Monday, October 30, 2017

Why Darlene's Greyhawk Map is Special

Welcome again fans of Greyhawk. A very good question was posed to me in the comments of my post last week:
"I've never understood people's reverence for the Darlene map. I'm not knocking it or anything, I just don't get all the fuss. Then again, I only joined the hobby in 2001... So maybe I'm spoiled by the higher production values of later stuff, or some other generational difference? I'd like to understand what the big deal is, because I feel like I'm missing out."

Why is there such reverence for the artist Darlene's original World of Greyhawk maps? That's an answer I feel is deeply personal for each fan of Greyhawk of course. You might get a 100 different responses if you polled, so here I'll try to lay out some good points and see how they compare to you, the reader's feelings.

I do think its an intrinsic reverence when you ask why Darlene's map are so good. Fantasy maps like all the maps of that era were hand drawn, certainly not done on computers, with few being world-wide maps done at such a scale (I immediately think of Harn or Wilderlands). Maps in modules were often black & white, or the classic non-photo blue. So a full color, two-part poster-sized, keyed, hex overlaid map with hand-scripted labels back in 1980 was quite ahead of its time in my opinion. That is the high production value back then. I used to hang these maps on my wall like you would any other poster. I then later had my first set of Greyhawk maps laminated so they could withstand the amount of use they saw in my campaigns. I have plenty of other really gorgeous RPG maps that are in mint condition. That's not necessarily a compliment.

The content and realism of Greyhawk's continent is too easy to debate because it is indeed flawed. Fantasy world-building has no time for knowing everything about proper physical geography. What's important is the map makes an emotional connection to people when they first explore it. What you first see is the map's color and shapes; the scintillating shades of blue in the Flanaess' demarcated ocean depths, the vast green tracts of the world's huge forests, the myriad river systems that wind around the hexagons like veins in the body, and the toned texture of the many mountain ranges that cause your eyes to travel from one end to the other.

The first time I became this enthralled seeing a map was Tolkien's Middle Earth and I certainly felt the same reverence seeing the first map of the Forgotten Realms. Back then all I knew about that game world was from Ed Greenwood's articles in Dragon. It was Dragon incidentally that teased the new world with a free map in its pages. I remember spending a long time pouring over it and more when the "gray" boxed set maps eventually came out. That's how I felt when I got my World of Greyhawk boxed set in 1983. It could be age and experience now, but I admire today's maps in a different way.

As the commenter suggested I do feel spoiled now. After a game map's general shape grabs me, I cannot help but compare it to Darlene's map (or the others of its era). Was it hand drawn? Was it mostly done on Photoshop? Does the cartographer have a unique style or is it generic? There is a matter of function as well. Some maps are meant to be used for game information either omitting detail for players or at times overloading them with detail. Maps can also have more of an aesthetic value. Darlene's maps as I mentioned earlier are definitely aesthetically pleasing, but at the same time they use game relevant elements like the hexagons, keyed margins and just enough geographic and national labels to convey basic information to players without giving away the location of secret places like the Tomb of Horrors or the Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan.

So yes, the Darlene Greyhawk map is special and is my favorite (and heck I got to meet her). Is it technically the best game map ever made? Not at all. That's because it's fundamentally simple to digest and expand upon. I would say however that it's the most influential. Both reasons are a huge incentive for fans to learn to make their own maps. Artists such as Anna Meyer, Rob Lazzaretti and Mike Schley are among my favorite cartographers and I love that new tools, new techniques and new RPGs push them to create wonderful and exciting maps. I'm sure each one of them has a story they could tell about Darlene's maps.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A Quick Greyhawk Primer

Well met, fans of Greyhawk. It recently occurred to me on a Twitter thread, that I've never attempted to do a Greyhawk "primer" or "intro" for newer readers (that I recall). I've always catered to the long time fan with my nonsense and minutiae, so today I'm gonna try my best to capture what the Greyhawk setting is like in a single blog post. Not an easy task, fingers crossed. Enjoy.

Maps: The first thing you'll notice about Greyhawk is the maps are works of art. Darlene created the first maps, given a hexagon overlay. They are vibrant in color and evoke the style of hand drawn explorer maps. These maps are simple, elegant and full of potential for development by DMs. The original maps are two part, poster sized and encompass the eastern half of a continent called Oerik on the planet Oerth.

