Greyhawk's uniqueness and the dismsal reality of reboots

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Greyhawk's uniqueness and the dismsal reality of reboots

Postby vestcoat » Fri Jul 21, 2017 10:04 pm

New topic because my replies to different topics turned into a bit of a diatribe.

The last thing we need is a modernized Greyhawk. A dynamic setting with an active fanbase and a profitable corporate brand seem to be mutually exclusive. The latter has impaired and hamstrung the former for decades. GH held many unique brand niches over the years. The reason the question of its uniqueness keeps coming up is because GH's distinguishing traits are continually thrown out or usurped.

Greyhawk started strong as a sandbox setting with an enviable foundation of classic dungeon crawls. Slowly it expanded into extra-planar plots and political strife between warring nations. Then corporate upheaval nixed the setting, fired the creator, and released an eerily similar brand the very next year that we've struggled to distinguish ever since. The question should be: "What makes FR unique as a setting?" Why has the "best selling" setting struggled to find it's own distinguishing traits and resorted to using GH IP for decades?

Greyhawk briefly became home to trashy young-adult novels and lighthearted RPGA adaptions. It went nowhere, but at least GH had a niche.

Then some brand manager realized GH still had diehard fans. They tried to make it serious again. They "blew it up" with a dramatic reboot, and distinguished it with a gritty apocalyptic/darkages flavor. Carl Sargent found many new fans, but old timers largely balked at having their setting manhandled and/or disliked the new rules edition.

Greyhawk's termination and the nascent internet was the best thing that ever happened for us. Suddenly, Greyhawk received more support than it ever had from TSR. A new generation of authors took over and the "products" were free. The quality was mixed, but nothing worse than what Slade Henson or Rose Estes inflicted on us. For every dullard like Joe Katzman (sp?) there was a Frederick Weining. Even better, old authors could finally return to the fold. Roger Moore, Rob Kuntz, and Lenard Lakofka generated a wealth of material. Years of conflicting canon was finally sorted out on listserves. Gary Gygax answered questions. Out of print materials could finally be found and purchased.

Inevitably, corporate powers took notice and again got dollar signs in their eyes. GH was revived, but only with one foot in the pool. Zeb Cook's political changes were scaled back. Sargent's distinctive touches were ignored in an attempt to appeal to fans of the '83 box. The 1998 advertising campaign catered to nostalgia and added nothing new. Moore's leadership was quickly reduced and his massive hardbound was scraped and reworked into a slim mini-setting focused on the Free City. The Greyhawk MUD was cancelled. Gygax's rumored involvement never happened. Sean Reynold's modules received a mixed response. Cordell couldn't be bothered to research the setting and Rateliff's module was GH in name only.

WotC threw up their hands, released one last campaign book, and handed the reigns to the players. Again, the fanbase generated a new high water mark. More GH websites, modules, and primers and resources were written than ever before. Tens of thousands of Greyhawkers played at conventions around the world and freely distributed the corporate IP. GH references filled the core rules and modules appeared in every issue of Dungeon Magazine.

This put Hasbro in an awkward position: they had an incredibly popular brand being played for free without a direct product line to profit on. Fully reviving GH would put it in direct competition with the all-too-similar Forgotten Realms with decades of support invested in its supplements, novels, video games. Faced with a lose-lose situation, Hasbro doubled down on FR, corralled the convention players into a more profitable setting, and continued the gradual export of Tharizdun, Castle Greyhawk, the CoE, and all of our classic 1e modules into FR/Ravenloft/Nentir Vale/whatever.

Now we're in the sorry position where we can't even discuss accessing old LG works on our own forums (for legitimate concerns) and Casey Brown has to painstakingly scrub the serial numbers off his modules.

So yeah, the last thing we need is more corporate meddling. They care about money, not storytelling. Fans do best when their isn't another controversial reboot to divide us; when we don't have trashy novels to canonize or poorly researched supplement to repair; when the edition du jour doesn't force us convert rules on the fly or learn five different editions to edit fanzine submissions. **** that.

