Saturday, May 25, 2019

Random Greyhawk Esoterica

Welcome back Greyhawkers. Well I don't have my copy of Ghosts of Saltmarsh yet and our Legends & Lore stream show returns in a couple weeks, so for now I'm going to do one of my favorite things and talk about random published Greyhawk tidbits. This time I'm going to peruse some stuff from Dungeon and Dragon Magazines. Let's dig in...

Dragon #277 had an interesting article called Greyhawk 2000 by Philip Athans. This article was an example of advancing timelines in a fantasy world that includes gods, monsters and magic. I had to look it up again because I thought I was dreaming this happened. Guns, automobiles, fighter jets, etc. Indeed it reminds me of the near-future-fantasy of Shadowrun, but without proliferation of cybernetic technology. If Mr. Athans were to update his article to be "Greyhawk 2020", I'm sure there would be even more familiar concepts from real life entering the Flanaess (like smart phones). At any rate, check out this wiki Greyhawk Timeline that includes the future-hawk events, it's good for a fun read.

Raiders of the Black Ice by Wolfgang Baur of Kobold Press fame, can be found in Dungeon #115 and it is one of my favorite Greyhawk adventures from the magazines. This adventure was a tie-in to the 3.5E environmental splatbook Frostburn. This book involved arctic settings and was my favorite of the series. Using it to run in the Land of Black Ice was just perfect. RotBI has more than black ice and surviving the elements, it has frost-folk, automatons and an amazing map of Blackmoor region by Rob Lazaretti. If you don't own this issue, I highly recommend it.

In Dragon #351 is the long overdue article Irongate - City of Stairs by my good friends Gary Holian and Denis Tetreault. The guys had an Irongate Project in the works for ages and this sadly short offering was published by fellow Greyhawk loremaster Erik Mona before the tragic end of Paizo's run on the magazines. While there is so much more to Irongate, they capture the history of the free city and manage to develop some cool stuff for an otherwise untouched part of the setting. One thing is they tie the mysterious World Serpent Inn to the city making it a multi-planar destination for some NPCs. Another thing is a sidebar on Oerthblood. This rare material also known as blood-iron, is unique to the World of Greyhawk and is useful in crafting weapons and armor. Before the stuff is even enchanted it grants a +1 luck bonus to hit or variable damage resistance. Want some of that? Go to Irongate!

 Lastly, is a treat from Dragon Magazine Annual #3 by Noel Graham called Falcon's Bazaar. This article made during 2E I believe, covers a bunch of intriguing mundane items that can be found in the markets throughout the Flanaess. It reminds me alot of Aurora's Whole Realms Catalogue which funny to say, may be my favorite FR book of all time. In Falcon's Bazaar you can find items you never knew your character needed, like Bronzewood Portals for your bar (20-175 gp for doors, 11-85 sp for shutters), Luminous Paste made from Phostwood trees to help mark your way in the Underdark, Rhizian Shield Harness for barbarians who need to use two-handed weapons time to time, and chewable Tamal Leaves from the Amedio Jungle for hardened adventurers who are too cool (or disgusting) for halfling pipe-weed.

That's all for, good luck finding these articles, they are all timeless and useful in any edition of D&D. You won't be disappointed. Until next time!

Monday, May 20, 2019

A Few Interesting Greyhawk Posts

Howdy Greyhawkers! The big news from Wizards last weekend was about their new adventure, Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus and they've announced a setting hardback for Eberron. (for some reason) I'm not here to discuss Sharn, but I do have a few Greyhawk items to tide us over until I can get the new Ghosts of Saltmarsh book and then with Anna Meyer, on June 5th, start back up Legends & Lore on the Greyhawk Channel.

First up, over at Tribality, author Blake Ryan has another mysterious location to show off in his Greyhawk series, this time it is Xanvak, an underwater lair of Aboleth in Lake Quag near Perrenland. Suddenly that sleepy lake got 1000% more deadly. Blake throws in some interesting loot choices drawn from Greyhawk Adventures if your players care to brave this deep danger.

