The First Living Campaign*
A Historical Look at the Beginning of RPG Campaign Play in Lake Geneva.
©2013, Robert J. Kuntz. All Rights Reserved. All other trademarks and copyrights are property of their respective owners and are used for historical purposes only and as provided for by the Fair Use copyright clause.
*A shorter version of this essay was originally posted at Lord of the Green Dragons Blogspot several years ago.
Part 1: The Merger of Two Campaign Environs: Castle Greyhawk and Castle El Raja Key, 1972-1973
I have read with great interest several articles around the Internet describing the start of Living Campaigns. The idea is that these begin with a certain rules edition proceeding OD&D. I am now casting my two pennies into the mix.
First the term "Living" strikes me as a misnomer, really, but for clarity sake I'll use it here, as the strict idea of “campaign play” might be less understandable within its extended range of meanings.
When Gary Gygax created the single map for City of Greyhawk and the first Castle Greyhawk (13 levels)1, we had the start of the first campaign in Lake Geneva, 1972. As was noted in his introduction to my adventure, Mordenkainen’s Fantastic Adventure, he played in a castle/area that I had designed, (Castle El Raja Key; but I had designed no supporting town or city as he had). That was about a month into him starting Greyhawk. So El Raja Key is the second campaign created in Lake Geneva (early 1973). Both of us were then using the Outdoor Survival board game map for outdoor adventures, as there was no other campaign map for noting any of our imagined adventure locales.
Gary started in the "mists" when rolling his first PC, Yrag. And what I mean by “mists” is that I started him near the precincts of Castle El Raja Key in a small, unnamed village. There was no background for his character and he merely used the village as a starting and stopping point to resupply from. As Gary was more concerned about adventuring, and as I concurred with that notion, many details were foreshortened or dropped altogether.
I was fairly lenient in provisioning Yrag: I provided him with a war horse, a good amount of gold (200 was always my number, then and now) with which to buy hirelings if he wished, and included standard armor, weapon and miscellaneous picks, like dungeon equipment. I wasn’t being lax, but just taking into account that Gary had been doing so much DMing and writing and deservedly needed a break from the tediousness of it all, and thus the tediousness of having to acquire these extras by way of extensive adventuring. In all he walked into my clime with a sizable plus compared to what Robilar, for instance, had started with in Castle Greyhawk.
Within a day I allowed him to roll up his second PC, Mordenkainen, this to pair with Yrag, and because he was for the most part adventuring solo (but do read hereafter).
Gary was very much interested in building his own army based around what he would soon name the Circle of Eight. Later on this now legendary edifice--built about its members and their forces, and then collectively known as the Golden Horde--was to be located on the original outdoor environs map. Because of his overriding desire to build an army, there came into being his rash of NPCs. This nucleus ensured that he would have the muscle and leadership needed for continuing to build and control his imagined future forces.
Some of this historical matter is noted in Gary’s Up on a Soapbox stories, many of which either detailed his dungeon adventures or those occurring about the outdoor environs where Castle El Raja Key was located. This was a good run of 30 or more stories in The Dragon magazine, in fact. Note an extract from one hereafter (bold emphasis mine):
...#11. Roleplaying for the Dungeon Master: Virtue brings more than its own reward.
Back in those early halcyon days of D&D, all of my time was not spent developing the Greyhawk campaign environment and then serving as Dungeon Master for the ever-growing throng of players. Indeed, after only a few weeks time there were plenty of others working to create campaign settings like that I was doing. So I was offered many opportunities to play, and I did so in about a dozen different settings with as many different DMs. Thus came into being my first PC, Yrag. Now it so happened that the most eager of these other fledgling DMs was Rob Kuntz. Because he took to the new game like the proverbial duck to water, playing in his campaign was a lot of fun, and I did that wherever I could, side by side with many of the regulars from my own campaign. It was in one such adventure that Rob introduced a new cursed magic item, the ring of contrariness. Likely because I was a very intense player myself, Rob made sure that Yrag ended up with the item. The doughty fighter being a risk taker, Yrag immediately put the ring on his ringer. At that point, I was taken aside, and the properties of the ring were explained to me. Laughing silently to myself, I returned to the group. ... someone asked. “What does the ring do?” To that Yrag replied, “None of your business!” As the adventure was just beginning, another player said the matter could be set aside until later, as his character said. “Let’s go” and moved away. The other PCs followed. Yrag sat down. “Come on,” someone urged him. “No, I am staying here.” Being a close-knit band, the others then came back, saying they too would stay. “In that case, I am leaving,” muttered Yrag, as he stalked off. ... After about 10 minutes of this it became apparent to the other players that I was roleplaying, that Yrag was under some malign magical influence that made him uncooperative. Of course I played it to the hilt. For example: “You can’t take the ring off, can you?” Terik tried, to which Yrag responded, “Yes I can, but that’s what you want, so I won’t.” Then, “Yrag, pummel yourself!” suggested Murlynd. “No, I won’t do that, but I’ll smite you!” roared the fighter now in a growing rage. ... Finally, they came up with a means of defeating the contrariness curse ...
