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D&D 5E 5e Oerth − the planet of Blackmoor and Greyhawk


Planet Oerth and Its Reallife Inspirations

Yaarel 2022 - Oerth Earth.png

For 50e, the 50th anniversary edition in 2024, I want two regional settings: the City of Blackmoor to celebrate Arneson and the City of Greyhawk to celebrate Gygax.

These two cities have me thinking about the original setting of the 1970s C&C map (Castles & Crusades Society), that both cities are part of. This shared world is a stylized sketch of "North America". Blackmoor is in fantasy "Canada", and Greyhawk is in fantasy "America". Part of "Mexico" is at the edge.

Gygax publishes his own version of the original map, to be his 1980 World of Greyhawk, that the cartographer Darlene draws. It is a reasonably straightforward adaptation of the original C&C map. The celebrated Darlene map includes some modifications, such as the "Mississippi" and "Ohio" rivers become large bays, but original features remain moreorless recognizable. The spacial distortions between the original sketch and the adaptation compare well to the differences between various reallife medieval maps. Gygax calls this fantasy "North America", Flanaess, and understands it to be a northeastern area of a wider continent of Oerik.

Flanaess mentions "Blackmoor" as a wider region. There are "ruins" there that are notable ruins in the region of Blackmoor. The original city of Blackmoor is a coastal city. But the ruins are deep inside the mainland of the peninsula, and correspond to Ringo Hall, a former city in the midst of the elven forest. As Fey ruins, Ringo can be a place of eerie challenges and magical treasures. The original City of Blackmoor can continue alive and well, to the west of it on the coastal corner of the peninsula, albeit the City of Blackmoor no longer functions as a capital city for the region called Blackmoor. It can now be a city of commerce. Both the City of Blackmoor and the City of Greyhawk can be living contemporaries that are flourishing on planet Oerth. Note, much of the northern area of the Blackmoor region is under the strange Black Ice in the Darlene map. It is possible to superimpose the regional map of the City of Blackmoor that Arneson himself designs onto the area of Blackmoor in the Darlene map. His Firefrost Channel reaches northward under her Black Ice, where the rest of the terrain becomes hidden from view.

Over the decades since the arrival of the Darlene map of Flanaess in 1980, the Flanaess map has expanded outward, and now encompasses an entire planet, called Oerth. The continent of Flanaess enjoys considerable official detail. But the rest of the planet has only partial official descriptions and conflictive semi-official descriptions. The original book for the 1980 map adds a small map showing part of what is west from Flanaess. There is a Dragon magazine Annual 1996 map that is the first map of the entire planet Oerth. This planetary map received mixed reviews for its geological realism (or lack thereof) but it seems to have stuck within the D&D traditions. There is a 1989 French graphic novel, Chroniques de la Lune Noire, that details a subcontinent west of Flanaess, and a later 2002 Chainmail minis game map that details the same area conflictingly. A small inset map in the 2000 Living Greyhawk Gazetteer map shows where Flanaess is in relation to the rest of the planet. As such, given the disparate minimal content, the planetary setting of Oerth relies on homebrew campaigns to decide whether to reconcile, ignore, and-or modify the suggestive information that is available.

The lack of clear official content for the rest of the planet is today an advantage. WotC has a free hand to officially design a planet Oerth in whatever way they wish, with little or nothing in the D&D tradition to constrain them.

This thread is one among several ways to make sense of the official and semi-official planet Oerth. I came for the Blackmoor and Greyhawk cities, and the shape of the planet Oerth has come to fascinate me. The interpretive methodology in this thread considers the first map of Oerth, the one in Dragon Annual 1996, to be the definitive map. All interpretations are in relation to it. I also appreciate a popular version of this map, according to "The Oerth Journal", that includes various homebrew details that seem to enjoy wide use. I reuse this map for above, tinting it and overlaying it with my red text to identify the corresponding reallife cultures today. I also compare the "Greyhawk Grognard" maps (not shown here) that detail the planet Oerth, region by region. To identify the reallife ethnicities, I especially follow the coastlines of the Journal map, that trace reallife coastlines to feel more realistic. These coastlines (intentionally or unintentionally) pull the reallife ethnicities who inhabit these reallife coastlines into fantasy Oerth. Much of these coastlines is from the official 1980 and 1996 maps. Judging by contiguous areas, I also carefully identify which reallife mountains seem to relocate in order to divide up the continent. Thus the reallife ethnicities who inhabit these mountains, such as "Tibet" and "Switzerland", also have fantasy versions who inhabit planet Oerth. Note, the difference between greenish (moist) and yellowish (arid) flatlands mainly lacks official sources and can modify arbitrarily.

