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    Which specific fantasy genre for Greyhawk ?
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    Apprentice Greytalker

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    Tue Oct 23, 2012 4:00 pm  
    Which specific fantasy genre for Greyhawk ?

    I've been thinking for a long time what could be the specific fantasy (sub-)genre that Greyhawk could stand for ('genre' in the sense of literary genre).

    This question is linked to an observation about the present settings of WotC. Why don't they publish more about Greyhawk ? There are lot of reasons of course (that's not the point I want to make here). But it has been observed that they already have a setting for the "high fantasy" (or "vanilla-style" fantasy) genre - Forgotten Realms a genre to which GH is close. Dark Sun stands for the "post-apocalyptic" genre and also for a more 'pulpish' approach of fantasy. Eberron is more on the side of 'steampunk fantasy', while Ravenloft offers the gothic / horror ambiance.

    So, I would like to have your views about this. What could be the specific approach of the fantasy genre that Greyhawk could stand for, in order to give it more specificity, ensuing from its in-universe, in comparison to the other existing d&d settings ?

    Note : I know that, historically, Greyhawk stands more for a specific *approach* of RPG : a setting not very described, without all-mighty NPCs, offering thus lot of freedom for each DM to design their own campaign from there.

    But let's imagine here : if we had to rewrite Greyhawk for a specific audience / approach of the fantasy genre, what could it be ? Which kind of fantasy specificities do you see for the World of Greyhawk, by its content ?
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    Tue Oct 23, 2012 4:05 pm  

    Here is an example, to give you an idea of the kind of approach I'm thinking about, based on existing specificities of the Greyhawk setting. We know that the Flanaess is, by every account, a scarcely peopled continent. This has some material consequences, which could be developed in order to give more specific material and cultural characteristics for the resulting civilization(s). This is a place where traveling is an adventure in itself (a tough adventure ; we're not speaking about Eberron's magical highways here :-)). Thus it needs specific technologies and organization(s) for traveling, resulting in a real 'science' of travel. This is also a place where alien / monster species have more room to thrive, thus resulting in a very diverse world in terms of different races interacting with each other - not only through combat but also through trade and diplomacy (a bit like what happens in most space opera universes, like Star Wars and the like). Along these 2 lines, a very specific fantasy approach could be developed for Greyhawk. (Don't know if this would be appealing to players, but that's an idea.)

    This is only an example, mind you. I'm not asking you to react to the specific proposal I just made here above (though you may if you wish, of course).
    GreySage

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    Tue Oct 23, 2012 4:45 pm  

    I think of it as a Sword & Sorcery setting, like Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Conan, and Elric of Melnibone.

    But really, it's a D&D setting designed to be played any way you want. In can be Tolkienesque epic fantasy, Robert Jordanesque high fantasy, Edgar Rice Burroughs-style planetary romance, Andre Norton-style romantic fantasy, weird fantasy in the vein of China Mieville or Jeff Vandermeer, cosmic horror in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft, comic fantasy in the vein of Robert Asprin or Craig Shaw Gardner, mythpunk in the vein of Catherynne M. Valente, mythic fantasy like Ursula Le Guin, or played as functionally identical to the Forgotten Realms in tone.

    TSR tried once to differentiate it from the Forgotten Realms by making it a clearly "dark fantasy" setting in the From the Ashes era, but the result didn't sell well and a lot of fans complained that this wasn't the Greyhawk they knew. I love the From the Ashes era, but I don't think reducing the setting to a single genre is right for Greyhawk.
    GreySage

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    Tue Oct 23, 2012 5:35 pm  

    I agree with you both that the World of Greyhawk, as a setting, is designed to be anything that any DM wants to make it, which is a very good thing in my mind. However, I'll add to the list offered in Skord's initial post the Low Fantasy and Middle Fantasy settings - Greyhawk being of the Middle Fantasy type.

    Low Fantasy is one in which the world has very little magic that is accessible to the PCs. An example would be one based on Greek mythology (Clash/Wrath of the Titans being good examples), where mundane skills, armor, and arms are what win the day with only an ocassional intervention by magic, divine or otherwise.

