Sunday, June 21, 2009

Gord the Rogue by Gary Gygax

I'd never read anything by Gygax other than his D&D rulebooks and supplements, and decided to pick up something cheaply so I could have a sample. I wanted to get a sense of his fiction writing and maybe get a small sense of what it would be like to have him as a DM. Obviously writing fiction and dungeon mastering are very different things, but I still thought there should be a slight flavor there to pick up. I thought about reading some reviews of his books, but didn't want to influence my own opinions and first impressions. I looked for books at the local library, but they didn't have anything in fiction by him. So having some credit at Amazon, I went there and found a used but readable book for about $6 shipped called "Gord the Rogue - Sea of Death", with pretty bad looking art. Not wanting to judge a book by its cover, and liking the price, I ordered it.

I got a couple dozen pages into it when I realized that I was still reading about a bunch of demons on the 353rd layer of the plane of Abyss, who were busy squabbling and conspiring to retrieve pieces of a magical item of tremendous power on another dimension. It was actually pretty cool.

Later on though, I was disappointed to learn that not only did Gord the thief (or rogue, in later edition D&D parlance) magically have the ability to self-resurrect nine times if need be and return to a plane ruled by a cat diety, but that he himself could polymorph at will into a black panther. Now when I was a kid in 1982, I liked the Beastmaster as much as anyone (especially the scene, well, you know what I'm talking about), but this actual changing into a cat bit is over the top for me - too much like a comic book for my taste in fantasy. Come to think of it, Cat People came out in 1982 also (another movie I loved for a number of reasons as a kid, Nastassja Kinski being among them). Frankly, Gygax seems to have missed the boat a little on this, given that the book came out five years later. Still, '82 was a peak for early D&D, and perhaps it made an impression on him. Don't get me wrong, I'm ok with a bit of farce in my fantasy, but this wasn't intended as such. He has nine lives? Don't hit us over the head with it or anything.

Gord meets up with a disguised female Drow Elf, who's actually a clone. She doesn't remember who she is due to an injury (or perhaps due to just being cloned, I forget). She's a hot number, and they hook up. Seriously pulpy stuff. Imagine this dark skinned elven beauty hanging out with her "pet" black panther Gord! Where's the Frazetta book cover of this, I ask!?

Please don't misunderstand: I'm enjoying reading this, but it's...interesting. I can't point to specific examples from memory, but there are times when Gygax seems to devote a little too much attention to things which are not really needed to further describe the setting or move the plot forward, and it almost reminds me of the same (arguable) overindulgence one finds in something like his Harlot Encounter Table of DMG fame.

I haven't finished this book yet, and there may yet be redemption for these petty grievances. I keep telling myself, it's Gygax man, Gygax! I did enjoy the Albino Ape scene quite a bit (btw - I'm familiar with these, but where is it listed? I couldn't find it in my MMI or II, nor the FF). What's not to like about a few dozen mute, white, gorillas attempting to rend and bite your flesh in a temple buried under a mountain of ash?

To be honest, I haven't read all that much fantasy. I'm interested though, it's just something I haven't read for the last twenty years or so, and I'm adding to my "to read" list as I peruse other OSR blogs when the subject comes up. I guess I'm still trying to figure out which type of sub-genre appeals most to me.


Christopher B said...

Don't know about AD&D, but albino apes appear on page 30 of the Moldvay Basic D&D book under "Ape, White."

ze bulette said...

Hey, thanks for that, it was bugging me. I no longer have a copy of the Basic D&D book, but just now found out Labyrinth Lord lists it too, under "Ape, Albino".

Anonymous said...

I liked Night Arrant (a collection of short stories) the best out of all of these. Once Chert the barbarian is introduced I got this queasy feeling about shades of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

KenHR said...

Saga of Old City is my favorite. Picked it up when it was first released because it was in a big display at Waldenbooks. It reads like old fantasy "novels" that were really just a collection of short stories and novellas, but he actually brings it around full-circle in the last chapter. I liked the rest of the series well enough, but I've only bothered to re-read Saga.

The book is rambling, and the plots emerge much the same way as you'd expect them to in a typical RPG campaign. As a bonus, the afterward correlates some of what's in the book to AD&D.

The dialogue in the two TSR-published novels was very colorful and appropriate to each character's social class, something that was lost in the later books. The New Infinities books felt very different to me, and not just for the deletion of expletives from everyone's speech.

Walter said...

I noticed the book in a used book store, and got excited, for the same reasons, and bought it. I found myself feeling snobbish, more impressed with the style of Gygax's favorite, Jack Vance, but found "Gord the Rogue: The Sea of Death" interesting as a sort of dungeon in itself, a hidden place where one can find details of the "official" AD&D world that shed some light on things one might have always wondered about, such as what kind of plants grow in The Abyss (everything is gray, and trees are semi-translucent!)

The D&D mechanics are at work throughout, bring your monster manual and monster manual II. I found myself blushing at the way some of the scenes with Gord's henchmen read like textbook examples of morale checks and I could almost see the old dungeon master peering from behind the DM screen. I swear I could almost hear the dice rolls...

stan said...

Ive only read Night Arrant but I really recommend it. There are nine stories and most are novella lenght. One two parter could be called a smallish novel.
The shorter tales are tighter and actually better but I enjoyed all of the book. There is something unique about Gygax's style. He is perhaps not a master wordsmith but he is a darn gifted storyteller...sorta like Robert E Howard!

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