The Journal version of the map has some troublesome nomenclature, resembling difficulties with how Oriental Adventures represents ethnicities. For example, a location of orcs unfortunately appears where one might expect Mongolia. My map removes references to orcs. Today, Mongolia is a mainly Buddhist, vibrant and peaceful democracy. The term "kiri" is a Japanese imperial seal but appears across China. Nevertheless, the map of Oerth seems easily salvageable. It can celebrate reallife human groups respectfully. Despite focusing on humans only, I kept the "Domain of the Giant King" because this is actually a reallife Norwegian trope, where certain human families believe they descend from a jotnar, such as Logi who is a being of fire who shapeshifts into a human. The overlay in red names only refers to human ethnicities. It says nothing about other humanoids or monsters. Ideally, it should also say nothing about who has political hegemony over who, such as references to "duchies" and "marches" and "empires", but these many underlay names are difficult to alter.

Every ethnic red name on this map comes from careful considerations. Time permitting I might add posts later that detail why the names are what they are. In a map like this, space constraints make it impossible to mention every ethnic group on "Earth", but they are present. For example, I want the Flanaess area to mention fantasy versions of all of the reallife Native tribes in "North America", but a separate dedicated map can show their territories more clearly. Use the ethnicities that do appear to estimate where any unmentioned ethnicities can be.

In the original 1970s map of the Castles & Crusades Society, the Dry Steppes and the Sea of Dust appear to be arid areas that are west of the Rocky Mountains, such as the deserts of Arizona and relatedly Mexico. However, the Darlene map of Flanaess repurposes these and nearby areas with names suggestive of Asia, like caliphate and sultanate. The result is, the fantasy "North America" and the fantasy "Asia" mash up to form a supercontinent. Ultimately the planet Oerth expands to feature a supercontinent called Oerik, that includes several subcontinents forming a pangea. This supercontinent includes fantasy versions of "North America", "Eurasia", and "Africa". "Australia" remains separate and understandably "evolves differently".

The mashup of Africa-Eurasia-Americas results in a fantasy formula where "the familiar combines with something unfamiliar". These mashups appear across the planet. The area that is officially called Erypt is both by name and by geography an intentional blend of "Arabia"+"Egypt". Whether intentional or not, the official name Naresh can construe as a mashup of "Norway"+"Russia". But it also comprises the mountains of "Turkey" and "Iran". Perhaps more properly Gigantea to the north is "Norway" and "Russia", while Naresh is "Turkey" and "Iran". Naresh is known for its "jotun" giants in the north and its demons in the south, perhaps according to Turkish traditions that equate djinn with daimon. Nevertheless, Naresh is the fantasy versions of the lands of where humans dwell, including "Norwegian", nearby "Russian", "Turkish", and "Iranian" humans. The forested land of Ravilla is the countries of Finland, Sweden, and Denmark, rearranging to form a peninsula. These are cultures of humans, that the elves there can adopt. Fantasy "Africa" requires further development, but the "Congos" region and the "Sahara" region feel a good start. Note, how "Turkey" splits, with its mainland being a mountainous land bordering Russia, while the coastlands of "Turkey" ("Istanbul" and "Ephesus") are elsewhere in "Aegea", the islands of the Aegean Sea in association with "Greco-Rome". "Iraq" locates anomalously to correspond to Ishtar, an ancient deity of Babylon. "South-East Asia" ("SEAsia") splits up in ways contiguous with various mashups. China organizes according to its modern "core cities", but what is west in "China" instead rotates north in order to match up with the shape of the map of Oerth. In relation to "China" and "Egypt", I would expect Draconis Island to either be "Taiwan" or "Cyprus". However judging by its shape, it seems to vaguely resemble the city-state of "Singapore", which actually borders "Malaysia". Here the connotation of an ethnicity known for economic prowess seems like a fun connotation to flavor the dragons who live among the humans of fantasy "Singapore". "Japan" officially mashes up with "India". And so on, various considerations supply the names across the map of Oerth.

