25 August 2020

For the Love of Greyhawk - Reprise

World of Greyhawk Gazetteer, 1980
World of Greyhawk Gazetteer, 1980

Over on ENWorld, the user Snarf Zagyg started an interesting conversation in response to some discussion about Greyhawk that arose as fans learned about the release of the new 5e book, Tasha's Cauldron of Everything.

Snarf Zagyg entitled the thread "For the Love of Greyhawk: Why People Still Fight to Preserve Greyhawk" and it offers some good food for thought for Greyhawk fans, and for D&D players in general.  This reproduces my reply in that thread:


A very interesting conversation, thanks for starting it up, @Snarf Zagyg !

While I am a long-time Greyhawk fan, I too would be interested to see what interesting and new material could be published for Greyhawk. Unless and until WotC releases older editions for publishing via DM's Guild, that means new official Greyhawk material will be written for 5e and 6e, ad not for 1e/OSRIC or the other clones. So, if WotC publishes a Greyhawk book that I like, I'll pick it up. Adapting new material Greyhawk is a natural process that every Greyhawk DM has to do who's not playing with the current rules set; it's not a big deal, and it works forward as well as backward (all of those 1e adventures are also easy to bring forward into 5e too). I do the exact same thing with material from FR, Necromancer Games, Call of Cthulhu, and whatever else feels right to use in my Greyhawk campaigns.

One of the core strengths of Greyhawk (in addition to its resilient and enthusiastic fanbase, who provide support for the setting through many ways, including the Oerth Journal---a freely downloadable professional quality zine---to name just one example among multitudes*) is its flexibilty. When I run a Greyhawk campaign, it may be related to others that I've run before from a story/continuity POV, but it's just as likely that I'll use that game as a fresh start: to play in a region of the setting that I've not explored before (I've not yet run a campaign set in Land of Black Ice or in the era of the Migrations, for example), or to play with new classes/races/rules to try them out (an all-thieves game set in Dyvers, where the PCs are undermining the guilds of Greyhawk City, for example), or to explore multi-planar play among several inter-related Primes (Greyhawk sort of meet's MCU's Nine Realms, as in my two concurrent campaigns).  Greyhawk can handle all of these options and more, and deliver a setting that drives gameplay that brings me and the other players to the table each week, excited about the next session.

Greyhawk's core flexibility is grounded in and builds upon both the setting's patchwork publishing history, and the design ethos that Gary and Rob baselined Greyhawk to support:

1. Greyhawk's spotty product support---both in quantity and quality---can be leveraged to your advantage as a DM:  because Greyhawk canon is so filled with contradictions, mutually-incompatible evolutions, and alternate takes on the same people, places, and things, it demands that the DM define their take on the setting, to decide what's in and what's out from the options palette during each game.  You want an undead-focused globe-trotting save-the-world campaign?---grab the Vecna modules or "Age of Worms" and have at it.  You want urban high intrigue among sparring noble families?---use the CIty of Greyhawk boxed set during the signing of the Treaty of Greyhawk, or use Ivid the Undying set during the Turmoil Between Crowns.  You want swashbuckling piracy?---build out Feelta's Slave Lord fleet raiding the shores of the Wooly and Relmor Bays, or fight the Scarlet Brotherhood as an Iron League privateer in the Azure Sea.  You don't like how the Greyhawk Wars played out?---play the boardgame to a different conclusion, and change history by preventing the assassination of Tenser and Otiluke.

2. Greyhawk's design ethos is built upon the foundations of DIY modular campaigning.  Both the 1980 Folio and the 1983 Box, Greyhawk offer a loose framework within which any DM can build and create any campaign they desire.  Because it's defined in a light-weight manner---the broad sketching high points of history, geography, and the political topography---that open framework frees the DM to pick and choose among canons, to rewrite history to serve the needs of the game**, but still doesn't force a DM to fill the whole blank-slate work on their own.

I'm on the record about what I think has been done wrong with Greyhawk over the decades, but I don't think any of that would prevent Greyhawk from thriving with the proper attention and support.


