Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Greyhawkery Pause


Welcome back Greyfolk, and thank you for continuing to read Greyhawkery. This post is a short announcement that I'm hitting the pause button for March leading into Gary Con 2023. Maybe interacting with some of my favorite people in the community will inspire me to do some new content. I'll still be chatting Greyhawk Wednesdays on Legends & Lore stream and gaming 1d3 times a week. While you are waiting for me to write something clever, please check out some of my friends' Greyhawk blogs:

David Leonard's Greyhawk Musings

Joe Bloch's Greyhawk Grognard

Thomas Kelly's Greyhawk Stories

Fantasy Maps by Anna Meyer

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Extra-Planar Influences on Greyhawk

Welcome again Greyhawk fans! Over on Legends & Lore stream we were discussing how examples of extra-planar influences on the World of Greyhawk setting are abundant and often drive Oerth's history, pre-history, and current timeline meta-plots. By extra-planar we mean the inner (elemental), outer (heaven and hell) or in-between places (ethereal, astral). Whatever arrangement of D&D cosmology you follow, it's true that archdevils, demon-princes, archomentals, and other entities are always either directly involved or a step removed from the action in published material. For instance, the Temple of Elemental Evil famously involves both elemental and demonic influences, and the demiplane of dread, Ravenloft within the deep ethereal has netted a few Greyhawk denizens in the past. I had a couple leftover examples to share, so let's have a look: 

One of my favorite overlooked examples is from the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer. In the section on the Plains of the Paynims it related a story of how a marid (genies from the Elemental Plane of Water) influenced the future of the whole Baklunish West.

"The first group of traders to make a complete circuit of the Paynims lands returned to Zeif with little material wealth, but possessing a great store of information. The mighty works and monuments of the empire were gone, except for scattered, fragmentary ruins. Only the stone circles of Tovag Baragu stood unmarred, by the waters of Lake Udrukankar. Within the lake itself, the Shah of the Waters appeared and asked the merchants for the name of the new emperor. At first they made no response, but finally they gave the name of the sultan rather than earn the ire of the mighty marid of Udrukankar. They reported that the marid granted his blessing t the great sultan and departed.

The Paynims remember the tale differently, saying that the marid shah gave, in addition to his blessing, a rare and legendary jacinth. It would identify the sultan as the heir to the imperial Baklunish line. Had the sultan returned with it to Udrukankar, the Paynims allege, he would have become the new emperor and founder of the 12th Dynasty of the Baklunish. Yet, only merchants returned in the years that followed, for the jacinth was lost and with it the imperial inheritance." 

The Baklunish have a history of dealing with the elemental planes. The culture is patterned in part off Arabian Nights tales where genie-kind have a hand in affairs. Here, a marid who rules over the only remaining body of water in the old empire has set a test on the sultan to verify his inheritance to the throne. Yet Istus intervenes and the jacinth is lost. As an aside, I can't fathom that the author didn't intend for this "jacinth" to be anything other than the Jacinth of Inestimable Beauty from AD&D artifact lore. As quests go, having the sultan hire PCs to find this particular jacinth so he can claim rulership of the entire west is a huge meta-plot. Thank the marids for that one.

Greyhawk is well known for its overuse of demons. The lower planes are constantly influencing events in the Flanaess be it Graz'zt and Iggwilv bringing Iuz into the world, or Demogorgon creating the Death Knights and thus wrecking what nobility was left in the Great Kingdom. One of my favorite demon-princes is Pazrael (aka Pazuzu from MM2). According to Iuz the Evil, he has a lot going on:

"Pazrael has an alliance with Iuz for several reasons. First, he is wary of Graz'zt and feels Graz'zt may have designs on his Abyssal plane, so one way of keeping tabs on what Graz'zt is doing is by having his own fiends in Iuz's domain. Second, his nabassu grow strong marauding within Iuz's realm. Third, Pazrael has a long term goal of supplanting Iuz on (Oerth), a goal he realizes will take decades to achieve..."

But that's not all this avian demon-prince is up to in the Flanaess...

"Duke Szeffrin, ruler of the Almorian lands, is the other main power player with a firm alliance with a fiend of great power. The Abyssal Lord Pazrael lends strength and magic to Szeffrin. Plus, tanar-ri (demons) in his service us the gate at Onyxgate to enter Prime Material Plane. What Pazrael is doing in Szeffrin's domain is simple, his is testing magical strength on a scale which he doesn't want to offer to Iuz. Pazrael wants to see how his most mighty magics work in Almor, to "field test" them for the day when he can act against Iuz."

