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.

3 comments:

  1. Hidden or barely noticable back streets with weird wonders is the stuff of fantasy, and Gary's take on Lankhmar's Bazaar of the Bizarre (which I suspect this is) seems very cool, especially the way he mixes relatively mundane stuff (cut-rate carpets!) with exotic luxuries, a portal jumpoff point, and that vampire hotel. Thanks for collecting this information - I was not aware of it. I think Ian Livingstone sometimes manages to recreate this colourful quality of city adventures in his game books (City of Thieves and bits of the recent Assassins of Allansia), but few other people do it successfully.

    This also underlines how regrettable it is that we never got Gary's treatment for a "sinful fantasy metropolis", his personal "Invincible Overlord". You can get ideas from the bits and pieces in varios game writings (starting with the hilariously deadly OD&D city encounter charts, which seem to describe streets crawling with roving bands of brigands and hordes of undead), the DMG stuff, and the Gord stories (which I have yet to obtain and read). Instead, we got Yggsburgh, and the TSR City of Greyhawk, which completely disappointed me at the age of, what, fourteen - completely and obviously fake.

    Then there are Rob Kuntz's tantalising maps for the City of Greyhawk sewers, one of the most interesting dungeon maps out there... and that will never happen, either. Frustrating, frustrating.

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    1. As I mentioned in one of the first posts on this blog, the Gord books are a very mixed bag. One the one hand they're great because they're filled with this sorts of descriptive detail of places that adds a ton of flavor and color to the dry gazetteer alongside tantalizing peeks at "lost" modules and adventures (not only the City of Greyhawk book but also the City of Stoink, the Shadowlands book, and lower planes book - we even get a couple furtive glances at the Greyhawk Castle dungeons). I could (and probably eventually will) extract many more posts similar to this one about the locations described in the books (and I know that another guy already did this in the 90s, but his "Gord's Greyhawk" site is too dry and leaves out too much of the fun color, at least for my taste).

      However, on the other hand, as fiction - in terms of story and characterization - they're very weak, and Gary had a particularly unfortunate knack for writing really bad dialogue that sounds nothing at all like actual speech, so reading them as actual novels - rather than skimming through them to extract background detail and place-descriptions - is kind of a chore.

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    2. The first Gord novel Saga of Old City was published with Gary not even being part of the company. There were no followup articles. The preview story in issue #100 was the intro to the character and the last gasp at the same time. So the first book should have had plug-in support but its like looking at a ship without sails.

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