[WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

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[WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

Postby Dread Delgath » Wed Jul 19, 2017 7:11 pm

willpell wrote:Yeah, I've looked through the entire Living Greyhawk Gazetteer from 3E, and I *still* don't know what Greyhawk is "about", beyond being Gygax's original setting. Not much about it seems particularly unique in any way I can really put my finger on; with them having moved onto FR (which feels a little more "unique" to me, though not close to Eberron and Dark Sun and such) as the default, I'm really puzzled as to how you identify Greyhawk's uniqueness by comparison.


Yesterday, this comment by willpell in this thread: Re: What 5th Edition Greyhawk product should WotC publish? http://www.thepiazza.org.uk/bb/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=17293&p=198808#p198808 nudged me to ask myself, and now the rest of the forum the question,

"What makes Greyhawk unique as a setting? What sets it apart from the Forgotten Realms, Eberron and Dark Sun?"

Yes, it was the first campaign setting published by TSR, and a variation on Gary Gygax's own campaign world. There were differences and many, many omissions from the original to protect Gygax's own campaign from his players discovering all of his secrets.

But really, what makes it unique? What made it stand out as a campaign setting?

Yes, it was kind of bland, but I assume this was designed as a semi-blank slate on purpose, like the board of "Outdoor Survival" - a generic map to allow each DM and his/her table of players to make the world live and thrive as they saw fit to do in their own campaigns.

It was based in a fantastic version of Medieval America; there were elements of a native human population subsumed into the immigrant population.

There were medieval fantasy monsters and demi-human races.

There was also a strong medieval warfare flavor that was conductive to the war-gaming element joining in the new role-playing game.

It is still admired by many "traditional" role-players, as it was entirely focused on fantasy in literature, rather than the game based on the game, or other games of a more high-tech variety - what I still call "video" games, ;) ...or movies or any other fantasy elements embedded in other forms of media (online or tv, for example).

But, these elements alone or together cannot explain to me what makes Greyhawk "unique" enough to garner as much interest in modern D&D terms as it has in the older (grognard) D&D gamers.

Nostalgia? Hardly. I never really stopped playing the older editions, so its very anathema for me to 'wax nostalgic' over a game that I am still playing. :? So that is not part of the "unique" equation. I suppose if I am nostalgic about anything in D&D, it would be remembering the style of play that has all but disappeared in modern times. It might have a lot to do with the overwhelming set of rules and player agency that has hamstrung DM creativity, or at the least focused and aimed it in particular directions that I don't agree with and couched everything in still equally nebulous terms of "balance".

In the old days, there was little thought to "balance" or what we could get away with by dodging or subverting the meaning of the rules - we were honest enough to admit that we were either playing by the rules or not playing by the rules. House rules was not a term we were acquainted with, although we had notebooks full of rules notes - we noted which rules we followed and which ones we did not. ;)

But that just adds more questions to the OP, and not really conductive for me to find that unique thing about Greyhawk.

Perhaps that unique thing about Greyhawk is that no matter what level we played at - it was our game. If we were 20th level characters who could take on Merlin or Conan, or any manner of God or monster - we could with throwaway abandon.

We did not concern ourselves with questions of "balance" or "if we do this, we'll destroy the Greyhawk campaign!"

We were never concerned that we'd throw the campaign "off the rails" and deviate from the script, because there was no script. We could do whatever we wanted to, and we had an entire campaign world to do it in. Iuz? Just another demi-god to defeat on our way to 20th level. Ivid and the Great Kingdom? Just another kingdom full of armies and paved roads to take over and rule as we wanted.

The Temple of Elemental Evil was but the first seat we sat on as we looked across the Flanaess and determined which country to take over next.

Greyhawk City and Castle Greyhawk, however, were always shrouded in a mystical fog, as we always awaited the release of the "official" (and by official, I mean Gary Gygax's own versions, not the 2e versions that attempted to ape the originals!) and were the linchpin in our dreams of taking over and running the whole Oeridian continent.

So, there was that. That was pretty standard fare back in the day, but is a completely "unbalanced" thing to do these days, so that might qualify as unique. :mrgreen:

So, anyone else have any thoughts as to what makes Greyhawk "unique"? What sets it apart as a setting? Different than the Forgotten Realms? DIfferent from Birthright? Different than Eberron, Dark Fun, Ravenloft, or even Spelljammer?

What makes this completely "vanilla" flavored setting different, and possibly superior to other settings for you? :cool:
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Re: [WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

Postby willpell » Wed Jul 19, 2017 8:08 pm

Um, to slightly modify the opening pitch, I had said that it was not at all difficult to distinguish "Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, etc." from "Eberron, Dark Sun, etc." but rather that I had trouble distinguishing between worlds within the "Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, etc." category. Other worlds that fall into this category include Blackmoor as well as probably Dragonlance and Birthright (both of those have an overriding theme that helps them stand out, respectively "Dragons" and something a little harder to put into a single word, but I'll go with "Bloodlines"; regardless, they're still pretty close to the mean of "standard" fantasy, which does mean they have to work a little harder to stand out). Blackmoor, Greyhawk and FR are the "big three", because each one was originally founded as just one person's particular version of "D&D in general" (Mystara might also fall into this category); they were not created with the intention of standing out from a crowd, because at the time of their inception, there was no crowd to stand out from. Eberron, by contrast, was created long after the others already existed, and was a very deliberate attempt to do something different (this might also be true of Nentir Vale, although that one made more of an effort to stay close to what existed).
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Re: [WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

