Michael L. Gray's Kingdom of Ghyr

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Michael L. Gray's Kingdom of Ghyr

Post by TraverseTravis » Sun Aug 12, 2018 4:16 am

In this thread I'll post correspondence I had with Michael Gray, author of XL-1, Quest for the Heartstone. I'll also share some ideas I had.

First an interview I conducted:

Hello Michael Gray - author of the 1984 D&D adventure XL-1, Quest for the Heartstone. Thanks for taking the time to consider some questions:

1. Could you tell us about your work with TSR? Several TSR staffers have shared about hard times at TSR. Was your term at TSR a positive experience?

This is a tough question. I had left Milton Bradley to come manage the design department. When I started, TSR Management decided to have me co-manage with Dave Sutherland. In that position I also designed the Fantasy Forest boardgame, which I thought of as “Candy Land on steroids”. During that time I also hired Tracy Hickman into Design, as I saw great promise in his pre-TSR work. A year later, as the company grew, they decided to move me to Marketing where I reviewed game submissions. Then they moved me to the book department where I wrote two Endless Quest books and wrote The Quest for the Heartstone (XL-1). After going back to Milton Bradley in 1984, I wrote a 32-page section of the World of Krynn book. The first year of my 2+ years at TSR were very positive. I met my lifelong best friend, Jim Ward, then. Jim and I were the only people who got to go to Gary Gygax’s house regularly and playtest his designs with him and his son Luke in their kitchen. We worked on Star Frontiers and the Barbarian class, as I recall. I was also a guitar player in the band Uncle Duke and the Dragons for Gen Con one year. That was great fun, white tuxedo and all!

2. Are you any relation to Anne Gray McCready, TSR editor and author?

No. But I was there when she was there. She was (and probably still is) a nice person.

3. Did you DM or play D&D much? If so, what world(s) or setting(s) have you DMed or played in? If you DMed, where did you (or would you) place Ghyr on the map of your world? Do you still play D&D?

At TSR, I did not do much DMing as there were many better DMs. I would rather play than DM. I did DM a bit after I went back to MB in 1984.

4. Did you yourself convert those AD&D monsters into D&D; namely, the Dragonfly, Dragonne, Hook Horror, and Roper? Or was there another designer who worked on the conversions?

My editor did the conversions.

5. Is the entire XL-1 wilderness map intended to be within the bounds of the Kingdom of Ghyr? Is the whole map nominally a part of Ghyr?

I may have a foggy recollection, but I think I created all the text in the adventure. It appears that Ghyr was expanded after I left TSR.

6. Castle Ghyr is located on the southwestern corner of the map. The rest of the map is marshland, with no human or demihuman settlements—only monsters. Is there more to the kingdom? Is the map from XL-1 just the northern portion of a wider kingdom?

I designed the adventure as a standalone adventure at the time. I wrote all the text and drew all the maps, the cavern interiors and the Cliffside aviary. I called Jim Ward about his and he had no memory of addition Ghry adventures. At the time, he asked me to do a module, which I did. He later told me it was one of the best final package turnovers he had ever gotten.

7. Could you share any ideas you had or have about Ghyr as a setting (nation, culture)?

I am pleased with what I came up with. The idea of a frost giant who collected bird creatures and built an aviary was unique at the time. The master thief living behind the “wellevator” was another fun setting I came up with. It was my first module, so it was a novice effort. There were many way-more-talented writers there at the time who I respected very much. As far as the geographic setting, I think I just made it all up.

8. XL-1 refers to the nations to the south of Ghyr who were involved with the Prism Wars. Any ideas for the surrounding nations?


9. AC1: Shady Dragon Inn (1983), an accessory book of pre-generated NPC characters by Carl Smith, also featured the action figure characters such as Warduke. Even though it was published a year before XL-1, Shady Dragon Inn also refers to the Heartstone:

"Warduke wears a suit of half-chain and a black, winged helmet. His shield bears the sign of a demon’s head. He was an old friend of Strongheart’s (good paladin), but now the two are enemies. Both were exposed to the Heartstone, and Warduke’s cruel nature was brought out while Strongheart’s just nature became stronger…"

Did you base XL-1 on that background paragraph, or were AC1 and XL-1 developed concurrently?

I think they were developed concurrently and TSR decided to release Carl’s work before mine.