Second, the new Avernus book mentioned above partially takes place on the first level of hell (making this a stealth Planescape adventure). One of the product points for this event is some big nasty vehicle called the Infernal War Machine. Over at ENWorld there is photos and advance look at the rules. They are touting this as Mad Max inspired, though my next inclination is my Warhammer 40k orks would love to ride that. However, an astute Greyhawk-file will also point at this infernal machine and scream DOOMGRINDER! Or for that matter maybe the Machine of Lum the Mad or Mighty Servant of Leuk-O could come from this family of hellish devices. All this time they were Blood War left overs!

Lastly, I rarely go to Dragon+ cause reasons, but in this month's feature for the Best of the Dungeon Master's Guild by Shawn Merwin also includes some links to PDFs of classic Dragon Magazine articles that can enhance a nautical campaign. Among these excellent entries is a Greyhawk article I DO NOT REMEMBER. This is significant to me, because I thought I had seen it all. Ironically, issue #125 from 1987 features a cover painting of King Arthur at the Battle of Camlan by Roger Raupp.

This same artwork would later be recycled in 1991 for...Greyhawk Wars boxed set cover. Yes I am underwhelmed too, but I had forgot that excellent cover graced Dragon before the forgettable game. Fast forward almost three decades later and now it is here again. Magical Maps of Greyhawk by Lee Ian Wurn has some excellent lore on the Cataclysms to go with his unique magical items. Download this article!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Ghosts of Saltmarsh Thoughts

Howdy Greyhawkers! It's a lazy weekend, so all I have is some quick commentary on some early reviews of Wizards' release of nautical themed rule/adventure hardcover Ghosts of Saltmarsh. There's a good one on ENWorld by Beth Rimmels. And there's an excellent post by NewbieDM with pictures. I'm sure you've read the contents and seen the maps. I'm stoked, you're stoked. Here is my observations:

First off, the word going around from the Wizards staff is that Saltmarsh will be considered a "setting" and Greyhawk won't for purposes of DMsGuild content creation. Think about that for a second. Had they said sure, writers you can do Sword Coast but not the rest of Forgotten Realms then there would be grumbling, Barovia but not the rest of Ravenloft, grumbling. Sharn but not the rest of Eberron, grumbling. Why should Greyhawk fans be any less offended then? That said it's smart, because as I've analyzed before, the adaptation of Greyhawk classics in 5E is coming up to a crossroads. It will soon have to delve into actual Greyhawk story lines before long or be forced to switch to another classic setting like Dragonlance or Planescape. Futhermore, Saltmarsh was never an integral part of the World of Greyhawk yet it attained this classic status despite being canonically invisible. So, good on Saltmarsh as the choice for a setting to develop on its own. I take it as a sign Wizards knows its burning through IP too fast and is pumping the brakes.

Even so, from the photos shown in NewbieDM's post, we see Keoland, the Sea Princes and King Skotti are mentioned. This is fantastic exposure. The SW of the Flanaess is a popular area with a wealth of history and much open sea to explore. I should know, I've spent the last several years developing the Sea Princes and South Seas. Those DMs looking to start a high seas campaign in Greyhawk, check out my map HERE.

I am very intrigued by the factions in this book, Traditionalists, Loyalists (to Keoland) and the kicker, the Scarlet Brotherhood! This is a huge addition. The SB is a secret organization early in Greyhawk lore, who then jump into the spot light and begin conquest during the Greyhawk Wars. What era GoS is representing will definitely tip off fans where the future of published Greyhawk may be heading. The SB were never featured in any of the original modules featured in Ghosts AFAIK, so this faction addition like I said, is a big nod to setting development.

There is mention made in the pictures of at least THREE Greyhawk deities, one of which, Procan is entirely appropriate since he is the god of the seas. This is notable because Procan is not listed in the scant section of Greyhawk gods in the 5E PHB. I can only hope fellow nautical deities Xerbo and Osprem sneak into this module as well.

I've ran Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh before, it's wonderful, but not the other constituent modules (a couple which are Dungeon Magazine classics). I'm sure this book along with the rules section on seafaring will be amazing. I wish it had come out three or four books ago! So yes, I cannot wait to get this book. I also cannot wait for Greyhawk to be turned loose for real on DMsGuild. Until then, enjoy the Saltmarsh "setting".

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Greyhawk A-Z: Monsters

Howdy Greyhawkers! I was looking for something to write about this weekend and lo and behold this old column popped up. If you haven't seen my A to Z posts check them out on the Best of Greyhawkery HERE. I've covered people, places, deities and magic, so why not monsters? This is generally going to be about D&D monsters, but I guarantee I'll give my Greyhawk angle to them. Enjoy!

Aarakocra: What's an Aarakocra? Well they are bird-folk from Fiend Folio of course. They are misspelled as Aarakoora in the World of Greyhawk Glossography encounter charts. You can find these winged creatures in the Corusk, Griff, Rakers and Lortmil Mountains.

Bulette: I have never used a bulette that I can recall. The Monster Manual says these armored burrowing monsters are also called landsharks and they might be the creation of a wizard. As for Greyhawk, apparently half-strength, sand bulettes can be found in the Sea of Dust. Beware!

Cooshee: Elf dogs! Why aren't these smart pups from Monster Manual 2 more well know today? They are green, people!

Drider: You like drow? You like giant spiders? How about a drow-spider hybrid? These things are supposed to be cursed drow who fail Lolth, but serious they seem like an upgrade to me! I need to use them more.

Ettercap: Speaking of spider-kin, I never understood Ettercaps or whatever their historical origins. In D&D they are spider-men that over the editions get less and less human-like in description. An interesting theory says Ettercaps were once mad druids that changed into these things and never came back. Whatever the case, aren't there enough spider-things in Greyhawk?

Firbolg: What does Greyhawk have more of than spiders? Yeah, giants. In MM2, there was three new minor giants introduced, Verbeeg (skinny intelligent ogres), Fomorians (deformed hill giants) and the Firbolg. These giants are hermits and have magic power. Among them, they can appear small. In 5E, I'm not sure what Firbolg are like, but I'm sure it's a change from 1E. Historically, Firbolg I believe are from Celtic myth? *shrug*

Grung: If you are relatively new to D&D you might even know what the toad-like Grung are thanks to 5E's Tomb of Annihilation. Cool but I'm fairly certain they are Greyhawk originals, seen in the hardback Greyhawk Adventures. Though I've never used them, I imagine they are frog-gnomes from a playable race standpoint.

Horg: Want to know what the scariest monsters is in all of Greyspace? It's the Horg hands down. Fortunately for you Oerth-bound adventurers, they inhabit the vacuum of the asteroid belt Grinder. They are bat-like humanoids who can phase and have poisonous attacks that would worry even Tiamat. I could go into more detail, but you'll have to trust me, Spelljamming isn't a cake-walk.

Illithid: aka Mindflayers, these monsters are another I've underused in my DM career. I wager it's because of their psionic-ness. I've never been a fan of psionics. Also, rumor has it there is an Illithid lair in Riftcanyon. They apparently like collecting Greyhawk lore too. Take my word for it.

Jermaline: I love sneaky, underdark creatures like the Jermaline. Also known as bane-midges, these little guys were created by Gygax and first appeared in Fiend Folio. If you don't own the original FF, get one now! It's a classic. In the World of Greyhawk, you can even find Jermaline in the tunnels of the Sea of Dust.

Kech: Off the top of my head these are tree-dwelling camouflaged simians? I believe they were in MM2 and Ghost Tower of Inverness as I chose to replace them with Chokers because they haven't been converted to 5E yet.

