Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Greyhawk Needs Skaven

So yeah...Earlier this year I fell into the abyss that is Warhammer Fantasy Battles. In this table-top minis war game, I tend to like playing quirky, dirty, evil armies (like Orks in Warhammer 40k) so naturally I was a good fit to play the Skaven. Now for much longer than this new hobby, I've been involved in Games Workshop games for a long time, including their RPG and one thing has always struck me about Skaven that I've been reminded of since buying into this monstrous race: the Greyhawk setting would be an awesome fit for Skaven.

"The Skaven are a race of bipedal ratmen that are so rarely seen that many deny their very existence. The majority of the man-sized vermin are slight of build and, if they abandoned their slinking haunched gait, stand bewteen four to five feet in height...Skaven are covered in close fur, save for their ears, muzzle, hands, and fleshy, worm-like tails. The eyes of the ratmen gleam red in torchlight and their mouths are lined with wicked teeth..."

First point to get out of the way, it's my belief the "Old World" of Warhammer and the gritty World of Greyhawk of Gygax's creation have always been contemporary publications and so hold alot of similarities in theme and mood. Heck, it's probably the reason why GW's Carl Sargent was brought over to add his grim touch to Greyhawk in 2nd edition.

Second, you can argue that D&D and thus Greyhawk does have ratmen already in the form of wererats. Wererats have been around since the beginning along with more lycanthropes than I can count. These however don't count in my book because they don't go far enough to be true Skaven. Wererats are cursed humanoids whereas the Skaven are a race-born unto themselves. Also, in D&D wererats are also not portrayed as the shadowy horde in waiting that is the Skaven...

"Although not regularly seen by surface dwellers, the Skaven are arguably the most numerous of all races. With a population of titanic proportions, the Skaven remain hidden away underneath unsuspecting nations."

The Skaven are more than a nest of monsters lurking in Greyhawk City's sewers ready to steal your purse. Yes indeed they can do that, but there is more to the Skaven than surface dwellers realize! The Skaven practice a blend of sorcery and science, a mockery of their hated enemy the dwarves and also quite similar to D&D's DerroThus, you'll see strange, warpstone powered warmachines and many lesser contraptions built to bring ruin and slaughter to the surface world. Other clans specialize in the spreading of pestilent plagues or the alchemical manipulation of their own kind into frenzied killers and altered into monstrous brutes like rat-ogres. Just as numerous and easily more cunning than D&D kobolds, the fastest of the Skaven of course, are masters of stealth and assassination with their poisoned weapons.

How's this work good for Greyhawk? Well as stated before they are similar to both Derro and Kobolds which are staples in Greyhawk but neither of which have the gravitas to be a true threat on an epic scale (unless you count the module Doomgrinder, yes I went there). The Skaven could be the power behind common wererat sightings, and a precursor to a much worse infestation to come. Muse over these scenarios:

Opportunistic Incursion: The Greyhawk Wars have just winded down and all the nations of the Flanaess are tired and low on resources. Suddenly bursting from beneath the ground of several key nations comes the coordinated attacks of a well-armed and endless horde of Skaven...

Congratulations On Clearing Zagig's Ruins: The heroes have killed all the monsters, taken all the treasure and returned to the city to celebrate. A year later the Skaven fill the void, scavenge what magic is left behind and stage a surprise attack on all nearby civilizations, perhaps even tunneling all the way to Greyhawk City itself!

A New Nation To Deal With: Iuz has been the omnipresent threat in the Flanaess for generations so who would suspect a new evil arising from below? Without warning things begin crawling out from under an unlikely region (such as Ket or Riftcanyon) and the Skaven soon have a foothold in order to attack both good and evil lands alike.

