Well met, Greyhawkers! If you've reading Greyhawkery for a long time, congratulations, we made it to 2021! Those who are just discovering the blog, where have you been? You have a lot to catch up on! Check out my Best of Greyhawkery link at the top. Moving forward, my first post of this new year is the incredible sixteenth round of my ongoing Return of the Ring of Five Questions, a special community participation column. Search back in the previous posts to read the previous installments (Round 1-15). Who do I have featured today?
There have been many Greyhawk community friends, fans and authors to enter the Ring, but this round may top them all thus far. Please welcome the co-author of the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, and many many Greyhawk articles in Dragon, Oerth Journal and the Living Greyhawk Journal; the head-honcho of Greyhawk fan-site Canonfire! and an all-around fun guy to discuss lore with on Twitch, the master of death-knights, Gary Holian. Enough ego-boosting, let's see what Gary really thinks of Greyhawk. Enjoy!
Q1. What is your favorite realm or region in the World of Greyhawk setting?
Gary: So I always dread questions like this because they are like choosing between siblings or children, an impossible choice. I have many favorites, some of which I got to work on in the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, but if I was forced to choose just one, I would have to go with the Kingdom of Keoland. It's probably the realm that I got to put my biggest stamp on. For whatever reason, Gygax in the 1e campaign and Sargent in the 2e follow-up material, never substantively dealt with the area. The region, though the setting of many iconic modules, never got the full gazetteer treatment. I was the first to take it on. If WGR7 would have been the product code for the never printed Ivid the Undying, WGR8 might have been the product code for The Sheldomar Valley gazetteer (some day perhaps?)
As an avid fan of history it was fun to piece together all the strands from the original 83 Boxed Set through the Vecna Lives! module. Getting to add the Silent Ones from my campaign, explore a different model of government and its implications, putting the dread into the Dreadwood, and planting a bunch of hooks around the realm for further development was very cool.
Off to a good start! Gary is not kidding about his contribution to Greyhawk. Much of what we now take as common knowledge of the Sheldomar Valley post 1e-2e is from him (with much assistance from the OG Greytalk crowd I'm sure, that's all they seemed to talk about back then, lol). I agree that the trajectory of the WGR series should've been a printed Ivid then Sheldomar next (and then something Baklunish please?). It makes me wonder now, given what material I've seen him put out since 2000, would a WGR8 be as lengthy as Ivid? I'm sure Holian could've padded that page count! Moving on...
Q2. If you could actually be one Greyhawk deity which one would it be?
Gary: Another tough choice, but I think I would go with Zagyg. I was leaning towards his master, Boccob the Uncaring, but he doesn’t have as much fun as his servant the Mad Archmage. Zagyg probably knows where all the bodies in the multiverse are buried and most of its secrets. His project to capture the Nine Demigods might have been one of the biggest events in the history of the multiverse. He is also friends with numerous other important NPCs in the setting, so I figure I would have the most entertaining interactions of any god. You can mess with both the high and the low from Zagyg’s perch.
I've seen people in the Ring struggle between choosing to be humble quasi-deities, ascended mortal demigods or the loftier true gods. Gary too shoots for a happy middle, choosing Zagyg for his eccentricity (to put it nicely), his Greyhawk connections and his unique place in Flanaess history. You know based on those three things, above anyone I've known besides Gygax himself, I think Holian might actually BE Zagyg. Hmm.
Q3. You have one wish. Which Greyhawk module or accessory would you do over or fix?
Gary: Although there are some obvious choices, I think I would go with WG7 Castle Greyhawk. If that module had been done correctly, it would have never been necessary to do WGR1 and EttRoG wouldn’t have been needed either, except as a sequel. Greyhawk would have remained a legendary setting with an iconic dungeon, unmarred by spite or ridicule. It's a shame that Gary Gygax was never able to present his full Castle Greyhawk as a TSR/D&D product. I would have loved to just edit and polish it and let Gary do his thing. Of course, I have my own head-canon version of what the place was like, probably different from anything that has been published. But I think redo-ing WG7 would make right a great injustice to the setting.
