Monday, November 20, 2017

Return to Greyhawk on Twitch

Welcome again fans of Greyhawk! This week I am promoting a new venue of Greyhawk entertainment on Twitch called Return to Greyhawk. This is a live D&D 5E campaign and I'm jazzed about this particular channel given the rise in popularity of streaming D&D tabletop groups, mainly because Return is the first I'm aware of actively presenting themselves as a Greyhawk game.
I watched most of their first session last night and it was everything you'd expect in a tense, hard fought D&D adventure (no spoilers), but I went back and re-watched their opening video to episode one and it's AMAZING! Please watch this if nothing else, it's a lovingly crafted intro to a new campaign; you won't be disappointed in the overview it gives to the World of Greyhawk setting.

Here is the cast of characters:

Alessa Amodovar (Human Wizard) played by May / @liqquidfire
Luciano Venturi (Human Cleric of Olidammara) played by Travis / @binaryfyre
Elara Kelm (Elven Rogue) played by Dani / @ImperialScum
Kallic Kelm (Hal-elf Ranger) played by Michael / @LoserMLW
Nilly Belovar (Half-elf Bard) played by Bree / @npcbree 
Merrick Saewolf (Human Bloodhunter) played by Josh / @WingedHorizon

and Dungeon Mastered by DMShane / @MageandSage

After the first session, the cast gave away a prize to one lucky viewer, a copy of the classic module Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure. Sadly I didn't win this prize (already own it) but I will be back for more. For those wishing to join me, expect the party to be back in action, live on Sundays 7pm to 11pm (est). Carry on, Greyhawk!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Birthplaces for Tieflings and Dragonborn

Welcome back friends of Greyhawk! In an effort to balance my last post, which had little to show off, I threw together this nice randomized chart based on the character birthplace charts in the 1983 boxed set Glossography. This one is for you 5E fans who like to use the playable races of dragonborn and tiefling which actually became popular during 4E and survived going forward. Fiend-blooded tieflings in fact go farther back to 2E when they were a playable race in the Planescape setting. Along those lines I'm not sure how closely dragonborn are to Dragonlance's draconian race, so there's that precedent, but their current origins derive from 3E as magically transformed servants of Bahamut (thanks Armitage).

Disclaimer: despite being official D&D, neither is truly a Greyhawk favored character race to use. There is no published regions that currently support these uncommon races. The goal of this chart is to show that tieflings (those of infernal heritage) and dragonborn (enhanced lizardmen essentially) can have a place in the Flanaess. They could be from scattered tribes found in the darkest recesses of the map or found among the urban masses of Oerik's major cities. *Even more plausible is that these races come from "Beyond the Flanaess" where across vast prairies and over widest oceans there is rumors of draconic cultures and decadent civilizations yet undeveloped. Only recently, has these races come into contact with this part of the world and may yet join the ranks of Greyhawk's heroes. 


Most Common

Amedio Jungle
Bandit Kingdoms
Beyond the Flanaess*
Bone March
Bright Desert
Dry Steppes
Fellreev Forest
Frost, Ice or Snow Barbarians
Great Kingdom
Horned Society
Land of Black Ice
Rel Astra
Sea of Dust
Sea Princes
Vesve Forest
Wild Coast

Friday, November 10, 2017

Blog Redesign Idea

Hey Greyhawkers! This weekend I've been contemplating upping my blog game instead the usual melancholy thoughts of hanging it up! Before I did anything I decided I need to air my ideas and perhaps get some feedback. I'm lazy and might not do anything after all, but at least this could get the ball rolling. What do I have in mind?

A slight change in website design/layout. With some added content if I can ever get it done. The front page elements would stay the same or be rearranged. What I'd like to add however, is some more focused Greyhawk primers for various topics like Deities, Nations, Power Groups, etc. The Greyhawk primer I wrote a couple weeks ago has made me realize I cater too much to old fans, but I have a chance to be a hub for new gamers needing easily digested info on Greyhawk. One thing also: having wikis with Greyhawk info is great if you know what you're looking for, but having essential material presented in one location is the next best thing to a setting book.

Speaking of which, I know others have done 5E conversions for Greyhawk. Greyhawk Reborn is doing good things in that regard, carrying on the old timeline. I am more aligned to Greyhawk Grognard's feel to bring 5E Greyhawk back to the old 576 CY starting point. So, while I'm no expert at game design, any Greyhawk primer I do will be fluff not crunch. I'd try to focus on what's important or relevant for new gamers and then crosslink to any "advanced" information I can find online either on 3rd party sites or on my own blog.

