Friday, July 21, 2017

5 Reasons to Visit the Bright Desert

Welcome again Greyhawkers. Today I continue my article series, "5 Reasons to Visit..." If you haven't read my seven previous installments, check this link to the Best of Greyhawkery and peruse those and many more good posts. The subject of the day is: 5 Reasons to Visit the Bright Desert! The Bright Desert is centrally located in the Flanaess and post-wars becomes a nation called the Bright Lands (after Rary the Traitor took the place over). There is a lot going on here besides the wizard Rary (check out Dungeon #98 for more info on the Bright Desert), let's dig in!

1. Shattados Palace. The Bright Desert was formerly the ancient (and evil) realm of Sulm before a cursed crown transformed it into a waste and the people turned into manscorpions. Shattados Palace is one of the few remaining ruins of this ancient time. Found in the indispensable 2E accessory Rary the Traitor, this location is where the last cursed king of Sulm still lurks with his treasures. The location of this place is interestingly not marked on a map which is great for DMs so they can send players on a Raiders of the Lost Ark style desert hunt.

2. Dagger Rock. Other ancient threats lair in the Bright Desert. Deep within the lonely spur of rock in the northern desert, sleeps the blue dragon Volte. Volte is a wyrm (dangerous indeed) who original hailed from the Stark Mounds to the west before being drove out over a century ago. Volte most likely wants to be left alone, but rumor says Rary has been entreating the wyrm to become his ally. A powerful archmage and a wyrm sounds like a deadly combination indeed. PCs will have to be quite experienced to take on this threat before it gets out of hand.

3. Ghost Tower of Inverness. The classic module C2: Ghost Tower of Inverness was first published in 1979 by Allen Hammack and is considered one of the 30 greatest adventures of all time. This is a standard dungeon (tower) crawl where heroes search for the ominous Soul Gem that once belonged to an ancient evil wizard (maybe why Rary was attracted to the region). Though technically in the Abbor Alz Hills, the Ghost Tower is quite close enough to the Bright Desert to get included in this series. This is a good low to mid-level module and can get players started on a campaign that involves the Bright Desert region. Look for a copy online or the PDF if you can!

4. Pits of Azak-Zil. First mentioned in the seminal hardback Greyhawk Adventures, the Azak-Zil (Pureheart in dwarvish) is the site of a meteor crash on the fringe of the desert and hills. Many nations and clans vied to find and establish this mining colony. It was dwarves of Irongate who at last discovered the wealth of iron, platinum, mithril, adamantite and gold at this location. These dwarves became wealthy until one day the flow of ore stopped. What search parties have discovered since then is the pits are now overrun by undead of a strange sort, since they still work the mine and keep it to themselves. What has caused Azak-Zil to fall to undeath is left for PCs to discover. Perhaps they can clear the mines and re-establish operations for a new business interest.

5. The Mines. There is alot of cool adventure locations in the Bright Desert, so if I had one more to choose I guess I'll go with the Mines just cause they have an intriguing ruler, Father Eye. The Mines are a central interest of Archmage Rary because of its connection to the underdark. Scheming duergar dwarves now control and work in these old mines for their mysterious leader Father Eye. It doesn't take much imagination to deduce who or what Father Eye might be. Heroes looking for a good old fashioned mid-level dungeon-crawl would be well-served venturing into the Mines to take on Father Eye and his dastardly duergar.

So there you go. The Bright Desert has so much untapped potential for adventure that I could do two of these articles. To reiterate for DMs, all you really need is Rary the Traitor, Ghost Tower of Inverness and maybe Dungeon #98 to do a full Bright Desert campaign. Much of this source material is in fact underdeveloped so it's also good ground for designing your dungeons or treasures. Have fun with the Bright Desert!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Ten Places in Greyhawk

It's been a slow week Greyhawk-wise. Let's try a random list of 10 Places in Greyhawk I've Never Used. (In a campaign that is; mind you I've been playing Greyhawk for 35 years so I've had plenty of opportunities.) A couple caveats, one I'm not talking "Beyond the Flanaess" or any pseudo-Greyhawk that Gygax made post-TSR.

1. The Yeomanry. I don't think I've ever willingly set anything in this country, nor had a character come from here. Don't know why. Maybe too peaceful? Can't say for certain.