The purpose of this map is to help DM worldbuilders create the verisimilitude of an ethnically diverse world. The fantasy cultures can riff off (compassionately and respectfully) from the corresponding reallife ethnicities. It also helps the DM whose players surprise by deciding to venturing off to an unknown location. The DM can create adventure details on the fly that are inspired by a reallife ethnicity that corresponds to that location. This setting welcomes an ethnically diverse approach to religions, and whether monotheistic, polytheistic, animistic, none, or so on, there can be corresponding spiritual "domains" within the Astral "Sea". Each domain enjoys inspiration from each reallife ethnicity. With due caution, I am confident that D&D can represent well any historically-accurate or mythologically-accurate reallife culture. Likewise any fantasy version of it.

According to the official and living traditions about Oerth, the planet Oerth has four continents and four oceans. But different traditions evolve with regard to how to count them.

Regarding four continents in this thread, they are Hyperboria, Polaria, Antaria, and Oerik. Humans inhabit Hyperboria and it counts as a continent. However, here in this interpretation of planet Oerth, Hyperboria is actually a floating polar ice cap, and is made entirely of ice, except for various islands here and there under the ice. So, other traditions prefer to count the large island of Hepmona ("South America") as a separate continent instead. Oppositely, some traditions would suppose Hyperboria has a continental landmass under its ice, thus would be a proper continent. Polaria ("Antarctica") and Antaria ("Australia") are two other continents. The last continent is Oerik, a supercontinent comprising several subcontinents: East Oerik counts the subcontinents of Flanaess and Hepmona; Central Oerik counts Celestia and Zindia; and West Oerik counts Aquaria and Gonduria. These subcontinents often divide up according to prominent mountain ranges.

Regarding the four oceans, I interpret the Dramidj Ocean to be a polar ocean that Hyperboria floats on top of. The rest of the four oceans are: Solnor-Titanicum, Tempest-Storms, and Agitoric. One sails east from the subcontinent of Flanaess past the Solnor-Titanicum Ocean, across the Agitoric Ocean, to reach the subcontinent of Aquaria. The boundaries of Agitoric are Aquaria, Fireland, and a chain of islands under Hyperboria.

Here is a cool map by Anna B Meyer, that I edit to identify my interpretation of the four continents (in yellow), the subcontinents of the continent of Oerik (in red), and the four oceans in blue.

Oerth (Anna B Meyer 2020) Four Oceans (Yaarel 2022).png
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Here are the original C&C, TSR, and WotC maps of planet Oerth.

1970 (circa) Castles & Crusades Society: North America, compare Flanaess
Greyhawk (Castle and Crusades Society c 1970).jpg

Note, "Florida" in the southeast corner, "Hudson Bay" (Great Bay), "Great Lakes" (Nir Dyv), "Mississipi" and "Ohio" rivers in south, and "Rocky Mountains" in west.

1980 World of Greyhawk, "Darlene Map": Flanaess

1980 World of Greyhawk, Folio: Flanaess with parts of Hepmona, Zindia, Celestia, and Hyperboria
Oerik 1980, Greyhawk Folio, original, with coasts and mountains only, oerik-FOL-1024x718.png

1996 Dragon Annual: Planet Oerth
Oerik 1996, Dragon Magazine Annual 1, two-page map - oerik-DA1-1024x779.png

Notice, the continent of Antaria at both southwest and southeast corners. Polaria in south. Hyperboria in north. Most of the planet is the supercontinent of Oerik.

2000 Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, inset: Planet Oerth
Oerth - 2000 living_greyhawk_gazetteer_inset_map.png

2002 Chainmail Skirmish Minis Game: West Oerik and Hyperboria
Oerth 2002, Chainmail Skirmish game, renaming for Chainmail factions - ChainmailMap.jpg

Here, I overlay the 2002 Chainmail map with the 1996 Dragon Annual Oerth map, for a gestalt of West Oerik
Yaarel 2022 - Oerth map overlay (1996 Dragon Annual 1) (2002 Chainmail skirmish).png
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Wow, impressive work. Have to say, that Darlene's map never get's old. It always stands out. It is truly a work of art among fantasy cartography. Few maps from that era age well, her's get's better with age.
Part of the success of the Darlene map is gaming considerations, and part of it is intuiting the vibe of popculture.

