Thursday, April 2, 2009

Witnesses for the Prosecution

Here are a couple of selected bits of text from Castle Greyhawk I missed the other day while skimming through the module to re-acquaint myself with it.
On the door leading to this chamber is a sign reading “PRIVATE KEEP OUT.” From here Mordenkainen carries on all of his day-to-day operations. The office features a large ivory desk (worth 750 gp), a collection of file cabinets stuffed full of old papers, and the fabled hot tub of relaxation. Mordenkainen himself will be in the hot tub with Fiona, his very special friend, when the PCs enter.
and
* Paper #2: The first page of the fantasy movie script:
“FANTASY THE MOVIE
A Screenplay by Edgar Gordon Galaxy
I think it's hard to argue that these two selections aren't direct references to Gary Gygax and indeed, as pointed out in the comments, the entire level from which they come seems to be a send-up of Gary's time in California as part of the Dungeons & Dragons Entertainment Corporation. Regardless of whether one sees these references as "gentle" ribbing or not, I think it speaks volumes about the post-Gygax corporate culture of TSR that such things were allowed to be published in the first place.

36 comments:

  1. Ugly. Who was the author of that level/section?

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  2. While I suppose one could construe these references as "'gentle' ribbing" as you say, it seems unlikely to me given the specific historical context in which these allusions were made, namely the highly contentious ousting of Gygax from TSR.

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  3. I stand by my assessment that Castle Greyhawk was "a sick and spiteful joke."

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  4. Yup, references not only to Gary, but also to Flint Dille, who was co-authoring the D&D movie script. Flint Dille's father created Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Thus, the Galaxy reference, no doubt!

    Mr. Dille was present at Gary Con I.

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  5. *Meh* I'm over the whole thing.

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  6. This is a travesty! An ivory desk should be worth at least 2500 gp.

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  7. I think what says volumes about Gary is he spent time in So. California and didn't decide to stay here. I mean, c'mon. Gets freaky cold where he's from...

    Yeah, seems pretty cheap for an ivory desk. I think in my Fantasy world an oak desk would be around 750. Ivory gotta be around 8000 (more if rolltop).

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  8. Who was the author of that level/section?

    Ray Winninger, which surprises me somewhat, since he's posted in the comments here occasionally and has said some nice things about Gary.

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  9. Thus, the Galaxy reference, no doubt!

    Of course! I can't believe I didn't catch that reference.

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  10. it was a stupid insult that shouldn't have been published. perhaps most offensive is the way it jerks around their customers.

    on a slightly related note, this very interesting article also mentions Gygax's hot tub.
    http://www.believermag.com/issues/200609/?read=article_lafarge

    There are a few things that made me bristle, but it's more worthy of extended discussion . . .

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  11. Everyone here is overlooking a crucial point: Is there an illustration of Fiona?

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  12. Jeff,

    What's really odd about the module is how much art is recycled from other products. There are a handful of new Holloway pieces (at least, I think they were new), but the rest is work by Jeff Easley that appeared elsewhere, including, ironically enough, modules that Gary penned.

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  13. on a slightly related note, this very interesting article also mentions Gygax's hot tub.

    I also heard some "Tales of Gary's Hot Tub" (and who he shared it with) right from the horse's mouth when I met him in person, right around the time this module was published, in fact (which makes it mildly surprising that I didn't make the connection at the time).

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  14. Ray Winninger, which surprises me somewhat, since he's posted in the comments here occasionally and has said some nice things about Gary.

    Yeah, he wouldn't have been on my "suspect list" either. Maybe he had a "silent" writing partner?

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  15. I may have to put such a Hot Tub in one of my games. I don't know it kind of makes me happy to think of Gary in California living the good life (if briefly) off the game he put together in his basement.

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  16. I read both posts about this "CG" module and what can I say... Gary wasn't saint, he did same (or even worse) puns on Arneson. NOSNRA remember? Pathetic. "CG" and earlier, gygaxian so-called "jokes".

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  17. Ahem 'Vacuous Grimoire'?

