GuestWriter: Nick Monitto
The ones who have been reading my reviews here for a while now (there… are some ones who have been, yes?) will know well that I have been a gamer back to the first edition of “Dungeons & Dragons”. While I spent the majority of that time on the players’ side of the screen, I did take a turn here and there as the Dungeon Master. When in the right mood, I would enjoy it greatly. I like to see a well-written story unfold as it is discovered, and I can even indulge a bit of my (meager) acting chops to give some life to the various non-player characters that the party encountered.
In those young days, when I had lots of free time and few things to worry about doing, I spent more than a little of that time creating my own “D&D” adventures. I was able to put a few of them to use, with varying results, though the maps and notes have since been lost in the chaos of time and multiple moves. While a good amount of these came from the confines of my own mind, I must say that I was helped along by some of TSR’s catalyst type products.
Things like the “Dungeon Geomorphs” and the “Monster & Treasure Assortments” were a help when my mapmaking was getting a bit sloppy, or when I wanted to fill some rooms but avoid being redundant. While there does not seem to be as many of them with today’s games, they were a big accessory back in the day. As TSR grew and wanted to keep its customers buying, those simple aids were supplanted by things like “The Book of Lairs”. While they did not have a typical storyline, these later books did give situations with a background and a few things to do, along with some small maps. You could not really ‘run’ a book like that as you would a module, but you could use them as segues between major stories, or to fill in a gap when the party “zags” rather than “zigs”.
Given the reputation of (over-)publishing that TSR had during the 1990’s, one would certainly expect to find those kinds of encounter collections under the Second Edition “D&D” banner. But it might well have been a surprise to find one that was set in the “World of Greyhawk”. For a variety of reasons (including the fact that its creator had, by then, been ousted from the company), Greyhawk as a game location was heavily overshadowed by the “Forgotten Realms” world. A plethora of books were devoted to the Realms, while just a handful continued the tradition of Gary Gygax’s own locale.
Now, I have no anger for the “Forgotten Realms”, it is a fantastic creation deserving of its place and fandom. Simply put, I have just never felt the love for it as I did for Greyhawk. In recent years, I have added several Second Edition Greyhawk products to my collection, happy to see that it did get at least a bit of development in those years. When I was given “Treasures of Greyhawk” to review here I considered it, if you will pardon the pun, a bit of found treasure indeed.
The book is a tidy 96 pages, containing 14 adventures whose descriptions each run from three to ten pages long. The cover states that the book is “For Characters of Levels 4 to 18”, but the contents do skew towards the lower end. Two of them are intended for 4th level, two more for 7th. Three adventures apiece are available for 6th and 9th level. One is listed for each of 8th, 11th, and 18th levels, while the “Well of All Heals” (which can be completed with minimal combat) is marketed for “characters of any level”.
The first page has a very helpful “How to Use This Book” section. Along with a nice text box that lists all of the abbreviations used, it also explains the format for each adventure. They start with an information block containing the following:
Terrain: the kind of location where it should be
Total Party Levels: the recommended sum of character levels
Average Party Level: the expected average level, as noted earlier
Adventure XP: the sum of monster XP and story XP (something from the Second Edition “Dungeon Masters Guide”)
If a party’s total levels or average level is larger or smaller than listed, the adventures may be tweaked to be more appropriate. Adventure XP lists three values for Full (nearly all challenges met, monsters defeated, treasures found), Partial (barely succeeded but missed some important elements), or Retreat (the party gives up early).
Next is the Set Up, a few paragraphs to provide the seed and prologue, which the DM may use to find a ‘way in’ for the party. Then comes the adventure itself, with appropriate maps, keys, and story layout. At the end is the Aftermath, describing the story’s conclusion, as well as ideas for what elements may go forward with the party.
As you might expect, the adventures do vary greatly. They are not all ‘gems’, but I found some value even in the weaker ones. The longer ones could even stand well against published modules of the past. While all of them are officially set in Greyhawk, it is noted that they could be moved elsewhere with some editing of person and location names. Though I would suggest, for the sake of old-school karma, that one should not change things for “Bigby’s Modest Home” (as in the Magic-User of several eponymous spells) or “Face of Xenous” with its locations devoted to “Zagyg the Great”!
While it does not rage as fiercely as the lamentable ‘Edition Wars’, there can be a bit of conflict within the hobby over the idea of using published adventures vs. a DIY homebrew approach. I have always been happy to use published modules where I enjoyed the stories, and I certainly would use some pieces from this book as well. Even if you are on the homebrew side, this book can give you some fun one-shots in between your larger story chapters.
Nick Monitto is a gaming geek who came of age on the classic games of the 1970s and ‘80s. A huge fan of Greyhawk, the reflection in the mirror shows that he is becoming a grey hawk as well.