Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Aerial Items of Greyhawk

Welcome again Greyhawk enthusiasts! I recently had a fun discussion on Legends & Lore stream about aerial related things in Greyhawk (or D&D in general). After talking about cloud castles, playable flying races and our rules preferences for flight, I had some left-over material about magic items related to flying. Let's have a look. Enjoy!

Wings of Flying (DMG) The prototypical D&D flying magic item. This cape flies for a couple hours per day and can carry 500 lbs weight!

Wings of the Rakers (Greyhawk Adventure) This is one of the first items I think of when it comes to flight thanks to the good ol' Greyhawk Adventures hardback source book. This white cloak was made by a wizard who was friends of the aarakocra of the Rakers. It acts like normal wings of flying, except the wearer appears to have sea gull wings. The Wings also allow the user to speak and understand aarakocra language and to dive attack like a member of that race. Love that flavor!

Winged Boots (Unearthed Arcana) This item was always a player favorite in my campaigns. Little wings sprout from your heel (kind of like Hermes) and they impart the ability to fly for 2 hrs without concentration. They come in four different speed and maneuverability types as well.

Cloak of the Bat (Unearthed Arcana) Another fun piece of apparel. This one works in darkness making the wearer virtually invisible and allows you to hang upside down like a bat! In darkness the wearer can fly of course or polymorph into a regular bat! This makes a pretty good villain item and can trick players into thinking they're a vampire!

Cloak of the Couatl (The Scarlet Brotherhood) A bat not good enough for you? Okay try this feathered cloak from Hepmonaland and Amedio. Wings spread out from the wearer and allow flight for two hours. The cloak also can make its wearer invisible while flying but it cuts the time in half. Now if this cloak turned its owner into a couatl it'd be amazing, but alas it's not that powerful.

Gargoyle Cloak (Temple of Elemental Evil) I guess while I'm talking about cloaks that give the user flight, I'll mention this one. This time the cloak does polymorph the wearer. As a gargoyle, the wearer has all the abilities of this creature, including flight, but each turn (10 minute) there is a cumulative chance your mind is permanently changed into a gargoyle's. Not cool!

Broom of Flying (DMG) Back in the day, I would have never handed one of these out in my games. However, since the popularity of Harry Potter, I'm rethinking this item's usefulness. It allows unlimited fly power. Carries just 200 lbs though, so yeah not for the armored fighter. Neat part is you can call it to your hand from 300 yds out. That could lead to some fun escape scenarios!

Book of the Griffon (From the Ashes) This magic tome is intentionally left for the DM to tailor for their campaign, but its suggested powers are: summon a group of "magical" griffons once a day. Charm natural griffons, plus spells of flight, elemental air and magical mounts. The book has a price tag of 60,000+ gp so this is a nice diamond in the rough.

Ring of the Wind Dukes (Dungeon #129) This ring comes from the Age of Worms adventure A Gathering of Winds. As expected, this ring belonged to one of the Wind Dukes of Aaqa from Greyhawk prehistory. Among its aerial powers are an immunity to strong winds and the ability to charm monster on Air subtype creatures, so it opens the possibility of riding an aerial mount. Its other offensive powers make this nearly artifact level in rarity. Check out this issue!

Ring of Elemental Metamorphosis (Tome of Magic) Hey speaking of wind themed rings, this item (in our case Air type) can polymorph the wearer into an elemental once a day. As you would expect the wearer gets the form and physical abilities and defenses of an air elemental (so flight). It doesn't screw with the wearer's mind luckily!

Ring of Elemental Command (DMG) Possibly better than the previous rings, the Air subtype here has loads of powers. Among them is communication with elementals, the fly spell, invisibility and control winds

Flying Carpets (DMG) Probably my favorite aerial themed magic item of all time. I mean who didn't grow up with stories of Aladdin on his flying carpet? In Greyhawk, Mordy and company ride one in Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure. In the DMG, they come in four various sizes and speeds. The smaller the carpet, the faster it is, but it also carries less weight. For a fun idea, I once created a flying carpet that also teleported randomly when fed expensive gems.  

