Monday, March 26, 2012

Darks, Derro and Doomgrinders

Last Thursday night at our weekly Greytalk chatroom, we discussed among other topics, The Underdark, Derro and the maligned 2nd edition adventure The Doomgrinder by Steve Miller. One area of great interest that was briefly mentioned was Oerth Journal editor, Nathan Irving's long discussed concept of the "Darks", five subregions of what we normally refer to as the Underdark. I dug up a simple yet cool map he posted on the subject of the Darks, and not knowing any particulars except the location of canon sources like the Vault of the Drow, one can easily draw their own ideas about these regions.

Somewhere out of these Darks we speculated about the origins and religion of the derro race. The derro first appeared in the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. Roger E. Moore later wrote an article in Dragon Magazine #241 titled Legacies of the Suel Imperium where it was learned the derro were a slave race created by breeding experiments with dwarves and humans. I believe it was Russel Taylor (Paizo freelancer) who then brought up that Derro in the Pathfinder setting are altered Pech. I like that idea alot better than human-dwarf hybrids actually.

The derro's involvement in the 1998 module The Doomgrinder then tangented to author Steve Miller whom I learned anecdotally blamed the Greyhawk community, then new to this thing called the Internet, for his being fired from TSR over his adventure. Miller was accused of being a sort of in-house freelancer with little direction (or knowledge of the setting), so it wouldn't surprise me today to hear the fans rose up over this literally campaign-crushing storyline. In fact I'm more surprised it doesn't happen more often. Fair warning for any future Greyhawk authors at Wizards.
At any rate that was turn of the century internet rage, now look at fandom today, most recently the popular uprising over the video game Mass Effect 3 and its despised endings. These people should know their setting yet the outcry has prompted the creators to take action. It slightly reminded me of the outrage by long time fans over the Forgotten Realms setting being blown up in a Spellplague to make way for 4th edition. I doubt anyone lost their job over this one but it's still left to be seen how Wizards will address FR in their next edition. Real time fan input is something Gygax and company luckily never had to deal with, or in my opinion, half the stuff put out for Greyhawk would've been panned and the setting for better or worse might've died long before the 21st century.

For more on the Under-Oerth check out Denis Tetreault's maps HERE.

And here's an old Greyhawk comic about the Doomgrinder from my archives.


Jason Zavoda said...

It is amusing (and delusional) that anyone blames the Greyhawk fan community for getting anything the wanted done by TSR or WotC. Perhaps they got rid of Miller because Doomgrinder seemed to be a bad copy of the D&D module Earthshaker! But with a Windmill of Fate added.

As for Gygax's Greyhawk material most of it is well-loved classics. I think the oppossite is true. If there had been real-time input by the fans maybe Gygax would have been able to keep more to the writing side of the business. Mort, which Gygax-era modules didn't you care for? I can't think of any of the pastel's which would be considered bad, though I'd never run Tomb of Horrors as a normal part of a campaign.

Mystic Scholar said...

I agree with Jason. We "fans" do have enough "clout" to affect the decisions made by WotC.

And I don't believe that Mr. Miller suffered the same amount of derision that most "here" give to Rose Estes, so the "fans" merely provide Mr. Miller with the proverbial "scapegoat."

Oh well.

Mike Bridges said...

JZ: Oh I guess my thoughts ran together. I can't think of anything I hate of EGG's including novels. I think Gygax thrived in a creative environment without too much distraction. His encouragement surely came from good sales, convention praise and the magazines to name a few. The internet can be hostile by comparison.
Where my thoughts ran was to that middle era of GH development where EGG lost his hold. Here we get the Greyhawk Castles, Puppets, Doomgrinders, etc. Most if none of that was when EGG was in charge. Mind you, the Sargent era had good stuff but mostly in world bulding. Whoever did the accompanying adventure mods (Patriots of Ulek, etc.) was lacking a bit as well but I wouldn't put them in the same category as Doomgrinder.

Jason Zavoda said...

Mort, the big thing about the history of Greyhawk is the utter abandonment and disregard for the setting after Gygax left the company. Sadly, even before he left he was first distracted by the business aspect, moving out to California (if I remember correctly) then a sudden return as the company hit an iceberg named Blume, and then he was forced out of the company.

The material published post-Gygax was crap, until Sargent, and then his take on the setting is really his own. Many DM's liked it, but many either had no use for it or actively disliked it.

By the time Lorraine Williams was in charge a real-time voice from the fans would have meant nothing. She despised the fans. I think she would have thrived on hate emails and flames.

Even though I feel that all the published material was worth referencing I have taken a step back and am firmly in the Gygaxian Greyhawk camp as far as published material is concerned. And Gygaxian in the understanding the Greyhawk is first and foremost for DM's to develop in any way that pleases them.

Cyric said...

Mort, I can only agree with you. I'm quite sure that EGG would have had his hand full with canon discussions if the internet had existed in the same way it does today.
I'm new to Greyhawk but I noticed that alot contradicting information was presented in his novels, dragon articles and his gaming material. Players would have cried for explanations and every new bit of greyhawk info would have been subjected to sincere comparison with former products. His freedom to create and design would have dwindled a bit more with each passing day...

Sam aka Samovar3 (way, way back) said...

Hi, I was the poster Samovar3 on the AOL Greyhawk message boards way, way back, so I saw some of events firsthand. The community could be as cutting as it is now, and possibly that was worse because it was so much smaller and personal. I harbor the belief that I unintentionally drove Roger E. Moore from the RPG industry because when he posted what would be the basis for The Adventure Begins, I was the first to make some criticisms and then it seemed that others piled on.

I know Steve Miller, and he used to joke about Greyhawk fans getting him fired, because that was what they claimed. That was from TSR before it was acquired by Wizards of the Coast and not over Doomgrinder.

As for EGG, I think he was a very creative person, but I think some times it misfired (Dungeonland and the Land Beyond the Magic Mirror come to mind), and his attitudes to some of the others on the board who contacted him (or his remarks about Roger E. Moore's Greyhawk Index) make me believe that interaction with the fans would not necessarily have been for the best.

For what it's worth, I actually liked Doomgrinder, because it took a static monument and actually did something unexpected and unusual with it. It may not have been to everyone's tastes. I'm also not sure where the idea originated with using it as a warmachine came from; the Star Cairns, Crypt of Lyzandred, and Doomgrinder were all originally announced that they were to be written by Roger E. Moore, and I don't know whether the people who took over had any real experience with Greyhawk; at the time, Roger was pretty much the only one who sought out contact, though I think that Sean Reynolds did ask when he was working on one of the adventures.

Mike Bridges said...

Thanks for the reply Samovar, that was enlightening to say the least! I tend to give the less liked aspects of GH a fair shake, but having actually ran DG myself my opinion changed to one of mockery. The module series in my opinion fit together very tenuously and I didn't even try to run Lyzandred as I couldn't get thru it on first reading. So in that sense I place DG above Lyzandred!

Nathan Irving said...

It's a bit weird, three years later, to find out my ideas have been talked about. ;)