Postby ripvanwormer » Wed Jul 19, 2017 8:52 pm

When Greyhawk was created, it was the only official D&D setting, give or take what Judges Guild was doing and the implied setting in Isle of Dread (which would eventually become Mystara), and so there was no need to make it "unique." It's simply the AD&D world, and other D&D settings are defined by how they differ from Greyhawk. The Forgotten Realms is Greyhawk but with more detailed ancient civilizations and high magic, Dragonlance is Greyhawk with dragon armies and a clearer good vs. evil conflict, Dark Sun is Greyhawk with psionics and magical climate change, Eberron is Greyhawk noir with magic trains, halflings riding dinosaurs, and invading psionic dream-spirits, Ravenloft is Gothic Horrorhawk, and so on.

The things that were unique about it, like drow elves and Lolth, got used in other worlds later on and left Greyhawk looking even more generic.

Probably the most distinctive thing left is the Scarlet Brotherhood; I don't think many fantasy worlds have an order of Nazi monks. But they don't really define the setting. They're just one threat among many. Quirky things like Wastri, St. Cuthbert, the City of the Gods, the Sea of Dust, the Land of Black Ice, and the Barrier Peaks crash are still pretty unusual in high fantasy settings. But there's no high-concept theme intended to set it apart, since there was nothing to set it apart from and it's meant to be able to host just about any sort of D&D adventure.

Greyhawk grew from Gygax's wargames, Arneson's game, and the kind of pulp fantasy that fueled D&D in general: Howard, Lieber, Lovecraft, Moorcock, etc. It remains a good take on those tropes in a D&D setting, with a nice balance of multiple villains and more ambiguous political intrigue, including some rivalries between "good" states
and a nonmonolithic evil with some interesting unique terrain features, a wide mix of climates and cultures, and some aesthetically pleasing mountain ranges.

There've been a number of attempts to identify what makes Greyhawk unique among D&D worlds, most significantly NiteScreed's mid-1990s manifesto "Grey in the Hawk," and they all, to put it nicely, fall short. "Grey in the Hawk" spends much of its time bad-mouthing the Forgotten Realms, as if being subtly different from the Realms was enough to make it distinctive among the greater field of fantasy settings, and makes too much of the idea of "militant neutrality" which is mostly limited to the Circle of Eight and the Gord novels and not really a concept found in the actual adventures. And a lot of it takes the form of recommendations for future Greyhawk products rather than an analysis of what it was. Still, there are some good observations in that essay.

Greyhawk, as published, isn't exactly Gary Gygax's original campaign setting. He deliberately changed a number of elements from his home game because he was still playing it and didn't want to spoil his players. His players ended up insisting he change his home game to match the published version, though, so that may have backfired. A lot of it was brand new to published 'hawk, and a lot more was added after he left the company.
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Re: [WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

Postby willpell » Wed Jul 19, 2017 9:02 pm

ripvanwormer wrote:When Greyhawk was created, it was the only official D&D setting, give or take what Judges Guild was doing and the implied setting in Isle of Dread (which would eventually become Mystara), and so there was no need to make it "unique." It's simply the AD&D world, and other D&D settings are defined by how they differ from Greyhawk. The Forgotten Realms is Greyhawk but with more detailed ancient civilizations and high magic, Dragonlance is Greyhawk with dragon armies and a clearer good vs. evil conflict, Dark Sun is Greyhawk with psionics and magical climate change, Eberron is Greyhawk noir with magic trains, halflings riding dinosaurs, and invading psionic dream-spirits, Ravenloft is Gothic Horrorhawk, and so on.

The things that were unique about it, like drow elves and Lolth, got used in other worlds later on and left Greyhawk looking even more generic.


This is exactly my point.

Probably the most distinctive thing left is the Scarlet Brotherhood; I don't think many fantasy worlds have an order of Nazi monks. But they don't really define the setting. They're just one threat among many. Quirky things like Wastri, St. Cuthbert, the City of the Gods, the Sea of Dust, the Land of Black Ice, and the Barrier Peaks crash are still pretty unusual in high fantasy settings. But there's no high-concept theme intended to set it apart, since there was nothing to set it apart from and it's meant to be able to host just about any sort of D&D adventure.


I thought the Barrier Peaks was Blackmoor. Wastri and St. Cuthbert are definitely particularly Greyhawky things IMO.
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Re: [WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

Postby ripvanwormer » Wed Jul 19, 2017 9:12 pm

willpell wrote:I thought the Barrier Peaks was Blackmoor.


The Barrier Peaks are the mountain range separating Geoff and Ull, where the Valley of the Mage is. Blackmoor is the land between the Cold Marshes and the Land of Black Ice, far to the north.
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Re: [WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

Postby Havard » Wed Jul 19, 2017 10:59 pm

I was late to discover Greyhawk and really I have only started to learn more detailed information about the setting after The Piazza was started. At first I think I had many of the same reactions as Willpell had. This could be because of the reasons that have been mentioned in this thread about how D&D was formed around Greyhawk (and Blackmoor) and how other settings incorporated so many of the features etc. But I also think that many of the later books don't really do a great job of emphasizing what is the essence of Greyhawk.

