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.


Joe said...

I really enjoy reading these articles. They're always a treat when they show up in my feed.

Mike Bridges said...

Joe: Thanks for the comment, I'll try to keep your feed entertaining!

Anne said...

Ooooh as a newbie to Greyhawk, I didn't know Pazuzu was also known as Pazrael. I was looking for a cool demon antagonist and I think I found one! Thank you!

Mike Bridges said...

Anne: You're welcome! Happy demonizing!

David Leonard said...

Shouldn't Pazuzu and his ilk have all been banished in the Flight of Fiends?
Which leads me to ponder whether any elemental and ethereal influences ought to have been handed their hat at the same time.