Ebony Fly (DMG) Figurines of Wondrous Power are classic magic items. The ebony fly however is one I don't think I ever used. It grows to the size of a pony, flies for 12 hours straight and can carry up to 350 lbs. Seeing a hero riding on a giant house fly would be quite a sight! 

Bronze Griffon (3.0 DMG) This is a new type of figurine found in 3rd edition. Naturally it grows into a magical griffon that can be rode for 6 hours at a time, twice a week.

Saddle of Flying (Tome of Magic) Okay I knew this item had to exist and I finally found it. When secured to a horse, this saddle causes the mount to sprout wings and the ability to fly at its normal movement rate for one hour per day. Not bad if you're a paladin or cavalier who wants to ride a cheap Pegasus into combat!

Coruskian Stone (Greyhawk Adventures) Another hidden gem from GHA. This greenish stone set in a gold necklace gives the wearer the ability to charm griffons into being aerial mounts. The stone however does not impart any special skill in riding griffons, so combat will be dicey. 

Headband of the Corusk Mountains (Greyhawk Adventures) Okay one more from GHA, this one is even better. There is something about the Thillonrian Peninsula that screams the need for flying items, I guess. This headband is fun, because it's made from the skull of a white dragon! Its purpose is to charm white dragons into being a mount and yes, the item imparts the ability to ride aerial creatures.  What's more, the headband makes the wearer immune to cold attacks. Very cool!

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Greyhawk Map Definitions

Welcome back Greyhawkers! If you've spent as much time as I have staring at the Darlene map of the Flanaess then you'll understand that you start to question the meaning and origins of every damn label Gygax used for his geography and towns. Sure, we know a ton of them are anagrams or homages of family and friends, or are using French, German or Latin words, but the ones that are left over still sometimes need defined to fully understand them. Gygax after-all was a wordsmith who was fond of using archaic English vocabulary in his Greyhawk works (often for NPC names). Let's explore some words from the map, see which ones you know already, and if you have any clarifications, please put them in the comments. Enjoy! 

(Plains of the Paynims) paynim: (noun) "heathen; pagan" I always assumed this was a reference to nomads or something Arabic adjacent. What I failed to understand all these years is that paynim is a real-world derogatory name (albeit an archaic term). From the meta-perspective of the World of Greyhawk Guide's author, yes, the men of the plains would be heathens or pagans compared to the Flanaess' cultures. This term of course fits in on a pulpy map that also lists barbarians, nomads, and savages. I can now only assume the peoples of the Baklunish West would have a different name for this region! 

(Lake Quag, Quag Keep)
quag(mire): (noun) "soft miry land that shakes or yields under the foot; a difficult, precarious, or entrapping position."
 I always knew Quag was a root of quagmire. I think the first time I heard the word was in reference to a war you cannot get out of once started. I wonder if Gygax envisioned Lake Quag as some place that is dangerous then? It doesn't seem especially bad, like it may freeze over but that's far from what you'd expect in a quagmire situation.  

(town of Shiboleth) shibboleth: (noun) "a word or saying used by adherents of a party, sect, or belief and usually regarded by others as empty of real meaning; a truism or platitude; a custom or usage regarded as distinguishing one group from others." I got to admit I've never seen this word used in general conversation only in writing, maybe it's one of these antiquated Gygaxian words. What is interesting though, is that the town of Shiboleth (one "b" less) is in Gran March, a (religious) militant state. So that choice of word is on the mark!  

(Spindrift Isles) spindrift: (noun) "sea spray; fine wind-borne snow or sand" This is a word I didn't know the definition of until I wrote this article and is what started me down this dictionary rabbit hole in the first place! Now I have never spent time on the sea, the desert or in the arctic, so it's new to me, but maybe this is a commonly used term? In any case, kudos to Gygax for naming an island chain with such an appropriately descriptor. It is amusing to me though, that he could have just as easily called the Bright Desert the Spindrift Desert and this entry would be unchanged!

(Gamboge Forest) gamboge (noun) "a strong yellow; an orange to brown gum resin from southeast Asian trees of the Saint-John's wort family that is used as a yellow pigment and cathartic." 

