the same price per dose as poison of the appropriate type. While poisons can typically only be purchased from the local Assassin’s Guild, antidotes may also be purchased from regular alchemists. Each letter-type antidote is effective against the corresponding type of poison and all lesser types of the same mode (i.e. Type D ingestive antidote works against Type A-D ingestive poison but not Type E or any non-ingestive poison). Antidote can be taken before the poison is administered and remains effective in the character’s system for up to three hours, or can be taken after the poison has been administered but before it has taken effect in order to neutralize the effect. An antidote taken after the poison has already taken effect will not remove or reverse any damage or effect that has already been inflicted. One dose of antidote will counteract one dose of poison. Antidotes to monster venom are specific to the monster type (i.e. giant scorpion antidote is not effective against giant spider venom or vice versa) and very expensive - the cost is 1,000 g.p. per hit die of the corresponding monster type (e.g. 5,000 g.p. for a dose of anti-giant scorpion venom), halved if the purchaser is able to supply a sample of the appropriate type of venom to the alchemist who is preparing the antidote. 

Use of holy water: In addition to its other uses (as a spell component and against the undead) drinking a vial of holy water will delay the onset of any poison by 3-9 (2d4+1) turns, and will even temporarily revive a character who has already succumbed to poison if fed to them within one turn of the poisoning (cf. slow poison spell). This effect only works once per poisoning (i.e. drinking a second vial doesn’t increase the delay) and unholy water does not have this effect.


Thursday, August 13, 2020

A Taxonomy of Old-School D&D

As a hobby for nerds, there's a strong appetite among D&D fans to make lists and categorize things, and this extends not just to elements within the game but to meta-level discussion about the game itself. The most obvious breaking point is TSR-D&D (1974-97) and Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro D&D (1998-present), with the 1998-99 period (after Wizards took over but before D&D 3.0 was released) as a transition period.  The next most obvious is the various editions: Original (1974-77*), 1st Edition Advanced (1978-88), 2nd Edition Advanced (1989-99), 3rd (2000-2007), 4th (2008-2013), and 5th (2014-present) editions. Neither of those really work for me, because my interests D&D-wise are sufficiently narrow that finer distinctions are warranted in order to pinpoint what I consider to be "the good stuff" vs the other junk.

One common taxonomy, as proposed by James Maliszewski at Grognardia (the influential, long-dormant but possibly newly revived "OSR" blog), divides the TSR/1st Edition era into a Golden Age (1974-83) and a Silver Age (1984-89), a distinction largely based on trade dress (but also perceived attitude changes that occurred in conjunction with the slicker and more professional upgrade in production values). The other common one differentiates between the Gary Gygax era (1974-85) and the post-Gygax or Lorraine Williams era (1986-97). I definitely buy into the latter, but even that is not a granular enough distinction for me, because it glosses over the difference between what Gary was doing himself and what the design department at TSR, the group originally led by Lawrence Schick and Tom Moldvay (who had been friends and collaborators before coming to work for TSR) that starting in 1980 reported to Brian Blume instead of to Gary, were doing at the same time. And that's not even to mention TSR-UK, which was a mostly-independent subdivision with their own writers, artists, and a subtly distinctive voice and style that's now commonly referred to as B-OSR and seems to have more kinship with what other UK game publishers were doing than what TSR in the US was.   

And it gets even more complicated because Gary himself did a "soft reboot" on his approach to D&D c. 1975 when he handed the core of Greyhawk Castle over to Rob Kuntz and effectively started over with the Hommlet/Temple of Elemental Evil campaign.  So even "Gygaxian" means different things at different times. I've seen a an explanation attributed to Gary that because Greyhawk Castle had been used for so much intensive play testing with a deliberately "anything goes" approach that it had become too sprawling and inconsistent and Gary wanted to separate that element (and the veteran players who were accustomed to that style) and keep the sub-campaign more grounded and structured and "pure" - developing what we eventually saw in AD&D, the modules, and the World of Greyhawk not just as an outgrowth from but in some sense also a repudiation of the earlier, more freewheeling and gonzo, Greyhawk Castle paradigm. 

