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D&D General For the Love of Greyhawk: Why People Still Fight to Preserve Greyhawk

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
On the recent thread regarding the upcoming hardcover book and a discussion regarding Iggwilv and Tasha-

.... a discussion broke out about Greyhawk, and canon, and what is good, and bad, so on. One comment encapsulated this view (from @Remathilis ):

Actually, this thread is a good reminder that WotC has little to gain by ever publishing a full Greyhawk setting book for 5e. Every time they touch it (Mordenkainen's ToF, Saltmarsh) or even allude to it (Princes of the Apocalypse, Tomb of Annihilation) all they happens is the old guard comes out and whines about how everything after 1984 is not canon and disrespects Gygax's One True Vision.

This isn't, well, this isn't exactly wrong! But it also misses a fair number of points as to why the "old guard" is still defensive about the way that later TSR and WoTC deals with Greyhawk. Everyone is protective of their thing, but what is it, exactly, that causes such as intense reaction? Why is it that every discussion about an "updated" Greyhawk is met with roughly the same level of vitriol as someone saying, "Hey, you know what would be awesome? New Dark Sun ... WITHOUT PSIONICS! So awesome!"

But why? What is the origin of this kneejerk reaction? I thought I'd explore it a little- I'm going to use my own thoughts as well as try and generalize some opinions that I've seen others have; but this does not and cannot constitute the opinions of everyone. We are all unique and amazing people that can't answer an Enworld poll because of the thirty options listed, we have to mention that there should be a 31st.

Following is my survey, divided into five parts:
A. The history of Gygax's home campaign.
B. The publication history of Greyhawk (TSR, pre-1985).
C. Why the "old guard" has a history of distrust toward post-Gygax Greyhawk
D. A comparison of Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk
E. What can the future bring to Greyhawk?

A. History of the World, Part 1

Greyhawk did not spring forth fully formed; once, long ago, there were two other worlds. Braunstein (Brownstone) and Blackmoor. Without getting too lost in the weeds, David Wesley's Braunstein begat Brownstone begat Blackmoor begat Greyhawk. In the words of Genesis, that's a whole lot of begettin'. You can see the evolution, and probably how Greyhawk got its name.
Brown Stone
Black Moor
Grey Hawk
It's .... well, names come from somewhere. Anyway, Greyhawk was the name of the home campaign of a certain E. Gary Gygax ("EGG," "Gygax"). This is where we start to get the confusion that later arises when he talk about what "Greyhawk" is.

First, while Greyhawk was the home campaign of EGG, he was not the only dungeon master. Rob Kuntz also DM'd Greyhawk, and other people would occasionally step in for small bits.

Second, while Greyhawk was mentioned in the early days of TSR through Dragon Magazine, Strategic Review, and some early (pre-Folio) modules, it wasn't a planned world. It was a campaign that was growing as the game itself was growing; it literally started as a dungeon and a castle, and details of the world around were added on an ad hoc and as-needed basis.

Third, there were a number of different people that played in the campaign. There are times when there memories don't match up with the dates, or their stories conflict a little, or their perspectives are a little different, or there are gaps. That doesn't make anyone incorrect, or the stories less entertaining, but it does make it hard to get a handle on everything that transpired in the original Greyhawk campaign.

The point of all of this is two-fold:
1. People will often freely swap in and out examples of the Gygax "home campaign" with examples of published material. I don't have a strong opinion on canon for Greyhawk, but they are not the same thing.

2. Because of the use of allusions to Greyhawk when Gygax wrote his columns, and because it was used frequently in his own published works in TSR, there was a great amount of demand for Greyhawk material.

B. I'm a Man on a Mission with Two or Three Editions

Early TSR was not known for their business acumen; in fact, at no given time was TSR known for their business acumen. Instead, it is probably best to say that D&D succeeded despite TSR. Early on, TSR didn't believe that most accessories (such as modules or campaign settings) were worth selling. On the one hand, this opened up a great market for products from, among others, the Judges Guild. The first officially approved campaign setting for D&D was not, in fact, Greyhawk but the JG's City State of the Invincible Overlord (1976) and Wilderlands of High Fantasy (1977). On the other hand- money on the table, right? The impulse was a good one; the thought behind it was that tables would be creating their own adventures and their own campaigns, so why would they want to buy them? Yet, as we have seen with the march of time, this hobbyist impulse is always proven wrong, as most people prefer packaged materials. Using material is easier (and less time-consuming) than creating your own.