Vault of the...Skaven? Here's a twist for your campaign. The heroes have braved many miles of caverns and corridors and soon anticipate a big throw down with the dreaded, yet popularly known Drow. Only, they were too late. The Skaven got to Erehli Cinlu first and now they are going to track the PCs back to where they came from!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

New Greyhawk Fiction

This week I am pleased to offer two fiction pieces for you from prolific author Mystic Scholar. Last seen in 2011, Mystic's first offering is the long awaited eighth installment in his Greyhawk City based fiction series: That Infamous Key (based on the Dungeon adventure Mad God's Key). For those who need a recap or just tuned in, there are links to the previous episodes here at Canonfire! This episode features the namesakes of myself and my distinguished cartographic ally, Maldin.

Next up is the first chapter in a new Greyhawkian saga by Mystic Scholar entitled, The Making of a Paladin. Follow the harrowing tale of Ivon the cleric and his relentless battle against the undead.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Another Gencon Survived

Well folks, Gencon is over. It's back to the daily grind. I can't say I have much to report from the World of Greyhawk at the event, what with the news of Wizards resurrecting the long neglected Forgotten Realms setting (snark). It wasn't all bad, my time was productive if not memorable.

Canonfire at the RAM Brewery: According to my friends I spent half the convention here. Maybe so. I did Thursday and Saturday night meet-ups here with Greyhawk contributors Baronzemo, Robbastard, Sir Xaris and the TPK Games crew and of course my cohort Valkaun Dain. Food was ate, beer was drank and Greyhawk was discussed. I even managed to talk to a few total strangers who were in town for a different convention and teach them about Gencon. Good times.

Soliciting Interviews: I got a good influx of authors to agree to answering my email interview for the Ring of Five Questions. I had been looking forward to this all year. Stay tuned for these in the hopefully near future.

My Haul: I snagged a copy of Mark Morrison's (aka baronzemo) new module, Stonepick Crossing from the OSR booth. Here I met Tim Kask and narrowly missed seeing Frank Mentzer. Going through various WotC locations I got 4/6 special drow themed dice available. My friends were troopers and got them all. I of course spent an inordinate amount of time around the GamesWorkshop/ Forgeworld booth because basically they are never at Gencon. I improved my weak Skaven army and upgraded my Warhammer 40k army with a badass Biker Boss. Watch out! I also visited the fine folks at Paizo and bought a copy of their new Pathfinder comic book, and a couple supplements from their Skull & Shackles AP for use in my own Greyhawk high seas campaign. It was great catching up with old chat friends Liz Courts and Adam Daigle who both went from lowly Paizo fans to full time henchmen. Lastly I bought the first novel in a new series by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman titled Bones of the Dragon. I'm hoping it's as good as their previous work, which coincidentally I had the Dragonlance trilogy on me so I had Weis sign that too.

D&DNext: I played in a quick playtest with two of my friends. I played a rogue thug with 5 h.p. and by all means was a screw up. We didn't play long enough to get a true feel of the system, but on the bright side it was not dependent on a grid to judge the action which is a good sign. Character creation felt like a hybrid of 3.5 and 4e. The jury is still out on this edition since there is 2 more years of playtesting to come. Sheesh!

Podcasting: Last but not least our gaming podcast, Gamerstable was out in force this year (well the guys were moreso than me). They were doing podcast recordings, mingling with industry folk, handing out cards and also Gamerstable shirts like this one...

Yeah, next year is going to be hard to top!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Future of D&D: Greyhawk Dodges Another One?

I'm here at Gencon, now happily doing anything but worrying about the future of Greyhawk for the next year. Wizards put up a video yesterday of their future of D&D discussion and by all accounts it appeals to their base (to put it in political terms). For us Greyhawk fans, as usual, we'll have to wait and see if we get even a token of recognition in D&DNext. Until then, as I've heard before during 4th Edition, Greyhawk may have dodged a bullet. I was pulling for Dragonlance personally. Ah well. Head here to Greyhawk Grognard for a link to the inact...er action. See for yourself.