Take all of this together and by 1983-84 (the time that's most interesting to me because it's when I first discovered and got into the game) you've got a half dozen different takes on D&D with some degree of official support (not even counting all the other ways third party publishers and players out in the wild were drifting and modifying the game to their own ends):

1. Original Greyhawk Castle "we made up some shit we thought would be fun" style (also includes Blackmoor, Tunnels & Trolls, Arduin, Grimtooth's Traps, and most early Judges Guild)

2. Post-reboot "structured campaign" Gygax style (AD&D, World of Greyhawk, B1-2, D1-3, EX1-2, G1-3, L1-2, S1, S3-4, T1-4, WG4-6; IMO the Jennel Jaquays Judges Guild stuff (Dark Tower, Caverns of Thracia, etc.) also fits pretty solidly within this category)

3. Moldvay-Schick "customer-facing" style (less sandboxy and wargamery than #2; more focus on set-pieces and less on behind the scenes depth; more consumer-oriented as stuff to pull off the shelf and play through rather than stuff to add to your world - the B/X sets, Deities & Demigods, B3-4, X1-2, A1-4, C1-2, I1, O1, Q1, R1-4, S2)

4. TSR-UK "almost satirical" style (broadly similar to #3 but with its own distinct voice and aesthetic feel - White Dwarf magazine, Fiend Folio, U and UK series, O2, X8, Fighting Fantasy books, Citadel minis)

5. Tracy Hickman/Douglas Niles "I'm working on my novel" style (B5-7, X3-5, I2-6, N1, DL series, Ed Greenwood's articles in Dragon magazine)

6. Shovelware "going through the motions/paint-by-numbers crap" style (AC1-5, B8-9, X6-7 & 9, BSOLO, XSOLO, XL1, M1-2, CB1-2, MV1, N2) 

#1 was pretty much forgotten by the time the 70s rolled into the 80s (and as an accident of fate is better represented and was preserved longer by third-party publishers, because TSR had already mostly repudiated this style by the time they ramped up production in the late 70s) so it felt like a genuine rediscovery when people found and embraced this stuff ~15 years ago, but I feel like that has since morphed into fetishization and groupthink, and refusal to acknowledge that this approach eventually grows stale.

#2 is my favorite and IMO the one worth preserving and emulating. It's what I've been talking about here for the last 3 years and in other places online for the 15 years prior.

#3 and 4 are what seems to be the most popular, both at the time and among the "grognards" at Dragonsfoot.org, in "1E" oriented Facebook groups, etc. This is probably because this style a little more accessible (and also a little bit easier - as in more carefully balanced and less deadly) than the #2 stuff. However, these fans either don't recognize (or do, but don't care) that it's also shallower and more limited than the #2 stuff - it's not as expandable, doesn't exist in a larger context, doesn't feel like something that might exist in the game-world whether or not the PCs are interacting with it, and so on. 

#5 and 6 are, of course, what TSR fully embraced from 1986 until Wizards of the Coast took over and brought back a little bit of flavor from #2, a little more flavor and structure from #3 (i.e. a "story" built of strung-together but individually free-standing set-piece encounters), and a whole lot of deckbuilding and "rules mastery" mind-poison.

"Era-based" taxonomies (like Grognardia's) never really distinguish between #2-4 because they were all roughly synchronous with each other in the so-called "Electrum Age" of transition between the Golden and Silver Ages. Most fans even within this "old-school" niche-within-a-niche seem to engage only with the surface and are blind to anything but trade dress, cover artist, and logo. Module S4 obviously (at least to me) has much more stylistically and game-design-wise in common with G1, EX2, and WG6 (fellow "category 2" products with different trade dress) than it does with A4, B3, or X2 even though the latter all have the same yellow corner-flag trade dress, "face" logo, and Erol Otus covers. But if you try to bring this up to most fans, you're almost invariably going to get back something along the lines of "all I know is we had a great time playing through A4 - [insert favorite set-piece: the myconids/the cave fisher/the final battle on the docks] was awesome!"

Like everybody else who started playing D&D in the 80s I owned and played stuff from all of these groups (except #1, which I only discovered later) side-by-side and although I instinctively turned up my nose at the group 5 and 6 stuff even then, it was only long after the fact, looking back on all of it from a different perspective, that I also perceived the difference between #2 and #3/4, and realized that my interest and sympathies were really only with the former, and that that position puts me outside of the "mainstream" of even old-school/retro/OSR/grognard/whatever D&D fandom pretty much everyplace except The Knights & Knaves Alehouse, the seemingly one-and-only active online refuge of the hardcore Group #2 Gygaxians. But hey, at least I've got my tribe, small as it may be.

