Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Plot Thickens

I'm not a regular visitor to the Gygax Games website, in part because the recent announcements regarding the disposition of Gary's unfinished gaming projects left me ill at ease. From the looks of it, the whole thing smacked of a money grab on the part of Mrs Gygax, perhaps egged on by third parties who felt they could take better financial advantage of her late husband's legacy. Nevertheless, I paid a visit to the site yesterday and noticed that a Holiday Greeting, signed by Mrs Gygax, appeared on its front page. Reading through it, I noticed a number of interesting things that, while far from making everything plain, do cast a slightly different light on recent events.

After reminding everyone that it's been nine months since Gary died, Mrs Gygax adds that "I want you all to know, Gary and I discussed his wishes for his works prior to his passing and I am following the road map he left for me. Many of you are unaware how close we were, I was devoted to him." This is intriguing. Firstly, I think it's good to see Mrs Gygax laying claim to this message. Whether or not she actually wrote it, the fact remains that, by speaking directly to the point that what is happening is happening because her husband wanted it to be so, she helps to dispel rumors that she has no idea what is going on and is being manipulated by others. Gail Gygax is now a known quantity rather than some abstraction in the background. Secondly, her mention of a "road map" implies that she's acting on the wishes of Gary himself and it's vital she get people to believe this.

Now, I personally have no difficulty at all in believing that Gary, in the months leading up to his death last March, got all his affairs in order and discussed with his wife what he wanted to be done with his various properties and projects. I recall Gary's frequent allusions to his eventual demise on various message boards as early as the summer of 2007, if not before. I think it highly likely that he did in fact produce some kind of a "road map" for his wife to follow. What is unclear and probably always will be is the actual content of this road map and the extent to which Mrs Gygax is following what is laid out in it. By that I mean that I can believe Gary might have laid out what he wanted to see done with the Castle Zagyg project after his death, but I'm not certain that he specified, for example, that the license be revoked from Troll Lords and given to someone else. I'm not saying it's impossible (and I'll expand my thoughts on this shortly), but I'd like to see more evidence.

Mrs Gygax further explains her role: "To that end, after Gary passed, I asked Spencer Wright and Jon Creffield to help me. They have given freely of their time, we should all thank them. I am grateful for their help. They are not advising me what to do, but helping to maintain the integrity of the IP and continue its development." I've italicized the key bit there. Again, Mrs Gygax says the buck stops with her and, by implication, that it stops with the road map that Gary laid out before his death. She then concludes with these words:

Gary would want us all to be kind to each other during this time of transition and especially kind to each other during this holiday season. After all, that’s what his life was all about – creating environments for the enjoyment of others –

I plan to continue his mission.

That conclusion rings very true. I didn't know Gary Gygax personally -- we were, at best, infrequent email correspondents -- but I like to think I understood him. In recent years, he was a much more pacific and less cantankerous personality. He remained strong-willed, even opinionated, on many topics, but he was also much more giving and indeed forgiving than popular caricatures would have us believe. He had a keen sense of his role in the hobby and he was genuinely -- and regularly -- touched by the outpouring of affections he engendered. Consequently, toward the end, he seemed to me to be very interested in fostering fun and enjoyment and ensuring that it was those things that were his legacies.

What is now very clear to me is that Mrs Gygax has decided to step out from the shadows a bit and boldly state that what is happening now is happening in accordance to a plan she is following, a plan laid down by Gary before his death. I think it was important that she do this, but stating it does come with some risks, not least being the likelihood that many might not believe her. After all, while he was alive, Gary spoke highly of Troll Lords and, so far as anyone knows, never considered pulling the Castle Zagyg license out from under them, despite all the delays and missteps that were undoubtedly their fault and not his own. As I'll explain in my upcoming review of Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works, late as it was, the product shows many signs of having been rushed and less well produced than it ought to have been and surely Gary knew this would be the case. Yet, he continued to work with the Trolls without any public hint of displeasure or unhappiness. So why would Mrs Gygax now revoke the license when Gary never did so during his lifetime?

I have no answer to that question. I suppose it's possible that Gary was simply unwilling to pull the trigger on such a move because of his personal affection for the Trolls. On the other hand, why set up his wife to look like the bad guy after his death? Whatever else he was, Gary was no coward and I find it hard to imagine he'd planned to go to the grave without voicing his dissatisfaction like that. This is the part of the whole affair that still rankles me, not because I think it impossible that someone else might do a better job with Castle Zagyg -- depending on what approach is taken, it's quite possible, in my opinion -- but because it seems somehow "un-Gygaxian." As I say, I didn't know the man personally, so I could be wrong; I hope, though, that, if he had genuine problems with the Trolls, he'd have made them plain while still alive. Indeed, it's also possible that he did and it was because of this that he instructed his wife to pursue other avenues for the project after his death.