Greyhawk has had all of the uniqueness it can take. Let's recap:
1970's: massive megadungeon, Great Kingdom wargaming
1980: sandbox with dungeon crawls; races, monsters and treasure built into core rules
'83-86: wheels within wheels, extraplanar plots, political strife and wargaming
'87-90: lighthearted adventures and novels
'88-92: Oerth-shaking events
1993: gritty darkages
1998-00: nostalgia
2007-present: reprints, nostalgia, easter eggs, importing to FR & Nentir Vale
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Re: Greyhawk's uniqueness and the dismsal reality of reboots

Postby Dread Delgath » Sat Jul 22, 2017 4:11 am

I certainly cannot say you are wrong. I still feel a lot of anger about what I can and cannot do with Greyhawk, thanks to the direction TSR took in the 90's with the setting. However much I disliked that they used up Western Greyhawk and created a trope filled wastland full of Earth-equivalent clichés, I am still sorry that I missed out on a lot of what the RPGA was doing during this period with the main Greyhawk setting; each section of the US, Canada, Europe and UK each getting its very own section of the Flanaess to run campaigns in. Without internet, or a way to travel to any RPGA events at the time, I missed everything. :evil:

Today, however, I am in much better contact with like-minded individuals throughout the world, but I am still without a Greyhawk savvy player base at my table. Even if WotC or a DM's Guild 3rd party put out a Greyhawk Conspectus for 5th edition, (much like 1981's Folio) that would be enough for me to get more players from the area, or at least my current group of very modern 5e players somewhat familiar with Greyhawk - enough to want to play in it.

I could do it without any 5th edition material, but my players hardly pick up and look through any of the older items I bring as "show & tell". I hate to say it, but they are not interested in any of the older things, including the other old fart in the group, and he won't go back any further than 2nd ed rules. Materials? No way.

So even if there is a risk that WotC will f**k Greyhawk yet again, if they published anything under the GH banner, it would mean that the setting is not dead, and it would give others the chance to produce something for it, no matter what the era of GH.

My other option is to create my own "bootlegged" 5th edition Greyhawk conspectus for my players, and hope they don't catch on. :lol: Then I could set a "bootlegged" module (sorry... adventure) in pre-Wars era, but I'd have a lot of other Wars or From the Ashes sources to draw from too - not only blatantly stealing ideas, but avoiding the things that have been done to death, or just plain didn't make sense. :cool:
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Re: Greyhawk's uniqueness and the dismsal reality of reboots

Postby Dragonhelm » Sat Jul 22, 2017 4:36 am

So I guess the question to ask at this point is, "What's the goal?"

Is the purpose to see Greyhawk back in print again? Or is it to maintain an older version of Greyhawk you know and love?

How you answer that will give some guidance on how to proceed. Both are viable paths.

vestcoat wrote:The last thing we need is a modernized Greyhawk.


If your goal is to see Greyhawk back in print again, then a modernized Greyhawk is the first thing you need. If Greyhawk is published, it has to be with the 5e rules set in mind. This includes races like the dragonborn and tieflings and classes like the warlock.

If you think Greyhawk is better off in the hands of fans and you want to keep it old-school, then focus on that. No matter which rules system you use.

A dynamic setting with an active fanbase and a profitable corporate brand seem to be mutually exclusive.


I would disagree with this point. Dragonlance had all of that when Margaret Weis Productions had the license in 3.5.

This put Hasbro in an awkward position: they had an incredibly popular brand being played for free without a direct product line to profit on. Fully reviving GH would put it in direct competition with the all-too-similar Forgotten Realms with decades of support invested in its supplements, novels, video games. Faced with a lose-lose situation, Hasbro doubled down on FR, corralled the convention players into a more profitable setting, and continued the gradual export of Tharizdun, Castle Greyhawk, the CoE, and all of our classic 1e modules into FR/Ravenloft/Nentir Vale/whatever.


In my mind, a lot of what made Greyhawk unique became synonymous with D&D in general. Then all those elements found their ways into other worlds. So yes, drow and thri-kreen may have started in Greyhawk, but drow found their niche in the Realms and thri-kreen in Dark Sun.

What I always thought was the unique part of Greyhawk was those iconic dungeons. As you mention, they've found their way into other worlds. When I got my copy of Tales of the Yawning Portal, I saw the notes on adapting to other worlds. I found that I agreed with this method. Now you could play these iconic dungeons in the setting of your choice.

To each their own, of course.

So yeah, the last thing we need is more corporate meddling. They care about money, not storytelling.


I disagree with this point as well. First of all, they are a business, so yes they wish to profit. Second, I feel like they are doing some of the best storytelling in years. They are putting a lot more time into their adventures, and it shows.
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Re: Greyhawk's uniqueness and the dismsal reality of reboots

Postby willpell » Sat Jul 22, 2017 5:18 am

vestcoat wrote:So yeah, the last thing we need is more corporate meddling. They care about money, not storytelling.


