D&D General [+] Tell me about Greyhawk

overgeeked

B/X Known World
[+] Thread to stay on topic, not bicker about the setting, and generally stay positive. Sell me on the version of the setting you love. Don't complain about other versions or changes made, etc.

I have some of the books from back-in-the-day, but I was never that big on Greyhawk.

So, ENWorld Greyhawk fans, tell me all about Greyhawk and what makes it so awesome.

Also, what are some of the best books to pick up for Greyhawk lore?
 

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Bitbrain

Lost in Dark Sun
It’s Gary Gygax’s setting.

The World of Greyhawk presents Oerth as the medieval setting to Forgotten Realm’s renaissance.

It’s a human-centric world with lots of ethnic tension. You can have two genuinely decent nations right next to each other that absolutely hate each other and would be more than happy to go to war.

Elves, dwarves, halflings, and so forth are there, but they play second fiddle to humans.

Life has clearly declined from what it once was. This one is difficult to explain but reading through classic Greyhawk products, the general sense I get is that in-setting, evil things used to be even worse, morally good used to be even better, civilization was once even more advanced, and yet barbarism used to be even more barbaric.

Most of the really famous classic-era AD&D modules are set in Greyhawk. Tomb of Horrors, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, Against the Giants, Saltmarsh, etc.

The Flannaess—the main area of focus—is a very large but extremely underpopulated landmass. It’s very bare bones and you can add in whatever amount of detail you want to any specific area.

The Darlene map. I showed to one of my players who knows nothing at all about Greyhawk but has a fondness for fictional maps, and his opinion of it was that it was one of the best fantasy maps he’d ever seen in his life. He liked it so much, he set his own homebrew campaign in the lands of what in Greyhawk would be Perrenland, as he felt it was a “geographically logical place” (his words) to place his setting.
 


MerricB

Eternal Optimist
Supporter
The best book to pick up for Greyhawk Lore is the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer. While I don't like all of it, there's no doubt it's the deepest dive into Greyhawk lore.

The starting point for everything is the 1983 boxed set of the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting. (There was a folio that preceded that, but it was expanded in the boxed set).

From the 1983 set, for most of us, it's the early D&D adventures that hold pride of place. Of note:
G1-3, D1-3, Q1 - Giants and Drow. You know how Salvatore expanded the drow so much in the Forgotten Realms? D3 was his starting point, and it was in Greyhawk.
A1-4 - Slavers. Weird adventures (especially the early ones), but you can see how Greyhawk was being shaped by the adventures into Defeat Threats!
T1-4 - The Temple of Elemental Evil. This came out late, and Gygax couldn't finish it, but the concept of Elemental Evil was brilliant, as were the links to large Greyhawk lore.
S1 - The Tomb of Horrors.
S2 - White Plume Mountain - the ultimate "funhouse" dungeon, but the emphasis is on fun.
S4 - The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth - many a new monster and spell (at the time, the largest new group of monsters outside of a rulebook), and an artefact to find. Plus - more lore.
WG4 - The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun - interestingly, you never face Tharizdun. Just as well. He's chained and terrifying.

Other adventures were also set in the World of Greyhawk, expanding on other parts of the world. Saltmarsh, the Lendore Isles, the Crystal Cave.

Later on, Greyhawk changed - different designers took over, taking the setting to different places, not all of which I like. But that's the basics - and you can see how the Greyhawk DNA became fundamental to a lot of later D&D - especially in 5E.

Cheers,
Merric
 

MerricB

Eternal Optimist
Supporter
Greyhawk is, for us, generic D&D fantasy. This isn't surprising. The Forgotten Realms likewise feel like generic D&D fantasy these days, but Greyhawk has some significant differences that make it a lot more fun for me - at least. (I love the Realms; I love Greyhawk more).