Brainstorm over.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Poll Result: Which Knighthood to Join

Welcome back Greyhawkers. This week I'm musing over the results of my last poll, Which Knighthood Would You Join? Easy enough, let's look at the knightly orders of the Flanaess:

Coming in at a surprising first place (28%) is the Knight Protectors of Aerdy. This ancient order hails from back in the heyday of the Great Kingdom of Aerdy and until the rise of the evil dynasties of Ivids and St. Kargoth's death knights, was the premier order in the world. The Protectors included followers of war deities Heironeous and Hextor, united in a lawful cause to keep the kingdom safe. Currently the order is scattered and in hiding in places like Ratik and among the Iron League.

Why join the Knight Protectors? Certainly to help reclaim the glory of old Aerdy from the hands of evil. To rebuild an order that is so dormant that their heraldry is no longer in use (crowned sun guarded by a white axe and red arrow). Being a Knight Protector these days is like King Richard returning from the crusades, you'll have to remain in disguise from your own countrymen until the time is right. It's a difficult road, but the Protectors has the biggest heroic payoff.

Second in the poll is a tie between the Knights of the Hart and the Knights of Luna (21%). The Knights of the Hart and the all-elf Knights of Luna share much in common but have their own issues as well. The Hart have three branches, the Knights of Furyondy, Veluna and the High Forest (all elves). These knights defend against the regional threats, primarily the Empire of Iuz to the north. This gives them common cause with other orders like Luna and the Knights of Holy Shielding, but heated rivalries among them (and neighboring nations) keep them from uniting fully. Luna is in an even worse position. Primarily serving the isolationist realm of Celene, this order is more focused on its closest threat the Pomarj even though they agree with their cousins in the Hart that Iuz is the biggest danger.

Why join either? The best reason for the Hart is they are open to anyone from commoner to noble if they possess the skills, bravery and loyalty to their respective nation. Velunan knights also count clerics among their numbers now and the High Forest naturally, likes those who are skilled in the woods (rangers). Luna is more reserved, usually accepting gray and high elves only, but they do take wizards where other knighthoods do not. Unfortunately, they are becoming more opposed to their queen who eschews problems outside their borders. The Luna do quest abroad but are required to tithe back Celene. On the upside, their leader is the renowned wizard-warrior Melf, Prince Brightflame.

Third in the poll is the Knights of the Watch (16%), who serve the Kingdom of Keoland and its satellite nations. The focus of the Watch is to guard against barbaric incursions from the west (Baklunish and giants) into the Sheldomar Valley. At one time this order (which arguably the largest population to draw from) had 600 members, more than all other orders combined! More recently the order has split into two branches, the regular Knights of the Watch and the Knights of the Dispatch which are more proactive in hunting threats.

Why join the Knights of the Watch? Well besides being easiest to gain entry, this order is good if you want a strong established morale code. Their Twelve and Seven Precepts fits well into many religions of the region from St. Cuthbert to Mayaheine or Pholtus. There is also ample room for promotion within the order, each having a more grandiose title than the next. If you are a ranger or rogue the Dispatch is also within reach since they are more into skirmish tactics than their Watch brethren.

Last in the poll is the holier than thou Knights of Holy Shielding (14%) of the troubled Shield Lands. This order was once mighty and proud, defending against simple threats in the north such as bandits and nomads. Since the rise of Iuz however, their numbers have been diminished and the order pushed out of their homeland, forced to rely on the hospitality of their old rivals the Knights of the Hart. Their War of Reclamation rages on to this day.

Why join the Knights of Holy Shielding? If you are a paladin or cleric of Heironeous there is no greater respect given by commoners than to this order. Other knighthoods and nobles might scoff at the arrogance of the Holy Shielding but they are not at the vanguard of evil every day. If you want a challenge of martial prowess then this order is for you. Given the results of the poll, many fans indeed cannot stomach this knighthood.

For additional knightly gaming inspiration, check out Joseph Bloch's 5E Cavalier.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Why Darlene's Greyhawk Map is Special

Welcome again fans of Greyhawk. A very good question was posed to me in the comments of my post last week:
"I've never understood people's reverence for the Darlene map. I'm not knocking it or anything, I just don't get all the fuss. Then again, I only joined the hobby in 2001... So maybe I'm spoiled by the higher production values of later stuff, or some other generational difference? I'd like to understand what the big deal is, because I feel like I'm missing out."

