Sunday, February 19, 2017

Greyhawk: Arid Encounters

Today I'm brainstorming a different subject for my rambling development of the Dry Steppes and an associated megadungeon. I was looking at the regional encounter charts in the Glossography book of the World of Greyhawk setting boxed set and noticed the steppes are woefully boring.

Most entries for nations or geographical areas will have a list of typical races or creatures you'd already expect to find randomly, then the chart will end with half the results being "Use Standard Encounter Tables". This is fine because half the time you will see common things like men, dwarves and orcs. Only rarely do you bump into manticores or owlbears and stuff. The Wastelands section is no different except most of these areas have at least one distinctive entry.

For example, the Bright Desert:

01-15 Men, Dervishes
16-40 Men, Nomads
41-45 Men, Tribesmen
46-50 Pernicons
51-00 Use Standard Encounter Table

This is typical for these encounter charts; you will see lots of humans and occasionally a special critter, in this case the Pernicon, which is a very nasty giant grasshopper from Fiend Folio that latches onto you and drains fluids in the form of constitution points. Oh, by the way in their lair you can encounter 300-3000 of them! Not to digress, the other wastelands have critters too.

The Land of Black Ice has literally only one encounter before standard ones, the infamous Blue Bugbear. Not as scary as a pernicon but it's unique. Riftcanyon is also heavy of Men and Humanoids but it at least has a 3% chance for Ogres. The Sea of Dust is the best and most diverse. There is no "standard chart" for this desert. As a result you get more than just roving men. You get boring beetles, scorpions, snakes and spiders. It also has some of the nastiest Fiend Folio creatures like Osquips, Firenewts, Thoqqua, Jermlaine, Dune Stalkers and also yes, Pernicons.

The Dry Steppes entry however, has only one special creature on its list: Horses. Well that's wonderfully bland, unless your characters train animals. Now I realize the steppes aren't as dangerous and inhospitable as the Sea of Dust, but by trying to make a more fully realized wilderness encounter chart, I want to add a bit of color to make the Dry Steppes more distinctive than "where wild horses come from."

Drawing ideas from neighboring charts is a bit of help, but we are talking mountains at this point. Ull and the Plains of the Paynims is all nomads, the Crystalmists yields plenty of Giants or their kin, which we learn from Against the Giants, Greyhawk Wars and Liberation of Geoff, are more interested in bashing the fertile east. The south bordering Sulhaut Mountains are intriguing though. Demihumans (Dwarves? Gnomes? What?), Drow (night only), more Giants and Humanoids and the curious Pleistocine subchart. Talk about dangerous, you have to go through all that to get into the Sea of Dust! Most mountain critters aren't going to venture out on the steppes though, except as we've seen, Giants.

What if, the realms of the Sheldomar Valley rally and repelled all the giants so their only option is to raid westward? Plenty of horses to eat! Or perhaps something more sinister is afoot like the Drow are manipulating monster incursions into the nomad's territory. Or maybe all this list needs is a special monster from the Fiend Folio that hasn't been used already. Let's about Clubneks? Giant, mutated, killer ostriches? Check mark!

I could go on forever, so that's enough for now. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Greyhawk Megadungeon Idea

Lately I've been musing over the need for some new megadungeons in Greyhawk. The ones we have are classic and have been revised, returned to and played out for the most part. My personal stab at this is a proposed megadungeon set in the Dry Steppes. The Dry Steppes is a remote, undeveloped area with ancient historical background. For my own amusement this hypothetical dungeon is also set very close to the southern border of Ull, a land that no one knows better than myself. Without further ado, I introduce Qabu Al-Imbraturi "The Vault of the Emperor".

