Sunday, May 30, 2021

Lost Civilizations

J. Eric Holmes, editor of the original Basic Set (1977), wrote a "fantasy supplement" to the "Source of the Nile" board game (published as "Lost Civilizations: A Fantasy Supplement for Source of the Nile" in The Dragon #24):

The game gives a vivid feel for the danger and excitement of exploration in the nineteenth century. What it was missing, I thought, were the kind of encounters that Allan Quartermain or Lord Greystoke would have had under similar circumstances. So, for the fantasy fans, like myself, who enjoy the game but would like to have the kind of adventures one would find in the works of H. Rider Haggard or Edgar Rice Burroughs, and with all respect for Maker and Wesely’s fine game, I offer the Fantasy Supplement: Lost civilization in Source of the Nile.

J. Eric Holmes, The Dragon #24

Holmes was a lifelong fan of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs (he even got the chance to meet Burroughs while both were living in Hawaii, at which time Burroughs autographed his copy of "Tarzan and the Leopard Men").

Holmes later wrote an authorized Burroughs pastiche "Mahars of Pellucidar" (1976), followed by a sequel "Red Axe of Pellucidar" which was never published, (although we may see a posthumous release in the near future).

Cover to The Dragon #24 (April, 1979).  Illustration by "Elrohir", a pseudonym used by artist Kenneth Rahman.

I was scheduled to play "Source of the Nile" with none other than Ross Maker at Gary Con XII, before it got canceled, and so signed up for a virtual session as part of Virtual Gary Con XII.  Our host used Holmes' rules for lost civilizations, which greatly enhanced the game.

Further Reading:

English novelist H. Rider Haggard is widely credited as the originator of the "lost world" genre.  Much of his work is in the public domain, accessible on Project Gutenberg:

King Solomon's Mines (1885), downloadable here
She: A History of Adventure (1887), downloadable here

Haggard went on to write several more stories involving Allan Quatermain (from "King Solomon's Mines") and Ayesha, or "She who must be obeyed".

"Tarzan and the Ancient City" by Milan Fibiger, from the portfolio "Tarzan as Art" (2007).

Edgar Rice Burroughs, the "master of the pulps" owes a literary debt to Haggard, and was a naturally gifted storyteller, influencing countless other writers (including Robert E Howard).

Burroughs' "Tarzan" tales* are filled with lost cities, such as Opar, forgotten outpost of sunken Atlantis, and the twin cities of Cathne, City of Gold, and Athne, City of Ivory.

*the Tarzan novels are presently being re-issued as part of the Edgar Rice Burroughs Authorized Library, complete with extras and stunning painted covers by Joe Jusko.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Source of the Nile

The "Source of the Nile" board game, by Twin Cities wargamers Ross Maker and David Wesely, won the Charles S. Roberts Awards at Origins 78 for "Best Pre-20th Century Game of 1978" and "Best Amateur Game of 1978".

Cover to "Source of the Nile" board game (Avalon Hill, 1979), originally published by Discovery Games in 1977.

The game involves a hex crawl through the unexplored interior of Africa, and seems at least partly inspired by "Outdoor Survival", although contents of individual hexes are randomly determined, and so differ from game to game (and an actual map of Africa).

Board from "Source of the Nile", representing Africa in 1821.  Note similarities to players maps in modules X1 "The Isle of Dread" and X6 "Quagmire!"

Gary Gygax provided a favorable review in The Dragon #20 (November, 1978), along with suggested improvements, including a proposed "native tribe facts sheet" (complete with tribal name generator).

Tribal name generator, from The Dragon #20

David Wesely responded with "Search for the Nile Revisited: Designer's Notes, Addenda, Clarifications & Response" in The Dragon #21 (December, 1978).  A supplement "Tributary" was released in December, 1978.

J. Eric Holmes, editor of the original Basic Set, contributed a "fantasy supplement" (to be covered in greater detail, tomorrow) in The Dragon #24 (April, 1979).  Turn sequence flowcharts were published in The Dragon #29 (September, 1979).

Further Reading:

Classic accounts of 19th century explorers are downloadable at

Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa: with Accounts of the Manners and Customs of the People, and of the Chase of the Gorilla, Crocodile, and other Animals (1862), by Paul B. Du Chaillu.

A Journey to Ashango-land: and further penetration into Equatorial Africa (1867), by Paul B. Du Chaillu.