10. Warduke is one of the most iconic characters in all of D&D. Did you design the stats for Warduke and the other AD&D action figure characters, or did you take them from 1983's Shady Dragon Inn? Are you to thank for raising Warduke's constitution score from a paltry 8 (in Shady Dragon Inn) to a respectable 14?

I think this was an error of concurrent design. Not sure. I wouldn’t give a character named WarDuke a Con of 8.

11. Was there any intention for the Shady Dragon Inn to be located in Ghyr?

Don’t know.

12. Was there ever any talk about the wider world or planet in which Ghyr was situated? Do you ever conceive that Ghyr was located in the D&D Known World setting of the D&D Expert boxed set? Or was Ghyr meant to be a distinct micro-setting in itself?

I think it was just a one-0ff adventure at the time. I think I got the job because the really good designers didn’t want to do a serious adventure using “toy” characters.

13. Given that TSR surely hoped for the action figure line to succeed and flourish for years to come, was there ever any talk of a sequel: XL-2?

Not while I was there. I went back to MB shortly after writing that module. When I got back to MB, I redeveloped Axis & Allies to create the 2nd edition because Larry Harris had left and there were a LOT of consumer questions about the rules. Then I designed Fortress America and Shogun to complete the Gamemaster series. Years later, I designed MB’s three electronic boardgames: Mall Madness, Dream Phone and Omega Virus.

14. You also authored a couple of Fantasy Forest choose-your-own-adventure TSR books for children. Was the Fantasy Forest ever conceived to be a part of any other setting? Or was it a standalone mini-setting?


15. Before I sent you the list of Ghyr-inspired fan-works, had you ever seen any of the various fan writings about Ghyr?

I had only seen some of the negative reviews of the module. As I said, it was a novice effort. And the genre had evolved and become more sophisticated over the years. I enjoyed writing it and I know that some players have really enjoyed it. Just last year I got an email from a D&D group in Connecticut who said they loved the adventure. So it pleased some people.

16. Any unpublished D&D manuscripts or notes left over from those days? J

No. Sorry. I hope this all helps a little. Thanks for asking.

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Re: Michael L. Gray's Kingdom of Ghyr

Post by TraverseTravis » Sun Aug 12, 2018 4:18 am

Next, my project proposal and Mike's response:

Proposal: Collaborating on an Article about XL-1's Kingdom of Ghyr

Hi Michael,

The response to your Q&A has been positive! Some comments from the Mystara facebook community:

"I still love that module. Players causing each other grief because they separated, humour and general fun always. Please pass on my thanks, and for my groups, to Michael Gray. That is one of my all time module favourites."
-Keith B., Canada

"Very cool interview."
-Douglas R.

"Good job! Thanks for conducting this interview!"
-Håvard F., Norway

And, things have taken an interesting turn...

A number of the leading Mystara fan-authors have joined together to make a proposal. We realize you are probably busy with your own projects and everyday life, but hear us out...

What we'd like to do is to collaborate with you to write a new article about your Kingdom of Ghyr setting. For this article, you wouldn't be remembering old details...you'd be newly inventing and creating.

This would be similar to how Bruce Heard, the former D&D Product Manager, has actively written many new articles about Mystara in the years since he left TSR. He's even designed and mapped new provinces for the countries he created back for TSR. As long as it's all done as a non-commercial project, Wizards of the Coast is hands-off.

The project would look something like this:

Besides XL-1 itself, we'd take the existing fan-writings about Ghyr as starting point. (They're included in the Research Document PDF I sent). And then we'd come up with a list of creative questions to ask you. We'd ask your opinion about this or that. We'd ask you to invent some place-names, and so forth. You wouldn't be expected to necessarily ponder the questions deeply - it could be just tossing out some quick answers by whim. We realize you've been out of the D&D loop - we'd do the gruntwork, while your role would be more of a "design consultant." We'd put it all together into a complete article based on your input. We'd try to make it as quick and painless for you as possible - basically just a few rounds of questions, and then it'd be done. We'd do the rest.

If you're interested and willing, the editor of Threshold Magazine, the leading Mystara magazine, has agreed to publish the article. The Vaults of Pandius, the Official Mystara Fansite (approved by Wizards of the Coast) would also host your article.

