Sunday, December 25, 2016

Of Dragons and Dungeons

Art by David C. Sutherland III (from Dragon #12)

In 1976, Gary Gygax exposed noted authoress Andre Norton to D&D when she participated in one of his games.  Inspired by this experience, she wrote Quag Keep.  As an acknowledgement, Norton expressed “appreciation for the invaluable aid of E. Gary Gygax of TSR, expert player and creator of the war game, DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS, on which the background of QUAG KEEP is based.”  Norton therefore had an early insight into role-playing games, a phenomenon that – as an 'Appendix N' writer – she helped inspire.  However, note that the term “role-playing game” was not yet in use and D&D was still considered a “war game.”

Quag Keep was published in 1978 and a preview of chapters 2 and 3 appeared in the February issue of The Dragon.  (The image above represents a portion of that issue's cover.)  Although that issue refers to Quag Keep as a “D&D novel,” there doesn't seem to be any official licensing; at least it isn't suggested in my copy of the book – a 1979 DAW paperback.  The first page – even before the title page – of this paperback displays two paragraphs of 'teaser text' with the heading “Of Dragons and Dungeons.”  This phrase appears nowhere else in the book and is doubtless intended to bring to mind Dungeons & Dragons without impinging upon TSR's intellectual property.  (The only specific reference to Dungeons & Dragons is in Norton's acknowledgement, shown above.)

Even without an official license, Norton's book certainly had Gary's approval.  In fact, most of the story takes place in the World of Greyhawk.  Not surprisingly, several people have analyzed Quag Keep in order to glean information about Gary's campaign.  Then there's this total dork.  (Ha ha!  Just kidding Mr. Mona, sir!)  As interesting as these analyses may be, your humble host would like to look at Quag Keep from a different perspective.  Quag Keep does not always conform to the D&D oeuvre.  Ultimately, Norton's book reflects her impression of Dungeons & Dragons, modified as necessary for purposes of fiction.

Quag Keep represents the completion of a full circle.  It is fantasy literature based on a role-playing game which itself is based on fantasy literature.  What if we go one iteration further and conceive of a role-playing game based on Quag Keep ?  This game would capitalize on the differences between D&D and the novel.  Perhaps the game could be called Keepers of the QUAG (Quest Under A Geas).

In the book, seven “real world” players find themselves in a fantasy setting.  The  consciousness of each player occupies a form based on a miniature that the player had selected.  So, people become part of the game they were playing.  (I suppose this plot was not yet trite in the seventies.)  Actually, the players' personalities are eclipsed by the characters' personalities.  In any event, our hypothetical game would require that each (player) character be represented by a figure.

The Quag Keep protagonists each have...
...a wide bracelet of a metal as richly bright as newly polished copper.  It was made of two bands between which, swung on hardly visible gimbals, were a series of dice – three-sided, four-sided, eight-sided, six-sided.
In the story, sometimes these dice spin of their own accord and produce some sort of effect.  I suppose there could be other dice as part of the bracelet, but the book only identifies these four and does not hint at any others.  Our game would be restricted to these dice.  Rolls in both the Hero System and GURPS commonly employ 3d6, providing a range covering 3 to 18 with an average roll of 10.5.  Now, 1d4+1d6+1d8 provides the same range and average.  However, 3d6 is not the same thing as 1d4+1d6+1d8; 3d6 can generate 216 combinations (6 × 6 × 6) while 1d4+1d6+1d8 can only offer 192 combinations (4 × 6 × 8).  Still, 1d4+1d6+1d8 should suit our purposes.  Incidentally, my copy of Quag Keep has 192 pages.

The protagonists/player characters represent a variety of classes types.  Let's examine each.

Swordsman:  In the illustration, the swordsman character, Milo Jagon, is shown wearing a helmet.  Wouldn't he just be a fighter?  Perhaps not.  Page 11 tells us that, “As a swordsman Milo was vowed to Law.”  It is absurd that “followers of Chaos” and “neutrals” couldn't effectively wield a sword.  Maybe there is a guild or order of swordsmen that take a “vow” and the proper title of a member of such is 'swordsman'.  Page 76 informs us that a swordsman (or perhaps any person pledged to Law) “cannot kill without cause.”  Also, a swordsman cannot “be twisted and bent into the service of evil.”