Not to defend corporations, but the only way they could possibly care about storytelling would be if they'd get more money out of it. Now, it's entirely possible they WOULD, but it's certainly not guaranteed, which is what corporate investors and shareholders want to try and get toward, which is exactly why we end up in this mess. For every occasion on which the meddling of studio-types ruined a promising movie franchise and turned it to pabulum which the fans hated, there was another occasion on which some auteur created a work of absolute genius which is still remembered decades later, but which failed at the box office, didn't make money for the studio that paid for it, and is now being distributed for free (likely extralegally, unless it's actually gone public domain) on YouTube. The corporations are greedy, but the fans are fickle. Neither side is really happy about the situation, but neither can fix it without the other's cooperation, and so the long-standing enmity between them isn't really helpful.
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Re: Greyhawk's uniqueness and the dismsal reality of reboots

Postby Havard » Sat Jul 22, 2017 2:58 pm

I think there could be a different way to take this. I'm going to need to let this simmer a bit more, but I think that updating and modernizing the setting risks another problem which is making it seem even more generic.

Greyhawk may have started out with what later became generic D&D, but Generic D&D has also evolved over time. Dragonborn, Tieflings, Warlocks, Eldritch Knights, etc may be standard fare in D&D now, but that's not how it used to be.

I think that you could update Greyhawk and present it in a way that would appeal to modern gamers, but making it feel different by emphasizing the Old School elements of the setting. One example, is that I would move all the non-human races into the Optional Races chapter. Let groups that want to allow these races, but make sure everyone understands that this is a human-centric setting. Focus on classes that were available in AD&D 1st Edition. Don't ban anything because that is no fun, but make sure that these traditional options are the most attractive ones in this setting.

Make the art and layout not as if it was made in the 1970s, but make use of black and white sketches and present them as if they were a Star Wars concept art book. Make it visually pleasing, but at the same time make it feel like the players are getting a glimpse of history.

Do something which the Blackmoor d20 line tried, but really ought to have done so much more of: Fill the book with anecdotes from the early campaigns.

I don't know, but I think something could be done with "gritty". The risk here is making it feel like this is a setting where characters are nerfed. Using Hit Dice to regain HP in combat, 2nd Wind, ulimited cantrips and healing spells. These are things that don't feel very old school. But maybe instead of taking those things away, there could be some kind of reward for players who manage to avoid using those abilities during a session?


Anyway, these are half-chewed on ideas, but I think this is a direction that could be taken for an "updated" Greyhawk setting.

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Re: Greyhawk's uniqueness and the dismsal reality of reboots

Postby night_druid » Sat Jul 22, 2017 4:47 pm

I think if you really want to get back to "old school" Greyhawk, the approach should be to ditch the complex meta-setting information and get back to old-school adventures. As in "here's a dungeon, have fun". Plot elements were rather thin, which I've found to be a benefit, not a hindrance. A module with limited plot elements makes it much easier to reuse or even relocate with little hassle. I wouldn't try to detail the setting too deeply or create an elaborate metaplot for the setting; let the DM and the players decide that. Maybe the DM wants the continent to be wracked by wars; maybe not. Maybe the PCs thwart Iuz, sending him screaming back into the Abyss before he rampages Furyondy. If the DM wants to add oddball races like tieflings and dragonborn, that's his/her decision. GH need not be an overly complicated setting, just a backdrop for a PCs to spend their gold between dungeon runs.
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Re: Greyhawk's uniqueness and the dismsal reality of reboots

Postby willpell » Sat Jul 22, 2017 7:24 pm

Havard wrote:These are things that don't feel very old school. But maybe instead of taking those things away, there could be some kind of reward for players who manage to avoid using those abilities during a session?


I like that thought a lot. What sort of rewards could you give?

night_druid wrote:GH need not be an overly complicated setting, just a backdrop for a PCs to spend their gold between dungeon runs.


Ugh...I disagree strenuously.
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Re: Greyhawk's uniqueness and the dismsal reality of reboots

Postby Dread Delgath » Sat Jul 22, 2017 7:35 pm

Havard wrote:I think that you could update Greyhawk and present it in a way that would appeal to modern gamers, but making it feel different by emphasizing the Old School elements of the setting. One example, is that I would move all the non-human races into the Optional Races chapter. Let groups that want to allow these races, but make sure everyone understands that this is a human-centric setting. Focus on classes that were available in AD&D 1st Edition. Don't ban anything because that is no fun, but make sure that these traditional options are the most attractive ones in this setting.


I like this idea a lot, and in fact, it was one of the "rules used to set the setting" things that I liked the most about 1e. There were limitations on players that no longer exist, and I strongly believe that took the wind out of a lot of challenges. (I say this as a player, not just as a DM, btw...)

