Greyhawk Overview

“As is natural and proper, all other worlds revolve around our
own planet Oerth, from the least rock to the vast burning sun
itself. 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

In 591 CY, everyone living in the Flanaess knows certain things
about the world they live on. Some of it is true; more is learned
speculation; and still more is wild surmise.

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.

Welcome to the WORLD OF GREYHAWK.

Since it helps to know a little about the world in which your
characters move, I’ll update the history of the Flanaess to the
current campaign year of 591 CY (Common Year); and I’ll provide an
overview of the geographical and political divisions in effect at
this time.

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.

Welcome to Greyhawk. May your riches be many and your scars be
few!

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.