In Search of the World of Greyhawk
  • In Search of the World of Greyhawk


    I've spent a lot of time, money and words on the growing state of the old TSR material that has been slowly rolling out via the OneBookShelf print on demand services. I have talked a lot about the older materials that are being released in PDF as well. Today I am going to talk about a couple more releases, the B1: In Search of the Unknown module for Dungeons & Dragons and the first edition of The World of Greyhawk for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1E.


    These are both important releases to the overall stream of Dungeons & Dragons, but for differing reasons. The overlapping editions of those early days of Dungeons & Dragons sometimes made it confusing for those of us playing one edition or another to know which supplement or module was supposed to be used in which game. I know that I played a Frankenstein version of the game that used the Dungeons & Dragons B/X rules as our core rules, with monster books from the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game.

    While Greyhawk was a part of the D&D game since the supplement outlining it was first published for Original Dungeons & Dragons (and obviously because the setting grew out of Gygax's home game), the In Search of the Unknown module was published first, in 1979, with The World of Greyhawk following in 1980. Neither of these books were things that I interacted with while playing D&D as a kid, my copy of the Holmes Basic D&D boxed set came with geomorphs rather than this module, and the copy of The World of Greyhawk that I picked up at a Kaybee Toys as a kid was the second edition boxed set.

    Like my article two weeks ago talking about vintage D&D bestiaries, this piece isn't going to be a review. With each of these books being more than thirty years I think that all of the salient points have been pretty much covered at this point. The people from back in the day who would have had these books, already have them and have probably been using them over the last thirty years. I think for people who have come to play D&D since these books came out, a reason for buying these reproductions are as likely going to be their historic context as much as anything else.

    Looking at these books chronologically, I'm going to take a look at B1: In Search of the Unknown first. If you're looking for a little more context for the creation of this module, check out the first part of an interview that EN World writer Fred Love did with Mike Carr, the module's author.

    I think that one of the main reasons why In Search of the Unknown is important is because it is a module that was written for the starting DM. One of the biggest problems with most of the role-playing games that are being produced these days is that they are written with experienced role-players in mind. This isn't entirely accidental, unlike in 1979 when you could find Dungeons & Dragons books out in the wilds in places like dime stores and stationary shops these days finding a role-playing game is something that you have to seek out. When D&D 5E first debuted, you could find starter sets and dice for it in places like Target or Walmart, but these days you're lucky to find a Player's Handbook at a Barnes and Noble. So, it is understandable that the D&D books would be geared towards experienced players.

    However, with the influx of new D&D players and DMs that we're getting due to the popularity of streaming, it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to take a look at In Search of the Unknown and how it approached introducing the concept of adventure designing for D&D. With the popularity of streaming game play, we are getting an introduction to how a variety of people run games but we're still not seeing as much on how people wanting to run games can create their own adventures. There are a lot of adventures for D&D out there, and with a minimal amount of tweaking, you can run In Search of the Unknown for your 5E group, but at some point people are going to want to make their own adventures for their own groups.

    If you're picking this up specifically because of this section, be warned that it isn't hugely extensive, but that was the approach of that day. That said, five of the thirty-two pages of the module deal with tips for the new Dungeon Master, so it is a decent percentage of the book. There are also places throughout the text of the module explaining to the beginning DM what they can get players to do to successfully move their characters through the module (the measure of success mostly being the characters surviving to adventure on another day).

    Now, on the production side In Search of the Unknown is not without flaws. There are a couple of poorly scanned pages in the book, and the choice of reproducing the text and line art in grey instead of black ink does make it hard to read in places. The maps are crisp and clean however. I would recommend buying this in print and PDF, if only so you can print out the maps in the back of the book to use at the table.


    The book of the first edition of The World of Greyhawk is important because it is Greyhawk. Alongside of Dave Arneson's Blackmoor these are the first settings to come out of role-playing games.