That double-dealing Pazrael! He's a true prince of demons. Even though in later publications the Crook of Rao and the Flight of Fiends kind of ruins this meta-plot, think of the implications if Pazrael's plans do go ahead as planned. If heroes learn of Pazrael's scheme, do they stop him and thus aid Iuz or do they inadvertently help a demon lord to eventually replace the demigod of evil? Outside a few Greater Boneheart NPCs I don't know who else has the power and resources to seriously fill a void left by Iuz. It's an epic level plot for DMs to consider.

Using extra-planar driven villains and plots in Greyhawk tends to be a high-level affair. However, what is more fantastic and magical than bringing in bizarre encounters from these alien places. Next time you use faeries, or shadow dragons, or astral born githyanki in your campaign, consider for a second what their reason for being on Oerth might be, it could lead to even more adventure.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Greyhawk: Let's Fight Iuz

Welcome Greyhawkers to another rousing edition of Let's Fight... Previous installments like the bone-breaking encounter with Ulaa. can be read in the Best of Greyhawkery page. 
To recap how this column works: in the old days of AD&D, PCs could potentially take on gods (despite what later authors say about gods staying off Oerth). The 1E Deities & Demigods was first to give stats and rules on the powers of immortals, later referred to as avatars in the Greyhawk Adventures sourcebook which gave players a better chance to somehow prevail over a deity in combat. Iuz (aka The Old One) is a different case in that he physically lives ON Oerth so any heroes trying to put an end to his evil reign will inevitably have to fight him, right? Luckily for DMs Iuz is one of the deities in the World of Greyhawk boxed set that was given stats. He was later updated with 3.5E stats in Dragon #294, but for purposes of this post I'll stick with the old school stat block. Enough talk let's examine how much damage the demigod of pain can inflict in battle. Enjoy!

Caveat #1: Iuz the Evil rules an entire domain in the Flanaess (think Sauron in LotR), thus depending on when you fight him it could be a small country (576 CY) all the way to an extensive empire (591 CY). Between his priesthood, his high-level Boneheart henchmen, his humanoid and undead armies, and countless summoned demons from his palace in Dorakaa, Iuz has what seems like an inexhaustible barrier of fanatic defenders around him. Fortunately, this chaotic evil demigod is sadistically vindictive and likes to get his own hands dirty from time to time. I mean, Iuz has previously tangled with powerful foes like Zagyg, St. Cuthbert and Vecna before so, for this exercise we can assume the PCs have made it to the final boss and will fight only Iuz. For the time being...

Caveat #2: (Also Possible Spoiler) The mysterious Soul Husks in the Howling Hills. Do they hold the secret to the Old One's divinity? Would destroying those husks in advance weaken Iuz or possibly just kill him outright making this whole fight unnecessary?  For this reason, let's say the PCs don't have access to the Soul Husks.

Caveat #3: Cause I like to throw in special conditions. In the Glossography, Iuz is listed as a Cleric 16 and Assassin 16. Assassins in 1E are a variant thief class in this edition and have the ability to "assassinate" (of course) and do thievely stuff like sneak around (as a 14th level thief). So again, for this exercise we will also assume Iuz, the demigod of deception, is ambushing the PCs to start this battle...

1. Assassination/Poison Use: As if his (99%) move silently and measly (93%) hide in shadows isn't enough, Iuz can cast Invisibility to open up the festivities. Since he can backstab, the first unlucky PC to be attacked will likely take x5 damage, plus poison (pick your poison), PLUS possible instant death from the Assassination Table (pg75 1E DMG). According to this chart, Iuz 100% insta-kills any character HD 0-7, but even if Mordenkainen is on the PC's team, there is a 30% chance Iuz can insta-kill an 18+ level character. 1E is brutal.

2. Iuz's Forms. Congrats, the PCs were surprised, and one of their party is probably toast, but now they have won the initiative on round one. The Old One appears either as a 7-foot tall cambion demon with long talon fingers, or a 5-foot tall elderly man with talon fingers. In either form he has 165 hit points (in 3.5E he has 760 hp, hah). This is a significant amount in 1E terms. For comparison, Hextor has 200 hp and Heiroenous has 217, and they are lesser war gods!

