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What is Greyhawk?

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
So I thought I'd write a separate thread about the essence of Greyhawk, and what it means to me. A thread where people can discuss the essence of Greyhawk (whatever that might be) instead of complain about Dragonborn.

I would start by saying that Forgotten Realms is a great default setting for 5e. It has a long history and abundant products and novels that can be used to fill it out. We have people, many of them active on this board, who love all of this history, lore, and canon of the FR and can recite it chapter and verse; in addition, FR has an excellent wiki. I often make fun of FR for its various spellplaguesunderings and what not, but for what it is (the uber-setting, the generic D&D setting) it is great. So my a priori assumption is that Greyhawk shouldn't be that. We do not need TWO generic settings. So, with that caveat in mind, what is Greyhawk to me?

1. It's humano-centric. This doesn't mean that all PCs are humans, just that humans are the overwhelming default, and that great care has to be taken when deciding on non-standard options given the likely choices for adventuring.

2. It's small in scale. You aren't saving the Realms; you're making a buck. I say that partially in jest, but this is partly the aspect of Swords and Sorcery that needs to be played up in a Greyhawk setting. Small scale DOESN'T mean small stakes, however. You can save (or destroy) the village; but there should be a lot less of the "saving the world."

3. There's always something bigger, badder, and more mysterious. This is related to (2). You will never have the power of the Mages who destroyed the Sueloise civilization. There will always be the past glories or dangers, the stories of Vecna and of giant ships crashing from the sky, of beings that strode across the landscape, that are told around the fires at night.

4. Civilization is tenuous, at best. The great powers and empires are in decline and their best days are in the past, and it is always questionable if the forces of civilization will hold off the entropy and darkness. Progress is not assured. The forces of destruction are constantly howling and looking for a way in, and, more often than not, they are about to succeed.

5. People just don't like each other. What do I mean, "people?" Well, everyone. There are long-standing divisions; Suel, Baklun, Oerd, Flan- and that's just the humans. Different elves can be distrustful based on geography or type (what is a Valley Elf doing outside of the Valley?), and demi-humans and humanoids will be met with more (or less) suspicion depending on the location. But see ...

6. People should be suspicious. So civilization is tenuous, but also spread out. The Flanaess is huge, and poorly controlled. That means that outside of a few of the larger and cosmopolitan cities (such as Greyhawk) people will tend to be suspicious of outsiders; after all, if survival is perilous, you, too, would be careful about extending hospitality to people you don't know.

7. Greyhawk is a a DIY sandbox. This is kind of the key to what I think is a good Greyhawk; it should provide adventure hooks, but not prescribe what adventures there are. It should be the canvas on which to paint your own campaign.


So, what does Greyhawk look like? Like the first Conan movie- vast areas of emptiness, mysteries that abound, small in scale. It's not Tolkien, it's Lieber or Howard. But most importantly, it is the space to create your own Greyhawk.
 
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doctorbadwolf

Adventurer
Mild quibble. When survival is tenuous, societies tend to have very strong rules of hospitality. So, suspicion, sure. Mistreatment without direct cause, less so.

But that is a good bullet list. Someday I may understand the appeal of grim gritty “no good guys and little to no hope for something better” fiction.

I’m curious to see what others see in the setting, though. I know from experience that some see it in a wholly different light from yours.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Mild quibble. When survival is tenuous, societies tend to have very strong rules of hospitality. So, suspicion, sure. Mistreatment without direct cause, less so.
That's actually a really good point, esp. w/r/t tribal societies. However, this isn't always a universal, and if the survival is tenuous due to (for example) humanoid raids, then there would be a strong suspicion of any non-standard humans.

In addition (and this is mere speculation, now) I think that when people have some limited knowledge of monsters, humanoids, and magic working against them, they might tend to be more on the "verify, then trust" rather than the other way around.
 

Enrico Poli1

Explorer
Greyhawk is a world in which evil is winning. It has just a grim atmosphere. It's not about heroism, it's about power.

The forgotten god was sundered in three, and the parts will be united again in the Day of Wrath.

It's the land of Mordenkainen and Robilar, Vecna and Iuz, Eclavdra and Dragotha, Gord and Zagyg Yragerne.

P.S. for me, the true feeling of Greyhawk can be only found in Gygax' Gord novels. Nothing compares.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
P.S. for me, the true feeling of Greyhawk can be only found in Gygax' Gord novels. Nothing compares.
So ... I remember (back when they were published) reading Saga of the Old City. And it was .... fine. I mean, Gygax wasn't a great novelist, but I like it, at the time.

And Artifact (I think?) was next. I vaguely recall it being ... not as good. I almost didn't finish it.

And after that, I think I tried to read the next one after he left TSR. And I wanted it to be good. Because GORD! GYGAX! SEA OF DUST!

It was terrible. I couldn't finish it. I really tried.
 

Wolfpack48

Explorer
Mild quibble. When survival is tenuous, societies tend to have very strong rules of hospitality. So, suspicion, sure. Mistreatment without direct cause, less so.

But that is a good bullet list. Someday I may understand the appeal of grim gritty “no good guys and little to no hope for something better” fiction.

I’m curious to see what others see in the setting, though. I know from experience that some see it in a wholly different light from yours.
I'd agree. In a harsh world, if you verify that the person you are working with is an ally, you are going to treat them VERY well. It's important to have as many friends as you can get when civilized areas are spread out, and there are enemies everywhere.
 

