In 2008 Troll Lord Games added another gem to its RPG crown by producing Gary Gygax’s Castle Zagyg ‘The Upper Works’ for their Castles & Crusades line.
How this came to pass, I’ve no real idea, other than when Gygax was exiled from TSR in 1985 he was allowed to retain IP on his characters or creations that were anagrams of his own name. Thus, Castle Greyhawk became Castle Zagyg [since it was the mad arch-magi Zagyg’s home anyway]. When Gary fell into with gamer Stephen Chenault at the turn of the millennia the two decided to found a company that would produce Gygax’s work until his passing in 2008.
Now I have no idea the real details here, other than it seems every business partnership in the RPG industry has a dozen intriguing stories behind it, but I will say that Troll Lords got a leg up during the early 2000s and Gygax got a platform from which to launch his OSR products until finally producing ‘The Upper Works’ in 2008.
Imagine my surprise when I found that my copy of ‘The Upper Works’ was going for more than $400 on eBay, and how embarrassed I was to have never really given it more than a cursory glance after getting the last copy at Paizo’s warehouse back in late 2008.
This is an astoundingly huge boxed set supplement, with 5 large interior books, a maps & illustrations handout, and several level map pages as well.
As I looked through it I couldn’t help but wonder what the thing cost to produce, as it is really a massive undertaking on the part of Troll Lords.
Artistically, each booklet has a color cover done by Troll Lords resident artist extraordinaire Peter Bradley who is also the AD on the project. He does an admirable job with the subject matter, his covers not overly inspiring, but solid, and his interior pieces keeping continuity with a shared party of adventures and there are a few gems in there from him. One thing I’ve heard as a knock on Bradley and Troll Lords art in general is that it is a bit ‘cheesecake’ and that the top heavy woman adventurers need to cover up a tad, which is reflected here as well.
The only other art is provided by Jason Walton who I don’t enjoy as much as Bradley, but is still a competent artist who does a very nice job working in the Maps & Illustrations booklet that can be handed out to players.
In all, I felt like the product was too large where the art budget was concerned, and the deeper you delve into the sourcebooks, the less are you find in the pages. Nonetheless, I think it was a huge benefit to the gaming community as a whole to get something like this produced, and I have to thank Troll Lords for doing so.
Artistic Rating: 3 [out of 5]