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Ernie Gygax Shares A Little of Tenser's History

Tenser (as in Tenser's Floating Disk) was one of the first Dungeons & Dragons wizards. He was a character played by Gary Gygax's son, Ernest (Tenser is an anagram of Ernest) in a game set in the newly created Castle Greyhawk; later he became an archmage, and was reintroduced as a member of the Circle of Eight in 1989's City of Greyhawk boxed set. He was killed in 1991 during the Greyhawk Wars, and returned to life in 1998's adventure Return of the Eight. Ernie was kind enough to share a little information about the character and his personality.

"Tenser was the first magic user ever in Greyhawk. No books or previous experience existed. The first spell I took was a Read Magic and I used it to read the glyphs above a stairway leading down (level 1 to 2). It told us (Rob, Terry and I) that as you descend into the depths of the Dungeon the encounters will be more difficult but the rewards far grander. At 3rd level when facing off with an Evil 5th level mage I asked to join him and turn to Evil with him. He laughed stripped me naked and released me on the 3rd level to die. I made it to the surface. Took a rock in hand and set an ambush on another low level wandering mage. This stocked me with a new outfit, but I truly missed my now missing paralyzation wand.

Well two levels later I ran into that fellow with my wand again (random wandering encounter table, then a 1 in 6 chance that it would be him andd not another adventurer). Now I had an Elf and a Dwarf and a fireball wand. He had 3 men at arms and 2 first level apprentices. A Mexican standoff occurred. I said and meant it that I would incinerate us all! My followers made the morale throws,his Evil dudes ran. I captured him and then thought of my situation and so I then killed him so that he could never get revenge as I had.

I was always the mapper and would jump into hand to hand if I had no useful spell to throw (Tensers Transformation was created not by me but because of my actions). ALL my characters love magic items and will risk everything to gain them. I only much later turned to Goodness due to an Artifact that to wear and use one must be either Good or Evil (Magic Users Crown). I was the first to hire people to be permanent followers and later when I became 11th level and built a Castle Dad had my followers roll for like/antipathy with each other. So of my 8 level follows only 4 would leave Greyhawk to live with me. The others went off to join Rob and Terry (more of Dads cheating methods to keep game balance instead of allowing me the true dominance my character had so worked for. I was always a fair fellow to my other adventurers (although I would work hard to gain all great items if possible without duress or cheating) and my NPC's not only gained levels but many cool items and were truly treated as family."

Russ Morrissey



Truly nice. Thank you and thanks to Ernie for sharing.

I had assumed that Ernie had created T.T. As part of some theme of "mage wanting to be a fighter". I didn't realize it was an homage of sorts.

M.T. Black

Registered User
Lot's of fun to read such things. I enjoyed hearing Luke Gygax tell a little about Melf's history too, on DragonTalk a few months back.


I begin to understand why there was so much discussion in the 1e Player's Handbook about how the party should figure out how to divide up magic items....

Lots of institutional rules are in place to stop one person in the past who was too good at working the system and got too much individual advantage. I wonder how many of the fiddly (and seemingly bizarre) rules from AD&D 1e are to try to limit Ernie from being the ultimate powergamer? E.g. the chances of an elemental turning on you (which, by the way, came out to something close to 100% during the duration of the spell) in Summon Elemental?

Jester David

I adore little lore and stories like that of the very early history of the game. I really wish there was more and Gygax and others hadn't been so secretive of their characters and settings...


You could put out a supplement. "Tenser over time". Show him at different levels what he had ...who he associated with ,hated etc. Would be awesome


Tensers Floating Disk was a mainstay spell in my wizards spell book.
It was the pickup truck equivalent of utility for almost every party I adventured with.
Perfect for hauling loot and fallen comrades, it was also useful for many other situations and activities. I remember using it consistently as a dining or work table when in the field.
I also remember using it one time to block a doorway in such a manner that a rather large ogre couldn't follow us, the disk making entry very difficult for a creature of his bulk.

Here is a fun article I found that describes other creative ways the disk spell could be used (at DMs discretion of course).

Thanks for sharing some of the story behind Tenser. Great stuff!!


I wonder how many of the fiddly (and seemingly bizarre) rules from AD&D 1e are to try to limit Ernie from being the ultimate powergamer? E.g. the chances of an elemental turning on you (which, by the way, came out to something close to 100% during the duration of the spell) in Summon Elemental?
I think you just described the legal code for every civilization ever. :)
(Cue list of "bizarre law" websites)


The EN World kitten
The picture in this article (which I believe is from a published supplement, though I can't recall which one) is quite amusing when compared to the portrait of Tenser that Ernie has in his house: