Thursday, December 28, 2017

New Greyhawk Map: Dorakaa

Hail thee, Greyhawkers! It's still December so I got one more good post for the year and this one will knock your socks off. I'm inspired by the current exploits of the Twitch streaming group Return to Greyhawk. When they come back from their holiday break, hopefully the players or duneonmaster can make use of this ill-gotten new map I acquired on the mean streets of Dorakaa the capital city of the Empire of Iuz

"Ye Olde Travel Guide to Dorakaa" is an isometric map based on the crude keyed city map found in Carl Sargent's excellent books, Iuz the Evil and the follow-up module City of Skulls. The elements in my map are entirely from these sources and are only semi-spoilery in that any hero with half a brain should know that the city of an evil demigod is a dangerous place to visit. What's charming about the Dorakaa guide is it's intended for visitors to the city; laden with warnings and advice for gullible travelers so that they can survive the city for more than a day. See for yourself and good luck!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

How the Gruumsh Stole Needfest

Welcome back Greyhawk fans, you've been on Santa's nice list so here is another classic Christmas (Needfest) comic of mine from over 10 years ago. I have rarely had such a good run of parody ideas than I did for the World of Greyhawk Comic strip. My theme for the Neefest specials was always to do "evil" versions of classic Christmas stories. I'm particularly proud of this one:

"December 21st 2006: Here it is! The second annual Needfest Special! Last year's 'A Needfest Story' is regarded as among my best work to date. It is certainly my favorite piece and as such it should be tough to top. Well this one goes the distance to try that. You will find some absurdities and stretches of Grey-logic but that's what the comic has always been about. No, it is not a parody of a Christmas Carol either, that would be too easy! Anyhoo, feel free to share this one with all your friends and have a Happy Needfest. Also, kudos go out to Cebrion, the mad verse editor whose love for the subject covered by this Needfest Special, has made it work out so perfectly. Enjoy! -Mortellan" 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Comic Recap: A Needfest Story

Good news Greyhawkers, in working with my friend Maldin at I may soon have my entire 300+ Greyhawk Comic strip collection back in service for you to read! In the meantime, now is a good time to re-read my favorite Greyhawk parody comic of all time, A Needfest Story. Here is the intro from 12 years ago. How time flies! Enjoy.

December 22nd, 2005: Here it is! The labor of love that is my super comic Christmas special. This is the first Greyhawk Comic to star a mortal, but I think you'll agree with me that he is appropriate. There are plenty of other new deity faces in this installment as I finally branch off into hero/quasi-deities. Well enough blather, tear open this present, read it and tell your friends, I promise this one won't disappoint. -Mortellan 




Saturday, December 9, 2017

Poll Result: Most Dangerous Swamp

Well met Greyhawkers! Today I am going to muse over the latest front page poll, Which Swamp is the Most Dangerous? Obviously all fantasy swamps are lethal places to venture, but in the World of Greyhawk there is an abundance of these wetlands and each has their own unique troubles and treasures. Just a side note, I know I inadvertently left the Pelisso Swamp and the Lone Heath off the list, Pelisso is located on the fringe in Hepmonaland so I'll let it slide. The Heath is small and slipped my mind entirely. Anyhow, let's get to the rest of the swamps:

Coming in first overall with a landslide 56% is the no-brain champion of Greyhawk bogs, the Vast Swamp. Located in the southeast corner of the Flanaess, the "vee-shaped" Vast Swamp is a staggering 200 miles long and 150 miles across. These waters are pooled by the surrounding Hestmark Highlands, Hollow Highlands and Spine Ridge. There is no known river outlets and sages speculate the place is drained by underground channels.

Why go here? The Vast Swamp is your typical haven for outlaws, slimy monsters and degenerate humanoids such as lizardmen and the hated bullywug. Indeed, the twisted demigod Wastri an ally of bullywug-kind is said to make his lair somewhere within the morass. Heroes could grind on monsters for quite a long time by just wandering these lowlands. However, for those wanting a quick payoff, the Vast is of course most infamous for being the resting place of the demi-lich Acererak and his Tomb of Horrors. Such a death-trap can only be considered dangerous if one goes looking for it. The high risk-high reward of this dungeon has lured many fame-seeking heroes over the years, that is why it is top on most players' and DM's wish-lists.