Hopefully after the weekend I'll have some highlights of my trip to Gencon 2012. Later!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Castle Greyhawk: Travel With Caution

Welcome back Greyhawk fans! Wow, we're now on page sixteen of the Castle Greyhawk graphic novel adaptation, which you read over at our specially dedicated blog. Be sure to check there because Scott Casper adds an extra flourish of exposition to this story you can't get otherwise. Plus, if you're just joining in, you can read the entire story from the beginning through the archived list.

You can also view the latest episode HERE courtesy of Maldin's Greyhawk. Enjoy!

Artist's Commentary: I'm getting more proficient at drawing Yrag's complex suit of armor which is a good thing. Heck he hasn't even started fighting in it yet, besides an off screen hacking of a giant centipede. I'm sure Scott has some devious action sequences coming my way. I was also pleased with the inset frame of Yrag being startled. The more of these we do the more we push the bounds of the comic composition which is fun. Now I'm off to Gencon for the week! Perhaps I'll show off my artistic talents there...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Greyhawk Olympics

The official time keeper
of the Greyhawk Olympics
The London Olympics are over and I don't know if everyone was into them (I myself like to watch niche sports) but it got me thinking about the events specifically and how the various nations of the Flanaess would fare in them. Believe or not this topic has come up on the Canonfire forums before and one of my players actually once suggested an Olympics for my Greyhawk campaign, so this crazy idea isn't all mine. Furthermore, Greyhawk has a few deities that lend themselves well to athletic competition (Kord for one). Anyhow, never mind the logisitics, politics or magic of the Flanaess for this exercise, just assume peace has broke out for a week and everyone has arrived at Greyhawk City during the summer of 600 CY. Here's my off the cuff results (of a select series of events), feel free to agree or disagree...

Diving: Irongate (gold), Lordship of the Isles (silver), Ekbir (bronze)
Swimming: Keoland (gold), Onnwal (silver), Nyrond (bronze)
Gymnastics: Scarlet Brotherhood (gold), Highfolk (silver), Veluna (bronze)
Volleyball: Idee (gold), Duchy of Urnst (silver), County of Urnst (bronze)
Equestrian: Plains of the Paynims (gold), Nyrond (silver), Rovers of the Barrens (bronze)
Wrestling: Ket (gold), Hold of Stonefist (silver), Bandit Kingdoms (bronze)
Archery: Celene (gold), Highfolk (silver), Sunndi (bronze)
Sprinting: Wild Coast (gold) , Sunndi (silver), Verbobonc (bronze)
Marathon: Dry Steppes (gold), Blackmoor (silver), Wolf Nomads (bronze)
Pole Vault: Dyvers (gold), Tusmit (silver), Bissel (bronze)
Long Jumping: Duchy of Ulek (gold), Grand Duchy of Geoff (silver), Duchy of Tenh (bronze) 
Shot Put: Bone March (gold), Hold of Stonefist (silver), Iuz (bronze)
Hammer Throw: Principality of Ulek (gold), Ratik (silver), Irongate (bronze)
Javelin Throw: Yeomanry (gold), Tiger Nomads (silver), Perrenland (bronze)
Fencing: Greyhawk City (gold), Rel Astra (silver), Shield Lands (bronze)
Football (Soccer) Furyondy (gold), Greyhawk City (silver), Great Kingdom (bronze)
Judo/Taekwondo: Scarlet Brotherhood (gold), Ekbir (silver), Zeif (bronze)
Rowing: Snow Barbarians (gold), Frost Barbarians (silver), Zeif (bronze)
Sailing: Spindrifts (gold), Hold of Sea Princes (silver), Sea Barons (bronze)
Shooting (Crossbow): Perrenland (gold), County of Ulek (silver), The Pale (bronze)
Weightlifting: Ull (gold), Iuz (silver), Pomarj (bronze)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Retrospective: Dragonlance Novels

Yes I know this title is not about Greyhawk, but it's not exactly all about Dragonlance either, so bear with me because I'm playing catch up on history here. Recently I switched from reading Savage Sword of Conan graphic novels and started re-reading the Dragonlance Chronicles a series I probably hadn't seriously read in 20 years. Now to most of you the Dragonlance setting and line of modules and books needs no explanation so I'll get to my thoughts on the subject. A third of the way in I paused to reflect on the first novel Dragons of Autumn Twilight, first published by TSR in 1984. I started to wonder, how did this series became so popular, and why this didn't also work for Greyhawk yet seemed to replicate well for Forgotten Realms. I've come to the determination it was partly effort and mostly about timing.

