Monday, June 13, 2016

Gygax Module Stats, Part 1

My  never-ending aggravation: How the dungeon-design parameters throughout classic D&D are at dire odds with the adventures that actually got published. As part of that ongoing saga, here's an attempt at assessing all of Gygax's D&D adventure modules while at TSR. Today, a look at the publication format. Modules are referenced here by their alphanumeric code (see Acaeum's Module Index if you're not intimately familiar with them already).

Gygax Module Publication Stats

In the table above, I've taken my best stab at ordering Gygax's published adventures in chronological order of writing, but the truth is that's an immensely murky, possibly intractable problem. Clearly most or all of these adventures were initially drafted and run for tournaments or his personal campaign, years prior to their mass-market publication, so it's really possible that they could have been crafted in almost any order, irrespective of their publication/copyright dates. But here are some broad observations:

The first wave of published modules are all designated as having been created for D&D tournaments in the era of 1975-1978; this would initially be the various S-modules, then G1-3, and then D1-3. Publication dates follow fairly closely from these tournaments, either the same year or seemingly a few years later. An interesting case is the famed G1-3 adventure used at Origins IV in 1978; the Dragon issue #19 from October 1978 had a players' memoir of the tournament, and editorial sidebars made sure to promote the modules then on-sale: "The setting for round one is available from TSR... it costs $4.49". (Note the 1978 monochrome printing has a cover starburst correctly saying "Official D&D Tournament Module used at ORIGINS '78", while the 1981 color printing for some reason incorrectly indicates "Origins 79 Tournament Module").

Somewhat unexpectedly, it is the earliest modules in the S-series that had some of the most elaborate production values. S1 and S3 include lengthy supplemental booklets of illustrations to show to players at given encounters. S4 had a supplemental booklet of many new monsters, not all included in the adventure; effectively a proto-Monster Manual II for a few years. No later productions ever rose to those heights of production value ever again. S3 in particular is a wild extravagance; it detailed the largest adventuring locale, and greatest total page count, of any Gygax adventure except for his very last one, T1-4 (as well as the most new items and new monsters, excepting S4's special monster booklet). Acaeum notes that G1 was published somewhat earlier in 1978 than S1, and that earlier ziplocked versions of S4 from the 1976 tournament have been traded on Ebay.

Later published adventurers are not noted as originating from tournament play, and instead generally express being rooted in Gygax's original Greyhawk campaign setting. Allusions to the EX1-2 and WG6 adventures are made in the past tense in the 1979 Dungeon Master's Guide (see p. 112), even though the weren't published until the 1983-1985 time period. Likewise, the 1979 print of T1 references the Greyhawk T2 campaign in the past tense, yet the latter was also not published until 1985.

None of these later works have the elaborate supplemental illustration or new monster packets. Usually they include at most a handful of new monsters, spells, and/or magic items -- almost all of which were subsequently folded into the Unearthed Arcana and Monster Manual II rulebooks. More of the later works tend to have extensive wilderness adventuring components: e.g., B2, WG4, EX1-2, and WG6 have very sizable outdoor components (in fact, WG6 is effectively nothing but a wilderness scenario). T1-4 has a suggestive overland map, but it is not keyed. In contrast, of the early modules, only S4 has an outdoor adventure, and that is noted expressly as not having been part of the original tournament.

It's interesting that each of the S- and WG-series have something of an "interloper"; both those series are written by Gygax except for a single entry by someone else. Specifically: S2's famous dungeon-crawl by Lawrence Schick, and the WG5 entry by Robert Kuntz (with Gygax listed as second author, but the work is clearly Kuntz's). WG5 is particularly interesting, in that it seems to be a throwback to a much earlier style of dungeon design; in the Introduction Kuntz writes that the dungeon was originally designed in the years 1972-1973, giving it conceivably the earliest birthdate of the bunch; it has many empty, unkeyed rooms, few (almost all new) monsters, and very little treasure. (In contrast to Gygax's work, none of these new monsters were folded into later AD&D hardcover rulebooks.) Likewise, the Q1 module was authored by David Sutherland, with Gygax listed as secondary author, perhaps mostly for marketing purposes. None of these modules S1, Q1, or WG5 are included in the statistics here.

