In the name of Balance, given the discussion of quintessential Greyhawk. What’s wrong with Greyhawk?
Greyhawk is not a perfect setting. Greyhawk is a marvelously playable setting, rich in history, both real and imagined in the setting. It does, however, have its share of problems.
In a world of “themed” settings, Greyhawk can appear bland by comparison. Without using the words (or derivatives), “Suel,” “Oeridian,” or “Flan” distinguish Keoland from Furyondy from Nyrond from the Great Kingdom in 50 words or less. Now, read what you’ve written. Does this strike you as exciting and flavorful? Probably not.
Sure, the Great Kingdom is a shattered empire that once dominated the Flaneass, Nyrond is its historic rival. Furyondy is locked in near perpetual conflict with the evil Iuz (more on this later). And Keoland is the successor state to an ancient empire founded by refugees from that empire.
These are, however, pretty generic descriptions. If you were to use the racial descriptions, you might do slightly better but that wouldn’t mean much to someone not already sold on the setting.
And these are Greyhawk’s leading nations. It’s superpowers.
I am not saying that these leading nations of Greyhawk lack distinctive flavor but rather that their individual flavors are not immediately discernable at a casual glance.
Iuz Ad Nauseum
Greyhawk’s chief villain is ubiquitous in the setting. It seems as if every other major event or plot somehow revolves around Iuz and/or his minions. Too much of anything is not a good thing.
Imagine that Iuz is killed. Say by a barbarian with a knife. What effect will this have on the setting? The impact is huge. So much of the past and present revolves around Iuz. That past is suddenly much less important to understand and the future is clear of a great deal of villainy.
The Scarlet Brotherhood? Sure. They are next in line. But they suffer from not being personified and having been throughly outed in the Greyhawk Wars. And who after them? The Horned Society? Turrosh-Mak? Ivid’s leftovers in the Great Kingdom? Please.
This doesn’t mean we are “forced” to keep Iuz but, rather that real alternatives need to be found.
Greyhawk is much too dependent on Iuz, who becomes something of a one-trick-pony.
The Eternal City of Greyhawk
One trick pony. Again. Too much of the Flanaess revolves around doings in the City of Greyhawk and its Domain. From the Ashes spent nearly half its word count on the City of Greyhawk and this after the City of Greyhawk boxed set. And then The Adventure Begins and Player’s Guide followed suit. And this says nothing about the references in other products.
Greyhawk and the Flanaess are neither Lankhmar nor Newhon, which doesn’t exist much beyond Lankhmar, save in the breach. The Flanaess has rich potential for adventure but where do we so often begin, necessarily pass through or end? Greyhawk. Again, too much of a good thing.
Going, Going, Gods
Greyhawk has too many gods who lack personality and don’t do much beyond sponsoring clerics. Pelor? Rao? Nerull? Boccob? Wee Jas? Obad-hai? Istus? YAWN! And these guys actually have some personality and detail. Heironious and Hextor, along with Pholtus and St. Cuthbert, because of their linkages and patron nations, do have personality and do seem to matter, and without being overdeveloped. Pelor, Rao, Nerull, Boccob, Wee Jas and Istus lack anything of the sort, to say nothing of the other 100+ deities who are little more than a name, alignment and portfolio. Vecna is a special case, given his modular trilogy.
I am not suggesting that Greyhawk needs activist gods like the Forgotten Realms but the gods of Greyhawk need something more than they have. There has to be a happy medium.
Greyhawk’s demi-humans are stay at home types. Highfolk minds its own business. The Ulek States rest more or less quietly in Keoland’s shadow. Celene doesn’t answer its door, doesn’t have email, has unplugged the telephone and pulled the shades. Lendore is much the same. I’ve heard of low fantasy but this is ridiculous. Does Greyhawk have demi-humans? Yes. But it can be hard to prove that in world affairs beyond a recitation of the aforementioned nations.
Any flavor that demi-humans might lend to the setting is sharply muted. An occasional reference. A community within some larger, human nations purview. Well, at least the drow aren’t Drizzt-like.
These, then, are the biggies.