History & War: The World of Greyhawk has a backdrop of ancient history and ongoing war. The perfect comparison for this in today's pop culture is the Game of Thrones series. East Oerik was once populated by peaceful Flannae nomads, elves, dwarves and their like. Wars in Western Oerik and a pair of twin cataclysms forced Suel and Oerid migrants eastward where after centuries of colonization, nation building and more wars, resulted in the current political landscape. To further lend to the medieval fantasy feel, Greyhawk is home to many noble Houses and Knighthoods such as the orders of the Hart, Holy Sheilding and the Watch.There is several main regions of Greyhawk (such as the Great Kingdom, the Sheldomar Valley or the Empire of Iuz) and all are constantly on the edge of some conflict with one another.
 The biggest and most recent of these wars is introduced in the Greyhawk Wars boxed set, taking place about 10 years after the original Greyhawk timeline. Depending on your DM this war is optional, because there is unlimited directions you can take these stories, or depending on your DM's campaign they can be ignored entirely! I stress again, the history and backdrop is for flavor and is not always required to have memorable adventures in Greyhawk.

Magic: Greyhawk by virtue of its age and being based on Gary Gygax's home campaign, is the origin of hundreds of notable D&D spells, magic items, artifacts and more. Whether you play 1e or 5e, you will immediately be immersed in a Greyhawk campaign once you cast a Tenser's Floating Disk or equip your ranger with a Quiver of Ehlonna.
Despite comparisons, Greyhawk is a high magic world (posing as a low magic one). It is quite full of wizards, sorcerers and warlocks like Mordenkainen's Circle of Eight, the Silent Ones of Keoland or the Guild of Wizardry in the City of Greyhawk, and of course evil spellcasters in the service of Iuz the Evil. The World of Greyhawk is full of ancient buried empires, tombs of brooding liches and more, all with magic yet to be discovered by adventurers.

Deities: Clerics and paladin players will rejoice at the abundant lists of deities for the World of Greyhawk. These pantheons are divided into a few cultural pools, the Suloise, Oeridian, Flannae and Baklunish gods. Just like gods of our mythologies, Greyhawk has a deity for just about everything if you're inclined. These pantheons have mixed over the centuries however, so now the more interesting and commonly known ones are focused on.
Do a quick perusal through any D&D book, and you will find references to great Greyhawk deities that cover every character alignment option, like Pelor the sun god, Wee Jas the goddess of death and magic, Nerull the reaper, Heironeous the god of justice and his evil brother Hextor god of war.

Evil, Good and the Balance: Thematically, the World of Greyhawk is a struggle of balance between good and evil with some NPCs just trying to play both sides. Evil is always ascendant in this setting. Liches (Acererak), cultists, witches (Iggwilv) or plain bandits are a constant here. When one villain falls, there always seems to be another ready to rise. Iuz is the undoubtedly greatest of these villains; a despotic demigod in the flesh, ruling over an empire of orcs, undead and demons. When you hear of Iuz just think of Sauron and the land of Mordor from Lord of the Rings.
Up against such odds, adventurers are often thrust into the role of heroes for the cause of Good especially paladins and clerics of good gods like St Cuthbert, but this is by no means the only option. Greyhawk is literally gray in its tone. Characters can easily be amoral and content looting dungeons and raiding towers, enriching and empowering themselves without heed to the bigger picture.

Iconic Adventures: And lastly, Greyhawk is best known for its adventure modules. By now, what D&D player hasn't heard of the Tomb of Horrors, Against the Giants or the Temple of Elemental Evil? Searching dungeons, ruins and caverns is a way of life in this setting. The ruins of Castle Greyhawk, Maure Castle or the Temple of Elemental Evil are mega-dungeons that can occupy a characters entire career. Many other modules require great treks being set in remote jungles, icy mountains, deep swamps or far below in the Underdark. Check the link and you'll see a comprehensive catalog of Greyhawk modules, sourcebooks and so on. Take your pick; every character level, theme and environment imaginable is here.

That's all for now. I tried to keep it brief, but there is so much more I could cover. For easy reference get a copy of PDF of the 1983 boxed set, the 2000 Living Greyhawk Gazetteer or the 2E Players Guide to Greyhawk.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Greyhawk Comic Rewind: Boccob

Howdy Greyhawk gang! Today I'm looking back on a random Greyhawk comic strip from June 22nd, 2006. This one is very dated in fact because the idea stemmed from a defunct forum that discussed material from a defunct magazine. Sheesh! p.s. in case you aren't aware, the deity without a shirt is Lendor the God of Time.

