Friday, October 31, 2008

Stop whining about GG and Castle Zagyg

This whining about Gygax Games shifting gears with the publication of Gary Gygax's legacy is beginning to annoy me. It annoys me far more than the recent business decisions of that company.

Am I the only one who was wondering why it took so long to release Upper Works? That thing was supposed to be on store shelves years ago. YEARS AGO. I could only guess why. My best guess was that Gary's failing health delayed its completion. Or maybe it's because of something about the nature of Troll Lord Games? I don't know.

It's so easy for people to jump to the conclusion that the family of a deceased celebrity would exploit the deceased's estate to selfish ends. Such scheming might be likely if the family in question had nothing to do with the life of said celebrity. But, as far as I know, Gary's family was supportive of his work.

I think it is likely that the Gygax family is very protective of Gary's legacy. So much so that they have their own ideas of how his intellectual property should be handled. Call me crazy but I think it stands to reason that the surviving members Gary's family are the only ones to make that decision. Fans can cry and stamp their feet all they want. The reality is that they are the ones calling the shots and there isn't anything we can do to change this situation.

Does anyone remember the existence of hobbits in D&D? Gary wasn't interested in incorporating elements of The Lord of the Rings in his game. He was far more interested in the works of Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber than that of J.R.R. Tolkien. But the folks that Gary gamed with demanded elves, orcs, and hobbits. So the first incarnation of D&D included those fantasy races. But the Tolkien estate took issue with this. Specifically, they objected to the use of hobbits, a fantasy race that was invented by Tolkien and was central to his stories. They did not object to the game itself. In fact, they did not pursue the issue further once the name of the D&D race was changed to "halfling." And eventually there was published a role-playing game based on Middle-earth. (I would be interested in reading the precise legal details of this conflict someday.)

Did this make the Tolkien family money-grubbing ogres? No, it didn't. Did they ruin the legacy of one of the greatest authors of the 20th century? No, they did not. They realized the importance of his work. They protected it. They were very cautious about handling their inherited intellectual property. Ralph Bakshi's movie aside, it was a very long time before that family allowed the production of a movie based on The Lord of the Rings. Tremendous care was taken with Tolkien's remaining notes and letters about Middle-earth. Books pertaining to his invented mythology were published slowly. They did not "sell out" or exploit his epic work in an unreasonable manner.

There isn't any doubt that Gary Gygax was the godfather of all role-playing games. It can be argued that Arneson and others were indispensable to the precipitation of the genre but that's the subject of another discussion. The fact remains that Gygax and his Castle Greyhawk mega-dungeon was one of the primary testbeds of Dungeons & Dragons. The dungeon beneath Castle Greyhawk was the axis about which the entire Greyhawk campaign revolved. Many of Gary's famous modules set the example for others. But his most famous dungeon, for whatever reason, remained unpublished for all of these years. Make no doubt about it. The dungeons of Castle Greyhawk was his epic work.

I won't get into the history of Gary's relationship with TSR and other companies. When he planned to finally publish his epic mega-dungeon, he had to change the name to Castle Zagyg for legal reasons. Historically, Gary's Castle Greyhawk was just a dungeon and nothing more. No surface ruins, no local environments, nothing. So when he decided to publish it, he rightly thought it important to properly place it within a sandbox campaign setting. Putting it in WotC's Greyhawk campaign was out of the question. But he managed to work around it. This took time and delayed the publication of the actual dungeon itself.

Why did it take so long? As I said, we can only guess. Personally, I was annoyed with the never-ending delay of the release of Castle Zagyg. It stands to reason that the factors contributing to the delay of its publication were directly related to Gary himself, the people he collaborated with, and the game company publishing the product. Those factors and nothing else were the reasons for the seemingly never-ending delays. But Gary ran out of time and now he is with the Great Gamer in the Sky. The future publication of Castle Zagyg now has absolutely nothing to do with the factors that have heretofore delayed its release.

The bottom line is this. We haven't seen any part of Castle Zagyg produced by Gygax Games. We don't know how quickly it will be produced. We don't know anything about its quality or how closely it follows Gary's plan for the dungeon's final published form. It is not our place to second-guess the abilities of the Gygax family to handle Gary's legacy.

So settle down and just wait and see. For all we know, further publications of Castle Zagyg may be of astonishing quality and released very quickly. Or maybe not. The fact is that we have no reason to think it will be one way or another. We have no choice but to place our faith in Gygax Games and respect whatever decision they make. Because that's the way it's gonna be.


James Maliszewski said...

I suspect the reason that many are upset is because Gary himself, while alive, worked closely with Troll Lords and frequently spoke of his appreciation for Castles & Crusades. Combined with the dismissal of Jeff Talanian as lead developer, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

I have no idea what Gygax Games intends to do with the Castle Zagyg project, but it'd be nice if they told Gary's legions of fans why they decided to pull the license. I'm not the biggest fan of the glacial pace at which TLG publishes anything or about the slipshod quality of much of it. Still, I think they deserved better than to have one of their biggest project pulled out from under them without much explanation as to why.

(On the Tolkien front, the Tolkien Estate, alas, has nothing to do with the movies. It's Saul Zaentz who owns exclusive rights to those and it's his company, Tolkien Enterprises, that grants licenses for their production. If the Tolkien Estate had its way, there'd never have been LotR movies at all)

Jeff said...

I've put Castle Zagyg at the far back of my mind because there is so much crap involved with ever getting it out it seems like a pipe dream.

I gave up on TLG long ago and now with Gary's death it seems that things have been pulled in some scheme to squeak extra dollars out of the product (bad) or to get it to another developer who may actually get something accomplished (good). I don't know, and it's been so long that I don't want to think about it until it's all done...if ever.

Benoist said...

I basically agree.

I just hope that Gary's got his Christopher Tolkien working somewhere behind the scenes on his legacy's next opus.

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