I am not suggesting Greyhawk needs the Realms treatment. I personally dislike the Forgotten Realms as too much treacly power fantasy where most major events are dealt with by other than the players characters.
I am not suggesting that Greyhawk needs “fixing.” Greyhawk is my setting of choice and for very good reasons, another topic entirely.
What I am saying is that one should not be blind to Greyhawks drawbacks.
And that is the reason I love it, though I think i could differentiate the kingdoms you mentioned. I could do so at least as effectively as an outsider could differentiate Canada, the USA and Great Britain. I would reference you to my post on the Quintessential Greyhawk. Not because it is necessarily interesting or insightful. But it does tread upon the same ground.
What you have just said is exactly why I like Greyhawk. All the nations, even the superpowers, are described enough to give you a guideline or summary of what is going on, but is not developed to the point in which you cannot change things without serious changes to the setting as a whole. One of Greyhawk's most dynamic facets is that things are in motion on a grand scale. Nations are warring and there is a certain gritty tang of desperation that is in the air.
Celene is closed, now you have a dark forbidding forest nation. Furyondy and Veluna have joined in the great Northern Crusade. To me that says the north reaches of Furyondy and the Southern reaches of Iuz are a no man's land of wilds and wilderness. The southern reaches of Furyondy are warm and relatively untouched by the war. The Scarlet Brotherhood is undefined, which imho, is exactly what "they" would want. Nyrond is trying to keep itself together. On the surface things may seem to be going one way, but in reality they may be treading a different path.
The setting is rich in history, which gives it a certain existence. We DM's and players give it LIFE (a cliche, I know). I can have my PC's run around Keoland where the people dress in wool and linens. In Ulek, the people dress in heavy, rough cotton and subtle silks. Jumping across to the Wild Coast, the people dress in whatever they have at the moment. In my mind, I have a clear vision of the cities in Greyhawk. The cities in Ulek are far cleaner and brighter than the cities in Furyondy and Ahlissa. The setting allows everyone to make an interpretation of the surrondings around them. As opposed to other settings that clearly define the who's and what's, Greyhawk gives you breathing room to create. At least, that's how I feel
And that is the reason I love it, though I think i could differentiate the kingdoms you mentioned.
What you have just said is exactly why I like Greyhawk.
Fair enough. Not meaning to offer offense, but let me be clear what I am saying.
1) Nyrond, Furyondy, the GK and Keoland are nondescript and bland as briefly described.
2) Iuz is an overused, cheeseball villain. See my post More About Iuz.
3) Greyhawk City is a one trick pony, as if no other city mattered.
4) The gods are all but entries on a ledger.
5) The demi-humans are soooo Middle Earth, all "fading," or "leaving" or "isolating themselves."
And this is to like?
I know there is a shorthand that goes, "I like GH because it is not overdeveloped," often with "like fill-in-the-blank-setting" added for good measure. But it seems to me this identifies what is to like about GH in terms of what GH is not and not what GH is.
I like GH for what it is but I can see some places where I think improvements could be made.
1) Give Nyrond, Furyondy, the GK and Keoland some kind of more definable personality. A bad thing?
2) Get Iuz back under control as an antagonist and develop some other, equally important/effective villains, for variety if nothing else. A bad thing?
3) Give another city the City of Greyhawk treatment - Rel Astra? A bad thing?
4) Make some sense out of the hodgepodge of "ledger entry" gods. As syncretism seems to be the way things are going, complete the process. Or develop the pantheons as such. Or do both, if it can be done reasonably. A bad thing?
5) Let the demi-humans be more than Tolkeinite sterotypes. A bad thing?
I'm not suggesting overdevelopment or a DM railroad. I am suggesting some rounding out of the basics that could give the setting greater depth and flexibility.
Change is part of GH's charm, witness FtA. So, what to change the next time around? You have my suggestions.
3) Give another city the City of Greyhawk treatment - Rel Astra? A bad thing?
Such treatments are on their way in Dungeon Magazine in the coming year.
On a side note, IMO the World of Greyhawk was originally suppose to be a back drop for adventures, most of which took place underground anyways. GHC and other locations were merely places to spend cash after defeating the Tomb of Horrors, White Plume Mt., the Giants, the Slave Lords, etc etc.