Here is my corresponding comment from the strip:

There has been an interesting discussion on the Greyhawk forums at Wizards about Boccob's mystery of magic fading on Oerth. Most people either are FOR Magic dying out or they are absolutely against it. This is one of my favorite ongoing Greyhawk topics. It's fun to speculate the nature of magic on the game world and what might cause its decline. Recent Dragon articles have only added to the controversy. But, it's high time Boccob put this mystery to bed, so...Enjoy.
-Mortellan



Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Greyhawk A-Z: Deities Part 2

Hello again Greyhawk readers. I'm making another attempt to alphabetically survey various topics about Greyhawk. Last time I did People, this time I'm bringing back Deities. Ready? Let's begin:

Allitur. Wow, so here's a deity I know nearly zero about that is quite cool in reality. Lawful Good deity of ethics, brother of Rao and ally of Heironeous. Allitur is a liaison to other pantheons. Meaning? He can go to Faerun and talk to Mystra or Bane. What other D&D god does that? Allitur's domain, Emyprea is cool too (nod to Frank Mantzer). It's numerous healing fountains and hospitals makes this place a great destination for heroes on a planar quest.

Beory. Good old Mother Oerth, a flan deity like Allitur, she is above the concerns of lesser deities. Beory is a druidic type goddess who is the embodiment of the planet. This of course makes me wonder if the magical alloy Oerthblood, is then literally the divine blood (or essence) of Beory. And does mortals mining it, anger her?

Celestian. If Beory embodies the planet, does Celestian the god of stars and space embody everything else in Greyspace? I doubt it. His basic description is inspiring travel by navigating the stars and understanding their patterns. He isn't a greater god after all, he is more like his brother Fharlanghn and is a guide of travelers. Celestian in fact hangs out with quasi-deities like Murlynd, Heward and Keoghtom. not Beory or Allitur.

Daern. Hero-deity of fortifications. I'm a big fan of Greyhawk's ascended mortals to demigodhood. It echoes real life mythology (Hercules) and it gives players something to aspire to as heroes. What always struck me funny about Daern's addition to the pantheon (around 2E I think?) was that the deity is female. Everyone has heard of the Daern's Instant Fortress magic item from 1E, but who made the choice to say Daern is a woman, when for all those years I assumed (and I know I'm not alone) it was male. I'm glad Daern is female, but in hindsight it seems like a sly move that went under the radar.

Ehlonna. Called Ehlenestra by the elves, she is one of those dual human-demihuman deities that the setting provided in the early days before the elves, orcs, dwarves, etc. got their own pantheons. Ehlonna is the proverbial princess surrounded by unicorns and faeries in a sylvan forest. She is an archer as well, having the famous Quiver of Ehlonna to her name.

Fharlanghn. Speaking of wandering deities, Fharlanghn is the earth-bound brother of Celestian. He knows all there is to know about the geography of the Flanaess, and I imagine, beyond. I've extensively used him in comics to relay lore about Oerth, but never in my games really. Fharlanghn is a fascinating deity, with many relics and allies (and a lover), but be sure to check out his wiki entry, particularly the part about Journey's End. This is another healing destination for heroes much like Empyrea.

Geshtai. I wish this deity of fresh water and wells had more relevance in the setting. She is Baklunish which isn't the primary focus of most DMs, but she comes without any of that real-world religious connotation like Al-Akbar. She's depicted as a young woman carrying a water vessel and has a fish companion named Gummus. How cute, almost Disneyesque.

Heironeous. Everyone knows Heironeous right? Typical good guy war deity with invulnerable skin. One thing that rankles me to this day is how Gygax gave him a magic battle axe as a primary weapon then later editions changed it to a long sword cause boring reasons. At first it does seem odd for your knight-paladin prototype god to have a battle axe, but what got ignored is how it shrinks to 1/20 its size. That's about 3" or keychain size. How many magic swords do that? Further overlooked, Heironeous can throw lightning bolts ala Zeus. What weapon he fights with is moot after that right?

Incabulos. Probably my favorite evil deity since he remains largely underused. Despite this, a lot of what happens in the world at large can be attributed to his portfolio; sickness, famine, drought, nightmares. Incabulos is ever-present even if he isn't actively trying to take over the world. That's why he is a greater deity like Nerull. Death is already a given so his cultists like Incabulos', are just doing his work for him. There is no greater conspiracy involved. Unlike Nerull though, Incabulos' depredations can be countered.

