Monday, January 13, 2020

Rulers of Ull: Ulzhak the Golden

Welcome again sages of Greyhawk knowledge. Delleb has tasked me with learning and documenting all things concerning the paltry land of Ull. This is the second installment of Rulers of Ull, where I recount the lore on the many Orakhans of Ull from throughout the centuries. Before you continue on, be sure to read my first article on Kuchakar the Dragon Slayer. If you are caught up, then for your reading pleasure, here is another heroic tale (Ull has heroes too) from 750 years before Kuchakar was Orakhan: The Saga of Ulzhak the Golden.

Ulzhak "The Golden" 
Orakhan of Ull from 2387 to 2420 BH (-272 to -239 CY)
(CN male human fighter 16)

Ulzhak the Golden, known for his long blond hair, gilded lamellar armor and a magical golden scimitar, is a name still sung by the minstrels of the Baklunish West. Few rulers of Ull have a greater lineage than Ulzhak. He is the son of Buhul the Warlike, defender of Ull's frontiers, grandson of Khuzhan the Builder who crafted the mesa-capital Ulakand, and great grandson of Ulaghai Ora Khan the revered founder of Ull. Ulzhak's saga starts as most do, during his childhood. 

A Prodigy is Born

Ulzhak was born an ordinary Uli boy, with dark hair and vicious temper. Among the women in Buhul's tribe however, it was commonly said that the orakhan's son was gifted with heroic awareness. Most notably, in his second winter, little Ulzhak caught and strangled a stirge that flew into his yurt. Though his sleeping mother and other attendants perished in the swarming attack, Ulzhak remained unharmed. As the boy grew, now raised by his sisters and aunts, he became preternaturally calm and began to exhibit an adept sense of sight, hearing and smell. Remarkably he broke his first horse before he was strong enough to string a bow. Eventually Ulzhak's phenomenal skills attracted the notice of his busy father. 

At age eleven, Ulzhak proudly rode at the side of his father training with hardened warriors loyal to the orakhan. Buhul the Warlike was a restless leader, always away from Ulakand and on the offensive against Ull's many perceived enemies. Unfortunately, this violent lifestyle brought aging Buhul Orakhan to his demise during a victorious battle on the Plains of the Paynims. Returning to Ulakand still too young and inexperienced, Ulzhak was now orakhan, but by tradition he was assisted and advised by his eldest uncles. One uncle was a fierce yet wise fighter, while the other was a scheming yet masterful horseman. They would both continue to train and raise Ulzhak to manhood, shielding him from many khanate intrigues. By the time Ulzhak turned nineteen, he embodied the traits of both his mentoring uncles and his ability to rule was no longer disputed by the Khanate Council who also found the new Orakhan exceedingly insightful and charismatic. Ulzhak however, had the blood of Buhul in him, thus he felt an ancestral urge to prove himself beyond the safety of Ulakand.

A New Threat Emerges

Ulzhak began to ride in force with his royal warband and tested his martial prowess against his fathers' enemies at home and abroad, yet his uncles never let him stray far from Ull's territory. Then during one fateful council meeting, at age twenty-one, the young Orakhan was brought news that both his elder uncles fell in battle against an incursion of vicious ogres from the Ulsprue Mountains. Worse, the invading ogres claimed to be incited by an enigmatic Lord of the Ogre-Magi. Amidst the Khanate Council's furious debate over this outrage, Ulzhak, without delay, discreetly departed Ulakand along with a detachment of his most trusted guards and entered the Ulsprues to personally face this new threat to his land.

Through intimidation and guile against every ogre he encountered, Ulzhak ventured deeper and higher into the mountains. The farther he ascended to look down upon his familiar plains, the Orakhan began to wonder if he was being intentionally lured to his doom. Finally Ulzhak and his surviving band reached a summit and found a hidden palace, old and carved into the surrounding rock. Here, they faced giants and demons alike, leering and laughing at their approach. The guards fled in terror and were chased down, but Ulzhak was undaunted and went alone into a great hall to stand before the imposing Lord of the Ogre-Magi. Naively, the young ruler assumed he would be facing a brute, but in reality this new threat was wise, cunning and possessing of an arcane intelligence. 