Here is my very rough idea: 

The location of Qabu Al-Imbraturi was lost to memory since the Invoked Devastation ravaged the Baklunish Empire, thus ending their long war with the mutually annihilated Suloise Imperium. Nomads of the Dry Steppes had traveled in the shadow of this ruin for generations without ever knowing of its existence, until recently, when it appeared following a brief display of strange lights in the night sky. The upper ruins of this ancient edifice is carved into the side of a mountain while deep below, vast armories and arcane foundries are said to house the most destructive weapons ever crafted by the Baklunish. Sages speculate that escalating warfare upon the Fields of Padyr to the south and grim portents concerning the Suel Mages of Powerforced the Padishah to pour massive manpower and resources into the creation of the Vault. What mighty artifacts and relics were created here is unknown, but surely great elemental magics must be contained here; possibly a precursor to the infamous Rain of Colorless Fire.

At first the ruin's appearance was a curiosity for superstitious nomads; deemed either a holy site or a cursed domain. Before long the lure of treasure and magic attracted less scrupulous foreigners. Based out of the nearby town of Kester, teams of highly competitive explorers have begun to pierce the upper dungeon, after first contending with the natural dangers of the steppes. The full extent of Qabu Al-Imbraturi has yet to be determined due to vicious traps and ancient wards still in place. The lethality of the dungeon has led some parties to share their knowledge in order to make further progress. Despite the risk, it's only a matter of time before some bold, resourceful adventurers discover how to penetrate the deeper levels of the Vault of the Emperor.

(more to come?)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Greyhawk Monarch Poll Results

Okay folks here is the results of my last front page poll, looks like we have a lot of elven readers in the community. All hail your favorite ruler:

#1 Queen Yolande of Celene at 27% was most popular. Not only is she elven but this is the only female on the list. It shows some of us are ready for a female ruler, although if I threw Countess Belissica of Urnst on the poll, I bet that vote would've got split!

#2 King Kimbertos of Keoland is a no-brainer with 24% of the vote. The Sheldomar Valley is quite popular in the Greyhawk community and it helps he is a powerful ranger. Imagine a King Aragorn post-War of the Rings. Who wouldn't like him to be king?

#3 King Belvor IV of Furyondy at 16% is another fan fave. He is not only lawful good, but his nation is on the front lines of the war against the ultimate evil, Iuz. This casts him more in the role of a Lord of the Rings type of ruler than Kimbertos. What has Kimbertos had to worry about? Giants?

#4 Lord Mayor Nerof Gasgal of Greyhawk came in at 12% of the vote narrowly beating Ivid V. For being the ruler of the Gem of the Flanaess, the settings' core city and driver of adventure, I am surprised he didn't do better. Then again, Nerof is a former thief whose election to the head of the city is dubious. I can see maybe, why monarchs are more romantic in this list.

#5 Overking Ivid V of the Great Kingdom came in with 11% narrowly beat by Greyhawk's mayor. The Great Kingdom is evil overall, but Ivid does have some qualities worth picking him. He has power hungry madness, undead appeal, fiendish guards and a relic throne. I hear in the Great Kingdom he is polling at 95%.

#6 King Archbold III of Nyrond sadly came in last with 7% Apparently Nyrond gets no love. They are the ones who will probably save the world too...

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Greyhawk: Beyond the Crystalmists

Here is the first look at a map I've been working on, based on the Dry Steppes map in Vecna Lives! by Steve Beck. I also draw inspiration from Anna Meyer's regional maps, which include references from Gygax's Gord novels. I also threw in some of my own "Morthawk" which is the real reason for my interest in remaking this intriguing map. I'll elaborate more in the coming weeks. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Greyhawk and Undead

I thoroughly enjoyed the response to my Greyhawk zombie outbreak article last week, and I hope to do more articles tied to maps again. Anyhow, today I'd like to follow that up with some commentary on what I see as an intriguing theme within the setting, and that is the prevalence of undead in the Flanaess (nevermind the abundance of demons). Perhaps I've always known this but never really pondered it until I took the zombie apocalypse to an extreme and then combined that with a lich article I did recently. When you look across the breadth of Greyhawk canon, undead are everywhere.