Through the Dark continent, or, The sources of the Nile: around the great lakes of equatorial Africa and down the Livingstone River to the Atlantic Ocean, vol. 1vol. 2, (1878), by Henry M. Stanley.

Heroes of the Dark Continent and How Stanley Found Emin Pasha (1889). by James W. Buel.

In Savage Africa: or, The Adventures of Frank Baldwin from the Gold Coast to Zanzibar (1894), by Verney Lovett Cameron.

The late 19th century European colonization of Africa is an important period of our shared global history to understand.  I would suggest reading King Leopold's Ghost (or alternately viewing the 2006 documentary) for a sobering contemporary analysis.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Dungeon! More Variants

In addition to the various new character types introduced previously, Jon Pickens added two more, in "The Monk and Bard in Dungeon!" from The Dragon #17 (August, 1978):
The Monk: can move up to 6 spaces/turn, fights as an Elf, although gets 2 attacks/turn (only 1 if using a magic sword), if the first attack succeeds, can move an additional space (but no second attack), cannot be wounded or lose a turn unless "seriously wounded" (retreat one space, drop one prize, lose one turn - the same as a "light wound" in the 1980 version) although loses prizes/can be killed, ignores traps (except slides), cannot ambush other pieces/pick up magic armor or prizes more than 3,000 gp, needs 10,000 gp to win
The Bard: fights as a hero, is unaffected by clerical hold monster/only affected by fireball/lightning bolt on a roll of 8 or better, gets up to 4 "song" cards (entrancement song prevents attack, but cannot pick up treasure; combat song allows the Bard to fight as a Superhero), can be lost with anti-magic trap, although can replace 1 song/turn if no other action taken, needs 20,000 gp to win

I haven't played the game using either of these lesser-known variants, but might give them a try, the next time the kids and I play.

David Megarry leading multiple games of Dungeon! at Gary Con X (March, 2018), from the Wikipedia entry for Dungeon!  (I'm in the foreground, upper right.  Also, pretty sure that's Dan Collins, on Megarry's right).  Source: Wikimedia Commons

Rounding out our Dungeon! variants overview, we have George Laking's article "Dungeon! More Variations on the Theme" published in The Dragon #24 (April, 1979):
Transference: relaxing the limits of the "transference" (or, teleport) spell, while also increasing movement rates for the other character types.  Also, rules permitting the use of transference/teleport as an offensive spell.

Magical Monsters: rules for a version of "spell turning" for witches, evil wizards, vampires, etc.

Beast Masters: rules for subduing monsters, for both non-wizard and wizard character types.  Possibly inspired by Andre Norton's novel "The Beast Master" (the movie wasn't released until 1982).

Natural Occurrences: chance of bats, floods, poison gas, explosive gas, or cave-ins (11 on 2d6) or wandering monsters (12 on 2d6), whenever a turn ends in a corridor.

Dungeon Parties: rules for collaborative play.  The total gp needed to win is the total amount for each character, divided by two.

Laking concludes with the statement that with Dungeon! the possibilities are endless.  It's interesting to note the proliferation of variant rules.  It would be nice to collect them all together, along with "expansion packs" for the monster and treasure cards.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Gen Con XI: Dungeon! Tournament

Gen Con XI featured a Dungeon! championship on Friday, August 18, 1978.  Judges were Timothy Jones, Tom Christensen, Andy Holshan, and Bryan McVeigh.

A game of Dungeon! played at Gen Con XI (1978).  UW-Parkside Library archival photograph.

A recap was published in "That 'Other' Dungeon!" by Timothy Jones in The Dragon #21 (December, 1978), including the rules variants used (those published in The Strategic Review #6 (February, 1976) and The Dragon #1 (June, 1976).

Character pieces were restricted to the four "new" types (Halfling, Dwarf, Cleric, Thief).*  New magic items were introduced in the second round (including cursed items), and new monsters in the third and final round (with new abilities).

*Halflings could regain missiles as per spells, one per turn at "Start", and remove curse was added as a new Cleric spell

The player-to-player attack (or "ambush") rules appear to have been used.  Clerics could not ambush others, but could attack as a Superhero if ambushed.

Magic items from The Strategic Review #6 were added in the second round, as well as the following new ones:

New magic itemsmagic warhammer (2nd level, only usable by Dwarf), anti-ESP medallion (3rd level, cursed item), sacred mace (3rd level, only usable by Cleric), armor of vulnerability (4th level, cursed item), holy sword (5th level, only usable by Paladin), scroll of spells (6th level, usable by Thief and Wizard, includes sleep), wizards staff (6th level, only usable by Wizard).

