Carl Sargent is best known in gaming circles for being the lead developer of Greyhawk during much of 2nd edition from 1991 to 1997. The timeline advancing From the Ashes and the unpublished Ivid the Undying are among his most ambitious works during that period. Few remember however, that before Sargent worked as a freelancer on RPGs, he had a PHD in experimental parapsychology and taught at Cambridge, where he became a published author on the subject of the paranormal. These impressive credentials must surely contributed to Sargent's quick ascension to TSR and into the fore of Greyhawk.
Recently a friend of mine obtained one of his books, Explaining the Unexplained, Mysteries of the Paranormal (co-written by Hans J. Eysenck) and I must say it sheds a new light on Sargent's vision of Greyhawk. Eysenck I must add is a psychologist with over 70 books under his belt, so I assume he did a greater share of the writing. With that in mind, a large part of Sargent's contribution, being the parapsychologist was likely on the methods of testing the phenomenon of psychic abilities. The book is quite interesting, covering subjects like psychics, ESP, dreams, mind over matter, life after death and so on.
Not surprisingly then, the Explaining the Unexplained has a section (in mind over matter) about testing PK (psychokinetic ability) with cards, dice and even RPGs:
"...certain environments create strong desires and wishes through incentive motivation of much subtler kinds than bribery. Human beings are extremely curious and many psychology experiments show that the simple prospect of learning how well one has done in some test or other is a powerful motivator. If the test is presented in an appealing and attention-grabbing way, curiosity becomes a powerful motivator. External factors very definitely affect how internal motivations are strengthened and expressed."
"There are obvious ways in which this line of testing might be carried forward....Very relevant here are 'fantasy roleplaying' computer games, such as those based on the world best selling Dungeons and Dragons game..."
"In these games youngsters play the roles of...warriors, wizards, witches, and rogues. Confronted with deadly puzzles, riddles, and traps, and mighty enemies and monsters..."
"The games are addictive and are constructed to help...develop problem solving skills of many kinds. The powerful intrinsic motivation is that of solving riddles and puzzles."
"And because the game commands intense concentration, the player would soon forget that he was being tested at all. Further, these games take place in 'worlds' (not unlike Tolkien's famour Middle Earth) in which magic exists and is real...Why should PK effects not exist too? If belief is an important factor, these games certainly aid in suspension of disbelief."
That leads us back to Greyhawk and the psychology of Sargent himself. Given his body of work, the way some elements found their way into "Sargenthawk" make more sense. Several notable examples out of From the Ashes:
Spinning Helix of the Archmages (a paranormal phenomenon that aids in divinatory powers)
Lyzandred's Tomb (a lich who favors testing heroes not with monsters but puzzles, traps and games)
Doomgrinder (another divinatory mystery)
Zendreldra's Tower (crazy psychic crone who predicts a great flood)
Philidor (mysterious blue skinned wizard who curiously has among other topics, sagely knowledge in astrology, metaphysics and sociology)
I could go on, but it's evident Sargent was a good fit for developing a fantasy world. I wonder if he got tired of testing the paranormal in favor of writing RPGs (or was he combining both?). We'll never know for sure. All I know is Greyhawk was lucky to have drawn such a talented mind to the setting.