The Old Grey Hawk - An Attempted Style Guide
Like many people, I’ve read “The Grey in the Hawk” by Nitescreed, ne NightScreed. Whatever else you want to say about it or its author, The Grey in the Hawk is an attempt at a style document for Greyhawk. I have seen no other that does as well. That is not to say that the Grey in the Hawk is perfect. It is not. As time passes, I think the identity of the setting shifts with further publication of material that may or may not adhere to any particular style.
The idea of a style guide is, I think, a good one. Consistency can be famously foolish but can also be useful, particularly when someone may not be otherwise familiar with the Greyhawk opus. It also doesn’t hurt to be mindful of what you like or do not like in more than a passing way. Gut-feelings only get you so far. However, a style guide is more an adjunct to gut-feelings, I think, and should never replace an indefinable sense of what is appropriately “grey.”
What follows is another attempt at a Greyhawk Style Guide.
(1) Story Drives Setting
Historically, the details of the World of Greyhawk have been told through adventures - stories. Pure sourcebooks, that describe the setting or some part thereof in page after page of detail and exposition, have not been the norm. When designing for Greyhawk, the story being told should always be foremost in mind, rather than a collection of details, that while interesting, are unconnected to events. Even if writing a sourcebook, the facts or details should all be story relevant. If a fact is not story relevant, it should probably be omitted or dwelt upon only briefly. The Living Greyhawk Gazateer is a notable exception in that it was predominantly just an exposition of facts. While applauded, the LGG has also been criticized for this quality as being “dry” or “a tome” or “not an easy read.”
(2) Focus on the PC Involvement
Because Greyhawk has been largely defined by adventures, which provided setting details in passing as necessary background, there has also been a focus on PCs as significant actors. Few important events should occur entirely offstage, where the PCs are uninvolved and will only be told what has happened. Ideally, the PCs should be able to become involved, the more directly, the better. If the PCs are not the exclusive focus, they should least have an opportunity to witness the events taking place, with a possibility, however remote, of being involved. Sometimes, as in the opening sequence of Vecna Lives or with the Greyhawk Wars wargame, the PCs participation may have to be vicarious through the players themselves. However it is done, the PCs should not just read about important events or be told that they happened. That is not classically Greyhawk.
(3) All Events In Context
Every described fact or event should have a place in the greater context of the setting. This has been described as the “wheels within wheels” effect. Purely random occurrences, unconnected with much of anything, are not the norm. RPGA adventures (Childsplay etc.) that were “dropped” into Greyhawk are the best examples of the problems with unconnected designs. Greyhawk’s facts have been set out variously in a variety of products, yet, there appear interconnections between these facts that give the setting a richness or depth. For example, the references to Iggwilv’s daughter in Mordenkainen’s Fantastic Adventure are more meaningful if one is familiar with the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. Not all Greyhawk material is so subtly referential or cross-referenced but enough is to mark the setting as one where everything has some degree of context with what has gone before or what will follow, or should/could have.
Critical to Greyhawk is the manner in which facts are presented. They are not usually presented in a closed-loop or in absolute terms unless essential to the story being told. Incidental or developmental facts have a noticeable degree of ambiguity. Some just trail off with but a mere mention. These are loose-ends. They invite the imagination and speculation as in no other setting. If Greyhawk has exhibited a sort of pseudo-scholarship and a huge capacity for fan created derivative works that no other setting has equaled, it is likely attributable to the fact that Greyhawk has so many loose-ends left hanging that spur the imagination and get people to wondering “what if” or “how might this relate to . . .” Writing purposefully may too easily omit loose-ends as a careful writer will look to leave a story with no loose-ends. That is not, however, Greyhawk.
(5) Balance and Neutrality
Next to the loose-ends, this is probably Greyhawk’s signature feature. Greyhawk is not a setting of white-hats and black-hats squaring off against each other at high noon in the middle of a dusty street. Neutrality plays a larger role in Greyhawk than in any other published setting and there are powerful forces neutrally aligned that seek to balance good and evil. Mordenkainen and the Circle of Eight are, of course, the most famous agents of Balance. If the From the Ashes era may be criticized legitimately, it is in leaving the Greyhawk Wars and the aftermath of the Greyhawk Wars too clearly divided into camps aligned with weal and woe. The Greyhawks Wars and their aftermath were too unsubtle in their aligning of forces. Large scale wars are unsubtle but Greyhawk is not a simulation; it is fantasy. Greyhawk should always see matters left in some degree of uncertainty or equipoise - gray. Any setting impacting event should see forces of neutrality involved, even if only peripherally.
