Sunday, December 12, 2010

Castle Greyhawk, the MMORPG

Few things get my "nerd rage" going like the tragic disappearance and mishandling of Castle Greyhawk, so my apologies ahead of time for taking BtBG out of its normally Neutral status.

A discussed here, its been nearly 7 years since we were teased with the prospect of seeing a "real" version of the holy grail of Megadungeons, Castle Greyhawk, brought to print. Its been 3 years since the IP was removed from Troll Lord Games and taken of to Gygax Games, to disappear into a pit of mystery.

But we at least know one reason why it hasn't yet, and likely won't see print. Us tabletop gamers just don't generate enough cash to properly honor Gary's memory, as we see in this recent ENWorld post here:

"I don't think any of you should expect a traditional release in the near future--that is, don't expect this to suddenly pick up where everything left off, or to see a sudden announcement from Gygax Games on their web site...The tabletop market is too small right now to justify that type of release."

As many of the people reading this know, you can release something surprisingly nice with just a little time, effort, and creativity, for little cost. So what is being talked about here is that the tabletop gaming crowd just won't generate Gygax Games enough revenue to go from "almost free" to millions of dollars.

Why would I think they are expecting millions?

Because I left out the best part of that quote, in the middle:

"If we get to see Castle Zagyg again in print at all, it would have to be funded by a more wider-release that is released to all audiences, such as a computer game or MMORPG."

Yeah, I'm sure the WoW and Halo crowds are going to be all over that. Some advice, Greyhawk fans:

A) Don't expect to see any computer-platform Greyhawk for another 10 years or so, because it takes that long (see Diablo 3).

B) My naturally suspicious mind is telling me that someone has latched onto Gail Gygax Wormtongue-style and is talking her into this. Because it means dumping a whole lot of cash into production, if true.

I'll disgustedly leave this subject alone now, with one last quote from here.

"Gail's goal is to make Gary's work available to the widest amount of people out there, not just the die hards who argue about the "old school", etc. You have to admit computer games is the way to go if you're going to present gaming."


  1. Thanks for posting this.

    Very, very, very frustrating.

    For myself, I consider Gary Gygax's real 'gift' to already be in my possession. As a hobbyist, I think it's up to us to honor his work and efforts.

    Gail gets coal in her stocking this year.

  2. It sounds like they're thinking about dollars, but are totally ignorant about the CRPG, and MMORPG market, what's involved in making a a modern PC/Console game and how very expensive it is.

    A MMORPG might get a Castle Greyhawk project in front of more people, but it might cost millions to make and then die a death because WoW owns all MMORPG's and kills them dead.

    Ach, this is such a bad idea I can't even be bothered list all the reasons why it's a bad idea.

  3. My feeling is that this dithering by Gygax Games will ultimately be self-defeating. Gary's unpublished works probably were at the zenith of their value within the first year or so after his death. During that timeframe, I suspect lots of people would've shelled out for almost anything with the Gygax name attached to it. Now, nearly three years later, I'd be amazed if you got even a fraction of what cold have been had back then. I know I have nearly zero interest in anything Gygax Games is likely to offer and, if I'm not interested, how much less interested is Joe Used-to-be-a-Gamer who's probably already forgotten what Castle Greyhawk is?

  4. Times like this I'm really glad I have no emotional involvement in Greyhawk whatsoever. What a mess.

  5. Smaller perceived interest is a good reason to only put a small, limited quantity of the piece(s) into production at higher prices. Nothing wrong with some supply and demand...

    Once the 4E crowd joins us at the Grognard table, another generation - more media/tech savvy - will see WotC products and follow the leads more diligently than us.

    Don't be surprised if Gary Gygax's works take on a very valuable cult status in the future.

    I personally might not be interested in Castle Greyhawk, but just analyzing his old modules generates a LOT of visits per month over at LotGD - even I was surprised.

    There is interest, and there is 'Old School' desire and drive from sectors outside the Old School blogosphere. I get emails from young people creating wonderful interpretations of the Temple of Elemental Evil for conventions and their own game sessions!

    The real 'wave' of Gygaxian Cult interest hasn't hit yet.

  6. Yeah, they dropped the ball. There is still an audience out there but it's going to get harder to identify and market to as the years go on.

  7. If the Mrs. really is most interested in getting her husbands unpublished works out to the gaming community... why on earth would they make a new game based on those works rather than publish those works? I'm guessing some MMORPG nimrod has talked her into this with promises of vast WoW style fortunes.

    I mean if you want to get greyhawk to the people, and not just the Grognards then publish it as 4e or pathfinder and the rest of us will retrofit it to our favorite edition-gone-by.