* For my favorites, see my Greyhawk Links page at https://www.greyhawkonline.com/grodog/gh_links.html

** A great example of how one DM (Montand on Greytalk but reposted from Greyhawk-l@oracle.wizards.com as preserved on Canonfire!) proposed changing Greyhawk nearly 20 years ago:

Date:         Fri, 12 Oct 2001 05:55:16 -0400
Reply-To:     Greyhawk <[log in to unmask]>
Sender:       Greyhawk <[log in to unmask]>
From:         Taras Guarhoth <[log in to unmask]>
Subject:      The Future of Greyhawk
Comments: To: Greytalk <[log in to unmask]>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"

Out of chaos, order forms. The civil war winds down in the Sea Princes, and the land coalesces into two stable states. Westkeep was held by the Keoish, but barely, and at great cost to their armies. Now two hostile nations, ruled by former Olman slaves, stare at each other across the lower Javan plains. But as much as they hate each other, they hate those to the north even more. And so it begins. 

And out of renewed order, chaos and evil are born. Sterich, retaken from the giants settles back into it's daily life. But something is amiss within the land. A corruption rots at the heart of the old Earldom. A bloody coup is staged, and the Margrave is killed, some whisper sacrificed to foul gods, and the land begins to change. Keoland watches from across the Javan, sending in a token force that it quickly dispatched, their forces spent in the campaigns in the south. 

Farther north, the Gran March and Geoff squabble endlessly over the city of Hochoch. Their attention is myopically focused on a tiny chunk of river land, and their resources are quickly dwindling. They fail to notice developments farther to the north, beyond the plains of Bissel. The lands of the Bakluni have been enflamed. A new leader has arisen among them, and demanded that they expand. A horde forms, and sweeps through the hills and vallies of Ket, and then presses beyond, into Bissel, swiftly destroying what resistance that land could muster. But they do not stop there. They press on, into the Gran March and Veluna, thrusting into the hearts of both lands. 

Across the Yatils, the Wolf and Tiger nomads join their Bakluni bretherin, riding on Perrenland and Iuz. Although their gains are more modest, they do succeed in keeping the famed mercenaries of Perrenland home, and Iuz from pressing in upon his southern neighbor while Veluna distracts it. And distracted Furyondy is. The cities are scoured and fields emptied to push back the Bakluni horde. Veluna and Furyondy finally reunite, in a hasty attempt to shore up both lands against their invaders, and Ferrond is reborn. The horde is stopped, and pushed back to the Fals Gap...but not quite back through it. 

All is not quiet elsewhere, however. Turrosh Mak, barely holding onto power, makes a renewed surge to the north, into the lands of Celene. None stand with the Fey Queen, remembering her refusal to stand with them. None can afford to, either, for war is breaking out. The elves fight hard and fiercly, but, in the end, they fail, and their land is overrun. But not only their land. Narwell and Safeton are ripped from the grasp of Greyhawk. Riots break out in the free cities as refugees flood into Verbobonc, Dyvers, Greyhawk City, and Hardby and chaos reigns in the lands south of the Unknown Depths. 

The Pale strikes hard into Tenh, and pushes the Fists and a distracted Iuz from the land, claiming it in the name of He of the Blinding Light. The expanded Theocracy becomes even more repressive and institutes an inquisition across the whole of their land to root out the remnants of Iuz and other non-Pholtine religions, whether good or evil, lawful or chaotic. All will be stamped out in the name of Pholtus, while Nyrond teeters on the brink of collapse to the south, starvation and taxation and warfare having taken a heavy toll on the land. 

The lands of Aerdy have not been quiet, either. Old North Province and Old South Province finally settle their scores within the heartlands of that formerly Great Kingdom. Warfare rages, cities burn, and in the end, Xavener takes his rightful place on the Malachite Throne, ruling a reunited empire that stretches from Idee in the south to North Province in the north. The land is awash in humanoids and mercenaries, a new round of civil war ready to sweep the land after it's Second Turmoil Between Crowns...but Xavener has something else in mind... 

Aerdy's forces march on Almor, and that ravaged land swiftly returns to the fold of Imperial Aerdy as troops march across the land, sweeping through the near-rebellious Nyrondese. Nyrond rapidly gives ground to the Aerdi, suddenly feeling a dagger in it's side. The Pale. Revolts erupt in the north and west as the renewed warfare brings even greater hardship. Midmeadow openly rebells, and invites Palish troops in. Nyrond finds itself disintegrating rapidly. When the dust settles, the lines have been round to a halt. Rel Mord stands on the border, and Womtham has fallen. Nyrond is a much reduced nation and pleads with the Urnst states for help, which they grudgingly give, allowing the fallen kingdom to keep itself from being swept from the face of the Oerth. 

