Greyhawk Adventures

Oerth " As is natural and proper, all other worlds revolve around our own planet Oerth, from the least rock to the vast burning sun itself.1 Little is known of these worlds, though a set of magnfying lenses or magical cusps reveals their curious shapes and colors, and their motions across the sky are well charted. As any rational individual knows, these`wandering stars' influence the lives of all beings on Oerth, and their positions against the vault of night gives hints to learned astrologers about events yet to come, revealing secrets fearful and sublime."

"Oerth rotates on its axis once every 24 hours. The sun travels the sky from east to west, revolving clockwise in its orbit around Oerth to make a full circuit of the heavens every 364 days, following a fixed path through the Twelve Lairs of the Zodiac. Through the Zodiac of the night sky also pass the Great Moon of Oerth, known as Luna, and the Lesser Moon, Celene, also called the handmaiden. Ghost-white Luna waxes and wanes in a fixed cycle of 28 days, reaching fullness 13 times each year. Aquamarine Celene passes through its phases more slowly, taking 91 days for a full cycle and reaching fullness only four times a year. These natural rhythms are reflected in the calendar used by civilized inhabitants of our land."

"It is known that when both Luna and Celene are either full or new, and the wandering stars have themselves achieved positions of power within the Zodiac, events of great portent are likely to occur on our world, The fate of civilization may be in the balance, and the involvement of great magic is almost certain. The appearance of a falling star has further significance, and a great pale comet or bright exploding star hovering in the darkness is a harbinger of cataclysm."

"More will be said about the place of our grand world in the hierarchy of the heavens, but we first turn to an analysis of the Zodiac and the special influence of its lairs on our 0erth, first described by Baklunish astrologers two millennia ago. . .”

- Agath of 11runch

- From Understanding the Handiwork of Celestian

GREYHAWK - The Setting

It is believed that there are four continents on Oerth, of which the largest is Oerik. To the south and east of Oerik is the small continent of Hepmonaland. An ice-covered continent caps Oerth's northern pole; it is known as Telchuria or any of a number of variations on the name High Boros. A large island to the east of Oerik is known as Fireland for the many volcanoes there. At the opposite end of the world from the Flanaess is a fourth continent, about which no more is known than that it exists.

Oerik's northeastern most section is known as the Flanaess, which is isolated from the rest of the continent by the Dramidj Ocean and a string of towering mountain chains stretching from the Yatils down to the volcanic Hellfurnaces; to the west of those are steppes and the horrific wastes of the sea of dust, where the ancient Balunish Empire once lay. Beyond these barriers, tales say, are great and ancient empires, mountains so tall that they dwarf the great Crystalmists, and monsters of inconceivable horror.

Further, the Flanaess is separated from the rest of Oerth by other natural barriers. To the north lies the dangerous Land of Black Ice and the aptly named Icy Sea; to the cast the immense, storm-racked Solnor Ocean, said to stretch over a thousand leagues. To the southeast are the jungles and swamps of tropical Hepmonaland; due south is the huge Densac Gulf and the wild Amedio jungle.

The Flanaess has seen great treacheries and greater wars. A few years ago, a widespread conflict called the Greyhawk Wars damaged the fabric of life here, perhaps irreparably; the treaty which was supposed to have ended the wars has been broken again and again, and borders everywhere are in turmoil. The corrupt and decayed Great Kingdom has finally fallen, but new realms have arisen to take its place - each with the potential to be even more evil than its predecessor. A horrifying demigod has been freed from captivity; despite the loss of many of his fiendish troops, his expanded empire threatens the heart of the Flanaess. A mysterious brotherhood has reached out from its southern stronghold to begin a conquest of certain countries - a conquest that may not end until the Flanaess itself is destroyed. Armies of humanoids - brutish creatures with both human and bestial features - march across the land: Though some have been repelled, still there are lost lands to be won. Giants and creatures drawn from alien planes lay waste to civilization. Barbarians, assassins and monsters run rampant.

