Sunday, February 28, 2016

O' Greyhawk, Where Art Thou?

The other day Christopher Perkins, Principle Story Designer for Dungeons and Dragons at Wizards of the Coast, put out a poll that went like this:

Out of the 2,829 votes Greyhawk got 538. Every other setting presented as an option by Perkins beat us by an average of 200 votes. That's just embarrassing.

I mean I get it; I really do. Dark Sun had a pretty popular relaunch during Fourth Edition (those Dark Sun books are actually really cool and you should totally check it out). Dragonlance still sells a ridiculous amount of novels and was really well supported throughout Third with an official Campaign Setting book and a bunch of third party releases from Margaret Weis and the Sovereign Press group. And of course Eberron was fully supported throughout Third and Fourth editions with supplements, adventures, novels, art, and articles on the website and the magazines. 

By contrast Greyhawk hasn't had anything officially published by Wizards of the Coast since 2007's Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk. Largely we've been absent from the conversation and we've seen Cannonfire, arguably the largest community of Greyhawk enthusiasts, steadily growing silent over the last few years. We're at a point as a group where we either need to become active in proselytizing the setting to other D&D enthusiasts or we need to recognize that the setting is going to become a footnote in the game's history. People will read about in Wikipedia as the place where Gary Gygax ran his games, and that will be all they'll know about it, and that's a damned shame.

The thing about it all is that we know Greyhawk shouldn't be left to such an undignified fate. As a setting it was home to many of the greatest adventures in the early days of the hobby. They're so good that even today we're seeing them shape what many people view as the standard of what a good adventure in our hobby looks like; which is great, but they're being moved out of Greyhawk and into the Realms as Wizards of the Coast uses them for inspiration and transplants them. They're creating a new standard of what good looks in modules like Princes of the Apocalypse for a whole new generation of fans that may never even think to go out and pick up what inspired their favorites. 

Greyhawk is a setting that I've found had enough room in it for my version of it, and for +Mike Bridges' version for it, and +Joseph Bloch's version for it, and for every other version you run into without the sort of cannon pissing contests that crop up every time you so much as mention the Forgotten Realms. The reason for that is that Greyhawk is so flexible as a setting: we have space ships, wars with demons and gods, artifacts so powerful that their names have been in every edition since they first appeared back in First Edition, all the named spells in every Player's Handbook came from characters that exist only in Greyhawk. Two of the most successful times in this hobby's history came about when Greyhawk was active: First and Third edition. In First, Greyhawk helped establish what was possible in the game and the adventures set there are still talked about today.  In Third, we saw the return of Greyhawk as it was the edition's setting; it was flexible, and by and large, loosely defined for this edition. In doing so it offered a level of freedom for new players that let them carve out their own Greyhawks and brought people like me into the community with this hunger for the setting.

Greyhawk is the setting that gives us the opportunity to do our own thing when we start out. We don't have a library of fiction that has established a narrative for our world that our Players feel we must hold tight to our bosoms. Our setting isn't filled to the brim with godlike non-player characters (NPCs) who shuffle our players' characters about the world like chess pieces; and quite frankly, the NPCs die far too easily in our setting for them to even hope to attain that level of Machiavellian power.

So how do we turn this about and bring Greyhawk back to the forefront? How do we get Wizards of the Coast to recognize what we see in this setting?

The simplest answer is that we have to get vocal about the setting. We have to tell the ladies and gentlemen of Wizards' D&D team that we want Greyhawk to come back with this edition of the game. We have to talk to them on Twitter and email the Wizards corporate office. But more than that we have to go to the places where people are talking about Dungeons and Dragons and role-playing games and engage them about the setting. We need to open Greyhawk up on reddit, and we need to encourage people to join it on Facebook. We need to be champions for Greyhawk, because if we aren't then no one else will be. 


  1. No novels. No supplements. No official support from WotC. It's no wonder that no one cares about Greyhawk. There has been nothing to care for in 20+ years.

    1. Well, that not entirely accurate Marty. Gary Gygax and Rose Estes wrote a series of novels set exclusively in the world of Greyhawk back in the 80s. Oh, and Paul Kidd wrote an excellent series of novels in the 90s and early 2000s that featured this awesome ranger and went through several of the famous adventure locals (like White Plume Mountain). Dragon and Dungeon each featured occasional articles and adventures set there until they ceased physical release in 2007/8. As for supplements the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer came out in 2000 and Expedition to the Ruins of Castle Greyhawk came out in 2007. So really your looking at a dearth of support that extends about eight years as opposed to 20+.

    2. you're not your. I hate when I make mistakes like that.

    3. Perhaps not 100% accurate... With no major releases since 2000, and only a handful of magazine articles, to me that indicates no real support. More like throwing an occasional bone to keep old dogs quiet.

      The Living Greyhawk gazetteer was the last major release in 2000 -- 16 years ago. I don't really include Dragon/Dungeon articles as releases because the magazine was very much an "inside baseball" kind of thing with only a miniscule fraction of players/DMs as subscribers. As far as release in stores, nada.

      There was very little 3rd edition support... and no 4th edition support. For those people who were new players in 3rd or 4th editions, it's more likely they have never even heard of Greyhawk, or if they have, they've only heard the name and never actually played any content set in the game world.

  2. For today's generation of Gamers, Greyhawk is merely a rumor.

    Paul Kidd, somewhat okay. The very name -- Rose Estes -- is now synonymous with a four letter word.

  3. A better answer would be to convince WotC to let the trademarks expire (arguably they have already abandoned them) and release the Greyhawk setting into the public domain, or place it under a permissive license such as Creative Commons.

    That way we would not have to depend on a company that has repeatedly tried to kill Greyhawk as the sole source of published material. Anyone could do it, and hopefully the quality would sell and the drek would fall into the dustbin of history (with any luck, burying the Rose Estes novels so deeply that they are never mentioned again)

    And at the same time doing so would in no way impair their ability to stripmine it for content they are to lacking in imagination to simply produce on their own.

  4. I'm not sure why Rose Estes has such a bad reputation. I mean, yeah she's not a super writer, but there were (are) a lot of duds in the stable of writers between TSR and WotC.

    1. I've never actually read anything that Rose Estes wrote so I've no idea if she's actually terrible or if she's just terrible in that she wasn't Gary.

    2. Trust me. Anyone who can make Gary Gygax look like an excellent writer should be slapped with a restraining order prohibiting them from being within 100 feet of a keyboard or pen.

      I challenge you to read more than a chapter or two of one of Rose Estes' so-called "Greyhawk" novels while more or less sober and not want to kill her and everyone else involved in producing it.

  5. And you are mistaken about the lack of support. 3rd Edition (WotC) actually had an enormous amount of Greyhawk material produced for it. (I won't vouch for its quality, but there definitely was quantity)

    The trouble was that they didn't simply publish it and let people buy it if they wanted to. Sure, there was the LGG, and an updated Town of Saltmarsh in the Advanced DMG, and a bunch of articles on the website (a few of which are still available), but to see the bulk of the new GH you had to pay for a subscription to "Living Greyhawk", and even then you only had the option of buying the stuff for whatever "region" they assigned you to.

    There are hundreds, if not thousands of modules and sourcebooks from this era out there in limbo someplace. But your only hope of ever seeing most of it is to find pirated copies on bittorrents. And even if you are morally ok with that sort of thing and not afraid of the DMCA police, the torrents are obscure, and poorly seeded at best.

  6. I think many of the "official" industry Greyhawk supporters are probably sitting at Paizo with Eric Mona and company. Obviously not able to exercise any influence towards that setting anymore.


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