Iuz the Evil, City of Skulls, The Marklands: The Empire of Iuz is rife with typical orcs, goblins, ogres and yes demons, but the forefront of his battle lines is skeleton and zombie armies raised by his clerics. Iuz's symbol is a grinning skull, and his capital Dorakaa is "the City of Skulls", yet he is a demigod of evil, deceit and pain, not implicitly a death god. The fact he employs demons makes sense given his parentage, so mastery of the undead is something he must've learned on his own. Iuz's other necromantic feats include the unholy bone road, bone constructs like the Thassaloss and various magical skulls, wands and staves of necromancy used by his Boneheart henchmen. All this undeath in his culture makes me wonder why humanoids dare work for him.

Ivid the Undying, From the Ashes, Greyhawk Wars, etc.: House Naelax were once known for treating with demons, but once Ivid was turned into an animus, the fractured Great Kingdom went total undead theme. Death Knights suddenly are part of the fabric of Aerdy's history as well, though they are created by a demon prince, Demogorgon, and not Orcus as you'd assume (some kind of demon-undead feedback loop).

White Plume Mountain, Tomb of Horrors, Ravenloft, Crypt of Lyzandred the Mad, Vecna Lives, etc.: Liches as I've presented earlier are heavily invested in the Flanaess. Vecna and Acererak are the prime candidates, but others inhabit Oerth or once did such as Azalin the main rival of Strahd from Ravenloft and Dragotha the dracolich. They are everywhere in every corner of the Flanaess and beyond.

Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, Iuz the Evil, Vecna Lives, White Plume Mountain, etc.: Vampires aren't as prevalent n Greyhawk, and that's a relief since powerful undead are in such numbers. The vampires we do see such as Kas, Drelnza or Maskelyne could definitely spread their kind if they chose to. I may explore that possibility later.

Age of Worms, Greyhawk Boxed Set, Greyhawk Ruins, City of Greyhawk Boxed Set: As I demonstrated in my zombie outbreak article, Kyuss alone has the chops to spread undead across the continent. There are other deities besides Kyuss, Vecna and Iuz doing this. Nerull the acutal god of death has followers everywhere like the Horned Society, the North Province and hiding in places like the City of Greyhawk and Greyhawk Ruins. Other gods of evil like Incabulos surely has undead components, Hextor god of war is responsible for the creation of the animus. Then there is Wee Jas, goddess of death and magic. Luckily she doesn't seem concerned with undeath.

Other minor mentions to make; there is haunted hills and graveyards galore in the Flanaess. Ghouls worshiping Yeenoghu are known. The Ghost Tower of Inverness is particularly grim. And I'm not even prepared to speculate on undead in the Temple of Elemental Evil and Maure Castle. Basically, the World of Greyhawk is one more major deity or lich away from being the World of Darkness (trademark). Throw demons, devils and Tharizdun cultists into the mix and this setting is much, much, MUCH more evil than Ravenloft.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Greyhawk Zombie Apocalypse

I was fiddling around with maps for one project and ended up spending a whole night doing this for fun. On my good friend Anna Meyer's wonderful site, she has a section for blank maps of the Flanaess called "spread and notation" maps. These are for gimmicky maps like the regional "Alignment" or "Resource" maps in the original boxed set folios. Or as Anna writes:
"Spread & Notation maps to keep track of influences, religion, alignments or that pesky undead infestation..."

When I read that I just had to make a zombie infestation map for Greyhawk! One note, this map represents no particular year in the Greyhawk timeline, or perhaps it's a mashup of all the events from 576-591. Either way, what the map below represents is a combination necromantic-viral undead breakout. Figure out how this works in your own game, for now witness the end of the World of Greyhawk as we know it. Warning this is a long article with sources, but it'll be worth reading. Enjoy!

