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D&D 5E Greyhawk: Pitching the Reboot

Quickleaf

Legend
Maybe so, maybe not. Greyhawk fandom is forever stranded in the middle of the road and run over from both directions. I have no skin in this anymore. I have been GH's biggest champion and battlefield general for years. I am quite left with the feeling that Napoleon must have had when asked by his Marshall Ney at the Battle of Waterloo to provide the latter with more troops: "More Troops? What do you want me to do? Make them?"
Thanks very much for sharing your perspectives, Mr. Kuntz, from the frontlines as it were. I've been following the thread with interest. It is a rare privilege to hear from you having been there since the beginnings of our hobby.

I'm curious, upthread @transmission89 mentioned other publishers/people with a strong connection to Greyhawk, and I was curious have you and Luke Gygax ever collaborated or contemplated such?
 

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teitan

Legend
I think the issue is we have different ideas of what is a "low magic" setting. You can have powerful magic users and magic in a low magic setting, IMO.

Now, as for how or why? There are lots of reasons/methods.
I agree with you. I don't think GH is so much low magic as high lethal or dangerous. People think there are all these high powered wizards in GH but there aren't. The Circle of 8 stand out and some historical personalities like Vecna & Acererak but considering thousands of years of history the high level characters all look to have been PCs in Gygax's game and/or key villains as is fitting. The Circle of 8 never even seemed to really interfere in adventures at all until the 2e period unlike Elminister in the Forgotten Realms and the other fan service appearances through modules of that time frame. It's certainly a darker setting. Lots of grey areas to explore.

Low magic to me is LOTR. It really doesn't have a lot of magic, it has a lot of myth and mythical creatures interacting with the world. Some equate low magic with Dark Fantasy but Elric of Melnibone is definitely dark fantasy but high magic, it just comes with a cost. Jack Vance, same way.

GH is definitely in the Dark Fantasy, always has been dark fantasy with its Lieber/Vance/Moorcock influences, and high fantasy arena. So is the Witcher.
 

Hussar

Legend
Frankly, the whole "Low Magic" thing smacks of grognards looking down their collective noses. "Oh, that FR is alright for the kiddies, it's high magic after all, for those of us with taste, though, it's just gauche". It ignores the fact that Greyhawk most certainly isn't a low magic setting at all. Good grief. You have commoners with magic swords in Hommlet. Actually, looking at any GH example of a town or village, there are multiple magic items in the town, as well as multiple casters, frequently of fairly significant level. Magic was by no means rare or unheard of in the setting.

But, because FR is "high magic", then Greyhawk MUST BE low magic. After all, some folks want Greyhawk to be different and are desperate to throw up any difference they can grasp, even though it completely contradicts the setting itself.

I'm sorry, but, it's laughable that in a setting where you have countries governed by actual GODS, that it's a low magic setting? Where there are artifacts all over the place? Heck, where any given treasure trove had about a 1 in 10 chance of multiple magic items? I mean, how much magic do you need to make something high magic?
 


nevin

Adventurer
I like the comparison to GOT
But greyhawk was not a low magic setting. It was just that the magic was concentrated in certain cities.
Remember back then level 10 was High.
Despite the ever present desire on the internet for low magic games every setting that has been successful was not low magic. Low magic has always had a much smaller playrbase and appeal.
 

Thanks very much for sharing your perspectives, Mr. Kuntz, from the frontlines as it were. I've been following the thread with interest. It is a rare privilege to hear from you having been there since the beginnings of our hobby.

I'm curious, upthread @transmission89 mentioned other publishers/people with a strong connection to Greyhawk, and I was curious have you and Luke Gygax ever collaborated or contemplated such?
Hi Quickleaf. Thanks for the nod.

I have spoken with Luke Gygax many times and we have talked about possible future cooperation given a successful conclusion of what has been an ongoing mess re the Gygax Estate. To summarize, there are three principals involved in that outcome: Gail Gygax, Tom DeSanto and myself (because of my 40% ip stake in Castle Greyhawk and because I am the last man standing who can describe the castle and other campaign materials in whole beyond that). Luke has, as of now, no IP stake in the Gygax Estate and is pursuing the second will suit. Like I said, it's a mess. I am only interested in the neutral center view of relating what I saw, experienced, understood and contributed to re Gary's Literary Legacy. IME others in this equation are not as concerned about that center view for various reasons known only to them. In my view I see this as an ongoing two-front disintegration of Gary's literary legacy, published and unpublished. I am dead set against that happening in both cases.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I would have a small (very small) quibble with that.