A popular and obvious choice for any grognard fan of Greyhawk (and one who embodies the Castle's main resident). Side note, EttRoG is Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk, which is a mouthful and in my opinion short one word, "castle" because without that word it infers to me that the city is in ruins. I digress...Gary H is right that if Gary G had put out an official published castle in his vision, that would change a lot. I'd even go as far to say it would have opened up more of the setting to development since that dungeon would be "perfect" and TSR could've concentrated their time on stuff like oh I dunno Ivid the Undying or the Sheldomar Valley? Who knows? Maybe then people like Holian or Erik Mona would have never needed to step up and fix/justify the broken pieces of Greyhawk lore. Wishes can be tricky! Living in the present reality though, re-doing WG7 is definitely a high priority on most fans lists.
Q4: You're putting together an all-star Greyhawk NPC group. Who is your number one pick?
Gary: Hmmm, I had to give this one some thought, as there are so many strong choices. But I will have to go with my first choice from the 80s. Kelanen the Sword Lord, was my favorite character from the 1983 Guide. He’s a grizzled anti-hero who loves swords and can control them (always bring an alternative to a bladed weapon against Kelanen). He carries a pair of intelligent ones with amazing powers. He loves to walk the roads of Oerth, looking for battles to join, like some unquenchable mercenary. He takes on all-comers. What’s not to like?
Hah, I know Gary took his time writing all his responses, because he never does anything quickly. That's why his entry to the Ring is monumental to my blog. Kelanen is indeed a strong choice when talking about an NPC group, one that I could definitely get excited over (I went with Iggwilv sadly). Kelanen is one of those hero-gods that is suppose to make player jealous and envious. He is the ultimate warrior with any blade, but just to show off he has two magic swords and just in case your players have an intelligent weapon, well Kel has two. He also has his own demi-plane (I wonder if he got it from Zagyg?). You can't one up him. Pick Kelanen first for your team and everyone else after that, even archmages, is bonus, however the Sword Lord is a loner, so beware. At any rate, good job Gary, one more Q to go...
Q5. If you could possess one artifact or relic from Greyhawk lore, which would it be?
Gary: I think hands down, the most powerful artifact in the setting would be the Throne of the Gods. However, while it appeared in the 1e DMG and Eldritch Wizardry, it was never placed in Greyhawk in canon (perhaps an opportunity for an enterprising DM?). It's a very classical style artifact. The Greek deities had power thrones and so did the Hebrew god of the bible. The idea that a mortal can sit on such a throne and wield powers akin to a god is kind of cool. But in the D&D sense, it's more a wish fulfillment mechanism. You don’t become a god, but you get to ask for their boon. But if you are foolish, you can also get punished or cursed (choose wisely as the paladin in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade would say). It's the greatest prize of the Seekers (also an allusion to the archaeologist-type in my campaign). It’s a Holy Grail and Ark of the Covenant level of artifact. It's supposed to be carved inside of a great mountain, so I am thinking the Crystalmists, Yatils, or Griffs are the main candidates. But I think the Crystalmists have the leg up on the others. But the idea that it moves every time it is discovered is a cool one.
Well, well, well. In all honesty, I could have easily guessed all of Gary's answers but the last one! I think I would've guessed the Regalia (orb, crown, scepter, but what alignment?) knowing his secondary interest in things like Saint Kargoth and the death knights. I was wrong, the Throne of Gods makes sense for Gary. His explanation is compelling. Indeed, his suggested placement for the Throne in the Crystalmists puts it close to his cherished Sheldomar Valley. It's definitely an item that Zagig Yragerne would've sought in the heyday of Castle Greyhawk while seeking answers to immortality. It's also a fabulous treasure that I'm sure Kelanen would lead a quest to find, but in the end, would personally turn down using. He of course would make sure that if his employer, an eccentric mad archmage used it instead, then the Balance will be kept. With extreme prejudice!
Whew! Thanks again to Gary Holian, my friend, co-conspirator and sometimes heckler of all things Greyhawk for many years and hopefully many more to come. Keep an eye on Canonfire, Gary has more in store for the community, you shall see!