But here's the thing- early D&D, and AD&D especially, were defined by Greyhawk. Not ostentatiously. But they were defined by Gygax, because he wrote (or assisted in writing) so much of the formative early material. And he was using his own material from Greyhawk in the books. So when you're looking at AD&D, all the core books published pre-folio have to be considered "Greyhawk." Yes, they are generic "D&D," but the lore that they use, the references- that's all Gygax's campaign. The artifacts (Lum, Vecna, Kas), the spells (Tenser, Bigby, Mordenkainen, Tasha) the specific races, everything. And the same goes for the modules; modules for AD&D have a location in Greyhawk by default, and ones written by Gygax were ran in his home campaign.

As a general rule of thumb, anything from the B/X or BECMI line was what we now refer to as Mystara/Known World, and (until 1985, see below) anything dealing with AD&D was Greyhawk- but lightly touched, so that it could be used in any home campaign (VECNA IS EVERYWHERE!).

And then there was .... Greyhawk! When people (really, Grognards) refer to "Greyhawk" they are usually referring to two products. The Folio (1980) and the Box Set (1983). Confusingly, there is a 1975 product for OD&D called, um, Greyhawk which has absolutely no details about Greyhawk.

Now, as a general rule of thumb, most people that are referring to "true Greyhawk" or "real Greyhawk" or other nonsense (ahem!) are referring to the 1983 edition. Some people will (confusingly) refer to the boxed set as the folio. The reason that most people view the 1983 version as the superior or "real" version is that it has more material. To quote Spinal Tap, the Box Sex took it up to 11. It went from 32 pages to 128 pages, and included a lot more material, deities, and so on. Both the Folio and the Box Set have copies of the incomparable Darlene Map that people still rave about today.

So, for some people, the idea of a "true Greyhawk" largely consists of material from the 1983 Box Set (we will call the "WOG" for World of Greyhawk) plus materials from AD&D from 1977 - 1983 (such as the NPC descriptions in the Rogue's Gallery, and the Artifacts in the DMG). Because, well, it gets complicated now ...

C. And the Parting on the Left, is Now the Parting on the Right and the Beards have all Grown Longer Overnight

If you look at a list of the truly classic AD&D materials, you will usually notice something interesting. Almost all of it is from 1983 and prior. 1984 saw the release of the Dragonlance series (which is classic in a different way) but you can see that despite releasing a lot more material, especially modules, the amount of great material (or classic material that would be remembered decades letter) was going down quickly for AD&D.

TSR had exploded in popularity from 1978-1982 in a manner that people of that time were ... well, somewhat unused to. That type of growth is problematic for any small business, and it was downright ruinous (as we quickly see) for TSR. One of the big issues is that Gygax decided, instead of continuing to grow the (core) game business, he would grow D&D as an entertainment business- the media part, in Hollywood. Others have alluded to the fact the Gygax started, well, partying pretty hard during this time (I am trying to be euphemistically generous). The point is that Gygax was largely divorced from many creative decisions around the game by 1984, and he was ousted in 1985 (if you are wondering about Unearthed Arcana in 1985, that was an attempt to quickly raise money and was largely prior Dragon Magazine articles Gygax had written- which explains the slapdash quality). If you want a more detailed account of the ouster, here is a good place to get the full details of what went down from a financial perspective:


Now, of course, we know all of this. But what about back then? Remember, this is pre-internet (okay, for the pedants out there, this is the DARPA/edu days where we were pre-consumer facing internet and you probably didn't have a 300 baud modem for a local BBS). So for the vast majority of D&D gamers out there, hearing that Gygax had been ousted from D&D/TSR was roughly equivalent to hearing that Santa had just been removed from the North Pole, and that Christmas this year would be handled by the underpants gnomes. Not to mention people still were hoping and expecting that he would provide a few more Greyhawk things .... most especially, the fabled Greyhawk MegaDungeon. Instead of, you know, the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide.

Now imagine you're a fan of Greyhawk- maybe have your own unique campaign set there. In the years after, you see that TSR does the following:
1. Release more and more Dragonlance material.
2. Have a (relative) decline in quality in the last years of the AD&D (1e) run.
3. Begin releasing Forgotten Realms material (some people loved it, and some people found the Dragon Articles a little cringe-y because of Elminster).
4. Release a ... well, I love Jim Ward, but I don't love Greyhawk Adventures.