Xavener also sends his troops south...and while Irongate withstands even more years of seige easily, Sunndi is not so lucky. For the second time in under two decades, the land finds itself fallen to Aerdy...and this time, there is no Osson to liberate them. The "king" of Sunndi is executed for treason, and Aerdy sets about occupying the land. But their occupation faces an unexpected setback. Bullywugs and lizardmen and other creatures from the Vast swamp pour out in all directions, slaughtering the forces of Sunndi and Aerdy alike. They claim half the Pawluck valley before they are finally ground to a halt by humanoid troops. The short-lived Kingdom of Sunndi is no more. 

But is this all? Or is there more? 


Ok. Yes, there was a reason to all of that. A revelation hit me tonight. Greyhawk is stagnant. It is bloated. It is everything we accuse the Forgotten Realms of being, and then some. 

Why do I make these outlandish claims? 

Let us take a look. It has been a decade since the Wars were published, and like them or hate them, they were the last major change to the Flanaess. Nothing of real note has happened since then. A few borders shifted a little bit, a few faces changed, a few titles changed. But no real change happened. The Flanaess remained in the exact same place it was in 10 Real Life years ago. 

And since then, we've sat around doing nothing of note. We've contemplated the scent of Otto's toejam, and what color Mordenkainen's belly-button lint is, all based on obscure passages from books so long out of print they aren't worth worrying about anymore or based on some utterances of some half remembered events that may have actually happened handed down from various creators, which, of course, are at odds with everything published. 

And in doing so, we've locked out two simple things. 

New People. And New Ideas. 

We've let ourselves become every bit as decadent and decrepid as Imperial Aerdy under the last of the Raxes and the Naelaxes. We chained ourselves to our precious "Canon" for so long that we refused to accept the existance of anything not already mentioned in it. Hell, we codified it, in the form of NiteScreed's essay. 

And so we damned ourselves. 

How did the Forgotten Realms survive for years on a constant stream of product, which is probabily easily triple or quadruple what was produced for Greyhawk? They weren't afraid of change. They weren't afraid to shake things up. They weren't afraid to introduce a fresh face into the halls of power or use a fresh idea. But Greyhawk was. We demanded that villans be heavily tied to the setting, and so we forced the same tired faces to be reused. We never killed our enemies. Doing so would drastically reduce our options. 

Greyhawk, if it is to survive, needs to change. It needs to burn, and then rise like a phoenix from it's ashes. It needs to shed itself of the foolish notions of rooting everything in something that came before. 

Above was one possibility of how to do this...but there are others...I know, I've heard them. They came from the ancient and near-mythical time of TSR on the AOL boards. I have dim recollections of such things as a Rennisance in Keoland, and a Plague sweeping out of Celene. This is what Greyhawk needs now. 

The question is...can we get it from anywhere? 

Taras Montand Guarhoth 
Canonfire! http://www.canonfire.com/ 
Submit Early, Submit Often...but make no mistake, you Will Submit!

11 August 2020

grodog's Greyhawk Campaigns Updates

Life in the real world has been full of strife, chaos, madness, and the bat plague of late (to quote Gabor Lux!), so our escapism has been into the World of Greyhawk. 


Castle Greyhawk - The Boys over 4th of July Weekend

Fathers Day AD&D gaming coupons redeemed from the boys meant a return to the dreaded halls of grodog's Castle Greyhawk! =)

Unfortunately for the dungeon's inhabitants, the PCs plowed through most of them, then retreated back to the City of Greyhawk for healing.

The boys discovered a new entrance to lower levels via a trapdoor, but upon banging around on nearby barred doors, the PCs stir up more orcs, who sounded the alarm gongs, and began pursuit!

Spooked, the PCs bugged out via a secret door (seemingly unknown to the orcs), only to encounter a pair of shriekers in the main entry/exit hall, who in turn attracted a swarm of 20 kobolds. That engagement delayed their departure sufficiently long for the orcs to catch up, which is where we left things off for lunch....


The dragon mini (one of my favorite sculpts!) is a stand-in since I don’t have a black dragon that currently has attached wings, but you can never go wrong with Tom Meier’s work 🙂

The boys met this same dragon IRL several years ago, and fled from it quickly (they were particularly awed by it yelling at them, and the ranks of lizard men in front of it and charging in the PCs' direction!). 

This time they were prospecting the dungeon level with a wand of metal and mineral detection looking for more loot, when they happened upon it by chance 😉


Henry's Underground Mansion - 5 July 2020

Nominally set on an uncharted island in the Nyr Dyv, Henry's Underground Mansion mega-dungeon got reopened for business over the extended July 4th holiday weekend as well.  