Perhaps it would be better to say what Greyhawk is not:

It is not a crowded as the Forgotten Realms. The Realms has powerful mages around every corner, tons of strange races, gods walking around causing chaos at every turn, etc etc.

It is not Middle Earth. It is not about the epic conflict between good and evil, a place where ultimately each individual must take a stance and where all good folks must unite unless evil shall triumph.

It is not Mystara with its real world easily recognizable parallells, mortals questing to become Immortal, ancient civilizations protected by the Immortals, flying ships everywhere, and technological artifacts threatening to change the world.

It is not Dragonlance with its romantic (ie non-gritty) epics, armies of dragonriders and constant battle between good and evil (see Middle Earth).

It is not Birthright with its focus on rulers, kingdoms and magical bloodlines that can be absorbed by conquerors.


A few cool things stand out to me about Greyhawk:

1) Human-centric
2) Demons
3) Focus on the little guy, thieves, rabble, mercenaries and adventurers. Small scale rather than world changing events.
4) Shades of grey rather than epic good vs evil.

You could point out that none of those things are truly unique about Greyhawk. But those other settings have so much else added to it. So if you tone down those other elements you already have a different focus.

Anyway, I am not by any chance a Greyhawk expert, so take this for what its worth :)



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Re: [WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

Postby Cthulhudrew » Wed Jul 19, 2017 11:19 pm

I always felt that, for as much as it had (and originated in some cases) the standard fantasy elements familiar to D&D players, it still didn't feel quite so "High Fantasy" as those settings, including the Realms. It always felt a lot more grounded, to me- something more akin to playing a historical rpg than you would get with the Realms, or Mystara, or other settings. My earliest intro to Greyhawk was in the original Gygax novels "Saga of Old City" and "Artifact of Evil;" the former in particular felt very grounded that way.

Does that make it unique? I don't know, but it certainly sets it apart from other D&D worlds, IMO.

EDIT to add: I'd say that several of those other settings- FR and Mystara, in particular- started out that way, as well, but became increasingly High Fantasy as they grew and developed, whereas Greyhawk still maintained that same kind of feel to it- even in the Wars/From the Ashes periods.

Also ETA: Like Havard said, one thing I like is that it didn't try to replicate RW areas in the way that Mystara did (and I love Mystara, obviously). With few exceptions, most of GH was original and well mapped out. I think the weakest elements of GH are the ones that didn't really try to set their own tone- Hepmonaland and the Olman, chiefly, but the Baklunish to a certain extent as well.
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Re: [WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

Postby Big Mac » Thu Jul 20, 2017 1:44 am

Dread Delgath wrote:"What makes Greyhawk unique as a setting? What sets it apart from the Forgotten Realms, Eberron and Dark Sun?"

Yes, it was the first campaign setting published by TSR, and a variation on Gary Gygax's own campaign world. There were differences and many, many omissions from the original to protect Gygax's own campaign from his players discovering all of his secrets.

But really, what makes it unique? What made it stand out as a campaign setting?


I've heard a lot of people claiming that Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance and Mystara are all "generic" worlds over the years (with the implication being that they are all very similar). (I wouldn't say the same for Eberron and Dark Sun. And if people don't think that Eberron and Dark Sun are similar to Greyhawk, then that makes Greyhawk different from them.)

The generic label has been stuck onto Greyhawk for so long, that I think a lot of people have accepted it, without question, rather than actually reviewing Greyhawk to see what opinion they form of it.

I think the clue is actually in the name: Greyhawk. Greyhawk is named after a city...and a nearby castle that has a megadungon under it.

There is a world (Oerth) but that world is built around Greyhawk.

Forgotten Realms ties into the concept that Toril was once connected to lots of worlds. Dragonlance is named after a dragon-killing weapon. And Mystara didn't originally have a name other than the Known World (which is a generic name).

What Greyhawk does is put the city at the centre of the world (thematically). (Greyspace went further, putting Oerth at the centre of it's planetary system.)

There are other elements to the setting that could be argued to be unique, but I think that Greyhawk is the obvious one.
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Re: [WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

Postby Dragonhelm » Thu Jul 20, 2017 4:18 am

ripvanwormer wrote:Probably the most distinctive thing left is the Scarlet Brotherhood; I don't think many fantasy worlds have an order of Nazi monks.


Even at that, Pathfinder's Golarion has the Red Mantis assassins, which are based somewhat on the Scarlet Brotherhood. Plus, they just look cooler.

There've been a number of attempts to identify what makes Greyhawk unique among D&D worlds, most significantly NiteScreed's mid-1990s manifesto "Grey in the Hawk," and they all, to put it nicely, fall short. "Grey in the Hawk" spends much of its time bad-mouthing the Forgotten Realms, as if being subtly different from the Realms was enough to make it distinctive among the greater field of fantasy settings, and makes too much of the idea of "militant neutrality" which is mostly limited to the Circle of Eight and the Gord novels and not really a concept found in the actual adventures. And a lot of it takes the form of recommendations for future Greyhawk products rather than an analysis of what it was. Still, there are some good observations in that essay.


