Quag Keep is the first book based on the Dungeons and Dragons role playing-game. The setting is, however, Greyhawk and not the popular Forgotten Realms world. Unfortunately, the story itself is very linear, and the characters are one-dimensional.
The book starts with a brief glimpse into a modern world where people are playing role-playing games with the aid of miniatures. The players belong to different gaming groups, and most of them do not know each other.
Quickly, the players are transported into the very fantasy world that they we playing in, Greyhawk.
The main point-of-view character, a swordsman called Milo Jagon, and his rarely seen alter-ego, Martin Jefferson, wakes up in a tavern sitting alone at his table. He notices on his wrist a bracelet which has different kinds of die on it. It is also warm to the touch. He does not remember how he got there or much of anything about his life so far. A berserker called Naile Fangtooth comes to him and reveals that he has a similar bracelet. Neither of them knows where they got it,
but both of them have vague memories of another world and place.
Soon a mysterious figure gives them a summons from a powerful wizard. They have nobody else to turn to, so they go to see the wizard. During the short journey, they meet an elven ranger, Ingrge, who also wears a similar bracelet. At the wizard's place, they meet four other adventures with similar memory loss and with bracelets:
the bard Wymarc, the cleric Deav Dyne, the lizardman Gulth, and one token woman: the Amazon battlemaid Yevele.
The wizard Hystaspes explains to them that he has seen that a mysterious power from outside their world and time threatens their world
of Greyhawk. He also knows that each of the adventures is bound to one person from another place. Now the group has to battle the mysterious menace in order to save their world and to find out what has happened to them. The only person who can help them is a great Gold Dragon, Lichis, who at least used to serve Law.
The group sets out to find the dragon and defeat their enemies.
Norton's writing is for the most part smooth, although she does use some archaic forms and structures. Unfortunately, the story itself is
too formulaic and reads like a gaming group's adventure.
Some readers might also be put off because the book makes some mechanics from the role-playing game clear to the characters. The die on the bracelets actually move and influence the outcome of the characters' actions. The characters can concentrate on the dice and so influence the "throw"
to their favor. Most people in the book follow either Law or Chaos, and those who follow Law are able to smell "the evil stench" surrounding the Chaos followers. Most are followers of either Law or Chaos because of their species, except for humans, who can follow either. There are also neutral characters and species, but neither side trusts them because they can apparently change sides at any time. Also, near the start of the book the characters get money by just wanting to equip themselves and concentrating on the die. Later on, the weapons merchants refuse to even acknowledge their existence because they already have their starting weapons and cannot buy more even though they have the money for it. The mechanics side of the story is
quite clear at the start of the book, but not so clear later on.
The book's world-building breaks the surface between the gaming mechanisms and the world, which is not a good thing
- it breaks the reader out of the illusion of reading. However, if you can tolerate this, Quag Keep is a quick, entertaining read.