Murlynd (Don Kaye) and Terik (Terry Kuntz) had started as PCs in Greyhawk and easily moved between that area and my own. Also note that Gary refers to that shared area as an "environment," which is indeed a better descriptive, as there was no defined area, just a relative image in our minds due to the position that each castle and environment maintained on the Outdoor Survival map in relation to the City of Greyhawk.
And so here we note that, indeed, this is the start of the first true "Living Campaign," which was to go on to merge as one with me becoming the co-DM of Greyhawk and thereby transferring my creations, such as levels, gods, magic items and sundry ideas into this combined campaign structure. After that time there was only one campaign, really, as Gary and I had never thought otherwise about such divisions, and the process seemed a natural outgrowth of play. However, when we realized that this could ultimately mean an over abundance of sharing across many campaigns then starting (Ernie Gygax's, Terry Kuntz's, Don Kaye's, et al), then EGG and I instated a firm rule that PCs adventuring in our campaign would thereafter have to obtain permission to do so in others, and this was not usually forthcoming, especially if the DMs were known to be of the lax sort who gave away too much treasure.
Part 2: The Living Campaign Continues, 1973-1976
When I became co-DM (late 1973) I initially only ran outdoor adventures for a very short time period before taking on the full DM mantle (and for a short time still DMed El Raja Key for those players, Gary and others, who wanted to adventure therein).
There were two immediate reasons for this: 1) The 1st Castle Greyhawk was closed for adventuring purposes, except when I felt I could twist Gary’s arm to let Robilar take a solo adventure within it. As that rarely occurred I finally looked at the levels that had for almost a year challenged me, thus ruining any future chance of adventuring therein again; 2) Gary was hurriedly designing the 2nd Castle Greyhawk at this juncture, so this lead to another complication in that the PCs, most of which had grown in level and had begun adventuring on the outdoor environs, were stranded to that choice alone until he’d finished the design. During that design period we cannibalized parts of Castle El Raja Key into the newly forming 2nd Castle (this in turn shut out veteran players from choosing to adventure in El Raja Key and it, too, was officially closed). This shuttling of levels included a split-level special, The Machine Level, that I had just finished designing. On the cusp, so to speak, it immediately went into the new castle after Gary “play-tested” it with Mordenkainen & Crew.
I still took Gary on occasional adventures around this time (and he did so for me as well, and all of which we always fudged into being as “play-tests”); and I had created another dungeon located on our original outdoor environs for he and others to try out. Entitled, The Dungeons of Krazor the Mad (1974; 4 maps fanfold, 4s/inch), this was a high level affair with some technology in it that Mordenkainen & Crew barely escaped from on one such adventure. I had wanted to break with the 8.5” x 11” graph paper standard we had used for most of our dungeon designs, this by creating levels from 4-fanfold (4s or 5s/inch). Due to my many other duties and projects I was never able to continue on with the ‘Krazor’ dungeon concept that would have fully expanded on this idea. But this particle led (in late 1975) to the creation of the Orcky Level, yet another design to break with established norms and this time by combining two fanfold maps (8s/inch) side by side. Although many players adventured in it, it was Mordenkainen & Crew who came out of this sprawling complex with the fabled Iron Bands of N’Closure.