    A Middle Fantasy, like Greyhawk, is one in which the mudane world goes on, but heroes and the powers in the world have access to frequent magic. The commoners know that it exists, but have rare chance to benefit from it. Magic is generally at the heart of everything, but it is far beyond the ken of the general population, much as the workings of a nuclear weapon or an international space station are to most of us in the real world.

    Thus, a low-level campaign in Greyhawk will play much like one in a Low Fantasy, but as the PCs advance in level, they play will advance to Middle Fantasy and may even become a High Fantasy setting by the time they are in their high levels.

    SirXaris
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    Tue Oct 23, 2012 8:45 pm  

    rasgon wrote:
    I think of it as a Sword & Sorcery setting, like Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Conan, and Elric of Melnibone.

    But really, it's a D&D setting designed to be played any way you want. In can be Tolkienesque epic fantasy, Robert Jordanesque high fantasy, Edgar Rice Burroughs-style planetary romance, Andre Norton-style romantic fantasy, weird fantasy in the vein of China Mieville or Jeff Vandermeer, cosmic horror in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft, comic fantasy in the vein of Robert Asprin or Craig Shaw Gardner, mythpunk in the vein of Catherynne M. Valente, mythic fantasy like Ursula Le Guin, or played as functionally identical to the Forgotten Realms in tone.

    TSR tried once to differentiate it from the Forgotten Realms by making it a clearly "dark fantasy" setting in the From the Ashes era, but the result didn't sell well and a lot of fans complained that this wasn't the Greyhawk they knew. I love the From the Ashes era, but I don't think reducing the setting to a single genre is right for Greyhawk.

    I agree 100%

    I enjoyed the From the Ashes era too, and while it wasn't successful, I wouldn't say that it was necessarily wrong for the setting. The major conceit of Greyhawk is that the Flanaess is a tinder box ready to ignite at any second and things could go either way. The problem is that this is a hard sell as far as marketing goes. So while having "From the Ashes" light that tinderbox and have things go one way was logical and helped make it a marketable campaign setting, it took away what had always been the central conceit, which alienated long-time fans. There really wasn't a way for Greyhawk to win when it was competing with all of the other, flashier D&D settings being sold back then.

    The 3rd edition authors were able to get back to that conceit fairly well, but I think Greyhawk mostly sold during that era because it was 1. originally the "default" for 3rd ed. D&D and 2. It was touted as "going back to basics" after all of the perceived excesses of the 2nd edition era as far as campaign settings go.

    This, then, is where Greyhawk does well. As a basic D&D setting. While it has a lot of backstory, you don't need to read a hundred novels to understand it, and you don't have to worry about some random novel depicting a major deity dying or all magic being fundamentally changed or some other such drastic world-altering stuff. It's not flashy, but that's the point--instead of being "D&D but IN SPACE!" or "D&D but with Dracula!" It's just "D&D" distilled to its purest form.
    Journeyman Greytalker

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    Wed Oct 24, 2012 10:26 am  

    Whilst I agree with those above who categorise Greyhawk as core D&D and Sword and Sorcery, I think that rightly or wrongly (and I think wrongly) Forgotten Realms has taken that niche from our favourite setting. There are distinctions to be made between the two as others have highlighted such as high-level NPCs acting as puppet masters in FR and the seemingly monthly world-shattering events that this author or that author has decided must be added to the Realms but ultimately, the niche is claimed.

    I would suggest that GH has a role in claiming the Points of Light core assumptions of 4E (though these assumptions could apply to any edition). Greyhawk is a world of kingdoms vying for supremacy (and more often than not survival) with most roads dangerous or deadly. Skord references this above but rather than specific travelling technologies, I would be more inclined to have this sort of principle lead to villages wary of strangers, adventurers and others travelling with merchant caravans for protection and backwoods country folk clinging to old beliefs to protect them from the dangers of the wilds.