Yet the Flanaess is alive and vibrant. The times are more peaceful than they have been, and for many, life goes on as it always has - there are crops to be gathered, markets to visit, roofs to rebuild. Other, more adventurous types strike out against the enemies of civilization and order, uncover lost and forgotten treasures, and gain the resources they need to become the heroes and leaders of this exciting new time. There are captured realms to be retaken, artifacts to be rediscovered and used, and incredible lands beyond the Flanaess to explore. It is an age of adventure with no limit to what one person can achieve.


What is Greyhawk?

What follows should help define the world of Greyhawk. It is the world (Oerth) in which your character lives and this document should help portray its flavor and give you an insight into the style of play.

Applied Internal Historic Consistency

Greyhawk has a strong internal se nse of history. Greyhawk is a storied realm. It's seminal figures, good and ill, are interwoven throughout the setting. It has a defined history that strongly influences the present and future of the setting. Greyhawk's history is not a footnote but an integral part of the setting that must be understood to truly comprehend the relationships among men, nations and even gods. 

Player Resolution of Critical Events

The seminal events in Greyhawk's current history and development are all presented such that players may not only take part but play a leading role. For example:  Players defeated Lolth. Players turned the tide of Iuz aced Vecna. In the Forgotten Realms, for example, Ao decrees an event and the players get to clean up in the aftermath. Cyric destroys Zhentil Keep offstage and the players get to delve into the ruins. Gods die to be replaced by mortals and the players watch. Elminster sends players on a mission but ultimately keeps from them the greater goal the mission serves. When you play in Greyhawk, you join in the weaving of a tapestry of which you are a vital part. Greyhawk is about your story in the context of Greyhawk's story. Roleplaying in Greyhawk involves playing your part in what will be my longest running AD&D campaign in existence. It is bigger than you are but you can become as great as it is. That is the essence of Greyhawk's history. It enfolds, informs and connects every part of the setting and all who play there for any length of time. 

NPCs Reward More Often Than They Advise or Direct

NPC's in Greyhawk are not godlike figures who direct the course of events upon which your character is washed like the tide. Neither do they persistently show up to advise you. They may do both but more often they serve as the measuring stick against which your character's performance can be judged and serve to reward your character by recognizing their accomplishments or otherwise admitting your character into their august company. The Circle of Eight are aloof. They do not want to be your buddy. Neither do they have a laundry list of chores for you to perform. Rather, in Greyhawk you will find adventure without such NPCs suggesting it. In the Forgotten Realms, for example, Elminster is famous for sending characters on their way. The Harpers do the same. Ultimately, Elminster or the Harpers play the directing role and may indeed appear to steal the show or otherwise claim ultimate victory. In Greyhawk, YOU are the hero. Without assistance from the likes of the Circle of Eight and without them acting as a safety net. You can go your own way, in fact, without them ever troubling you. This cannot be so simply said in settings such as the Forgotten Realms and has not a little to do with Criteria No. 2 (Player Resolution of Critical Events in Greyhawk vs. NPC Resolution of Critical Events in FR).

Persistent Personified Evil

Evil in Greyhawk is persistent. It is halted, checked or imprisoned but it is not defeated with finality for all time. The triumph over evil is a relative thing, ultimately transitory. Evil in Greyhawk is personified. Evil has faces and names attached to it that ring down through the setting's history. It is not an evil that pops up purely to give the players something to strive against and defeat before moving on to the next evil that similarly appears out of relative nowhere. Vecna, Iuz, Lolth, Tharzidun, the Scarlet Brotherhood, Aerdi, Kas, even Turrosh Mak, all met this criteria. They are highly personified forces that spring from the settings specific history.