3. Defenses. The Old One can only be hit by +1 or better magic items. This should be a given, no player is going to tangle with a demigod with ordinary weapons. When the front-line PCs move into melee, they will find Iuz has a -4 AC but -8 AC with his magical Cape of Protection. This Cape also gives him a whopping 65% magic resistance! But wait, there is more!

4. Precast spells? Of course, foolish mortals! Iuz is a Cleric 16, has an 18 INT and 20 WIS. He could conceivably have any number of pre-cast spells (Mirror Image is one he can do at will), but he needs just one. As a demigod Iuz can cast Anti-Magic Shell a barrier which moves with him. What the shell does is make him 100% impervious to magic as well as breath weapons, gaze and voice-attacks. Worse yet, all magic is suppressed in his 16' diameter shell. This means all those +1 or higher weapons are now ordinary swords when the PCs rush in for melee. Oops. 

5. Ranged spells. Maybe the PCs hang back and assess their situation. At range, as a demigod, Iuz can cast Finger of Death spells pretty much at will. Save or death effect. One hero a time. If Iuz used any other spells at range, he would be toying with the PCs.

6. Melee, Hand-to-Hand versus Two-handed Sword: Okay the PCs have committed to fighting him up close cause at range he is just picking them off. Here is where Iuz gets true shock value. In half-demon form he can choose to go toe to toe with his great +3 sword doing a scary +12 damage, but he only gets one attack per round. Yawn. The old man form on the other hand can attack with two bony hands doing 11-14 damage each. Furthermore, whoever he hits with his hands is now being strangled! That victim will DIE in 1d4+1 rounds unless freed. Mind you, he has a 21 Strength. Additionally, while the Old One is squeezing the life out of a poor hero, and his allies hopelessly stab at him with dispelled weapons, he can once per round "expectorate" on the poor adventurer like the Exorcist. This nasty spittle ages the person 1-6 YEARS and the body part struck withers becoming useless, no save! (gross yes, but 1E does not mess around) If any heroes make it out of this fight alive, they may well have a limp and full beard.
7. Mobility. Iuz is just your average medium-sized creature when it comes to moving around. As a demigod however, he could conveniently Levitate at will making this fight a ranged massacre, unless the heroes can fly. Or to be really annoying, Iuz like all deities in 1E can just teleport without error. He can zip around the field attacking from above, behind, four rounds later, etc. Theoretically he might be able to strangle a helpless PC and teleport them both over White Plume Mountain and let go. But I digress...

8. Healing. The demigod of evil is light on healing as you'd expect. Though he should really only need one spell, Heal, which he can use once a day to recover all his lost hit points shy of d4. That would be a true kick in the butt for any party that thinks they have the Old One on the ropes.

9. Summon and Gate in Allies. Okay suppose Iuz underestimated the heroes; they are a Monty-Haul bunch with all the experience and tricks in the AD&D book. Iuz is no fool so he calls in help like any good deity would. Once per day each he can cast Summon and Gate spells. He can only summon one or two chaotic evil creatures, but the total can be 20 HD worth. Not too shabby! With the Gate spell however the Old One can draw in demonic aid that he is so well known for doing. My money is on him asking his BFF Zuggtmoy the Demon-Queen of Fungi to save his hide. He will owe her a favor after that spell. She has AD&D stats in the Temple of Elemental Evil by the way.

10. Psionics?! This is optional, but in 1E a lot of your deities and quasi-deities have psionics in their stat blocks. I personally never used them, but the rules are there in the PHB/DMG and aren't overly complicated. Iuz the Evil is listed as type III which means he has three minor and two major psionic powers. He also has all psionic defense/attack modes in the book. Like Psionic Blast, Id Insinuation, Ego Whip. Really? I don't need to explain any of these powers because they are redundant at best. Iuz is already terrifically hard to defeat, giving him psionic powers would be another way for the DM to tease the players. Unless the heroes have a psionic character in their group, this would be no contest.

11. Finish Him! Lastly, Iuz has his "soul object" safe-guarded on another plane of existence. This means defeating Iuz while a long shot, is possible, since he has this contingency in place. He will however keep coming back, and remember, Iuz is vindictive. Take heart adventurers! Whatever game system or timeline you play, Iuz can be brought down permanently, but to succeed it will require a few quests in advance to weaken his resources and powers, rather than confronting him directly.