His older brother Ethan and I delved into new portions of the second level that we'd not previously explored, and after running into some trouble there, encountered a red dragon while on our way back to the surface for some R&R!  

Thankfully, we managed to extract ourselves from the red dragon and high-tail it out of the dungeon.  The orcs that we'd recruited to assist in the battle with the dragon, however, didn't fare quite so well....



Castle Greyhawk - The Virtual GaryCon crew - 18 July 2020

I ran my Saturday night Castle Greyhawk crew last month and will return to it again this coming weekend (I cancelled the in-between session due to work insanities; this game began as a spur-of-the-moment virtual GaryCon 2020 event, and has continued since, although we missed the past few sessions). Only 3 players were able to attend, so they decided to seek out some mercs to beef up their numbers. Unfortunately their regular MaAs weren’t available, having taken on some caravan guard duty between Greyhawk and Dyvers when the PCs didn’t employ them for the past month of game time (we hadn’t played since 23 May!). 

So, they picked up a down-on-his-luck half-elf F/MU named Melkor who had been robbed by bandits when returning from Castle Greyhawk, and decided to see if they could help him recover his missing gear, including his spellbook.

They ran around in the city checking in with the Thieves Guild (possible lead/info, for 50gp that they didn’t pay), picked up an Amazonian Priestess of Heironeous at the local temple (Carlos is playing a Keeper of Daern), and checked in with the City Watch for news and possible bounties on bandits (30sp a head for a captured bandit).

They then returned to the scene of the crime to investigate around a bit, and then killed some time hanging around in the first outer ward of the Castle, figuring that the bandits were hitting adventurers on their way back to the City from the Castle. While there, they encountered a group of NPCs exiting the castle, and favorable reaction rolls and some diplomacy assured an easy “nothing to see here, move along” response. The players and the PCs seemed both to have been impressed by the NPCs’ use of an ogre as a porter, and noted the Bakluni holy symbols/raiment of two of their number; they were lead by a female mage named Kelurrin and her brother, another mage; a priestess of Zuoken, and a figure sporting robes of Istus wielding a spetum also stood out to the eye*.

After some further escapades, they tracked the bandits to a lair at the foot of the Castle’s tor, and attacked, capturing 5 and slaying 6 of the group of 12-15-ish foes. The session ended with them preparing to descend into the bandits’ cave to plumb its depths, where they hope to find Melkor’s missing spell book and some more loot. 

* Appearing in one of my contributions to the Saving Throw fundraiser zine for Jim Kramer.  Guy Fullerton and I were recently emailing about fixing some errata and getting the print version of it finalized.
This was the session summary written by James Hochmuth, who plays Eric the Thief in the game:


Saturday night's game was fantastic!  We went into overtime and Allan's ability to keep the game focused with imagery, details and characters meant that the time just flew by without actually noticing how late it was!  Thank you for the extra time Allan!

Thank you for hosting the game Carlos on your Zoom account!

A short recap:

Josh is roleplaying Haj, Half-Orc Fighter
Carlos is roleplaying Corin, Human Paladin
I am roleplaying Eric, Half-Elf Thief

The three of us met up to head out to Castle Greyhawk, as it had been a month since our last visit with the giant crabs.  We discovered that our reliable Men-At-Arms were not available, out with other work.  But their Sergeant recommended someone else we could ask to accompany us.  We met at the inn Melchior, a Half-Elf Fighter Mage, who had been waylaid a week past by bandits on a return visit from Castle Greyhawk.  He had lost most everything to the Bandits, including his spellbook.  We decided that we would help him get his spellbook and belongings back from the bandits and he would offer his services to us in return.   After doing due diligence in the City, Eric asking the thieve's guild if the book had been pawned, Haj asking the town guards about bandit activity and rewards, and Corin seeking the help of a Cleric to accompany us.  We, as a group of five characters head out to hunt for the bandits and make our way to Castle Greyhawk.

We scout the terrain looking for possible ambush spots, look over the area that Melchior was ambushed and eventually head into the outer walls of the Castle, to have "Lunch".  It is what adventurers do right?  Have lunch inside Castle greyhawk!  It was in hopes that we would then either find the Bandits moving about the area, or lure them out to attack us when we leave injured after several hours within the walls.  However a mighty group of adventurers were exiting the castle as we were leaving.  When I say mighty...  They had an Ogre as a porter.  We parlayed with the group, ensuring our safety as they left the castle and headed back to the city.  We watched them travel into the woods and lost sight of them with no obvious signs of bandits pursuing them.