A Deal is Struck

It is said that instead of violence, Ulzhak and the Lord of the Ogre-Magi sat facing each other and engaged in a battle of wits and willpower, with the host treating his youthful counterpart with cultured hospitality befitting his station. Impressed with Ulzhak, the Lord of the Ogre-Magi made an accord with the Orakhan of Ull. The Orakhan was granted access to certain timberlands and silver mines in the highlands provided that the people of Ull would not war or interfere with the giant-kin of the Ulsprues. To seal the accord and reward him for his bravery, the Ogre-Magi presented to the young Orakhan the magical scimitar, Ganchabar, forged on another plane and said to be sharp enough to slice through metal and bone with ease. The Lord of the Ogre-Magi warned the foolhardy youth, should the bearer of Ganchabar break the treaty, then a great curse would befall him. Holding the scimitar aloft for the first time, Ulzhak's hair and armor instantly and irrevocably turned gold.

 A Golden Age in Ull

Ulzhak the Golden's triumphant return to Ulakand was heralded with awe and celebration by the assembled khanates. The Orakhan had brought the ogre incursions to an end and opened new sources of wealth to the Uli. Despite whispers of a pact with demons, the Orakhan now fearlessly ruled Ull, riding at the fore of a relentless horde and Ganchabar would become the gleaming golden symbol on Ull's battle standards. Years passed and still in his prime, Ulzhak the Golden had many adventures and won dozens of battles on the vast plains, yet the treaty with the ogres remained true. Indeed, many tribes gladly started to render aid to the Uli in procuring the riches of the mountains. As his legend grew, Ulzhak became more like his father Buhul the Warlike, exceeding him in every way possible. This confidence and power eroded his finer qualities, making the Orakhan spoiled and cruel to any who stood in his way, be they friend or foe. It is said even the sultan of Zeif gave up all attempts to pursue his interests into the realm of the indomitable Golden Maned Khan. 

A Divine Quest

As Fate would have it, one night on the frontier of the Ulsprues, the Orakhan hiked alone while his horde rested following a successful skirmish with the Paynims over water rights. It was high-summer and the Wadi Khijar was running drier than usual. Worse, many of Ull's lesser streams were suddenly fouled and unable to sustain their herds. Under the twin moons, at the edge of a pure spring, the golden warrior encountered a demure woman standing in a clear pool with fish swirling about her feet. Though the peoples of Ull had long abandoned their ancient religions, Geshtai, goddess of lakes and wells was one deity that was still held in reverence. Awed by her divine radiance, the ruler of Ull knelt by the waterside and heeded her troubling news; a monster called Korokhor was responsible for polluting the waters of Ull and though Geshtai did her best to purify the damage it wrought, she needed a hero to slay the menace.     

Ulzhak could not refuse her divine quest. Again he felt the weight of his ancestors calling on him to save his people; and so entering the pool with Geshtai, he was transported far away to a sludgy, smelly stream bed, where the imposing five-headed Ettin, Korokhor vomited its poison into the waters. Ulzhak was familiar with giant-kin, but nothing as twisted as this demon. Ganchabar shone as he advanced, causing Korokhor's many eyes to squint and grasp blindly at the golden hero. The skill and speed of the Orakhan brought the monster to its knees, even as it purged acidic filth and ichor in all directions, damaging Ulzhak's golden armor and blistering his skin in the process. Mighty Ganchabar was unaffected by the filth of Korokhor however, and as Ulzhak labored to sever the monster's heads one by one, vile trolls and other nameless creatures spawned from its lifeless husk and slinked away into the lightless depths. 

