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What is Greyhawk?

Urriak Uruk

Explorer
I really like how adventurers in Greyhawk are really a lot more like mercenaries than heroes, a far more realistic view of what an adventurer would actually be.

After all, for Gygax's private game, I believe most of the players would be neutral or even evil, not good. It was only his bright-eyed boy (Bigby!) who was consistently a good guy.

And the modules published reflect this. Against the giants is a the ruler hiring adventurers to fight off the giants, Against the Slave Lords the same against slavers. It can inadvertently be heroic, but it feels a lot more like "I'm here to get paid to do something bloody."
 

TarionzCousin

Second Most Angelic Devil Ever
It can inadvertently be heroic, but it feels a lot more like "I'm here to get paid to do something bloody."
In early D&D rules, you got experience points for gold pieces. So treasure had to be included in every adventure.

... but I'm not disagreeing with you. :angel:
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
It should be important to note that I refuse to acknowledge anything after Gygax left.
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.
This is key IMO. Some non-human races are accepted (i.e. the original demi-humans), but weird races would be rare and viewed with suspicion/fear/awe.

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."
Trying to save the world is just too much... you just try to save your small part of it. Epic threats, such as the invasion of the Queen of the Demonweb Pits, are extremely rare. Even the terrible Temple of Elemental Evil was only a threat to the lands of Velnua, Furyondy, and possibly Celene.

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.
To be fair, all settings have their legends of old that seem to overshadow the power of those today. I don't really feel this is something specific to Greyhawk.

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 ...
These need to be viewed together. The reason civilization hasn't been overrun is because evil doesn't like each other either. Iuz fights with the Horned Society and the Bandit Kingdoms, the northern barbarians fight among themselves more than others, and the Scarlet Brotherhood hides everywhere with their own agenda.

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.
The original Points of Light setting. I'm not sure I'd go this far, but fringe locations like villages and border towns would be cautious of strangers. Places located deeper in civilization would be less suspicious, even though they know that bandits, cultists, and assorted villains are out there.

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.
This is what Gygax intended, everyone starting from the same launch point ( 576 CY), but each DM making it his own version.
 

Hussar

Legend
But, I'm not quite convinced on this:

Greyhawk, drow are bad guys, not PC races
Not true after the Unearthed Arcana. It's not like the UA was written with Forgotten Realms in mind. It was written for Greyhawk. So, no. Not true.

Greyhawk, iconic enemies are dragons, and rot rubs, and otyugh, and Medusa, and type X demons, and vampires, and giants. Not every adventure is somehow tied to a beholder or mind flayer as the big bad guy.
Fair enough, I guess. The implication is that Forgotten Realms uses more beholders and mind flayers? I guess? Don't really see it, but, sure, whatever.

Greyhawk, a creature like a Dragonborn or tiefling would be a monster.
Yeah. No.
Greyhawk, you neared retirement at name level as a power to be reckoned with, and could build your own strongholds. FR is full of super high level NPCs at every corner cafe, fighting primordials, and you’re barely noticeable at 9th level.
Oh gimme a break. Good grief, you have the Circle of Eight, GODS running countries, many, MANY, insanely powerful entities wandering around, but somehow Greyhawk isn't full of super high level NPC's? I don't know where the heck this notion comes from. Greyhawk is chock a block with ludicrously powerful NPC's. Iuz, Vecna, Lum, Mordenkainen, Lolth, and I'm sure I'm missing a hundred others. These aren't some rare NPC that has no impact on the setting. These are the movers and shakers of the setting. You can't go anywhere in Greyhawk without tripping over some bloody arch mage or other.

Greyhawk, I drop in my own adventures and flesh out my areas. FR is so famous I can’t do that without being called out by a player how it doesn’t fit lore
.
Now, to me, THIS is the main draw and the main think that sets Greyhawk apart. It's meant as a tool kit, not an encyclopedia.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
But, I'm not quite convinced on this:



Not true after the Unearthed Arcana. It's not like the UA was written with Forgotten Realms in mind. It was written for Greyhawk. So, no. Not true.



Fair enough, I guess. The implication is that Forgotten Realms uses more beholders and mind flayers? I guess? Don't really see it, but, sure, whatever.



Yeah. No.


Oh gimme a break. Good grief, you have the Circle of Eight, GODS running countries, many, MANY, insanely powerful entities wandering around, but somehow Greyhawk isn't full of super high level NPC's? I don't know where the heck this notion comes from. Greyhawk is chock a block with ludicrously powerful NPC's. Iuz, Vecna, Lum, Mordenkainen, Lolth, and I'm sure I'm missing a hundred others. These aren't some rare NPC that has no impact on the setting. These are the movers and shakers of the setting. You can't go anywhere in Greyhawk without tripping over some bloody arch mage or other.



