Megadungeon Design Journal #1

Iggwilv’s Horn

Probably since my first reading of S4 The Lost Cavers of Tsojcanth in about 1982-83 I was bothered by how poorly the Introduction text jived with the actual caverns themselves. Fellow blogger Joe Bloch (the Greyhawk Grognard) posted an attempt to shoehorn in the idea that the caverns were the Witch Queen’s seat of power in a two part article here and here. That kind of explanation, however, never sat well with me. Much of Joe’s introduction to this idea explains my objections to it, so I won’t waste time on it here. It shall have to suffice to say that the caverns as presented don’t seem to be capable of providing the infrastructure necessary to rule an empire consisting, minimally, of Perrenland and Ket, but possibly encroaching on the northern Nomads and Tusmit (I imagine the Witch Queen would probably have been smart enough not to tussle with Furyondy or any of its protectorates).

So what I decided to do about it is this; I’m going to design a megadungeon set in Iggwilv’s Horn, and protected by illusion and other powerful magics that actually served as the Witch Queen’s true seat of power, and contained the Demon Trap that ensnared Tsojcanth and Graz’zt (among others) and bound them to her service. I’ll explain below how I intend to do this.

The Introduction to The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth contains a lot of statements that make this project difficult to justify ‘in-setting,’ so to begin with I am taking the Introduction almost in its entirety as lies started by Iggwilv herself to misdirect those looking for her seat of power and treasure trove. This transforms the caverns into a red herring of the most dangerous sort.

I’m also considering what lore from later TSR and WotC products I might want to use surrounding Iggwilv. For instance Tsojcanth somewhere along the line was described as an ancient wizard of great power, or the cambion child of Fraz-Urb’luu.

Gary Gygax has cited the Finnish epic Kalevala as inspiration for Iggwilv. The name of Louhi, a character in the Kalevala, is given by Gygax as an alias of Iggwilv. Louhi is a wicked queen of the land known as Pohjola in Finnish and Karelian mythology. As many mythological creatures and objects are easily conflated and separated in Finnish mythology, Louhi is probably an alter-ego of the goddess Loviatar.  Of further interest Iggwilv is said to have once gone by the name Natasha and had been adopted by the witch Baba Yaga, it was under this tutelage that she became a powerful spellcaster. Later, using the name Tasha, she became the apprentice of the famous Grehawk wizard Zagig Yragerne. She served as a member of the Company of Seven and developed the many Tasha spells that are now widely known, and perhaps others only known to herself.

I’m going to use some of that, but I’m not decided on which parts. I may also use some of the content from Dungeon Magazine #151 which in my opinion similarly under-develops the location, but has some good backstory elements.

I’m also considering a few of my own lore elements that I’ve not found elsewhere, such as making Drelnza the vampire childe of Kas (Vecna’s general), and additionally bumping up her power level. Another idea revolves around either a persistent effect of the Abyssal breach in the area causing mass forgetfulness, or a great magic spell created by Iggwilv, Tsjocanth and Graz’zt being responsible for locals misremembering, or forgetting altogether where Iggwilv’s stronghold is located. Most of these ideas are targeted at “patching” issues with official lore to more easily dovetail with the premise of this megadungeon.

In creating this project I am trying to be deliberate about my process. I’ve started with an outline of sorts detailing the premise, and several of the upper levels. This outline contains information such as how many entrances to the level, and what type they are; connections to other levels and sub-levels, and why type they are; major themes for the level; most common opponents for each level; and any bosses on each level. I’m also going to be adding factions, their goals, rivals, and territory. All this before taking pencil to graph paper. Once I begin graphing out the levels I want to be mindful of old school design techniques such as non-linear level design, multiple environments, sub-levels, and so forth. These design techniques are spelled out in a five-part series of posts on The Alexandrian titled Jaquaying the Dungeon here, here, here, here and here.

I think that’s about it for now. Next time we’ll take a closer look at my outline and discuss how that translates into a draft level.


  • I feel it is important to point out that part of my reason for beginning this blog series is to crowd source for ideas. If any of my readers have an idea to throw into the design, or think an idea I have should be modified or removed, please let me know here in the comments. I do like the challenge of designing around an idea that I’d not, or never would have, thought of. Please back up your idea or objection.

    Posted July 9, 2019
  • Looking forward to the series, Alex. Per my comments on FB, you might find some of the info on my site @ useful, as well as some of the content of my presentation during our Oerth Journal/GreyhawkOnline seminar at GaryCon this spring:


    Posted July 9, 2019
    • Thanks Allan! I’m really excited about this project and can’t wait for my daughter (now 5yo) to play it in a few years with the other kids in the neighborhood!

      Posted July 9, 2019
  • Sounds like a great project, Don’t have anything to add at this time, but, will try to keep up and may toss an idea or two in the future

    Posted July 9, 2019
  • S4 is the module I have always wanted to run. Something about that era of module writing was so provocative. As TSR got more money for things like art resources it really began to show and S4 is a gorgeous module in and of itself. I have flipped through that module so many times, but I just never seem to get around to running it. Looking forward to the series Alex!

    Posted July 10, 2019
    • I don’t plan to make any alterations to S4, but that may change as thing develop. Right now I just view S4 as a part of the whole of Iggwilv’s legacy in the Yatils. Part of me wants to make something found in the ‘Caverns’ necessary to defeating a major boss in the Horn, or perhaps even integral to stopping Iggwilv’s plans (or aiding them) in the overall premise.

      Posted July 10, 2019

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Omens and Portents




Omens and Portents

Alex Karaczun © 2019. All Rights Reserved.

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