If the only way you can make your case is by taking others down, then that's not really worth reading.

I will respond a bit later to this topic. It's a question I've asked myself lately.
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Re: [WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

Postby Dragonhelm » Thu Jul 20, 2017 4:37 am

Havard wrote:A few cool things stand out to me about Greyhawk:

1) Human-centric
2) Demons
3) Focus on the little guy, thieves, rabble, mercenaries and adventurers. Small scale rather than world changing events.
4) Shades of grey rather than epic good vs evil.

You could point out that none of those things are truly unique about Greyhawk. But those other settings have so much else added to it. So if you tone down those other elements you already have a different focus.


Honestly, you can do any of those elements in any number of campaign worlds. You might pick a city or region to base that in, but that doesn't make Greyhawk stand out.
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Re: [WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

Postby Dragonhelm » Thu Jul 20, 2017 5:23 am

I'm going to preface this by saying that out of all of D&D's worlds, Dragonlance is my favorite. That being said, I love most of D&D's worlds.

I want to love Greyhawk too, but like many of you, I don't see what it's niche is.

Also, Mike Mearls wants to bring back Greyhawk, but he wants Greyhawk to have its own identity.

Big Mac wrote: I've heard a lot of people claiming that Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance and Mystara are all "generic" worlds over the years (with the implication being that they are all very similar).


Add to that Nentir Vale and Blackmoor. And if we look at Pathfinder, we can add Golarion. However, let's just stick to WotC's settings for the purposes of this discussion.

Thing is, Greyhawk and Blackmoor were the original settings for D&D. When Basic D&D comes along, it got Mystara as its own world. Even at that, Mystara doesn't feel like a cohesive world to me (topic for another thread). When the Realms came around, its popularity soared and overtook the other settings.

Why WotC created the Nentir Vale is beyond me. I suppose to have a generic blank slate.

Thing is, there's only one edition now, and multiple settings competing for that same spot. It's a no-brainer on using the Realms.

So what do we do with the rest? Kill them and take their stuff? Do we add them to the Realms? (I could see that with Nentir Vale, and I'm not above adding the Flanaess to the Realms too.)

Then what about the fans of those classic settings? They would be upset if their favorite settings were not treated with due respect.

I think the clue is actually in the name: Greyhawk. Greyhawk is named after a city...and a nearby castle that has a megadungon under it.


So let's look at this thematically. A large fantasy city with a mega-dungeon created by a mad mage. Sound familiar? It should. We also know these concepts as Waterdeep and Undermountain. Or Yggsburgh and Castle Zagyg.

I thought at one point that Greyhawk's charms was its classic dungeons. But with Tales From the Yawning Portal, we see all those dungeons being put in any number of worlds.

Recently, I debated this topic on another forum, and a couple of things did stand out to me.

1. Greyhawk has iconic D&D characters (i.e. the Circle of Eight).
2. Greyhawk isn't so defined. It's a sandbox setting.

Now, this last point might be a selling point. BUT, any number of settings can be that way.

I would suggest a bit of a reboot back to the Gygax era.

Whatever happens, I think that Greyhawk needs to modernize. It has to be a 5e game. You might get away with limiting races to humans, elves, dwarves, and halflings, but I would love to see dragonborn, tieflings, etc. in there too. Likewise, I want to see all of the 5e classes (including warlocks).

So while I want to see Greyhawk come back and I want to love it, I feel that it needs something to call its own.
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Re: [WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

Postby Dragonhelm » Thu Jul 20, 2017 6:10 am

I just posted this on Facebook. Thought it might be fun here too.

RPG Challenge #1 - Make Greyhawk Great Again

The Problem: Greyhawk is often seen as a generic fantasy setting. As such, it competes for the same space as the Forgotten Realms, Mystara, Nentir Vale, etc.

The Challenge: Create a unique niche for Greyhawk, giving it an identity that will enable the setting to stand out and be a financial success for WotC.

The Rules:
1. Greyhawk must be 5e compatible.
2. No bashing of other settings. Greyhawk must be viable to sell via its own merits.
3. Stick to the heart of what made Greyhawk great to begin with, while still making the setting enticing for new fans.
4. Whatever you come up with, ask if that can be done in another setting. Gritty sword and sorcery is not a big enough selling point.
5. Be respectful of different opinions.
6. Have fun!

So that's the challenge I set before you, RPG friends. It's a tough one, and one that even WotC is struggling with.

I look forward to what everyone comes up with. :)
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Re: [WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

Postby Boddynock » Thu Jul 20, 2017 6:31 am

I would say, for me, the uniqueness of Greyhawk comes from something like G1 - Steading of the Hill Giant Chief. Not only is your party being sent into Geoff to liberate the country from giant invaders for a price, you're also given a veiled threat. If you fail, you might as well report to the headsman to have your head separated from your body. I don't remember where I read the point that somebody offered. If it was on RPG.net or a blog, but someone pointed out a neat sort of mood or trope that Greyhawk seemed to have: That one point is very 'Dirty Dozen' to me.

