Friday, April 25, 2014

Of Glantri and Time-Travel

GAZ3 Glantri French Translation
I got a tap on the shoulder yesterday about GAZ3 Principalities of Glantri getting translated into French.  Thanks to the good work of the fans at Donjon du Dragon, the D&D Game fan site east of the Channel, and in particular of the mysterious translator by the name of Squilnozor.  Thank you!  I rushed to peek at the result—a most impressive PDF at first glance, free for registered members.  Nearly thirty years ago, the French market was blessed with official hardcopy translations of the Basic and Expert sets, IIRC, and the first two Gazetteers—barely enough to whet a gamer’s appetite.  Since then, the fans have taken over, filling the gaping void left by TSR.  Seems strangely familiar, doesn’t it?

You might wonder why I post this here, given that the majority of this blog’s readers are English speakers who already have access to the original print or to the PDF recently released by WotC on DTRPG.  It’s a source of nostalgia for me to find both the American and French versions on an equal footing, sort of, at least as far as PDF files are concerned.

I wrote GAZ3 on a freelance basis while employed at TSR.  This meant feverishly designing and giggling maniacally in my office at home, late into the night.  Details of how I generated this much material in a few short months, besides being married and having a full-time job, faded amid the fog of decades past.  I do remember being awfully busy.  All things considered, I also recall some pointed comments from my ex about not paying quite as much attention to her as she felt I should.  In retrospect, she was probably justified.  This in part explains why I didn’t go into turbo mode and write a whole lot more Gazetteers.

At the time, I lived in a ranch-style house at the western edge of Lake Geneva.  It stood halfway up a tall steep hill, with a few neighboring houses and a thick forest on the opposite slope.  Highway 50 ran at the foot of the hill. It grew heavily congested every late Sunday afternoon when hordes of summer invaders retreated eastward either toward Milwaukee or (more likely) Chicago.  Among them came and went native fishermen towing their ubiquitous motorboats behind their SUVs, barbarian campers at the wheel of mobile homes, sun-drenched and bar-happy adventurers returning from their romantic quests, fearless explorers replete with good food from local taverns, zombie-like deadheads in rusty-old junkers, and folksy villagers caught in the traffic jam . . . and occasional biker-dudes revving their steel chariots.  Their roars deafened even a Mack truck laboring up the incline.  From the center of Lake Geneva and well past my home, the line to get through the small town’s hopelessly gridlocked center stretched for more than a mile.

Glantri City Map
Despite the half-dozen blue spruces I planted in front the house, this is the sight I remember outside my home’s office window as I drew the details of the imaginary principalities with a colorful array of pin-sharp markers.  The same was true of the maps intended for the Voyage of the Princess Ark articles.  There was no computer software for this kind of work back then—at least not for me.  I had to make a photocopy (at TSR) of the realm I needed to reproduce, resizing the shot as needed, which I thought was pretty neat at the time.  It was the height of technology for me.  Once at home, I’d tape the photocopy to my window along with a clean hex sheet over it.  As I stood by this ad-hoc solar-powered light table, I snickered with wicked glee at the traffic jam downhill, for I knew the secret path around it, and (thankfully) the invaders didn’t.  Of course, this sort of work could only be done on a bright sunny day.  Fortunately, southeastern Wisconsin does enjoy reasonably fair weather.  How convenient.  Occasionally, a rabbit, a squirrel, or a woodchuck scampered across my lawn, diving for cover in the neighbor’s yard, and distracting me for a moment. (Janet says that woodchucks do not scamper: they lumber, thank you very much!)  After tracing over the needed coastlines, rivers, and mountains, I finally peeled the hex grid off my window, laid it on my desk, and started drawing the terrain symbols while I dreamed of what the region looked like.  For geographic tags, I layered a sheet of tracing paper over the map, and hand–wrote all the names.  One mistake, and the whole sheet went flying over my shoulder, until I got it just right.  It happened more times than I care to admit.

I often found myself leaning back in my chair, my nose resolutely pointing toward the ceiling, my eyes gazing through the stark white plaster and the dark recesses of the attic above, while I summoned visions of another world.  Such was the case of GAZ3, coming up with the various principalities and their quirks.  I enjoyed no internet to do research—remember, this was in the mid-eighties.  I had an IBM XT clone hooked up to a boxy amber monitor and a dot-matrix printer.  As a source of inspiration, I had to rely either on books from the local library or on my own personal memory of Europe from my years growing up there (mostly the latter).

Glantri Hex Map
Long days followed while I awaited the time when Dave or Dennis at TSR redrafted my maps.  Even then, all that could be seen were layers of acetate sheets with cut-out symbols, map tags, and cryptic indications of how colors were layered.  The closest to the real thing were chrome proofs that came months later, just before the Gazetteer went to print.  For the magazine articles, results came a bit faster, perhaps a month after I turned in my work to Roger or Dale.  For the text, I scrupulously counted the words as I wrote each chapter, hoping to fill every little space available right down to the last line.  I hoped and prayed that I’d gotten it right.  Months later, the prose went through TSR’s typesetting process.  When the smoke cleared, text almost never ended where I’d hoped it would.  Cursing each little speck of space left unfilled, or gasping at bits of beloved verbiage surgically amputated for the sake of copyfitting, I’d search for the source of the error.  Getting all the steps right, text or graphic, was more art than science.  You never quite knew how it would all turn out until the real thing appeared on the shelves.  At long last came the pleasure of holding and feeling the finished goods, of inhaling the scents of paper and ink, marveling at what did work and experiencing pride and accomplishment.

Happy days.  Joyful memories.  A glimpse of a familiar module, an article, or a campaign setting always evoke these thoughts.  I hope you enjoyed the read.  It’s time travel for me.