Greyhawk is a nostalgic setting. That is not a bad thing. Not only has it been around longer than any other published setting but it has a rich real world history. This is important to remember when considering what might be sufficiently “grey.” Different from the comment on context, nostalgia is better understood as a “harkening back” or a “touching base” or “touchstone” effect. The most obvious harkening backs are the various “Returns” to classic adventures or products. Less obvious are the returning characters or figures native to the setting. Vecna has been returned to most memorably, if perhaps too overtly. It is very Greyhawk to indulge nostalgia by harkening back to prior events or occurrences or even whole adventures. However, care must be taken because too heavy a hand is not good and mere name dropping may appear to be nothing more. Neither is it essential to adopt a pure dungeon-crawl approach. That is nostalgic but a little goes a long way. Evoking Greyhawk’s storied past is tricky but the best Greyhawk products seem to do this. The Istivin story arc in Dungeon nicely attempted to play to nostalgia but then fumbled beyond the D-series touchstone by presently rather mediocre exposition of subsequent events.
In the specific context of Greyhawk, “canon” is largely a fan created concept. Best understood, it is a desire for consistency with prior works such that, for example, County A is not a feudal kingdom in Product 1, a dictatorial theocracy in Product 2, and a secular, pure democracy in Product 3, where all products are set in the same time period. Unfortunately, canon is often stated or construed to require a slavish devotion to every fact, factoid, inferred surmise and developed minutia of the setting. Worse, canon is often stated to be a litmus test of all design, particularly any design that advances the timeline of events in the setting. The worst offenders are more concerned with canon than with a playable or enjoyable setting, some “fans” going so far as to admit to not having actually played in the setting regularly, if ever. To get Greyhawk right, “canon” is important in its broader sense but not in its most cramped reading. Canon is not a litmus test. The past does not define the future; it informs it and then only to suggest, not to require or shape design. Greyhawk must succeed first as a roleplaying game experience and secondarily, it may do so profitably by using canon to suggest, but not to require or prohibit, future developments, bearing in mind the stated desirability of a general consistency. Too great an adherence to canon is not Greyhawk because (if for no other reason) it would quantify too much that should develop as loose-ends (see Loose-ends above) and/or shades of uncertainty (see Balance above).
(8) A Sense of History
Related to nostalgia, context and canon is a more specific sense of the history or age within the setting. The history of the Flanaess is fantastic in every sense of the word. The Twin Cataclysms. The Migrations. The Ancient Flan. The Rise and Fall of Aerdi. The history of the Flanaess was momentous and still reverberates. Drawing on this history or adding to it is very Greyhawk. The Greyhawk Adventures, hardback, for example, is one of the most influential Greyhawk products for it introduced Places of Mystery that are now a signature feature of the setting and it did more than simply introduce them; it placed them within the history of the setting, developing the history of the setting in the process. Much of Greyhawk and that within Greyhawk has some kind of history. When designing, giving an item, NPC or even a plot a history is important. Jack-in-Box NPCs, items, plots etc. that just pop-up without any forgoing history should be the exception. This does not mean that nothing new can be created; to the contrary, as with Greyhawk Adventures, new is good, but new that feels old is better.
(9) Epic Adventures
It is not unusual to hear some people say that Greyhawk has seen enough turmoil and tumult, that there have been enough setting shaking events. This is nonsense. It is very Greyhawk to turn things upside down, or at least to threaten to. The Greyhawk Wars is the oft cited example of too much. In Vecna Lives, the signature Circle of Eight were killed, but ultimately returned. In Die Vecna Die, Vecna attempted to achieve ultimate godhead and the option is there that he succeeded. The settings creator, in his Gord novels, destroyed Oerth when Tharizdun was released. If not dealt a “sharp check,” giants, in league with the drow and a demon princess, have threatened to overwhelm Oerth. The giants “returned” to try to finish what they started. The Temple of Elemental Evil threatened to raise a horde to conquer all of the domain of Greyhawk and its surroundings if not stopped. Epic adventures, big adventures with potentially Oerth shaking consequences, are very Greyhawk. Greyhawk is not a setting where every adventure is small scale, timid or localized. Let’er rip.