I think that the "default" 5e is, to a certain extent ... um ... nobody cares what the peasants, or good people, or autonomous collective, are up to. It's kind of background noise- you care about the extent of magic in terms of how it affect the PCs (can they buy magic items, can they get healed or resurrected, etc.).

But most (not all) people just ignore the more general questions of whether druids help the farmers with animal husbandry, or clerics are healing the infirm, and so on.

The one major difference is if there is a campaign (such as Eberron) where the idea of "peasants" (commoners) interacting with magic is presented front and center- then it becomes very, very relevant to the game.

To put it more simply- default 5e is "no one cares too much about people other than the PCs and magic," and not-default 5e is "woah, there's a world other than the PCs, wonder how that works, exactly." :)
The core books don't talk about it much one way or another because it should be campaign specific. So in my home campaign, low level magic is very much a thing. For other campaigns, not so much.

In other words I don't think it's a "5E default", it's left up to individual campaigns and DMs.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
Frankly, the whole "Low Magic" thing smacks of grognards looking down their collective noses. "Oh, that FR is alright for the kiddies, it's high magic after all, for those of us with taste, though, it's just gauche". It ignores the fact that Greyhawk most certainly isn't a low magic setting at all. Good grief. You have commoners with magic swords in Hommlet. Actually, looking at any GH example of a town or village, there are multiple magic items in the town, as well as multiple casters, frequently of fairly significant level. Magic was by no means rare or unheard of in the setting.
Maybe, but you also don't have some of the fairly outlandish and unsubtle magical stuff that the Volo's guides attributed to places like Waterdeep. So there is a difference between the two, nowhere near enough to call Greyhawk low magic, but perhaps shading more moderate, subtle, and enigmatic. Greyhawk makes magic mysterious and eccentric and uses it as macguffins, FR makes it ubiquitous, Eberron integrates it as mundane.
 

I like the comparison to GOT
But greyhawk was not a low magic setting. It was just that the magic was concentrated in certain cities.
Remember back then level 10 was High.
Despite the ever present desire on the internet for low magic games every setting that has been successful was not low magic. Low magic has always had a much smaller playrbase and appeal.
Again, it depends entirerly on what you consider low magic. Is Greyhawk low magic? The answer is both yes and no. Magic is not as pervasive in Greyhawk as in other settings like FR or Eberron. In FR, the availability of high level casters is staggering, bordering on the almost ridiculous. In Eberron, magic is so common that even the normal people can have access to it.

In Greyhawk, magic is as powerful as in any of these two settings (or any other for that matter) but the actual number of high level practitioners is way lower than in the FR and thw availability of magic is way lower than in Eberron.

Reasons are many and rooted in the AD&D system where at name level, you were awarded a field, castle, temple, guild or simply a tower with a retinue of henchmen and followers. Most of the time, it was there that these characters were stopping as managing a field was "the" achievement where a character could a actually build an army and play mass battles if it was a thing in his/her group....

Also, at these levels, most characters had found enough gold to live a long and luxurious life. So RP wise, it was logical to stop right there. When such a life a luxury is upon you, why leave it and risk it? So truly high level adventuring was pretty rare (again RP wise) and the lethality of monsters at these levels was way higher than what it is today.

Back then, there was what I called the 9th-12th syndrome where characters were too strong for the weaker monsters, but not enough for the high level threats that high level monsters represented. It was easy for a DM to over estimate the capacity of the players and to TPK a group. As for my self, I estimate that about 1 in 8 groups would survive that junction. At least this is what I remember from my groups and those in my area.

Now, with "balanced" encounters; it is "easier" to reach those high levels and a Greyhawk resurrected would have to take this into account. Would it need a special rule to achieve the feel of the AD&D edition? I do believe so. But the aspect of that or these special rule(s) is open for debate.
 

According to the Plot Points interview with Ed Greenwood, those are both correct.

I think this is just a rumor, but it could well be true. I've tried to find something that confirms it and haven't found anything. Another version I've heard of the rumor is that the owner of the license needs to an FR book every year or so or the rights return to Ed. No idea if any of this is true, although Ed apparently only got $5,000 for handing the license to TSR.

Considering how closely Wizards plays their cards close to their chest (and this in turn leads to more speculation like those you list), I suspect if we got a view of what actually is being planned in the years to come, I suspect there'd be a lot of surprises as to what settings are on the agenda.