When we decided it was time to head out and see if we could convince the bandits, should they be watching, that we were easier prey and ambush us we made our way back towards the city.  Later on the road we ran into the fallen bodies of bandits, having been foolish enough to attack the previous party with the Ogre.  This gave us an opportunity to track their movements as wounded individuals had fled.  With some time we discovered their hideout in some woods and prepared our own ambush.  In the end two bandits fled and we took prisoner five individuals and learned that they have a cave not far away where they keep their loot, guarded by others.

As we make our way to the cave, we see that the entrance has been disturbed, presumably by the two bandits that fled the fight.   We enter hoping that what we seek, the spellbook, is still deeper in the cave.

I hope everyone had a great weekend!  I enjoyed this session and look forward to others!


James Hochmuth

Wichita Greyhawk - The Now-Virtual Crew 

Our other "regular" local game also got skipped the previous weekend due to work insanities on my party, but I hope to get us back on track the following weekend, too.

In the meanwhile, I started working up a detailed drill-down hex map for the central Flanaess surrounding the Nyr Dyv, which should keep me occupied for another two or three decades or so.

Bill Silvey's Monday Night Greyhawk Campaign - 20 July and 10 August

Our characters, after one beating too many, have decided to take a break from Bill's version of Castle Greyhawk (I suppose I should post some updated maps from our explorations there sometime, too!), and are pursuing a vision quest in the Abbor Alz, where a sage informed us that a legendary magical ring of invisibility might lie.

Here's a summary of that session, from Steve Smith, another player in the group:

Played in DungeonDelver's game on Monday, and it's heating up. In the previous session the party went to a sage looking for hints/legends of lost treasures that might contain a ring of invisibility, to add to our capabilities. We got a lead on a ransacked dwarven stronghold in the Abbor-Alz, and agreed to map and info gather for the sage while we were there. In that previous session we inflicted some blunt force trauma on the goblins and looted the chief's rooms before retiring with our encumbering gainz back to the men-at-arms and base camp.
So this session we were heading back to finish of the goblins and map the place, but of course in the day lost the remaining tribe had pepared some hasty defenses. Looking to find a way around them rather than waste hp on the strong point, we took another path and encountered a subterranean pond that we crossed on small boats. The next chamber was filled with mushrooms to the right, and ahead to the left there was another path that looked like it might circle around to a backdoor into the goblin area...but it seemed like there might be a crevice beyond the mushroom stand.
Checking that out we found some stairs heading down. That seemed more interesting, so we took that route. Halfway down we found a heavy bound door with dwarven runes conveying a warning to let what is beyond rest, lest unleashing a terrible force. The paladin of Wee-Jas detected for chaos and received a strong ping back from beyond the door.
We left it alone, at least for the moment, and continued down the stairs.
The stairs finally terminated in a deep underground cavern paved in cobblestones. It was far larger than our light sources would outline, and as we prepared to find the boundaries the group was ambushed by a group of displacer beasts! The heavy infantry out in front traded blows with the beasts, while the two illusionists in the group plumbed into their bags of tricks. My illusionist took out a viper carcass preserved in a bottle of strong brandy and, using an improved phantasmal force, began "stretching" it into a Conan-class serpent, throwning it among the cats in the following round - hoping (sort of) that these beasts would be familiar with/wary of gigantic snakes. The other illusionist cast a phantasmal killer spell at the cats.
The spells successfully wrecked havoc with the cats and broke up their attacks, causing them to break and run the next round. One died to the faux-bite of the viper, the phantasmal killer spell was likewise deadly, and the infantry scored more kills with their back attack bonuses.
With that resolved, we found some ruins farther up the cavern and investigated one, finding some inscriptions in the walls in old suloise, telling us they'd succumbed to some horror unleashed by themselves. That was the end of the night.
Looking forward to next week.

This is what I wrote after we played last night (10 August 2020, and I missed the 3 August session due to continuing work insanities):  Two weeks ago we discovered a lost city of ancient Suloise deep under the Abbor-Alz. It dates from the time of the Great Migrations, and our PCs were chased from it by a shoggoth! My paladin of Wee Jas will attempt to commune with the Ruby Queen to discover how to restore this site to her people....

I'm enjoying the many games, even if it's a bit hectic to juggle at times, along with the work insanities (which seem to be increasing in frequency rather than abating, as I reflect on this past month of gaming).