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Maldin's Greyhawk

A Personal Tribute to Carl Sargent

by Rik Rose
 Version 1.0


Greyhawk cottageI first met Carl soon after I joined the UK arm of TSR Inc back in the mid eighties. Carl was still a consulting psychologist then and the world of D&D was in turmoil. On a local level, TSR UK's creative staff had just decamped en masse to Games Workshop and in the US Lorraine Williams was in the final stages of taking over complete control of the TSR business, ousting (unceremoniously) both Gary (Gygax) and his ardent supporter Don Turnbull who ran TSR UK (and had given me my dream job). Carl had been contributing to Imagine Magazine - which TSR UK had published at its then headquarters at The Mill in Cambridge and which had been closed with the departure of the creative team – and was desperate to write and contribute to the game on an official basis. We used to meet in the pub at lunchtime – The Rock on Cherry Hinton Road - for a pie (steak & onion) and a pint (Abbot Ale from The Greene King Brewery) and discuss his ideas and talk about the game in general.

My first impressions of Carl were of a very reserved but incredibly intelligent and creative individual with a drive and determination to get things done. He would always be dressed in a duffel coat and be clutching a battered old black Samsonite briefcase. At the time he chain-smoked (Rothmans) and avoided eye-contact to an almost autistic degree. He was very much the loner, living in a remote cottage on a farm in the middle of nowhere that involved an hour's walk to a bus that would then take another hour to get him into Cambridge. He didn't much like daylight and certainly hated Summer. He wasn't fond of crowds and was only comfortable with people he knew well and trusted. He changed dramatically over the years I knew him though – the last time I saw him was in Central London on a bright, hot Summer's day where he was more than happy to sit outside a busy pub in the bright sunshine. Nevertheless, he was still quite a remote and insular individual, happiest in his own company.

He became one of the regular players in the games and campaigns I used to run in and around Cambridge – groups principally made up of students at the University and employees of TSR. I was always DM and Carl, invariably was always a female character – preferably a half-elven Paladin in full-plate or a healing Cleric. We playtested new modules and explored new worlds (we were given the first draft of Forgotten Realms for example) and tried out new rules (we were playtesting Second Edition for months and months and month in advance of release – all supplied on reams and reams of computer printouts). Beyond a few articles and scenarios in the TSR UK fanzine Bohemian Ear Spoon (who remembers that?) and the newly established Dungeon magazine, as much as I cajoled the commissioning editors in the US and extolled his virtues, getting Carl a break writing for TSR was proving practically impossible.

In the end, it was suggested that maybe the two of us could write part of a new product together. As the TSR staffer it was expected that I would keep the project on the straight and narrow but it was Carl that really drove the project and got it done. TSR were going through a phase of producing Greyhawk source material, partly to assert rights and ownership on what was ostensibly Gary Gygax's world. We were given The City of Greyhawk sourcebook to write as joint authors. Doug Niles had already written most of the material describing the physical City and it was up to us to flesh it out. The book itself was written in four days between Christmas and New Year. Carl came down to the fairly remote, draughty and ancient cottage on the South Coast (of England) I happened to be living in at the time, and, after stocking up on coffee and Jameson whiskey, we got writing. Incidentally, I can just see that farmhouse in the distance at the far side of the bay from the room where I am writing this. Anyway, we had put together a framework in advance, had worked out chapter headings and content and run through a few ideas but the book itself is pretty much stream of consciousness stuff. We would take it in turns – one would sit at my Mac Plus (with 1Mb floppy drive, state of the art of the time; Carl had an old Amstrad word processor) and type, while the other sat and dictated, switching when we'd either had enough or the inspiration flagged... all fueled by strong coffee, liberally laced with Irish Whiskey! The rest, as they say, is history. From such humble beginnings, Carl became an established contributor to both the D&D and AD&D ranges and ultimately, pretty much made the World of Greyhawk his own.

Later the next year, he moved down to the same town on the South Coast and into a flat in my current in-laws' house. Here he wrote more Fighting Fantasy, some Warhammer RPG materials, D&D and AD&D adventures. He also wrote reviews of games for magazines and, not many know this, was a frequent contributor to the music press (most especially the UK's New Musical Express) and wrote music reviews for newspapers – under a variety of pseudonyms. I introduced him to the Jungle Brothers and A Tribe Called Quest but his favourite band, perhaps appropriately for a fantasy writer, was always The Pixies.

His output was phenomenal. I seem to remember him saying he completed writing one of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks in just 24 hours and I must admit, I relied on him to help me finish projects and keep to schedules. He was a mathematical genius – it was so much quicker and easier when working on the accounts in the office, to state mathematical problems out loud and get an instant answer from Carl rather than get the calculator out and work it out yourself. He could also be obsessive. I have enduring memories of him coming into my office in the evening when we were leaving for the day, to sit down and play the old Atari ST strategy game Empire and later Populous and Powermonger on the work computers. When we would return for work the next morning, he'd still be there, sitting in the dark, engrossed with the game in hand. He wrote like that – sitting for hours, writing and writing and writing and writing and writing.

I don't know why he stopped. He carried on in the business long after I had given up and moved on. I'd been trying to track him down for many years after we lost contact through our many moves around the country from place to place and job to job. It was always the plan that he would stop (abruptly) one day and head for somewhere remote and isolated – the Outer Hebrides or The Scilly Isles were always mooted as favourite. As it was, it seems he was hiding in plain sight all along and I am so desperately disappointed I never reconnected with him. I was writing some new material the other day and was wishing I had Carl there to cast an editorial eye over it and force me to keep to the overall plan and to a schedule – little did I realize that this could never happen. I was always convinced that our paths would cross again but I was wrong.

Ultimately, he was, above all honest, loyal, endlessly supportive and indeed, supremely funny with the driest wit - when you finally broke through that outward reserve. He had endless energy when it came to writing and building his fantastical worlds and his imagination seemed boundless. His approach to D&D/AD&D was more old-school, more in the tradition of the original game and focused on high-level characters and adventures to my more methodical, semi-historical, pragmatic/realistic low-level outlook. Nobody can possibly doubt his immense contribution to the game and, although he hadn't written for many, many years, he will still be sorely missed. One of the true greats of the gaming world is gone and cannot be replaced – at least his legacy will live on in Iuz, or the Marklands or in the alleyways of the City of Skulls or the ruins of the City of Greyhawk itself. Hopefully it's a legacy that many, many generations of adventurers will continue to discover for many years to come.


Incidentally, old habits die hard. As a former TSR staffer, it was incredibly hard for me to just write Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms or AD&D and not WORLD OF GREYHAWK® or THE FORGOTTEN REALMS™ or the ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS® Game.



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This page last modified on November 18, 2018