So, I guess I'm going back to the gritty as others have mentioned. That to me is the strong point, the elevator pitch for Greyhawk. It is a world of hard bitten men and women walking among the seedy taverns and squalor of the realm. It is about desperate times fighting in inhospitable places, such as leading rebellions against Iuz, halting the Temple of Elemental Evil, going up against the Tomb of Horrors knowing you'll probably die, or being paid by the Court of Ratik to keep the gnolls and goblinoids at bay (the final one was a small campaign yours truly ran). To me, the uniqueness of a setting is often attributed to the mood.

For instance: In Dragonlance we see a world where good is fighting against evil and our heroes are generally good, maybe that occasional neutral guy. Organizations such as the Knights of Solamnia and the Tower of High Sorcery (white robes edition) tended to nod towards lawful and good characters, with certainly some exceptions, it's just that I didn't quite see a lot of Picaros or Rogues running about. Tasslehoff was one, but it never seemed like greed ever entered his mind, only challenge and innocent mistakes.

Meanwhile, in Forgotten Realms, the characters tended to be good... but maybe a shade chaotic. The Harpers were something of a secret organization, Elminster and Mirt tended to have a touch of rogue in them. A hero (because that's what you're probably playing is heroic more than anything) might lean a little bit forward to the good and chaos than our Companions of the Lance. Then again, I could be freely just offering word blather that could be disproven very quick.

Then we have Greyhawk- the land of sellswords who probably aren't questing because they have a love for Waterdeep or are faced with the encroaching darkness that Takhisis represents. They are questing for pay, maybe a touch of power, or perhaps something personal- and while those needs are base needs, that can be something kind of unique.

But, hey, I'm the Savage Worlds guy. So this could be passed off as a lot of printed white noise.
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Re: [WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

Postby Dread Delgath » Thu Jul 20, 2017 6:58 am

Dragonhelm wrote:I just posted this on Facebook. Thought it might be fun here too.


That is awesome! By the way, do you have a link, so that I can give it the thumbs up for continuing the conversation in other media?
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Re: [WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

Postby Dragonhelm » Thu Jul 20, 2017 6:59 am

Dread Delgath wrote:
Dragonhelm wrote:I just posted this on Facebook. Thought it might be fun here too.


That is awesome! By the way, do you have a link, so that I can give it the thumbs up for continuing the conversation in other media?


Yeah, here you go!

https://www.facebook.com/Dragonhelm/pos ... 0503722083

Hopefully keeping this positive and generating ideas.
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Re: [WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

Postby Dread Delgath » Thu Jul 20, 2017 7:08 am

Hrmmm. Dirty. Gritty. Yeah, those are definitely words I used too, bitd. I always wanted to give my players the feeling of bugs crawling around in the muck as they plodded through devastated battlefields full of rotting bodies, vultures hanging from every dead tree limb, and the downright dirtiness and nastiness of dying in, or even worse - LIVING through a medieval battle.

I wanted to make it as painfully close to real as possible, without ever actually sticking a player with a real knife or anything... :lol:

I think that the GH Folio gave me the idea, or rather, the GH forces reports by Gary Himself in The Dragon magazine, circa issues #55 - 70, or somewhere thereabouts, and the movie "Excalibur".

All the constant war reports coming in wherever the PCs were at the time, running into forces from either side of any given conflict and getting into fights with them, or wisely slinking off the road and hiding in the tall grass or brush as they passed by - soldiers/mercs looking to loot the locals whenever they weren't fighting the enemy.
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Re: [WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

Postby Dread Delgath » Thu Jul 20, 2017 7:11 am

Dragonhelm wrote:
Dread Delgath wrote:
Dragonhelm wrote:I just posted this on Facebook. Thought it might be fun here too.


That is awesome! By the way, do you have a link, so that I can give it the thumbs up for continuing the conversation in other media?


Yeah, here you go!

https://www.facebook.com/Dragonhelm/pos ... 0503722083

Hopefully keeping this positive and generating ideas.


Yes! I believe you are keeping this absolutely positive and it is generating a LOT of ideas for Greyhawk on my part! :mrgreen:

Unfortunately, I get a
Sorry, this content isn't available right now. The link you followed may have expired, or the page may only be visible to an audience you're not in.
message. :oops: Do we need to be members of a group to see this message?
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Re: [WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

Postby Big Mac » Thu Jul 20, 2017 10:26 am

Dread Delgath wrote:
Dragonhelm wrote:
Dread Delgath wrote:
Dragonhelm wrote:I just posted this on Facebook. Thought it might be fun here too.


That is awesome! By the way, do you have a link, so that I can give it the thumbs up for continuing the conversation in other media?


Yeah, here you go!

https://www.facebook.com/Dragonhelm/pos ... 0503722083

Hopefully keeping this positive and generating ideas.


Yes! I believe you are keeping this absolutely positive and it is generating a LOT of ideas for Greyhawk on my part! :mrgreen:

Unfortunately, I get a
Sorry, this content isn't available right now. The link you followed may have expired, or the page may only be visible to an audience you're not in.
message. :oops: Do we need to be members of a group to see this message?


No. You just have to be friends with Dragonhelm on Faceborg. ;)

If you are interested in "social media expansion" of this topic, then The Piazza syndicated this topic on it's social media outlets yesterday:

The Sages of Oerth group, on Facebook have also picked up the story.
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Re: [WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

Postby Big Mac » Thu Jul 20, 2017 1:57 pm

ripvanwormer wrote:The things that were unique about it, like drow elves and Lolth, got used in other worlds later on and left Greyhawk looking even more generic.