2. County of Ulek. Again, a most peaceful place in the Flanaess. A veritable "shire" of halfling delights. Haven't had any reason to cause trouble there in my campaigns. Odd!
3. Town of Fax. This town in the Wild Coast has a funny name. I probably avoided it for this reason.
4. Menowood. This woodland in the east is featured in the boxed set as a place to encounter werewolves. I'm not a big werewolf guy so I've probably subconsciously avoided Menowood.
5. Town of Gorna. The capital of the Grand Duchy of Geoff. I've probably had PCs pass through Geoff battling giants before but I don't think I've utilized the town before. This is a shame because I have a nice map of Gorna that Mike Schley did a few years back.
6. City of Sulward. The capital of the Lordship of the Isles. I've had NPCs hail from the lordship but I still haven't had any players set foot on these islands, much less the capital city. I hope to rectify that someday in my next Sea Princes campaign.
7. Yecha Hills. Again, I've probably had PCs travel past or through the hills, but I've never intentionally set anything in this part of the Tiger Nomad lands. A shame.
8. Town of Exag. This mysterious town in Perrenland got a royal write-up article in Dungeon Magazine #145. It's a place I ought to use if only because I love ancient history of Oerth stuff.
9. Axewood. This woodland is in the same neighborhood as the County of Ulek. Never used, but it has treants and elves. A possible fay paradise. Guess I just haven't had a need for that setting so far.
10. City of Lo Reltarma. Capital of the Lendore Isles/Spindrifts. Not sure. I know there's a few classic mods set on the isles that I've never ran, yet I've most likely used the Lendores indirectly because of the seafaring elves. I doubt however that I've ever visited this city in a game session since I can't recall a single fact about the place. Oh well!

That was actually hard! Some day soon we'll look at ten other Greyhawk things I've neglected.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Greyhawk Initiative?

Some of you old school gamers who follow D&D news or social media probably have heard about the latest Unearthed Arcana document by head honcho Mike Mearls. The new idea that he's floated about is called "Greyhawk Initative" a variant system of tracking combat for 5E that he introduced at GaryCon 2017 (I was there but missed this bit). Initial reactions online have been muddled and confused. I have no desire to do a rules analysis or gripe about how this bad idea is attached to Greyhawk. Here is a couple places to help you out if you are interested.

ENWorld (including Mearls video)

Tribality (good breakdown of rules)

Sunday, July 9, 2017

5 Reasons to Visit Iuz

Welcome Greyhawk readers as I resurrect one of my article series, "5 Reasons to Visit..." If you haven't read my six previous installments, check this link to the Best of Greyhawkery and peruse those and many more of my finest work. Now onto the subject of the day: 5 Reasons to Visit Iuz! Well, not the deity himself of course, but more accurately the Land of Iuz proper (not the extended Empire controlled areas). All the entries in this survey are detailed in the indispensable 2E sourcebook Iuz the Evil by Carl Sargent. It's not that I'm biased but there really isn't a better source on this region of the setting. That said, if you do not own this book or PDF I highly advise you go and get it. The maps and content are a DM's dream.

1. Kendragund. The land of Iuz is easy to describe to someone who has never played Greyhawk, but has read or watched The Lord of the Rings;  this place is Mordor. It is ruled by an exceedingly evil, omnipotent demigod whose armies are full of orcs and undead. The visuals are immediate and easy to comprehend for any one who plays D&D.
First up is the orcish citadel of Kendragund in the Howling Hills. This is the seat of Iuz's orcish armies in the north, tales saying Iuz began his empire here subjugating the Urzun tribes and with the help of giants, erected the citadel in a day. Today, Kendragund holds a vast garrison of 5000 soldiers, scores of giants and undead warriors with dozens of priests and shamans to drive these forces at Iuz's will. This castle guards the Hills against Iuz's closest enemy, the Wolf Nomads that famously routed the Old One's invading forces at the Battle of Blackwater Bend back in 578 CY (Dragon #65).
Kendragund is ran by Kreshenk, an orog chieftain of giantic strength (F11) whom he delights in torturing prisoners brought up from Iuz's southern wars against Furyondy and the Shield Lands. Those with no political significance are put to fighting against monsters for the entertainment of the humanoids armies. Truly this is a place that heroes would need to tread stealthily in order to rescue someone. That is unless some distraction could cause the formidable garrison to deploy...

