Thursday, September 2, 2010

Castle Greyhawk - The Black Reservoir

Some inspirational reading for everyone running games this weekend, or just interested in the roots of the hobby - a Gygax-penned recounting of an early 70's expedition into the depths of the Castle Greyhawk dungeons and one of it's most notorious locations: The Black Reservoir!

I've copied part one of the tale below. For part two, follow the link at the end to Grodog's amazing Castle Greyhawk Archive.

The Expedition Into the Black Reservoir; a Dungeon Adventure at Greyhawk Castle

By Gary Gygax

To the east of the busy walled city of Greyhawk the land is forsaken, overgrown with thorns and thistles. Oozing marsh creeps slowly down. The copses are huddles of weird, bloated trees. The wiry grass seems to grasp at the feet of any who dare to tread upon it. In the center of this unwholesome place, on a rock-boned prominence, hulks the ruin of the grim Greyhawk Castle. Still a few of the bravest sort regularly frequent its precincts---one such as Erac, a spellcaster, Erac the Enchanter, Erac the ambitious, a paladin of Law.
This same magic-user now commanded a party of four bent on despoiling the wicked dwellers of the underworld beneath the castle of some goodly treasure. At Erac’s side paced the lama Londlar. At the back of one was Nulfyke, a dwarf swordsman, while behind the other was the acolyte Ugubb of the Lake of Crystals. The fallen west gate of Greyhawk Castle was at hand, and through this mouldering portal the party passed. In a few moments they had entered the great central keep, heaved open an inner door, and carefully proceeded down a set of winding stone steps---steps worn with age and slippery with dampness. They had entered the dungeons.
A huge oaken door at the bottom of the tower gave into a corridor running east and west. Erac led eastward, turned south at an intersection, followed a branching passage southeasterly, and halted the group in a large natural cavern which was lighted by glowing clumps of foxfire upon floor, walls, and ceiling.
At least a score of elves were lounging about, and they greeted the four adventurers in a businesslike manner. These were the guardians of the eastern stairs. Who or what had made them the warders of this ingress to the dungeon depths no-one knew or cared; for they were there, and no-one cared to dispute their right.
A bargain was quickly arranged: On their return the expedition would allow the elves their choice of any one magical item plus a tithe of silver and gold---all this assuming that the party DID return, and if they returned that they had any treasure to divide. The deeper dungeons are most hazardous, prizes are hard won, and mortality is high. A few parting words and the four went further into the cavern, up a small passage, and then began a long descent by means of uneven steps cut into living rock.
When the end of the stairs was finally reached, the party quickly decided to attempt to explore mostly northward, and proceeded accordingly. Most of the passages seemed to by running laterally, but by dint of much criss-crossing they had gained some measure of progress when a chance entry into a narrow southerly tunnel discovered a flight of steps going deeper still into the bowels of the castle.
One of the adventurers demurred, and an argument ensued as to the wisdom of going further down. This discussion ceased abruptly when a bellowing arose from the corridor they had just left, and without further ado all four hastened on. The end of the steps brought something totally unexpected, however. The space there was seemingly boundless and cloaked with a murk of ebon vapors which allowed but feeble penetration by lanthorn or torch.
It was only after considerable careful probing in all directions that it was discovered that northward lay a sudden drop. The ledge was only a few feet above a sheet of inky water---water of unknown depths. Passing along its edge the four went westward, and within a few yards came upon a large raft moored to an iron ring. Erac wished to set out upon the waters then and there; but Londlar prevailed upon him, so the party explored yet further west along the strange shore.
Some two hundred feet anead (sic) they found a flight of stairs wending upward, and as they passed these by a strange scraping from beyond brought all four to a state of utmost alert. Lanthorns were raised high, and a faint glimmering from afar told them that something unusual lurked ahead. Then the scraping came again, and this time a loud clacking accompanied it.
Into the light scuttled an immense crab, with pincers of sword-like proportion poised in front snapping open and shut as the monster charged its intended prey. Formidable, certainly, but why face a senseless brute for nothing except a chance of death? The four discreetly withdrew at a dead run.
Nothing pursued beyond a few score feet, and Erac called a halt in order to devise a detailed plan. “No more aimlessness! We will now set out upon the dark waters yonder, for I am sure that somewhere within that expanse a vast treasure awaits our taking.” In a trice all were aboard the raft, and with long poles the four shoved the clumsy raft away from the ledge into the unknown.
The raft slowly lost way after the initial rush of ten feet, but Ugubb whispered that a pillar loomed but a few feet ahead, and gradually the raft drifted forward until they touched the granite post with a gentle thump. Working around the support so as to be able to go further northward, the four repeated the pushing off process.
