Quag Keep: The First D&D Novel

Lo, those many years ago (1981) when I read Andre Norton’s novel Quag Keep.  A copy presented itself in my Middle School library. A dragon appeared on the cover and fantasy had just fastened into my pubescent consciousness, leading to a reading.

Quag Keep is a queer duck of a novel.  Neither fish nor fowl, it slumbers in obscurity.  Set in the Greyhawk campaign world created by Gary Gygax, it is extremely referential to Dungeons & Dragons as a hobby, rather than game mechanics.  Literally.  Magic transforms a bunch of RPG nerds into their characters in Greyhawk via ‘cursed miniatures’.  No, really.

I know what you’re thinking.  This must be a stupid concept that breaks the fourth wall or just comes across as pretentious.  Surprisingly, it’s not.  Is it great?  No, but it’s not bad.  It moves quick, has enjoyable scenes and the characters (especially the main caracter, Milo Jagon) are interesting.  Moreover, because there is little to no attempt to shoehorn game mechanics, Andre manages to describe the world and situations without worrying about such trivia.  The game mechanics, ironically, are actually far less visible because they are literally part of the story.

Later books placed modern people into fantasy settings via games (such as the enjoyable Guardians of the Flame books) but this is the first.  Greyhawk wouldn’t be published for another two years.   This version of Greyhawk is misty and incomplete.  Andre takes that incompleteness and fills in the gaps with her own writing skills–not without success.  Unfazed by whether or not wizards are allowed to wear armor or wearboars cast spells, she does her level best to tell an interesting fantasy tale.  Quite honestly, I’d prefer the authors who presently crank out gaming novels to take a page from her playbook and do the same.

While researching this I noted that a sequel to Quag Keep, unimaginatively titled Return to Quag Keep, came out a couple of years after Andre Norton died.  I have zero desire to read this, since it smacks of pillaging a dead author’s stories for ideas.  I suspect Andre had little to nothing to do with this ‘sequel’.  I’ll pass.

If you like your gaming books bereft of gaming mechanics, would like to delve into the history of the hobby, or just read a fast, enjoyable fantasy romp, you could do far worse than Quag Keep.

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