We all know that TSR moved AD&D development away from Oerth and over to Forgotten Realms. I think it's time for D&D to acknowledge that now and move on from it.

I don't see imitation of Greyhawk tropes in other campaign settings, as a downside. Wizards of the Coast say that they need 5e products to sell to people outside of a specific campaign setting niche market.

I think that a new drow-based adventure (which I'll call Return to the Depths of Oerth for the purpose of this discussion) could build on the history of the GDQ series of adventures and feature Erelhei-Cinlu in a modern context. There could be other drow and non-drow cities and even a mention of the drow that fled to the Sundered Empire.

The fact that Forgotten Realms grabbed a lot of Greyhawk's drow lore would mean that it would be fairly easy to reuse a drow adventure in part of the Realms. And the fact that other settings have used the drow would mean that it could be used in a lot of other settings (except probably Dragonlance). That just means that they can make a Greyhawk product that has a stronger secondary market.

Return to the Depths of Oerth battle maps and miniatures could be used by pretty much anyone who wanted to run an Underdark campaign (making them more economically viable).

ripvanwormer wrote:Probably the most distinctive thing left is the Scarlet Brotherhood; I don't think many fantasy worlds have an order of Nazi monks. But they don't really define the setting. They're just one threat among many. Quirky things like Wastri, St. Cuthbert, the City of the Gods, the Sea of Dust, the Land of Black Ice, and the Barrier Peaks crash are still pretty unusual in high fantasy settings. But there's no high-concept theme intended to set it apart, since there was nothing to set it apart from and it's meant to be able to host just about any sort of D&D adventure.


I've not really read up on the Scarlet Brotherhood much. Maybe I should do some research on them.

The Sea of Dust is pretty interesting. If that can happen on Oerth, I wonder if it might have happened elsewhere in Greyspace.

I should look into those other things too. (Maybe I might start a topic or two later.)

ripvanwormer wrote:Greyhawk grew from Gygax's wargames, Arneson's game, and the kind of pulp fantasy that fueled D&D in general: Howard, Lieber, Lovecraft, Moorcock, etc. It remains a good take on those tropes in a D&D setting, with a nice balance of multiple villains and more ambiguous political intrigue, including some rivalries between "good" states
and a nonmonolithic evil with some interesting unique terrain features, a wide mix of climates and cultures, and some aesthetically pleasing mountain ranges.


I think that's the reason they used Greyhawk as the default setting for 3rd Edition.

ripvanwormer wrote:Greyhawk, as published, isn't exactly Gary Gygax's original campaign setting. He deliberately changed a number of elements from his home game because he was still playing it and didn't want to spoil his players. His players ended up insisting he change his home game to match the published version, though, so that may have backfired. A lot of it was brand new to published 'hawk, and a lot more was added after he left the company.


We could have had a book similar to Ed Greenwood Presents Elminster's Forgotten Realms (possibly one called Gary Gygax Presents Gord's Greyhawk), but the ship for Gary Gygax's Greyhawk has sailed, unfortunately.
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Re: [WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

Postby Big Mac » Thu Jul 20, 2017 6:01 pm

Dragonhelm wrote:Also, Mike Mearls wants to bring back Greyhawk, but he wants Greyhawk to have its own identity.


I asked Mike Mearls about this on Twitter:
David Shephard on Twitter wrote:On the one hand "settings are too similar and generic". On the other hand "settings are too radical and different for homebrewers to use".

How do you find the middle path and avoid the poo-pooing of the naysayers?


He said this:
Mike Mearls on Twitter wrote:1. Find shared ground for all settings.
2. Build unique elements from/on that.
Keeps D&D recognizable, but allows for lots of directions.


So, I've got no concerns with the "own identity" thing, being in conflict with the fact that D&D designers raided Greyhawk for inspiration for other campaign settings. Greyhawk concepts that have been raided work as "shared ground" and are good. And Mike Mearls says to "build unique elements", so we don't necessarily have to have existing unique elements that are fully formed in old GH canon.

Dragonhelm wrote:
Big Mac wrote:I've heard a lot of people claiming that Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance and Mystara are all "generic" worlds over the years (with the implication being that they are all very similar).


Add to that Nentir Vale and Blackmoor. And if we look at Pathfinder, we can add Golarion. However, let's just stick to WotC's settings for the purposes of this discussion.

Thing is, Greyhawk and Blackmoor were the original settings for D&D. When Basic D&D comes along, it got Mystara as its own world. Even at that, Mystara doesn't feel like a cohesive world to me (topic for another thread). When the Realms came around, its popularity soared and overtook the other settings.

Why WotC created the Nentir Vale is beyond me. I suppose to have a generic blank slate.

Thing is, there's only one edition now, and multiple settings competing for that same spot. It's a no-brainer on using the Realms.

So what do we do with the rest? Kill them and take their stuff? Do we add them to the Realms? (I could see that with Nentir Vale, and I'm not above adding the Flanaess to the Realms too.)

Then what about the fans of those classic settings? They would be upset if their favorite settings were not treated with due respect.