Villainous Variety

Villainy in Greyhawk runs the gambit from the cosmic menace of Tharzidun, to the planar peril of Lolth, to the cambion menace of Iuz, to the purely moral menace of Turrosh Mak. Their is variety in the villainy. Villainy in Greyhawk is like a box of chocolates from Hell; you never know for sure what you are going to get. Greyhawk's villains do not announce themselves; you have to figure it out. Villains in Greyhawk will also turn on each other. The Iuz/Vecna conflict being perhaps the most famous. 

Heroism With a Price

Greyhawk's heros rarely slay the evil wizard, who will trouble the land no more, to the full voiced cheers of the crowd. Best Iuz and you are marked. He will be back but you will have to deal with a likely enraged Zuggotomy in the meanwhile. Greyhawk's villains don't exist in a vacuum and neither do Greyhwk's heroes. Everything is linked. Heroism has a meaning within the setting that makes it more than a solitary act echoing in the vastness. It attracts attention, good and ill. It is immediate and brings a notoriety that other settings can only talk about. Notables exist to recognize your accomplishments and to measure you against themselves and the foe you defeated. And, they will have likely played little or no role in your victory. Evil too takes your measure for darker reasons. This criterion can best be seen in the breach. The juxtaposition of people and places and the loose ends creates this effect.

Militant Neutrality

On Oerth, the forces of neutrality are arguably at least as powerful as those of good and evil and certainly as active. Greyhawk is not concerned with the triumph of good over evil. The very nature of the evils loose on Oerth makes such triumphs fleeting at best. Greyhawk endures evil and circumvents it. It does not defeat it. Evil forces, of course, will attempt to conquer Oerth. And just as certainly they will be opposed by forces who will seek to banish evil from the world. Neither will succeed. Neither in the long history of Oerth has ever succeeded. Good and evil are well enough matched that outcomes are never certain and always close calls one way or the other. Moreover, evil on Oerth is not monolithic. Various demon lords and ladies contend with each other. Iuz battles Vecna. Kas seeks Vecna's destruction. Iuz feuds with his mother and father. Evil beings are true to no one save themselves. Perhaps accounting for all of this, Oerth has strong and active neutrally aligned forces, working to preserve a balance between good and evil. While hardly organized, these forces nonetheless manage to be quite effective. The Circle of Eight, mighty wizards all, seeks a middle path. Istus, the divine Lady of Fate, tests all but favors none. Druids are a quiet but ever present presence. Indeed, many of Greyhawk's deities reflect a distinct neutral bent. Greyhawk is about struggle against evenly matched and long standing opponents. 

Personal Magics

Greyhawk is not a low fantasy setting save by comparison to settings on magical overload. Birthright is a low fantasy setting. The Forgotten Realms is a high fantasy setting. Greyhawk falls in between. What distinguishes magic in Greyhawk is that it is highly personalized.Look at the spells. Mordenkain's this. Nystul's that. Otiluke's the other. Magic is personalized by any wizard not of the hedge variety. Look at the artifacts for still more proof. Spells have a history as due magic items. While there are +1 swords of no certain fame, many are the items with specific histories. Similarly magical instruction in Greyhawk is personal. Greyhawk does not know great guilds of wizards but flourishes with a developed system of apprenticeships. One need but look at the Circle of Eight to see this. They, with one, possibly two, exceptions, belong to no guild of mages, and they that do belong do so as patrons at best and more probably as figureheads. Neither can the Circle itself be considered a guild. This mighty example and the utter lack of a single magical guild of any note, fairly well makes the case. 

These then are the eight traits that define the Greyhawk feel. Most critical are Applied Internal Historic Consistency, Persistent Personified Evil and Militant Neutrality points.

This list defines Oerth and presents the Grey in “Greyhawk”

  1. Gary Gygax has refuted this claim, which was made "in character" in the World of Greyhawk Glossography (1983), but was rendered "canonical" by Greyspace (1992). I, however, hold Gygax's original intention to be the fact. The notion that even with magic to help them, the great thinkers can be fundamentally wrong about something such as this is very interesting and adds depth to the campaign.