    This isn't a huge book. But then, a lot of game books of this period weren't big. The text of the book outlining the setting is 32 pages, but they are 32 pages that are packed with information. You get a wealth of geographic and political information about the people and places of Greyhawk, and a look at the different factions at work in the world. You also get a break down of the days of the week, and the activities of those days. One thing that was interesting is that, unlike in the "real world," Greyhawk has a day of rest and a day of worship. This makes sense in a game were deities are actual beings, and there are everyday examples of divine power in the form of Clerics. Religion and worship are a large part of the Dungeons & Dragons game, and it is something relatively small as a bit of worldbuilding that highlights the importance of these things.

    You get anywhere from 1-4 paragraphs on each area of the world discussed. If the area has a leader, that section tells you who the leader of that area is (along with telling you the class and level of the leader), and you get a break down of the population and numbers of various non-human cultures within each area. It isn't a huge amount of information, but we have to remember that the D&D of this era was about emergent play and the idea that characters and world were developed through play. There is enough information to give your campaigns a starting point in Greyhawk, but not so much information that it makes the setting more important than the actions of the players. I wish that more games today focused on emergent play.

    The World of Greyhawk is split roughly two-thirds text to one third maps. Like with In Search of the Unknown above, I really suggest getting this in both POD and PDF formats. The maps are much more useful to play when you can have a copy that is all on one page. Getting a table-sized, large format, print of the map would help to give players an idea of the scale of the setting of Greyhawk. There are some flaws in the book, mostly in scanning quality. There are a few pages with some scan problem that (hopefully) can be corrected. One thing that is nice about POD production is that it is easier to update books, because you don't have to worry about print runs.

    Here are two books that can be useful both for those of us who have been playing since the early days of gaming, as well as those who have entered into playing D&D with more recent editions of the game.
    Comments 29 Comments
    1. Ralif Redhammer's Avatar
      Ralif Redhammer -
      It’s before my time, but I absolutely adore the World of Greyhawk folio. I used it almost exclusively a few years back for a throwback 1e campaign (I was lucky to come across a complete set in excellent shape for $20). It has just enough detail for the DM to come up with their own ideas, while still feeling like you’re part of a larger, communal world.

      The maps by Darlene, at full size, are glorious. I love the calligraphy, too, which is all the more elegant knowing it was done by hand.
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      "but these days you're lucky to find a Player's Handbookat at a Barnes and Noble."

      One quick comment on Barnes and Noble. My local B&N stocks everything WotC has produced for 5E. No luck needed They sell down and then restock weekly (I visit about once a week). So, there's more than just the PHB available there. My B&N may not be typical, but I suspect it is.

      *edit* This includes the APs and accessories as well as the core books.
    1. Barantor's Avatar
      Barantor -
      These adventures always intrigued me, I'm too young to remember them, but old enough to remember others talking about them. It always sounds so fun and it's why I bought the Goodman Games reprints and 5E convesion. They still hold up with only a little updating and it's nice to have in my collection.
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      I started playing in the summer of 1974 between my sophomore and junior years in high school with the original game. I had my own setting but bought the Greyhawk setting as reading material. It certainly helped firm up my ideas on settings and influenced my game. If you want to look at the ultimate early setting for a game though look at Empire of the Petal Throne (1975 iirc). D&Desque rules and a very alien setting explained in some detail. It had all types of things D&D didn't (i.e. a skill system).
    1. Yaztromo's Avatar
      Yaztromo -
      Just for completion: In Search of the Unknown is an adventure officially set in the world of Mystara (the Known World of the Red / Blue Box).
      Recenty I haven't seen many references to this very old setting, that is integral part of the story of RPGs and deserves to be respectfully remembered.
    1. Christopher Helton's Avatar
      Christopher Helton -
      Quote Originally Posted by Yaztromo View Post
      Just for completion: In Search of the Unknown is an adventure officially set in the world of Mystara (the Known World of the Red Box).
      Recenty I haven't seen many references to this very old setting, that is integral part of the story of RPGs and deserves to be respectfully remembered.
      I've never actually seen anything that would link this adventure to the Known World. Carr didn't actually play a lot of D&D previous to his writing of this module (which is why they felt that he was a good choice for writing an introductory module). I'm not saying that it isn't possible, but I've never seen any evidence that would point out a connection.
    1. Dire Bare's Avatar
      Dire Bare -
      Quote Originally Posted by Yaztromo View Post
      Just for completion: In Search of the Unknown is an adventure officially set in the world of Mystara (the Known World of the Red Box).
      Recenty I haven't seen many references to this very old setting, that is integral part of the story of RPGs and deserves to be respectfully remembered.
      Not exactly. When written, "In Search of the Unknown" was a generic module with no firm links to any published setting. In fact, settings didn't quite work they way they do now with logos and whole product lines and such. There was no such thing as "Mystara", or even its predecessor "The Known World" when B1 was first published. Even Greyhawk was a few folios and not a full-blown product line at the time. B1 was later, retroactively, incorporated into BOTH Greyhawk and Mystara, as were several other of the B-series and X-series modules. And the fit was sometimes awkward and forced. The most accurate thing you could say about B1's setting is that the module was written for "your" setting, Greyhawk, Mystara, homebrew, or whateva!
    1. Invisible Stalker's Avatar
      Invisible Stalker -
      Let me pop open my old brown B1 and see what I picked in 1982...

