Posted by: markfender | May 30, 2012

Farfhd and Gray Mouser

Yeah, it’s another “classic” of the genre that I’ve never actually read. But then I did.

These are a series of six books by Fritz Leiber that collect a bunch of short stories written about the two heroes: Farfhd, a tall Viking-analogue, and the Gray Mouser, a rogue equivalent. In these stories, they engage in various adventures to gain money. So, yeah, adventuring party. They tomb rob, work for powerful magical patrons, and get involved in mystical dealings that they are forced to stab with their swords.

I didn’t like these. The characters talked in that Shakespearean style so common in old-school fantasy and didn’t have much personality other than “I like beer.” I often couldn’t tell the difference between the two. The stories themselves weren’t that great either. Here’s a wikipedia description of one of the stories: ”

One night in Lankhmar, Gray Mouser and Fafhrd are summoned by their patron wizards, Ningauble of the Seven Eyes and Sheelba of the Eyeless Face, unusually working together, to carry out a mission. They are required to enter the Plaza of Dark Delights to obliterate a bazaar that has been established there by the Devourers, alien merchants that magically mesmerise customers into buying high priced merchandise that is actually worthless trash. But Mouser arrives before the others and is enticed into the bazaar. Fafhrd, aided only by the Blindfold of True Seeing and the Cloak of Invisibility, lent him by the wizards, must perform the mission alone.

This he does, battling not only the entranced Mouser, but enchanted skeletons and living statues, against which his weapons are all but useless. But he manages to escape and rescue Mouser, who is still mesmerized into thinking that the trash he sees is really valuable, including books of secret magics.

Okay, you’ve read that and now you know the entirety of what happened in the story. There’s nothing else to it. It’s as surface-deep as you can get. Worst adventure ever.

So, yeah, I didn’t like these. The only good thing is that they were fairly short.

As for influences on fantasy gaming, other than a penchant for naming, there’s not much there. I guess maybe the concept of a thieves guild.



  1. Stories like this and the Vance stuff you’ve been reading recently are certainly informative regarding the state of mind of the folks that brought us most of our early fantasy RPG material. Hard motherfuckers stealing stuff and killing bad-guys. Does that sound a little like every D&D game you played before you were 16? It does for me.

    To torture a family tree metaphor a bit, if D&D is the father of fantasy RPGs, Fafhrf and Gray Mouser are the toothless hillbilly grandfather, while Tolkien is the classy aristocratic grandmother that never understood what her daughter saw in that ruffian she married. The other grandparents would be historical wargaming and Hans Asperger.

    • That might have been the state of mind of those early RPG pioneers, but sadly, I think that’s still the state of mind of a large portion of gamers – gamers who are really angry about 4e. In my continuing quest to understand why this hobby can’t have nice things, I decided to investigate the origins of that mindset – which is where the old books came in.

      • I’m unclear what about 4e would anger folks who want to play Lankhmar-like campaigns. Sure, I know the greybearded old grognards hate 4e with a burning passion, but I’m pretty sure most of the 4e adherents are just a susceptible to creating shallow, murderous thieves that smash & grab their way through fantasy worlds.

        It seems to me to need to head into pass-the-talking-stick indie games to find player bases that have made a serious effort to leave that behind for more intellectually-challenging fare.

  2. Okay so these books are best avoided then. I am on a bit of a Feist kick at the moment, mainly revisiting books I read fifteen or so years ago. The books are interesting form an entertainment standpoint but really don’t offer anything interesting or new. I assume they came out of mind heavily influenced by D&D. I will finish the Serpentwar Saga as it is passable but I couldn’t get through Krondor, the Betrayal. I don’t often put a book down once I have started but this one has had to be removed from my selves!
    Some of the few books I have read recently that have felt new in the genre are the Chronicles of the Black Company by Glen Cook and the Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson. Joe Abercrombie has also been good.

    • Glen Cook is good. Erikson is also good, if a bit obtuse. Abercrombie I almost didn’t make it through the first chapter. He wrote “Aaargh.” This is unforgivable from a published writer. (I managed to get through four more chapters before giving up).

  3. You like Cook, Feist, and Erikson but don’t get Vance or Leiber? The former owe just about half of everything they are (which is little enough) to JV and FRL. You need to put aside your participation trophy, drama club mentality for long enough to genuinely attempt to appreciate these stories on their own terms, rather than interpreting through the lens of latter-edition D&D gaming. A good start might be to actually read the names of the characters closely enough to spell them properly. It’s Fafhrd, not Farfhd. At least you spelled “Gray” correctly. Leiber’s tales are so much not about the hack-n-slash grognard mindset you so obviously despise that I suspect you didn’t really give them a chance, or perhaps didn’t really read them at all…? Leiber is to Cook what Lovecraft is to the Twilight series.

    • Actually, I liked Vance. Quite a bit, actually. So much so that I find the D&D tropes stolen from him to be a half-assed and a bit disappointing.

      I love how you mention latter-edition D&D gaming. Because grognards can’t help but take swipes at 4e no matter what they’re talking about. It’s awesome. But I’m sure my drama club mentality has totally taught me a lesson about how awesome your taste is and how wrong mine is. I’m sorry I don’t appreciate Frhdfdrdd and Mey Grouser on as deep a level as you.

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