Losel: Speaking of which, Losel are like primitive orc-baboon crossbreeds. Apparently Gygax first used them in his novels and they made their way into the setting lore as creatures brought to other forests of the Flanaess by Iuz and the Scarlet Brotherhood. As for my home campaign? Hard pass.

Manotaur: Anyone else remember this guy? No, not minotaur...manotaur.  I think it was in Greyhawk Ruins, but I can't seem to find it because I tore all the monster pages out to add to my 2E Monster Manual binder that I obviously didn't take good care of. Ah well, I know I didn't imagine it.

Norker: We have alot of spiders and giants, but Greyhawk also has tons of evil goblinoids. Not quite goblins, not quite hobgoblins, Norkers are fun because their hide is so tough they don't need armor. Otherwise, they're just extra-hard-to-kill goblins. Try em out! I do believe Iuz is doing just that in his armies.

Ogre: Ogres are everywhere! But did you know there is an ogre hang-out near Hardby called Ogremeet? Coincidentally in the adventure Greyhawk Ruins there is evidence Zagyg Yragerne was making rings of ogre control. Ogre army perhaps?

Pernicons: I have never used these grasshopper-like pests, but if you don't know what Pernicons are then check out this old post of mine that mentions them. Fiend Folio is the best! Look for these nasty swarms in the Sea of Dust and Bright Desert.

Quaggoth: Found mainly in the Burneal Forest, I like to think of these fuzzy bear-folk as D&D's version of Chewbacca. In Age of Worms they introduced an NPC Quaggoth who got some culture. I'm unsure if any edition of D&D has made them a playable race though.

Remorhaz: There is few creatures in the frozen north lager and scarier than "frost worms". They have such hot cores that being swallowed by a Remorhaz is one of the worst ways to die. I picture these being common around they geyser filled Land of Black Ice.

Swordwraith: You can probably imagine what these are already. Indeed, they are intelligent undead swordsmen from old battlefields who still gather and plot and raid! Originally in Greyhawk Adventures, it says they are most likely found in the Stark Mounds, but can be at the site of any battle. I can think of a few spots that would be crawling with these guys.

Trolls: I've gone on how there is many kinds of giant, arachnids and humanoids in Greyhawk, but let's not leave out Trolls. They apparently can adapt to ANY environment and even mate with ettins and things. Now that I think of it, they are classified as giants, so never mind. My favorite is Ice Trolls, cause well, who is going to protect you from the Remorhaz until you kill them off?

Unicorn: Who in the 80's didn't watch the D&D Cartoon and instantly want to use unicorns in their campaign? Oh yes, there was also The Last Unicorn cartoon and the movie Legend. It's amazing I barely used them until 3rd edition. When I did they were in Welkwood and Silverwood.

Volt: Are your players tired of yet another predictable Stirge attack? Okay, send Volts after them next time! Another fine creation from Fiend Folio that hasn't translated over to later editions. This is remarkable because it made the top 10 vote for best monsters in the book for White Dwarf magazine. They basically work like Stirge, but while they are draining blood they also whip you for electrical damage. You're welcome!

Will-o-Wisp: Speaking of electrical damage. The "WoW" is a creature I've underused and I can't figure out why. They are fast, evil and pack a punch. Glowing orbs that like to lure people into haunted ruins and traps also rates high on the DM toolbox. Muahaha.

Xvart: These creepy blue goblins are everywhere. Verbobonc, Bone March, Bandit Kingdoms, Vesve, Horned Society, etc. We all should know about their precocious deity, Raxivort, but I remember a VERY obscure xvart from Living Greyhawk Journal named Xiq-Ciq. IIRC he is the "pet-friend of a Komali noblewoman.