(10) The Planes
The frequent occurrence of demi-planes in Greyhawk is nearly unique. The influence of extra-planar creatures, such as fiends, is nearly unique. The lack of direct godly involvement on Oerth is nearly unique. Greyhawks’ destruction by an imprisoned god-thing is nearly unique, at least among RPG settings. Greyhawk’s relationship with the planes is complex. It is often subtle or understated, such as gods refusing to send an avatar when a high level cleric is in trouble. It is often taken for granted, such as Iuz being born a cambion. It can be variant, such as the arrival of a spaceship through a dimensional wormhole. The influence of the planes is, however, a recurring theme. Like anything else, it can be overdone and done to death, but it is very Greyhawk all the same, uniquely so in the frequency and variety of its expression. Greyhawk is not a “low fantasy” setting.
(11) Nothing is Absolutely Forbidden
Greyhawk is very, very flexible. There is every variety of magic. There is technology. There is science-fiction. There is the Old West. There is literary allusion. There is comedy, even if low farce. There is a post-apocalyptic element. Greyhawk is not simply “medieval-fantasy” and those who want it so seek to exclude some of Greyhawk’s most unique charms. Nothing is absolutely forbidden in Greyhawk. In the main, Greyhawk is, of course, pseudo-medieval fantasy, but in the corners, it is so much more. Being quirky is very Greyhawk. Fitting for Greyhawk, there is a need to balance the more “unusual” elements of Greyhawk, however.
(12) Bring Your Friends
While not purely relevant to style, Greyhawk has a notable tradition of memorializing real people within the setting, using plays on words or variant spellings to good effect. Tzunk is a play on Rob Kuntz’s last name. The variations on Gary Gygax’ last name are innumerable. Further afield, Iquander, Erik Mona’s screen name and a pre-existing Greyhawk character in the Gord novels, has become something of an “editorial character” as he moves within the setting from rural Nellix to the City of Greyhawk and begins reordering the Great Library to include the works of “Estarius Rose” - Greyhawk author Rose Estes. Greyhawk fan Samantha Quest becomes the Greyhawk dragon Hautna Masq. Greyhawk fan “Keldreth” becomes an NPC of the same name. The Greyhawk fan who first attempted a Greyhawk style guide, Nitescreed, becomes the Aerdi bard Nightsong. The list goes on. Giving a nod to someone within the setting is very Greyhawk and not a few respellings have produced some descent fantasy names.
These 12 points, then, are my attempt to define a Greyhawk style guide. They are not exhaustive. I make no claim that they should be authoritative or even correct. They seem to me, however, to be a good “pointing in the right direction.” If others contribute, we might be able to arrive at something more widely agreeable.
Glenn Vincent Dammerung (aka GVD)
Posted: 03-08-2005 07:34 pm
Mindless Realms Bashing
When you are the first and number one, if for no other reason than that you are the first, when number two comes along and garners more attention, or supplants you, it can scar you. Suddenly, you have a nemesis. If they do things markedly different than you, it is easy enough to not only see them as a rival but a rival who embodies everything that is wrong.
Greyhawk was first and the number one D&D setting for years. Then the Forgotten Realms came along and garnered more attention than Greyhawk, eventually supplanting it as the number one D&D setting. The Realms did things, or was perceived as doing things, differently. For many Greyhawk fans, the Realms became not only a usurper but one that embodied a wrongness, when compared to the rightness of Greyhawk.
The big complaints against the Realms vis-a-vis Greyhawk appear to be that: (1) the Forgotten Realms is too scripted by novels or by designers giving too many juicy-bits to powerful NPCs; (2) the Forgotten Realms lacks verisimilitude because the level of magic and other fantasy elements predominate to too great a degree; (3) the Forgotten Realms are described in too many products that give too much detail which restricts DM freedom; and (4) too many Forgotten Realms products do not exhibit a high quality of design.
It is undeniable that the Forgotten Realms setting supports a huge number of novels and that events in many novels are reflected in roleplaying products. It is disingenuous to cry foul too loudly for Greyhawk’s creator clearly had a similar thought that only events prevented him from executing, and which he executed destructively in absentia. Beyond that, the Forgotten Realms novels, with a few exceptions, script events only in the way of background noise. Their effects are usually localized or provide a backdrop which does not restrict any but the most high level campaigning, or the most punctilious. What is more, the novels give the setting a sense of momentum, of change and of being a living place, not a static one. It is another matter entirely to speak of the Forgotten Realms novels, as novels, or as a source of particular events that will be reflected in the campaign. The basic concept is not inherently flawed, however, even if the details of the execution can be discussed as a matter of taste.