Next up with 12% is a tie between two mighty marshes, the Hool Marshes and the Cold Marshes. The Hool lies in the southwest Flanaess dividing the Sheldomar Valley from the Hold of the Sea Princes;  The even larger Cold Marshes lie far away to the north dividing the Empire of Iuz from the frozen realm of Blackmoor.

Why go here? The Hool is a treacherous place to navigate making it the perfect place for outlaws to hide out. Heroes would be wise not to chase too deep into the mire however as the place is not only crawling with your typical swamp critters. but also rumors have it cults devoted to Orcus and Dagon. The Hool is also the location for the modules I7 Baltron's Beacon and the Saltmarsh series U1-3. 
The Cold Marshes on the other hand, also present a natural challenge to heroes with its hoarwinds, blackfrost and magical fogs or vampiric mists. Even if these hazards can be avoided there is still evils aplenty such as winter wolves, ice toads, ice trolls, will o'wisps, specters and undoubtedly white dragons. PCs must be brave and well stocked if they wish to find fortune in the Cold Marshes.

Coming in at 8% of the vote is the VERY underestimated Trollfens. Nestled in the joint of the Griff and Raker Mountains, the chilly Trollfens is comparably small, but probably more fearsome than any swamp in the Flanaess. It's so dangerous in fact, that both the Duchy of Tenh and Theocracy of the Pale each maintain a line of keeps to guard against the fens.

Why go here? Monsters lurk in the outer fens such as gnolls and ogres, but if one truly wants to test their mettle, the locals certainly can use aid in defending against the Troll Winters which occur about every 25 years. During this time, the mists of the fens expands and hordes of trolls sweep into the bordering lands killing all in their path. Only the line of castles with their fiery defenses can hold back the incursions. One Tenha castle, Dour Pentress was once under siege for three months by 2000 trolls! What treasures may lay here you may ask? Rumor has it ruins of an old Flan settlement may hold lost magics and material wealth from a time before the spread of the fens, if one can survive going into the troll's home turf.

Next at 4% of the vote is the Rushmoors and the Greyhawk Domain's own Mistmarsh. The narrow Rushmoors collect in the meeting of the mighty Javan River and the headwaters of the Sheldomar. The Mistmarsh lies between the Cairn Hills and the Abbor Alz Mountains.

Why go here? Your typical threats live in the Rushmoors, such as bullywugs, lizardmen and bandits who would rather avoid the lawful hand of the valley's Knights of the Watch. Larger reptiles do lurk here, including aberrations like frogemoths and otyughs. The Mistmarsh by comparison is mainly rife with lizardmen tribes and packs of ghouls though lately black dragons and Sons of Kyuss are rumored to be in the area. The Mistmarsh's proximity to Greyhawk makes it a decent place for heroes to explore. The Rushmoors, while ruled nominally by Gran March is of interest to adventurers seeking lost arcana from the ancient time of the Occluded Empire of Arch-lich Vecna. This swamp is also the locale for the module N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God.

And finally, at a measly 2% is the nasty sounding Gnatmarsh. Centrally located between Nyrond and Urnst, this large swamp is formed by the meeting of the Duntide and Nesser Rivers eventually emptying into the Sea of Gearnat.

Why go here? Yes, adventurers, many weird monsters lurk in these swamps too. If one can ignore the basic eels, alligators and swarms of insects here, they may well encounter oddities like two-headed trolls, strong bronze-skinned troglodytes or a green dragon! There may yet be treasure in this overlooked swamp which rumor has it contains its own sunken lich tomb.

I hope this article has shown there is more to Greyhawk's swamps than just the Tomb of Horrors. Happy hunting heroes!

Update 06/24/2021: I'm grumpy that Blogger got rid of polls. If I still had them today, we'd have amazing turn outs.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Blog Update

Hey Greyhawkers. Light news day. Still working on blog content for a redesign, not sure how soon I'll have any of that updated, but in the meantime here is some dedicated pages I'm planning on adding to Greyhawkery with essential player information. If you feel I should add some new categories let me know.

  • Playable Races
  • Deities
  • Power Groups
  • Artifacts and Relics
  • Nations/Regions
  • Geography
  • History/Timeline
So far I have artifacts and deities wrote up. The others will be more time and research intensive but I hope to distill them into something easily read and referenced for new and old players alike. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Xanathar's Guide to Everything

Heya Greyhawk fans, today I'm perusing my copy of the popular new 5E rulebook, Xanathar's Guide to Everything. Well it's certainly not everything (I want a 5E Aurora's catalogue), but it does have plenty of good stuff for players and DMs alike. I recommend the book, go and get it if you play this edition. As to reviews, look around the net I'm sure they are out there. What I aim to do is sift through the pages and find some tidbits of interest to Greyhawk fans. Enjoy:

Character Options is the best part of the book. It's an extension of the core PHB options for every class, many of which were previewed in Wizard's Unearthed Arcana articles over the last couple years.