We may never know the truth, but there's now more evidence to sift through that might get us closer to it. I'll be paying careful attention to what happens next and will have some additional thoughts relating to this when I complete my own review of The Upper Works.


  1. I am glad to see Mrs. Gygax speak out on the Gygax Games website, and I think she needs to continue to do this. GG has taken an enormous amount of critism, and until other evidence is provided, some of this is fair. There is a bit of sincerity in her note, however knowing how PR spin doctors can craft statements, I am a bit cautious at taking anything at face value. I do agree that Gary changed a bit as he grew older, and I believe he gained a much larger appreciation for what he created. I actually have no doubt that Gary left a roadmap that he wanted to see followed, but I do have questions on the depth of publishing direction.

    I do find the whole thing odd. While I like the Troll Lords, and I think some of their ideas are excellent, their execution is dodgy at best. I can fully understand if Gary was a bit disappointed in their overall performance, but I have no evidence to support this claim. There is evidence to support the claim that he really liked the Troll Lord guys. I find it hard to believe that Gary would have given direction to pull the license from them after his death. That does not feel right, but again, I have no concrete evidence to confirm or dispute this theory.

    The point that I find very strange is his relationship with Jeff. My understanding is that he spent the better part of a year and a half with Jeff on what can be called his flagship product. Given that this is true, why would Jeff be terminated shortly after his death. That does not sit right with me, because if Gary really did not like Jeff, why did he not express his feelings and find someone he could work with? This strikes me as a personality conflict (possibly over money?) between Jeff and Gygax Games (someone other than Gary), which could only have one ending. As a result, anything produced that does not include Jeff, will not feel truly authentic to me. Who else would have that kind of insight into this project, that comes from working closely with Gary during that time? I am not sure that any design consultants coming in after the fact would have the special level of insight to properly finish the creation of CZ to the quality level that it deserves.

  2. I think it is probable that Gygax left some broad plans in place and left their specific execution up to his inheritors, leaving them considerable room to decide for themselves what is best.

    As to Jeff's involvement, it is worth noting that he was not terminated, but chose to leave the project after being offered a less prominent position [i.e. no longer acting as lead developer].

  3. I've got to agree with Mr Baron on this one. It strains credulity to believe that Gary would have given an explicit road map that included yanking the rights to Castle Zagyg away from TLG. He had spoken very highly of them consistently.

    It would be much better, in my opinion, if the Widow Gygax would simply tell us what the "roadmap" *IS*, rather than assuring us that the roadmap exists and she is following it. What are the plans for Castle Greyhawk/Zagyg? They have been asked that very straightforward question several times on their own message boards and have not deigned to reply. That makes me nervous.

    I sense (and it is only my own sense, based on no sort of inside information) that the "roadmap" was something as simple as "use the IP to provide for yourself financially when I'm gone" and she is taking that and interpreting it as "release CZ under the system that will crank out the most money because it has the most audience; 4E."

    I hope I am wrong.

  4. The point that I find very strange is his relationship with Jeff.

    I find it odd as well. I'm frankly amazed that Gygax Games wouldn't want Jeff to stay on as lead developer for the project, even if they were moving it to some other publisher and/or shifting its focus. Jeff is in a unique position that few others can match; his knowledge of Gary's plans and ideas is immense. Why remove him, particularly when retaining him would have helped soften the blow of giving the license to someone other than TLG?

  5. I hope I am wrong.

    I'm pretty sure you are. Of the many possible scenarios I can construct for what happens next, I can't begin to imagine any of them that involve 4e, given the current state of the GSL. If Mrs Gygax wants to ensure the integrity of the Gygax IP, she'd be well served to stay the hell away from 4e.

  6. Maybe TL's vision didn't match the map. However, map or no map, from personal experience, I know a marriage has roots that are deep, meaningful, and totally irrational in the eyes of everyone else. It's very possible such things are in play. -If that's the case, I've no problem with whatever happens from here on out.

    We always will have what Gary did.

  7. Maybe Mrs. Gygax finds it easier than Mr. Gygax did to "rock the boat." I'll bet the timeliness and quality issues rankled before -- but now they're bound up with the memory of a departed loved one.

  8. If Gail's love for Gary is anywhere near as strong and deep as my wife's love for me, I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that she will do what is right and best with Gary's legacy.

    I have been both saddened and bemused by the responses to this situation all over the forums. Saddened by the heartless lack of respect, and at times outright rudeness, shown by some people toward someone who must be deeply grieving. Bemused that people seem to think they have the right to know what's going on, as if they have shares in the company.

    Gail is the legitimate owner of Gary's IP, it is her business and hers alone. We, the fans, haven't commissioned her to do a job for us, with all the rights that would entail, we are simply paying customers who will spend cash only if we like what we see. And that is as far as our "rights" go.