I really don't think EGG was concerned at first with overly developed nations and such. Even in his Dragon Mag updates on the Flanaess they read more like briefs for a wargame (Which is what TSR was founded on).
You're not pointing out faults in the World of Greyhawk, you're telling us how your preferences differ from the design philosophies of Gary Gygax and other Greyhawk writers. That's fine, but don't frame it as if they're faults in some objective sense. Every writer is bound to add some of their own sensibility to the world, and recasting it to suit your own campaign is just what it's there for, but expecting the published setting to follow suit is crazy. Try some negative capability and appreciate it for what it is, not what you want it to be. Read Gary's article about creating the WoG in Horsemen of the Apocalypse. And irrespective of From the Ashes's virtues, it divided fans of the setting to regrettable effect, as any such recasting would have done. Re your specific points,
1. Others see the personality of those places perfectly easily.
2.-3. Don't confuse the emphases of the product line with the setting itself. What you call 'cheeseball' I'd take every time over frail modern psychologized villains.
4. There are secondary worlds that define their gods and religions in great detail and/or anthropological depth. In the World of Greyhawk, they're background to D&D adventuring, not a creative construct for its own sake; some got writeups as examples for the DM, others are left to the DM and players. Neither approach is right or wrong.
5. The resemblance to Tolkien is superficial. Rather, the Flanaess is a humanocentric world like Nehwon with demihumans added as a relatively minor, colourful presence on the corners, mysterious to humans and to players. They are not at all like 'Tolkien stereotypes', apart from the halflings which Gary added as a sop to Tolkien fans. He drew on some of the same sources as Tolkien, but took them in different directions: his elves, particularly, are like those of English folklore or Shakespeare, not Tolkien's Norse-derived better-than-humans.
The problem with GH as a setting is that it was designed as a backdrop. This is fine if all you are doing is dungeon crawling, but it is terrible if you want to do anything else. I would have loved to have a full page developed to each power of evil like the Scarlett Brotherhood or the Horned Society the way FR did with the Zhentarim.
GH people complaing about Elminster is like FR people complaining about Gord the Rogue. Any big events that happen precampaign or events described in novels is going to done by NPCs. Their is no requirement for Elminster to meddle with your characters (and the background fluff indicates that he probably wouldn't) any more than Mordenkainen would (although there is this artifact we lost on a demi-plane, could you retrieve it?).
I disagree with the nations being bland, it would be like saying medievil France, Britain, and Portugal were bland because they were all monarchies attempting to expand. Plus there is plenty of variety in nations, Furyondy and Nyrond are typical monarchies but in completely different situations, Yeomanry is a democracy, the Pale is a theocracy and a fanatical one at that, along with various city-states like Greyhawk, Dyvers, and Rel Astra. I see plenty of diversity there.
I do agree that Greyhawk City is getting old. Too much info on one place. Of course, with the new Dungeon articles on various cities, I think we'll see a shift from the City of Greyhawk being overdone to having several well-detailed cities.
I definitely agree that demihumans play too small a role in GH. I'd prefer to see something happen with Celene or any of the other demihuman kingdoms to really put them on the international stage like Furyondy or Keoland.
The gods I have no opinion on, they just are what they are to me. I never really thought there were too many, although I would like to see some more attention paid to how they work as a pantheon.
As for Iuz, I like him as a powerful antagonist. Do I think he needs to be reigned in? No, not at all. Do I think we need to create a few more villains for variety? Not really, I think plenty of variety already exists. Sure, the Scarlet Brotherhood was hurt in the Greyhawk Wars, but I'm sure an organization as powerful as they are can bounce back eventually. Same with Turrosh Mak, he might be a weakling now, but if he plays his cards right he might be able to boost his power. In other words, we have enough villains, its just a matter of making them credible threats to the setting.