Eventually they discovered that the body of water was apparently a large reservoir. The roof of the place was lost from view in the murk, but everywhere rose mighty granite pillars to support it---hexagonal posts of several yards’ diameter. These supports enabled the party to make their way about the place, and were nearly the undoing of them all.
Quietly the four made their way from pillar to post, fearing that some lurker in the deeps might arise at any moment to overturn their frail craft and devour them whole.Yet nothing broke the still surface of the water save the ripples from the passing of their own raft, and soon they discovered a line of supports stretching away to the left and the right. Pillars which were placed so close to each other that the raft would not pass between them. Further exploration revealed that these obstacles took the form of an oval. What was within?
On the far side the sharp-eyed dwarf espied a rusty lever protruding from one of the pillars. Nulfyke seized it and attempted to move the arm, but it gave only a bit and groaned horribly. Erac then came to the assistance of his lieutenant, but they met with no success until Ugubb too lent his weight. Finally the iron bar slowly moved downward, protesting rustily as it went, and as it moved the stone post slowly and silently began to descend.
There was nothing to be done now but to see what results their efforts would bring, for the monolith sank so rapidly as to prevent any attempt to return the lever to its original position. The raft was drawn into the vortex created by the descending shaft, and as it moved ahead all four of the explorers peered into the space heretofore inaccessible to them.
Terror! The water in the middle of the oval was beginning to roll. A snaky head broke the surface! A sea monster had been awakened and released, and they had unwittingly invited their doom. Londlar, Nulfyke, and Ugubb frantically paddled and thrust with the poles to escape the area as quickly as possible, but the horrid head regarded them balefully.
Erac stepped to the part of the raft nearest the monster, turned his back on it, and chanted strange words while his fingers drew runes in the air. The monster was a scant ten yards distant,and closing fast. It had not come close enough to seize the raft or its occupants, however, when their motions seemed to blur. The clever enchanter had cast a spell of haste upon them, and each now moved at incredible speed. The sluggish craft leaped ahead, but even then it was not moving as fast as its pursuer.
“Faster!” shouted Erac, as he turned again toward the sea monster and again raised his hand. He pointed his finger at the gaping mouth of the beast, and spoke a single word. A glowing orb sped from his hand and streaked toward its target, growing larger until it burst in searing flame just behind the monster’s outstretched neck. A deafening honk came from the beast, and it momentarily writhed in pain.
Would they thus escape? No! They were against the westernmost boundary of the black reservoir now, and the monster was cleaving the water behind in fury to avenge its hurt. And then it was upon them! Its serpent’s neck shot forth and it struck. A blast of fetid breath and rending teeth, and Erac lay dazed and bleeding.
The three paddlers forced the cumbersome vessel northward as Erac struggled upright and reached for his last hope, a strange device taken from a quasi-human in another dimension. He aimed the stubby rod as well as the unsteady platform and the poor visibility allowed, and pressed the small stud on its side.
A beam of blue radiance darted forth, striking the water near the monster and causing it to boil. Another hideous honk of pain and great thrashing. What was that ahead? It looked like another ledge and the hope of deliverance. Erac sent another beam at their pursuer, and then the raft was at the raised stone platform. As it neared the ledge, all four leaped out.
They had gone twenty feet or so along the ledge when two things happened simultaneously: The sea serpent heaved itself upon the ledge behind them, determined not to allow this prey to escape; and from above five pteradons dove upon Ugubb and Nulfyke, who were in the lead. As Londlar rushed into the fray ahead and smote at the menace from above, Erac loosed yet another bolt from the thick rod. This time it fell full upon the head of the monster, and in a second its truncated corpse thrashed on the stone blocks, spattering ichor everywhere.

Part Two


  1. I've always thought that the "Black Reservoir" is such an evocative story, yet no one has ever detailed the area in a published product!!! Perhaps Grodog will get around to it someday....?

    Back in the early days of the hobby, Gary would often "trade" a story or review for advertising space in a publication. This is the case for this story, which appeared in an issue of the very, very small press publication El Conquistador in 1975. In return for a couple of pages of ads for the OD&D set, Gary sent them this story and an article entitled "What is Dungeons & Dragons?" I found the copy of El Conquistador with this story within, and emailed Gary back in the late 90s when he was sometimes found on the old Greytalk mailing list, he was able to provide me with circumstances of it's publication.

  2. one of my favorite bits of Gygaxian prose! how many megadungeons feature a similar location as a result of this story? I know mine does ...

  3. Joseph "Greyhawk Grognard" Bloch has mentioned his intention to eventually release a version of the Reservoir as a sub-level add-on for his (almost absurdly excellent) Castle of the Mad Archmage project.

  4. That's awesome Will! If anyone can do it up right, Joe can.



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