    I'm not excusing the cheap shots in "Castle GINO", I'm just saying...

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  18. I wonder what's really the point of speculating on fueds like this. With everyone involved either deceased or having moved on in their lives decades ago, does it really matter in any way whether some throwaway joke from a lousy 20+ year old module is "gentle" ribbing or not?"

    I guess what I'm getting at is that this is by far some of the least interesting and germane territory explored so far by this usually excellent blog. Sad to say, but there you go.

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  19. I find it interesting because it offers tantalizing hints at the extremely human dramas that unfolded behind one of my favorite hobbies. I don't think it's worth getting indignant over, and, in a perverse way, I'm kind of glad that these inappropriate snippets were included in the module. After all, it's an interesting peek behind the curtain during one of TSR's many transitions.

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  20. The problem though is that this is not a "reality show", there's a lot of nuances to human behavior. Trying to read what people say is feeding the fire.

    While I am critical of Rateliff's other essay about EGG and Tolkien, the other analysis doesn't seem that biased. But he's also credited with being a playtester for Lejendary Adventures.

    For example, one of the "old school writers" was very antagonistic towards Gary during his time with Dangerous Journeys and the lawsuit, and was actually one of the people spreading the Cocaine rumour about Gary. Yet after years passed, he and Gary became big friends again.

    There's another well-loved "old school writer", whom Gary disowned behind the scenes, and it surprised me just when their friendship ended and what Gary revealed about him, and they apparently never reconciled before their death.

    I'm not going to name names because what good will it do? Will people suddenly take sides, disown these creators, and get obsessed about who did what. It just further moves us into factions.

    And there are complex relationships. Gary once named the Pomarj after his ex wife, but also once told me how he was concerned after she took a bad fall. I remember as a teenager, before I got both wisdom and got to know Gary personally, once resenting her a bit because of how that divorce messed up Gary's ownership of D&D/TSR. But she's still a human being, apparently very nice to people, and say anything bad about her to her and Gary's children and you may get a big punch in the mouth!

    The point is, these people are real humans and I think trying to find out who's responsible for slamming EGG is worthless right now, especially without context. So I would avoid trying to come up with a list of "enemies" list or anything like that.

    I can understand being mad at the module! It's not the humor, but rather it being released with the title. Parody and Satire is fine, but you never use the existing items to do it. That's the big problem that Hanna Barbara has done--they can't figure out what to do with any characters other that Scooby Doo so instead of giving them to a new generation they become the butt of jokes on shows like Adult Swim. You don't see Disney doing stupid stuff like that. That's what I believed happened to TSR's view of Greyhawk at the time. So, that disappointment is not just what I'd call "nerd rage". Greyhawk apparently was like an experimental patient, and it took them a little time to say "hey, we can't make fun of this, it has too many fans".

    But I'm not sure setting up people as heroes and villains will do any good.

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  21. Maybe he had a "silent" writing partner?

    Hard to say, since I know so little about the precise circumstances of its creation and publication. I'd love to know who came up with the idea of it, for example.

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  22. I read both posts about this "CG" module and what can I say... Gary wasn't saint, he did same (or even worse) puns on Arneson. NOSNRA remember? Pathetic. "CG" and earlier, gygaxian so-called "jokes".

    I agree. I think Gary treated Dave rather shabbily, all things told, and have said so on this blog several times. But I don't think Gary's past misdeeds has any more bearing on the propriety of what was done here any more than what Dave Arneson may or may not have done to earn Gygax's ire do.

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  23. Ahem 'Vacuous Grimoire'?

    Had CG included barbs in line with this one, I'd have been less bothered by it. The Vacuous Grimoire is a veiled reference to Arduin but it isn't a veiled reference to Dave Hargrave. That makes a difference, I think.

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  24. I guess what I'm getting at is that this is by far some of the least interesting and germane territory explored so far by this usually excellent blog. Sad to say, but there you go.

    Fortunately, I write a lot.

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  25. But I'm not sure setting up people as heroes and villains will do any good.

