Monday, September 1, 2014

Why the Gem of the Flanaess?

A long while back there was a discussion in our weekly Greyhawk chats about the Azure Sea and that sparked an esoteric question in my head which I thought better explored in length here: Why the Gem of the Flanaess?

For those not intimately familiar with the setting, the Gem of the Flanaess is the nickname of the Free City of Greyhawk, the literal central focus and namesake of the World of Greyhawk. The City of Greyhawk Boxed Set addresses this exact question in the opening chapter of its gazetteer. Put another way, why is Greyhawk so important in the world and why should you base your campaigns out of it? I postulate that while the city is nice and centrally located, given the evidence of history post Greyhawk Wars, if a dungeon master wanted, the setting focus could theoretically shift. The book says:

"A number of key factors have contributed to Greyhawk's key position in the affairs of the Flanaess. Among them are its location, long history, economic versatility, and the vigor and variety of its population.

Greyhawk has long been the beacon for men and women of learning, or great faith, or high magic...

...currently active adventurers are also drawn to the city. The nearness of the great ruin, Castle Greyhawk, has proven to be the most irresistible draw..."

All are important factors. Greyhawk as it goes, started as a minor trading post in a good location. As the Flanaess became more settled during the height of the Kingdom of Aerdy, it grew somewhat, but didn't quite explode until the time of mayor Zagig Yragerne his era of learning and construction and then ruin of his wealthy castle within the last 250 years. In fact, the Free City of Dyvers, (a former capital of Furyondy) which is also on the Nyr Dyv water-system a mere 120 miles away, was a much bigger and more important city for a time, that is until Greyhawk sapped away much of its cultural and economic influence. If it can happen to Dyvers, so too can Greyhawk lose it's luster.

Greyhawk is certainly a hot-bed of adventure, but those same dangers could someday keep trade away trade and scare off the variety of people that it is so proud of having. How? Iuz's empire is just across the lake in the Shield Lands and to the south-west is the orcish empire of the Pomarj, then to the south-east is the Bright Lands. Greyhawk while neutral, is very rich so I highly doubt the city, though strong in its own right would be safe from conflict. Castle Greyhawk (Greyhawk Ruins version) itself is also a danger to the long term security of the city. Not to mention, if the player characters somehow manage to clear the dungeons of all its wealth, where will adventurers go next? Maure Castle?

Then there is the trade route quandary. Pirates of the Pomarj and Wild Coast plague the way south through the Woolly Bay, the Nyr Dyv is relatively safe (don't trust Rhennee bargemen), but does have its own aquatic dangers, then that leaves the east-west roads. As I mentioned, Dyvers is an economic rival and the Duchy of Urnst to the east is on good terms yet if you see the map its a bumpy road traversing the dangerous Cairn Hills and nearing the Mistmarsh swamp. The Gem of the Flanaess may be centrally located, but it's by no means easy to access.

Now that I've bored you to death, where else would be fitting to move a campaign focus given the socio-political problems surrounding Greyhawk? Here's some possible suggestions:

The World of Irongate: Irongate (detailed in Dragon #351) is comparable in every way to Greyhawk. Fairly centralized free city, large multi-racial population, natural resources, fortifications and high magic. Situated in the east-center of the Flanaess, it's main political concerns is the outed Scarlet Brotherhood, pirates and the fractured kingdoms of Aerdy. Unlike Greyhawk which relies on roads and rivers, Irongate has a major seaport to trade and explore leagues beyond its reach. As for adventure, the place is reputedly an extra-dimensional nexus and is in proximity to adventure locales like the Tomb of Horrors.

The World of Gradsul: Gradsul, to the southwest of Greyhawk is the main port city of the Kingdom of Keoland. Much like Irongate, it is a largely (49,400) populated center of trade on the Azure Sea. It has a similar reach to exotic resources brought up from the south seas islands and jungles, much too far for Greyhawk to attract. Gradsul isn't a free city, but it is certainly the most prosperous and heavily defended one in Keoland. It's only military concern is the piratical Sea Princes. Gradsul can make a nice urban locale for political intrigues and from this base adventures be sought in the nearby Dreadwood Forest, the Hool Marshes or just a ship's voyage away.