Yuan-ti: Everyone knows about these snake-people. The fun thing about them is the variety of yuan-ti that have been created over the years. This makes them seem more realistic and fearsome because you never know what you may run into next. I'm positive they rule wide swathes of Hepmonaland, but outside the jungles do yuan-ti roam the Flanaess?

Zombie: Sure, any priest of Iuz can raise them, but let's try out a new scenario more in line with our TV and movie zombies...

That's all for now!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

New Blog: Greyhawk Stories

Welcome World of Greyhawk fans. Today I'm promoting a new Greyhawk themed blog called Greyhawk Stories! What is the mission of Greyhawk Stories? Obviously to share some of the best lore and fiction about the setting we all love. And there will definitely be a healthy dose of new works by the site as well. Check out this intro for more.

In the meantime the first few articles posted cover some juicy subjects. First off is The Making of Turrosh Mak by Jeff Mckillop. Turrosh is the most famous half-orc in the Flanaess and rules over an empire of humanoids in the Pomarj. Check out this blast from the past.

The next is some original fiction by Greyhawk Stories titled Iggwilv in the Hut of Baba Yaga. What more do I need to say there? Two of the best witches in all of D&D fandom. In part one we get a wonderful tale of how a VERY young girl comes to meet Baba Yaga and charms her way into becoming her daughter.

Lastly is the expanded account of the Battle of Emridy Meadows, the most famous battle in the World of Greyhawk, researched and analyzed by yours truly back in 2008. Greyhawk Stories, with my permission, did a amazing job cleaning up this article and making it a presentable PDF download. Check it out!

Keep checking in on this new blog, they have a lot of enthusiasm and good tales to share in the future. The Greyhawk fan community has never been stronger!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Avengers Endgame Thoughts

Hello Greyhawkers. It's been a long, busy week, but I did manage to see Avengers: Endgame and I must say, after 10 years of amazing Marvel comic movies building up to this finale I got some thoughts to share in relation to running a D&D/RPG campaign (not just Greyhawk). Also, no don't worry, there won't be any spoilers in this post. If you haven't seen the movie do so NOW. If you haven't seen any Avengers movies, what's wrong with you? Okay let's start in no particular order...

1. Adventure Paths, much like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, are hard, but if you can finish it the memories and emotional pay off will be worth it. Be it the Against the Giants/Queen of Spiders, Age of Worms or your own series of adventures. If you intend to do the long-campaign, see it through!

2. A central uber-villain like Thanos is worth his weight in gold. This guy has to be untouchable, but so personally hated by the PCs that they will try to defeat him/her no matter the odds. I think of heavy villain types like Iggwilv, Iuz or Vecna.

3. Villains can win. Yeah they can and it only makes the players want to try harder to undo what victory the bad guy may achieve. In the module Vecna Lives! there is a scenario in which the arch-lich wins. Does he? Probably not in 99.9% of games played, but if he does, it ups the stakes for your entire campaign.

4. Call backs to old NPCs or locations or events is a great way to reward players. Referencing something a PC has done to change the world is a good way to acknowledge that the players have mattered and their time is not wasted. If such a place or person is revisited, the platers will want to defend it just that much more. It's also a good way for a DM to show that no minor detail or random NPC you may meet in a Greyhawk tavern is unimportant because they might matter some point in the future.

5. If you're going to have an epic finale, be sure there is plenty for every hero to do. Having a character be the "chosen one" is fine in many stories with only one central character, but RPGs are usually ensemble casts. Give them stuff to do and personal goals to tie up at the end. this is why I feel quests like Five Shall Be One's quest for the five Blades of Corusk is great, because it requires all the heroes to be invested in the story and lend a hand in victory.

6. Character death should be epic, not pointless. This is of course easier said than done. But if the PCs live as well, there should always be an opportunity to take one for the team. The struggle against Kyuss in Age of Worms was quite good at handling climatic situations in this fashion.