Tracy and Laura Hickman wrote modules for TSR including the successful Ravenloft. Margaret Weis worked as an editor for TSR's books division, primarily the Endless Quest line. Under the direction of TSR the Hickmans and Margaret combined their talents to write a series of modules first then translate them into novels. Though Andre Norton's loosely based Greyhawk novel Quag Keep came years before, it was never fully integrated with the game setting and no modules bore Quag's name. Thus when Dragonlance came along, this process was still innovative by TSR and Gary Gygax was marginally involved at the time. When the first novel took off in 84, Gygax did take notice however and scrambled to copy the success over to Greyhawk with Saga of Old City.

A decent novel in of itself, the story of Gord nonetheless never took off with the RPG public who was fully immersed with Dragonlance by then. Eventually the Greyhawk novel line was punted to Endless Quest's star writer, Rose Estes who tried and failed horribly to say the least. The ascendance of Dragonlance is remarkable in that it came during Greyhawk's heyday. Consider, fans had clamored for Gygax to publish Greyhawk for years and they got their wish. The World of Greyhawk boxed set was only one year old at the time Dragonlance came out, and to boot, several iconic series of modules had preceded the setting. All that Greyhawk lacked was a novel line. What happened then? Did fans get tired of Greyhawk too soon, or did TSR not want to test an unproven publishing method on their number one game world?

With Gygax's departure from TSR in the late eighties, the Dragonlance brand continued unabated well into the 90's and then Ed Greenwood and his Forgotten Realms came along just at the right time. It was another creative effort away from the Greyhawk line and since then, this line has exceeded Dragonlance not on Greenwood's shoulders mainly but rather by the talent of R.A. Salvatore who began with The Crystal Shard in 1988 and his break out drow character Driz'zt spawned a whole franchise of novels on his own.

So to sum up, I believe Dragonlance was successful because beyond the game setting's inititial design by one or two people, it became a shared world of different authors once you got to the novel adaptation phase. I'm not saying Gygax was a hack fiction writer (Ed Greenwood is no better) and only a good world builder, it's just that there also seemed to be less a concerted effort by TSR to back a novel line for Greyhawk even though the source material and characters were right there to be exploited! Today, Dragonlance for me reads like the basic modules which they were based on, but what still makes them gripping is the well developed characters and their interactions. My guess is Gygax rushed out Gord, a wholly new character in the Greyhawk milieu, when he should've gone with a more traditional ensemble group of characters that fans were familiar with like Tenser, Mordenkainen and Robilar. D&D is about parties of adventurers after all. I'd love to know what his thoughts were on going with a solo protagonist in Saga of Old City. Then when Estes came along to provide a fresh hand, we instead got another set of totally forgettable characters set in Greyhawk that may as well been in a random Endless Quest book for all Estes cared. It would be many years later before other authors would be given a shot at writing novels finally based on Greyhawk modules (which I won't go into nor have read). Too little too late in my opinion.

With all this swirling from my head to this post, I now look to the present and Gencon in a few short days. Rumor has it Wizards has a big announcement in the making besides their D&DNext edition. Apparently part of their plans involves the rebirth of a popular setting. Part of me thinks it'll be Dragonlance since it's a proven property all around and the Forgotten Realms has never really stopped in order to warrant a rebirth. Dragonlance never got the 4e setting treatment either so it could be due. Then again, if it's Greyhawk that gets chosen this time around I'm hoping not so much for RPG setting success since I have plenty of old material to use, what I want is redemption for a novel line that could've been.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Early Development of the Great Kingdom

First brought to my attention by Allan Grohe over at Canonfire, an author named Jon Peterson has written a book called Playing At the World in which he looks into the history of how RPGs sprang from wargames in the 70's. To go with his work Mr. Peterson has a blog elaborating on the same subject including info on the nascent settings of Blackmoor and Greyhawk that we all know and love. His latest post on the formative Great Kingdom is eye opening and worth the time to read. Check it out!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Castle Greyhawk Comic Reviewed!