We also learn that a swordsman can have “perhaps one or two simple spells,” something that cannot be said of D&D fighters.  At one point, the bracelet-dice spin, causing pouches of coins to appear at the feet of the protagonists.  “And how about spells?” Milo then thinks, “Surely they had a right to throw also for those?”

Berserker:  The berserker character, Niale Fangtooth, is depicted on the right of the illustration, accompanied by his pseudo-dragon, Afreeta.  Rather than symbolic adoption of animal traits like real-world berserkers, Niale actually shapeshifts into a boar and is often referred to as a “were.”  It may be that all 'Nortonian' berserkers are weres, but are all were-folk necessarily berserkers?  For berserkers (and perhaps all weres), “the tongues of beasts were as open as the communication of humankind.”  However, animals do not always react well to the presence of a were.

Lizardman:  Gulth, the only lizardman in the illustration, is perhaps the most heroic of the protagonists.  His kind require heat and moisture in order to thrive.  This becomes problematic during the course of the story.

[ Some people (who give a pass to magic spells and berserkers able to change into horse-sized boars) experience major butthurt because Gulth uses a blanket to keep warm.  “He's an ectotherm,” they complain, “a blanket won't allow him to retain heat.”  To these oppressive mammals, I have two things to say:  (1) A pre-warmed blanket would help Gulth's body temperature.  (2) What part of “fantasy” don't you understand? ]

Cleric:  Daev Dyne, the cleric, resembles to some extent a D&D magic-user.  He is adorned with a “robe of gray, faced with white.”  With regard to weapons, he is “permitted no more than the knife of [his] calling.”  Further to the meaning of  'cleric', Norton indicates that Daev Dyne has “training as a clerk.”  With regard to magic, Daev Dyne performs a ritual to ascertain information about two rings worn by Milo.  He can also cast spells for scrying, light, and healing.  Additionally, he employs holy water to protect a camp site.

Bard:  The character Wymarc can play songs on his harp to accomplish various effects. 'The Song of Herckon' can discombobulate shadow creatures.  'The Song of Far Wings' can summon giant eagles.  He can also use music to bring “a release from tension, a gentle dreaminess from which all that might harm or threaten was barred.”

Battlemaid:  The character Yevele wears mail and wields a sword expertly.  She also casts a spell that temporarily paralyzes two riders and their mounts.  However, having cast that spell, she “cannot use that one again.”  With regard to spells, she has “perhaps one or two others [she] can summon.”

Elf:  The character of Ingrge is introduced as “one of the Woods Rangers.”  That he is an elf is not mentioned until the second paragraph of his description.  This may mean that all Woods Rangers are elves.  Yet perhaps not all elves are Woods Rangers.  Elves possess “mastery over communication with animals and birds.”  Actually, elves can use “mind-talk” to communicate “not only among themselves but with all the sons and daughters of nature who wore feathers, scales, or fur – or even leaves – for it is rumored that to the elves trees were also comrades, teachers, and kin-friends.”  Elves also possess a portion of magical “Power Lore” that can be used to “scent” magic.

Among the antagonists, there are other classes types.  Unfortunately, for most of these, Norton supplies little information.

Druid:  Druids are a “close-knit and secret fraternity.”  While some have “the brand of Chaos and the powers of the Outer Dark at their call,” the Druid enemy in Norton's story, Carlvols, is not so powerful and not beholden to Chaos.  Carlvols can “vanish in a puff of smoke” (along with his unnatural steed) as well as summon urghaunts.  On one occasion, he summons a bevy of shadow imps. 

Hitherblood:  When the protagonists encounter Helagret, they notice “an odd cast to his features, something that hinted of mixed blood, perhaps of the elven kind.”  We are later told that Helagret does “not have elf favor” and Ingrge claims that he is a “half-blood from the Hither Hills.”

Illusionist:  The character of Ewire twice lures a protagonist away from camp by assuming the semblance of a person known to the protagonist.  She can also cause her allies to appear in different guises.

No comments:

Post a Comment