7. Sometimes a new player thinks outside the box better than veterans. If this ever happens it is a breath of fresh air for DMs and a shot in the arm for long time players. I've seen it happen occasionally over the years. Never discourage creative plans and ideas, no matter how silly or over the top they may seem at first.
8. It's okay to move up the timeline. RPGs these days work in at accelerated pace. It's easy to do an Adventure Path like Savage Tide, that takes less than a game year to finish but takes the PC from 1-20th level. So your PC may be ultra powerful and rich now, but has he really developed? As a DM, adding incremental timeline changes gives the players an opportunity to change not just their stats but their character's personal story moving forward.

9. Cross-overs can work. Are you a DM that runs more than one game group? Do they play in a shared world like the World of Greyhawk? If you ever get to mix these game groups up and let them cross over the teams, it can make for some interesting relationships and new group dynamics. I used to run games like this frequently and we still proudly talk about those games decades later.

10. Have an easily defined villain plot or quest. If you're playing an RPG involving intrigue, investigation or horror then sure, it can be good to slowly dish out information and build to a reveal. In an epic fantasy quest, sometimes it's good to know the danger up front and what will happen if they fail. All the stuff in between is the meat of the story and for a DM can be fluid at this point. Iuz's demons will overrun the Flanaess unless you get the Crook of Rao, And....GO!

11. A good villain or hero never stays gone for long. It's more true for comic books, but in a game like D&D it's easy for recurring villains or even heroes to be brought back into the story if needed, such as clones, simulacrum, resurrection, raise dead, reincarnation, undeath, etc. If done right this can span a wide timeline gap like in Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure and the sequel Maure Castle which was also written 20 real years apart.

12. Sometimes villains can make great allies or can even be redeemed. If you haven't tried to have a villain team up with the PCs to take down a greater threat, you are missing out on some great roleplay opportunities. Imagine the possibility of a romantic storyline with a villain like in the movie Willow, or something familial like Thor and Loki or Raistlin and Caramon from Dragonlance.

13. The story goes on. And when you finish your epically long campaign, sometimes it is nice for your heroes to lay the ground work for your next campaign. Pass the torch so to say. This could be like a legacy game where the Circle of Eight loses and adds new members, or maybe the timeline changes and you carry on the name of a previous PC. Or maybe your PC becomes a ruler of a nation that your next character hails from and is sent on the next quest by this mentor. There's many ways to tie up the end of a campaign and let your PC leave a permanent mark on the world.

Monday, April 22, 2019

A Few New Greyhawk Articles

Greetings seekers of all things Greyhawk! Today I bring you three new works from various luminaries of the Greyhawk community. Let's get it started!

First up is the final installment of Joe Bloch's wonderful series of articles expanding the Baklunish Pantheon. If you haven't seen this already be sure to back track and download all his articles on his blog Greyhawk Grognard. In the final issue, Joe features classic deities Geshtai and Zuoken, then adds newcomers Suwat, Waadi and Malakim. They are loving produced and well-written and researched to the point you will swear it's canon!

Next up is actually two entries by one author. Blake Ryan has been building up steam as he releases new Greyhawk articles on D&D fan-site Tribality. His latest contributions to our lore is quite original. First he writes about a place called Zulpar, a lair of the Mind Flayers found in the Underdark beneath the Rakers mountain chain. Remote and scary indeed!
The second is Syrmyr, the lair of a nasty sea hag in the White Fanged Bay near Stonehold. Why would one want to go to such a cold and dangerous place? Mr. Ryan supplies plenty of good reasons in this article. Enjoy!

Last up is a new article at Canonfire! titled Beasts of the Scarlet Brother (5e Update) by Paul "Woesinger" Looby. In this, Woesinger updates an article he did for Dungeon #106 with fellow Onnwalian, Stuart Kerrigan way back in the heyday of Living Greyhawk. Now you can enjoy critters like Dreamstealers, Yeshir and Mazchedeen for your own 5E campaign. Good work, we need more 5E conversions like this.

That's all for now!