Wednesday, August 29, 2018

OSR Commentary - Shadows & Nightmares of Gary Gygax's Ex 1 'Dungeon Land' & Ex2 The Land Beyond The Magic Mirror.


By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named Night,
On a black throne reigns upright,
I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule—
From a wild weird clime that lieth, sublime,
Out of Space—out of Time.
Bottomless vales and boundless floods,
And chasms, and caves, and Titan woods,
With forms that no man can discover
For the dews that drip all over;
Mountains toppling evermore
Into seas without a shore;
Seas that restlessly aspire,
Surging, unto skies of fire;
Lakes that endlessly outspread
Their lone waters—lone and dead,—
Their still waters—still and chilly
With the snows of the lolling lily.
By the lakes that thus outspread
Their lone waters, lone and dead,—
Their sad waters, sad and chilly
With the snows of the lolling lily,—
By the mountains—near the river
Murmuring lowly, murmuring ever,—
By the grey woods,—by the swamp
Where the toad and the newt encamp,—
By the dismal tarns and pools
Where dwell the Ghouls,—
By each spot the most unholy—
In each nook most melancholy,—
There the traveller meets aghast
Sheeted Memories of the Past—
Shrouded forms that start and sigh
As they pass the wanderer by—
White-robed forms of friends long given,
In agony, to the Earth—and Heaven.
For the heart whose woes are legion
'Tis a peaceful, soothing region—
For the spirit that walks in shadow
'Tis—oh 'tis an Eldorado!
But the traveller, travelling through it,
May not—dare not openly view it;
Never its mysteries are exposed
To the weak human eye unclosed;
So wills its King, who hath forbid
The uplifting of the fringed lid;
And thus the sad Soul that here passes
Beholds it but through darkened glasses.
By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named Night,
On a black throne reigns upright,
I have wandered home but newly
From this ultimate dim Thule.

The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe
Volume II. Poems and Tales


Edgar Allen Poe's version of the dreamlands seen in his poetry & darker short story collections plug straight into the horrors of alien weirdness lurking at the edges of Basic Dungeons & Dragons. So tonight I've been toying with the demi plane of nightmare
  which is strongly connected with the Mystara setting for the Basic Dungeons & Dragons Rule Cyclopedia. In my home games its one of the most dangerous demi planes where  neh-thalggu, diaboli, feyrs, nagpas, & maelephants dwell as well as being one of the zones of the night hags. Its a demi plane where the person's dreams or nightmares become reality. Our groups had some brushes with the place when our dungeon master back in Nineteen Ninety connected The demi plane of Nightmares with Gary Gygax's Ex 1 'Dungeon Land' & Ex2 The Land Beyond The Magic Mirror.
Both of these were inspired by Alice in Wonderland by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. Gary Gygax's lethal adventures tested our parties to the limits & finally in the second adventure broke our back with the loss of our wizard.

But most of the play sessions  that we had where the plane of nightmares was connected with the 'X' series of Dungeonland adventures events & encounters resembled
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson's 'Through The Looking Glass. ' It was always one part horror story & one part fairy tale land in equal measures. Then when the party went off of the map in X1 things got really weird.
The connections to the plane of shadows & the demi plane of nightmare got worse as we went along finally encountering a caravan of nighthags & their guardians.

So in the X series the further into the chaotic demi planes of  'Fairylands' of the Alice in Wonderland a party wanders the weirder & more dangerous it gets. This goes all the way to the dense & diseased forests at the outer edges of  Dante's Inferno as our party found out all those years ago. The diabolic always seems like its right around the corner. The woods are rife with all kinds of souls who are well on their way to being prey for whatever story book horror or chaotic infected horror is hunting them.

Magic items & other relics brought out of these places have an aura of bedlam about them. They retain the chaotic energies about them causing all kinds of occult issues. They also can become animated & act as cursed items. Some can even cause mutations in their owners if a remove curse spell isn't used.
PC's could come face to face with some very dangerous alien aspects of planes that intersect with these realms or even encounter the twisted fairytale rulers of other storybook realms. Our party saw the rulers of Cinderella's realm guarded by the  glass & crystal golem body guards as we prowled the castle of Ex2.

We very quickly learned that straying off the path of  these demi plane dreamlands was very dangerous indeed. Our party ended up with a host of problems the least of which was getting hopelessly lost on the plane of Shadow. We ended up getting  back in Greyhawk a thousand miles completely out of sink with our current campaign or so we thought. We were lucky to make it out alive at all! We lost four PC's visiting these fairytale demi planes of dream!

Ex1 & Ex2 would end up playing a role in our Gamma World campaign much later on when the forces of nightmare came to call! This was when I learned that overlapping old school campaigns from the actions of adventurers was critical for maintaining campaign cohesion. 

All in all the demi planes of nightmare & the borderland kingdoms of fairy tale land remain some of the most dangerous of my time in the hobby. I personally have lost a total of five mid level characters to the worlds of Lewis Carol & Gary Gygax.

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