Jascar. Here is a god of hills and mountains that gets little to no attention. The Suel pantheon of Greyhawk, detailed by Len Lakofka in the pages of Dragon Magazine back in the day, really went into depth on these deities, but very few (besides Wee Jas) became what I would call household names among D&D enthusiasts. Jascar is the brother of Fortubo, a smithy god (synergy) and possible cross-over god with dwarves (like mentioned above). Jascar has potential.

Kord. The Brawler. Another important Suel god spun from the same cloth as Jascar and company above, but Kord seemed to achieve a bit of popularity himself in later editions. This is not because of anything in his rich extensive background however. Quiz name his great sword, or his mom and dads name. I highly doubt these things matter to players except that Kord is the typical strong barbarian deity and that explains itself. Check out Kord, he has a lot going on.

Lendor. Let's keep the Suel gods going. Lendor is Kord's grandfather, and to this day I'm not sure if Len Lakofka intended the greater deity Lendor is supposed to be the same as the wizard Lendore who founded the Spindrift Isles/Lendore Isles. He is supposed to be a god of time who has no hand in mortal matters (except choking out occasional chimeras) so maybe not? Someone help me on this.

Mayaheine. Much like Daern, I ceretainly believe Mayaheine was wisely brought in (by Carl Sargent) to give this male-dominated medieval war milieu a female voice during the Greyhawk Wars. Mayaheine is a demigoddess under the service of normally peaceful Pelor. Iuz ust got so out of hand he had to bring in help for Heironeous. I like Mayaheine, there's much left to explore with her background and religion, so I hope she can be elevated to prominence in the future.

Nazarn. This hero-deity is a new addition to the Greyhawk Mythos from 3E era, first appearing in the Living Greyhawk Journal. What makes Nazarn unique is he is a half-orc. I imagine in the evolving structure of this pantheon it was good to have a playable race represented in the lists. Nazarn didn't have it easy, his origin is the arenas of the Scarlet Brotherhood (I would've picked Ull) and he had to impress a half-giant son of Kord with several epic combats before getting Kord's personal approval for godhood. I'd say Nazarn earned his spot.

Olidammara. Good old Olidammara is usually a good go to deity for rogues and bards. He is the Dionysus of Greyhawk as well, so any good tavern in the Flanaess would be well to respect Olid. Over the editions his story has grown to the point we now know he has his own heralds, relics and legends. Read all about it.

Phyton. Oh those wacky Suel gods. So here is another "casualty" of the deity list where for completions sake they have a god devoted to beauty in nature and farming. He is the rival of druids cause he wants to cultivate land, mow lawns and create new types of flowers perhaps. Phyton certainly isn't the 70th choice of an adventuring cleric and that limits his appeal.

Quetzalcoatl. It is not easy finding "Q" deities of course, so the famed winged serpent is probably my last best option. He is of course the head of the Olman pantheon, via the Central American Mythos. Using a literal Earth-origin pantheon made sense before there was a published Oerth pantheon to use, but keeping them is a bad decision that should've been fixed decades after their appearance in Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan. Too late now of course, Quetzalcoatl and company are just another strange twist to the World of Greyhawk's weird side.

Ralishaz. God of bad luck. This is the god a cleric takes if he is chaotic neutral and wants his companions to hate him. Though a male deity, his form switches from male to female often. Either way, he is not good a good god to invoke. This makes it even stranger that he is most popular in Ull, which is a largely agnostic society. I guess Uli really like to curse misfortune on others.

Sotillion. One of the four Oeridian agriculture goddesses, Sotillion is Summer or the south wind. She enjoys comforts of a good life and that is why she is also the wife of Zilchus the god of money. Enough said! Could you imagine playing a cleric of Sotillion? Me neither cause she would never leave the temple for your silly quest.

Trithereon. Now here is a good deity to use. Trithereon is the god of retribution and liberty. He has so much to like, magic weapons, several summonable animal companions and a cool scepter that can banish criminals to a prison demiplane. It's a crying shame in 3E, his retribution portfolio was sponged up by Saint everything is about him Cuthbert. Let Trithereon be his own god!

Urogalan: Okay here is the part of the post where I dig deep into the barrel for a name. Urogalan is the halfling demigod of death. He is not an evil god, more a protector of the dead which seems right for halflings. What I'm curious about is why he is called the Black Hound. What does dogs + death mean in halfling culture?

