A Slight Detour: Guest Review of E. Gary Gygax’s Dungeonland

Guest Writer: Kevin Birge

Dungeonland is special. Every single adventure that E. Gary Gygax wrote can reasonably be described this way, but even among the chest of gems Gary left us, this one stands out for a few reasons. Dungeonland and companion piece Beyond the Magic Mirror are a sub-level of Castle Greyhawk. Your players in a dungeon, and for a change of pace, they wind up in Dungeonland.

Cover of Dungeonland module

Cover of Dungeonland module © Wizards of the Coast

Recommended character level is 9-12. In a Gary Gygax joint. TPK lurks.

Evil DM Tip: Chase them into it with a monster. The Dreaded Woop-Toodle, for example.

“This passage is not supposed to be here.” Gourd Ironskull snorted in derision, his dwarfen battle helm still askew from the pitched battle they had just fled from moments before. He tapped the map in frustration with a dirty and blackened finger. “It’s supposed to turn to the right, and double back the direction we came from. The passage goes left. It’s rubbish.”

The dwarf spat. “Fat chance that rotten elf will give us a refund on him ‘infallible’ map.”

Celestia Brobdignag Ubera blew her bangs out of her eyes and sighed. “The map has been infallible, right up until we fled from that–whatever it was–and ran down this hall. I don’t think Melf would deceive us. He’s been a friend of the family since before I was born.” As she spoke, she pulled her wizard’s hat back slightly, and adjusted the silver chainmail garment that bore more resemblence to a one piece bathing suit than aught else.

“Certainly he would.” The dwarf’s countenance was red with anger. He tried to smile, but only managed a leer. “And would you like to know why?”  He was fairly shaking with rage. “Because he’s a dick! Because he’s a dick, and that’s the only kind of elf there is!”

“Shaddap, stupit dwarf. That monster back there et Goldheart, gobbled him all gone. Yer mouth noises is gonna bring it right to us.”

Gourd spun to face the half-orc, sputtering with outrage. Not only had the filthy man-beast-pig-creature dared to speak to him–he was right. The dwarf could not have been more provoked. He grinned. “I thought we agreed that you were never to address me. Since we are on speaking terms, perhaps you can tell me the heartwarming story of how your parents met.”

The half-orc’s eyes widened in shock, and narrowed again. He suspected he was being insulted. The thing seemed possible.

“I am certain,” the dwarf cackled, “the story involves moonshine, regret, and a handful of copper coins.”

“Perhaps” Celestia said, squaring her shoulders and pointing down the hallway,”we should concern ourselves with our only apparent egress. Goldheart and Filch are both dead and devoured. Our strength is depleted and we should try to find our way out.”

The half-orc, having had a moment to meditate on the problem, deduced that he had indeed been insulted. “You dare speak to Fandango Dwarfcrusher of his parents?” He drew his sword.

The dwarf shouted his battle cry, flung the map down, and drew his axe.

Celestia shook her head, picked up the map from the floor, and walked down the hallway. Perhaps, if she were lucky, she might find the exit. She was doubtful. The map of Castle Greyhawk looked like a maze drawn by a depraved lunatic, and it appeared that the map was not as accurate as Melf the Elf had represented it.

“Woop woop toodle! Woop woop toodly hank?”

The dwarf and half-orc stopped stock still, weapons still in place to strike, and turned to look back the way they came. Celestia slowly turned around.

“Oh, no,” she said.

That which had eaten two of their party was dragging itself around the corner by its tentacles, trailing putrid slime. The googly and bulbous eyes, mounted on long stalks, bounced to and fro and peered at them. “Hank hank.”

As the huge, dripping mouth opened, they saw that Goldheart’s feet and legs were visible within. One boot was off, and the bare foot looked rather chewed and worse for the wear.

“Woop toodle hanky!”

It began to heave toward them, belching and flatulating as it came, feet dangling from its horrid mouth.

They all turned as one and ran, elbowing each other out of the way and trying to be first. As they did, the sound of the monster (mercifully!) became a far distant thing, and they felt the floor sloping. The floor tilted and tilted until it became a pit, down which they floated with dreamlike slowness….

Keep them in the dark as long as possible! So Gary Gygax exhorts the Dungeon Master on the very first page of Dungeonland! This is an important detail. This is a fun detail. This is the sort of thing one lurks behind the Dungeon Master’s Screen and gloats about. The longer it takes them to figure out what the adventure is all about, the better. More fun for you, the DM.

As most of you reading know (or at least have heard), Dungeonland and Beyond The Magic Mirror are Gary Gygax taking the concepts behind Carroll’s Wonderland and translating them into AD&D modules. This alone makes them unique, as TSR did not release a lot of material for the AD&D game that draws this directly from the source material.