*of course some version of original or "classic" D&D remained in print through 1996, the D&D Basic Sets of 1977, 1981, and 1983 were, by all accounts, TSR's all-time best-selling products, and the 1991 D&D Rules Cyclopedia is Wizards of the Coast's current pdf/print-on-demand bestseller at DriveThruRPG, so defining the "Original D&D era" as ending in 1977 is unfair and not technically accurate. Nevertheless, from the time of its release AD&D always received the lion's share of attention both from TSR and the public and the non-Advanced version was mostly an afterthought, something mostly targeted at kids and beginners who were expected to "graduate up" to AD&D in fairly short order. There's a reason why 5th Edition is numbered that way - it's effectively the 5th version of AD&D. The widespread embrace of the "classic" version of the game and the way it's come to eclipse the popularity of AD&D even among "old-schoolers" is entirely a phenomenon of the 21st century - people who played AD&D (1E or 2E) as kids looking back and realizing that they now prefer the version they dismissed as "kid stuff" the first time around.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Facts about Odd Alley and Weird Way

Odd Alley and Weird Way were created by Gary Gygax as an inter dimensional nexus-point and goblin market. “The Strange Occurrence on Odd Alley” was announced by Gary in Dragon #102 as a story scheduled for publication in the May 1986 issue of Amazing Stories magazine, but it did not appear there, and instead was first published in the 1987 collection Night Arrant, under a slightly different title - “A Weird Occurrence in Odd Alley.” Odd Alley and Weird Way also existed in the Greyhawk Campaign:  Rob Kuntz (as Robilar) adventured and found a ring of spell turning there in late 1973. The potential for use of these locations in D&D games is huge, so I felt it was worth collecting all of the facts about them from the story for myself and others to use as a baseline towards creating our own versions:

Odd Alley is located in the Old City of Greyhawk. It is so difficult to locate that most citizens of the metropolis are unaware of its existence. Its head is blocked by an old, rusted locked iron gate that is shunned by all living creatures. Knocking, banging, and pounding will not open the gate and magic also doesn’t affect it. 

There are several business establishments and dwellings in the alley, none of which have back doors or even back windows onto the area behind the gate:
  • A junk shop (run by a miserly old half-elf named Scriggin)
  • A used clothing store
  • Freedle’s Librarium
  • A potter’s booth
  • The Sunken Grotto Tavern (near the gate)
  • A money changer’s stall
  • Green Wulfurt’s apothecary
  • The crazy limner’s place
  • Zreed’s Antiquary (nearest the mouth)
  • An old warehouse and stable (at the mouth of the alley across from Zreed’s)

A barely-noticeable passageway near the Sunken Grotto Tavern leads to the other side of the gate, which is also locked. 

A special coin-shaped token of unrecognizable metal with a hand on one face and a rectangle on the other, when placed against the gate with the hand-side up causes it to glow phosphorescent, shimmer, and then disappear, opening a mist-filled passage that leads to Weird Way. Once passed through, the gate closed behind the travelers and cannot be opened by the same token. [There is a method of passing back through the gate, but it is never explained in the story - likely because Gary intended to continue using this location in his games and didn’t want to make things too easy for potential future players.]

Weird Way is wide, curving cobblestone street about 1,000 feet long, well lit by torches, lanthorns, and glowing globes at night. 

The following locations are found in Weird Way (none have rear exits; most have apartments on upper floors with dovecotes and small gardens - from the rooftops can be seen a wall of impenetrable, colorless nothingness surrounding Weird Way through which only sunlight penetrates):

Left side of the street:
  1. Dome of Delights: A beehive-shaped structure with a sign depicting a buxom young lady (brothel)
  2. Achmut's Cut-rate Carpets: Across from the Tower Tavern and Count Joseph's Emporium of the Unusual.
  3. Pagoda of Pools: The department for extraplanar travel to the upper, lower, and other outer planes. 
  4. Juxort's Charts and Maps: A shop to the left of the gate.
  5. Wonders of the World: A shop to the left of the gate, next to Juxort's.
  6. The Helix: An exclusive club. Entered through a plain doorway off the Way separated from the street by a two-story wall. The building is throne shaped with low wings and a tower in the middle; the central garden patio has a fountain. Guarded antechamber leads to a wide spiral stair to a grand salon on the second floor. A transporter in one of the turrets leads to Rel Mord - a block of gneiss activated by a disc of reddish metal.
  7. The Explorer's Inn: Has two dining areas - a members’ salon and a general parlor - plus a common room with a well-stocked bar. Lies at the end of Weird Way just before the plaza. Provides a service to allow its customers to chronogate through time and unusual probability lines. Filled with potted flowers and shrubs, and trophies (curios and hunting souvenirs) line the walls, are displayed in cases and are atop every surface. The floor is of worn narrow-sawn oak, with wainscotted walls and smoke-blackened ceiling beams.