click to enlarge
Empire of Iuz (Red)
1. War with Furyondy has escalated. In response to the Flight of Fiends, the Old One calls for the creation of more undead armies to fight for him. However, Iuz's Boneheart wizards and priests do too good of a job and soon whole human and humanoid populations are infected around Lake Whyestil.
2. Following their only line of retreat northward, many humanoids are changed along the Bone Road and up into their Howling Hills strongholds. See: Iuz the Evil and The Marklands
3. Rampant combat and disease breaks the defensive positions of Furyondy. Clerics and paladins are overwhelmed and the Ferrond people are pushed to the Nyr Dyv where Willip soon becomes a graveyard as refugees flee by boat or barge to Greyhawk and Dyvers.
4. The wide plains of Furyondy, Veluna and the vast Vesve Forest are no shelter as the undead plague spreads out west and south until encountering another zombie outbreak. The undead follow the Velverdyva River and overrun the unsuspecting High Vale.
5. The hardy folk of Perrenland find some respite in their high mountain homes but their hidden realm and Lake Quag is surrounded eventually. From there, the infestation wanders out on the nomad plains unabated.
6. The dour people of Blackmoor, used to dangers, aren't ready for the plague of zombies emerging from the Cold Marshes and out of the Burneal Forest. Zombies wander far afield until they come to the Land of Black Ice to linger and mutate again, while some roam the Dramidj Ocean coast.
7. The fearless Tiger Nomads are no match for these virulent monsters. The advance of undeath does stop momentarily however at the borders of Ekbir. Divine intervention perhaps?

Domain of Greyhawk (Brown)
1. Worshipers of the death god Nerull serving the Hierarchs have long plotted to bring the City of Greyhawk low. The day of reckoning happens at last as the city's extensive catacombs and tombs spill forth a horde of zombies and skeletons at night. The ruins of Castle Greyhawk likewise disgorges undead into the Carin Hills. See: City of Greyhawk Boxed Set or Greyhawk the Adventure Begins
2. Undead rise up from ancient cairns and advancing zombies infect unsuspecting Duchy of Urnst until they clash with waves of undeath from the south and east.
3. The plague turns down the Wild Coast and into the forest where roused undead from the Temple of Elemental Evil adds more fuel to the apocalypse.
4. Fleeing refugees from the north cross into Dyvers and are dismayed to find it also overwhelmed by zombies. The Rhennee stick to their barges and dare not go ashore at dark.

Bright Desert (Orange)
1. For reasons not known (Incablous is suspected), undead rise from the Plain of Spears, an ancient Flan battlefield. These skeletal dead fan out among the desert, managing to infect unwary nomads and eventually surprising Rary who wisely abandoned his tower for another plane of existence. See: Rary the Traitor
2. Undead hordes break through the Abbor Alz to spread uncontested throughout the Celadon Forest and Gnatmarsh where they mutate clouds of insects into carrying the zombie plague.
3. The wave of zombies soon reach Nyrond's coast, taking port towns already swelling with fresh bodies trying to escape by boat across Relmor Bay.

Pomarj (Yellow)
1. Nerull's icy grip even touches the seas as drowned zombies emerge from the waves to overtake and infect the pirate coves and evil clans of the Pomarj. The secretive Slavers cannot hide for long in their mountain holds. See: Greyhawk Adventures hardcover and Slavers
2. The bloated zombie horde continues raiding the coast, crossing into the Principality of Ulek and the Wild Coast until encountering other undead outbreaks nearby.
3. People fleeing across the Sea of Gearnat into the lands of the Iron League and South Province are not safe as more sea zombies wash up on these coasts or overtake anchored ships in harbors. The indomitable city of Irongate holds out the longest by might and magic, that is until the virulent monsters find their way inside by chance. See: The Marklands

Fellreev Forest (Pink)
1. The lich Count Dahlvier rules a domain in the western Feelreev Forest. Acting on signs and portents from his patron Nerull, his personal undead army strikes out in all directions, now virulent and quicker than ever. See: Iuz the Evil
2. In conjunction with the apocalypse, the ancient Flannae graveyard of Nerulls Bane rises to unlife as one horde and marches forth from the woods into the open plains once again.
3. Undead armies from Dahlvier's County funnel between two opposing hordes chasing hapless humans toward the Nyr Dyv coast. Their undead ranks are swollen by more animated skeletons warriors harvested from the battlefield of Steelbone Meadows. Lucky survivors cross the water to the Isle of Walworth where the city of Admundfort becomes a last bastion of civilization.
4. Undead spread eastward through the woods and hills, easily turning the unprepared Rovers of the Barrens.
5. The undead outbreak sweeps across the northern wastes taking anything that moves, easily pressing into the Hold of Stonefist and beyond where barbarians foolishly confront the undead masses in open battle. See: Iuz the Evil and Five Shall Be One