2. Dorakaa. The capital city of Iuz's malevolent empire, Dorakaa is called The City of Skulls for good reason and is detailed further in the adventure of the same name. In this module the PCs are tasked to infiltrate and rescue a noble from the most evil place in the world. Dorakaa teems with demons, monsters, orcs, cultists and undead. The sky is literally under a perpetual dark cloud for miles around and the walls have magical defenses unlike any seen in the Flanaess. It doesn't get any worse than this city.
Though Dorakaa is a slum for the most part, it still functions despite the horrors it contains. The city has twisted "Fiend Gardens", Agony Fields where public tortures are put on display, and the Jade Streets where depraved entertainments can be bought. There is artisan and slave quarters where skilled laborers still trade and toil for their masters and the masses of orc soldiery including Iuz's vaunted Legion of Black Death led by the fearsome cambion, General Sindol.
Iuz's top henchmen, the Boneheart, have their own towers and residences here as well, every one just as well guarded and dangerous to visit as the central Palace of Iuz himself. The north wing of this impregnable abode contains the Blackspear Chamber, a permanent gate to the Abyss where Iuz continually draws forth his most fearsome servants. In the middle of the palace behind strong metal doors, is Iuz's throne, a grisly chair constructed from the rib cages of a hundred paladins and clerics of Good. Any PC who ventures to the City of Skulls had best be experienced and equipped with the best magic they can acquire. Attracting too much attention here can easily bring down an overwhelming opposition that no hero can fend off for very long.

3. Road of Skulls. Between the Howing Hills and the capital of Dorakaa is the worst testament to Iuz's reign in the north, the Road of Skulls. Running for 300 miles north-south, this "road" is an astonishing 60 yards wide albeit mostly barren earth. The main trait of his hellish road is at every interval is a pole topped by a skull of various humanoid races. Many of these skulls you see are imbued with magical properties, for example screaming when good-aligned creatures get within a 100 yards or various rays and harmful spells.
Priests and wizards of Iuz, stationed in watch towers every six miles along the Road of Skulls, have control over these magical skulls using wands and staves, so all of this makes openly traveling in the land of Iuz a headache for adventurers. Worse yet, Iuz is now building similar Skull Trails east and west out of Dorakaa. Has there ever been a more foul engineering project in history?

4. Drenghuz. Not all the Howling Hills is controlled by Iuz or the Wolf Nomads. The caves of Drenghuz was once home to orcs (the same kind in Kendragund) but now is one of the most dangerous locations in the all the northern Flanaess. Deep below the earth a shadow dragon of uncertain age resides, though none are sure if it still lives or just slumbers. All the halls and caves surrounding this dragon are filled with hundreds of slow shadows, skulks and worse. Indeed, these denizens from the Plane of Shadow are impossible to control and are much more lethal than normal.
If Iuz's followers won't go here then it must be bad. Surely however, talk of a dragon will attract foolhardy, treasure seeking adventurers who are willing to avoid the keeps, cities and skull roads to take a chance at seeing whether Drenghuz is played out. Most of these characters are probably now part of the lair's population...

5. Icehand Plain. There is many strange and profane sites in the empire, like the Soul Husk Caverns, Devouring Bridge and more, but this last one is rare in that it is only relevant once a year. The Icehand Plain is an innocuous orc camp off the side of the Road of Skulls. On the last day of Sunsebb each year however, Iuz holds a grisly pep rally here.
The leaders of every tribe and army unit along with many Boneheart henchmen and priests attend this mandatory rally. It is said Iuz himself sits upon a replica throne here and a gigantic hand made of black ice appears overhead. This hand points one by one at each of Iuz's subjects, as he divines their loyalty. Those who have traitorous thoughts or waver in their fanatic devotion are blasted into nothingness by a negative-energy ray. Needless to say this intimidates his commanders effectively.
Who cares you say? The significance of Icehand Plain to players and DMs of course is that this is exactly the time and place of the year heroes know Iuz will be outside his palace defenses along with nearly his whole chain of command. It's the perfect opportunity for a hit job, that is if they can brave the icy hand that floats above and a multitude of high level threats all eager to please a paranoid demigod. Your PCs better be close to 20th level for this fight. Good luck!


Monday, July 3, 2017

Poll Result: Villain Sent to Ravenloft

Welcome Grey Travelers! Today I muse over my latest reader poll, which villain should be sent to Ravenloft next? This is in reference to the fact the Arch-lich Vecna and a certain other lich from the Adri Forest named Azalin were both transplanted from Oerth to the Ravenloft setting due to the fact they are irredeemably evil. That's what the Dark Powers like to do, trap evil figures on the demiplane and torment them with hope of escape and an occasional band of heroes to antagonize.