The World of Rel Mord: To the east, this capital of the Kingdom of Nyrond is another major populated city (46,500) as well as a center for learning like Greyhawk (The University of Rel Mord). Rel Mord is usually at odds with the Great Kingdom, but as of the Greyhawk Wars, they aren't as much of a concern. Rel Mord is along a river-way like Greyhawk and is centrally located in the kingdom as to make it the hub of all roads going to the Urnsts, the Theocracy of the Pale or even to Aerdy. Adventurers can try their hand at the ruins of Almor or go west to Maure Castle.

The World of Lopolla: Want to have a Baklunish/Arabic feel to your game? Lopolla, the capital of Ket to the far west of Greyhawk is situated in another hub of trade and travel between the Yatil Mountains and the Barrier Peaks. Lopolla is a large (27,300) multicultural center spanning the peoples of the Flanaess proper to the Baklunish west. After the Greyhawk Wars, things settled down for Ket so they're not entirely at odds with their easterly neighbors anymore. Loads of adventurers can be attracted to nearby treasures in the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth or the make an Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. After those, Lopolla can be used as a springboard to further quests Beyond the Flanaess.

The World of Verbobonc: Lastly to the west, there is the humble Viscounty of Verbobonc. While it is smaller than Greyhawk (12,700) it is just as diverse in population and lays near the same river trade route as Dyvers and the Gem of the Flanaess. This minor city is much more buffered from the threats of Iuz or the Pomarj thanks to Furyondy and Celene giving it a chance to grow where Greyhawk might languish. It is also still close enough then for adventurers to travel to the same local hot spots that we all know. Verbobonc much like it's bigger neighbor however, has its own local adventure attraction, the Temple of Elemental Evil.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Castle Greyhawk: Daybreak

Welcome back Greyhawkers! At long last I'm happy to promote page thirty-two the final installment in the second chapter of our ongoing Castle Greyhawk graphic novel. Follow the links above to get bonus script from imagineer Scott Casper. Alternatively you can view the pages HERE, courtesy of Maldin's Greyhawk.

Artist's Commentary: This chapter certain has been a fun ride. The action was ramped up and ongoing from early-on and the way it ended it just how I'd want it to if this was played out in my home campaigns.
As always, Scott has a clear vision of how his story should be portrayed and I do my best to make those visuals come true. I've said it before, so much of my favorite art in Castle Greyhawk has been rendering the fabulous landscapes these characters travel through. From dungeons to bandit forts or ruined walls, I have never done so much detail on backgrounds in my life. That alone has been worth the time spent the last two years. I can't wait to see how Chapter Three develops. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 25, 2014

5th Edition D&D: Greyhawk Deities

The role of Greyhawk's gods in the new Player's Handbook for 5th Edition have probably been covered elsewhere in the blogosphere by now, perhaps even since the free PDF was put out. However, this is my first real study into the references made about our favorite setting's deities. I'm not trying to catalogue every barest mention either, it's just a perusal to see how well the D&D team did their Greyhawk lore. So here we go:

Appendix B: Gods of the Multiverse gives a nice short explanation on how the Greyhawk pantheon works, with its ethnicities and overlapping portfolios.

There is a list of 25 Greyhawk gods near the back of the book, along with separate lists of Forgotten Realms (37 if you're keeping score), Eberron, Dragonlance and Nonhuman deities. For comparison, there were 14 Greyhawk-specific deities when the setting was default in 3rd Edition's core rules. The later splat books added at least 24 more Greyhawk gods, some of which are already in this new book, so 5th Edition is clearly already off to a grand start.

