Monday, March 8, 2021

2E Greyhawk Campaign: The High Ring

Welcome again Greyhawkers! For those who have been following the blog for a long time, you will know I've been digging through my old DM notes and posting material from my long-lasting "silver age" 2nd edition Greyhawk campaign. So far there has been maps, barbarians, magic swords, and many, many wars, all for a campaign that ran in game-time from 576 CY to 638 CY. It was sometime after 629 CY, when Iuz was finally defeated by the forces of good, that I needed a new antagonist for my players. In this post-war phase of my 2E campaign I introduced an idea so radical that it ended up more reviled than the Slave Lords, Vecna, or even Iuz. This brand new power group was called the High Ring, and it would end up backfiring against me spectacularly. Let me explain:

"MAGOCRACY - Government of professional magic-users only."
-Gary Gygax, AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide

The High Ring (a play on the "Circle" of Eight) was an organization of mainly high level wizards, but also consisting of spellcasters including clerics, bards, sages, hedge mages, etc. The idea was that Greyhawk's archmagi tended to drive a lot of events from the shadows, and now that the Flanaess had warred itself to pieces, only their enlightened rule would be able to bring peace. It was essentially an idea that formed out of why Rary would turn traitor during the Greyhawk Wars peace signing. Did he think he could do things better than the world's monarchs? Of course, Rary's a super-genius after all! I'm not exactly sure what the Circle of Eight was up to during this period. They may have been disbanded or dead (usually), but needless to say Mordenkainen, Tenser and the rest aren't involved in this plot, so Rary would need some co-conspirators...

The Triumvirate of the High Ring:

Rary, Archmage of the Bright Lands (W23)
Prince Lakaster of House Garasteth, Winetha (W19)
Kieren Jalucian, Guildmaster of Wizards, City of Greyhawk (W18)

Lakaster and his wizardly council had kept Winetha from being decimated during my many wars in the Great Kingdom. Naturally he would be power hungry enough to join Rary. Jalucian was already in a prominent position of power over mages as well. He never seemed to have aspirations outside Greyhawk though, so I believe Jalucian was influenced by an alignment changing curse. Using their power and influence, the High Ring began a campaign of cultural change, starting in cities of higher learning, then quickly spreading out from there to every nation that wasn't inhabited by barbarians or nomads. By the end of the decade the High Ring was effectively in charge of half the Flanaess, without ever starting a war. This ticked off my players and their characters. They helped defeat Iuz, Ivid, and so forth, then these bookworms came in and stole their thunder. Oh, but it got worse for the PCs. What was the High Ring's platform?

The High Ring stands for:
· Higher learning for those with the potential.
· Those of superior intellect should govern, not just advise. The arts of magic can bring greatest prosperity to warring fiefdoms.
· The pursuit of one’s field of choice to its fullest, under the direction of the High Ring as so to protect their interests.
· Control of the over-abundance of magic items, and spells in the hands of uneducated and reckless people.
· Control of the crafting, trade, and discovery of magic items, and spells.
· Tolerance of priesthoods that are productive, or promote education, and healing. Opposed to warlike, destructive, or evil natured religions.
· Establishment of a social class system, where the common populace will never go hungry, be unemployed, or need to resort to thievery. (those in the upper echelon of the High Ring replace the nobility, who become part of the lower upper class)

The key part here is that my long-running 2E campaign had a TON of magic items and spells (Monty Haul perhaps) thanks in no small part to Greyhawk Ruins, and the City of Greyhawk magic item trade, so now that the PCs were of a level to make their own magic items and custom spells, the DM had lost control. Enter the High Ring. Nothing offends players more than taking away their hard earned magic items. The High Ring instantly became a thorn in their side, and like any good illuminati, they were everywhere.

Membership to the High Ring: The Triumvirate grew successive layers of associated circles by aggressively recruiting every named NPC I could find. Naturally the PCs abstained from this organization sensing something amiss, so the HR claimed the right to censor “freelance” mages as well. It was a wizards guild on steroids. Initially the High Ring opened a few new magic colleges (of my own creation):

· High College, Lopolla
· Scarlet School, Ilshar City (Hesuel Ilshar)
· Brass Hills Tutorium, Bright Lands

Soon, other long-established wizard colleges joined the High Ring (I'm sure I invented half of these colleges by the way):

· Grey League, Dyvers
· University of Magical Arts, Greyhawk
· Collegium of Winetha
· Sagacious Society, Rel Mord
· Blue Tower of Sorcery, Radigast City
· Academy of the Magi, Ekbir
· Institute of Wizardry, Niole Dra

Members received special benefits from any college in the High Ring network. Their influence would extend into any sort of establishment of learning, libraries, sage guilds, bard schools, etc. I can only assume fringe groups like the Seekers or the Silent Ones were absorbed as well. With a continental monopoly over knowledge, the High Ring began to use leverage on local rulers who desperately need their services. Yes, even lowly potion makers suddenly were in high demand. At first the HR mages were the usual tutors, or advisers, then became mayors, council members, and even commanders in armies. Eventually, in an overt play for power, the Triumvirate would force every monarchy to abdicate power to the High Ring, in return for concessions like keeping their gold and palaces. The dominoes began falling fast, because the High Ring had all the magic and were smarter than every one else. Those with magic that were untrustworthy (ahem, the PCs) were harassed and hunted.

The High Ring of course was taken down once the PCs started meddling in the Triumvirate's secret affairs (another story entirely). Sadly, this was at the end of our 2E campaign, and we would soon reboot our campaign with the advent of 3E. The point of this post however, is that my friends hated the High Ring SO MUCH, they got revenge on me years later... 

Fast forward, our 3rd edition campaign is highly successful and has been going on for years without slowing down. I'm running multiple groups on different nights, because we have more players, and there is an insatiable desire to keep playing and get to higher levels. This would culminate into our Epic Greyhawk campaign. Since most of the principle player characters were now above 20th level, they could do whatever they pleased. One goal they all agreed on was that Iuz had to go. I hadn't ran a good war since 2E, so I was on board with this idea. We ran an all day event, of mass combats, daring raids, double-crosses, and an all-out epic battle against the Old One himself. Once the PCs triumphed over the greatest evil in the Flanaess, they sprung their revenge on me...

Yes! My players presented to me a seven page manifesto outlining the organization THEY were starting, the HIGH RING. It wasn't a coincidence, it was the same themed power group I created years prior, but in even more detail and it was now under their control. This time their characters were the highest level on Oerth, so who could stop them? Not the Circle of Eight, not Rary, or any of those guys. At any rate, my favorite part was the official signatures of their characters at the end of the document:

Yes indeed, they beat me to the punch. However, it never occurred to me to bring the High Ring back a second time, that would've been too cruel, but there we go. The Flanaess was brought under peaceful High Ring rule once again, freeing the epic PCs to seek greater power, and even higher levels in the outer planes. That's when they got REAL greedy and it led to their undoing. But that's a tale for another day.

1 comment:

Jay S said...

Talk about turnabout being fair play!