The gaming considerations stretch out the densely populated areas and squeeze together the sparse expanses, so places of interest tend to be within reach of premodern travel, wherever the player characters are. The experience of endless outlands is also present, but relocates to the western edge of map.

It is an image of the popculture of circa 1980. It is hard not to infer some lighthearted commentary from a moderate perspective. There seems to be frustration with the religious right. Quebec includes the Theocracy of the Pale apparently referring to the deep Catholic culture (albeit the Quebec Catholics are both liberal and deeply religious). Pale might be pun for both wintery light skin and a close-knit community territory, as in "beyond the pale". South Carolina has been broken up an pushed off the mainland. Georgia becomes the county of "Sunday" perhaps referring to shut shops and no alcohol. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the progressive east and west coasts have also been broken up to form islands onto themselves.

The regions of Ulek are "oil-ic", where Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas are major oil producers. The Principality of Ulek is places like Houston and popculture Dallas. The premodern lacks the need for oil, but perhaps Flanaess can have these regions produce an analogous valuable commodity, perhaps something that fuels magical applications.

Generally, the map reflects a perfect blend of "combining something familiar with something unfamiliar". The places are all present, but one needs to look twice to recognize it. So it functions as a fantasy version.

The borderless quality of all these places probably feels relevant today than then.


Gygax calls the fantasy versions of Native tribes of Canada, America, and Mexico: Flan. The members are Flanae. They are the etymology for the name of the Oerik subcontinent, Flanaess.

In Canada, the City of Blackmoor corresponds Churchill on Hudson Bay, and the Flan there correspond the nations of Cree and Chipewyan as well as some Metis and Inuit. In pre-Euro times, it is known for arctic nomadic tribes.

In America, the City of Greyhawk corresponds Chicago, whose area includes diverse Native tribes, including the reallife nations of Ojibwe, Odawa, Potawatomi, Miami, Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Sac, Fox, Kickapoo, and Illinois.

Flanaess merits a separate map for its Flan Native tribal nations, across the subcontinent − namely, the reallife nations that correspond the Flan identities. The reallife maps that I can find seems to only be a sampling, that leaves out many tribes at the local level. While this is probably fine for gaming purposes, I feel hesitant to have one larger tribe represent (thus erase) a smaller different tribe.

Gygax describes the Flan as mainly peaceful nomads, but some tribes have formed permanent agricultural settlements, as well as urban civilizations in several locations.
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Moderator Emeritus
Cool work.

I have to say that I enjoy contradictory maps with dubious or inaccurate scales for fantasy settings, and for my old homebrew Aquerra, I justified the different maps with slightly different distances, place names, and island/coastline shapes over the 20+ years I and others ran games there by explaining that different cartographers of different levels of experience/talent and different political agendas had made the maps.

This also allows me to do things like tell the players "It looks like a week's march from X place to Y place" but until they actually do it I have a lot of leeway to decide along with the regular leeway that comes from washed out roads, bushwacking, avoiding canyons, finding places to ford a river, weather, etc. . that allows the DM to fudge the travel time as needed for some drama.


Cool work.

I have to say that I enjoy contradictory maps with dubious or inaccurate scales for fantasy settings, and for my old homebrew Aquerra, I justified the different maps with slightly different distances, place names, and island/coastline shapes over the 20+ years I and others ran games there by explaining that different cartographers of different levels of experience/talent and different political agendas had made the maps.

This also allows me to do things like tell the players "It looks like a week's march from X place to Y place" but until they actually do it I have a lot of leeway to decide along with the regular leeway that comes from washed out roads, bushwacking, avoiding canyons, finding places to ford a river, weather, etc. . that allows the DM to fudge the travel time as needed for some drama.
Heh, this is an example of reallife medieval map of the known world. It represents much of Eurasia, and North Africa. Year 1154. Note the spacial distortions, including scale and rotation, and combining the known with estimates and speculations.

Medieval Map of World 1154 Al-Ildrisi.jpg


Fun stuff - I didn't know a lot of that.

A question for the OP, or anyone who knows: Is that later full continental map from Gygax or was that a later TSR creation?

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