In between DMing outdoor adventures for the regular players, and sporadic ones for Gary, I was designing additional Castle Greyhawk levels (as core levels or as split-level specials); and in order to meet the demand of non-castle adventures while Gary was busy completing the new castle dungeons, I charged in and started creating additional outdoor dungeons/scenarios, city dungeons/scenarios, planar adventures, and city-environ dungeons/scenarios, all being of a level that could challenge our current veteran players (i.e., in the latter case, for example, Temple of the Latter Day Elder Ones).
What I mean by */scenarios: The campaign had to expand in scope at this point, so this is where the local histories, city intrigues, rumored outdoor areas, planar incidents and all manner of story strings started to generate into coalescing parts or wholes. For instance, I created an outdoor inhabitants list for nearby castles that previously had always been randomly generated and started to imagine their purposes in relation to the whole area. About this time I created Demonworld (nine full color hex maps, 3 x 3), which was to later result in the 1st Demonworld Adventure (players: Ernie Gygax and Mark Ratner). During this time Gary and I sat down together and designed three additional maps for the City of Greyhawk. This expanded it to a total of four, with the original then being known as “Old City”.
I started to add meat to the shell of the city: The sewers had a link to the Temple of the Latter Day Elder One; Fu’s Front took shape; Terik established a hiring service and began investigating costs for river ships with some latter intentions in that area expanding into future play; rumors of weird supernatural happenings led to a campaign string that later resulted in the 2nd Demonworld Adventure, etc. There was now a rising preciseness to the city where there had been only bits and pieces of that beforehand (i.e., as in Odd Alley and Strange Way). My massive expansion of city, planar and outdoor elements would continue; and about the time Gary and I released the supplemental rules for Dungeons & Dragons (Greyhawk, Supplement 1, 1975), the Greyhawk Sewers (4 combined maps, 8s/inch), The Stalk, Dark Druids and many other adventuring vehicles and resources for all of the three aforementioned climes had been created or conceptualized in full.
At the same time I started designing matter for what would become World of Kalibruhn, this in addition to continuing design on its [now] adjunct area, Lost City of the Elders (created in early 1973; and which in 1974 Ernie Gygax, as Tenser, followed in his father’s footsteps to be the second player to investigate it). This included hooks to the LCotE and other dimensional jumping off points that I had created on the outdoor and elsewhere, the latter as later hinted at in Gary’s article for Wargamer’s Digest (June 1975).
I even imagined a mage deriving from my forming world, one Xaene, and he was placed as a “Sorcerer” on the outdoor inhabitants list. I concluded that he had appeared through use of strange, dimensional magic. That led to his story line as conceived for many published and unpublished future works. As an aside, the “dimensional magic” aspect of Xaene’s story led me to write, in 1979, a 20 page treatise on the subject of Ancient & Dimensional Magic, with a precursor of this occurring in my reconceptualization of the OD&D magic system from my unpublished work, the Kalibruhn Supplement (1976).
Gary and I now had a cross-section of players, some of which were at odds level-wise with the second castle design; and thus many veteran players started new PCs. This did not stop them from requesting other adventures with their old PCs. Gary and I were not restrictive like that. If they wanted to search out an interesting “other area” that we had spread rumors about, etc., then we were always game for that. This is partly what led to the idea of a “stable of PCs.”
The following “routine” pretty much became the norm for our veteran players: they’d run their new PCs in the castle but would use their older PCs on outdoor, planar, or similarly leveled adventures that I had sculpted. For instance, my brother’s PC, Terik, adventured with James Ward’s Bombadil in the Bottle City; Terik & Bombadil also found their way into the Temple of the Latter Day Elder Ones and were transported to Fomalhaut (my Lovecraftian concoction); Bombadil also interfaced with a planar-jumping tech-genius Cosmodious (again connected to the Lovecraftian theme I was building); and Don Arndt’s PC, a neutral cleric, even stumbled upon Robilar’s castle on the outdoor environs, much to his chagrin…
With Gary writing full-time and as he, Don Kaye and a newly arrived Brian Blume became more invested time-wise with the company, I continued concentrating on running and designing all aspects of the campaign. Gary made some appearances as he was hooked, of course, and that is when we’d still co-DM, but this didn’t change things much. Because of that I foresaw not needing my remaining Castle El Raja Key levels and “loaned” them to Michael Mornard, as he was now in Minnesota going to college there and he wanted to start his own campaign. I later reacquired these from him around the time of me leaving TSR in 1977.