Velnius. A sky and weather god. Velnius is the eldest brother of the four female wind goddesses and all are children of angry Procan. I love Greyhawk's deity family trees as they include big names and many lesser players. If a god doesn't have family connection they were probably sponsored or served under another god. Sure I grouch a lot about underused D&D gods like Velnius, but in the end his kind are there to provide substance to the overall mythology.

Wenta. Speaking of familial deities, here is one of Sotillion's sisters. The four sisters are collectively called the Velaeri. She is the goddess of Autumn and the West wind. She's probably my favorite because of her association with brewing (Brewfest is abig Greyhawk holiday). Wenta while not a popular deity is one you can often name-drop in taverns in the same breath as Olidammara.

Xerbo. Speaking of ocean god Procan, Xerbo is his main rival as god of the sea. Xerbo is nothing special, a fairly typical Poseidon-lite figure, but Xerbo is also a sailor's deity which would make him (and his wife, sea goddess Osprem) quite popular had Greyhawk been a seafaring focused D&D setting. I know from my own Hold of the Sea Princes campaigns him and the sea gods get more play.

Ye'Cind. Had to dig deep for this one too. Ye'Cind is an elven demigod of music. This patron of bards is most noted for the famous artifact Recorder of Ye'Cind. While Ye'Cind is male (hard to tell with elves) he was named for Gygax's daughter Cindy. I don't think I've ever used Ye'Cind or his Recorder in any of my games. I can't say that about most on this list (except Urogalan).

Zilchus. God of money and business. Amusingly, I based my old comic version of Zilchus on Donald Trump. Well, maybe a more successful, likable version before he went into politics. On the other hand, given the root of his name is "zilch" maybe he has been bankrupt a few times as well.

That's all for now. I don't think there's enough to make a third pass on this A-Z Deity list. Only time will tell. For some other reading on Greyhawk Deities, dash over to Greyhawk Grognard.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Unusual Greyhawk Facts

Hey Greyhawk fans! I don't have much going on this week, except maybe that I started running the classic Forge of Fury from the 5E Tales From the Yawning Portal adventure compilation. FoF isn't a Greyhawk module, but I've had an easy time retrofitting it to the Flanaess. Since I just got started on that what else can I do except crack open my copy of the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer and read some random facts about the setting you probably don't know (or care about). All in good fun. Here we go!


United Kingdom of Ahlissa. The state religion is Zilchus god of money and business. This is the most honest religion I've ever seen.

Blackmoor. One of their major exports is walrus ivory. What's even more remarkable is that 18% of the population is halfling. Now all I can think about is halflings cooking walrus meat.

Ekbir. Gold pieces in Ekbir are called cups. After the golden relic, Cup of Al'Akbar. Makes sense.

Geoff. Apparently after the giants overran the country and chased off the humans, it gave the deer population a big boost. Cattle and horses are easier for monsters to catch evidently.

Ice Barbarians. These barbarians collectively call their home Rhizia, which means immovable in the Cold Tongue. Likewise the tribe Cruski means Ice Clan. Of course.

Empire of Iuz. Forecasters rejoice! The capital of Dorakaa is always overcast in a 4-mile radius. I wonder if that's only when Iuz is in town?

Lordship of the Isles. On the isle of Ganode they found mithril. In other news, elven ships from Lendore have been sinking Lordship vessels recently, but no one knows why. Uh, maybe it's cause you have mithril?

Plains of the Paynims. It says here 2% of the population of 500,000, or 10,000, is centaurs! For comparison, the Bright Lands is the next big centaur area with a measely 265. Wow.

Perrenland. The Witch Queen Iggwilv ruled this land for 10 years. Perrenland was so traumatized by her that when they later learned Iuz was her son, they unanimously refused to serve him as mercenaries. You'd think thye'd throw in with Furyondy during the Greyhawk Wars instead of being neutral.

Rel Astra. Apparently one of their biggest exports is fish. I don't know if this is an oversight of the writers. but there is plenty of island nations and larger coastal realms and fish isn't on their list of resources, unless it's assumed in "foodstuffs" in which case Rel Astra just specializes in fish. Either way this city smells bad.

Tiger and Wolf Nomads. Halflings are 2% of the population of these nomadic realms? That's about 4500 hobbits roaming the plains! Do they ride ponies along with the Relentless Horde? I got questions that need answered!

Ull. Speaking of nomads, this land has about 5500 halflings. At least Ull has a couple major towns. I wonder though, why or HOW are these halflings settling in every vile corner of the continent? Are they attracted to the walrus meat, fish and wolf pelts?

That's enough for now, time to switch off my brain. Thanks for reading.