Of course, I believe the criteria for Ravenloft villains has to be a tragic story in addition to being evil. Lord Soth was snagged from Dragonlance not only because he was a death knight but probably some great betrayal or something, I can't remember, but he's likely still trapped there. As far as I know Vecna is the only person to escape the Mists of Ravenloft. Anyhow, here is our newest crop of candidates for being evicted from the Greyhawk setting:

 The Witch-Queen Iggwilv tops the voting with 28%. Iggy is a good choice cause everyone knows she is a schemer, manipulator, and thoroughly evil. She's the tragically abducted and indoctrinated daughter of Baba Yaga. She's also played with the emotions of Demon-Princes, wizards and demigods. This epic threat needs to be contained and where better than Ravenloft? If anyone has a chance at researching and concocting a way out of the demiplane it is also her. With so many enemies however, she might voluntarily stay a while...

Next at 26% was Ivid the Undying. Ivid is quite mad, he is an immortal animus now and he lost his kingdom disappearing in the destruction of his capital after the wars. Perhaps Ivid and his demonic relic the Malachite Throne both get shunted to the Demiplane of Dread where it caters to his fantasies of ruling again over a large kingdom. That may not be enough though, Ivid will eventually go to war with his neighboring Dark Lords. Only a band of heroes will be able to keep him from turning Ravenloft into the Dark Great Kingdom.

Speaking of tyrants, Rary the Traitor is third place with 22% of the vote. Rary is a troubled figure who is both super intelligent and a super powerful wizard. This puts him in the league as Vecna, Azalin or Iggwilv as to devising a way out of the demiplane. Rary tragically turned on his friends in the Circle of Eight, his own country and even his alignment, then moved to the Bright Desert to start his own kingdom. Those efforts haven't gone well however as his dreams of breaking the curse on the desert might be put on hold if the Mists take him away. Rary is wise so he probably wouldn't be a threat to PCs in Ravenloft, he'd probably blackmail and coerce them into doing his bidding in order to escape the demiplane.

At 13% of the vote is St. Kargoth. A lesser known figure in Greyhawk lore, Kargoth was the first death knight in the Flanaess, created by Demogorgon the Prince of Demons. Being a fallen knight, Kargoth is much like Soth in that he betrayed his order and helped in creating more undead of his ilk. Kargoth is much to dangerous to be on the loose in the world, so the mists would probably take him stealthy one day. I can see Kargoth roaming a desolate prison plane recruiting (or raising) an army for some unknown conflict. Perhaps he learns of a greater death knight nearby and feels challenged. Or maybe Karogth quests alone, hopelessly searching the mists for a way out, only to find the PCs instead...

Last but not least is Slave Lord Markessa at 8%. I don't think many fans appreciate Markessa's brand of evil or her percentage would be higher. Markessa is an evil elf, not a drow, which is tragic in itself to her people. She runs with a vile band of Slavers which she uses as a means to capture other elven females and experiment on their minds and appearance to create duplicates of herself. She is twisted,I tell ya. There is probably no woman on Oerth who deserves to be captured by the Mists more than Markessa and the irony is she would love it. The moody, dour residents of Ravenloft would be perfect fodder for her lust for surgery and brainwashing. As a Dark Lord, Markessa would be even more powerful and she'd have a domain to rule that is tailored to her needs. Well, all except for the one thing she seems to need the most. Any PCs who are female elves beware...

That's it for now. Did I miss any other good candidates? Let me know.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Article: Female D&D Authors

I came across this amazingly good article by Cecilia D'Anastasio on Kotaku titled Dungeons & Dragons Wouldn't Be What It Is Today Without These Women. It's well researched and tells about the contributions of women like Jean Wells, Penny Williams, Rose Estes and our favorite map-maker Darlene, as they worked among an industry that was very male dominated. I was lucky to hear Darlene touch on this subject at GaryCon this year, now read about it here. Enjoy.

Monday, June 19, 2017

GenCon 2017


Quiet week at Greyhawkery. Hey it looks like I won't be going to GenCon this year. If I do it'll be for one night and very last minute planned. I'm not entirely sure I'll miss much as most of the big games I'm interested in have already announced plans or released their stuff at other dates. GenCon for the average D&D enthusiast is really lacking for me nowadays. I love the social aspect, I love Indianapolis and I love the crowds, but I don't miss the hotel scramble and the sameness of everything. I've been to too many of these I guess, which is why GaryCon was a nice diversion this year.

At any rate, is anyone going this year? Is there something I'm missing out on?