Saturday, May 1, 2021

Quag Keep

This is a land where Law and Chaos are ever struggling one against each other.  But the laws of Chance will let neither gain full sway.
Quag Keep, 1978

Back in 1976, Gary Gygax made the pilgrimage to Winter Park, Florida to run a game of Dungeons & Dragons for famed novelist Andre Norton (as related by Chris Schweizer in 2019, whose father was one of the participants).

Cover to the 1st edition of Quag Keep (1978) by Andre Norton.  Illustration by Jack Gaughan.

Norton subsequently wrote Quag Keep, about a group of gamers who are mysteriously transported into the bodies of their characters (an excerpt of which was published as a preview in The Dragon #12 (February, 1978).

Quag Keep is an absorbing read, yielding a unique perspective of the OD&D game, before AD&D was published.  Some of the prose is unwieldy, although I enjoyed it more the second time around, and plan to read it again.

*see Rolled by the Dice in Andre Norton’s "Quag Keep" for a recent review (2020), by Judith Tarr.

Law and Chaos:

The conflict between Law and Chaos features prominently:

The eternal war between Law and Chaos flared often in Greyhawk.  It was in a manner of speaking a "free city" - since it had no overlord to hold it firmly to his own will.  For that reason it had become a city of masterless men, a point from which many expeditions, privately conceived and planned for the despoiling of ancient treasures, would set out...

But if those on the side of Law recruited here, so did the followers of Chaos.  There were neutrals also, willing to join with either side for the sake of payment.  But they were never to be wholly depended upon by any man who had intelligence, for they might betray one at the flip of a coin or the change of the wind itself.
Quag Keep, 1978

Gygax also used the framework of a constant struggle between Law and Chaos as the backdrop to module B2 "The Keep on the Borderlands".

The Player/Characters:

Each of the seven player characters wear bracelets of polyhedral dice, which activate when danger is near.  They learn they can influence the dice rolls, by concentrating.

Martin Jefferson/Milo Jagon

Milo is described as a lawful "swordsman" (the title of a third-level fighting man).  In addition to the dice bracelet, he wears two thumb rings, with magical properties.

Nelson Langley/Naile Fangtooth

Naile is based on the berserker subclass, from The Dragon #3 (October, 1976).  He also possesses a pseudo-dragon, as described in the AD&D 1e Monster Manual (1977).

James Ritchie/Ingrge

Ingrge is an elven ranger.  He is skilled with a bow (think Legolas in Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy) and is able to communicate with animals.

Susan Spencer/Yevele

Yevele is a "battlemaid", a female fighter.  She appears to hearken from a matriarchal, northern society, followers of the High Horned Lady.

Lloyd Collins/Deav Dyne

Deav Dyne is described as a cleric, but goes unarmored and only wields a dagger, much as a magic-user would.  He uses prayer beads to cast spells.

Bill Ford/Wymarc

Wymarc is a bard, as described in The Strategic Review #6 (February, 1976).  He possesses a barding harp, like those in the same issue.

Max Stein/Gulth

Gulth is a lizardman, an example of the "other character types" described as permissible in OD&D vol. 1 "Men & Magic" (pg. 8)

The Geas:

The seven adventurers are gathered together by the wizard Hystaspes, who casts a geas on them to seek out the source of that which brought them into this world, and to destroy it.

Standing by the fire, as if his paunchy body still craved heat in spite of the temperature of the chamber, was a man of perhaps Milo’s height, yet stooped a little of shoulder and completely bald of head. In place of hair the dome of his skin covered skull had been painted or tattooed with the same unreadable design as marked the cloak patch of his servant.

Along the journey, one of the adversaries encountered is a druid, who appears to be drawn from the Greyhawk supplement, rather than Eldritch Wizardry.

The OD&D Game World:

The setting for Quag Keep isn't "The World of Greyhawk" (which wouldn't see publication until 1980) but rather the OD&D game world, probably based on the rough notes Gygax makes reference to in Alarums & Excursions #15 (October, 1976).

Map of the Great Kingdom, from Domesday Book #9.

The companions depart the free city of Greyhawk and travel west, along the main river through the Grand Duchy of Geofp (sic).*  They enter the mountains and cross the pass into the Sea of Dust, which holds the secrets of Quag Keep.

*Many of the locations on Megarry's copy of the Great Kingdom map are mentioned, although sometimes misspelled (ie. "Blackmer" vs. Blackmoor, the Grand Duchy of "Geofp" vs. Geoff, and "Koeland" vs. Keoland).

Norton even mentions the Temple of the Frog:

...the sound of shrill and loud croaking made him think, with a shiver he could not entirely subdue, of that horror tale told about the Temple of the Frog and the unnatural creatures bred and nurtured therein to deliver the death stroke against any who invaded that hidden land.  That, too, occupied the heart of a swamp, holding secrets no man of the outer world could more than guess.

Quag Keep, 1978

Concluding Thoughts:

Quag Keep draws upon the tradition in "Three Hearts and Three Lions" by Poul Anderson, and may have been an inspiration for the concept of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon.

Later stories in a similar vein include "Guardians of the Flame" by Joel Rosenberg, and "The Fionavar Tapestry" by Guy Gavriel Kay.

The sequel "Return to Quag Keep" (2006) was a collaboration between Andre Norton and Jean Rabe, published posthumously.

Finally, I was interested to learn that a screenplay was announced in 2012, although haven't heard any recent news.