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Greyhawk: Underworld & Wilderness Adventures

A while back, I was on an expedition in my attic to find my copy of the Bill & Ted comic book as background material for a post... but I found something else, an old roleplaying artifact. The book? Dungeons and Dragons, Supplement 1: Greyhawk (9th printing). A 68-page pamphlet-like book filled with relics of a bygone age. The rules have changed over the years, but taking a dungeon delve into a piece of history can still inform us today. We’ve already looked at the “Men & Magic” and “Monsters and Treasures” sections in previous posts and discussed a variety of the topics they contained.

Now it's time to take a look at the final section of the book, this one entitled “Underworld & Wilderness Adventures,” to find more interesting pieces of history and a little bit of inspiration. What will come from the epic conclusion to the book? A few "new" adventure ideas or an original take on something we now consider to be "classic?" With essentially only a few pages of "new" material in this section, should we worry? There's no way to know until we unlock the door, check for traps, and turn to page 61.

Tricks and Traps

Our first (and really, only) section behind the door of page 61 is called "Tricks and Traps." Since you can have both of these in the previously-discussed Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, I’m not sure why this whole section of the book is called that. The other remaining sections don’t lend much else, either, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. "Tricks and Traps" is the very first section, and probably what this entire part of the book should have be called. Perhaps the title "Underworld & Wilderness Adventures" itself was both a trick and a trap. Disappointingly, the whole section is really more a list than a true section's worth of Tricks and Traps. In today’s books, you tend to see full layouts of specific traps with triggers, effects, countermeasures, and other design features. We can still find some inspiration here, though, and a bit of history. This passage appears to be the very first incarnation of animated furniture, and likely the first Rug of Smothering. The entry is brief, but lists a number of things that might be found in what the book colloquially refers to as a “Living Room.” Now we have animated brooms, mimic chairs, and the aforementioned Rug of Smothering.

One bit of inspiration we might borrow from this section is found in the few specifics they include. When I say that, I really mean the specifics. Some of these Tricks and Traps are set to only go off under very specific circumstances, such as being triggered by a particular class of PC or someone with a certain alignment. While mechanics are still used today, this is a good reminder to include them at our own tables. A trap that fails to get set off by a fighter taking point may lull the rogue into a false sense of security when they entering themselves. There are a few mechanics in here I'd stay away from, though. Anything that takes away a player’s agency for long is a bad idea, and there's at least one suggested example in here. A final bit of inspiration we can plunder, though, is: putting limitations on items. Specifically from this section, the Wishing Well is very interesting - it can fulfill the wishes of your players, but only to the value of the item they've tossed in. You do get what you pay for.

The last set of ‘Tricks’ in this section has to do with modifying or combining monsters. As we've discussed in a previous post, this can make for a fun and memorable encounter, but try to make sure you don’t end up unbalancing your games. Some of the suggestions here are humorous (Skeletons who can fire their fingers like arrows), some of the suggestions are terrifying (A Balrog riding a Red Dragon or a Frost Giant riding a White Dragon), and some of the suggestions in this section are, fortunately, both (A Cloud Giant riding a Tyrannosaurus Rex!). Your mileage may vary.

Corrections and Additions

The next few pages take us through a listing of monsters and their approximate "levels" before going into some delightful artwork. Specifically, you do get a nifty picture of the first Owl Bear, which appears to be mostly a bear with an owl head and…a giant talon instead of a tail? Or perhaps some scorpion was thrown in there as well, making it some sort of chimera. We’re then led into the Corrections and Additions page. I suppose they weren't doing "unearthed arcana" at this point - kudos to whoever came up with that name. This just reminds us that the rules can always be "wrong," and are, at best, just guidelines. Or, in other words, we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously, please. We're playing a game after all.

That concludes our delve into Supplement 1:Greyhawk and the Dungeons & Dragons history that it shows. It's been a great journey with you, dear readers, finding inspiration in the ancestry of our games. Do your best to find the right limitations for your own traps and tricks, and for your items as well. Remember, as the "Corrections" section reminds us, the rules are just your guidelines for having fun. Most of all, enjoy both the renaissance of tabletop gaming we're all in and the history that brought us here. Until our next gaming history delve, enjoy making memories with the other people at your gaming tables. 

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