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    Canonfire :: View topic - Generic Greyhawk or Toolkit Greyhawk
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    Generic Greyhawk or Toolkit Greyhawk
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    Grandmaster Greytalker

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    Mon Aug 27, 2007 4:14 pm  
    Generic Greyhawk or Toolkit Greyhawk

    I've heard this description or criticism of Greyhawk leveled for some time. This is my brief response -

    People who call Greyhawk generic are certainly entitled to their opinion but I think such comments reveal as much about the person who finds Greyhawk generic as they reveal about the setting. Greyhawk is, IMO, the ultimate DM's toolbox setting, but like a toolbox it doesn't do much by itself. You have to use the tools. If you don't, won't or can't, Greyhawk will just sit there and seem "generic." What you bring to Greyhawk is as important, if not more important, than what Greyhawk presents to you straight out of the box. This is Greyhawk's genius, if I can use that term, and its burden. Greyhawk is not ready to rock right out of the box - it has to be assembled. You are up for that or capable of that or you are not. The experience of those who are not is that Greyhawk is "generic." In this, Greyhawk is very much old school as compared to more recent settings that come with plots and hooks you can hardly avoid and which as a DM you must either work with, ignore or work around. That's not a value judgment, by the way. It just a different way of presenting material with differing expections for how that material will be utilized.

    Greyhawk is as generic as the DM attempting Greyhawk is skilled. That holds for others setting certainly but moreso for Greyhawk, I believe. EGG wasn't into making it easy for his readers. And I personally appreciate that.

    YMMV
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    Master Greytalker

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    Mon Aug 27, 2007 6:00 pm  

    I'll go you one better and say that IMO Greyhawk is "advanced". Consider, for the sake of analogy, model cars. You have the beginner cars which only have to be snapped together, come prepainted, and can be assembled by a child. Then you have various stages of mid-skill models, then you have the truly advanced models that are nearly as complex as the real cars.

    In keeping with that analogy, Greyhawk is advanced. It was initially designed (in its published form, at least) to be a bare-bones framework upon which DM's could imprint their own visions and designs. By its very nature Greyhawk information is almost exclusively "behind the scenes". There was an attempt to bring events into the foreground with the Greyhawk Wars set and similar products, but the relative unpopularity of these products among gamers at large proved that Greyhawkers want something with a little more meat on its bones. This is illustrated beautifully by certain dynamics we see at work in the gaming community today vis a vis the continuing clamor of Eberron fans for more information, while Greyhawk fans continue to say, "Keep your hands off my Greyhawk!" See the contrast?

    Let's apply that thought to the Forgotten Realms, which from the beginning was filled with fluff and detail. Personally, I abandoned playing in the realms when my players started telling me they wanted to visit stores and NPCs that I never even knew existed (because they had read supplements I didn't have). The amount of detail provided for that setting was overwhelming, requiring the DM to do nothing but read. Any beginning DM could pick up the Forgotten Realms boxed set and "snap on" another part whenever he chose, with little or no skill involved.

    Is it true that Greyhawk contains clicheic figures that might be considered "generic"? Of course it is. What setting doesn't? As the most original book ever written tells us, "There is nothing new under the sun." But over the years Greyhawk has developed a feel and flavor all it's own. Even with the mass of material that has been produced by this site and others, it remains the setting of choice for "advanced" DMs. The only way to get more advanced is to build a campaign yourself from the ground up. But to stretch the analogy a bit more, even the most expert car builder will tell you it's often best to begin with a premade chassis. Hence the continued popularity of Greyhawk among serious gamers, and its lack of popularity among WotC's much-sought-after "new" gamers.

    Or, to put it in the words of my 5-yr-old son (who plays a mean fighter, by the way), "Greyhawk is for grownups."
    Master Greytalker

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    Mon Aug 27, 2007 7:38 pm  

    I will agree with much of what is stated here. Greyhawk can appear very generic. If is does, IMO, it is because it is the standard by which all other's are judged. As it is the standard, everything else functions from this. If one does not look closer, that is all that one sees.

    However, I would argue against the "advanced," vs. "new," gamer thesis. I say this because one legitimate criticism I think that can be leveled at Greyhawk is that the IP Owner has never bothered to establish much of a setting. The world is well established. The rulers etc. But Hommelet is, IMO, the closest one comes to a setting. And CoG is like Paris to France, it is a whole different world.