Monsters from The Strategic Review #6 were used in the third round, with the following new abilities:

Dragon Breath: red dragons (as per fireball spell), blue or white dragons (as per lightning bolt spell).

Evil Characters: witches (lightning bolt spell), evil wizard (fireball spell), evil priest (curse spell; character is transported to the nearest chamber on the same level, without prizes).

Illustration by Harry Quinn, from the Dungeon! (1981) rules

The article by Jones also describes rules that weren't used in the tournament, but playtested during several rounds of open gaming, sponsored by the tournament judges:

The Elf: gets 3 arrows (missile/weapons as the Halfling).

The Wizard: cannot use magic armor (may carry at 4 spaces/turn) or magic weapons (may carry at no penalty).

The Halfling: when attacked by another character or breath weapon/spell, the Halfling defends as the better of the Hero or the Elf.  When attacked by giants, trolls, or ogres, the Halfling defends as though wearing magic armor.

The Dwarf: defends against giants, trolls, and ogres as does the Halfling.

The Cleric: of all the magic weaponry, the cleric may only use the sacred mace.

The Thief: may be affected by breath weapons/spells normally (defensive bonuses do not apply).  Cannot use magic armor (may carry at 5 spaces/turn).

Finally, a new character type was playtested:

The Paladin: fights as a Superhero, except against undead (see Cleric) whom he fights as a Superhero +1 (add +1 to the attack die roll).  Treats a "Serious Wounds" result on the Player Losing Table as retreat 1 space, drop 1 prize, lose 1 turn.  May not initiate ambush, but if ambushed, fights as a Superhero +1.  Only the Paladin may use the holy sword.  Needs 30,000 gp to win.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Gen Con XI: The D Series

Gen Con XI was held in August, 1978 on the Parkside Campus of the University of Wisconsin.*  Its D&D tournament was based on the D-series of A/D&D modules, which were available for purchase at the con, afterwards.

*see the UW-Parkside Library Digital Collections for archival photographs

Gen Con XI as advertised in The Dragon #s 14-17 (May-August, 1978).  The D&D tourney was based on modules D2/D3.

Gary Gygax discussed the Gen Con XI tourney in a guest editorial "MDG shows ORIGINS (and GENCON) how to run a tournament" in The Dragon #19 (October, 1978)

GenCon XI had the largest D&D tournament ever run. That same event has come in for a lot of more criticism, some justified and some not. The biggest rap against it was its sanguine nature; only one group survived RD Two. The reason behind the high mortality rate was players’ misconceptions, mostly.  Too many groups adopted the “hack and chop” mentality, and ran into far more than they bargained for. This tourney relied far more on cunning and stealth than brawn and guts. Too many groups failed to heed their directives, and paid the price.

One rap against the event does hold up; it was chaotically run, though Bob Blake did as good as can be reasonably expected of any mortal. There were scoring errors, and there were other errors as well. An article in this issue explains it better than I could.  Most of the organizational screw-ups were a result of bad communications between PAW and the tournament people, and none were fatal.

Gary Gygax, The Dragon #19

The first round of the tournament used the Shrine of the Kuo-Toa from module D2, while the second and third rounds were from module D3.

Bob Blake provided his analysis of the competition in "How Many Ettins is a Fire Giant Worth: Competitive D&D" in the same issue:

The D&D tournament at GenCon XI posed a different problem.  We used Advanced D&D Modules D2 and D3 for the scenario, and the adventurers were to follow the trail of the Drow from Module G3 through the vast system of underground labyrinths the Drow call home.  The trail led them to the Shrine of the Duo-Tao (D2), through which there was only one way to pass unscathed, and this was worth a considerable number of points. Any other approach resulted in fighting with the Kuo-Tao. If the party eventually passed through the shrine. they received points for doing so, but not as many as a “perfect” team, and additional points for slaying Kuo-Toa, the rationale being that the fish people and the party mutually disliked each other. But besides this, not much was known on the surface of this race, and any information the party could take with them regarding their strengths and weaknesses would be of value, hence points for tournament considerations. A survivor multiplier was also used, casualties being counted as those slain outright or captured and hauled away for eventual sacrifice.

