Sunday, March 31, 2024

Jim Ward's Adventure in Gygax's Wonderland

Last weekend at GaryCon, many of us raised a glass to the memory of Jim Ward, who passed away just days before the convention. Ward was very helpful to me in my research, as he had been a longtime TSR executive, and before that an employee-witness to the tumultuous events of the mid-1980s, and even before that a freelancer who helped bring the science-fiction genre to role-playing games. But still further before that, he was a player in Gygax's Greyhawk campaign, and like any good dungeon explorer, he drew a lot of maps - including this map of a segment of the Greyhawk dungeon area called Wonderland. The Wonderland dungeon, which we know existed in a playable state early in 1975, would become the inspiration for Gygax's later EX1 and EX2 modules based on Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

Gygax in his introduction to Dungeonland (EX1, 1983) tells us that the module was "originally conceived for and used in the Greyhawk Castle dungeon complex." We know that it already existed early in 1975 because he mentions it in a letter to Alan Lucien dated February 6 of that year. Lucien had just sent Gygax the "Tomb of Ra-Hotep" (which was reprinted in the special edition of Art & Arcana), and Gygax, musing over how to repay him, suggests "Wonderland, maybe?" Likely Wonderland was in a playable state in 1974, around the time that Ward first began playing with Gygax.

Afterword to EX2: "A similar scenario was an early part of Castle Greyhawk. The adventurers came upon it quite by accident after about a year of play. They were ready for it: not only did they thoroughly enjoy the change of mood, but they were very much tested by the encounters in the place. (l DMed this strictly and in a very tough manner.) They came back time and again for more adventures, going from Dungeonland to The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror and back again quite a number of times."

Player maps can be very difficult to identify - they usually don't come with dates or titles, just sketches of rooms with minimal notations. Ward left behind hundreds of them, many just small fragments of dungeon areas that we'll probably never be able to identify. But the ones we can identify readily demonstrate that these were early, in the 1974-1976 time period, and this particular map just has too many of the requisite features to be anything else: it shows location for Humpty, the Lion and the Unicorn, and even a Walrus on the beach. In light of those, we can probably safely guess what the flowers are as well, and that this map segment relies more on Through the Looking-Glass than the first book.

Unfortunately, player maps can only tell us so much. No one could reconstruct the original Wonderland from this map, and we would be hard-pressed to link it to the famous 1983 published map in EX2 (which sold quite well in its inaugural year). We are in a more fortunate situation with some of Ward's other maps: it is fairly easy to link these two images, for example, to Rob Kuntz's contemporary map of Bottle City:

But as people studying this past, who feel more of it slip through their fingers every year, every little bit of data helps. And nothing encapsulates the player experience, the world of D&D as Jim Ward and many other found it in those early days, quite so well as a dungeon map. Thanks for keeping it around, Jim.

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