Redemption and Consequences

Ulzhak would not revel in his victory for he now knew that the despoiling monster was sent by the treacherous Lord of the Ogre-Magi. Returning to his army, the Orakhan of Ull brought grisly proof of his dire encounter and then turned the wrathful host toward the Ulsprues. Following mountain trails he last saw in his youth, Ulzhak swept aside howling demons and gibbering giants in their path until he again reached the ancient palace. This time wielding Ganchabar, there would be no negotiation. The Golden-Maned Khan drove the frightened Lord of the Ogre-Magi and his remaining minions from their lofty domain, but not before the voice of the Ogre-Mage could be heard echoing on the wind, invoking the curse he vowed long ago would come to Ulzhak if he ever interfered. While his men searched and looted the palace, Ulzhak gazed out to the horizon and pondered his doom. Little did the Orakhan know then, that the curse would actually be on his family line.

Ulzhak the Golden ruled Ull for thirty three years in total. Though the Orakhan was renowned and respected, because of this fame, Ulzhak's own family became foolish, haughty and thus despised by the khanates. Indeed, Ulzhak's eldest son, Durske the Unlucky would prove to be the least trusted, as his kin began to die in a series of mysterious accidents. The line of Ulaghai Ora-Khan would never recover. Meanwhile, the deserted palace of the ogre-magi lord was settled by followers of Zuoken and became the esteemed Falla-nil Monastery.
Upon his death, the body of Ulzhak the Golden was interred in the Great Catacombs of the Ulakand Mesa, but the magic scimitar Ganchabar vanished never to be seen again. 

The search has continued for hundreds of years. Most who seek the golden scimitar remain sure it is buried within the vast mesa, or was perhaps stolen back by the vengeful Lord of the Ogre-Magi. Some claim Ganchabar was hid by Geshtai at the bottom of a stream, or is perhaps guarded by the monks of Zuoken who have no use for such a blade, but may yet deliver it again to a new hero that is as worthy as Ulzhak the Golden.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Next Legends & Lore: Living Greyhawk

Hail Greyhawk fans! Just a quick announcement. There will be no Legends & Lore next Wednesday, but mark your calendars for the following Wednesday as we bring on a special panel of guests to talk about their experiences working on Living Greyhawk! I am sure many of you will have your own memories to share with the panel, so be sure to stop by and chat on the next Legends & Lore. See you there!

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Castle Greyhawk: Absolute Edition!

Hail Greyhawk legends! Today is a good day because I finally get to show off the result of years worth of hard work by Scott Casper and myself on the Castle Greyhawk comic which wrapped up a year ago. Even though my part was over, Scott diligently worked on publishing the collected works of this graphic novel and his short stories into the special hardback ABSOLUTE EDITION. Check out these pics of the covers.

For those who are new to this blog or our Castle Greyhawk comic, this was a story written by Scott "Scottenkainen" Casper based on Gary Gygax's original campaign. The story features iconic characters of D&D such as Tenser, Mordenkainen and Robilar.

The gorgeous Castle Greyhawk book I now hold was given out to our Patreon backers whose their loyal readership made the effort quite worthwhile. One backer is my good friend Allan Grohe who also supplied the foreword to the book. Thank you Allan for your sagely introduction.

Not only did Scott manage to self publish a 300+ page book of our work, he included extra commentary on each page. So far it's been a delight to just go back through and reminisce about the creation of this comic over the years. Truly breathtaking. I don't have enough words to express how satisfied I am now with this project. I've been published in Oerth Journal many times and collaborated with people in the Greyhawk community, but anytime you can have something tangible in your hands is extra special! My only wish is that I had contemplated this would be a print product at the end. I never look far past sharing stuff online when it comes to writing or art, so thank you Scott for being more ambitious than me.

Now that I've gushed about this book, I bet you're wondering how you can get your hands on one perhaps? Well, that is again out of my hands, so you'll need to ask Scott if there will be a second printing of the novel (I believe there was a less-expensive soft-cover variant for patrons). When I know more or hear about some interest in this book I will be sure to let him know. Until then, go and check out the Castle Greyhawk blog and read the story!

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Oerth Journal #31 Released!