  8. Unfortunate and sad for the Greyhawk fans, but not really surprising. Greyhawk had long since gone from a 'labor of love' and an outgrowth of the campaigns run by Gary and all the others to an 'intellectual property,' and, as such, has come to be regarded as a cash cow rather than a prized possession.
    I found myself underwhelmed by the d20 Blackmoor and the C&C Greyhawk products... as well as much of what had been produced in the latter years of TSR and WOTC. The vintage Blackmoor and Greyhawk products, that provide mere glimpses, are much more fitting monuments to the spirit of G.G. and D.A.'s creations, at least to my way of thinking.
    The problem with 'saving' the I.P. for the "MMORPG" crowd, to my mind, is that most of them probably don't know who Gary Gygax is or what Greyhawk is... and, as a result, they'll probably just see it as a less fun version of WOW since whomever produces it will have a fraction of the budget, staff, development, etc., of the existing producers of MMORPGs like WOW.

  9. Well, there is only one thing we can do now, isn't there?

    We all cash in 10$, the fund raised in that way will be used to hire a group of adventurers, who will enter old Gygax Mansion where Mrs G. is controller by a mind flayer. The adventurers will kill the beast and steal the manuscripts!

    I'm sure Sir Gary would approve of this plan.

  10. Just sad. Ridiculous and sad. Somehow, I think Gail believes all the fans of old-school DnD are of the 'stereotyped-arguing-nerd' variety.

    I guess if I payed more attention to certain forum boards rather than the blogs, I might feel the same. :(

  11. There is not a 'Wormtounge' or other baddy behind the screen. Sadly, I believe this is all Gail's doing. If you look behind the scenes at problems between Gail and some of the Gygax kids you see there is more going on than just the CZ debacle.

  12. It's interesting that they're not releasing something small for it in Pen and Paper. Small market or not, it isn't very often you have a product established with people saying "Please, release this and we'll buy it." No hype or advertising required, you produce and it sells.. and continues to sell even though it's not a tremendous amount of money "now."

    They should at least spend a little time catering there before they jump off the cliff of MMO's.

  13. There's a reason it's called Castle Zygag and not Castle Greyhawk: Dungeons & Dragons and Greyhawk -two recognizable names associated with Gary - is IP owned by WotC and not Gary's estate. Without access to that IP through a deal with Hasbro/WotC, the IP Gail is sitting on isn't as valuable as she's been lead to believe. They're lucky to have the handful of tabletop fans who know and care about what Castle Zygag even is.

    Like I said in that EN World thread, Gail is getting some pretty lousy advice from those around her.

  14. Dislike it as you will, but you have to admit it that pen and paper roleplaying is just not a growth industry today (just the fact that we need the "pen and paper" qualifier ought to tell you something). In fact, it is a rapidly shrinking one. That doesn't mean it can't work or even prosper as a niche hobby - but if I were to look at reaching a lot of fans with a product, or making some decent money, I wouldn't be looking here.

    Contemplate this off-hand quote from a 2009 IGN article:
    "Ken [Rolston] is, as he will tell you any time you speak to him, an internationally celebrated game designer. He has been doing this since the dawn of time," said Nelson. "He designed stone tablets to begin. Paranoia, RuneQuest, D&D, he writes WFRP which I had to ask, and turns out is Warhammer. And he was of course the lead designer on Morrowind, Oblivion, and our current big huge CRPG. You know Ken's old because he still calls them CRPGs."

    Key sentence: "You know Ken's old because he still calls them CRPGs."

    For most people who aren't already actively involved, this hobby is already dead.

  15. Why do my comments to this post keep disappearing? Technical problem or did I cross some invisible line?

  16. There's a bunch of Gygax auctions going on at eBay right now from the Gygax Estate. All are "from Gygax's collection". Although, they are mostly shrinkwrapped stuff that Gygax received because of his associations with TSR, etc and they're not all his own works.

    I'm tempted to agree with squidman above ;)

    But, as scottsz pointed out, we have the best of what Gary was able to give us already. From his TSR stuff to Dangerous Journeys to Lejendary Adventures, and yes even Castles & Crusades.


  17. I completely agree with Scottsz. I thank Gary and Dave for facilitating this hobby, but I do not think that Greyhawk or Blackmoor have any value to me now (nor did they ever really). I used the D&D/AD&D rules as a framework for my own imagination so I'm not too put out by this. On the otherhand, I can understand that it is frustrating that those who really enjoyed Greyhawk. I think it is crazy for Gygax Games to think that Greyhawk will really ressonate beyond the few diehards that argue about the old school that they seem to spurn.

  18. "The old veteran rode past the ruin with his young wide-eyed grandson.
    'What is that?' the younger man asked, feeling he was looking at something important.
    'That', the older man began 'was the infamous Castle Greyhawk. When I was your age it was known far and wide. It was the jewel of all of the Flanaess.'
    'Was it attacked by giants or destroyed by magic?'
    'No my boy, a much more insidious power destroyed it.'
    'What' the lad scratched his head thinking of all the terrible things he knew that could reduce a grand castle to stones in the span of a generation.
    'Greed' the old warrior said. 'Greed, my boy.' and he urged his horse on.