Right side of the street:
  1. Tower Tavern: Across from the Dome of Delights and Achmut's Cut-rate Carpets.
  2. Count Joseph's Emporium of the Unusual: Across from the Dome of Delights and Achmut's Cut-rate Carpets. Count Joseph is a tall, pear-shaped man of indeterminate age wearing powdered wig. He loves to haggle and buys and sells treasures of the multiverse - Yeogorian door-knockers, Staffordshire Toby mugs, etc. He pays in domars (from Gamma World - “small, lightweight coin, inlaid with colors and symbols denoting various denominations; nearly indestructible and impossible to counterfeit”), sequins (from Planet of Adventure), scrip, credits, iridium, jotellium in addition to metal coins of strange and unidentifiable minting. He is possibly in league with Plincourt (q.v.).
  3. Pavilion of Portals: Has broad double doors, a wide portico running the entire length of the long plastered building, strange columns, a tent-like roof and tower tops, and draped windows and entrance. It is cool and dim inside, where broad endless marble-walled and tile-floored corridors are tended by a gnome wearing red and saffron tailored  livery with puffs and slashes revealing flashes of contrasting colors. The corridors lead to gates identified by sigils which will send those who traverse them to parallel prime planes such as Yarth and Aerth - but not to Oerth, which is considered too dangerous and uncivilized, or other inhospitable planes or dead-end dimensions. Fees for passage are charged in credits, domars, and standard precious metals. 
  4. Abner Grontny the Outfitter: A shop to the right of the gate, across from Juxort's
  5. The Arms Exchange: A shop to the right of the gate, across from Wonders of the World.
  6. Elixirs from Everywhere: A shop to the right of the gate, near Abner Grotny’s and the Arms Exchange.
  7. Multiversal Armorer: Lies at the end of Weird Way, just before the plaza, across from the Explorer's Inn.

Faire Market: The walled plaza at the end of the alley is 300 feet deep by 600 feet broad. It is lined by booths and stalls that are bustling by day but deserted at night. There are no other exits from the plaza except to Weird Way.
  • "Rare Wine at Bargain Prices": A maroon and citrine-draped booth in the Faire Market that sells wines including Yugharian Purple and vintage wines from Earth.
  • Sogil the Gemner: A gem/jewelry store located at the end of Faire Market. Sogil is old, bald, skinny, doddering, and fearful and wears an enchanted protective brooch.
  • Hostel of Ineffable Comfort: Located at the end of Faire Market. Run by Huskons and the night manager Plincourt, a vampire. The first floor is a narrow lobby, richly furnished with displayed artwork, thick carpet, and a counter of rosewood to the right of the entrance. Offers drinks, meals, clothes-mending and tailoring, and the Gedrusian exotic dancers. Rooms are on the second floor: an expensive suite -   the Burke and Hare Suite with padded canopy beds, and a cramped one, the Bates Complex, plus ordinary rooms. There is a 3’ wide secret passage behind the rooms with spiral stairs to a secret room in the cellar behind the hinged back of an old cupboard in a storeroom with a cistern in the floor. A kitchen, refectory, and office - with a small table and box of coins, notes, and bills - are on the top floor. The Hostel employs Yagbo, a porter who carts luggage to the Hostel in his spiked wheelbarrow. He is a raggedy, stooped and bent creature with greasy hair but is very big and strong. He blows a whistle to warn pedestrians out of the way of his cart. Yagbo and an accomplice (Lou) use the secret passage and sleep poison (breathing the fumes knocks the victim out for 1-2 hours) to capture patrons for Plincourt to feed upon and then dispose of the bodies in the cistern. 
  • The Fragrant Blossom: A tea house in Faire Market near the Hostel.
  • At least six other places are at the far end of the Faire Market.

Weird Way is crowded with people from across the Flanaess (Dyvers, Ket and the West, Nyrond) as well as from many other worlds including Aerth and Yarth, civilized ogre magi, blue-skinned people with green hair and eyes, dwarfs, furry-faced humanoids with purple eyes, etc. A few pass through the portal from Odd Alley, but most enter and exit via the other portals.