Enrico Poli1

Explorer
So ... I remember (back when they were published) reading Saga of the Old City. And it was .... fine. I mean, Gygax wasn't a great novelist, but I like it, at the time.

And Artifact (I think?) was next. I vaguely recall it being ... not as good. I almost didn't finish it.

And after that, I think I tried to read the next one after he left TSR. And I wanted it to be good. Because GORD! GYGAX! SEA OF DUST!

It was terrible. I couldn't finish it. I really tried.
They aren't literary masterpieces, that's clear.
But I was a teenager when the Italian translation came out. I remember that I was conquered by the figure of Gord, I loved his adventures and companions, I absolutely adored the fiendish politics aspect and the Theorpart metaplot.
I imagine we like different things!
 

doctorbadwolf

Adventurer
That's actually a really good point, esp. w/r/t tribal societies. However, this isn't always a universal, and if the survival is tenuous due to (for example) humanoid raids, then there would be a strong suspicion of any non-standard humans.

In addition (and this is mere speculation, now) I think that when people have some limited knowledge of monsters, humanoids, and magic working against them, they might tend to be more on the "verify, then trust" rather than the other way around.
That’s certainly possible. It’s also possible that knowledge verified by direct experience creates a wholly different reaction than superstition does, but that is a choice one has to just make and trust oneself when designing a world with magic.

For me, what I enjoyed about Greyhawk (when I did enjoy it. Even more DM dependent than other settings IME), it was the same thing I enjoyed in Dark Sun. We weren’t out for ourselves, just trying to make a buck and amass power. It’s a world where the bad guys seem to be winning, and we played characters who refused to accept that, and challenged others to similarly refuse.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
They aren't literary masterpieces, that's clear.
But I was a teenager when the Italian translation came out. I remember that I was conquered by the figure of Gord, I loved his adventures and companions, I absolutely adored the fiendish politics aspect and the Theorpart metaplot.
I imagine we like different things!
Maybe. But it could also be the translation! A good translation can make all the difference in the world- and maybe the translator was a better writer than Gygax!

I was thinking about this the other day, because there is a foreign author that I absolutely loved, and then I didn't like one of his novels I read recently, and it was completely because of the translation.
 

doctorbadwolf

Adventurer
I'd agree. In a harsh world, if you verify that the person you are working with is an ally, you are going to treat them VERY well. It's important to have as many friends as you can get when civilized areas are spread out, and there are enemies everywhere.
Yep. Tenuous survival does not breed individualism. It breeds tight social bonds and a willingness to cooperate. But that isn’t the right kind of fun for the type of setting that depends on tenuous survival, ironically.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Yep. Tenuous survival doesn’t not breed individualism. It breeds tight social bonds and a willingness to cooperate. But that isn’t the right kind of fun for the type of setting that depends on tenuous survival, ironically.
I was thinking more about the tenuous survival. I think it might depend on the type of tenuous survival.

Usually, when you get situations of isolation or deprivation (islands, deserts) breeding a culture of hospitality, it's because of the issue of survival. But I don't think that holds if the survival issue is due to, for example, war. Maybe I'm wrong on that one. Not my wheelhouse. ;)
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
2. It's small in scale. You aren't saving the Realms; you're making a buck. I say that partially in jest, but this is partly the aspect of Swords and Sorcery that needs to be played up in a Greyhawk setting. Small scale DOESN'T mean small stakes, however. You can save (or destroy) the village; but there should be a lot less of the "saving the world."

3. There's always something bigger, badder, and more mysterious. This is related to (2). You will never have the power of the Mages who destroyed the Sueloise civilization. There will always be the past glories or dangers, the stories of Vecna and of giant ships crashing from the sky, of beings that strode across the landscape, that are told around the fires at night.

4. Civilization is tenuous, at best. The great powers and empires are in decline and their best days are in the past, and it is always questionable if the forces of civilization will hold off the entropy and darkness. Progress is not assured. The forces of destruction are constantly howling and looking for a way in, and, more often than not, they are about to succeed.
We should realize there's a bit of illogic in this combination. Things stronger than you that will destroy civilization (either in one shot, or by defeat-in-detail) are about to succeed, but you should not expect to beat them? And the status quo of continuing threats has been around.. for centuries, right?

Statistically, then... shouldn't civilization be gone by now? The scale of actual threats to civilization has to cap out at roughly the scale of threats you expect people in the world to be able to handle, or the whole things falls apart in short order.
 

doctorbadwolf

Adventurer
I was thinking more about the tenuous survival. I think it might depend on the type of tenuous survival.

Usually, when you get situations of isolation or deprivation (islands, deserts) breeding a culture of hospitality, it's because of the issue of survival. But I don't think that holds if the survival issue is due to, for example, war. Maybe I'm wrong on that one. Not my wheelhouse. ;)
True. War never changes (I guess?), but it does tend to change things around it.

One thing that might screw with things as well, is the existence of mind control magic, which IMO is objectively more “evil” and terrifying than a simple fireball.

If I invented a device that could be pointed at someone and used to make them do whatever you wanted, that would be much, much, much worse than a gun.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
We should realize there's a bit of illogic in this combination. Things stronger than you that will destroy civilization (either in one shot, or by defeat-in-detail) are about to succeed, but you should not expect to beat them? And the status quo of continuing threats has been around.. for centuries, right?

Statistically, then... shouldn't civilization be gone by now? The scale of actual threats to civilization has to cap out at roughly the scale of threats you expect people in the world to be able to handle, or the whole things falls apart in short order.
 

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