Things were happening so fast back then that it seemed like a whirlwind of memories in motion. But the following is certain. With Gary being so busy guiding the fledgling company, and with me being so busy designing and play-testing, creating Greyhawk material, and on a design path with Kalibruhn as then inspired by Tolkien, Gary was not aware of the sheer weight of material I was creating.
The idea of a shared campaign was also becoming, in my conception, a shared world, similar to what had been envisioned for the Castle & Crusade Society in 1970. This never happened in whole, but the idea stuck with me all throughout the design process for Kalibruhn; and to this day I have a map listing dimensions as “worlds” and with one of them being Greyhawk. If you wanted to get to it from Kalibruhn you sailed from sight of land, entered roiling mists, and eventually emerged out of the mist and near the shores of this new “dimension.”
I believe the idea would still work rather well today!
Part 3: The End of the Shared Campaign as One Goes Public, 1977-1985
In 1977 I left my position at TSR Hobbies for personal, philosophical and creative reasons and though I drifted in and out of that circle now and again, my association with the Original Campaign as a shared device for gaming ended. Gary continued to encourage me to work for the company and to even rejoin it (1980), but my previous reasons for leaving the company were not assuaged by this, so I stayed to my course.
This of course left me with a very large amount of campaign material for our shared environs that I was forced to shelve, and with great misgivings, as I had poured uncounted days, hours and years of my time and effort into that material. Making lemonade out of lemons, I returned to designing World of Kalibruhn™ as well as board games.
World of Greyhawk™ went public with the release of the folio version in 1980. There was now a demand for more material, but unfortunately, unlike my ideas for it then, TSR continued on the adventure path model rather than forwarding primary resource material for it and thereby promoting the very idea of what WoG was: an uncontained, skeletal sandbox for individualized creation. Though I am sure some of the end-use gamers used it for primary creative purposes, the majority just plopped down adventures on the prescribed hexes and as these were allotted to them. Not one resource in book form (until much later) was to be produced for it; and this begs a question as to why, but that will remain to be examined in my future essays.
Gary finally convinced me to contribute some material (Dragon magazine articles for Greyhawk), but as he now controlled all IP, I was not forthcoming in putting out too many of my best ideas, then. He wanted to promote the world through the history in motion framework, which I wasn’t averse to doing, but I ultimately found that route turgid and dry. So I started inserting minute intrigues useable in campaign play, such as the advent of Xaene and the Demonic Knights of Doom sequences. At that time I was working up the Great Kingdom angle (through Maze of Xaene, Parts 1 & 2) and had much more material in store for the articles. Carl Sargent (From the Ashes) would later pick up on this material as well as many of my other Great Kingdom particles and amalgamate them into a greater whole in his work, Ivid the Undying.
Due to my building interest in board game design and illustration (I had maintained A’s in all my HS art classes), I was associating more often with Tom Wham, David Trampier and David Sutherland in those days. I was also writing more fiction and experimenting with the novel form. At one point Gary questioned me on why I remained aloof and suggested that I just write more material through him for Greyhawk and it would surely be published.
So, with some more prodding, I produced Mordenkainen’s Fantastic Adventure, this just before heading off to college at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater. My first iteration of World of Kalibruhn™ was finished by then. The campaign had at its height 11 full time players, a good part of them from among those veterans who could no longer adventure in Greyhawk as I was no longer its DM; and Gary, being so busy with corporate matters then, really only DMed at conventions. Soon after entering college I received word that Tom Wham and I had won the Charles Roberts Award for our board game, Kings & Things (West End Games).
Right around that time Gary took over the company. We had previously been in constant communication. Gary wanted to solidly promote the Greyhawk line, and had said to me several times that, “The only reason it doesn’t do well is for lack of marketing.” He offered me a future position as TSR’s WoG Brand Manager, which I accepted with caveats i.e., that we take it away from the adventure paths only approach, and with two immediate offerings: The Wild Coast regional setting; and a large book detailing WoG clerics/priests, that would have included my embedded thrust to remake the entire AD&D™ spell system from the ground up, just as I had envisioned many years earlier for the OD&D spells; and this by way of a wide range of specific spells and divine powers per religion. But before we could finalize any plans he was in court over the alleged illegal transfer of TSR stock by the Blumes, and he actually lost the suit. Lorraine Williams took control of the company and dismissed Gary. That ended any future vitality and primary direction for the World of Greyhawk™ line of products. Soon afterwards I formed Creations Unlimited to begin producing World of Kalibruhn™ material.