    There have been various attempts at this, and The Scarlet Brotherhood may have been the best, though I did not particularly like it. The LIberation of Geoff is somewhat along these lines, though again, it is a good adventure setting.

    One of the purposes of the Gran March Project (yes it is years behind, but regardless) was to give characters a place to be from. When I was much younger, we didnt really care where our characters were from. But by college this became important.

    Also, think about Greyhawk. THe LGG is the primer. That takes an awful lot of time to read if you are a GH Newbie. THere is really no introduction to WoGH. Trying to take in GH from all the various sources is like drinking from a firehose, for DM and player alike.

    Well, that was more than 2 cents, but probably overpriced.
    Master Greytalker

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    Mon Aug 27, 2007 9:39 pm  

    I think, Anced, that you're making my point for me.

    First of all, I was looking at the World of Greyhawk as a whole rather than as a collection of various sites. By "as a whole" I'm referring to the various writings in Dragon, Dungeon, Oerth Journal, Canonfire!, and all the other usual sources in addition to the various published works. As such, Greyhawk is "advanced" because it requires a significant amount of work on the DM's part to bring it all together. All the blanks are not filled in. The DM has a variety of works to draw from, but for the most part he must fill in all the details such as local establishments, most of the NPCs, topographical details, etc. It is beyond the capabilities of most beginning DMs to pull this off effectively.

    Compare this to what I would call a "beginner" setting like the Forgotten Realms. The original boxed set contained roughly the same amount of information as the original Greyhawk boxed set. Later, dozens of supplements were produced detailing individual towns, geographical regions, NPCs, societies and organizations, etc. Even specialized classes, spells, and similar details were produced for the Forgotten Realms. Thus, a beginning DM could simply sit down with his boxed set, point at a random region, pull out the supplement for that region, and his work was pretty much done. This is why I had trouble DMing the Forgotten Realms at that time. My players had access to several supplements that I did not own, so when I chose a region from my boxed set they were prepared with a vast knowledge of who and what they would find there. The published works trumped my designs.

    I'm not making any value judgments here - if I were a new DM I would undoubtedly choose the Forgotten Realms because I could use all that pre-fabricated information to make up for the design time I lack. Fortunately for me, I have almost 30 years of my own design work to draw on, so I get to indulge my affection for GH. I can certainly see why someone - especially a new DM - would want to use the Forgotten Realms or Eberron. Both are excellent creations. However, for myself and many others here on CF! those worlds just don't cut it. It's too hard to put your mark on them. It's difficult to personalize them because the products already out there have already filled in most of the gaps. Also, neither setting has the sense of history that GH has.

    Many of us who love Greyhawk stick with it precisely because we appreciate the gaming philosophy of an older time. We get nostalgic for those days when every setting - GH included - was a work in progress and anyone with a good imagination could become part of it. We used the same world because it gave us something to start with (we were all beginners once) and because it provided just enough commonality to bring us together as gamers. But it left us enough room to let our imaginations run wild.

    I introduced my oldest son to model-making last year. He was fine with the simple models I bought him because they were easy to put together and he liked the bright colors. But now when he sees them in the store he looks at the difficulty rating and says, "Those are for babies. I want a big boy model." He wants to fiddle with his modeling tools and apply his own paint job now. He wants something more advanced.

    I also introduced him to D&D last year. He really likes the art from my Eberron books. He has a great fascination with the magical lightning trains, warforged, and similar eye-candy he sees there. He enjoys playing with the simplified rules system I designed for him, and has even tried his hand at DMing a time or two. But what he really wants to do is browse through my Greyhawk collection. His greatest ambition as a gamer is to earn the right to join my "grownup" campaign. Even at the age of 5 (almost 6) he understands that Eberron is for beginners, and Greyhawk is for "big boys."