Even more significantly, these two modules are the only pieces of Castle Greyhawk as Gygax wrote it that one can find. Sadly, the most significant and earliest dungeon in the game appears to be lost and not likely to be seen.

Dungeonland has no setup. There is no preamble. The only hint of a plot involves the players running afoul of the Queen of Hearts, and they may or may not do that. There is a map, a key, and a few suggestions on how to use it. Drop it into whatever dungeon you like. They fall in a pit, or go down a hallway, or drink a potion. However you want to do it. The module has an endless pit the characters feather fall down. The bit in the intro where the hall turns into a pit–that’s straight from Gygax. And The Master even suggests reading Alice in Wonderland immediately prior to running the module.

The real fun begins when you dig into the module and see the alchemy which Gary has worked upon these concepts.

(Evil DM Tip: Per Gygax suggestion, under no circumstances should the players know you are planning to run this, or see the module in your hands. Keep them guessing! And make sure they guess wrong.)

The table was fifty feet long at least, and covered with a shimmering white silk tablecloth that billowed slowly in the breeze. The table had enough chairs and place settings for a small army, but only a few persons were clustered near the head. They were still a good quarter mile away, but they could clearly see the enormous top hat of the man seated at the head of the table, a

Fandango was out of sorts, anyway. He did not like the place, the sun was too bright. The colors were too bright. He still wanted to crush the dwarf, and Celestia would not let him. Worse, he found himself dreaming of what might be between the two of them. He looked at his hands. He stared at his fingers. That’s how many children of his children he wanted her to bear. He used to be able to count higher, but that was before he had fingers bitten off in a bar fight. He supposed the number he saw would be adequate, at least for a start.

Gourd was out of sorts, anyway. He did not like the place. The sun was not only too bright, the fact that there was a sun when they had plainly been falling down disturbed him greatly. He did not know much, this he would admit, but he knew up and down, and down was away from, and not toward, the surface. He still wanted to slay the wretched orc-bear-pig-thing, but Celestia would not let him. Worse, he found himself dreaming about what could be between them. He sighed. If only! Were she but a few feet shorter, a bit heavier, and of course sporting a luxurious and well-perfumed beard, she would be perfect.

Celestia was out of sorts, anyway. She did not like this place. Her Chainmail Swimsuit of Charming was fine for indoors, but the sun was both hot and bright and she was beginning to burn. Also, magic was demonstrably–off. Some things simply did not work, all the more disturbing since this place was clearly magically charged in a very dramatic way. In theory, her magic should be more potent. Worse, she could not help but notice the way both Fandango and Gourd had been looking at her. She smiled at them, of course I like you, dear friend of mine! but she was horrified by the way their eyes strayed over her when they thought she was not looking.

Goldheart had been a suitor, but alas, he had chosen to be eaten by a monster rather than explore the romantic possibilities between them. And Filch? Well, the jails were always full of his replacement, and could be had for a few silver coins in bail.

As they approached the table, the man in the top hat reached into his jacket and pulled out a spyglass. He leaned forward, elbows on the table, peering through the brass tube at them. He stood up ramrod straight, tossed the spyglass backwards through the air, and leapt upon the table. After clearing his throat and uttering an exploratory series of vocalizations, he sang to the party the following song, as his table mates joined in.

Who is your father? Who could it be?

A glorious warrior from Furyondy?

A traveling lord with a dazzling smile?

A charming young prince come to stay for awhile?

Oh no, oh no, we’re sad to report

It wasn’t a bunny, it wasn’t a stork

Oh no, oh no, we’re sad to report

Your father was a loathsome orc!

Ha ha! Half-Orc! Ha ha! Half-Orc!*

*”Ha Ha Half Orc” copyright Cruel Schoolchildren of Greyhawk, all rights reserved.

Fandango’s brow furrowed and a vein stood out. He suspected that he was being insulted. He saw the dwarf lying in the grass, tears flowing down his cheeks and into his beard, clutching his stomach in mirth. But for his beloved Celestia, he would slay the dwarf. These fools at the table would do. He drew his sword, smote his breast in challenge, and uttering his battle cry, he charged.

Celestia hung her head in frustration. By the gods–truly? She kicked Gourd in the ribs. “Get up! The battle is joined, sir dwarf! And it’s your fault for laughing at that awful song!”

Evil DM Tip: Have the Mad Hatter and his party taunt the character with the lowest charisma. You want to provoke this fight. Why? Because the Mad Hatter has a Deck of Many Things, and your players will USE it. If you are not feeling THAT evil, simply follow the instructions in the module and have the Hatter invite the party to tea with the Hare and Dormouse.

Tis a far, far better Deck of Many Things….

Gourd sat under the table and pouted. He had been poised to strike the Hatter the death blow, and Fandango had elbowed him aside delivered the killing stroke. He sighed. The cursed rat creature and the giant rabbit had fled when the Hatter fell. Celestia was sitting drinking tea, winded, and Fandango was still hacking at the corpse.

