Four great and powerful heroes travel in search of adventure. Led by Mordenkainen, wizard without peer, they have come to mysterious Maure Castle, a forlorn and foreboding place, source of wonderment and awesome adventure, following a strange and terrible story.
For, somewhere deep beneath Maure Castle, from whence no person has returned alive, there stand two massive iron doors -- doors without latch, lock, or handle -- the Unopenable Doors.
And if the doors are opened, what then? Such potent evil, such terror lies beyond, that even the bravest adventurers may quail before the ultimate test!
Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventureis a challenging adventure for high-level play. Four original characters from Gary Gygax's famous Greyhawk campaign are included for your use.
Can you meet the challenge? Can you survive what lies beyond ... the Unopenable Doors?
An adventure for characters level 9-12.
WG5: "Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure" (1984), by Rob Kuntz with Gary Gygax, is the fifth-ish adventure in the World of Greyhawk series. It was published in July 1984.
About the Cover. In late 1983, TSR published the World of Grehyawk Fantasy Game Setting (1983). "Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure" was the first Greyhawk publication to follow it, and it displayed a rather notable change: trade dress. "Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure" was the first cover to depict the brown leather and gilted border that marked the later Greyhawk supplements. Though TSR had previously created trade dress covers for their Boot Hill, Gamma World, Ganbusters, Indiana Jones, Marvel Super Heroes, Star Frontiers, and Top Secret lines, the idea of demarcating sublines for the D&D game was new. Dragonlance (1984-1986) started the idea rolling in March with DL1: "Dragons of Despair" (1984), but the World of Greyhawk trade dress was even more distinctive.
Though the cover gets it right, the inside contents page has a notable error in Greyhawk's trade dress. It says that it is a "World of Greyhawk Fantasy Word Adventure".
Origins (I): To El Raja Key! Though it appeared a full decade after the advent of OD&D (1974), "Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure" is actually one of the oldest D&D adventures ever to be published. DA2: "Temple of the Frog" (1986) probably predates it, but not much also. The story of that adventure begins before the publication of D&D, in early 1973. Rob Kuntz, a young player in Gary Gygax's Greyhawk game, decided to give Gygax the opportunity to play for himself. So he created Castle El Raja Key, where Gygax adventured using famous characters such as Yrag, Mordenkainen, and Bigby.
Castle El Raja Key was set in Kuntz's own world, which he would name Kalibruhn when he began to develop it in late 1973 and 1974. However, it was also set in Greyhawk. Sort of. Reality was loose in those early days of gaming, so when players entered Maure Castle in Greyhawk, they were actually entering Kuntz's Castle El Raja Key. The two settings became even more muddled when Kuntz became the co-GM of Gygax's Greyhawk game. At the time, Gygax was rebuilding Castle Greyhawk, and some of Castle El Raja Key's levels ended up in the updated Greyhawk.
Origins (II): Mordenkainen's Adventure. Mordenkainen and Bigby adventured through the dungeon levels that would become "Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure" in late 1973 or early 1974. They began on the "fourth level" of a dungeon that spanned at least twelve levels. Kuntz states the dungeon was in the "outer precincts" of Castle El Raja Key.
The original adventure didn't go well for Gygax. He wrote about it in Wargamer's Digest #7 (May 1974), in an article meant to bring attention to the new D&D game. Delving into the Great Hall, Gygax's characters encountered a flying, flame-breathing iron golem with a cockatrice feature whip and a poisoned sword. Mordenkainen was turned to stone, causing Bigby to flee. Bigby later returned with Lord Yrag, Lord Felnorith, and Bishop Raunalf. They were able to defeat the golem by using the weapons from other iron statues — showing the core of player cleverness that was part of the early D&D game. However, in the process Bigby was also turned to stone, and Yrag was poisoned and died! It was a Gygaxian massacre!
Gygax's characters were later made whole, but he would long list this Fantastic delve as one of the toughest adventures he'd ever played.
Origins (III): The Return of Kuntz. So how did Kuntz's original Kalibruhn adventure come to Greyhawk in 1984? The answer lies in Gygax's decision to revive Greyhawk in the early '80s. He rehired two people to help him with this: Eric Shook … and Rob Kuntz.
Kuntz's Greyhawk work began with a series of articles in Dragon (1982); he also helped get S4: "The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth" (1982) to press. The wacky "EX" Alice in Wonderland adventures (1983) appeared afterward. Unfortunately, WG5: "Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure" (1984) would be the final adventure produced by this Greyhawk team; Kuntz left shortly thereafter to attend the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, while later expansion would be foiled by Lorraine Williams' ascension at TSR.
