Saturday, June 16, 2012

Greyhawk Adventures: Gord Musings

As I've mentioned before, I've been reading alot of Savage Sword of Conan, a 70's graphic novel series that closely draws from Robert E. Howard's original pulp era stories. Then yesterday while researching for a game, I come across an ad in an old issue of Dragon Magazine (#104, December 85) for Gary Gygax's hot new novel Saga of Old City for the Greyhawk Adventures line. For those not familiar with Saga, it follows the story of Gord, a thief and adventurer from the mean streets of Greyhawk City.

If you never read one of Gygax's Gord novels before and only judged the book by its cover (as you may have back in 1985) you can see the similarities between Gord and Conan are there in this illustration by Clyde Caldwell. Gord like Conan, is brooding, dark haired and muscular. He is dressed light as a rogue but carries himself in battle like a fighter with a sword. Alone, he faces a brutish monster standing atop a pile of skulls; motifs common in Conan covers. Saga is a good novel and if Gygax was going for that Conanesque, pulp-era feel, I say he achieved it.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Gord is not a complete rip-off of Conan. For instance he is not a barbarian, but rather urbane, which means Gord also draws as much from other fictional characters like Fritz Leiber's fantasy swordsman the Grey Mouser. When you're trying to write a story based in a D&D world, you can hardly be blamed for borrowing fantasy tropes. I wondered if maybe pulp-era figures like Gord were out of style back in 1985, but looking at some other new releases perhaps not: that same issue advertizing Saga also saw the launch of CA1: Swords of the Undercity (a module for the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser inspired Lankhmar setting) and Tarzan and the Tower of Diamonds, an Endless Quest novel. Pulp fare all around.

The point of my observations I suppose is to wonder more about Gord the character's place in the pantheon of Greyhawk lore. As the game setting is concerned, Gord himself is almost non-existent. For some "Gordhawk" might be incompatible with their game setting and not worth discussion. Indeed, the post-TSR novels were only loosely based on Greyhawk and the series catastrophically ended. That I can understand. But had these novels come out sooner than 85, would have Gord's adventures influenced Greyhawk setting development more? If fans had supported Gord stories more voraciously (as they would later do for a few notable Forgotten Realms characters), then perhaps (barring Gygax leaving TSR and all) Gord might be mentioned in the same company as other great fictional heroes? I know I was no help. I didn't discover Saga until the 90's or read Gygax's later novels until 2000, which was way too late by then. This is why the topic may be old hat for many in the community, but it's fairly new territory for my own Greyhawk musings. So anyhow, Gord might not have attained the popularity he deserves, but in a world full of notable wizards like Greyhawk, he is still the most popular rogue character the setting has got.


Joseph Bloch said...

Gygax's Gord the Rogue books have completely informed my own Greyhawk campaign. In a way that mere supplements and boxed sets could never do, they bring the setting to life, not just because of the fact that they're stories with characters and plots, but because of the unique "feel" that Gygax gives the world through his prose.

Just to take one example, my own map of the city of Greyhawk is based on the sketch map he included in the beginning of "City of Hawks" rather than the one contained in the City of Greyhawk boxed set (and later iterations based upon it). I've also used NPCs from the books to great effect (Biff is one of my personal favorites for interacting with the players).

It is somewhat interesting that Gygax chose a rogue (and a barbarian, if you include Gord's often-companion Chert) rather than a wizard, considering that he himself favored magic-users when playing the game.

biopunk said...

I like to think of 1985 as where everything "came together" in the 'Appendix N' sense: Ravenloft was out, the Dragonlance stuff was happening, lots of disparate and not-so-disparate influences were swirling.

I remember there not being much in the way of "canonical" Conan books on the bookstore shelves, unless they were second-hand (I think I'd only read a few of the later ones in the series at that time, so I never really got a sense of the Conan aspects of the Greyhawk books you pointed out...), Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser were still being reprinted then, so their early adventures resonated with me much like Gord's did. He was a pretty relatable character for an early teen to read.

Hazy 26 year old memory: but wasn't this also the poster that was included with Dragon #100?