(Celadon Forest) celadon (noun) "a grayish-yellow green; a ceramic glaze originated in China that is greenish in color."
A two-for-one on this entry. I covered both these words in a previous article on Colorful Places of Greyhawk. Gygax uses A LOT of colors in his naming schemes. These two rare words however eluded my consciousness for many years before I started blogging. Celadon makes sense for a forest descriptor, whereas gamboge perhaps is referring to the forest's changing leaves during the autumn season.

(Woolly Bay) woolly (adjective) "consisting of wool; like the rough, vigorous atmosphere of the early West in America." This is one of my favorite choices of Gygax's. And I don't think this is about woolly mammoths or wool sweaters. Here we literally have "wild and woolly" labelled side by side on the map. Gary likely envisioned the Wild Coast and Woolly Bay as his medieval fantasy version of the Wild West. He even gave us the gunslinging paladin Murlynd after all (have gun will travel). 

(town of Knurl) knurl (noun) "a small protuberance or knob; one of a series of small ridges on a metal surface to aid in gripping." Coincidence or clever Gygaxian naming for this town? I don't know much lore about Knurl, but maybe the town is built on a hill? It is kinda at the tip of the Blemu Hills I think.

(Suss Forest) suss (verb) "to inspect or investigate so as to gain more knowledge." This one I knew about, but it's still weird to my ears, like yes, we do need to investigate this evil woodland more. No, what I think is actually happening in this case is Gygax used a root of the word of susurrus "a whispering or rustling sound." Now that sounds like a cooler reason to name an evil forest.

(Gnarley Forest) gnarly (adjective) "twisted with or as if with gnarls or knots; distasteful or distressing, gross." Everyone's favorite forest (an added "e" for variation) is an aptly described place that gives you an immediate mental image of being old, dense and twisted. If you grew up in the 80's however the latter definition certainly made this forest into a running joke. Good times.

(Welkwood) welk (verb) "to lose freshness or greenness, dry up; to become less." This one I'm not totally sure about but again, Gygax is known for using obsolete words in Greyhawk. Welk can be a synonym for fade, wilt or wane. This definition doesn't evoke the image of a lush sylvan forest though, unless it is already in decline from ancient times. Another thought with the benefit of hindsight, I'd speculate that the "Suss and Welk" forest names should be swapped. One other possibility, Gygax was a fan of Lawrence Welk? Shrug!

(Nutherwood) nuther (conjunction, pronoun or adjective) "not either; not the one or the other of two or more." This one is a stretch so bear with me. According to the internet, (which is always right) nuther is a dialectal variant of the word neither. So, taken in context of the Flanaess on the opposite side of the river is the ghostly Phostwood and the locals are calling this side "Neitherwood" meaning this is also not a place you should enter. My other suspicion is that "nuther" is a play on "nether" implying this woodland is some kind of otherworldly place of the dead. Now that seems more fitting for a fantasy setting! 

(Flotsom Isle)
flotsam (noun) "floating wreckage or a ship or its cargo; a floating population (emigrants/castaways); miscellaneous or unimportant material." 

(Jetsom Isle) jetsam (noun) "the part of a ship, its equipment, or its cargo that is cast overboard to lighten the load in time of distress and that sinks or is washed ashore." 
I have another two for one entry. You know I gotta mention these two words because they're part of the Hold of the Sea Princes. Not kidding, I went many, many years before I knew the definition of flotsam and jetsam. Jetsam kinda sounds like jettison, which has to share the same root meaning. Also, I guess Gygax used a variation of the spelling, "flotsom and jetsom" cause fantasy world, right? Whatever the spelling or meaning, these islands are perfectly named for their location, a high seas haven for buccaneers.