It is similarly common knowledge that the Forgotten Realms are home to any number of high level NPCs. There exploits have been prominently featured in novels and in roleplaying products. These exploits do not detract from the sense of accomplishment or importance of any PC, however, except to the extent that the PC would cross paths with one of these NPCs. Otherwise, the exploits of the high level NPCs in the Forgotten Realms are, again, so much background noise. From a game design standpoint, these NPCs are a shorthand way of saying, “you are in the Realms,” when they appear and of providing very easy, if obvious, ways of promoting adventures. These are not illegitimate functions, even if they are not to every taste.
The Forgotten Realms do appear to support a high degree of magic, as well as the presence of any number of fantastic creatures or similar fantasy features. Even if so, this is purely a matter of taste, which cannot be right or wrong in an objective sense. It is not possible to fault the setting for having a particular emphasis or take on fantasy, particularly when the game itself allows for all that is present and more.
The question of the detail in which the Forgotten Realms has been described is predominantly one of presentation. Of course, with more products released, more specific details of the Forgotten Realms will have been described, to say nothing of details revealed only in the novels. That is hardly the basis for any reasoned argument, however, as a game publisher is in the business of producing as many products as its customers will purchase. This argument also fails when the relative size of the Forgotten Realms is considered. It is huge and few areas have been detailed in more than a one- or two- off way, although there are exceptions. Many large areas have seen virtually no development at all.
Where there is an argument to be made, it is in how the details are presented. Greyhawk’s details are often presented in the context of an adventure and those details not strictly necessary to the adventure are left hanging, in loose ends that invite the imagination. Many of the details of the Realms are presented without the context of a specific adventure; many of the details are simply listed in a descriptive product. Those adventure hooks provided tend to be obvious and finite. The Forgotten Realms is not too detailed; it is detailed in a way that is less open-ended, and which too often does not invite speculation, which next to imagination is the best friend of a DM. While not every Realms product is a closed circle, the majority have this character. While perhaps not inherently a fault, this type of presentation is limiting. It is here that the greatest distinction between the Realms and Greyhawk can be draw beyond matters that are predominantly related to individual tastes in fantasy.
Quality of design is subjective to a large degree but there is also a quantitatively definable objective quality in terms of language use, game mechanics and facilitation of game play. By any measure, the Forgotten Realms enjoys no generally greater or lesser percentage of quality products than Greyhawk. Both have their hits and both have embarrassing misses. Quality arguments tend to be strawman arguments if they are not simply obvious broadsides, polemics or partisan screeds.
Of the largest arguments against the Forgotten Realms and for Greyhawk, only the manner in which details are presented has any significant legitimacy well beyond simple individual taste. Greyhawks loose-end approach is more directly inviting of imagination than the closed-loop model that many Realms products exhibit. However, this said, loose-ends may be frustrating to some people and it is hard to argue that any lack of loose-ends in the details of the Realms is more than made up for by the volume of various details, which is now an advantage, in the variety of ways in which they can interact.
The greatest difference between the Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk is, then, mostly a matter of taste, and only slightly a matter of presentation, which may again default to individual taste.
Posted: 03-08-2005 04:43 pm
7th and Final Attempt
The sixth attempt was almost perfect. Many thanks to Chatdemon and Tedra.
With a final tweak, I think I have the hang of this!
And here we go!
Posted: 03-07-2005 09:34 am
Sixth Attempt Almost There
Alright. Partial success on Attempt 5. That would be thanks to Chatdemon's help from the CF Forums.
Now, We'll refine that with Tedra's help. Hopefully, this will be the final touch. Here goes.
Posted: 03-07-2005 09:31 am
Fifth Test with br breaks
We are trying again.
This time using a "break" tag.
Here's hoping this works.
Posted: 03-07-2005 09:28 am
Fourth Paragraph Test
This is getting aggravating.
Each sentence should appear as a paragraph.
HTML is off.
I'm using the tags.
Posted: 03-03-2005 03:59 pm
Third Paragraph Function Test
Okay. I've turned HTML "off" in my "preferences.
Let's see if that makes a difference.
Each sentence should display as a paragraph.
Posted: 03-03-2005 03:55 pm
Test Paragraph Second Attempt
Well, the first attempt was all mushed together, with no separation between sentences, each of which was supposed to be its own paragraph.
This entry does not use any coding. Let's see if it gets all mushed together.
Posted: 03-03-2005 03:50 pm
Test of Paragraph Function
This is Paragraph No. 1. using "double p's" to wrap
This is Paragraph No. 2
This is Paragraph No. 3 using the "slash p" closing.
This is Paragraph No. 4 using the "slash p" closing.
Posted: 03-03-2005 03:47 pm