This is the lineup:

Beory, goddess of nature, symbol green disk. Easy enough!
Boccob, god of magic. Eye within a pentagram. Mentioned among a list of other Knowledge Domain gods like Thoth. Yes, you need him.
Celestian, god of stars and wanderers. Symbol is an arc of seven stars inside a circle (This obscure symbol is right). Nice surprise there, was last mentioned in Complete Divine.
Ehlonna, goddess of the woodlands. Unicorn horn. A good holdover from 3E.
Erythnul, god of envy and slaughter. Blood drop symbol (Naturally). He gets props in the War Domain section for clerics.
Fharlanghn, god of horizons and travel. Circle crossed by horizon line. True. Nice to see he stayed on.
Heironeous, god of chivalry and valor. Lightning bolt symbol. No brainer here, from the War Domain listing as well.
Hextor, god of war and discord. Six arrows downward in a fan. Can't have a War Domain without Heironeous' brother.
Kord, god of athletics and sport. Four spears and four maces radiating from a center point. I guess I never paid much attention to the lines, but they can be weapons evidently.
Incabulos, god of plague and famine. Reptilian eye with a horizontal diamond. Good to see this underused god of death moving up in the lists to see.
Istus, goddess of fate and destiny. Her spindle symbol is on target. She too is brought up to the main list again, as should be.
Iuz, god of pain and oppression. He of the grinning human skull symbol was in Complete Divine like so many non-core deities, but when making a short list of Greyhawk gods he has to be on it.
Nerull, god of death. Skull and scythe symbols are easy enough to imagine when it comes to a death god, and it's proper that Nerull is on this list.
Obad-hai, god of nature. He of the oak leaf and acorn carries on the Nature domain tradition in the cleric section.
Olidammara, god of revelry (not rogues?) The man of the laughing mask symbol made the Trickery Domain along with my favorite, Loki. That implies rogue I guess!
Pelor, god of the sun and healing has his typical sun symbol and gets a nod in a grouping of Life Domain deities but gives the light domain spotlight up for...
Pholtus, god of light and law is instead mentioned among Light Domain deities like Apollo.
Ralishaz, god of ill luck and insanity, with his three bone casting sticks, sneaks onto the core lists for the first time!
Rao, god of peace and reason is another good knowledge god. His white heart symbol is correct, though some show a heart shaped face. Rao like others previously only made it into Complete Divine.
St. Cuthbert, god of common sense and zeal. He is listed as LN this edition which keeps changing between editions from LG to LN. A move I can only guess is to round out the alignments on the list.
Tharizdun, god of eternal darkness has both his familiar dark spiral and inverted ziggurat symbol. He is given the Trickery domain which is odd, but there isn't an extensive list of domains yet.
Trithereon, god of liberty and retribution is back in the big leagues. His Triskelion symbol is correct.
Ulaa, goddess of hills and mountains makes for a good choice for this list as she is LG and a female deity (one of five). She had never been in a 3E core book previously.
Vecna, god of evil secrets of course has to be here. His Hand and Eye symbol is unmistakable. He is one of seven knowledge gods in this list. Greyhawk has a lot of lore.
Wee Jas, goddess of magic and death finishes off the list. One of four death domain gods on the list, it's good she is also the Knowledge domain or players might not be able to make a character of her with current rules excluding Death Domain until the Dungeon Master's Guide comes out.

All in all it was a respectful showing of Greyhawk's pantheon and the information concerning them. I look forward to seeing what other gods can be brought into focus in the coming years.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Castle Greyhawk: Mutual Respect

Welcome back Greyhawk maniacs! Because of Gen Con and reporting on the con, I'm (of course) a week behind on promoting the thirty first page in the second chapter of our ongoing Castle Greyhawk graphic novel. Follow the links above to get expansive exposition from wordsmith Scott Casper. Alternatively you can view the pages HERE, courtesy of Maldin's Greyhawk.