Now, to me, THIS is the main draw and the main think that sets Greyhawk apart. It's meant as a tool kit, not an encyclopedia.
Unearthed arcana isn’t greyhawk. You should know this. I’m sure my fellow greyhawk grognards will back me up on this 😉 @lowkey13

Also, Dragonborn and tieflings would be considered monsters first, and not core PC races. With a human centric world greyhawk was, being demihuman was rare enough, let alone Dragonborn or tiefling.

You also seem to be overestimating the number of high level NPCs in greyhawk compared to FR. In FR, they are everywhere. In every city. In every town. In every gnome cafe. Some of the names you mentioned were gods, not high level PCs. In 38 years of playing Greyhawk, not once did any of my players or myself encounter any of those names you listed except Lloth, and that’s only because a famous adventure was made for her. In FR, high level NPCs were everywhere. You couldn’t do anything of significance in FR without Elminster, Kelben, or some other high level NPC showing up at some point. Also, you missed the most important distinction when I said in Greyhawk (1e period when it was featured setting), name level meant something. When FR became featured setting, you barely counted at 9th level.
 

Ash Mantle

Adventurer
I feel that, in addition to what's been said before, Greyhawk is also a place of abundant political machinations, and quite ruthless and heartless ones at that.

What if, given the appropriate amount of lore, PCs could also play as the titled villains of the setting, like Iuz, Rary, Robillard and the like in a great Game of Thrones like play? With the DM setting the scene and playing folks like Mordenkainen and other heroes?

With the sidekick rules, the villainous leaders' sidekicks would be forcibly along for the ride, and with the rumoured mass combat rules to come, your villainous leader could command armies.
 

doctorbadwolf

Adventurer
I really like how adventurers in Greyhawk are really a lot more like mercenaries than heroes, a far more realistic view of what an adventurer would actually be.

After all, for Gygax's private game, I believe most of the players would be neutral or even evil, not good. It was only his bright-eyed boy (Bigby!) who was consistently a good guy.

And the modules published reflect this. Against the giants is a the ruler hiring adventurers to fight off the giants, Against the Slave Lords the same against slavers. It can inadvertently be heroic, but it feels a lot more like "I'm here to get paid to do something bloody."
I found it!

Greyhawk is the default dnd mode for players that view this as obviously the more realistic take on adventuring!

Literally Greyhawk and it’s appeal just groks for me now!
 

Coroc

Explorer
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.
Nope, you forget that Greyhawk has the circle of eight, that is Elminster x 8, who although have neutrality as their principle might set things right again.
Then there is the thing with Iuz being a god with Oerth as his homeplane. Still the understanding back then was that gods although pretty much almighty should not intermingle to much in the world of the mortals.
But Iuz does that, he raises armies does quite mundane things for a god. But still there is a limit for him or other gods might interfere. So, I am afraid, civilization will not be destroyed so fast.

The construct is of course a kind of deus-ex-machine a tool for the DM. The party can become strong, even vanquish some of the lieutenants of the big bad guy, but they can never hope to win against the evil overlord. This warrantees that the motivation to go on quests never is gone (like in Dragonlance)
 

doctorbadwolf

Adventurer
This warrantees that the motivation to go on quests never is gone (like in Dragonlance)
I’ve never ever in all my years seen a group of people who wanted to play in Dragonlance lose the motivation to go on quests just because the War of The Lance was over.

Of course, I’ve also never met Elminster or Drizzt or anyone else like that in FR, so maybe I just know very weird people.

Well, okay. I definitely know very weird people, but y’all know what I mean.
 

Paul Farquhar

Adventurer
with a late start like that... the rest of your opinion isn't surprising. By the time of 2E, WoG's best adventures had already been done, and what came after wasn't so great. Not to mention, TSR shifted drastically over to the FR in the process. But WoG is a bit different from FR not just in tone, but in level of detail... where the FR are vastly detailed, WoG isn't.... that's something that appeals to some DMs, not others.
I started playing in 1980, and I don't think much of Greyhawk either.

Whatever unique character it may have once had was diluted by all official modules being set there, irrespective of character and tone.

And frankly, I just think Gygax was a really really bad writer.
 

Coroc

Explorer
I’ve never ever in all my years seen a group of people who wanted to play in Dragonlance lose the motivation to go on quests just because the War of The Lance was over.

Of course, I’ve also never met Elminster or Drizzt or anyone else like that in FR, so maybe I just know very weird people.