They did the "kill the settings and take their stuff" thing for Nentir Vale. And Nentir Vale seems to have been made into a bit of a scapegoat for the shutdown of 4e. I think that WotC are now going for an approach where something is designed for one setting, but able to be used with other settings.

My main concern with bringing back the settings is that WotC have slowed down their production schedule (and are now building Adventurer's League content around products). So it's more of a slow-but-wide approach. If Greyhawk is going to come back (for 5e) it needs to come back in a way compatible with that.

But, even aside from using Greyhawk with 5e, I think it's interesting to ask what can be made to make a Greyhawk game feel unique, so that GMs trying it out for the first time, can make it feel interesting to their players.

Dragonhelm wrote:
Big Mac wrote:I think the clue is actually in the name: Greyhawk. Greyhawk is named after a city...and a nearby castle that has a megadungon under it.


So let's look at this thematically. A large fantasy city with a mega-dungeon created by a mad mage. Sound familiar? It should. We also know these concepts as Waterdeep and Undermountain. Or Yggsburgh and Castle Zagyg.

I thought at one point that Greyhawk's charms was its classic dungeons. But with Tales From the Yawning Portal, we see all those dungeons being put in any number of worlds.


Yggsburgh and Castle Zagyg are nothing more than Gary Gygax finding a way to work on a clone of the City of Greyhawk and Castle Greyhawk.

And while Waterdeep might be out there, the game is called "Dungeons & Dragons" and both Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson built iconic megadungons that have never really gone to print.

I'm not sure what the rights are like with Blackmoor, but I do think that WotC could get people to build something approaching a full version of Castle Greyhawk, especially if Adventurer's League added level-based dungeon adventures.

Dragonhelm wrote:Recently, I debated this topic on another forum, and a couple of things did stand out to me.

1. Greyhawk has iconic D&D characters (i.e. the Circle of Eight).
2. Greyhawk isn't so defined. It's a sandbox setting.

Now, this last point might be a selling point. BUT, any number of settings can be that way.

I would suggest a bit of a reboot back to the Gygax era.

Whatever happens, I think that Greyhawk needs to modernize. It has to be a 5e game. You might get away with limiting races to humans, elves, dwarves, and halflings, but I would love to see dragonborn, tieflings, etc. in there too. Likewise, I want to see all of the 5e classes (including warlocks).

So while I want to see Greyhawk come back and I want to love it, I feel that it needs something to call its own.


Rebooting Greyhawk back to the Gygax era and modernising it would appear to be mutually exclusive to me.

I was kind of hoping that WotC could fold some of the Living Greyhawk content and some of the 3e Paizo Adventure Paths back into the setting, but those might be legally tricky. Going back to an earlier era might be more simple.

As for races like dragonborn, tieflings and so on, I would think that expanding from the Flanaess to another land (like Hepmonaland) would be a good way to add in something new, but say that it has always been there.

Tieflings have a Planescape background, so I think that going with a Great Wheel connection with them, would be a good way to find existing canon that could be used to expand on the base idea of using the race.
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Re: [WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

Postby willpell » Thu Jul 20, 2017 7:12 pm

Big Mac wrote:I think the clue is actually in the name: Greyhawk. Greyhawk is named after a city...and a nearby castle that has a megadungon under it.

There is a world (Oerth) but that world is built around Greyhawk.


I have problems with that concept...IRL we know that Gary Gygax built Castle Greyhawk first, then Greyhawk City, then the Flanaess and the rest of Oerth. But in-setting, Zagyg Yragerne is not the creator of the entire universe, or the planet Oerth; he's not even the overgod of the Flan or the Oeridians or anyone else, he's just one random high-powered wizard. With respect to Delgath's point (I think he was the one who said this; the thread has blown up so much that I'm having real trouble following it) that even such characters as Iuz and Mordenkainen are "nothing special" in Greyhawk terms, that even the most powerful adventurer is just "another guy" clamoring for however much power he can manage to seize...this contradicts with the idea that even Greyhawk could be a singularly important aspect of the setting. Even if it's the largest and most powerful city in the world, this doesn't seem to be a setting where "superpowers" count for much on the global scale (or else Iuz would be running everything by now).

Dragonhelm wrote:
ripvanwormer wrote:Probably the most distinctive thing left is the Scarlet Brotherhood; I don't think many fantasy worlds have an order of Nazi monks.


Even at that, Pathfinder's Golarion has the Red Mantis assassins, which are based somewhat on the Scarlet Brotherhood. Plus, they just look cooler.


Well Pathfinder is a latter-day contribution, and Golarion intentionally tries to be a "kitchen sink" which incorporates pretty much everything in D&D (that isn't Wotco product identity), so it's likely this is a very deliberate homage. We can still give Greyhawk credit for the general idea. I wish I knew more about these guys - if they are indeed "Nazi monks", then they would seem to form an interesting parallel with Wastri, suggesting that this could be expanded into a recurring theme of Greyhawk (though I'm not sure what you would want to call said theme - "lots of bigots to trounce" is about the most appealing descriptor I can manage).
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Re: [WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

Postby Big Mac » Sun Jul 23, 2017 8:37 am

willpell wrote:
Big Mac wrote:I think the clue is actually in the name: Greyhawk. Greyhawk is named after a city...and a nearby castle that has a megadungon under it.