(Griff Mountains) griff (noun) "a deep narrow glen or ravine; news or reliable information." I'm uncertain about this one as well. I see this word is a dialectal variant, or a slang English word. It's most likely just the shortened version of the mythical creature griffon (griffin) of course. This is D&D after all. Still, calling a mountain range griff because of its numerous glens and ravines doesn't seem all that implausible. 
(town of Glot) -glot (adjective combining form) "having knowledge of or using languages." This last word I enjoyed more than I thought I would. Polyglot is a word I've always known, and glottal and glottis refer to vocal cords. So here we have the capital of the Cruskii, did Gygax intend Glot to be monosyllabic because they are barbarians? Maybe it's a clever inference that the Ice Barbarians are multilingual, or good at war cries, I don't know! Or maybe I give Gygax too much credit in naming the Flanaess, and Glot is just four random letters. That's all I got for now! If anyone has a cool obscure map word definition, let me know! 

Friday, September 15, 2023

Expressions in the Land of Ull

Well met, Greyhawkers! One of my absolute favorite Greyhawk source books is Anne Brown's Players Guide to Greyhawk from the 2E era. Among the many useful tidbits of Greyhawk lore and info on how to make a character set in the Flanaess, there is a section on expressions and sayings. This kind of stuff is a delight because it adds spice to your roleplay, further adding to the immersion of the setting. By now most of you have heard gems like "I Spit on the Old One", "Cold Iron Avail You", or "May the Axe Grow Great." Well in this post I am going to attempt to add to this cultural exchange with some custom expressions from the frontier land of Ull. Keep in mind Grey-scholars, these sayings are translated from the original Ulagha dialect of Ancient Baklunish, so the actual wording may or may not be accurate. Until the Starbreak!

"Yoll, Yoll, Yoll!" This is an ancient battle cry used by Uli warriors, predating their occupation of the Oeridian lands. It was most famously yelled by the united forces of Ull when it turned back the invading Brazen Horde at the Battle of Ulakand in 308 CY. Over time however, this specific expression has fallen out of popular use by the many khanates of Ull who have developed their own local battle cries. Only the small warband called the Wild Men still cling to this expression as they harass travelers passing though Ohkir Khanate. Note: this expression originally comes from Gary Gygax's novel Sea of Death, where for copyright reasons the land of Ull was renamed Yoll.

"I'd sooner go to Kester." The derision felt between the traditional northern nomadic clans of Ull, and their corruptible southern kin is no more evident than in this familiar saying which has now spread across the neighboring plains and steppes. Kester's reputation for danger and depravity lends itself well to this forceful rejection of an obviously perilous request. Example: "You want to go in the Tomb of Horrors? I'd sooner go to Kester!"

"The arrow has been loosed." Variations of this idiom are found throughout Eastern Oerik. In Ull, it is commonly asserted that once an arrow is launched there is no changing its course. To put plainly, it refers to a decision that is made which cannot be taken back. Example: "I told the sheik we will not give in to his demands. The arrow has been loosed!"

"Ride fast, ride far." Many nomadic tribes in the north of Ull will travel vast distances in a shorter time than most riders due to the strength and resiliency of their horse breeds. This expression of parting is quite popular among the khanates and has even found use by their distant kin on the Plains of the Paynims. The saying is also the rallying cry of the annual Najaam Trials (during Richfest), a cross-country horse race that brings honor to a rider's family.

"Come down from your saddle." This expression is used to imply someone is being stubborn or unreasonable and needs to humble themselves. This usually includes a subtext of violence. For context, it is customary in Ull for negotiations to be conducted on foot, mainly in the event combat breaks out to decide the matter. Example: "Seventy gold pieces for that old bow? Come down from your saddle..."

"Blood is strength." Ull is a land of internal strife with warring raiders and contentious nomad families. When Uli have common foe however, the entire domain will rally together behind a strong leader. The phrase "blood is strength" is thus used by locals as a rousing means of setting aside differences to deal with a foreign problem.

Your god did not follow you here." While not outright hostile, this expression is often invoked as a way to rebuke clerics and missionaries foolish enough to come to Ull. Uli are distrustful of religions in general believing more in spirituality centered on their ancestors. They do believe the gods exist but only harmful ones like Incabulos or Ralishaz pay any mind to Ull. Example: "Keep your prayers and begone beggar, your god did not follow you here."