      Room 1: 3 shriekers/ 7gp
      Room 2: goblet worth 15gp
      Room4: 7 kobolds/ 500gp necklace
      Room 5: 7 orcs/ box with 35gp and a 100gp gem in trapped drawer

      Room 34: 3 zombies guard 2450 cp HA!


      Also in the back you get 48 characters with ability scores already rolled and equipment and spells listed. It ends with 10 tips for players. Treat those NPCs fairly people!
    1. Yaztromo's Avatar
      Yaztromo -
      Quote Originally Posted by Christopher Helton View Post
      I've never actually seen anything that would link this adventure to the Known World. [...] I've never seen any evidence that would point out a connection.
      Happy to help!

      Name: known-world.png ► Views: 1115 ► Size: 229.6 KB

      Please chech out the map: it is an official map published by TSR as part of the Blue Box, i.e. canon.
      Have a close look at the Grand Duchy of Karameikos: you will find a spot marked "B1" that is the canon place where this adventure is placed, together with other adventures of B and X series, a bit all over the map

      We can discuss things a lot, but this is where TSR canon places this adventure: Mystara. I don't know if there are similar canon sources placing it in other settings. Maybe there are, but I'm not aware of them.
      Personally, I played it in several worlds and it can be played in several worlds, but that's where the Blue Box placed it.
    1. Christopher Helton's Avatar
      Christopher Helton -
      Quote Originally Posted by Yaztromo View Post
      Please chech out the map: it is an official map published by TSR as part of the Blue Box, i.e. canon.
      Perhaps it was placed there retroactively, but the module wasn't written with that location in mind. The Known World wasn't a part of D&D yet when In Search of the Unknown came out. The Isle of Dread (one of the first mentions of the Known World) didn't come out until 1981, and that map wasn't a part of the Expert rules until the Mentzer revision in 1983. This is like asking where Gotham City is, because the official location of it within the DC Universe has moved a number of times in the comics.
    1. Yaztromo's Avatar
      Yaztromo -
      That's correct: In Search of the Unknown was published in 1979 and the D&D Expert Set can be dated 1981 (Cook) or 1983 (Mentzer) as you mention. Of course I don't know what was in the author's mind, but the first (and only, as far as I know) time that it was officially placed in a world setting in canon, it was placed in Mystara.
      If you can refer to another canonic place for this adventure, I'll be happy to take due note.
    1. JohnnyZemo's Avatar
      JohnnyZemo -
      Quote Originally Posted by Yaztromo View Post
      That's correct: In Search of the Unknown was published in 1979 and the D&D Expert Set can be dated 1981 (Cook) or 1983 (Mentzer) as you mention. Of course I don't know what was in the author's mind, but the first (and only, as far as I know) time that it was officially placed in a world setting in canon, it was placed in Mystara.
      If you can refer to another canonic place for this adventure, I'll be happy to take due note.
      Such a canonic place does exist! The early printings of B1 gives some suggested locations in the World of Greyhawk setting. Interestingly enough, later printings omit it.

      The Goodman Games volume Into the Unknown reprints the second printing (monochrome cover) and sixth printing (brown cover) of B1. The second printing includes the following bit at the bottom of page six: "Note: In the mythical WORLD OF GREYHAWK (available from TSR) the stronghold can be considered within any one of the following lands--the Barony of Ratik, the Duchy of Tenh, or the Theocracy of the Pale."