But the final straw for many people was the infamous WG7 - Castle Greyhawk. Released in 1988, this really soured a lot of people I knew on how TSR (and almost anyone) would treat WoTC in the future. Other than the positive review in Pravda ... sorry, Dragon Magazine, it was met with near-universal condemnation. Why?

Earlier, I wrote that many people were expecting the Holy Grail of early D&D- the MegaDungeon beneath Castle Greyhawk. So when this was released, I know that many gamers (including myself) went to go purchase it expecting, at a minimum, some slice of Gygax's vision. Instead, it was a series of parodies. Bad jokes. It seemed, to many people at the time (I was one of them), that this was nothing more or less than the final salvo in what had been TSR's efforts to discredit Gygax. Turn his most mythic creation into a joke. Did the project start that way? I don't know; but whether it was deliberate or not, it was the final thing that I purchased from TSR. Because at a certain point, there is not distinction between maliciousness and incompetence for the consumer. Speaking for myself, it provokes such as visceral reaction that I still feel waves of disgust when I think of that module.

...and that's the genesis of why there are some people that just don't trust the stewardship of the IP holder when it comes to Greyhawk. Fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can't get fooled again. Or something like that.

So as the editions increased, there was a lack of trust that was further borne out in the actions of the IP holder. Second Edition? That was TSR pumping out campaign settings like mad, and allowing Forgotten Realms to swallow anything it wanted from GH. Third Edition? Sure, that was "Greyhawk as default" (but not really!) and entrusting its care to people that wanted to "Forgotten Realms it" by making it "live", and have massive wars, and so on*. For the most part, GH is either treated an IP junkyard that is occasionally reached into to scavenge some parts for other settings, or it is treated as a generic kitchen sink setting- the "other" Forgotten Realms. And fans, once burned, don't want to keep licking that stove.

*I do no mean to be pejorative toward those people who are fans of the Living Greyhawk, etc., from 3e. Many of the people who are WOG fans, however, are not fans of the 3e GH publications.

D. Life will Throw Everything but the Kitchen Sink in your Path, and then it will Throw the Kitchen Sink.

A common point of contention that comes up when discussing WOG and fans of pre-1984 Greyhawk is the idea of "kitchen sink" settings. There are those that do not understand why people even like Greyhawk, since it's just a "generic D&D setting," just like .... FORGOTTEN REALMS.

Of course, saying that is roughly the equivalent of waving a red flag in front of a bull, or telling an optimizer that math is stupid, or saying that a given edition of D&D isn't "real D&D." You're just begging for a fight at that point. I would be the first to say that the similarities between FR and GH are greater than, say, FR and Eberron, or GH and Dark Sun. But as they say in university, "The reason that academic debates are so vicious is because the stakes are so small."

Greyhawk is different. Both in "feel," and I would argue in "concept." The first is less important, but it often gets trotted out. So here it is:
Greyhawk is swords & sorcery. Realms is high fantasy.
Greyhawk is (almost) post-apocalyptic, with scattered civilizations holding out. FR isn't.
Greyhawk is more neutral-focused (maintain balanced). FR is more about heroic good defeating evil.
Greyhawk's best days are in the past; the Great Kingdom is in irreversible decline, and the Suel and Bakluns will never have the power of the Rain of Colorless Fire and Invoked Devastation. FR's has Elminster.
...and so on.

But more importantly, and mostly for reasons of the ouster, I would now say that the concept of Greyhawk is very different. One thing that people like (and love) about the Realms is the rich backstory and history. Since the publication of the 1987 Box Set (the "Gray Box"), Forgotten Realms has had innumerable modules, computer games, campaign settings, additional lore books, and over 300(!!!) novels in that setting (I think over 100 of those are Drizzt, but I'd have to check ;) ). There is a whole "canon" website that meticulously records FR information, and attempts to sort is by "canonicity."

Forgotten Realms incorporates the lore and lands of other settings (hey, that Kara Tur looks yummy .... mmmm, I'd like a slice of Vecna to go), and regularly "updates" with events to incorporate changes only slightly less often than Fortnite (usually a spell plague sundering of some kind). It is fully realized in so many ways, in much the same way that there is "Star Trek" and Memory Alpha, and you can lose yourself in just reading and learning.