The barbarian path of Ancestral Guardian is a good one for Greyhawk characters hailing from the Ice, Snow and Frost Barbarians of the north. These people have a norse vibe to them, thus ancestors are important. I am reminded of the old magic item The Black Sails of the Schnai that summons an old ancestral spirit to aid a PC. Another good region for this path is the horse riding nomads of Ull who worship their ancestors instead typical gods.

Path of the Zealot is all about berserker action. It specifically mentions that this is a good option for followers of Erythnul and Hextor (gods of slaughter and war).

The bardic College of Glamour has ties to sylvan things like the fey. This is a good choice for elves hailing from the nation of Celene or perhaps living around the settings many Fading Lands.

The College of Swords takes bards to a more martial direction and I think that fits nicely with my ongoing Hold of the Sea Princes campaign that relies on high seas/swordplay elements.

Sadly there is only two new cleric domains in this book, Grave and Forge. Greyhawk isn't particularly known for its forge gods (unless Dwarven pantheon). Whereas the Grave domain will come in handy for those who want to make a cleric of Wee Jas the goddess of (restful) death and magic.

Fighter gets the Arcane Archer at last, a popular prestige class from 3E. This archetype can find use from the elven realms of Highfolk to the parapets of Irongate and everywhere inbetween.

Another classic D&D archetype, the Cavalier, returns. The use for this fighter option is obvious for Greyhawk given the abundance of knighthoods and noble houses in the Flanaess.

Ranger has the Gloom Stalker archetype, which fits nicely with many of Oerik's evil-plagued forests and Under-Oerth adventures.

The Inquisitive and Mastermind rogue types are perfect for those who run campaigns in the City of Greyhawk or any other place region focused on intrigue.

The Swashbuckler type for Rogues obviously goes well with my Sea Princes and south seas campaign suggestion as well.

Sorcerer Origin of Shadow Magic is good for a character coming out of the Valley of the Mage or the Dim Forest. At 6th level they can summon a Hound of the Ill Omen which many Greyhawk fans will recall from the 1E Fiend Folio.

Speaking of shadow stuff, the Warlock Patron of the Hexblade is tied to entities from the Plane of Shadow as well. The same patron responsibile for creating the infamous sword Blackrazor.

Wizards get only one new tradition, the War Mage. This will of course come in handy for characters from nearly any magic using realm in Greyhawk such as Furyondy, Iuz, Keoland, the Great Kingdom and so on. War is all around.

There is a short section on Racial Feats for non-human characters. All will add flavor to your favorite elf, dwarf or yes even tiefling character.

The section on Random Encouters is an old school DM's delight; this lengthy section covers every terrain (not climate though) including urban and underdark. You can't get enough random tables.

The section on Downtime has been expanded from the core set. Now DMs can get more out of buying/selling magic items, carousing, crafting and so on in the form of Complications. Good stuff!

Magic Items? Yes sir. The DMG has many uncommon and rare items but it lacks every day magic. The Guide introduces a slew of new common magic items including a Greyhawk themed one, Heward's Handy Spice Pouch. This wondrous item does exactly what you think it does, nothing extra fancy ;)

There are some spells in the Guide too. First on the list in fact is Abi-Dalzim's Horrid Wilting, a classic from 2E Tome of Magic. You may ask why I mention this spell? I personally co-opted Abi-Dalzim into Greyhawk after I noticed the named mages in toM had no backstory. Dalzim himself haunts the Ulsprue Mountains in Ull. You're welcome.

Another classic, Melf's Minute Meteors also returns for 5E. Then there is the 8th level Mighty Fortress spell which is just a temporary Daern's Instant Fortress I imagine.

Lastly, what spell list wouldn't be complete without Tenser's Transformation? Happy gaming everyone.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Return to Greyhawk on Twitch

Welcome again fans of Greyhawk! This week I am promoting a new venue of Greyhawk entertainment on Twitch called Return to Greyhawk. This is a live D&D 5E campaign and I'm jazzed about this particular channel given the rise in popularity of streaming D&D tabletop groups, mainly because Return is the first I'm aware of actively presenting themselves as a Greyhawk game.
I watched most of their first session last night and it was everything you'd expect in a tense, hard fought D&D adventure (no spoilers), but I went back and re-watched their opening video to episode one and it's AMAZING! Please watch this if nothing else, it's a lovingly crafted intro to a new campaign; you won't be disappointed in the overview it gives to the World of Greyhawk setting.