Have any scraps of knowledge that would alter the attempted timeline given above? Tell us!


21 comments:

  1. Yo Delta,
    Why does the table include 1985's T1-4 but not 1979's T1? The former is really a Frank Mentzer product based on Gygax's work while the latter is wholly Gygaxian and therefore perhaps more pertinent to your topic, no?

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    1. Well... yeah, I got a tiny bit lazy and didn't want separate entries for those. Honestly I'm not fully clear about the ratio of responsibility for T2, do you have a source for that?

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    2. You want a source from me? I'm flattered, but people don't usually look my way for legitimate journalism, and for good reason.

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  2. Also, which classic D&D dungeon design parameters are these modules aggravatingly at odds with?

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    1. Design parameters like: OD&D Vol-3 (2-in-6 rooms with monsters, 1/6 of the rest with treasure), Monster & Treasure Assortment (20% of rooms with monsters), AD&D DMG Random Dungeon Appendix (12 in 20 rooms empty), stuff like that.

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  3. Ah, those. Thanks for clarifying.

    That said, have you found that those parameters actually make for an improved gaming experience? If rooms are empty for a reason that's one thing--previous occupants died of carbon monoxide poisoning, superstitious hobgoblins won't enter a room that has been slept in by a gnome, can't access the wifi from that room, etc. But if they're just empty to meet some arbitrary quota--even one established by Lord Gary himself--what's the point?

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    1. Right, that's pretty much my purpose here. He himself didn't follow his prescribed quota, so I'm kind of trying to figure out why that's the case.

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    2. "...can't access the wifi from that room..."

      I'm tempted to use this XD

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    3. I totally overlooked that... that's sort of an amazing riff.

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    4. I believe the game is better when there are buffer zones between action zones. This reduces the need for realistic explanations - if the hobgoblins live next to the giant spiders, but there is barren deserted territory between them, we can explain away any of their movements as being through that zone. Of course "empty" rooms and passages should have interesting descriptive stuff, which helps engage the players and aids memory of the dungeon.

      Empty spaces also reduce the feeling that the dungeon is a funhouse with a danger or treasure in every nook and cranny.

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  4. I second Timrod's comment about T1 vs. T2-T4. I read about the history of T1-4 and the GDQ series years ago on Dragonsfoot forums. The standard view is that T1 is Gygax's but T2-4 are Mentzer's creation.

    Gygax's original intention for the climax of the D series was an encounter with the Elder Elemental God in the Sunless Sea, but the main villain was changed to Lolth by Sutherland when he wrote Q1.

    Convsersely, Gygax originally intended Lolth to be the main villain behind T1-4, which is why Lareth in T1 is a follower of Lolth. The main villain was changed to Zuggtmoy before the publication of T2-4 because Lolth had already been used as the main villain in Q1.

    Here is some discussion from Dragonsfoot (2003), about the T1-4 and GDQ modules' composition: http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=3556

    And here is some discussion of Lolth and the Temple of Elemental Evil (from 2004): http://doomsdaygames.proboards.com/thread/155

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    1. Boy, those links are invaluable, thanks for those! Not only on-topic to this thread, but relevant for my own games (I'm running G3 on Jul-4 weekend, and otherwise have a very slow-paced GDQ expansion going at an annual convention).

      I agree that all signs are that Sutherland is responsible for Q1, but it seems that it's a bit more nuanced for the T2 topic. You're the guy who contacted Gygax in that Dragonsfoot thread, right!? And got him to say "yes" that he'd designed the dungeon maps, wrote Nulb and the description of the upper temple, and: "Just FYI, that is my version of the adventure. Mentzer simply fleshed out the considerable body of preliminary work I had done but could not find time to finish."

      The other I would point out is that those threads show the switch from Lolth to Zuggtmoy was made even prior to the publication of T1 (as evidenced by the TZGY emblem in one place in the T1 text).