  9. Re Castle Zagyg and 4e, it's important not to publish under the GSL since that could wreck your IP and your company, but you can publish 4e compatible products without using the GSL, as eg Kenzerco has done; the OGL (d20/3e system license) gives access to all the IP you need. It may even be safer not to use any license and simply publish in compliance with general copyright and trade mark law. If I were doing I'd give basic stats for a variety of appropriate systems such as 4e, 3e, C&C, maybe Dragon Warriors, along with a TM disclaimer - "All TMs remain property of their respective owners. Used without permission".

  10. I'm inclined to suspect that the 'roadmap' might include a general directive to do what's best for the Castle Zagyg property - and that Mrs Gygax might have some disagreements with her late husband as to what is truly best. As noted, the product that TL delivered is flawed, seemingly rushed despite delays, and while Gary might have thought nothing of this, given his affection for the folks at TL, it's possible that Mrs Gygax viewed the results as sub par and felt a different direction would be better for the property - and for the fans. Time will tell, of course.

    Naturally, this is but rank speculation, but to my thinking it would appear to fit what we have all seen as well as a plausible extrapolation of motive, etc. And I mean no disrespect to the Troll Lords - I enjoy what they produce, and would have been pleased to see them continue Castle Zagyg, but I would also sympathize with anyone who felt the products thus far were in need of improvement.

    As for GG's unwillingness to comment on the future of Castle Zagyg, I suggest that to be pretty much par for the course in the publishing industry. While they are talking with potential publishers, or even while hammering out details with a specific publisher, right up until the ink is on the dotted line, nobody will be willing to say anything publicly about it. That's just standard practice, and helps to protect everybody involved in the deal, even if it may frustrate fans. Some companies of course can skillfully walk that line, assuring fans that things are in the works but reminding them that nothing definitely can be stated yet; however, in my experienced, most companies will play it safer and say as little as possible until more solid arrangements are made. You can delve into the forums of most any RPG publisher and/or the companies whose licenses they work with to see this same pseudo-drama played out over and over.

    So I remain optimistic that Castle Zagyg will not only be produced, but will be given the care and attention it deserves. Again, I don't mean to knock the Troll Lords, whose care and enthusiasm cannot be doubted. It's just that another publisher may be able to leverage further resources or otherwise deliver a superior product - the difference between a "good" product and a "fantastic" one. And maybe there will be some surprises in the future as well.

    (My dream scenario might be something along the lines of Green Ronin publishing via OSRIC - anybody else got favorites here?)

  11. re: Mr Baron...

    I think maybe what happened with Jeff is this. Let's say you have a partnership and let's say that it was 50/50, and suddenly you have a contributing partner pass away, but the non-contributing estate still wants a decent percentage (maybe 30-40%), but the estate is no longer doing creative work. So Jeff may now want a higher percentage of the cut because all future work will be 100% done by him.

    This is a big problem and was probably not solidified between Gary and Jeff before Gary passed.

    In an extreme example, let's say you owned 50% of a law firm and the other partner passed away. Now you are left with 100% of the future work, but the partner's estate will want something because he/she helped build the firm to what it is now.

    The main difference is Gygax owned the rights.

  12. OdRook said: (My dream scenario might be something along the lines of Green Ronin publishing via OSRIC - anybody else got favorites here?)

    My hope is that the CZ/GH materials won't be published by Mongoose at all, or that they'll simply be a publishing/distribution partner (like WW's Swords & Sorcery imprint was for Necromancer Games) and that all content will be produced, edited, managed, etc. directly by GG.


  13. I have to extend Gygax Games the benefit of the doubt. (Just as I did for TLG!)

    I too suspect that they aren’t commenting on plans so as not to affect negotiations in progress.

    I do think, however, that a company can seldom communicate too much with its customers and potential customers. e.g. Actually saying that they can’t say anything until the deals are finalized would be a good idea. Answer every question, even if it’s just to say that you can’t answer it.

  14. Why don't we take it to extremes and call this "roadmap" Gary's Golden Path* thus completely blowing things out of proportion? (I'm just kidding, of course.)

    My own intuition is that things will work out fine and that we will see an excellent publication of the Castle Zagyg dungeons someday soon. I would be surprised if we saw something new in 2009. But perhaps in 2010. I extremely doubt that it will be a 4E product. It wouldn't surprise me if it was a Pathfinder product and I would hate to see that. Perhaps OSRIC?

    (* A Dune reference to "Leto's Golden Path.")

  15. Gary once said that his first wife did not understand gaming nor, it eventually transpired, him while Gail understood both. That statement has carried a lot of weight in my mind.