Well this is a pleasant surprise for my weekend. Scott Casper and me have had our Castle Greyhawk webcomic reviewed over at the blog Papers & Pencils. This expertly critiqued post should be good for our creative momentum and certainly for my morale! Follow the link and read for yourself. Huzzah!

Update 05/07/2021: I had to remove a broken link to this article, the blog is not active. Ah well!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Hobbits, Gencon and Rings of Five

Lazy weekend, but I do have a few topics to cover.

First, here lately I've been discussing movie news that is of interest to the D&D community and none should be more important than the Hobbit. At first I was mildly outraged when it was announced the Tolkien work would be made into two movies, but I saw ample room for a cliffhanger or two in there. Now the recent announcement that the Hobbit will be a trilogy has my head hurting. My sentiments echo many of those online. Naturally I want to see any and all movies set in Middle Earth, but my skepticism is high for their motivation and ability to do this. As we've been assured there is a wealth of extra material to use for these additional movies yet looking at the real page count of these works it boggles my mind. It's pure b.s. Even given all the appendices and scraps of references, I believe the Hobbit trilogy will still end up being contrived beyond belief. And I'm not talking about walk on cameos by Legolas or whoever. After all the Hobbit itself contains no female speaking roles. If the cumbersome books of the Lord of the Rings trilogy had been stretched out in the same manner (it wasn't fashionable to segment book movies back then) then we would've suffered through 9 movies! Yet each was kept intact as one (albeit long) movie. Now we're supposed to accept that the simplest, shortest and most iconic of Tolkien's works can cover three movies by itself? I shudder to think about the extended director's cut DVD.

Anyhow, I can't wait to see how they pull it off. Maybe that's part of my gripe. Having to wait so long to see all three finally released. It's a tease as much as a cash grab. I want to see Smaug now not one to two years from now. Nerd rage aside, I know I'll love all three movies too. Oh well. One more thing, my hope is that they someday make a movie adaptation of Tolkien's The Children of Hurin. For anyone who hasn't read this, it's a dark and epic tale from before the Ring saga. Check it out.

Next up is GenCon Indy on August 15th. And it's about time, I need a vacation. Just another reminder to those in the Greyhawk community, we at Canonfire have got a couple meet-ups planned. If you want to stop by and say hi and share a drink at the convention check out this forum thread or drop me a message here.

Lastly, this is a mental note to myself mainly. I'm planning on reviving my Ring of Five Questions interview series at Gencon. I'll try hitting up several authors and artists for interviews in the future, and perhaps I'll extend the offer to hardcore Greyhawk fans as well. Along those lines, I'll also be taking part my local group's Gamerstable podcast activities (no set time table). Who knows, if you're interested maybe you could take part in a recording at the con? More next time!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Castle Greyhawk: Thorny Situation

Welcome Greyhawk fans! We're currently on page fifteen of the Castle Greyhawk graphic novel adaptation, which you can see over at our specially dedicated blog. Be sure to check in for additional story exposition provided by stalwart author Scott Casper. And if you're just joining in, you can still read the entire story from the beginning.

You can also view the latest episode HERE courtesy of Maldin's Greyhawk. Enjoy!

Artist's commentary: Drawing thorns and briars may be tedious but it's easy to do compared to people climbing in trees. I'm not complaining though, every page of the comic has been a new challenge which makes it fun for me. Speaking of briars, that's a hazardous terrain that I know I've under-utilized in my D&D campaigns. Hmmm!