    I don't think that's what's happening here, though. I'm interested in the whys and wherefores behind this module, particularly in light of the fact that at least some of the people involved in it have claimed that it was intended to be what it seems to clearly to be. I also think Castle Greyhawk says a lot about post-Gygaxian TSR generally. which is a topic I find fascinating.

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  26. >wonder what's really the point of speculating on fueds like this. With everyone involved either deceased or having moved on in their lives decades ago<

    Dude, did you ever watch that old VH1 show "Behind the Music?" It was popular because the story behind the scenes is almost always more interesting than the stuff you see on the surface. Just like the real life behind the scenes shit in wrestling is more fascinating than the phony balony performances, the behind the scenes shinnanigans of the original game dorks is great stuff.

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  27. Really, it's an almost Shakespearean drama of hubris, betrayals, vengeance, elves, sex in hot tubs... What's not to like?

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  28. Really, it's an almost Shakespearean drama of hubris, betrayals, vengeance, elves, sex in hot tubs... What's not to like?

    That's the thing: purely from a historical point of view, it's fascinating.

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  29. I'll readily confess that CASTLE GREYHAWK was an ill-conceived project. Personally, I've never had a taste for puns and parodies in my D&D (even when it was Gary himself who was supplying them) so it's no surprise I proved tragically inept at crafting a pun/parody level.

    That said, I can tell you categorically that it was not my intention to slander Gary Gygax, Flint Dille or anyone else. I know most of the other authors involved in the project and I can say with confidence that none of them would have signed on to an endeavor designed to "stick a rude finger in Gary's eye." (Who said otherwise, James?) I would have never agreed to be part of such a thing myself.

    (Truth be told, the “hatchet job” thesis makes little sense to me. Virtually everyone at TSR was an accomplished writer. If the senior managers had axes to grind with Gary and wanted to poke him they would have written something themselves, adopting aliases if they were feeling particularly cowardly. Instead they hired kids barely out of high school who knew nothing of their feuds--ie. me!--and expected us to land their barbs?)

    Honestly, I don’t even understand what James finds so offensive in those quotes or exactly how he thinks I was trying to insult Gary.

    As I recall, Castle Greyhawk was conceived as part of a series of special projects to celebrate the 10th anniversary of AD&D. The idea was to deliver a self-deprecating, light-hearted look at D&D that parodied its conventions. (I remember the editors describing it as something akin to the movie AIRPLANE!, a parody with obvious affection for its source material.) I chose to poke fun at the fact that D&D was the obvious inspiration for so many bad movies of the era. The central concept was that D&D’s various monsters and characters were crossing planes to sign movie deals in the wake of the game’s popularity—hence Mordenkainen reinventing himself as a bad parody of a Hollywood agent, hot tub and all.

    Please honor Gary and his works—I do! But allow me to suggest that connecting disparate dots and ascribing motivations to people you’ve never met is murky business. This thread nicely illustrates the folly of such an endeavor: I was initially accused of slandering Gary but a few posts later everyone seemed to agree that I was really slandering Flint Dille (the brother of Lorraine Williams, and one of Gary’s supposed arch-enemies). The truth is—many of the ancient stories you’ve heard about Gary being oppressed or Gary oppressing others are false, just like anything else heard third, fourth and fifth-hand through sources who weren’t directly involved.

    There are far more interesting things we could be discussing on this otherwise fine blog.

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  30. Honestly, I don’t even understand what James finds so offensive in those quotes or exactly how he thinks I was trying to insult Gary.

    "Edgar Gordon Galaxy" isn't a reference to Gary? Since you wrote it, I'll take your word for it and offer you my apology for having assumed otherwise. But you have to admit that, in retrospect, when combined with the crazy stories circulated about Gary's time in Hollywood, it certainly seems to be a reference to him and not an entirely flattering one.

    But I'm prepared to admit I'm wrong and blew this out of proportion if you're willing to offer some more insights into the truth of the matter. This module is legendary in the annals of D&D/TSR history. If that legend is based entirely on misapprehensions and falsehoods, I -- and I imagine my readers -- would love to know the truth of it.

