Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Beyond the Flanaess

I was recently asked about my thoughts on the published parts of Oerth that fandom labels "Beyond the Flanaess". In general my super short answer would be that I'm all for it. Exploring beyond the edges of published Greyhawk is indeed one of my interests; hell I've carved a pretty nice niche doing Ull articles and running campaigns and creating maps devoted to the tropical shores of the world. What I'm not crazy about is that official map of Oerth first debuted by Skip Williams in Dragon Magazine Annual #1 and the follow up "development" of parts of this by D&D's failed 2002 Chainmail skirmish game.

This is an old rant, we've lived with the map of Oerth for nearly two decades now so the sting of having my own vision of what Beyond the Flanaess map looks like is almost gone, but it does bear pointing out for posterity that the in-game lore sages spoke about is slightly wrong. Let me try to explain.

The 1983 World of Greyhawk boxed set is staged as a meta-plot manuscript and historical simulation of life and politics in the "eastern portion" of the continent Oerik during the Epoch of Magic. Sages like Pluffet Smedger the Elder tell us that the Flanaess is the center of human civilization and indeed with the Suloise and Baklunish empires in dust for a thousand years the center of gravity should be here now. There is high magic, there is hints of civilizations on the edges and barbarian invaders from across the plains, but the setting for the RPG is east Oerik, where euro-centric analogous culture exists. Except once the Dragon Annual map came out, the sages were wrong and the center of the world became all wobbly to a hardcore fan like myself.

Once we had the hastily thrown together pangea-super continent of Oerik and its predictably arranged cultural analogs it removed the biggest mystery of the setting for good, is the Flanaess the only civilized continent in the world? Archmagi and Spelljammers could now easily pick a point on the globe and know with some inclination what's over there. The names and analogs aren't even what bothers me. We know the Flanaess is a patchwork world anyhow. Blackmoor is from Dave Arneson's home world, the Great Kingdom, Duchy of Tenh, Maure Castle. And in later years the Isle of Dread. Very cobbled together, from various authors not just one man's vision. The fact that TSR threw it into an Annual as a curiosity shows it is flimsy canon, but I can live with the placeholder names. It's not like I would had any better ideas. I did have my own vision of Oerth's other continents however and it wasn't a super-continent. Why? Because I based my maps on this inset map in the main guide:

This important map not only showed latitude lines for the first time, but it also showed that the game area of the Flanaess was only half the picture. And we're told this repeatedly, the area to the left of the dotted line is WEST OERIK. Just eyeballing this map you can see the middle is where the former Suel and Baklun empires existed. It's not hard to imagine every to the west of these lands were part of their lands as well, or perhaps ruled by an "orc reich", an archlich or maybe even a Hindu culture. Doesn't matter. West Oerik kinda tapers off the edges and you can either imagine you can sail around them somehow or you can do what TSR did and make them keep going by doubling the area of Oerik. So yes, with the DA#1 map, we now have to believe there is an east Oerik as well as a central, west and maybe even a southwest Oerik. It's huge!

Now when Chainmail was relaunched they used this expansive West Oerik as the fluff setting for their mini factions, you know, the usual medieval Euro-humans, Tolkienish elves, dwarves, orcs, etc. Added to this is the strange fact that Chainmail used the map above, but not really the placeholder names from the DA#1 map. To complicate matters, many of those names were not Gygaxian, but yet another patch for the quilt, an homage to the French graphic novel Black Moon Chronicles by Francois Marcela-Froideval who used to work with TSR. Nevermind all that though. Those map and cultural differences can be duly justified later on by devoted fans and fixed by clever cartographers. It's Oerik and the uncertain center of civilization that grinds my gears.

With the Empire of Lynn/Sundered Empire from Chainmail and its neighboring realms, you have what amounts to a carbon copy Flanaess separated by a string of mountains and deserts. Impossible? No. Improbable? Yes. The World of Greyhawk's post-cataclysm migrations are pretty clear and deliberate. Should a Celestial Imperium be right there in the center of the map where we once had west Oerik or should perhaps an Asian analog continent be across the ocean west of Oerik. This is what I believe was originally intended by Gygax when Oriental Adventures came out in 1985. I remember quite vividly that the intro map in the first adventure for OA's world of Kara-Tur had the PCs, or "gaijin" sailing across an ocean from a west coast to the "far east", as we would in the real world. Last I checked, Kara-Tur is east of Faerun but not directly west of it, yet if you look at the vague west coast of the Oerik inset map, it lines up pretty good with the map in Swords of Daiymo.

Put another way, the DA#1 map pushes an Asia into the middle of two competing Europes. Suddenly the sages of Rel Mord in the Flanaess are very wrong. There is a huge culture not only to the west, but another even farther west than them! There is one more gripe I have about the Oerik super-continent and that is how it affects the poor arab flavored Baklunish nations. Going by the DA#1 map, this rich and vibrant culture that IS part of canon since the beginning is cut off from much of the Flanaess by water due to some icy areas called Hyperboria and the Land of Black Ice. What's a Sinbad-Al Qadim type of sailor to do? He's pretty much trapped by geography unless you figure the two polar masses aren't connected by a land bridge. However, with the smaller Oerik-inset map variation, one can conceivably sail from Zeif for example around west Oerik and arrive up from the southern tropics right in the middle of the Azure Sea with the same nautical effort that explorers had in our history. It's definitely a more scenic route than breaking through ice.

So there you go, I think Beyond the Flanaess has a lot of potential for fan-writers and map makers who want to develop the rest of Oerth, but my only wish is that the main continent had been broken down into something more manageable.

/end rant


Ryan said...

Has anyone ever found a Map that was edited to put Kara-Tur and the original Oerik insert map together? It wouldn't solve every question, but it would enlighten us on what Gary originally wanted to do.

electryc03 said...

Great read thanks.

Mike Bridges said...

Ryan: I highly doubt it. I've never got into a discussion with other fans about Kara-tur in GH and it seems to be a very fringe belief of mine lol.

electryc03: Thanks!!!

Mike Bridges said...

I spoke too soon!


Ryan said...

That's an interesting find! It basically fits, although the connecting land at the top of the peninsula seems to stretch to far east-west. However, I get what the person who did this was trying to do.

Jason Raabis said...

Well thanks for tackling this subject again Mike. I have the pangea-super continent fan maps and they aren't my cup of tea either. I hadn't really thought of the issue of Baklunish lands being marooned as they are; my issue was the lack of interesting ocean going exploration possibilities with interesting coastal variations, islands and the like. The version on the Canonfire forum is certainly much better. I think someday I might try a photoshop manipulation project of my own and see what I can splice together. I kind of want a complete world map in some detail. Cheers for stirring the subject up again!