Contrast that with WOG. It does not give exhaustive details; it gives "hooks." It is provides sketches, and rumors, and fodder for the DM's imagination. What we refer to as "Greyhawk" is really just one part (the Flanaess) of one continent (Oerik) on Oerth. Conceptually, Forgotten Realms is a novel, and Greyhawk is a series of writing prompts.

Many of the older fans of Greyhawk do not want the Realms treatment. They do not want a campaign setting that incorporates other settings ... because. They do not want everything told to them. They want the blank spaces to fill in. It's an artifact of what happened; had Gygax stayed, Greyhawk would have had more of the map of Oerth filled in. There would have been more (terrible) books like Gord that people would argue about as "canon." It's a Catch-22; because Gygax was ousted (and TSR did such a bad job afterwards), people yearned for more of the "real Greyhawk," but because he was ousted, and people rejected the material that came after, the "real Greyhawk" became frozen in time.

E. Ain't Nothin' Gonna Break-a my Stride, Nobody Gonna Slow me Down

So what is to be done with Greyhawk? I think there are two simple, easy-to-understand, wrong solutions to the problem:
1. Ignore the haters and publish whatever you want; they are just going to whine and die off anyway.
2. Don't bother with Greyhawk; it's not worth it.

The reason neither of these is really suitable is because ignoring the people that are truly passionate about a product is probably not a good way to succeed (after all, even old people can evangelize) while ignoring the ur-setting of D&D in 5e (motto- "We will bring all ur nostalgia to u while also cultivating the twitch peoples") seems like a poor choice.

The answer, as always, is this- find someone who loves "Old Greyhawk" (WOG) and is also a good designer. And let them make a great product. There is a lot of innate hostility towards new Greyhawk products because, to be honest, there is a long history of them sucking (from the perspective of the Old Guard), with an added dash of the most ill-conceived, worst-ever product (WG7) in the TSR era rubbishing Greyhawk.

But, speaking for myself, I would love to see an "updated Greyhawk" that accentuates the differences in the setting (as compared to other settings) and really emphasizes the swords & sorcery, adventurers for money (not heroic quests) aspects of Greyhawk.

Anyway, that's my story. Feel free to chime in - that's what the comments are for.

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I wanted to love Gord (shades of Gray Mouser) but if you combined all the written output, you'd end up with half a good book.

Basically, Saga of the Old City was good, the rest contributed nothing, Dance of Demons is worth a half-book demerit. IMO, of course.

I loved the character, though. :)
Saga of the Old City was the only book I ever read in the Greyhawk setting, but it left quite an impression on me. It was such a different type of story than those told in the Dragonlance novels, of which I read many.


I guess I am a bit confused when I hear Greyhawk Talk because a majority of it seems to revolve around "We don't want to include X because there aren't any X in Greyhawk. e.g. Dragonborn in general or Drow PCs)". If you wanted to play in a setting that does stick to the "original" D&D assumptions on things of this nature, then all the power to you, but I can't see it making any sense to add into a very limited release schedule a book that essentially says "Here is a gaming world you can use where you only use 50% of our previously published content".

What does a True Greyhawk Fan (tm) even want out of a 5e setting book? Expanding the areas covered in detail? Updating the timeline? Simple mechanical conversion of the previous setting?


Contrast that with WOG. It does not give exhaustive details; it gives "hooks." It is provides sketches, and rumors, and fodder for the DM's imagination. What we refer to as "Greyhawk" is really just one part (the Flanaess) of one continent (Oerik) on Oerth. Conceptually, Forgotten Realms is a novel, and Greyhawk is a series of writing prompts.

Many of the older fans of Greyhawk do not want the Realms treatment. They do not want a campaign setting that incorporates other settings ... because. They do not want everything told to them. They want the blank spaces to fill in. It's an artifact of what happened; had Gygax stayed, Greyhawk would have had more of the map of Oerth filled in. There would have been more (terrible) books like Gord that people would argue about as "canon." It's a Catch-22; because Gygax was ousted (and TSR did such a bad job afterwards), people yearned for more of the "real Greyhawk," but because he was ousted, and people rejected the material that came after, the "real Greyhawk" became frozen in time.
Incidentally, these are many of the same reasons why the Nentir Vale has so many ardent fans.

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