Bandit Kingdoms and Amedio Jungle (Green)
1. Heroes are defeated in the bandit city of Alhaster on the eve of apocalypse, resulting in the prophecized return of demigod of undeath, Kyuss. The zombie-like Sons of Kyuss, soon spread out in all directions using virulent undead worms as a vector. Other twisted undead monsters created by Kyuss issue forth out of the Wormcrawl Fissure to make this horde even more deadly than neighboring outbreaks. See: Age of Worms AP
2. The wormy horde moves north covering areas of the Bandit Kingdoms not already struck, eventually breaking the redoubt of Rookroost last. See: Fate of Istus
3. Beset with refugees and unprepared, the normally peaceful County of Urnst becomes ripe for Kyuss' sons to infect the populace. See: The Marklands
4. With no geographical defense, the horde of Kyuss spreads into northern Nyrond unchecked, swelling their numbers within weeks before being turned north by competing outbreaks to the east and south.
5. The wormy horde follows the flight of humankind into the closed lands of the Duchy of Tenh and the Theocracy of the Pale. where even the faith of Pholtus is not enough to stem this tide of evil. After their populace was subsumed, the plague horde crosses into the realm of the Frost Barbarians who brazenly try to fight back rather than head for the Corusk Mountains for safety.
6. Seeing the fall of the Fruztii, the Snow Barbarians flee into the highlands or out to sea, but are hunted down by Kyuss' monstrous undead. The Ice Barbarians are caught between two outbreaks and can only flee by ship across the Solnor Ocean to parts unknown.
7. Meanwhile in the depths of the Amedio Jungle, Kyuss' old capital of Kuluth-Mar stirs with the return of the demigod of undeath. More Sons of Kyuss wander the jungle to take over unsuspecting Olman and Amedian savages, eventually coming to the coastal city of Sasserine where the unwary populace falls. See: Age of Worms AP, Savage Tide AP
8. The worms of Kyuss spread into the deep jungle and the tropics beyond the scope of sages.
9. Slowed some by island hopping, Kyuss' horde eventually reaches the Scarlet Brotherhood. The coastal towns fall easily, yet the central plateau was defensible for the longest time. Despite this struggle, Kyuss' monsters eventually bore their way into the hidden realm. See: The Scarlet Brotherhood
10. The zombie outbreak continues across the Tilva Strait directed by the will of Kyuss. The jungles of Hepmonaland become fertile new ground to harvest more spawn of Kyuss, uncontested by any other outbreaks save a minor strain of zombies called the Ravenous.

Great Kingdom (Blue)
1. Mad Overking Ivid V was turned into a new type of undead called an animus. Thereafter he made the priesthood of Hextor convert many Aerdy nobility, such as Lord Drax of Rel Astra, into these same intelligent undead. The experiments of the priesthood went awry and soon lesser animus nobles mutate into mindless zombies, soon infecting their own citizens. To make matters worse, Death Knights, still lurking in the kingdom seize upon the opportunity to herd these masses of zombies toward their enemies thus hastening the outbreak. See: Greyhawk Wars, Ivid the Undying
2. In the North Province, a priest of Nerull named Delglath is among those turned into an animus by Ivid. Driven by contempt for life, he encourages the spread of the zombie plague beginning in his home of Rinloru and then out in all directions including the capital Eastfair.
3. To the east, animus warlord Duke Szeffrin was already installed in the war against Nyrond. The animus mutation into viral zombies affected the Duke's cohorts, bringing the ruins of Almor into conflict with friend and foe alike.
4. Vast populations of zombies pushed southward into the lands of the South Province, Sunndi and Idee. Even the dwarves of the Iron Hills were not immune to the bite of these limitless hordes. Only the Vast Swamp stops their advance.
5. Undeath continues to spread through the Adri Forest and driving north to quickly assimilate the humanoids of Bone March before clashing with the Kyuss outbreak.
6. Medegians cower toward the coasts, some escaping by boat at Pontylver but the Holy See is absorbed within days of the outbreak from the ruined capital Rauxes.
7. The isles of the Sea Barons were not immune to the reach of the Animus outbreak. Foolish captains brought too many refugees across who were already bitten and ready to turn, before they realized the danger. The small Barony was quickly lost.
8. Likewise the flotillas of refugees from Pontylver and Dullstrand crossed to the Lordship of the Isles bringing more infected. The largest isles of the Duxchaners were lost eventually though swift intervention by elven warships from the isolated Spindrift Isles manage to destroy any more plague ships who try to cross the Aerdi Sea.

