Monday, March 11, 2019

Where Is Saltmarsh?

Hello Greyhawkers! The title of this post is of course facetious, it's part of the World of Greyhawk. But for a small port first introduced in 1981's U1: Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, it's surprisingly a house-hold name in popular culture (27th all-time) while at the same time under-appreciated in the setting that spawned it. Allow me to explain:

WotC's new book Ghosts of Saltmarsh is taking up the iconic seaport and allowing it to fit into any campaign world. And that's fine. Indeed, the 3.5E DMG2 first expanded on Saltmarsh, taking a one page description of the town in U1 and developing it into a fully realized campaign location, 33 pages in length.

Where is Saltmarsh? According to U-series authors Dave Browne and Don Turnbull, Saltmarsh is in Keoland, fittingly at hex coordinate U4/123. The U series is initialed as such because it was written by TSR's United Kingdom division. I wonder then if this is why Saltmarsh for all its rave reviews is hard to find referenced in other Greyhawk sources.

The original Darlene map of course doesn't feature towns this small and it predates the creation of the module in the 1980 World of Greyhawk Folio. The module however DOES predate the 1983 World of Greyhawk boxed set. In the boxed set Glossography booklet there is a listing of hex locations for modules set in the World of Greyhawk. None of the U series modules make this list. Thankfully the modules themselves give its hex location.

Furthermore, a ton of modules was released from 1981 onward such as I1: Dwellers of the Forbidden City and L1: The Secret of Bone Hill. On the back of all these modules would be advertisement listings to help you collect the whole library of D&D products. Shockingly, UK mods don't appear on the American module ads, but the U and UK series mods sure as heck reference the home office's work. Now the reality of business between oceans and promoting each others works may have been an obvious geographic choice. Even so, I can only conclude short of being featuring in Dragon Magazine, that the U1 got popular by word of mouth!

Despite being an underground hit, the dearth of Saltmarsh references is pretty steady until the second DMG is put out towards the end of 3.5E (set 7 years after the events of the U-series). Earlier works in the same edition like The Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, does not list Saltmarsh among major towns (Keoland is quite large). Worse, the Living Greyhawk Journal #1, has an article about Keoland by my friend Gary Holian. However, this well-developed article does not show Saltmarsh on it's close-up map (it shows Seaton though) and only mentions Saltmarsh in the caption of a piece of art showing the haunted house of the module (named Makaster House).

What else references Saltmarsh? A Dungeon Magazine #77 adventure titled To Walk Beneath the Waves by W. Jason Peck, makes mention of the module being set in the Flanaess near Saltmarsh. By the way, this mod must've slipped by WotC while they were combing Dungeon for aquatic adventures in GH like The Styes and Tammeraut's Fate. Fortunately, Paizo's 4-part World of Greyhawk map from Dungeon (118-121) is a hex for hex update of the Darlene map and does give Saltmarsh it's proper placing.

In summary, Saltmarsh the adventure defied the odds and became a D&D icon. That Wizards would take the town, build upon it, or even suggest it be played in another setting is entirely fine then, because the town deserves the spotlight for once.


Unknown said...

For relative placement of Saltmarsh on a truly local scale, and perhaps even with terrain, I would overlay Keoland's Seaton with the RW Seaton of England, and then use Sidmouth for the location of Saltmarsh.

"Budleigh Salterton" becomes the new lizardfolk lair at the mouth of the Dun, and "Exmouth" the old lizardfolk lair at the mouth of the Javan.

Unknown said...

(above from Kirt Wackford) - Hi Mort!

Mike Bridges said...

Kirt! Thanks for the comment. Good advice and great seeing you around ;)