Anyway, I'm a little confused by the arguments people make by each creator's link to each setting;

  • WotC doesn't touch Greyhawk as the creator (Gygax) has passed and there is no longer a person pushing for it.
  • WotC doesn't touch Dragonlance as they are afraid of the creators (W&H) and their power of the brand in public conciousness.
  • WotC does publish Eberron, as the creator (Keith Baker) pushed for it to be released in 5E and helped make the playtest document for a 5E version
  • WotC's favorite setting Forgotten Realms has a creator (Ed Greenwood) who doesn't do much work for 5E, but he may have a great contract that ensures it keeps getting published, so he's happy with its status.

There's... almost no consistent thread here at all. These are all popular theories on this forum, but it makes WotC look like a very inconsistent organization. I'm not really sure any of these above are actually true, and that there is some completely different ethos for why settings are published (and why others aren't).

I'm curious, when the other two "classic settings" are released whether people will need to change their priors. It would be quite interesting if it was Greyhawk and Dragonlance that are released, that would burst folks' bubbles.
 

nevin

Adventurer
Again, it depends entirerly on what you consider low magic. Is Greyhawk low magic? The answer is both yes and no. Magic is not as pervasive in Greyhawk as in other settings like FR or Eberron. In FR, the availability of high level casters is staggering, bordering on the almost ridiculous. In Eberron, magic is so common that even the normal people can have access to it.

In Greyhawk, magic is as powerful as in any of these two settings (or any other for that matter) but the actual number of high level practitioners is way lower than in the FR and thw availability of magic is way lower than in Eberron.

Reasons are many and rooted in the AD&D system where at name level, you were awarded a field, castle, temple, guild or simply a tower with a retinue of henchmen and followers. Most of the time, it was there that these characters were stopping as managing a field was "the" achievement where a character could a actually build an army and play mass battles if it was a thing in his/her group....

Also, at these levels, most characters had found enough gold to live a long and luxurious life. So RP wise, it was logical to stop right there. When such a life a luxury is upon you, why leave it and risk it? So truly high level adventuring was pretty rare (again RP wise) and the lethality of monsters at these levels was way higher than what it is today.

Back then, there was what I called the 9th-12th syndrome where characters were too strong for the weaker monsters, but not enough for the high level threats that high level monsters represented. It was easy for a DM to over estimate the capacity of the players and to TPK a group. As for my self, I estimate that about 1 in 8 groups would survive that junction. At least this is what I remember from my groups and those in my area.

Now, with "balanced" encounters; it is "easier" to reach those high levels and a Greyhawk resurrected would have to take this into account. Would it need a special rule to achieve the feel of the AD&D edition? I do believe so. But the aspect of that or these special rule(s)

According to the Plot Points interview with Ed Greenwood, those are both correct.



Considering how closely Wizards plays their cards close to their chest (and this in turn leads to more speculation like those you list), I suspect if we got a view of what actually is being planned in the years to come, I suspect there'd be a lot of surprises as to what settings are on the agenda.
In my experience companies focus on the most profitable choice. FR was a much more popular and published setting. It got name recognition even with the kiddies. Only us old timers talk about Greyhawk.
 

In my experience companies focus on the most profitable choice. FR was a much more popular and published setting. It got name recognition even with the kiddies. Only us old timers talk about Greyhawk.
You got it wrong. They chose FR not only because it was good but also because it was not associated with Gygax. They wanted Gygax out of the picture, period. The best way was to pay lip service to the setting to keep old fans like us "happy and hopeful" to keep selling us stuff without us going to another system. It is as simple as that.

Because of me, Greyhawk is alive and well in my area. Most DM and quite a few are younger than 20, know Greyhawk and prefer it over FR. Strange isn't it? I am in contact with over 3 dozens of DM in my area and over half of them are in Greyhawk and not FR. So yes, Greyhawk, if given proper promotion and prevalence can interest a younger generation. The problem of Greyhawk has always been a lack of prevalence because of the take over of TSR. Greyhawk is a rare case where a company was forced to take an other product to make sure another would get forgotten. In that, they failed. Because those of us that liked Greyhawk, kept it alive and well.
 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
You got it wrong. They chose FR not only because it was good but also because it was not associated with Gygax. They wanted Gygax out of the picture, period. The best way was to pay lip service to the setting to keep old fans like us "happy and hopeful" to keep selling us stuff without us going to another system. It is as simple as that.