  19. I am with the others who feel bad for the true GH fans. I like GH a lot, but it's not one of my true loves of the game in the way, for example, the City-State is, or Keep on the Borderlands.

    I think it's a bit hard to say yet whether Gygax Games is making a really bad financial decision about how to handle the whole thing, but I *do* think the financial value of EGG's unseen work is sliding (unlike the trademark name "Greyhawk," which is pretty robust). I don't think EGG will become a cult item, although I can see that as one of the possible futures. I just don't think it's the likeliest of the possible futures.

  20. @Mr. Brannan: I would pay for a product that had that passage as its 'Introduction'... beautiful.

    @Mr. Finch: We'll just have to try harder, then.

  21. It's their busines. It's our hobby. If Gygax left behind any real elgacy whatsoever it was what he started with the LBBs and Greyhawk--a tool-set from which people were encouraged to go forth and do your own thing. Build a beter castle already...

  22. @Nether: I like the sound of that...

    'It's their business. It's our hobby.'

  23. I wish I could have done more to keep the CZ ship steady, because I can say with confidence that I would have completed all three boxed sets by this time. In some respects, I feel like I let Gary down, that I should have done something or said something to prove that what I was working on was _exactly what Gary wanted_, and that it was important to a great group of fans. There's nothing I can do to change that now.

    --Jeff T.

  24. Since this is me being quoted, a few notes.

    The "old school" comment was mine, I don't even think Gail has heard the term "old school". The emphasis I was trying to make in that paragraph was that she doesn't believe she can just present it to a "hard core" small audience with specific expectations. From what I gather, she believes the potential audience is the sum total of fandom, anybody who plays anything is an audience.

    I think the most interesting comments going on is that somehow it's not right for there to be money made on this project. To be honest, one of the key motivators for this project was not "for the art", but because this was probably going to be the biggest selling project. If you really study Gary, it's clear over the years that Gary did not really want to flesh out this project. Financial compensation was a key factor. I know elements of the old school, such as the emphasis on the OGL, people giving away projects for free, etc., was something Gary disliked and disdained--he only used the OGL because he felt it was the only way to preserve some elements of the older games, and because he wanted a company to make money off of it, which is why he went with TLGs approach rather than the whole OSRIC thing.

    I learned this a long time ago when Gary gave up DJ. Yes, there was a lawsuit, but it could have been fought. But financial considerations took hold. And one thing to remember is the Castle's main reason for being published is of it's "dungeon crawl" nature, not for specific Greyhawk references.

    I admit that Gail has gone off of Gary's plans. However, there is one thing I do know. REGARDLESS of what Gail is doing, if any of you think that Gary would choose publishing or "giving away" Castle Zagyg or whatever is left over his wife of over 20 years, or that he would ever approve of the comments calling her "greedy", you'd be horribly mistaken. The work to him was never the most important thing in his life. It is in my opinion, dishonorable to make those statements. And I fear fans are using very simplistic idealized visions of "Computer = Sellout" rather than dealing with the complexities of the situation.

    At the end of the day, I simply want this to end and people just resign themselves to the old plan not being undertaken, and leave her in peace. Hopefully something will bear fruit.

  25. @Melan, I think the link you had in your post caused it to dump into my spam file. I've gone ahead and restored it. :)

  26. @JRT: Overall, you have a point. I think it is time to forget CZ and move on. Yes, we wanted it and yes, it does sting that it never came to fruition. However, Castle Greyhawk and Castle Zagyg were always beset by publishing issues. Maybe it's publication was never to be.

  27. @JRT - Thanks for commenting here! I completely agree Gary would likely have wanted Gail to do whatever she felt like with the IP. I don't believe anyone has suggested or implied Gail give Castle Greyhawk away for free. I also think the majority of comments aren't suspecting her of being greedy so much as someone is perhaps feeding her some bad advice.

    While I can't speak for anyone else, my own distaste with the situation lies with the implication that the community of tabletop gamers wouldn't generate enough revenue to be worthy of a release.

    At any rate, I don't see how its disputable that releasing even photocopies of Gary's notes and maps would have almost no overhead and have an instant market willing to buy, whereas paying a MMORPG developer would be extremely expensive and of dubious profit.

    The fact that the World of Warcraft MMORPG makes far more money than, say, the Castles & Crusades tabletop RPG, in NO way means that Castle Greyhawk the MMORPG would make more money than Castle Greyhawk the dead-tree book. To think otherwise would be a terribly misinformed assumption.

    Look how well D&D Online did, for instance.

  28. @JRT: I agree with Al - simple scans of the notes, etc. could be put together into a physical product. Alternatively, money could be generated by allowing access online. I strongly support Al's advice against MMORPG - it would be too easy for developers to overrun such a product and take advantage of Mrs. Gygax.

    I think it might be more appropriate to sell a Gygaxian notebook allowing people to build their vision from Mr. Gygax's raw material. If supporting data is desired, perhaps a simple online poll can help gauge the interest level.



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