Saturday, July 27, 2013

Two Levels of the Real Castle Greyhawk

Gary Gygax was born on July 27th, today, and I wanted to delve into a topic that I have been pondering for the past week since stumbling across a picture of Mr. Gygax, with a clear view of one of the levels of Castle Greyhawk.

Castle Greyhawk has been a holy grail of sorts for long time players of Dungeons and Dragons. It was mentioned many times as the original dungeon Gary Gygax created to test out the first draft of Dungeons and Dragons. Unfortunately, Gary Gygax and TSR parted ways in 1985 and the "official" TSR version (without Gary) of Greyhawk was released in 1988.

Gygax had no involvement in creating WG7 Castle Greyhawk, and it is often seen as a childish attempt by the new TSR at poking fun at Gary's creation. It is truly a bizarre, fun house dungeon filled with 80s pop culture references. There is little doubt that it bears little resemblance to the original Greyhawk.

Gary passed away in 2008 so we may never see what the original Greyhawk was like. But there are some tantalizing clues lurking on the Internet that might give us an approximation. Readers have probably seen the picture of Gary holding a three ring binder, with a map (done with pencil and graph paper) on display as he (somewhat) poses for the camera. Grognardia even posted about the picture back in August of 2012, and mentioned how it has similarities with his original Dwimmermount campaign.

This picture has been suggested to represent one level of Castle Greyhawk. Is it the original map that Gary put together way back in the early 70s to test his first draft of Dungeons and Dragons? I would guess probably not, but it still gives an indication of Gary's style, and hence, is probably a good reflection of what the original Castle Greyhawk is like.

And, recently, I came across another picture of Gygax holding the same style three ring binder (I would guess the same one). The caption stated, "Gary Gygax Dungeon Mastering his last game of OD&D. His map in the photo is Castle Greyhawk. January 12th, 2008". This would lead further credence to the idea that the two photos represent Castle Greyhawk in some form.

So, if we take these two pictures and manipulate them in a image editor, putting them side by side, what do we have? Note that you can click the image below to see a larger version of it.

Notice any similarities to other early 70s TSR products? The answer to what Castle Greyhawk was like was probably sitting under our noses the entire time. If you compare the maps above to a product that Gary put together and released in 1976, you can see the similarities in the mapping styles.

Here is a small excerpt from the introduction of the geomorphs, "by placing the sections in clear plastic (acetate) sheets ... making changes and notes ..., and covering the finished dungeon with transparent contact paper, thus making the level permanent." That phrase sounds similar to what appears in Gary's binder from the images above.


  1. From what he said in the years before his death, particularly in connection with the aborted Castle Zagyg project, the dungeon levels that you see in that binder, which were used for convention play, were *not* the same as either the original Castle Greyhawk from the early 1970's, nor the second Castle Greyhawk created when Rob Kuntz was brought on board as co-DM of the campaign.

    Apparently, Gygax created a new dungeon specifically for campaign play, which had a lot of elements of both previous efforts, but which different in both scope and detail.

    So as Gygax himself said, it's really not possible to say which is the "real" Castle Greyhawk. There were at least four versions that he himself either created or had a heavy hand in creating.

    What those maps in the photos and your example of the geomorphs do show, however, are great examples of the Gygaxian map style used in the Castle. It's also very similar to the sort of map seen in "In Search of the Unknown" and the Hill Giant and Fire Giant modules. Very crowded, not necessarily following the grid, and from what we can tell, filled with lots of empty rooms.

  2. Actually, the maps in the above two pictures are both original maps from the Expanded Castle: Rob Kuntz has confirmed this. The keys to them are redone, and may or may not be original encounters, but the maps are definitely the originals.

    And agreed completely that the geomorphs are a wonderful way to capture that Gygaxian flavor!


  3. The real levels of Castle Greyhawk cannot be found in old photos or geomorph supplements, but rather in the hearts of children everywhere!

    1. Ha ha. I think you are right. Initially, it seemed as though Gary wanted people to use their imaginations and create their own worlds and dungeons.

  4. A look at these two maps illustrates the basic style of Gygax as a game master - lots of puzzling situations - an underworld map that is essentially a maze to be solved.

    This gives perspective on the dungeon levels that were whimsical - Alice in Wonderland, for instance. They were a nice break from the slog of mapping the maze.