Part 4: The WoG End Game, 1997-1998
To say that there was anyone more disappointed than myself about all that had transpired since the evolution of our shared campaign to its present state, then, would have been untrue. I was Greyhawks’s biggest fan, it’s most active player in the day, it’s co-DM and compiler of game material for it, its champion in print, and its general in a battle it neither sought nor deserved. But the more I continued concentrating on something I deemed as unsalvageable (TSR owned the Greyhawk trademark and associated copyrights), the more I saw all those earliest years filled with comradeship and unfettered game fun and creation slipping into the pit of corporate control and politics. It was, in a word, dismaying. But in 1997 I was willing to give Greyhawk one last pledge.
When Wizards of the Coast took over a nearly bankrupt TSR, there appeared a glimmer of hope that Gary and I might be able to revitalize an interest for WoG’s return. I proposed to him that I draft a World of Greyhawk™ market plan [appended hereafter in full] and submit it to Peter Adkinson and Lisa Stevens. Gary agreed to this and upon finish I sent it to him for approval. All he said was: “A good first pass.” So it was e-mailed to both of the aforementioned WotC executives and I cced Gary. The result? We never heard back from them about this. Not directly. Indirectly he and I got the message, as Roger Moore and Anne Brown were, instead, slated as authors to release two Greyhawk products in 1998 (The Adventure Begins; Return of the Eight).
‘Damning with faint praise’ has become Greyhawk’s motto for the corporate hierarchies that have controlled its future and published past. I have likened it to a royal prisoner in the Tower of London who is brought forth on special occasions and paraded before the peers (for their feigned respect) and the people (for their uninformed cheers, or worse, confused silence). In other words they use it, but not in any sincere way that it was intended to be used.
This was a final blow for Gary, as he had been rapidly losing interest in anything Greyhawk related before then; and indeed, part of my reasons to see Greyhawk revitalized was to resurrect that interest in him as well as in me.
“World of Greyhawk Market Plan [8/1/97]
“Foundations: What is the long term goal of investing in the return of TSR's first FRPG world? How can TSR continue to make WoG not just a published line, yet an eye-catcher, a sought after commodity, a line that TSR not only aggressively pursues but is likewise pursued by its consumers? World of Greyhawk's initial market foundation will be the basis for it to further the market share and growth it needs to once again be a profitable AD&D FRP world. A lack of this--especially considering its present incarnation--would not only be a disservice to the perception of it as an already established and preeminent world by a select body of mature gamers, but this would be degenerative, causing problems such as mediocre products and a reduced market desirability for these. So I'm sure we can agree on the fact that from the onset WoG needs a solid plan in addition to a timely, well reasoned publishing schedule for it to achieve the most desirous long term results for TSR and its product line consumers.
“Promoting the Product Line: TSR's earliest products, such as modules and game-aids from the WoG setting, had ample promotional backing. A well thought out and executed promotional campaign is necessary with a WoG market push, especially with the FTA/Original WoG fractionalization. However, there can be no dedicated promotional campaign of WoG without a decisive viewpoint of what setting, original or other, will be marketed. Here I make a push for the original setting. Unlike FTA the original WoG campaign has a solid foundation of creators and material and a good following waiting to expand with the product.
Listed below are specific examples of what would be needed for a successful, ongoing promotional campaign.
A) Dragon Magazine coverage of initiatives, including photos, interviews, individual and team-related articles, a column devoted to sourcing the products, reviews, etc.
B) Increased consumer awareness through convention seminars, games, and special events. There is a ready source of avid Greyhawk gamers networked throughout the U.S. and overseas to help with this initiative. As with the RPGA, this harkens back to "grass roots" support from DMs, play-testers, reviewers, etc.
C) A solid advertising campaign reinforced by up-front product reviews.