P.S. Something I forgot to mention, I think an inability to describe GH nations as being different without using words like Suel, Oeridian etc is a setting strength and not a weakness. It shows that parts of the setting are deeply rooted in the world's history and can't simply be transplanted to other fantasy worlds with a minimum of effort. _________________ -Matt
It isn't the DMs fault if the boxed set doesn't tell him jack, which is Greyhawk's problem. Thin racial descriptions don't help either. Bohemia and Prussia are both German and quite different. Normandy is not the Ile de France, nor is it Provence, and Switzerland is different still. Northern Italy is very different from the South. A racial description doesn't root the country in history. It is context that does it. For all the foolishness that can be found is FR, GH is simply lacking.
Later supplements do correct this. Ivid the Undying actually tells me about the Great Kingdom and I appreciate it. I'm not posting here to troll, but because I've come to like GH. That doesn't mean I should be blind to its faults.
I don't know, I've always found adequate information in the Greyhawk Campaign Setting, Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, or any other setting product for Greyhawk in order to differentiate kingdoms from eachother. _________________ -Matt
The two big campaign wide boxed sets (the WoG and FtA) were never meant to give the kind of in depth detail that you seem to be looking for.
Their purpose was to sketch out the world in broad brush strokes.
in the original WoG you were then left to develop the nations as and how you saw it (that being the prevailing wisdom at the time).
For FtA in depth detail was provided by the follow up supplements - Iuz the Evil, Marklands and Ivid the Undying (the paradigm of in depth supplements having superceded the eariler Gygaxian background light approach).
The LGG and LGJ have fleshed out Keoland and Zeif, completing the major realms of the Flanaess and Near West.
So I think you need to do a bit of reading before you start saying the realms of Greyhawk are entirely as bland as you seem to think. Underdeveloped is not the same as bland.
First the lack of nation detail can be a positive while their is enough to build on and as a GH fanatic I would love too always have more but the detail you seem to want would spawn a legion of rule lawyers.
according to pg.43 Zelradton blaksmith is Garoth and here is a map to his house he has 2 kids and a dog named fred.
remember whatever you can buy so can your players
Second...Iuz funny how you mention him so negatively he is on the wane and these villians do tend to run their course I remember after FtA evey article and player written adventure had SB as the hot ubervillians you couldn't swing a dead cat at a shadow without hitting a brotherhood agent.
But I have to agree with on the Gods issue their are too many especially outside any pantheons unfortunately how could you axe some without raising a howl from the purists they are part of the greyhawk fabric now and which ones, boccob maybe meaningless in your game but central to the guy down the street.
The setting was short on specifics and not organized in a DM friendly way. A setting needs more detail, more spice, and more examples on where to stick dungeons. I got a map filled with countries and short summaries of those nations and nationalities. A world setting should provide more. I started DMing as a teenager and the fact that I can now overcome those shortcomings didn't help me then. FR was far more noobie friendly and I have never found the wealth of FR information confining. I mostly play homebrew today, but my interest in Greyhawk has been sparked by the additions (such as Ivid the Undying) to the setting, not held by the boxed set.
Hmmm. I appear to have bitten off a bit more than I can reasonably chew in listing five elements wherin I believe WoG could use some improvement. I apologize. Note to self - one topic per post.
Looking at everyone's responses, it seems there is perhaps the most consistent disagreement with my stated feeling that Nyrond, Furyondy, Keoland and the GK are rather non-descript, as presented.
Before proceeding, please note that I like WoG and prefer it to all other settings I have encountered. Yet, I feel improvements can be made and that there is room for legitimate criticism.
Taking then Nyrond or Furyondy or Keoland or the GK, if someone sees a distinctive identity for any or all, as they are presented, please share that understanding. It alludes me.
N.B. - I am not saying WoG was designed "wrong" somehow. I am not saying that someone cannot find inspiration for these nations. I am not questioning anyone's home campaign. I am not saying that there are not other places to play in GH.
I am saying that I see no readily identifiable character or identity for Nyrond, Furyondy, Keoland or the GK and I am asking anyone who does see such to share their understanding. Failing this, I think I have something of a point when I say they are non-descript as presented.
Criticism strengthens a setting, not weakens it. I like FR, but that doesn't mean that I think everything ever written about it is golden and should be preserved unchanged for all eternity. When I did my 3.0 adaptation of the Dark Sun setting the first thing I did was give my rough rules to a friend for criticism so they could be improved.
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