Here is the cast of characters:

Alessa Amodovar (Human Wizard) played by May / @liqquidfire
Luciano Venturi (Human Cleric of Olidammara) played by Travis / @binaryfyre
Elara Kelm (Elven Rogue) played by Dani / @ImperialScum
Kallic Kelm (Hal-elf Ranger) played by Michael / @LoserMLW
Nilly Belovar (Half-elf Bard) played by Bree / @npcbree 
Merrick Saewolf (Human Bloodhunter) played by Josh / @WingedHorizon

and Dungeon Mastered by DMShane / @MageandSage

After the first session, the cast gave away a prize to one lucky viewer, a copy of the classic module Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure. Sadly I didn't win this prize (already own it) but I will be back for more. For those wishing to join me, expect the party to be back in action, live on Sundays 7pm to 11pm (est). Carry on, Greyhawk!

Update 06/24/2021: Sadly this channel is no longer active in this form, but their videos are still up on Youttube. DMShane and his RtG gang paved the way for many other Greyhawk fans to stream their games, and during the COVID-era make online gaming more entertaining to watch. Indeed, this is where me and Anna Meyer got our start doing Legends & Lore! I know a lot of the cast still, and have game with one or more of them since these early days. There will be many more old posts like this to come, but look back on these years as a historically significant jump forward in the Greyhawk community.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Birthplaces for Tieflings and Dragonborn

Welcome back friends of Greyhawk! In an effort to balance my last post, which had little to show off, I threw together this nice randomized chart based on the character birthplace charts in the 1983 boxed set Glossography. This one is for you 5E fans who like to use the playable races of dragonborn and tiefling which actually became popular during 4E and survived going forward. Fiend-blooded tieflings in fact go farther back to 2E when they were a playable race in the Planescape setting. Along those lines I'm not sure how closely dragonborn are to Dragonlance's draconian race, so there's that precedent, but their current origins derive from 3E as magically transformed servants of Bahamut (thanks Armitage).

Disclaimer: despite being official D&D, neither is truly a Greyhawk favored character race to use. There is no published regions that currently support these uncommon races. The goal of this chart is to show that tieflings (those of infernal heritage) and dragonborn (enhanced lizardmen essentially) can have a place in the Flanaess. They could be from scattered tribes found in the darkest recesses of the map or found among the urban masses of Oerik's major cities. *Even more plausible is that these races come from "Beyond the Flanaess" where across vast prairies and over widest oceans there is rumors of draconic cultures and decadent civilizations yet undeveloped. Only recently, has these races come into contact with this part of the world and may yet join the ranks of Greyhawk's heroes. 


Most Common

Amedio Jungle
Bandit Kingdoms
Beyond the Flanaess*
Bone March
Bright Desert
Dry Steppes
Fellreev Forest
Frost, Ice or Snow Barbarians
Great Kingdom
Horned Society
Land of Black Ice
Rel Astra
Sea of Dust
Sea Princes
Vesve Forest
Wild Coast

Friday, November 10, 2017

Blog Redesign Idea

Hey Greyhawkers! This weekend I've been contemplating upping my blog game instead the usual melancholy thoughts of hanging it up! Before I did anything I decided I need to air my ideas and perhaps get some feedback. I'm lazy and might not do anything after all, but at least this could get the ball rolling. What do I have in mind?

A slight change in website design/layout. With some added content if I can ever get it done. The front page elements would stay the same or be rearranged. What I'd like to add however, is some more focused Greyhawk primers for various topics like Deities, Nations, Power Groups, etc. The Greyhawk primer I wrote a couple weeks ago has made me realize I cater too much to old fans, but I have a chance to be a hub for new gamers needing easily digested info on Greyhawk. One thing also: having wikis with Greyhawk info is great if you know what you're looking for, but having essential material presented in one location is the next best thing to a setting book.

Speaking of which, I know others have done 5E conversions for Greyhawk. Greyhawk Reborn is doing good things in that regard, carrying on the old timeline. I am more aligned to Greyhawk Grognard's feel to bring 5E Greyhawk back to the old 576 CY starting point. So, while I'm no expert at game design, any Greyhawk primer I do will be fluff not crunch. I'd try to focus on what's important or relevant for new gamers and then crosslink to any "advanced" information I can find online either on 3rd party sites or on my own blog.