Why is there such reverence for the artist Darlene's original World of Greyhawk maps? That's an answer I feel is deeply personal for each fan of Greyhawk of course. You might get a 100 different responses if you polled, so here I'll try to lay out some good points and see how they compare to you, the reader's feelings.

I do think its an intrinsic reverence when you ask why Darlene's map are so good. Fantasy maps like all the maps of that era were hand drawn, certainly not done on computers, with few being world-wide maps done at such a scale (I immediately think of Harn or Wilderlands). Maps in modules were often black & white, or the classic non-photo blue. So a full color, two-part poster-sized, keyed, hex overlaid map with hand-scripted labels back in 1980 was quite ahead of its time in my opinion. That is the high production value back then. I used to hang these maps on my wall like you would any other poster. I then later had my first set of Greyhawk maps laminated so they could withstand the amount of use they saw in my campaigns. I have plenty of other really gorgeous RPG maps that are in mint condition. That's not necessarily a compliment.

The content and realism of Greyhawk's continent is too easy to debate because it is indeed flawed. Fantasy world-building has no time for knowing everything about proper physical geography. What's important is the map makes an emotional connection to people when they first explore it. What you first see is the map's color and shapes; the scintillating shades of blue in the Flanaess' demarcated ocean depths, the vast green tracts of the world's huge forests, the myriad river systems that wind around the hexagons like veins in the body, and the toned texture of the many mountain ranges that cause your eyes to travel from one end to the other.

The first time I became this enthralled seeing a map was Tolkien's Middle Earth and I certainly felt the same reverence seeing the first map of the Forgotten Realms. Back then all I knew about that game world was from Ed Greenwood's articles in Dragon. It was Dragon incidentally that teased the new world with a free map in its pages. I remember spending a long time pouring over it and more when the "gray" boxed set maps eventually came out. That's how I felt when I got my World of Greyhawk boxed set in 1983. It could be age and experience now, but I admire today's maps in a different way.

As the commenter suggested I do feel spoiled now. After a game map's general shape grabs me, I cannot help but compare it to Darlene's map (or the others of its era). Was it hand drawn? Was it mostly done on Photoshop? Does the cartographer have a unique style or is it generic? There is a matter of function as well. Some maps are meant to be used for game information either omitting detail for players or at times overloading them with detail. Maps can also have more of an aesthetic value. Darlene's maps as I mentioned earlier are definitely aesthetically pleasing, but at the same time they use game relevant elements like the hexagons, keyed margins and just enough geographic and national labels to convey basic information to players without giving away the location of secret places like the Tomb of Horrors or the Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan.

So yes, the Darlene Greyhawk map is special and is my favorite (and heck I got to meet her). Is it technically the best game map ever made? Not at all. That's because it's fundamentally simple to digest and expand upon. I would say however that it's the most influential. Both reasons are a huge incentive for fans to learn to make their own maps. Artists such as Anna Meyer, Rob Lazzaretti and Mike Schley are among my favorite cartographers and I love that new tools, new techniques and new RPGs push them to create wonderful and exciting maps. I'm sure each one of them has a story they could tell about Darlene's maps.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A Quick Greyhawk Primer

Well met, fans of Greyhawk. It recently occurred to me on a Twitter thread, that I've never attempted to do a Greyhawk "primer" or "intro" for newer readers (that I recall). I've always catered to the long time fan with my nonsense and minutiae, so today I'm gonna try my best to capture what the Greyhawk setting is like in a single blog post. Not an easy task, fingers crossed. Enjoy.

Maps: The first thing you'll notice about Greyhawk is the maps are works of art. Darlene created the first maps, given a hexagon overlay. They are vibrant in color and evoke the style of hand drawn explorer maps. These maps are simple, elegant and full of potential for development by DMs. The original maps are two part, poster sized and encompass the eastern half of a continent called Oerik on the planet Oerth.

History & War: The World of Greyhawk has a backdrop of ancient history and ongoing war. The perfect comparison for this in today's pop culture is the Game of Thrones series. East Oerik was once populated by peaceful Flannae nomads, elves, dwarves and their like. Wars in Western Oerik and a pair of twin cataclysms forced Suel and Oerid migrants eastward where after centuries of colonization, nation building and more wars, resulted in the current political landscape. To further lend to the medieval fantasy feel, Greyhawk is home to many noble Houses and Knighthoods such as the orders of the Hart, Holy Sheilding and the Watch.There is several main regions of Greyhawk (such as the Great Kingdom, the Sheldomar Valley or the Empire of Iuz) and all are constantly on the edge of some conflict with one another.
 The biggest and most recent of these wars is introduced in the Greyhawk Wars boxed set, taking place about 10 years after the original Greyhawk timeline. Depending on your DM this war is optional, because there is unlimited directions you can take these stories, or depending on your DM's campaign they can be ignored entirely! I stress again, the history and backdrop is for flavor and is not always required to have memorable adventures in Greyhawk.