Well, okay. I definitely know very weird people, but y’all know what I mean.
Well I cannot quite argue there, because I only played DL as gold box CRPG never as tabletop and read the books. Sure, you can do other things still after the war of the lance but it is still the top plot in the whole saga, also in the books.

In my greyhawk campaign the players are actually agents of Otiluke, but the difference is that the circle of eight is a major force of neutrality and maybe status quo whereas Elminster and Drizzt are major forces of good and change to the better.

In a way FRs Elminster and Dirzzt are also "higher up" for a group of PCs to meet, than most of the circle of eight, who are sometimes into quite mundane issues. FR or Greyhawk does in no way require that PCs are involved or meet some of these major forces to have a good campaign in either of those settings.
But in FR these two serve as a cavalry sometimes, to jump the fray, whereas in greyhawk Circle of eight are rather a tool to explain why evil did not yet have all out victory.
 

Hussar

Legend
Y'know, it's kinda funny. The most iconic adventures for Greyhawk - GDQ and T1-4 both end with the PC's challenging (and killing potentially) gods. On the other end, you have Paizohawk which wraps up with Savage Tide, where, like Queen of the Demonweb Pits, the PC's invade the Abyss and kill a demon lord and carve out an entire plane out of the abyss.

Nicely bookended. Kill gods at the start, kill gods at the end.

Yeah, nice low powered setting. :erm:
 

S'mon

Legend
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.
Mostly points I agree with. I guess 'civilisation is tenuous' is true of FR too, but it always projects a 'things will work out alright in the end' feel, where Greyhawk tends to feel much more grim and doom-driven. Whether it ends with magic fading from the world as Pluffet Smedger writes the last volume of his magnum opus on the good old days (1983 box set) or ends with a Tharizduny apocalypse (Gygax's Gord series), there are no unequivocally happy endings here.

Greyhawk's nation-states map gives it a 15th century late medieval feel despite Gygax's Old West tropes, where FR is much more solidly a North American (to a large extent, specifically Canadian) frontiersman fantasy, divorced from much overt Medievalism.
 
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S'mon

Legend
Y'know, it's kinda funny. The most iconic adventures for Greyhawk - GDQ and T1-4 both end with the PC's challenging (and killing potentially) gods. On the other end, you have Paizohawk which wraps up with Savage Tide, where, like Queen of the Demonweb Pits, the PC's invade the Abyss and kill a demon lord and carve out an entire plane out of the abyss.

Nicely bookended. Kill gods at the start, kill gods at the end.

Yeah, nice low powered setting. :erm:
In Greyhawk you kill some Demon Lord and it ends one specific threat, it doesn't make the world all Rainbows & Unicorns. The low power of the demon lords, Arch-Devils, killable 1e Greyhawk gods et al gives the setting a feeling of mortality you don't really get in FR, where even the uber NPCs are designed to be untouchable and in official material the Metaplot tends to be paramount over individual campaigns - though WoTC is much better about that than TSR was IMO. And some FR campaigns involve god-slaying, notably Bloodstone where you dispatch Tiamat on your way to killing Orcus. They killed Orcus in my 4e FR game, too.

I tend to prefer FR to GH these days though, I prefer the more optimistic and open tone of FR to Greyhawk's tendency towards Grimdark.
 

Hussar

Legend
I think the one thing that differentiates GH from other settings is the degree to which people have internalized their own interpretations. Because there is so little material (comparatively) on the setting and so much of it is spread out over decades, people become very, very entrenched in whatever interpretation they have made for the setting.

I mean, sure, I get @Sacrosanct's point about the power of the setting. Forgotten Realms is rather known for having some pretty damn high powered NPC's roaming around. And so much of the fiction and writing about the Realms focuses on these high powered NPC's, whereas you don't have 2 or 3 hundred novels for Greyhawk floating around. Gord the Rogue wasn't exactly high powered after all.

But, there's a counter argument to this. The material that IS out there for GH does feature a LOT of very high powered individuals. As I said, you can bookend GH with Queen of the Demonweb Pits and Savage Tides. Then there are things like Isle of the Ape which feature incredibly powerful individuals (makes, sense, it's a very high level module.) On and on. Is it a low powered setting where you do local things? Sure. Sometimes. Is it a sprawling setting where massive upheavals occur? Yup, sometimes.
 

Zardnaar

Adventurer
I started playing in 1980, and I don't think much of Greyhawk either.

Whatever unique character it may have once had was diluted by all official modules being set there, irrespective of character and tone.

And frankly, I just think Gygax was a really really bad writer.
That's fine it's not for everyone.

I used to like FR a lot more but they blew it up a bit to often.
 

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