Brainstorm over.

Update 06/24/2021: Cripes I need to finish my primers still. Ugh! That said I did redesign the look of my blog, and put up quite a bit of content for beginners. The links are on the left of the homepage. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Poll Result: Which Knighthood to Join

Welcome back Greyhawkers. This week I'm musing over the results of my last poll, Which Knighthood Would You Join? Easy enough, let's look at the knightly orders of the Flanaess:

Coming in at a surprising first place (28%) is the Knight Protectors of Aerdy. This ancient order hails from back in the heyday of the Great Kingdom of Aerdy and until the rise of the evil dynasties of Ivids and St. Kargoth's death knights, was the premier order in the world. The Protectors included followers of war deities Heironeous and Hextor, united in a lawful cause to keep the kingdom safe. Currently the order is scattered and in hiding in places like Ratik and among the Iron League.

Why join the Knight Protectors? Certainly to help reclaim the glory of old Aerdy from the hands of evil. To rebuild an order that is so dormant that their heraldry is no longer in use (crowned sun guarded by a white axe and red arrow). Being a Knight Protector these days is like King Richard returning from the crusades, you'll have to remain in disguise from your own countrymen until the time is right. It's a difficult road, but the Protectors has the biggest heroic payoff.

Second in the poll is a tie between the Knights of the Hart and the Knights of Luna (21%). The Knights of the Hart and the all-elf Knights of Luna share much in common but have their own issues as well. The Hart have three branches, the Knights of Furyondy, Veluna and the High Forest (all elves). These knights defend against the regional threats, primarily the Empire of Iuz to the north. This gives them common cause with other orders like Luna and the Knights of Holy Shielding, but heated rivalries among them (and neighboring nations) keep them from uniting fully. Luna is in an even worse position. Primarily serving the isolationist realm of Celene, this order is more focused on its closest threat the Pomarj even though they agree with their cousins in the Hart that Iuz is the biggest danger.

Why join either? The best reason for the Hart is they are open to anyone from commoner to noble if they possess the skills, bravery and loyalty to their respective nation. Velunan knights also count clerics among their numbers now and the High Forest naturally, likes those who are skilled in the woods (rangers). Luna is more reserved, usually accepting gray and high elves only, but they do take wizards where other knighthoods do not. Unfortunately, they are becoming more opposed to their queen who eschews problems outside their borders. The Luna do quest abroad but are required to tithe back Celene. On the upside, their leader is the renowned wizard-warrior Melf, Prince Brightflame.

Third in the poll is the Knights of the Watch (16%), who serve the Kingdom of Keoland and its satellite nations. The focus of the Watch is to guard against barbaric incursions from the west (Baklunish and giants) into the Sheldomar Valley. At one time this order (which arguably the largest population to draw from) had 600 members, more than all other orders combined! More recently the order has split into two branches, the regular Knights of the Watch and the Knights of the Dispatch which are more proactive in hunting threats.

Why join the Knights of the Watch? Well besides being easiest to gain entry, this order is good if you want a strong established morale code. Their Twelve and Seven Precepts fits well into many religions of the region from St. Cuthbert to Mayaheine or Pholtus. There is also ample room for promotion within the order, each having a more grandiose title than the next. If you are a ranger or rogue the Dispatch is also within reach since they are more into skirmish tactics than their Watch brethren.

Last in the poll is the holier than thou Knights of Holy Shielding (14%) of the troubled Shield Lands. This order was once mighty and proud, defending against simple threats in the north such as bandits and nomads. Since the rise of Iuz however, their numbers have been diminished and the order pushed out of their homeland, forced to rely on the hospitality of their old rivals the Knights of the Hart. Their War of Reclamation rages on to this day.

Why join the Knights of Holy Shielding? If you are a paladin or cleric of Heironeous there is no greater respect given by commoners than to this order. Other knighthoods and nobles might scoff at the arrogance of the Holy Shielding but they are not at the vanguard of evil every day. If you want a challenge of martial prowess then this order is for you. Given the results of the poll, many fans indeed cannot stomach this knighthood.

For additional knightly gaming inspiration, check out Joseph Bloch's 5E Cavalier.

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 Shielding 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.

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.

Update 06/22/2021: Updated links to wiki articles.