A bit of history:
Gary Gygax wrote and published the Gord the Rogue novels from 1985 to 1988. The first two, Saga of Old City and Artifact of Evil, were published under TSR. He published the rest–City of Hawks, Night Arrant, Sea of Death, Come Endless Darkness, and Dance of Demons–through his own company, Infinities Productions, after he had left TSR.
Sometime in the 1990s, I inherited a copy of Artifact of Evil from my older brother. Read it. Loved it. I was blissfully unaware of all the drama that happened with Gygax’s ousting as head of TSR.
Here’s a novel written the guy who created D&D! It has an epic quest which spans a continent. The adventuring party has a core group of characters: Gord the Rogue, Gellor the Bard, Curley Greenleaf and host of other characters who leave, re-join, or die along the way–just like in a D&D campaign! And the story is pretty good, too!
I’ve since read Saga of Old City and City of Hawks. Saga read like a huge prelude or backstory of what was to come, but it was enjoyable. City of Hawks was okay, too. I read both after I learned all about how Gygax was pretty much forced to quit the company. I also knew Gygax blows up the world in Dance of Demons.
In my recent hiatus from gaming and blogging, I decided to finish the series. Somewhere along the way I had picked up Sea of Death and Come Endless Darkness but I’d never read them. I swear I remember reading Night Arrant but I presently don’t own a copy.
At any rate, I figured: Let’s finish the series. I know Dance of Demons ends with the dark god Tharizdun unleashed on the multiverse and the destruction of the World of Greyhawk, and maybe this was Gygax’s retribution for what happened to him at TSR. So I know how it ends, but let’s try…
I’d planned on picking up Night Arrant and Dance of Demons after I’d finished the other books.
Now I’ve changed my mind.
Saga of Old City was better this time around. You have to view it as a series of episodic adventures rather than as an overarching plot. A prelude. The real plot for the whole series begins near the end of the book, when Gord and his fellow adventurers (Curley, Gellor, and Chert the Barbarian) retrieve the first part of the Artifact of Evil from an ancient ruin–a part of a key (a theorpart, as each piece would later be called) to release Tharizdun from his ancient prison.
I liked the idea of an adventuring party composing of a rogue, druid, bard, and a barbarian. It was different than the standard fair (dwarf fighter, human cleric, elven wizard, etc.).
I still enjoyed Artifact of Evil. Gygax combined plenty of action and adventure into a good story with some surprises at the end. You got the grand tour of the Flanaess from the Pomarj all the way into the Vesve Forest. And the ending was a bit surprising and set things up for what was to come.
As for Sea of Death? Well…
I can now say I’ve read it once, but I ever plan on reading it again. I expected another yard like Saga of Old City and Artifact of Evil, where Chert, Gellor, Curley, and Gord all got back together again for another adventure. Instead we find Gord wandering around the western part of the Flanaess amid the Plains of the Paynims and the Sea of Dust–except Gygax can’t call them that for legal reasons.
Can Gygax be blamed for this? Not really. Not unless he wanted to get sued (again) by TSR. And so names, familiar to longtime Greyhawk and D&D fans, were changed. The Plains of the Paynims became the Bayomen Plains. Gord must cross the Sea of Dust/Ashen Desert to find the Forgotten City/City out of Mind to retrieve the second Theorpart before old villains like the dwarf Lord Obmi and the dark elf Eclavdra do.
Some of these name changes would bring confusion (particularly in Come Endless Darkness–who exactly is the Demiurge again? A new creation? Somebody from the original canon?) And it doesn’t help that Gygax sometimes uses both names–like Nerull/Infestix.
What’s more bothersome is how Sea of Death began: a grand meeting somewhere in the Astral(?) plane between the powers of evil. They have this council which lasts for thirty or pages where they threaten each other and argue, before they finally decide on a contest between which servant can find the next Theorpart.
Evil demons (Iuz, Grazz’t) and people (Iggwilv, Zuggtomoy) talking about doing evil things. Grrr… arrgh… we’re evil. We also have to balance our own evilness to prevent the ultimate evil, Tharizdun, from escaping. That’s really the only depth to these one dimensional characters. You’d see another council or two like this later in the book, and again in Come Endless Darkness.
Gygax spent too much time on them. What’s the point? Get to the action.
But when the action finally happened I found myself not caring about any of the characters. Everybody, save for his companion Leda (more on her in the moment), who accompanied Gord was cannon fodder so he could finish his mission. You knew Gord wasn’t going to die–he had a ring of nine lives.
And he had a half-elf companion named Leda who had healing arts, like a cleric. Though within twenty pages after her introduction she was called a dark elf. And then it turned out she was a clone of Eclavdra but was some how good.
Huh? I don’t know. Maybe I missed something.
I still enjoyed parts of the book. Gord’s precious sword gets melted by acid. There’s an escape from the City Out of Mind/Forgotten City. He fights the dwarf Lord Obmi to the death over a Theorpart.
Come Endless Darkness picked up sometime after where Sea of Death left off. Gord still isn’t with his original companions. There’s something about being under constant attack.
I skimmed most of this book. Gord did reunite with his old companions–Curley, Gellor, and Chert–but they played second fiddle to Gord and his destiny. Together, they quested to hunt down Gravestone, an entity who wanted to raise Tharizdun using the Theorparts. (Gravestone? Come’on, wasn’t there a better name than that? And did Gravestone have another name in the TSR days?)
Gord now has a magic evil sword called Blackheartseeker and can use it, though he supposed to be a Champion of the Balace between good and evil….
I don’t know. I don’t care.
By the end of the book, Gord was on the fast track on becoming a demigod. He didn’t need his companions anymore.
I won’t be reading Dance of Demons. Not worth my time.
A brief Google search revealed all I needed to know.
The politics at TSR did seep into the story. It was Gygax’s last, weak, retributive strike against TSR. No matter what level of power Gord attained, he was still going to lose against Tharizdun, who unleashed multiversal Armageddon at the end of the series (or did he? There’s some speculation about this.
The World of Greyhawk was no more in the eyes of its creator.
And in the meantime TSR got in its retributive licks with terrible Greyhawk adventures like Castle Greyhawk(a parody of Gygax’s castle), Gargoyle (the PCs help a gargoyle find its wings), and Puppets (A Forgotten Realms adventure shoehorned into Greyhawk).
I wish the series hadn’t ended this way.
Gord became everything Gygax had rallied against in the early days of the hobby–this uberpowerful character who could not be defeated by any mortal means. The kind of character run by a boastful player whom Gygax wanted to punish with the Tomb of Horrors or Isle of the Ape.
Except that Gord could easily overcome either adventure–if you go by these statistics at Cannonfire.
But we’re mingling RPG rules, literature, and industry, and that’s the core of the problem here.
Time to move on.