    My 2 cp, with a gp tip.
    Master Greytalker

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    Mon Aug 27, 2007 11:48 pm  

    Hmmm....interesting thoughts here on this thread. Can't say I ever viewed the world of GH this way. I'd go to the gaming store and always regret not seeing the support products like we saw for FR and Ebberon. I like what you guys are saying.....Maybe WOTC realizes that tackling GH is more than they can handle. I really like this way of thinking!!!! THANKS...
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    Eileen of Greyhawk, Prophet of Istus, Messenger of the Gods
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    Tue Aug 28, 2007 2:16 am  

    I agree with Bubba on Forgotten Realms. It was that setting that brought me into the hobby (via the Baldur's Gate games from the ninties. They're good! Check them out!) and while I liked the vast levels of fluff at first, as more and more stuff came out for them, it started to get a bit hard to keep up, what with suddenly finding that so-and-so had died and that the Fey'ri had relocated to the other side of Faerun.

    Which leads me to Greyhawk. What first atracted me to it was that it appeared to be a bit more darker and 'grittier' than FR (I'm also I Warhammer player, so dark and gritty is good. Cool). But I was a bit put off by the lack of readily avaliable fluff. But having read this thread, I'm now seeing a problem as a challenge and an opportunity. Now my Greyhawk can be as dark as a want it!

    Yes. Heroes of Horror is my favourate book for 3.5. Why do you ask?

    But that being said, I still have an interest in Eberron. I like the high tech world it's set in, and I see no reason why this approach can't be applied to it. I've got an idea for a campaign involving a dying god, corporate greed, The Lords of Dust and the mysterious world changing energy source T.I.A.M.A.T. that just won't work anywhere else.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Aug 28, 2007 2:36 am  

    Well, the main attraction of GH for me has always been the lack of fluff. There is enough there to establish some flavor and the rest is up to the DM. Since world building is one of the things that most appeals to me as a DM, an "underdeveloped" world like GH is the only sort I'd ever been drawn into using.

    Even with that, most of my 26 years of DMing have been in homebrew worlds. I got back into running GH some years ago because I got involved in a cooperative project with some other DMs and it was easier to get everyone the GH source material than get them source material for my worlds. Plus, not being in "My" world kept us seemingly equal.

    And now I've got all these players trained on GH, so why start training them all over again... GH has plenty of space for the DM to create as he sees fit.
    Black Hand of Oblivion

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    Tue Aug 28, 2007 2:59 am  

    Greyhawk is simply under developed and under novelized. That it was made the "Core" setting while receiving little to no product support might lead to newer players of the game viewing it as generic. Greyhawk isn't generic at all.

    There really is no such thing as a “generic” campaign world, for as soon as one begins to codify it, it ceases to be such. There can be generic elements inserted into a campaign world, but the world itself is not generic. What are generic are the things that campaign worlds mostly have in common, such as races, classes, spells, and even some gods. The worlds themselves are inherently not generic, but game elements might make them seem so.

    Perhaps the 4e books will have generic campaign elements in the core rule books. Where we could have seen such elements in 3.5 would have been for deities and their domains, but the Greyhawk gods(some of them at least) were left in rather than being replaced with truly generic deities who needn’t even have had names, just what they represented(god of war & discord, goddess of knowledge & magic, god of evil & death, god of light & healing, etc.). This would be generic, yet it has nothing to do with any campaign world.

    A truly generic campaign world would come as a plain tan boxed set with "Campaign Setting" in Times New Roman script on the cover. Inside would be a couple booklets with stat blocks for lands, cities, geographical features, and whatever else goes into such a boxed set. The only problem is, all the stat blocks are blank. They are generic. You get to fill them in. This booklet goes hand in hand with the huge blank fold-out hex grid which you get to draw your own map on. Once you do that, and then proceed to name your lands, you get to fill in some names and stats in your generic campaign booklet.

    But of course, by the simple act of defining your generic campaign world, you have just made it non-generic. Damn. Time to go back and re-label that book in proper generic form: “Kingdom A”, “Kingdom B”, “Big River 1”, “Volcano Mountains 1”, “Big Swamp 1”…

    Greyhawk is way beyond generic, and would only be viewed as such by those who know little or nothing about it or its history with regard to the game.
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    Tue Aug 28, 2007 4:04 am  

    I swear Eberron is the World of Warcraft in disguise. Wink (it is)
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    Tue Aug 28, 2007 4:31 am  

    abysslin wrote:
    I swear Eberron is the World of Warcraft in disguise. Wink (it is)


    I always saw Eberron as Final Fantasy D20 myself.