In fairness to Forgotten Realms (a phrase you will almost never see me write), you have to remember that there is a whole generation of D&D fans that:
1. Liked the FR computer games (Baldur's Gate et al.).
2. Liked the FR novels (approximately 16,934 of them, of which 4 may not involve Drizzt; numbers are approximate).
3. Liked all the different settings that FR ate (such as Al Qadim, Maztica, Kara Tur et al.) that are not normally considered standard D&D flavor.
4. Like a lot of fluff and/or canon. I mean, say what you will about FR, it certainly has a lot of STUFF to learn about. Some people are really into that! The FR wiki, alone, can cause you to lose days or weeks, or even your sanity when you try to understand their rules for determining what is or isn't FR canon!

Again, these are also reasons people dislike FR (so much canon, so much stuff), but it's not quite fair to overlook the fact that a lot of people really, really like it. And that, if GH had been anointed, the positions would be reversed (with FR being the plucky, underdeveloped underdog and Greyhawk the insufferable and overdeveloped setting).
 

In fairness to Forgotten Realms (a phrase you will almost never see me write), you have to remember that there is a whole generation of D&D fans that:
1. Liked the FR computer games (Baldur's Gate et al.).
2. Liked the FR novels (approximately 16,934 of them, of which 4 may not involve Drizzt; numbers are approximate).
3. Liked all the different settings that FR ate (such as Al Qadim, Maztica, Kara Tur et al.) that are not normally considered standard D&D flavor.
4. Like a lot of fluff and/or canon. I mean, say what you will about FR, it certainly has a lot of STUFF to learn about. Some people are really into that! The FR wiki, alone, can cause you to lose days or weeks, or even your sanity when you try to understand their rules for determining what is or isn't FR canon!

Again, these are also reasons people dislike FR (so much canon, so much stuff), but it's not quite fair to overlook the fact that a lot of people really, really like it. And that, if GH had been anointed, the positions would be reversed (with FR being the plucky, underdeveloped underdog and Greyhawk the insufferable and overdeveloped setting).
I did not say that I did not like FR. I own quite a lot of what was done in the second edition. Novels, boxed sets (Karatur, Waterdeep and even Maztica) and almost all the novel and computer games (The pool of radiance serie, the eye of the beholder and the Baldur's gate series too) If FR was not good, I would not have bought that much with my hard earned cash. But the product bloat finally got me and I have went back to Greyhawk since the adventures of 3ed were in that setting. I never went back to FR save for a few products here and there. So while I do like Greyhawk more, I do not forget that FR till exists and I currently own every 5ed book at least once and sometimes in more than one copy (except Rick and Morty....) and most of the 5ed products are set in the Realms.

But this does not diminish the fact that Greyhawk has been given the short end of the stick simply because TSR wanted to remove Gygax' influence from the D&D crowd. Though WotC does not have such a grudge against Gygax, they do want to push their own IP with FR and the MTG settings. I hope to see an updated Greyhawk but I doubt I will ever see it. Our best bet is for WotC to open up DMGuild to Greyhawk.
 

Forgotten Realms definitely did better than Greyhawk, but as @Helldritch mentioned, there was also a political element. That being said, in one of my gaming groups, I am the oldest person by about a decade. Most of those people have maybe heard the name of Greyhawk, but have no firsthand experience or connection with it.

In my experience companies focus on the most profitable choice. FR was a much more popular and published setting. It got name recognition even with the kiddies. Only us old timers talk about Greyhawk.

Which leads me to this. Talking to them (most of which are late-20s to mid-30s), they will talk about their formative experiences being with the Baldur's Gate series. Before they even played D&D, they were playing D&D via PC games, and it was in the Forgotten Realms.

1. Liked the FR computer games (Baldur's Gate et al.).
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Hi Quickleaf. Thanks for the nod.

I have spoken with Luke Gygax many times and we have talked about possible future cooperation given a successful conclusion of what has been an ongoing mess re the Gygax Estate. To summarize, there are three principals involved in that outcome: Gail Gygax, Tom DeSanto and myself (because of my 40% ip stake in Castle Greyhawk and because I am the last man standing who can describe the castle and other campaign materials in whole beyond that). Luke has, as of now, no IP stake in the Gygax Estate and is pursuing the second will suit. Like I said, it's a mess. I am only interested in the neutral center view of relating what I saw, experienced, understood and contributed to re Gary's Literary Legacy. IME others in this equation are not as concerned about that center view for various reasons known only to them. In my view I see this as an ongoing two-front disintegration of Gary's literary legacy, published and unpublished. I am dead set against that happening in both cases.
Thanks for sharing some of the behind the scenes. Warms my heart to hear you and Luke Gygax have discussed potential collaboration. I vaguely was aware of an ongoing struggle around the Estate, but hearing from you it sounds like a real mess indeed. Wishing for an equitable less stressful resolution.

