Quag Keep (1978)

Quag Keep is the first novel based on an RPG, though you wouldn’t know it from the cover. It seems TSR and Gary Gygax, weren’t versed on branding and intellectual property in 1978, so there is no D&D logo. The back cover mentions the City of Greyhawk, though, and a short acknowledgment in the front of the book thanks Gygax. It refers to him as the creator of Dungeons & Dragons, which is still described as a wargame at this point in time. Its odd.

And gets odder! Andre Norton apparently played a few sessions of D&D with Gygax and was inspired to write a novel that used the game as a core concept. I’ve not read any of her work, but she is well regarded. I am going to assume that this is not representative.

In short, players of a wargame are sucked into the fantasy world (Greyhawk, but one of Norton’s imagination, not Gygax’s) by way of special miniatures. Random teen Martin winds up sharing space in Milo the Swordsman’s brain. Martin/Milo is one of several folks who are sucked in (I guess this anticipates the D&D cartoon, and maybe the panic concerns about D&D players losing track of reality?). They all meet in a tavern and find they are stuck wearing cursed bracelets decorated with dice…that influence their actions and the world around them. Then a wizard shows up and throws a geas on them for good measure. After this point, all the characters lose their agency and are shunted along by the dice or the spell whether they like it or not. Nothing much really happens for a while, then the villain, who appears to be a GM who has let the “power” of his role get to his head, shows up. A roll of the dice banishes him from Greyhawk. Ugh.

The book is incredibly unsubtle in its melding of the fantasy with the system of rules that powers it? Like, the characters all seem aware of the rules in some way. And there is a lot of abstract talk about alignment. This is the sort of thing I’d expect from a teen writing a novelization of a D&D campaign, but a teen who confuses game mechanics for narrative and therefore lets the mechanics become the actual plot. It is a whole lot of not good. So much. Please stop.

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