Gourd smiled. A deck of cards under the table? He thought he had espied something fall from the Hatter’s hatband in the battle. He shuffled, and the hair stood up on his arms. Oooooh! Magic! He pulled forth a card, which showed a full moon with a smiling face against the starry sky.

A puff of white smoke and a *pop!* like a champagne cork being pulled, and a smiling man sat cross-legged beside him. He smiled. “Dude!”

Gourd was gobsmacked. “Have you come to grant me a wish?”

He nodded. “Two wishes!” He held up two fingers.

“OK, bro, listen. It’s like this. Keep it within reason, it’s all good. For example, I could take you and your homies out of here and drop you off at the nearest bar. That would be no problemo.”

Gourd listened intently. Back home? He and his friends? He frowned.

“That would be one wish, yes?”

The genie nodded. The dwarf thought it over. “I have a better idea.”

Gourd smiled. “I want…a mug of beer. A mug of beer that never goes empty, never gets warm, and never goes flat.”

The genie’s face grew serious. He nodded and clapped his hands together. “Salabeem! It is done!”

The stein in Gourd’s hand was frosty to the touch. He brought the mug to his lips. Crystalmist Stout! And served at the perfect temperature.

He drank, and he drank, and he drank. He stopped to breathe. He belched. And he drank. And he drank. He had easily emptied the mug a half dozen times…and yet! Oh miracle of the Gods! The glass remained full.

Fandango was still in a frenzy, hacking at the remains of his foe. Gourd glanced. The Hatter looked like a cross between steak tartare and a compost heap.

“Dude.”

Gourd nodded, chugging the liquid down as fast as he could.

“You want you and your buds out of here, or what? This place is pretty much a death trap, you want my opinion.”

The dwarf’s head was alight with booze. He saw two genies, and closed one eye to cut down on the excess.

“I’ll tell you what. I’ve got one magic mug of beer, and two hands. Give me another one just like it.”

A frown. A nod. “Salabeem! It is done!”

Evil DM Tip: Don’t randomize every draw of the Deck. Give your dumbest player the wishes.

There is more to this module, much more. We have senile arch-mages, a potentially lethal encounter with Queen of Hearts and her Court, a polymorphed dragon turtle, and a Smilodon Cat. Danger abounds under the playful and humorous surface. And therein lies the brilliance of what Gygax did. There’s a juxtaposition at work here, humor and whimsy side by side with old school D&D peril. And it works. The tension builds up to a scream, and the laughs release it. And you repeat it.

There are two branching possibilities here, assuming there isn’t a TPK, and there could be if your players are unlucky or stupid.

Firstly, the players find there way to the territory detailed in Land Beyond The Magic Mirror. Perhaps if enough people ask, we’ll review that one later.

Secondly, they find the exit, which happens to be the way they came in. If they do this, they are transported back to the exact point they were at in the dungeon when they entered Dungeonland.

Evil DM Tip: make sure the Dreaded Woop-Toodle is waiting for them when they get back….patiently, hungrily waiting…

 

The Dreaded Woop-Toodle

Frequency: Unique

No. Appearing: 1

Armor Class: 0

Move: 12″

Hit Dice: 120 hit points

% in lair: 0% (has no lair)

Treasure Type: D

No. Of Attacks: 2

Damage/Attack: 2-12 (special)

Special Defenses: Not affected by Sleep, Charm, or Hold spells.

Magic Resistance: 20%

Intelligence: Low

Alignment: Chaotic Evil

Size: L (12 foot diameter body)

Psionic Ability: Nil

 

The Dreaded Woop-Toodle is a terrifying predator that is only found in dungeon environments, and only on the same level as an active gate to Dungeonland. The creature has a large, flexible body which it pulls along with six fifteen foot long tentacles.

In combat, it uses two tentacles to fight. The creatures strategy is simple. Concentrate on one enemy at a time. If the Woop-Toodle scores hits with both tentacles, it not only does damage for striking, but has swallowed the enemy whole. The powerful stomach acids will slay outright any creature so ingested in 1-4 rounds. Creatures swallowed by the Woop-Toodle must make a successful Bend Bars attempt to perform any action that requires use of hands or arms.

The creature is an experiment of the mad Archmage Charldos of Dungeonland, which he cast from that plane in a rare moment of lucidity.

As a final thought, when you combine Dungeonland and Beyond the Magic Mirror, you have an environment that could easily be expanded into a campaign setting. A campaign set in Dungeonland is not out of the question with a bit of work. One would only have to adjust the scale a bit and add a few towns and villages. I suspect if Gary had not been forced out, we might well have seen such an expansion of this concept into a boxed set.

That would have been nice. But we are certainly capable of such things on our own. We did, after all, have the finest of teachers

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