Though the adventure credits both Gygax and Kuntz, it is almost entirely Kuntz's work — which is unsurprising given the adventure's origins. Kuntz says that Gygax wrote the introduction and provided some material about his characters.
Origins (IV): Many Maures. "Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure" moved the Fantastic Adventure from Kalibruhn to Greyhawk, placing it in Maure Castle — which had always been the stand-in for Kuntz's Castle El Raja Key.
The adventure that Kuntz produced for TSR also wasn't exactly his Castle El Raja Key adventure, because he wanted to protect his intellectual property rights from TSR. The Greyhawk Maure has since evolved differently from El Raja Key, as Kuntz rebuilt the Greyhawk dungeon for D&D 3e (2000) and expanded it in the '00s.
Amusingly, the castle also appears as Mauve Castle in Saga of Old City (1985), apparently because Darlene's handwriting was hard to read on her iconic map of the Flanaess.
Adventure Tropes: Megadungeons. Castle Blackmoor, Castle Greyhawk, and Castle El Raja Key are the three earliest campaign settings for D&D, each of them created at least a year before the release of OD&D. Each of them was a megadungeon: a massive dungeon, full of numerous entrances and exits and various connections between the levels. A single megadungeon could be the basis for the original campaign.
Curiously, TSR never published a megadungeon during the OD&D (1974-1976) or AD&D (1977-1988) eras. They would also never publish authentic versions of the game's original three dungeons. The closest they came were a few modules that lay adjacent to Castle Greyhawk … and "Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure".
As a megadungeon, "Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure" is also sort of a "killer dungeon", like S1: "Tomb of Horrors" (1978); it's full of killer traps and tricks, all without much ecology underlying it. However, it's a lot bigger.
Even today, "Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure" is probably the best example of what dungeons were like in the primordial days of the industry.
Exploring Greyhawk. Like WG4: "The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun" (1982), "Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure" delves more deeply into the Greyhawk setting than TSR's early adventures. In this case, it's mainly through the description of a dungeon that lies very near the city of Greyhawk. However, "Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventures" also reintroduces many of Gygax's characters as notable movers and shakers in the World of Greyhawk.
The irony of all of this is that "Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure" was really drawn from the World of Kalibruhn … offering yet another example of how numerous authors were expanding the World of Greyhawk at TSR.
Expanding Kalibruhn. "Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure" also innately offers insight into Rob Kuntz's own world of Kalibruhn. Room #22 is particularly notable, because a tapestry (illustrated on page 13) depicts the Lost City of the Elders.
The Lost City was another part of Kuntz's world. Kuntz touched upon it again in Garden of the Plantmaster (1987), which was published by his own Creations Unlimited company and is the other early window on the world.
Monsters of Note. Rob Kuntz's original run of "Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure" introduced the iron golem to D&D. It was inspired by the stories of Conan. Thankfully the flying, fire-breathing monster of this adventure didn't become the model for all future iron golems.
NPCs of Note. The most notable Greyhawk lore of "Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure" is its description of four characters: Mordenkainen, Bigby, Yrag, and Rigby. All of them but Yrag had previously appeared in The Rogues Gallery (1980) in a somewhat briefer form. These characters have become increasingly important parts of Greyhawk lore over the years, though ironically they weren't originally Greyhawk personas, since they were Gygax's characters, used in other peoples' worlds, such as Kuntz's Kalibruhn.
"Mordenkainen's Fantasy Adventure" also includes a few other NPCs of note, such as Kerzit the Guardian demon and Eli Tomorast, the villain of Maure Castle. Neither would prove important to the future of Greyhawk, though Tomorast is given ties to both the Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun and the Lost City of the Elders. His history is hidden away in room 38 (page 16).
Future History. Paizo Publishing encouraged Rob Kuntz to return to Maure Castle during the 3e era (2000-2007) of the game. They revamped the original three levels of Maure Castle in Dungeon #112 (July 2004), which also included a new fourth level "The Statuary". "Chamber of Antiquities" then appeared in Dungeon #124 (July 2005) and "The Greater Halls" in Dungeon #139 (October 2006). After the demise of Dungeon< Kuntz produced a final level, "Warlock's Walk" for Oerth Journal #23 (March 2008), which also includes "Rumors about the Maure Lands".
Whoops! The map to Dungeon Level 3 is upside down. Flip it over and everything will line up correctly.
About the Creators. Kuntz was one of the earliest players of the original D&D game and later Gary Gygax's co-GM for the Castle Greyhawk campaign. "Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure" marked the end of Kuntz's second period working at TSR.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to email@example.com.