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Friday, July 16, 2021

Saga of Old City - My First Experience with Greyhawk

Saga of Old City was the first official novel for the Greyhawk setting. Other works, such as Quag Keep, had been set in an early version of the Greyhawk world. Gary Gygax, who created the World of Greyhawk and wrote Saga of Old City, decided to write the Gord the Rogue novels, of which Saga of Old City is the first, after the success of Weis and Hickman’s Dragonlance books showcasing the Dragonlance setting. 

Original cover by Clyde Caldwell
Young Gord the Gutless is our protagonist. He is poor and well established in pauperhood when we meet him. He has two coins, and they are not even copper, just iron. The start is reminiscent of other tales I’ve read of young orphans that steal and live in the streets, barely surviving and not even truly living. I was surprised how much Gygax’s prose was actually fine, I was expecting worse. 

From the streets, to jail, to the hands of the Beggarmaster, Gord goes swiftly. From the first page you know this is not a kids book. Dragonlance was pretty gentle, and maybe could pass for younger audiences, though it was definitely adult as well, comparatively Saga of Old City is gruesome and harsh; though not gross or disturbing. It’s definitely a coming of age to start, rather than a grand epic.

While I found Dragonlance more epic than your average Forgotten Realms tale, The World of Grehawk is less epic. It is essentially a Sword & Sorcery setting. It's rather low in fantasy, and full of decaying civilization of humanity. One example I think illustrates
this well is that the Thieves Guild of Greyhawk is a legal venture, assuming no one gets caught and pays the tithe from stolen coin and goods to the City Council.

Gord’s coming of age somewhat reminds me of Elminster’s, though it’s really just reminiscent of the trope in general. Chapters often skip a few years and shortly we have a young adult Gord getting into trouble. Don't worry, more than half of the story Gord is an adult.

It was great fun getting to explore a little of the Flanaess, basically the Faerûn equivalent being a portion of the continent of Oerik. We experience the world through the eyes of Gord who is seeing the places for the first time. Our character Gord is exactly as described: a rogue. He’s a thief, though not really evil, he serves himself. The plot kind of follows this random going-ons of his life, which is to say its all over the place.

The rogues in this are awesome, and I particularly love their impersonation skills. It’s nice because they just need to execute the act extremely well, and don’t need to bypass a ton of magic as there is low amounts of magic and even lowish amounts of people not human. 

2008 republished version

We do have some other characters in this, my favorites being Chert and Gellor. And while relative a story of human affairs, we do see a sea serpent, a demon, and a wolfwere.

When a large group fight breaks out near the end of the book, you really can see Gygax’s wargaming experience come through in stratagem and all the particular names for weapons of all sorts, along with the specific types of armor being worn. 

Overall, this is such a fun adventure of one small thief from Old City. The story is often told in such a way that the narrator tells of the next leg of the journey at the start of a chapter before then describing how Gord got there, and then continuing with what came after he was in the predicament. It is also extremely 1e AD&D with thief ranks, bards and what not. 

“A bard has something to do with druidical studies?” 

The last couple chapters really bring the story full circle and it ends very nicely. While the plot is kind of a mystery with this novel, I do believe some things seen here will show up for the rest of the series of Gord the Rogue. It was a fun ride, and I’d recommend just going with it, let Gord take you on the adventures of his young life. There are six more books after this one and I do plan on reading them all at some point.

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You can track my current progress here.

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