Saturday, October 14, 2023

Dark Greyhawk Forum Letter

Well met Greyhawkers! Today I was reminded that way back in 2000, at the turn of 2nd Edition to 3rd Edition, before the internet became an everyday means of communication, I wrote a letter to the Forum page that was published in Dragon #273. This was in response to the Question of the Month" in issue #270: “Does your campaign have a particular theme? Is it swashbuckling, epic, gritty, or wahoo? Tell us all about your campaign style!”

Here is my response. Enjoy!

Dark Greyhawk

I wrote this in response to the "Question of the Month" and also to add to the discussion in #264 through #270 about evil characters. The campaign I run is set in the northwest of the Greyhawk campaign setting and uses heavy Al-Qadim sources. The Arabic feel is very refreshing. All the characters are foreigners and have had a wonderful time trying to blend in by learning new customs, dress, and especially language. They have adopted new names and even acquired their hirelings from this area. New and exotic locales always liven a static campaign. The land is full of mystery and intrigue, but the PCs fit in perfectly because they are all schemers and shady fellows as well. They always parlay or even deal with villains rather than just outright slay them. Every monster or encounter is assessed for its benefit, not just used as a stepping stone for the next encounter. Their motto is, dealing with evil is better than a pat on the back. Then, if necessary, you can always turn on evil and side with good in the end.

I do not rigidly control alignments, except in the case of priests. All the characters are decidedly shady but not evil. As long as the PCs can at least trust one another, then it doesn't matter what their alignments are. The lawful evil fighter in my group has shown many instances of paladinlike behavior toward the common man and even his foes. You don't wear alignment like a badge; your actions define your character.

In fantasy literature, the greatest heroes are what I term "shady." Elric, Conan, Fafhrd, and the Grey Mouser are all shady characters. Alignment never stopped any of them from doing the right thing in the end. The only recent characters from literature I can imagine fitting this description are Raistlin or Drizzt. Why are the shady ones the favorites? They have more fun.

It seems to me the only classes purely concerned with their alignment are the religious ones (cleric, druid, and paladin). They are the ones who have their beliefs dictated by a higher power. I am not saying you shouldn't play good guys, but some campaigns could use a change in locale and attitude.


David Leonard said...

Undoubtedly. I've always thought that perfidious, capricious, conflicted characters were more evocative than righteous do-gooders in shining armour.
But wasn't that the way of early editions? PCs plundered tombs. They were reavers. Save or die! One wonders what the righteous were doing in dungeons, risking life and limb for a fistful of baubles and gold.

Dick McGee said...

You wrote a letter in the year 2000 that claimed you knew of no shady characters in modern fantasy novels besides a couple of edgelords in D&D novels? And they published it for all the world to see? And you want to remind us of that?

Had you just stopped reading non-gaming books? The 90s saw multiple books in both Glen Cook's Vlad Taltos and Garrett PI series (both shady as it gets), at least two of the Game of Thrones novels (where shady is a compliment), Gaiman's Neverwhere, most of the Wheel of Time series, Barry Hughart's Eight Skilled Gentlemen (Master Li is the definition of shady)...and I could go on at length. Loads of not-quite-exactly-good fantasy leads out there, some of them just as good as Howard or Leiber or Moorcock's lads. How did you miss all of them?

Mike Bridges said...

HAHA! McGee thank you for calling me out on that. Yeah I did sort of avoid reading contemporary authors back then. Heck I didn't read GoT until they made an HBO show of it. I am -not- an expert of literature I mainly love comic books. Most of my pulp era collection may come from the fact they were in the appendix of the DMG. So thank you for the clarification, the point stays true, and yeah now that those are all classics I may go back and read them now!

BenS said...

Steven Brust wrote the Vlad Taltos books, not Glen Cook. They're a good read (I have the first 3), as is the trilogy that Barry Hughart wrote w/ Master Li. If you want to read these books, let me know and I'll pass them on to you. Think of them as thanks for all you've done for the GH community.