There could be an immediate XP reward system for using a race/class combination that was one of the allowed combos from bitd, say - starting out at 3rd level, but requiring all "non-canonical" race/class combos start out at 1st.
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Re: Greyhawk's uniqueness and the dismsal reality of reboots

Postby Icarus » Mon Jul 24, 2017 8:48 pm

Havard wrote:I think that you could update Greyhawk and present it in a way that would appeal to modern gamers, but making it feel different by emphasizing the Old School elements of the setting. One example, is that I would move all the non-human races into the Optional Races chapter. Let groups that want to allow these races, but make sure everyone understands that this is a human-centric setting. Focus on classes that were available in AD&D 1st Edition. Don't ban anything because that is no fun, but make sure that these traditional options are the most attractive ones in this setting.
I definitely agree here. Much like in the 3rd Edition Oriental Campaign setting, but in reverse.
There were prestige classes and feats and such, but, where they referred to setting, it simply said something like, "For more on this type of thing, see the Rokugan Setting book".
*IF* that Old School™ feel is the desired effect, it's easy enough to do. Even the 3rd Edition DMG presented the options for Dwarves who don't use arcane magic, or that elves (and Half-Elves) couldn't be paladins. The classes and such that were "not allowed" could simply be put in an "optional" section. OA & Rokugan did the same thing. There weren't bards, clerics, druids, paladins, or wizards. And, for good reason - they didn't really fit into the OA setting. But, it said that some groups might choose to use them, and to "check with your Dungeon Master". It wouldn't be difficult to expand that to a short section discussing how those classes might be utilized.

Make the art and layout not as if it was made in the 1970s, but make use of black and white sketches and present them as if they were a Star Wars concept art book. Make it visually pleasing, but at the same time make it feel like the players are getting a glimpse of history.
I don't know if going completely retro is the best idea for art (this, from a professional artist), but, it would certainly be a mandate that the art for GH have a distinct and unique feel evoking that original GH look. Very medieval, no ridiculous armor spikes on everything, oversized swords, matrix-action, etc. In my mind's eye, I see a lot of authentic-looking armors, non-GlamourShots NPCs - real and regular looking people, maps on parchment, stone textures ... I do like the idea of sketch-art. Maybe like the botanist's field guides, or the Draconomicon, or even the D&D Miniatures Handbook, or the chapter-title pages of the 3rd Edition DMG, PHB, OA, and other books.

Do something which the Blackmoor d20 line tried, but really ought to have done so much more of: Fill the book with anecdotes from the early campaigns.
Also, Spelljammer and Planescape did this extensively.

I don't know, but I think something could be done with "gritty". The risk here is making it feel like this is a setting where characters are nerfed. Using Hit Dice to regain HP in combat, 2nd Wind, unlimited cantrips and healing spells. These are things that don't feel very old school. But maybe instead of taking those things away, there could be some kind of reward for players who manage to avoid using those abilities during a session?
I agree that modern mechanics shouldn't be thrown out the window. Just some way of de-emphasizing them. Perhaps including them in an "optional" information section, as above.
I remember in 2nd edition, when Dark Sun came out, everyone was *thrilled* with the idea that 1st level characters couldn't survive there, and the default was starting at 2nd level. The idea of a more difficult setting was unique and challenging.
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Re: Greyhawk's uniqueness and the dismsal reality of reboots

Postby combatmedicreturns » Sat Jul 29, 2017 1:57 am

As far as all the iterations and expansions go, I find that every era of GH publishing had good products.

Looking at my GH collection (I'm not including all the adventure modules with GH locations):

WoG boxed set
Awww, yeah! Well-organized and full of stuff you will actually use in play: calendar, maps, brief write-ups on geography and nations, factions, gawds, etc.

GH Adventures

I find it useful. Spec priests, magic items, monsters, some adventure locations, avatars, etc. Not strictly necessary, but nothing past the Folio really is.

City of GH boxed set
Outstanding. Again, packed with stuff to use in a game. Best city product from TSR, I think.


From the Ashes
Very good. I don't use the GH Wars as written. So what? It's easy to use all the new stuff in this box, like the Fading Lands and the specialty priests, with any timeline one likes.
The dark atmosphere? Fine by me. Atmosphere comes as much, or more, from the DM and the players as it does the setting. One can take FtA and run zany dungeon crawls with the setting, no problem.


Player's Guide to GH
Really quite nice. A whole setting in one book. It dials back the might of eeeevil in fun and plausible ways.

LGG
Holian and company are to be commended. An excellent reference, and still pretty compact.
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