Most important in that is that it is a land of nations. If you think of the main area of the Forgotten Realms - the Sword Coast - which we've been dealing with for the past 10 years, can you name a single nation in it? It has city states. There are nations in the Forgotten Realms, but they're all off the edges of the current map. Even when you get to the lands of Cormyr and Sembia, in which I spent many a happy day in the early days of the Realms, they're surrounded by more city states and wilderness.

But you look at Greyhawk, and the map is full of nations. And they don't get along. Once upon a time, most of the map was ruled by the Great Kingdom, but it's been falling apart for centuries now, and it's corrupt and much smaller. The new nations are struggling along, making alliances and engaging in petty wars - but there are darker threats, such as the Land of Iuz, the evil cambion ruler of a land of orcs and mercenaries, all ready for conquest.

Iuz had been gone for a century - trapped by the Mad Archmage beneath Castle Zagyg - but he then returned after being freed by a foolish adventurer, and now he hungers for conquest once more. Of course, his land is no longer united - one faction, the Horned Society declared independence and now holds his eastern capital. He has to get it back! But once he does so, he'll be ready to take on the southern lands once more.

The lands immediately to the south are Veluna and Furyondy. Veluna is a theocracy, Furyondy is a kingdom. They are kingdoms of good and wise rulers. However, a few years before the present in the original boxed set, there was an uprising of worshippers of Elemental Evil. Both sides raised armies, and they clashed at the Battle of Emridy Meadows. The armies of good were victorious, and the Marshall of Furyondy - Prince Thrommel - was the victorious leader. His hand was pledged to the daughter of the ruler of Veluna, and by such would the two nations be united. They might even be able to take out Iuz!

But such didn't happen. One night, the Prince vanished, and the plans for unity were dashed. No war started between Veluna and Furyondy (though it'd be in keeping with the setting), but the Prince is still missing as of 576 CY. In fact, he was taken captive by followers of Elemental Evil, and imprisoned beneath the ruins of the temple - players can find him there. In Monte Cook's follow-up (591 CY), he's been turned into a vampire, as he wasn't rescued. (In my campaign, in 630 CY, his artifact sword, Fragarach, was recovered and returned to the new young and foolish king of Furyondy. He declared war on Iuz, seeing it as a sign. The war did not go well!)

The nations of Greyhawk are distinct. You can imbue them with personalities. It comes from the wargaming background of Gygax, and though I don't engage in resolving wars through miniature wargames, they have taken place. (The disappearance of the High Priestess of Xan Yae on a visit to Veluna caused a war between her homeland of Ket and Veluna which the players had to stop. Well, by winning it for Veluna).

There are the ruins of ancient kingdoms. There are the effects of the migrations after the Twin Cataclysms when two empires destroyed each other. There are the rise of the Younger Kingdoms, and their fall and rise again. There is wilderness, there is evil, there is good. And some of the most famous dungeons in D&D history.

Cheers,
Merric
 

Shiroiken

Legend
Greyhawk is the ultimate DM sandbox, as presented in the 83 Boxed Set. It provides enough information to get the DM started, without filling in all the details. This allows the DM the freedom to place whatever they need, wherever they need. Just as most players don't care about setting background information, this doesn't bog the DM down.

One aspect I particularly enjoy is that the region is full of political tension based on its history, not generic alignment differences. You have the traditional "evil god" nation of Iuz, who is a threat to everyone and works as the archtypical boogyman. You also have the Shield Lands, who broke away from Furyondy, and fears being annexed by them once again... despite the fact that both nations are strongly Lawful Good. Nyrond stands as a stalwart defender against the Great Kingdom, an empire in the final stages of decline. The Iron League nations rebel agains the Great Kingdom to hasten that decline, as the empire has become decadent and corrupt. There's plenty more, but you get the idea.
 

Nikosandros

Golden Procrastinator
Greyhawk is, for us, generic D&D fantasy. This isn't surprising. The Forgotten Realms likewise feel like generic D&D fantasy these days, but Greyhawk has some significant differences that make it a lot more fun for me - at least. (I love the Realms; I love Greyhawk more).