D) An educated, up-with-the-times PR campaign
E) Other than game-related initiatives, as novels, short fiction, author special appearances, book-signings, etc.
F) A TSR internet site devoted to the campaign setting. This site would include, among other things, electronic versions of Dragon articles related to WoG initiatives, etc., breaking news and updates, event and convention postings, FAQs on Greyhawk past and present, links to corresponding WoG sites, links to management, authors and/or design teams, links to chat rooms and forums, a TSR online catalog link with secured transactions, product samples/teasers, links to other TSR Brand/Corporate sites, a TSR questionnaire/product poll, WoG release schedules, TSR/WoG submission guidelines, periodic contests, etc.
“This, in conjunction with above-average product, name authors, and strong product release schedules, would make WoG a serious product line for TSR. Product line credibility would rise and in turn attract a greater number of designers and consumers. Many former WoG designers have expressed a need for this type of effort by TSR in order for them to seriously support a returned WoG product line. Likewise, WoG's mature consumer audience, which would be a targeted base of support as WoG was pushed, would be either a negative or positive catalyst with this, depending on how well the market foundation was laid and thereafter extended and supported.
“The Product Line: There is much product extant to be considered. Greyhawks' authors have a wealth of original material that would fit comfortably into 2nd edition formats. Product must be creative in the sense that what is offered is new, exciting, different, and long lasting. I will cover each in turn.
“New: As opposed to old rehashes of stale ideas. Good examples include WoG Spell Book, WoG Monstrous Compendium, WoG Gods, etc. Stale/Rehashed examples include un-thematic one-off adventures, compilations of articles, any product lacking energy and direction (i.e., fillers, such as the "Joke Castle Greyhawk").
“Exciting: This incorporates some of what is "new" and what is "different". This product must have ageless appeal to players and DMs alike. A good example of this would be WoG Priest and Mage Classes, which can be constantly re-used and amended by the consumer; an indispensable product.
“Different: In three senses. In what TSR has done, not done, and overdone with much of its RPG line. An example could include modules, which it has done and overdone to the point of saturation. There are exceptions, especially when the product is exciting and perhaps contains new concepts, such as "Expedition to the Barrier Peaks", which is a good example of "different". Within the RPG industry "different" also denotes a unique achievement; and oftentimes these product types are overlooked or underplayed by R & D departments with entrenched ideas. Within business there are certain fathomable limits which must be maintained in order to garner the most possible sales yield from each new product. Thus what has been done can be over-justified from the sales end. A “proper mixture of "what's different and exciting" and "what works and yields the most profit" must be achieved, for a singular-minded industry approach does not wholly allow for designers' creations to mature, does not take into account future market shifts, nor does it establish a mutable mind-set at the corporate level of what to do outside of this pre-established boundary. TSR must push the "Products For Your Imagination" trademark to its limits, and thus its own RPG lines to theirs. There is no threshold in fantasy. Thus there should be none in TSR's FRP game lines, WoG included.
“Long Lasting: In the sense that years from now the product will still find more than average use by the consumer. A good example of this would include "Castle Greyhawk" (the original), which is massive in concept and will not age as fast as other products. Also, any product, such as this, that can be appended to. In the chosen example, the castle can have extra "level-sets" added to it. A mutable, as opposed to a closed, product.
“World of Greyhawk, its designers, their products and TSR's/WoG consumer base must all be taken seriously in order for this project to succeed. TSR's overall aim should be to market high quality products that portray newness, produce excitement, would be different (perhaps even "cutting edge"), and would maintain a longevity not only in the minds of its consumers, but on their game shelves as well. The past, "serve them another of that, uh, no, that one!" will not do. Sure, you can fill a game shelf by this philosophy, but sooner than later that same game shelf, if this adopted marketing strategy persists, will be filled by other than TSR products.
“World of Greyhawk has the ability to be totally revamped and remarketed. It has an abundance of material on hand in all categories, game-related and fiction. It has many interested, mature designers, and it has a following. Its future has already been secured by not only its past products, but by the fact that it wouldn't die. That recognition by itself will continue to produce the most determined souls to make it not only the first published TSR FRP world, but the best.”
Robert J. Kuntz
4173 E. 24th St.
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