Artist's Commentary: Chapter two is starting to wind down and after a lengthy all night struggle, Gronan and Robilar are too bushed to keep fighting. It's been a wild ride since the first page where we meet Robilar and his trusty bow and later pages with Gronan leaping and breaking things. I can now draw both characters from memory! (Drake as well, great character)
There's one more page after this then we'll have to see what Scott has in store next for Castle Greyhawk!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Mike Mearls Interview at ENWorld

Hey Greyhawk fans, GenCon is nearly a week old already. Time flies, but the news and recaps keep rolling in from that wonderful convention. One that I nearly missed is an interview of Wizards head-honcho Mike Mearls by Christopher Hackler over at ENWorld. Check it out because Christopher asks some good questions about the future of D&D I haven't seen elsewhere and Mearls' opinions carry a lot of weight obviously. Here is some pertinent parts:

"...Are the plans for either Dragon or Dungeon Magazines?"
"Right now, we don’t have anything to announce. Part of the reason we moved the magazines to an online format was the dramatic drop in the subscription base over the last few years. Bringing a digital magazine out on a regular basis is no small undertaking, either. So, we’re taking our time to make sure we have a good plan that puts material out there that people want and that makes sense from a business stand point."

There's probably no sane reason for them to continue with the full magazine format anymore. The D&DI format of online magazines even seemed to stall during the 4e era so they went to breaking up the monthly slate into separately released articles (with non-essential content made free to read). Gygax Magazine showed (albeit quarterly) that people still care about classic printed game magazines, but their production and delays to get out is a headache that I can't see Wizards wanting in the digital age. Now a yearly collected "best of Dragon/Dungeon" would be smart and might even make a nice printed product, perhaps a GenCon exclusive if they wanted.

"...are there any plans for which setting might be updated and revisited next? If not, and it was your decision alone, which setting would be the next to be supported and why?"
"We don’t have any specific plans we can talk about now. When we look at setting support, we’re looking at more than just products. The various D&D settings have acquired robust, active communities over the years. It doesn’t make sense to simply bring a setting back into print unless you can also find a way to support that community and making it a vibrant, living thing.

Personally, I’d love to see a big, Greyhawk hardcover sourcebook. The fifth edition rules system would work very well with Greyhawk. You wouldn’t need a lot of new class options, but the background system would be very handy for drawing out the differences between different regions. It would also be cool to get an in-depth treatment of the Free City of Greyhawk and the surrounding region. The original City of Greyhawk boxed set powered many of my campaigns in high school."

Mearls is messing with my heart here, but this shows he is definitely in our camp so the chance definitely exists for a new Greyhawk launch. The key part of his answer is about supporting the community and making it vibrant. To bring Greyhawk back would require a Living Greyhawk type revival (Greyhawk Reborn anyone?) or a spin-off of their current version the Adventurer's League. Yeah it's not enough to put out a couple splatbooks and call it a day anymore. Wizards wants to drive a whole theme of stuff around it now (Tyranny of Dragons). The World of Greyhawk setting can more than provide this kind of an extravaganza.

"...Are there any plans to perhaps update some of the classic earlier adventures to the fifth edition? If the decision was entirely yours what classic adventure would you like to see updated first?"
"We definitely knew that people like having the option to update their favorite adventures. We’ll have some guidelines on converting material from prior editions in the fall. In terms of updates we publish, it’s a bit too early to talk about that. We know that classic adventures are a big part of what has made D&D great, and we want to embrace that going forward.
My personal preference would be a deluxe update of the Saltmarsh series. It’s a fun trilogy that includes a nice variety of challenges and a nifty final dungeon against a band of sahuagin. It might not be an adventure that sits at the top of most gamers’ lists, but I’ve always had a fondness for it."

More Greyhawk on Mearls' mind. I think converting previously published Greyhawk material to fifth will be a hot item this time around compared to fourth. Stay tuned this Fall!