Most important in that is that it is a land of nations. If you think of the main area of the Forgotten Realms - the Sword Coast - which we've been dealing with for the past 10 years, can you name a single nation in it? It has city states. There are nations in the Forgotten Realms, but they're all off the edges of the current map. Even when you get to the lands of Cormyr and Sembia, in which I spent many a happy day in the early days of the Realms, they're surrounded by more city states and wilderness.

But you look at Greyhawk, and the map is full of nations. And they don't get along. Once upon a time, most of the map was ruled by the Great Kingdom, but it's been falling apart for centuries now, and it's corrupt and much smaller. The new nations are struggling along, making alliances and engaging in petty wars - but there are darker threats, such as the Land of Iuz, the evil cambion ruler of a land of orcs and mercenaries, all ready for conquest.

Iuz had been gone for a century - trapped by the Mad Archmage beneath Castle Zagyg - but he then returned after being freed by a foolish adventurer, and now he hungers for conquest once more. Of course, his land is no longer united - one faction, the Horned Society declared independence and now holds his eastern capital. He has to get it back! But once he does so, he'll be ready to take on the southern lands once more.

The lands immediately to the south are Veluna and Furyondy. Veluna is a theocracy, Furyondy is a kingdom. They are kingdoms of good and wise rulers. However, a few years before the present in the original boxed set, there was an uprising of worshippers of Elemental Evil. Both sides raised armies, and they clashed at the Battle of Emridy Meadows. The armies of good were victorious, and the Marshall of Furyondy - Prince Thrommel - was the victorious leader. His hand was pledged to the daughter of the ruler of Veluna, and by such would the two nations be united. They might even be able to take out Iuz!

But such didn't happen. One night, the Prince vanished, and the plans for unity were dashed. No war started between Veluna and Furyondy (though it'd be in keeping with the setting), but the Prince is still missing as of 576 CY. In fact, he was taken captive by followers of Elemental Evil, and imprisoned beneath the ruins of the temple - players can find him there. In Monte Cook's follow-up (591 CY), he's been turned into a vampire, as he wasn't rescued. (In my campaign, in 630 CY, his artifact sword, Fragarach, was recovered and returned to the new young and foolish king of Furyondy. He declared war on Iuz, seeing it as a sign. The war did not go well!)

The nations of Greyhawk are distinct. You can imbue them with personalities. It comes from the wargaming background of Gygax, and though I don't engage in resolving wars through miniature wargames, they have taken place. (The disappearance of the High Priestess of Xan Yae on a visit to Veluna caused a war between her homeland of Ket and Veluna which the players had to stop. Well, by winning it for Veluna).

There are the ruins of ancient kingdoms. There are the effects of the migrations after the Twin Cataclysms when two empires destroyed each other. There are the rise of the Younger Kingdoms, and their fall and rise again. There is wilderness, there is evil, there is good. And some of the most famous dungeons in D&D history.

Cheers,
Merric
Yes, people keep talking about "generic fantasy", but - for me - what is interesting in a setting is not whether it has blue dwarves and flying purple elves, but the specifics of it, such as the nations, the cities, the factions, etc. etc. And I find the specifics of Greyhawk very interesting indeed. Just reading the original material, I get every time plenty of ideas about intrigues and conflicts in which the players characters could get involved for good or for ill.
 


Ringtail

World Traveller (She/Her)
Y'all are doing a great job selling Greyhawk to somebody who's never used it (me.)
Just reading the original material, I get every time plenty of ideas about intrigues and conflicts in which the players characters could get involved for good or for ill.
That's what makes a good setting to me IMO. I've read some where adventure seems to jump off the page and brainstorming as a GM is easy and others full of fascinating fluff but I still feel like I'm doing all the adventure work myself.
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
Out of curiosity, was the GH boxed set really that different than the original FR one? I never owned GH, but I reacall FR coming out pretty bare bones, too, with just some maps and a couple thin pamphlets in the box.
 
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