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    2. And in the old ENWorld Q&A, he said "That's when Frank Mentzer took a hand and filled in the lower levels that I hadn't detailed. That's why they ended where they did instrad of proceeding downwards more to where the EEG's area was going to be.", which seems to imply that upper levels = Gygax, lower levels = Mentzer fill-ins. Signs seem to be that he had a whole lot of playable notes to T2 even at the time of T1 publication (a very different situation from Q1).

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    3. And last thing from your correspondence with Gygax: Q: "7. In T1, was the TZGY scarab that the traders had supposed to stand for Zuggtmoy (i.e., you had already thought of Z. when you wrote T1)?"

      "A: Absolutely!"

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    4. This is going to sound ridiculous, but the forum thread was from such a long time ago that I had COMPLETELY FORGOTTEN that I had indeed emailed Gygax regarding these modules.

      Back in the day, Gygax actually used to answer emails from fans! I only sent him a couple, though, so as not to burden the genius at work and thus distract him from his many gaming labors. :)

      When I posted my comment above, I merely searched for and found the relevant Dragonsfoot thread, but obviously I failed to remember many of the details regarding T2, including things that Gygax himself had told me via email! I even forgot participating in the thread at all. My only memory was of reading the insight of wiser more experienced voices from Dragonsfoot.

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    5. I'd swear my copy of Temple of Elemental Evil had a blurb from Gygax describing the adventures of Robliar through it, Quij and the flying carpet, and how Robliar's encounter with Zuggtmoy went. But now I can't find the note anywhere.

      I have a Word file with oldster quotes.

      "One must remember Gary's jocularity and the fact that I had just smashed much of ToEE and let loose Zug. Of course my carpet had a hole in it and "of course" I was followed 200 + miles by a mere druid-turned-falcon, which kept up with my griffons and carpet... ; )" [RJK] http://piedpiperpublishing.yuku.com/topic/1961

      Which seems at odds with

      [In your original conception of the Temple of Elemental Evil, was Zuggtmoy the big baddie, or did you come up with her as a replacement for Lolth after Q1 was released and you were forced to rethink her involvement?]

      "Close to the mark there Scott. when Dave Sutherland did the Q1 as it was, and Brian okayed it, I was rather stuck. Lolth was supposed to be in there, and in the depths the prison of the Elder Elemental God. I had my hands full with the management of the D&D Entertainment Copr. out on the West Coast, so I couldn't get to the copmpletion of the ToEE. That;s when Frank Mentzer took a hand and filled in the lower levels that I hadn't detailed. That's why they ended where they did instrad of proceeding downwards more to where the EEG's area was going to be." [EGG] http://www.enworld.org/forums/showthread.php?t=46861&page=22&pp=15

      I suppose it may be possible that when Gygax ran it Lolth was down there, but later ran a playtesting game for the adventure involving Robliar after the Zuggtmoy switch. Seems confusing.

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    6. JM: I suspected something like was the case. I did about a quadruple-take when I ran into your post in that Dragonsfoot thread to make sure I was hallucinating what I was seeing. Score one for well-documenting your work!

      And yes, I also have one two correspondences from Gygax in that era, as well (some by email and some on the huge ENWorld Q&A). I think it's also invaluable that he was so generous with his time in that way in later years.

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    7. 1d30: Right, good quotes. I do think the evidence points to there being a very brief early moment when the idea was to have Lolth be the main deity in T2, but this was changed quite soon, and all the notes and playtests by Gygax (maybe as early as '79) were with Zuggtmoy in place.

      Admittedly, some people point out that the map of T2's lowest dungeon level has the appearance of an 8-legged demon-spider type entity.

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  5. Also worth noting that the tournament versions of S1, S3, and S4 all had illustrations as part of the tournament kit/package too.

    Allan.

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    1. That's good point, and I actually just learned that in the last few days (subsequent to this post). E.g., the early version of S4 has 4 player illustrations it.

      Can you tell me what the counts are for S1 and S3? Same as the later publications, or fewer? (I'm guessing fewer.)

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