Magic: Greyhawk by virtue of its age and being based on Gary Gygax's home campaign, is the origin of hundreds of notable D&D spells, magic items, artifacts and more. Whether you play 1e or 5e, you will immediately be immersed in a Greyhawk campaign once you cast a Tenser's Floating Disk or equip your ranger with a Quiver of Ehlonna.
Despite comparisons, Greyhawk is a high magic world (posing as a low magic one). It is quite full of wizards, sorcerers and warlocks like Mordenkainen's Circle of Eight, the Silent Ones of Keoland or the Guild of Wizardry in the City of Greyhawk, and of course evil spellcasters in the service of Iuz the Evil. The World of Greyhawk is full of ancient buried empires, tombs of brooding liches and more, all with magic yet to be discovered by adventurers.

Deities: Clerics and paladin players will rejoice at the abundant lists of deities for the World of Greyhawk. These pantheons are divided into a few cultural pools, the Suloise, Oeridian, Flannae and Baklunish gods. Just like gods of our mythologies, Greyhawk has a deity for just about everything if you're inclined. These pantheons have mixed over the centuries however, so now the more interesting and commonly known ones are focused on.
Do a quick perusal through any D&D book, and you will find references to great Greyhawk deities that cover every character alignment option, like Pelor the sun god, Wee Jas the goddess of death and magic, Nerull the reaper, Heironeous the god of justice and his evil brother Hextor god of war.

Evil, Good and the Balance: Thematically, the World of Greyhawk is a struggle of balance between good and evil with some NPCs just trying to play both sides. Evil is always ascendant in this setting. Liches (Acererak), cultists, witches (Iggwilv) or plain bandits are a constant here. When one villain falls, there always seems to be another ready to rise. Iuz is the undoubtedly greatest of these villains; a despotic demigod in the flesh, ruling over an empire of orcs, undead and demons. When you hear of Iuz just think of Sauron and the land of Mordor from Lord of the Rings.
Up against such odds, adventurers are often thrust into the role of heroes for the cause of Good especially paladins and clerics of good gods like St Cuthbert, but this is by no means the only option. Greyhawk is literally gray in its tone. Characters can easily be amoral and content looting dungeons and raiding towers, enriching and empowering themselves without heed to the bigger picture.

Iconic Adventures: And lastly, Greyhawk is best known for its adventure modules. By now, what D&D player hasn't heard of the Tomb of Horrors, Against the Giants or the Temple of Elemental Evil? Searching dungeons, ruins and caverns is a way of life in this setting. The ruins of Castle Greyhawk, Maure Castle or the Temple of Elemental Evil are mega-dungeons that can occupy a characters entire career. Many other modules require great treks being set in remote jungles, icy mountains, deep swamps or far below in the Underdark. Check the link and you'll see a comprehensive catalog of Greyhawk modules, sourcebooks and so on. Take your pick; every character level, theme and environment imaginable is here.

That's all for now. I tried to keep it brief, but there is so much more I could cover. For easy reference get a copy of PDF of the 1983 boxed set, the 2000 Living Greyhawk Gazetteer or the 2E Players Guide to Greyhawk.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Greyhawk Comic Rewind: Boccob

Howdy Greyhawk gang! Today I'm looking back on a random Greyhawk comic strip from June 22nd, 2006. This one is very dated in fact because the idea stemmed from a defunct forum that discussed material from a defunct magazine. Sheesh! p.s. in case you aren't aware, the deity without a shirt is Lendor the God of Time.

Here is my corresponding comment from the strip:

There has been an interesting discussion on the Greyhawk forums at Wizards about Boccob's mystery of magic fading on Oerth. Most people either are FOR Magic dying out or they are absolutely against it. This is one of my favorite ongoing Greyhawk topics. It's fun to speculate the nature of magic on the game world and what might cause its decline. Recent Dragon articles have only added to the controversy. But, it's high time Boccob put this mystery to bed, so...Enjoy.