I combed back through some of the Q&A that Gary Gygax was kind enough to share on ENWorld between 2002-2008, and I discovered a little nugget which I found illuminating about his idea of Greyhawk:

When I was asked by TSR to do my World of Greyhawk as a commercial product I was taken aback. I had assumed most DMs would far perfer to use their own world settings. …
The relatively low level of NPCs, and the balance between alignments was done on purpose so as facilitate the use of the world setting by all DMs. With a basically neutral environment, the direction of the individual campaign was squarely in the hands of the DM running it.
— ENWorld, Q&A with Gary Gygax part 4, 2003

There's always a danger in taking quotes in isolation, especially myself having no firsthand knowledge of the original Greyhawk, but in your experience does that sentiment accurately point toward the design intent behind Gygax's Greyhawk?
 

Thanks for sharing some of the behind the scenes. Warms my heart to hear you and Luke Gygax have discussed potential collaboration. I vaguely was aware of an ongoing struggle around the Estate, but hearing from you it sounds like a real mess indeed. Wishing for an equitable less stressful resolution.

I combed back through some of the Q&A that Gary Gygax was kind enough to share on ENWorld between 2002-2008, and I discovered a little nugget which I found illuminating about his idea of Greyhawk:



There's always a danger in taking quotes in isolation, especially myself having no firsthand knowledge of the original Greyhawk, but in your experience does that sentiment accurately point toward the design intent behind Gygax's Greyhawk?
Yes. Greyhawk was a true reflection of the rules in that everything is basically a neutral slant that placed prospective DMs and players alike in a safer place to grow and learn through. A product-setting of the times that matured as the player base and rules did.
 

Personally, I think that Greyhawk is less magical than 5E typically presents, but it's not "low magic" in the LotR sense. There's plenty of magic in the world, but it's inaccessible to most, leaving information about it rather rare. People fear what they don't understand, giving magic a bad reputation, which many magic-users would gladly take advantage of. The PCs are obviously going to be outliers in any edition, but especially so in a highly magical edition like 5E.

Maybe so, maybe not. Greyhawk fandom is forever stranded in the middle of the road and run over from both directions. I have no skin in this anymore. I have been GH's biggest champion and battlefield general for years. I am quite left with the feeling that Napoleon must have had when asked by his Marshall Ney at the Battle of Waterloo to provide the latter with more troops: "More Troops? What do you want me to do? Make them?"
I think the fact that there's divisions within GH fans doesn't help either. I appreciate the work you've done to carry the banner all these years, but after the "Greyhawk is the default setting" from 3E, I found this isn't a winnable battle. This was by far the worst thing that could happen to GH (including the Greyhawk Wars), since it gave the impression to everyone unfamiliar with the setting that it's just generic. Because of this, no one wants to actually learn anything about it, being instead drawn to other settings.

I honestly don't want any more official GH material; I'm just too afraid of what it would look like. If they got you, Luke, or other old school authors to work on it, that'd be amazing, but I find that highly unlikely. Instead I expect they'll make an anniversary book, reprinting previous material without adding anything new. I'd be happy if they'd open the DMGuild for GH, since it would allow a lot of material that each DM can pick and choose from, without any "official" material forced upon them.

I would like to remind people that Ghosts of Saltmarsh exists. It's a 5E book that uses Greyhawk stuff. I assume everyone in this thread who loves Greyhawk already purchased their own copy of it???
I do, but GoS isn't as much Greyhawk as I'd have liked to see. Only four of the adventures are actually based in Greyhawk, with the others adapted (somewhat poorly) to the setting. It does a good job with explaining Keoland, but misses the mark on everything else. The Sea Princes are a threat, but it's not mentioned that they're only 30 miles away by sea, while Gradsul (nearest reinforcements for Seaton) is over 120 miles away on the other side of the Dreadwood. It also doesn't mention the politics of the Sea Princes, which could be relevant to Saltmarsh. The goals of the Scarlet Brotherhood isn't mentioned, which should be really important. Finally, the Yeomanry isn't mentioned at all, despite being fairly close by and also having an interest in Saltmarsh (it would give them access to the Azure Sea).

The High Prince wants to abolish slavery, but needs the support of the nobles.

They're racists, believing that the Suel humans should rule the world, making non-human agents unlikely.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
When it comes to popularity, I think the main thing that hurts Greyhawk is that all the fantasy is concentrated into specific people and places and how slow acting those forces are.

This really limits imagination, replayability, and marketability as there are fewer things to do without changing the feel. The whole lot changes fast once you start adding to it.
 

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