    TLG were clearly very keen but I have to say that Yggsburgh was a real disapointment in terms of the quality control. I doubt that I'll ever see the TLG UW but if that has problems too then perhaps that does explain the licence-pull. Who knows (apart from The Shadow)?

  16. I'll bet the timeliness and quality issues rankled before -- but now they're bound up with the memory of a departed loved one.

    Quite possibly. I know I found the slowness with which the CZ books were released to be deeply frustrating, but I had been led to believe by oblique comments made by various people that the delays were mostly on Gary's end, having to do with his illnesses. Now, I'm not so sure that was entirely the case.

  17. And that is as far as our "rights" go.

    While I wholeheartedly agree with this statement, I do think it's important to remember that a lot of the comments we've seen are evidence not so much of naked disrespect so much as overzealous affection for Gary and his ideas. That's not to excuse bad behavior in any context, let me be clear on that, but I imagine that very few of these people mean to be rude or boorish, even if that's exactly how they come across.

  18. (My dream scenario might be something along the lines of Green Ronin publishing via OSRIC - anybody else got favorites here?)

    My dream scenario would be a single hardcover book and accompanying map folio that was fairly "bare bones" -- somewhat akin to what Rob Kuntz did with Bottle City. I'm interested more in the "real" Castle Greyhawk/Zagyg, even if that megadungeon is incomplete, contradictory, and incoherent. That is, it doesn't have to be playable out of the box so long as it's as true to the original sources as possible.

    And since we're dreaming, I'd peg Paizo as the folks to do this right. Ideally, there'd also be lots of historical essays and interviews included, along with old photos and the like. Oh yeah: they'd ask me contribute something to the project :)

  19. So Jeff may now want a higher percentage of the cut because all future work will be 100% done by him.

    I'd be shocked if there was any truth to this whatsoever. I have no idea why Jeff was not given the chance to continue on as developer of CZ, but, whatever the reason, I don't think it was because Jeff wanted a bigger piece of the pie. My suspicion -- and it's only a suspicion -- is that Gygax Games may have someone else in mind to head up development of CZ and so Jeff couldn't reasonably stay on in that capacity. They did offer him another position within the organization, so it's not as they were simply dumping him, even if he quite reasonably saw the new position as one he had no interest in taking up.

  20. all content will be produced, edited, managed, etc. directly by GG.

    I hope that's the case as well. I think there are very few game companies that would do justice to CZ and so it would be best if its development were kept in house with GG. As I noted above, I have some suspicions about what might be going on. If I'm right, many things will start to make a great deal more sense and the moves by GG might be viewed a bit differently.

  21. It wouldn't surprise me if it was a Pathfinder product and I would hate to see that. Perhaps OSRIC?

    I think it's conceivable that Paizo could become involved in CZ, but I also think the likelihood of its being for Pathfinder is small. Far more likely is a broadly system-neutral product that keeps mechanics to a minimum.

    OSRIC is also highly unlikely for a variety of reasons.

  22. TLG were clearly very keen but I have to say that Yggsburgh was a real disapointment in terms of the quality control. I doubt that I'll ever see the TLG UW but if that has problems too then perhaps that does explain the licence-pull. Who knows (apart from The Shadow)?

    The Upper Works is definitely the most impressive product TLG has ever produced, but it still has a lot of problems. They're not crippling problems, but that they exist at all suggests to me that there was very poor project management on the line. Whether that has anything to do with the decision to yank the license, I have no idea, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if it did.

  23. I had the great fortune to get to know Gary and Gail in the last years of Gary's life and be part of the Yggsburgh project. Through this I was also introduced to the folks at TLG and have worked with them a fair bit. I can understand you lads wanting to speculate but give Gail the benefit of the doubt...she deserves it for being a devoted and supportive wife to Gary over the years.

    If Gail tells us that she is following a plan that Gary laid out, you can bank on it.

    While I like the lads at TLG and wished that Yggsburgh could have been completed on their watch, as a developer I noticed the same quality and timeliness issues that you have mentioned on this board. From my own experiences, I complained to Gary once about the quality upon noticing some glaring typo's in a produced work. He shook his head and said that he didn't know what the issue was. Works that were completed sat in th publishing queue for months or longer. As a smaller publisher, despite being great guys and having the best of intentions, I just don't think TLG could keep up!

    I wish everyone a great 2009 and lets all continue to be patient and trust that Gail is doing what Gary wanted.

  24. And here it is, 14 years later and Gygax Games remains vaporware, and ignorant-ass attempt to cash in on Gygax' long-declining fame and reputation has still not made that money-grubber a cent. Not only is she a greedy bitch who sabotaged her own husband's legacy (along with his family), she can't even turn a red cent on it! Hopefully someone with testicles, brains or some sense of propriety inherits the estate from her, because she has no business managing a turnip stand, much less an RPG property.