Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Brutal Legends of Our Beginnings

Lately I've been playing a lot of Double Fine's Brutal Legend (which if you've never played you totally should check out) and I've come to believe that one of the things that has been missing from my favorite role-playing games is a sense that the world has a history that occurred long before my entrance into it. I don't mean just that the world has an sense of recent history with conflicts between nations, subterfuge, and racial / clan rivalries that color the way that the world functions; instead I'm talking about a deeper mythology that underpins everything. This mythological foundation to the game world is one of the things that Dragonlance did really. 

My first real interest in Dungeons & Dragons started with the the Dragonlance Blue Boxed set and its setting book that told this history of the world in this really great conversational style that would become a hallmark of the types of role-playing books that I love (shout out to Kevin Siembieda and his Rifts books for putting out some of the best examples of this style of writing in gaming). The way that the story of the world was written and the brilliant art that TSR coupled with the book kicked my imagination into overdrive. I've spent years taking its tantalizing descriptions and expanding them in my head to form my own understanding of the world. And yet I don't feel like I've ever had that level of engagement with my favorite setting: Greyhawk. 

Don't get me wrong I've put in a lot of hours shaping the world in a fashion that suits my sensibilities but there's always been this blank spot in my mind when it comes to making the world have that same sort of place that Dragonlance, Iron Kingdoms, Warhammer, and Rifts have occupied. So I'm asking for you help today. Do you know the legends of Greyhawk? What are its mythological foundations? Who created the world? What history exists beyond the Suloise and Baklunish Wars?

Help a brother out. 


  1. Off the top of my head the rain of colorless fire making the big desert in the southwest of the map.

    Hmmmmmm thats not a lot.

  2. What are the mythological foundations of worlds I didn't create myself?

    Well, they're either there is the material that details this from the company, or not. If there is, read it (your players surely will). If there isn't, AWESOME! You get to fill in a part of the setting without your players buying the books, or looking it all up on Google and ruining all the surprises.

    Truth be told, I couldn't care less.

    Unless the world/setting is one of my own creation, or from a major IP my players and I universally know, the pre-cooked, tv dinner worlds of most RPG companies have simply never Wowed me. Further, I would go so far as to say most are somewhat constraining for the reasons I eluded to above. Player and GM have access to the same information, and therefore there are few ways to surprise them. If you stray too far from canon, the setting fans will get mad.

    Better not to have any mythos to deal with so you can input your own.

    But that's just me.

  3. Or keep your creation myth and setting simple: Nu-wa, bored shitless, goes and creates the first ones from mud...and then gets distracted other things, and when her attention is once again drawn to her creation she finds them at the top of mountain peaks vomiting up a mix of gold, jade, pine needles and meat. They are now old with beards and plead to her for help because they seek immortality. Nu-wa of course does not understand their request but She tears off their mountains and places each on the back of a sea turtle. One is left behind on a beach tearing at his white beard, Nu-wa ignores him.

  4. Charles, If you want to feel a sense of immense age in Greyhawk, but don't, you are doing something wrong. I can't say what because unlike many of the other settings from TSR or any other company, Greyhawk is a very D.I.Y. world, and yours is very different from mine. Everyone's Greyhawk has a lot of common ground: 6000 years of recorded history, 5100 of it before the Suel & Baklunish pushed the reset button! Lots of tantalizing hints scattered throughout the DMG, the modules, Dragon magazine. Up until at least 1982 every historical reference, ancient artifact, etc in D&D was Greyhawk (with a few odd exceptions from Ed Greenwood). With the exception of a few bits of material of questionable quality that appears on the WotC site from time to time almost all of the official GH material since the mid 80's has been rehashes of previous publications, or additions to recent history.

    If you want more than published canon, and of course you do, there is lots of high quality fan produced material. For example, Oerth Journal has lots of historical stuff, and some exploration of the rest of the world.

    Beyond that, you need to start making stuff up... you could go southwest to find the oriental cultures that started human history, or flesh out the Fey Wars that resulted in all of the subspecies of elves and drove the dark races underground. Or the Daemonic ages when the Cthons and Old ones devolved into our present-day demons, devils, illithids, etc. And of course, any number of conflicting creation stories, where the world was shaped by the struggles of various pantheons of gods & titans.


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