Round two of the tournament shot my scoring system all to ____ (pick your favorite outer plane). Briefly, each team but one ran into a horrible encounter with a demon and died. That one team managed to survive that encounter with but one casualty and continued on, so they were declared the winners. But the difficult problem was what to do with the others; the winners had a bye in the third round, but second and third place slots were left to be filled. What had to be done was to have that DM meeting, hash over each team’s performance, then pick two teams to vie for second place. Previously in this article I mentioned the shortcomings of the subjective approach (which were my pre-formed opinions of the method), one I’ve never used in a tournament before and one I’ll never use again, if at all possible, considering how difficult it was to choose the advancing teams. I do believe we picked the two best teams, but I would have much preferred to have used some other means. A prime example of Murphy’s Law.

Bob Blake, The Dragon #19

The modules D1 "Descent into the Depths of the Earth", D2 "Shrine of the Kuo-Toa", and D3 "Vault of the Drow" were subsequently advertised in The Dragon #20:

Advertisement for the D series of adventures in The Dragon #20 (November, 1978).

I didn't get a chance to run the D series for my son and his friends, after they'd completed the G series (sadly, it's unlikely that we'll ever get the chance, given the prolonged hiatus).

The Drow:

The Drow were originally mentioned in the AD&D 1e Monster Manual, published the previous year:

The "Black Elves," or drow, are only legend. They purportedly dwell deep beneath the surface in a strange subterranean realm. The drow are said to be as dark as faeries are bright and as evil as the latter are good. Tales picture them as weak fighters but strong magic-users.

AD&D 1e Monster Manual (1977)

Gygax discussed potential inspirations for the race, in "Books Are Books, and Games Are Games, and Never the Twain..." from The Dragon #31 (November, 1979)

The three “D Series” modules which continue the former series owe little, if anything, to fiction. Drow are mentioned in Keightley’s THE FAIRY MYTHOLOGY, as I recall (it might have been THE SECRET COMMONWEALTH — neither book is before me, and it is not all that important anyway), and as Dark Elves of evil nature, they served as an ideal basis for the creation of a unique new mythos designed especially for AD&D.

Gary Gygax, The Dragon #31

As has been noted elsewhere, "drow" aren't specifically mentioned in either work,* and may possibly owe their origins to the svartálfar ("black elves") or dökkálfar ("dark elves") of Norse myth.

*"The Fairy Mythology" (1892) by Thomas Keightley is downloadable, here, and "The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies" (1893) by Robert Kirk, with commentary by Andrew Lang, is downloadable, here.  Both are worth a browse.

Into the Depths:

The first two modules in the D series were re-released as D1-2 "Descent into the Depths of the Earth" (1981)* at which time D3 "Vault of the Drow" was re-issued with a new cover.  The series was included in GDQ1-7 "Queen of the Spiders" (1986).

*the D1-2 version included the Gen Con XI pregens (with names derived from "Poplollies and Bellibones: A Celebration of Lost Words" (1977), with only two re-appearing from the G series

A novelization of the series by Paul Kidd was released in 2000 as part of TSR's 25th anniversary.  The setting was the World of Greyhawk, although the original modules were generic and could be situated anywhere.

The Underdark:

The OD&D concept of the megadungeon gave way to AD&D 1e's ecosystem of the Underdark, covered in greater detail in the "Dungeoneer's Survival Guide" (1986).

Map used for the D series.  Special locations include the "Caverns and Warrens of the Troglodytes" (Q18/19) from module D1, the "Shrine of the Kuo-Toa People" (L241/42) from module D2, and the "Vault of the Drow" (Z255-57/Y254-56) from module D3.  Scale: 1 hex = 1 mile. 

The area shaded in the map above is the players' map.  The PCs begin at the bottom right, and travel to the top left.  (See this alternative players' map, from the Blog of Exalted Deeds.)

Dyson Logos created maps for additional primary, secondary, and tertiary passages (in addition to some cave geomorphs), downloadable here.

The large number of unkeyed areas have been the focus of a Dragonsfoot Collaborative Project: Mapping the Depths of the Earth, updated here.


The article "The Vault of the Drow" by Frederick Weining, published in Dragon 298 (August, 2002) is highly regarded as an excellent resource for adding detail to the city of Erelhei-Cinlu.*

*a name derived by using the first few letters of each of the names of Gygax's first five children (Ernie, Elise, Heidi, Cindy, and Luke)

Jason B. Thompson created a D&D walkthrough map for D3 - Vault of the Drow, in addition to those for the G series (link is to WotC's web page).