Again, check out the full interview HERE.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Mortellan's GenCon Recap

Welcome Greyhawk fans. Here is a few bits and pieces of my convention experience this year in Indianapolis:

This was the year for Wizards to shine with their new edition of the Player's Handbook and crowds of people vying to play in the new organized play (as I saw many lucky VIPs got advance copies of the Monster Manual) and the adventure theme, Tyranny of Dragons was everywhere (my friends kept calling it tranny of dragons). I did not take part in any of this madness, but it was the big deal of the show.

I did manage to achieve a goal however by going to the Wizards Bazaar where I got the cool Tomb of Horrors mini set from GaleForceNine. I am stoked at having minis of the old lich Acererak but the Iggwilv's Treasure set was also tempting. I only recently got around to assembling my Lolth mini from last GenCon so I felt I had to stick with one purchase. There was also a Scourge of Suderham (Slave Lords) set, but nothing really new Greyhawk-themed. I'm sure once the Forgotten Realms/5e thing settles down, GF9 will try some more classic minis.

For me and the Gamerstable podcast group, GenCon is especially about eating and drinking. There was so many different food trucks outside the convention center all day, and so many restaurants to eat within walking distance. I can't accurately give you reviews of all the places, but needless to say I used to confine myself to the RAM Brewery and it's a mistake folks. There is a lot of great places to go for nightlife in downtown Indy. Next year, I intend to find out where all the gaming industry people go after hours.

As you read previously Anna Meyer's Flanaess Atlas did not win an ENnie for cartography but at our annual Greyhawk meet-up, I met Anna and she assured us that the exposure of being nominated was more an award than anything and she will be getting plenty of future professional mapping gigs from here on. Anna was amazing to talk to as we shared memories of our first experiences with Greyhawk and our inspirations of getting into making maps and articles for the setting. A lot of fans missed out on this rare chance to talk about Greyhawk. I cannot wait until next year to do it again.

As I was officially representing Canonfire! at the con I got in the exhibition hall an hour early to meet with some important folk including Erik Mona and a name many in the community might not know is a huge Greyhawk fan, Jon Leitheusser. Jon works with other companies right now, but last year he had a freelance adventure published The Battle of Emridy Meadows. We talked a lot about the future of Greyhawk and agreed that things should go back to the basics of the boxed set (576 CY). Jon has major connections to Wizard's Chris Perkins (another big Greyhawk fan who I cannot track down at GenCon) and game company Green Ronin so who knows what may come out in the near future?

Here's a realization that was brought up at the Greyhawk meet-up, why is no one running a Greyhawk event at GenCon? I'm not saying a seminar/panel, just a straight up 4-hour module set in Greyhawk in whatever edition or game system the DM is happy with? There's zillions of games ran at GenCon, but where's the old schoolers? You all know a Greyhawk game for six would sell out in a minute. I'd do it, but come on, don't I do enough? ;)

That's it for now. Hindsight being 20-20 I'm starting to remember authors and booths that I didn't visit enough so I'm going to have to start keeping better notes and managing my time in the future. If anyone has some good GenCon news to share feel free to comment!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Anna Meyer at ENnies Friday Night

Well folks, tonight at the 2014 Gen Con EN World RG Awards, Anna Meyer's World of Greyhawk maps unfortunately did not win in the Best Cartography category.

Anna's true labor of love, an enitrely free atlas lost out to perrenial favorite Pathfinder and Monte Cook's Numenara. Despite this, the nomination was a truly justified recognition for her years of tireless work on this popular fan project. The increased attention from the ENnie awards will surely give Anna a boost as she continues on as a professional fantasy cartographer. I have no doubt she will be back in the ENnie race again someday.

The groundswell of support for Anna in the Greyhawk community was fantastic and couldn't have come at a better time. Her nomination stands as a signal to Wizards of the Coast and the rest of the D&D playing world that Greyhawk has not gone away and people still want to see quality material produced with the setting. Congrats to Anna and good luck on her future endeavors!