If you're maxed out with life-tasks, we will sadly understand. But we hope you'll join us on this adventure!
Hi Travis,
Thank you for the good news and for writing such a kind letter. I will answer any questions you come up with (if I can remember back that far). But I am not interested n a new project. Sorry. Keep up the good work. Role playing is a creative and positive human activity. I think it is therapeutic and socially rewarding (and fun). I spend way too much time playing Elder Scrolls Online, reading sci fi and watching the news these days. I also love playing board games, new and old.
Have a Great Summer!
Mike Gray
Ah well, we gave it a shot. Thanks for considering! We had big plans - we were gonna ask you to approve a complete map of the Kingdom Ghyr, and to approve a whole new world map built around Ghyr! Well, we'll let the plans rest. :) As a parting gift, here's a rough mock-up of the cover we'd planned for your article. Closely inspired by 1980's aesthetic!
If your schedule or interest shifts, let us know - otherwise, we'll leave you in gamer's peace. :)

in gratitude,
Travis and the crew
Last edited by TraverseTravis on Sun Aug 12, 2018 4:32 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Michael L. Gray's Kingdom of Ghyr

Post by TraverseTravis » Sun Aug 12, 2018 4:20 am

Next, a rough mock-up of the proposed cover of the article or e-book:


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Re: Michael L. Gray's Kingdom of Ghyr

Post by TraverseTravis » Sun Aug 12, 2018 4:30 am

I had big plans...
  • Asking Michael to approve a new Ghyr-specific world map. A simple outline map of the whole world. The map aesthetic would be roughly inspired by the map of Eternia, the world of Masters of the Universe (since the He-Man figures were inspired by the AD&D action figures.) Possibly seven continents, each based on a color of the rainbow/prism.
  • Highlighting the previous fan-versions of Ghyr as parallel Ghyrs reachable through the Nexus of CM6.
  • Giving a suggested placement for Ghyr in Mystara, Oerth, and Toril.
  • Possibly using JTR's Ghyr and Western Alliance as-is, but with a new world map built around it. With the location of all the stories from the AD&D coloring books etc. marked on the map. And with Mystara-specific names given new names coined by Michael Gray. (There'd be a table of synonyms for using Ghyr in Mystara, Oerth, or Toril.)
  • And/or designing a different Ghyr from scratch with Michael's input.
  • Half-orcs as a common race in this campaign setting, like Zarak the Half-Orc Assassin. (Though represented in BECMI as Human classes)
  • Including a Reference Guide to all LJN action figures and TSR adventure figures, along with all books and products which feature those characters.
But it's for the best that Mike wasn't up for a new project, as I'm pretty maxed out with everyday life. I wish I could split myself in two (or more) and devote one of me to building my "Mystara Way." Grateful to the Mystara fellows (Threshold magazine, Lo Zompatore, OldDawg) who offered to help.

-Shane (Travis) H.

P.S. I'll send Mike Gray an email letting him know this thread is here, on the off chance that he'd be up for answering further questions in this venue.

P.P.S. Lo Zompatore proposed some good questions:

- How many countries surround Ghyr? How many of them are allied or hostile to this kingdom?
- What were the Prism Wars? How many countries took part in them?
- What was this Prism, after all?
- Why there is a "master thief" in Ghyr? Is he the leader of a Thieves' Guild? Is the title of "master thief" arecongized elsewhere on Mystara (something the thieves around the world aspire to)?
- When was this country established?
- How old is Ghyr's ruling dynasty? Are these kings in contact with / related to other ruling families in the Known World or Alphatia?

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Re: Michael L. Gray's Kingdom of Ghyr

Post by Carillion » Sun Aug 12, 2018 1:25 pm

Wow - thanks for posting this! That was a really interesting interview.

I really enjoyed module XL-1. The dungeon design was innovative with the inclusion of a "Wellevator" and a few other features, and it wasn't the type of dungeon design I could have come up with by myself. It also included a few new interesting monsters, so I remember at the time thinking I had got my money's worth!

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Re: Michael L. Gray's Kingdom of Ghyr

Post by Irondrake » Sun Aug 12, 2018 7:12 pm

This was a great read. Thanks for posting it!

Quest for the Heartstone was one of my favorite adventures to run in my campaign, and my friend and I were just talking about it last night. A classic.

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