There is a world (Oerth) but that world is built around Greyhawk.


I have problems with that concept...IRL we know that Gary Gygax built Castle Greyhawk first, then Greyhawk City, then the Flanaess and the rest of Oerth. But in-setting, Zagyg Yragerne is not the creator of the entire universe, or the planet Oerth; he's not even the overgod of the Flan or the Oeridians or anyone else, he's just one random high-powered wizard. With respect to Delgath's point (I think he was the one who said this; the thread has blown up so much that I'm having real trouble following it) that even such characters as Iuz and Mordenkainen are "nothing special" in Greyhawk terms, that even the most powerful adventurer is just "another guy" clamoring for however much power he can manage to seize...this contradicts with the idea that even Greyhawk could be a singularly important aspect of the setting. Even if it's the largest and most powerful city in the world, this doesn't seem to be a setting where "superpowers" count for much on the global scale (or else Iuz would be running everything by now).


We know that the City of Greyhawk is the most important location on the planet Oerth, as the crystal sphere it is contained within, has been called "Greyspace".

I don't recall making an argument about "superpowers" being a theme of Greyhawk.

The only comment I would have about Mordenkainen is that he has invented some spells that have spread to the entire world (and beyond). But I'm not sure I'd classify him as a "unique selling point of Greyhawk".
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Re: [WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

Postby willpell » Sun Jul 23, 2017 7:17 pm

Big Mac wrote:We know that the City of Greyhawk is the most important location on the planet Oerth, as the crystal sphere it is contained within, has been called "Greyspace".


That's not Greyhawk canon so much as Spelljammer canon, and Spelljammer was built to connect a setting which *the fans* called Greyhawk, because the book it was published in called it that, with other D&D settings. If we treat Spelljammer and Greyhawk "organically", then it would make little sense for residents of Matzica to have their planet and its Crystal Sphere named for a location in the Flanaess. Unless all the spelljammers docked at Castle Greyhawk, and thus named the sphere for their favorite port of call without caring about its planet. But otherwise, it ought to be "Oerthspace" or something. (If nothing else, naming spheres after colors seems likely to lead to confusion.)
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Re: [WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

Postby Dread Delgath » Sun Jul 23, 2017 7:55 pm

willpell wrote:
Big Mac wrote:We know that the City of Greyhawk is the most important location on the planet Oerth, as the crystal sphere it is contained within, has been called "Greyspace".


That's not Greyhawk canon so much as Spelljammer canon, and Spelljammer was built to connect a setting which *the fans* called Greyhawk, because the book it was published in called it that, with other D&D settings. If we treat Spelljammer and Greyhawk "organically", then it would make little sense for residents of Matzica to have their planet and its Crystal Sphere named for a location in the Flanaess. Unless all the spelljammers docked at Castle Greyhawk, and thus named the sphere for their favorite port of call without caring about its planet. But otherwise, it ought to be "Oerthspace" or something. (If nothing else, naming spheres after colors seems likely to lead to confusion.)


The Crystal Sphere is from Spelljammer, but I believe the heart of Big Mac's argument is that Greyhawk City, the Oerik Continent and Oerth itself literally is the center of WoG's universe, and that is Greyhawk canon;
The World of Greyhawk Gazetteer wrote: p.4: Eastern Oerik In Relation To The Whole Oerth An The Heavenly Bodies: As is obvious, the Oerik Continent is the major center of the world, and the eastern portion, the Flanaess, is the center of enlightened humanity. ...

...The sun travels once around Oerth in 360 days, visiting the 12 Lairs of the Zodiac in an appointed round which never varies...
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Re: [WoG] What Makes Greyhawk Unique as a Setting?

Postby ripvanwormer » Sun Jul 23, 2017 8:23 pm

That has to be read somewhat ironically, though. A Guide to the World of Greyhawk is written in-character by the Savant-Sage, who lives in the city of Greyhawk and is thus biased. When he writes that the Flanaess is "the center of enlightened humanity" you have to realize that there's a lot of chauvinism in that statement, and that there are major nations beyond the Flanaess that would vehemently disagree.

The City of Greyhawk isn't the most populous city in the Flanaess at the time—that would be Rel Astra by a wide margin. Whether it's the most important is subjective. One could argue it is, though only by coincidence: the most important thing on Oerth is (arguably) the fragment of the Earth Stone located beneath Castle Greyhawk, but even Zagyg never realized it was there. And that isn't in the City of Greyhawk per se. The Earth Stone was the seed from which the creators filled the Prime Material Plane (or, at least, Greyspace) with heavenly bodies of earth and rock. Deemed too powerful for any single creator to hold, the stone was shattered and slivers were hidden away. Oerth's sliver is beneath Castle Greyhawk. Perhaps the shattering of the Earth Stone created the Grinder? The source for all this is WGR1 Greyhawk Ruins, by the way.

In any case, say the City of Greyhawk, or Castle Greyhawk, is the most important place on Oerth. What do you do with that? How does that inspire adventures? It makes the setting seem smaller and less interesting to me. I'd rather think of Oerth and the Flanaess as a varied setting with a number of equally viable places for adventure, not satellites orbiting around a single town.
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