Finally, I was intrigued to learn of the development of a Diplomacy variant called Drowmacy, playtested at Gary Con X in 2018.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

The G Series: Expansions, Sequels, Homages

The original G series has inspired multiple expansions, sequels, and homages.  The more notable ones (both official and unofficial) are listed, below:


Cover to Module de Donjon G4 "Le Château de la Reine des Géante des Nuages" (2012).  Illustration by Jim Holloway.  (For more on this limited edition French version and Holloway's illustrations, see here and here).

The prolific RC Pinnell wrote a series of giant-based adventures for AD&D 1e, widely regarded as classics of the "old school" movement:

G4: Sanctum of the Stone Giant Lord (reviewed at Grognardia in 2009)
G5: Curse of the Cloud Giant Queen (translated into French, above)
G6: The Forge of the Formorian Smith Lord
G7: Giants of the Deep
G8: Manor of the Mountain Giant King
G9: Secret of the Swamp Giant Steward
G+ The Verbeeg Valley

The entire series was collated into a G4-5-6-7-8-9+ Super Giant Adventure (reviewed at in 2012).*

GX: Revenge of the Giants (2013) downloadable, here
GS13: Secret of the Storm Giant King (downloadable, here)

*see also "G4-9 by RC Pinnell Released for Free in PDF by the Roll For Initiative Podcast" over at Tenkar's Tavern, back in 2015

Vengeance of the Giants:

Covers to the forthcoming "Vengeance of the Giants" series of adventures, by Paul J. Stormberg.

The Gary Con Legends Open in 2018 involved a three-round tournament, showcasing an all-new, three-part G series:

Years ago, a band of heroes put down an invasion of giant foemen. Alas, just five years of peace has reigned and now the giant raids have begun anew—but these raids are different. Townsfolk, if any survive, are left to watch their goods, livestock, and even fellow townsfolk carried off into the trackless wastes of the mountains. Your party has girded themselves to eliminate this new threat to save your fiefs, manors, and holdings. You alone must face the—Vengeance of the Giants!

I was fortunate enough to snag a spot on what would ultimately become the winning team, and can honestly state these adventures are pulse-pounding, worthy successors to the originals.

I'm eager to see them released at some point in the near future, and will be sure to review them, here.  (See Legends of Roleplaying Adventures for more details).

The Liberation of Geoff:

Cover to "Against the Giants: The Liberation of Geoff" (1999) by Sean K. Reynolds.  Illustration by Gerald Brom.

"Against the Giants: The Liberation of Geoff" for AD&D 2e takes place in the World of Greyhawk, a decade after the events in the original G series.

In addition to conversions of the original modules to 2e, the adventure contains G4 "Mount Rungnirheim" (another frost giant lair), G5 "Castle Thrasmotnir" (another fire giant lair), and G6 "Cloud Islands of the Sakhut" (a cloud giant lair).

An RPGA Adventurer's Guild Adventure by John Rateliff, called "Emissaries" (1999) was released as a tie-in to the adventure.

Revenge of the Giants:

Cover to "Revenge of the Giants" (2009) by Bill Slavicsek, Mike Mearls, and David Noonan.  Illustration by Jesper Ejsing.

"Revenge of the Giants" is a 4e homage to the original G series.  The adventure was designed as part of the "Points of Light" or Nentir Vale setting for 4e, near the east end of Lake Nen.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Origins 78: The G Series

Origins 78 (Origins IV), sponsored by Metro Detroit Gamers, was held in Ann Arbor, Michigan in July, 1978.  A watershed convention, its now legendary D&D tournament formed the basis of the G-series of A/D&D modules.

Origins 78 as advertised in The Dragon #s 14-16 (May-July, 1978).  The D&D tourney modules for sale were the G series adventures.

Tim Kask's editorial "Origins '78 - Biggest Con To Date" in The Dragon #18 (September, 1978) included a lengthy con report:

TD #19 will contain a report on the massive D&D tourney; it will contain insights into the scoring system, judges guidelines, and such, as well as some accounts of what actually happened. The tournament was conducted with the three new modules that TSR has produced and now has commercially available. The winning team had two ladies on it, both of them capable players. I know just how good the winning group was because I had them for Rd. Two.