Keoland and Dry Styeppes (Purple)
1. The perfect storm of the zombie apocalypse begins in the southwest as the archlich demigod, Vecna returns again, this time sending out virulent undead from the Rushmoors. Furthermore, swordwraiths march out of the Stark Mounds upon the call of Vecna. Their slain rise as zombies adding to the undead hordes. See: Living Greyhawk Gazetteer.
2. Vecna teleports west into the Dry Steppes. to the stone circles of Tovag Baragu. As the world rages against the zombie outbreak, he opens a gate to his demiplane of Citadel Cavitius and a new horde of zombies marches out. See: Vecna Lives!
3. The Sheldomar Valley is swept by masses of zombies. Even the Knights of the Watch cannot stem the tide once the plague reaches their cities including the port of Gradsul. Many flee across the Azure Sea but everywhere they land they find a new outbreak.
4. The Hool Marsh slows the horde but Vecna's outbreak soon emerges with additional zombie lizardmen into the landlocked Yeomanry and upon the Hold of the Sea Princes where their captains flee on numerous vessels to the neighboring isles and farther out. Only time will tell if the isles hold out.
5. The Plains of the Paynims and Ull are overrun by the second Vecnan outbreak from the south. Many nomads try to out-ride the shambling hordes by travelling west and beyond the Flanaess.
6. The outbreak claims the peaceful satellites nations of Keoland and the elves of Celene are never heard from again. The horde pushes into Veluna and against the Iuz outbreak. The high priest of Rao prays for another miracle and is not answered this time.
7. The Baklunish plains are ravished by the zombie hordes taking the civilized realms of Zeif and countering the Iuzian plague in Ket. Many flee across the ocean to the island domains.
8. The Vecnan outbreak swallows defenseless Tusmit yet is stopped cold at the borders of Ekbir. Is it Istus or Al'Akbar's work? With the zombie apocalypse conquering Eastern Oerik, how long can the Caliph, Xargun hold out as all remaining survivors crowd into his small safe zone?

The End?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Gary Con 2017

So last night I decided I'm 99% committed to going to Gary Con this year at Lake Geneva, WI. For someone who is used to the bustling crowds of Gen Con each and every year, I have to admit I'm nervous about going to this one mainly because I don't know what to expect. What I do expect is to see a lot of old school people there, which is why Gary Con was started in the first place.

If you are an old guard D&D and Greyhawk gamer like myself, check out the Special Guest list. It's an all star roster and you definitely don't get this many big industry names at Gen Con anymore. I am most excited to try and meet Allan Hammack, Ernie Gygax, Bruce Heard, Frank Mentzer, James Ward and Skip Williams. I also hear through the grape vine that Darlene (yes that Darlene) will be there.

Wizards of the Coast had a huge presence there last year and I was slightly disappointed to see them scale back their staff's attendance seeing as though they are now skipping Gen Con routinely. However, head honcho Mike Mearls and Chris Lindsay are going to be there. Mike is supposedly running a celebrity Greyhawk event, using a dungeon from his home campaign. Plus, Chris is listed as heading up an event that runs Tomb of Horrors and the Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan for convention play for the first time in ages. I can only assume these will be the 5e adaptations that will be coming out in Tales from the Yawning Portal the month following.

So yes, Greyhawk will have a HUGE showing at this convention. I hope to see alot of my friends from the Greyhawk community there as well, especially Scott Casper author of our Castle Greyhawk webcomic.