      So, it is more accurate to say the first time it was officially placed in a setting, it was set in Greyhawk, but later on it was moved to Mystara.
    1. Christopher Helton's Avatar
      Christopher Helton -
      There really wasn't a concept of "canon" for things like D&D at this time, outside of some of the things that appeared in Gygax's own campaign. The idea was that you would plop down the locations in modules like this where it would be most convenient for your home game.
    1. Lord_Blacksteel's Avatar
      Lord_Blacksteel -
      Quote Originally Posted by Yaztromo View Post
      That's correct: In Search of the Unknown was published in 1979 and the D&D Expert Set can be dated 1981 (Cook) or 1983 (Mentzer) as you mention. Of course I don't know what was in the author's mind, but the first (and only, as far as I know) time that it was officially placed in a world setting in canon, it was placed in Mystara.
      If you can refer to another canonic place for this adventure, I'll be happy to take due note.

      If this matters to you in some way that's great but keep in mind some of us were playing it for years before "The Known World" even existed. So retroactive canon is sort of revisionist history as far as I am concerned. There is nothing inside B1 in any printing that I am aware of that refers to or mentions or ties to anything in Mystara. The module is completely setting-neutral.

      References to locations for these adventures in published campaign settings typically refer to places where you could place them rather than the one true location for them. There was a section in the Greyhawk sets placing the modules available at the time it was published within that world. I believe the first Forgotten Realms set had something similar. So just because X1 or the Moldvay Expert set had a map that referenced "B1" doesn't make it the only canon location for that module.
    1. Christopher Helton's Avatar
      Christopher Helton -
      Quote Originally Posted by Lord_Blacksteel View Post
      ISo just because X1 or the Moldvay Expert set had a map that referenced "B1" doesn't make it the only canon location for that module.
      It would have been the Mentzer Expert set that referenced it, not the Moldvay.
    1. Yaztromo's Avatar
      Yaztromo -
      Quote Originally Posted by JohnnyZemo View Post
      Such a canonic place does exist! The early printings of B1 gives some suggested locations in the World of Greyhawk setting. Interestingly enough, later printings omit it.
      Great find! I must have gotten a later printing as I never found that reference!
      Thanks!
    1. Doctor Futurity -
      You're all wrong. It's clearly located just south of the region of Octzel in the Middle Kingdoms of the World of Lingusia, the setting I started in 1980 and still run to this day.


      What????


      (But seriously.....these modules found homes everywhere back then, and it was a few years before TSR started giving them formal homes.)
    1. Voadam -
      Quote Originally Posted by Doctor Futurity View Post
      You're all wrong. It's clearly located just south of the region of Octzel in the Middle Kingdoms of the World of Lingusia, the setting I started in 1980 and still run to this day.


      What????


      (But seriously.....these modules found homes everywhere back then, and it was a few years before TSR started giving them formal homes.)
      Lingusia eh? I had it in Oerth vaguely near Hommlett to start off my 80's Greyhawk campaign.

      Hackmaster had a decent version of B1 as well, the unfortunate but excisable crap jokes, anachronisms, silliness and some player harrasment scenes being outweighed by cool things like the drunk militarized former slave orcs, the Roghann and Zelligar discoverable storylines, and the awesome cover depicting the discovery of the magical effects of pools.
    1. Doctor Futurity -
      Quote Originally Posted by Voadam View Post
      Lingusia eh? I had it in Oerth vaguely near Hommlett to start off my 80's Greyhawk campaign.

      Hackmaster had a decent version of B1 as well, the unfortunate but excisable crap jokes, anachronisms, silliness and some player harrasment scenes being outweighed by cool things like the drunk militarized former slave orcs, the Roghann and Zelligar discoverable storylines, and the awesome cover depicting the discovery of the magical effects of pools.
      Excellllent didn't know about the Hackmaster version!
    1. Voadam -
      Quote Originally Posted by Doctor Futurity View Post
      Excellllent didn't know about the Hackmaster version!
      My more in-depth old review of Hackmaster B1.
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