Tim Kask, The Dragon #18

Bob Blake, organizer of the two previous Gen Con tournaments, explained the scoring system in "How Many Ettins is a Fire Giant Worth: Competitive D&D" in The Dragon #19 (October, 1978):

At Origins 78 we used Advanced D&D Modules G1-G3, and the scenario was such that the party had two objectives in each round; kill as many giants as possible, plus discover, by way of clues, who was behind the uprising of the giants. With these things in mind, I developed the following scoring system:

(G=R=C) x S = VP

“G” was giant kill points, “R” was the number of rooms examined times the room value in that module (this was a measure of the verve with which a team pursued its objective), “C" was the value of clues found, “S” was the number of survivors in the party, and “VP” was victory points. Point weighting was as follows: the total room value plus the total clue value was equal to the total giant value available to be slain in that module of the adventure.

Bob Blake, The Dragon #19

A detailed play-by-play submitted by the winning team (interspersed with editorial comments by the DMs for each round) was featured in "The Battle for Snurre's Hall" in The Dragon #19 (October, 1978).

The three individual rounds of the tournament were published as modules G1 "Steading of the Giant Chief", G2 "The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl", and G3 "Hall of the Fire Giant King" as advertised in The Dragon #19:

Advertisement for the G series of adventures in The Dragon #19 (October, 1978).

A few years ago, I ran my son and his friends through the series (posting their progress with tactical illustrations in a Campaign Journal over on Dragonsfoot from 2016-18), but never got around to sharing their final three sessions.

Literary Sources:

The G-series modules were inspired by the world of Norse mythology as presented in "The Roaring Trumpet", the first of the "Harold Shea" stories by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague deCamp.

Cover to Unknown Fantasy Fiction (May, 1940).  Illustration by Manuel Rey Isip. 

"The Roaring Trumpet" was first published in "Unknown Fantasy Fiction" in May, 1940, followed by "The Mathematics of Magic" in August.  The two stories were collected together as "The Incomplete Enchanter" in 1941.

For more on the Norse and folkloric roots of the G series, Kent David Kelly's excellent A Grim Saga of Giant Foemen (originally intended for Gygax magazine, although subsequently posted on Dragonsfoot in 2016) is required reading.

An Epic Campaign:

The collected adventures were re-released as G1-2-3 "Against The Giants" (1981)* and revised and expanded somewhat in GDQ1-7 "Queen of the Spiders" (1986) a 128-page supermodule (containing some useful new bits).

*the 1981 version included the original pregens (with names derived from "Poplollies and Bellibones: A Celebration of Lost Words" (1977)

A novelization of the G series by Ru Emerson was released in 1999 as part of TSR's 25th anniversary.  The setting was the World of Greyhawk, although the original modules were generic and could be situated anywhere.

The adventures were updated to 4e in Dungeon #197 (December, 2011), Dungeon #199 (February, 2012) and Dungeon #200 (March, 2012),* with a stone giant lair "Warrens of the Stone Giant Thane" in Dungeon #198 (January, 2012).

*the excellent, full-color maps by Mike Schley can be purchased for download, here.

An illustration of King Snurre by Tyler Jacobson was featured on the cover of the D&D 5e Player's Handbook (2014).  For those wishing to run these classic adventures using 5e, a conversion was included in "Tales from the Yawning Portal", published in 2017.

Walkthrough Maps:

If you haven't yet seen them, be sure to check out Jason B. Thompson's D&D walkthrough maps for the G series, commissioned by Wizards of the Coast, a few years back (links below are to WotC's web pages, which are difficult to find):

Other Settings:

Since the G series were the first dungeon modules to be published by TSR, their minimalist nature renders them easy to run for a Holmes-based, B/X, or BECMI campaign (I've previously shared suggestions for retrofitting G1 and G2 to OD&D).

Suggested locations for running the G series on the continental setting for B/X.

For the Mystara fans among you, I've provided advice on Setting module G1-2-3/Against the Giants in the Northern Reaches (link to Vaults of Pandius, from my article on "Adapting Classic AD&D Modules to a Mystara Campaign" published in Threshold #22 (March, 2019).

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 The Dungeoneer #9 (Jan/Feb, 1979) pg. 18, for a contemporary review, by Chuck Ansell, and Rolled by the Dice in Andre Norton’s "Quag Keep" (2020) for a recent review, 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.