    But I've never played WoW, so I wouldn't know.
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    Tue Aug 28, 2007 4:51 am  

    One of the issues, IMO, is the expectation of the modern gamer. Greyhawk is grounded in an historical context, verisimilitude infused with just enough magic to make it "fantasy." We have knighthoods and honorifics, fiefs, Free Cities, guilds, variable government structures at conflict with one another. A humanocentric setting in which the various sub-races of humanity are mostly blended, though strains of racial purity are extant. There is political, racial, and religious conflict, and there are places of magic and adventure.

    Many of today's settings show little regard for real-world history. Settings are often a clash of time periods represented, cobbled together with anime, potent magic, and quasi-superhero elements involved. Games tend to be more high-powered, with power being the attraction, and ofttimes I see little regard for trade, the harvest of natural resources, agriculture and other elements that are considered too "vanilla" by some folks. I happen to enjoy utilizing such elements in my game, presenting the backdrop of trade and commerce and politics; back-drop is the key term here, though, because before long, my adventurers are plumbing the depths of some dungeon or tower.

    Greyhawk is the finest setting, and it is not just nostalgia for me. This setting breathes life into your D&D campaign like none other. It is rich.

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    --Jeff T.
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    Tue Aug 28, 2007 7:12 am  

    Again,

    I agree with most of what is printed here. I think Greyhawk is "perceived," as the generic standard... the base world of D&D. I think few could/would argue over this.

    I like the grey, the grit, the wide open spaces. However,if we, the GH community would like to broaden our base to those who know nothing of GH, then I think we have two options.

    1) add new player to our groups. I am doing this with great success. Everyone who has played in one of my March games has enjoyed it. One of my players, MikelAmroni, has become fairly regular here and has started his own GH Campaign (which he did not invite me to I might add). I have never introduced a player to GH that did not like it, and for the most part prefer it. However it has a fairly slow rate of return.

    2) create a few setting entree's which are user friendly. Temple of Hommlet still works, and the APs are nice. I hope one day soon. to finish the GM Project. I think these types of projects are essential to growing the fan base.


    YMMV
    Grandmaster Greytalker

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    Tue Aug 28, 2007 7:21 am  

    IMO, GH is not generic. To quote my 2 year old, its "MINE!"
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    Tue Aug 28, 2007 8:41 am  

    Cebrion wrote:
    . . . But of course, by the simple act of defining your generic campaign world, you have just made it non-generic. Damn. Time to go back and re-label that book in proper generic form: “Kingdom A”, “Kingdom B”, “Big River 1”, “Volcano Mountains 1”, “Big Swamp 1”…


    Ghul wrote:
    . . . Greyhawk is grounded in an historical context, verisimilitude infused with just enough magic to make it "fantasy." . . .


    Anced_Math wrote:
    . . . Greyhawk can appear very generic. If is does, IMO, it is because it is the standard by which all other's are judged. As it is the standard, everything else functions from this. If one does not look closer, that is all that one sees.


    The above pretty much identifies Greyhawk as a "toolkit" setting that looks to the DM to utilize the tools provided, IMO.

    While not as generic as Cebrion's example, GH's kingdoms, at least early on, were little more. Even with the LGG, the kingdoms were sketched more than being fully fleshed out. Here, I must quickly differentiate "sketch" from "generic." The manner in which GH's kingdoms etc. are sketched is _not_ generic. Each has a clear personality or identity beyond the generic but each is still sufficiently a sketch to require the DM to decide what they final product will look like. Over time, these sketches have become for detailed but IMO Greyhawk remains a toolbox wherin the DM is required to pick up the tools and build something. Greyhawk does not come ready to go out of the box.

    Ghul's point elaborates on how GH's sketches are put together to be more than generic. EGG had a fondness for history and he applied it to GH. While no GH kingdom etc. is an exact analog to earth history, EGG's descriptions clearly suggest such or point in one direction or another. They are not so heavy handed as to demand such, however. This is, IMO, part of GH's genus - it suggests without demanding. This same principle applies to how magis is placed within the setting. The stage is set for any level of magic but it remains for the DM to assemble the players who will appear on that stage.