Happy New Year, Greyhawkers! This is a good day to start off 2020 because I'm promoting the latest issue of Oerth Journal, winter edition (the theme is Factions). My good friend Kristoph Nolen at Greyhawk Online has been doing an amazing job bringing the ezine back and making it quarterly. He has definitely struck at the right time as the community has never been more into content creation than it has in the last ten or fifteen years. This is in large part to social media like Facebook and Twitch. I am glad Greyhawk is surviving into the 21st century and Oerth Journal in PDF (or print) will be a nice legacy for us old school gamers going forward.

You must check out issue #31, there is an incredible gathering of authors and artists in this one. I am particularly proud to see Greyhawk indexer extraordinaire, Jason Zavoda coming into this issue strong. I am also proud of the folks from The Greyhawk Channel and all who have contributed for the first time to this honored staple of the Greyhawk community.

Here is a packed lineup of what is in store when you download Oerth Journal #31:

Designing and DMing Factions by Allan T. Grohe Jr. (grodog) 
Rant of a Malcontent by Nathan Doyle (Attention Deficit & Dragons)
Rogues’ Gallery:    The Night Merchants by Will “Giantstomp” Dvorak
Rogues’ Gallery:   Cult of Steel by Jason Zavoda
Rogues’ Gallery:    The Blacksheep by James “AvatarOfWrath” Belk
Rogues’ Gallery:    The Blood Ravens by Kalvin Gearhart
Rogues’ Gallery:    Guild of Lamplighters and Torchbearers by Jason Zavoda
Rogues’ Gallery:    Cult of the Red Scythe by Kristoph Nolen
Rogues’ Gallery:   Celenian Suss Forest Knights’ Watch by Jay L. “Lord Gosumba” Scott
Rogues’ Gallery:    Church of Heironeous by Thom “Oronir” Vandervenne
Fiction:  The Castle by David Leonard
Rogues’ Gallery:    Origin of the Horned Society by Jason Zavoda
Fiction:   Espionage at the Royal Opera House by Kelli “TheOperaGeek” Butler with Krissy Dominy
Rogues’ Gallery:   Alliance of Defiance by Cal Scrivener
Rogues’ Gallery:   Grey College Observatory by Andy Miller and Kristoph Nolen

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Two Must See Greyhawk Items

Hello Greyhawkers! It's been a decent year for Greyhawkery. This has been my highest post count in about three years. I credit the Greyhawk community for giving me plenty to talk about, because it has never been stronger. Here is a couple cool links to some Greyhawk-related stuff you have to check out. Enjoy!

My good friend and professional cartographer, Anna Meyer is mentioned on a YouTube video, "9 Cartographers You Should Be Following" by WASD20. I'm proud anytime Anna gets recognition around the internet. I cannot wait till we start up our next Legends & Lore show in 2020.

Second is an astounding series of articles about "Mythic Greyhawk" on the blog Mythlands of Erce by Anders H. While not a dedicated Greyhawk blog like my own, Anders' latest article is a VERY interesting and new take on the background and nature of the demi-god Iuz the Evil. I highly recommend you read this blog and consider his ideas for your own campaign. I am looking forward to more from Anders.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Map: Altimira and Ulek

Happy Needfest Greyhawk fans! Well today I'm in a slightly artistic mood so I did one of my hastily drawn maps of a portion of the Flanaess. This time I had a special idea in mind though. The map before you is based on the Principality of Ulek region of Jay "Lord Gosumba" Scott's long-running campaign that you can find weekly on Twitch. I don't know much about the Free City of Altimira or which other parts are Jay's creation (I like the heraldry!), but with the assistance of Anna Meyer's 598 CY map update of Jay's campaign I was able to combine their work with that of Darlene into my own sketchy style. Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 20, 2019

Happy Needfest 2019

HAPPY NEEDFEST GREYHAWKERS! Back in the day when I did a weekly Greyhawk comic strip, my year always ended with a blowout special during the Christmas (Needfest) season. Many of you will remember my timeless classics, A Needfest Story or How the Gruumsh Stole Needfest. As I don't make these anymore (I ran out of material I think), the next best thing is to show them off again to a hopefully new audience of D&D and Greyhawk enthusiasts. So let the good times roll. Enjoy, this classic Needfest Musical Extravaganza from the misty memory of 2011!