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  31. Thanks, Ray. I have this module too, bought in the late 80s as a teenager, and always got that sense from this level. That it was ripping more on the oft-terrible fantasy movies released on the 80s cashing in on D&D’s popularity. At the time the hot tub thing was a standard trope about Hollywood agents and movie people.

    Now, lest anyone thing I’m defending the module in general, don’t get me wrong. I think most of the module is on the poor side, and most of the humor doesn’t work for me. But I always saw it as a genuine attempt at humor and self-deprecation by TSR, as opposed to a deliberate attack on their past. If it hadn’t been given the title of a long awaited and desired product, I think people wouldn’t decry it so much.

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  32. If it hadn’t been given the title of a long awaited and desired product, I think people wouldn’t decry it so much.

    I think you're absolutely correct, which is why it's very easy to see the module as being something more than it might actually be. I'm quite prepared to admit my interpretation of it is mistaken, but there remain elements of it that trouble me and I'd like to hear more about those elements.

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  33. >The central concept was that D&D’s various monsters and characters were crossing planes to sign movie deals in the wake of the game’s popularity<

    Jesus Christ, that isn't a defense, is it? Shit is shit no matter what you call it. I'm not some Greyhawk purist, but a joke game is worse than a joke character (both of which I saw too much of in the old days).

    Too bad the designers could not just come up with a clever, challenging adventure, rather than a Hollywood genre send-up littered with puns and in-jokes.

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  34. Oh come on...am I the only one who still gets a laff at Castle Greyhawk...

    You guys are too serious still taking it as the holy writ as in the day that it were published. Sure it pokes fun at Gary but it also pokes fun at a whole number of things.

    Can it be called Greyhawk? Of course not. Should it have been published? Of course it should. This module is overpriced & over emblished version of Mad Monte's Phantastical Dungeon that Rob or Tadashi wrote at the dawn of RPGs.

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  35. "Edgar Gordon Galaxy" isn't a reference to Gary? Since you wrote it, I'll take your word for it and offer you my apology for having assumed otherwise.

    Yes, that's obviously a reference to Gary--I just don't understand what's insulting about it. I was trying to suggest that Gary was the *real* creator of all these fantasy tropes--his creations (monsters, characters, etc.) were betraying him by selling out to Hollywood and appearing in low-budget/low-quality movies of their own. In the original manuscript, I'm pretty certain I actually titled the script "Dungeons & Dragons" and used Gary's real name.

    Like I said, I'm terrible at that sort of thing. I would have preferred to design the "straight" dungeon that our polite friend "Brunomac" would have preferred.

    To Shimrod's point, I'm equally disappointed that TSR produced a "joke" version of Castle Greyhawk instead of the real thing. In the end, though, perhaps it was for the best. I would have been disappointed by any product that wasn't the real thing (ie. produced by Gary himself) and it's unlikely that could have happened. As I recall, the product was so titled as a quick and convenient way for TSR to protect the trademark on the term "Castle Greyhawk" but after more than two decades my memory is murky.

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  36. Yes, that's obviously a reference to Gary--I just don't understand what's insulting about it. I was trying to suggest that Gary was the *real* creator of all these fantasy tropes--his creations (monsters, characters, etc.) were betraying him by selling out to Hollywood and appearing in low-budget/low-quality movies of their own. In the original manuscript, I'm pretty certain I actually titled the script "Dungeons & Dragons" and used Gary's real name.

    This is a case where I think context is everything. There was a whispering campaign against Gygax in the wake of his ouster from TSR. That's when all these "Gary was a coke head" rumors started, after all. In that context, I suppose it's hard for me to imagine that Castle Greyhawk wasn't another salvo in that campaign. However, I wasn't there and I didn't work on this book and you were. If I've misconstrued the module and the purpose behind it, I'm actually glad to hear that. I hope, though, that you can at least understand why someone might misconstrue it, particularly in light of the shameful way TSR of that era treated Gary.

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