    AM's point is also well taken. GH is, even today, the baseline. By TSR's and Wotc's research, most D&D players homebrew. That is the majority of campaigns take place in homebrew settings. GH is one step removed from the homebrew. It offers a premade structure but then leaves more than substantial room to "homebrew" Greyhawk. Again, a toolkit sensibility. Contrasted with other settings, GH does not force a plotline upon you. For example, while in Eberron you can ignore the Last War, that is not the thought as to how the setting will be utlized - rather DMs are supposed to find the setting suffused with the reprecussions of the Last War and use this to help Ebberon come alive. Ebbron os heavy handed in how it prsents is premade plot elements, where GH is not. Eberron is also far more "ready to play" out of the box than GH. This is, need it be said, not a criticism of Eberron just a look at how the philosophies behind it differ from those of GH. Much than same could be said of FR, Ravenloft, Dark Sun etc.

    bubbagump wrote:
    I'll go you one better and say that IMO Greyhawk is "advanced".


    The use of a term like "advanced" is loaded because it is easy enough to equate it with "better." But if we avoid that trap, I agree with Bubba entirely. GH is advanced in the sense that it requires more from the user to use immediately out of the box, while conversely it requires less of the user to ignore any particular feature that doesn't suit right out of the box. GH is not forward; it does not push itself upon its user as some other settings do with respect to particular plot elements. In this way, a casual look at GH can easily see it as generic - where is the overarching plot driver like The Last War (Eberron), where is the stylizied magic/power like Defiliers, Preservers and Psionics (Dark Sun), where is the imposed tone (Ravenloft), where is the network of adventure instigators like Elminster, the Seven Sisters, the Harpers etc. (FR)? And so on. Greyhawk offers the possibility of each but demands none in its presentation. By comparison, to the casual observer, Greyhawk can seem genetic when in fact it is presenting a toolkit and awaiting the hand of the DM to determine exactly how the tools will be used.

    Vormaerin wrote:
    Well, the main attraction of GH for me has always been the lack of fluff. There is enough there to establish some flavor and the rest is up to the DM. Since world building is one of the things that most appeals to me as a DM, an "underdeveloped" world like GH is the only sort I'd ever been drawn into using.


    Taking the last quoted bit first, this is what TSR and Wotc have utterly failed to see with respect to GH - "world building is one of the things that most appeals" to DM's, as even TSR and Wotc's research proves when it finds most campaigns are homebrews. GH could be marketed as the ultimate DM toolbox one step removed from the homebrew, but not so far emoved as to have no appeal to homebrewers. This, however, is a fine line IMO and gets to the first bit quoted above.

    "Lack of fluff" IMO does not define GH. GH is not Cebrion's above quoted "Kingdom A" etc. that a real lack of fluff would produce. Rather, IMO, than a lack of fluff it is an understated fluff that is present as Ghul observes in the quote above - fluff that is less obtrusive because it is more grounded in the historical even while that grounding is necessarily not history but loose analogy at best. Here again is EGG and GH's genius - the toolbox approach.

    Beyond the theoretical, there is a very practical application of this distinction in the nature of GH"s fluff, IMO. GH can be supported by supplements and can have fluff added but it must be a certain sort of fluff applied in a way that is not demanding of an outcome but may suggest or inspire a DM toward that, or another outcome. Too many settings, IMO, demand an outcome with their fluff or at least make it difficult to ignore because the fluff so suffuses the setting - e.g., the Last War in Eberron etc. GH fluff should be, IMV, either an extrapolation from history or from the setting's internal development but should not demand adherence to such or make it overly difficult to ignore. GH fluff suggests possibilities - that is the key point IMV.

    Obviously, over time this becomes more problematic as even the lightest fluff will eventually build up. The two ways out of this bind IMV are to either move to a larger canvas beyond the strict confines of the Flanaess or use analogous historic processes to reset the stage periodically, like EGG was clearly driving toward with his From the Sorcerer's Scrolls pieces.

    Regardless, IMO, Greyhawk can have suppleents to make it a successful line from a business standpoint and still retain its toolbox character. It is the toolbox thought, however, that to me animates the setting. Those who see GH as generic are simply failing to see what GH does and why, perhaps because no other setting takes a toolbox approach.
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    Tue Aug 28, 2007 11:28 am  

    Anced_Math wrote:
    However,if we, the GH community would like to broaden our base to those who know nothing of GH...


    Why would we want to do that? Heck, I'm actually thinking of having you all assassinated so I can have GH all to myself! Then I can establish "canon" without any interference and the whole world will have to acknowledge my superiority!

    Mwahahahahahaha!
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