    The T1-4 module, to my mind, set out this kind of setting perfectly. Hommlet is 3-4 days walk from Verbobonc (1-2 days by fast horse) and yet the village is a dim light surrounded by the darkness of a wilderness. Less than a day from Hommlet lies Nulb which has already been claimed by the bandits and cultists of the wilderness and the Temple. If that isn't Points of Light, I don't know what is. My feeling when I first read that module in the 80s was that the PCs really were largely on their own and that's a feeling I think GH should be able to evoke wherever a campaign is set.

    Anyhoo, I vote for GH as gritty Points of Light in a similar way to Warhammer FRP but with a little more high fantasy.
    Adept Greytalker

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    Thu Oct 25, 2012 11:47 am  

    Given the presence of Iuz, Mordenkainen, Tenser, et. al. in Greyhawk, and their frequent use as plot instigators, devices, villains, and foils in canonical adventures and material, Greyhawk's claim to be free of "high-level NPCs" is spurious at best.

    Also, the terms High and Low fantasy mean different things to different people, and it's a good idea to define them if you want to use them. They can represent play style (heroic vs mercenary), magic frequency (abundant vs sparse), magic power (powerful vs weak), or the frequency of non-human races (abundant to non-existent). In literature high and low fantasy usually denote "play style", but in D&D discussions they're often used to indicate magic frequency.

    Greyhawk is probably the WotC setting best able to encompass all of the styles, even moreso than FR. A campaign could feature political intrigue in the Great Kingdom, quest-oriented "high fantasy" across the map, a sword & sorcery arc in Greyhawk & the Wild Coast, post-apocalyptic fantasy in the Sea of Dust, asian fantasy stylings in the Utter West, sci-fantasy in the Crystalmists, gothic fantasy in any number of shaded corners, military fantasy against Iuz, and so forth.
    GreySage

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    Thu Oct 25, 2012 6:38 pm  

    In 1998, Wizards of the Coast resurrected Greyhawk using the slogan "Return to the Dungeon." Their angle then was that Greyhawk was the "old school" D&D setting, and the marketing included phrases like "What the Hell is a Baatezu?" - presenting Greyhawk as a reaction against TSR's 2nd edition era and a return to the kind of D&D that older gamers remembered. The products released were mostly trap-filled dungeons and explicit callbacks to old, well-known modules.

    The result was very successful, and Greyhawk sold as well as Forgotten Realms did. Greyhawk's financial success in that era is the reason why it was initially made 3rd edition's default setting and why the Living Greyhawk campaign got approved.

    While Greyhawk can be any number of things and need not be the "old school" setting (and a number of other settings have at least as much claim on "old school" gaming, including Blackmoor, Wilderlands, Mystara, Minaria, and the Empire of the Petal Throne... and even the Forgotten Realms, which is much older than Greyhawk is if you count back to its original creation), this has been a successful way to market it in the past, and it's probably the best way to do so in the future. If, in 5th edition (excuse me, "D&D next"), WotC wants to help signal a return to older D&D themes and a move back from 4th edition themes and tropes, they could do worse than use Greyhawk. If they used the Forgotten Realms as their "new school" setting and Greyhawk as their "old school" setting, the difference between them would be very clear.
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    Thu Oct 25, 2012 8:12 pm  

    Flint wrote:
    I would suggest that GH has a role in claiming the Points of Light core assumptions of 4E

    Flint, I'm really with you about that idea to claim the Points of Light assumption. The more I read about the 4e default setting (which is not so bad, IMHO), the more I see Greyhawk in it. WotC did a big development work for 4e, and it's funny to see they came back to things that were already present... in the original setting of the game. :-) I like your idea of "GH as gritty Points of Light in a similar way to Warhammer FRP but with a little more high fantasy".

    Actually that point was recently examined in great depth on the 'Hill cantons' blog, especially in that article about the "Domain-game" in the 1e DMG. By re-reading closely the 1e DMG and trying to reveal its "implied world", the author (Chris Kutalik) depicts a setting where human population is scarce and monsters everywhere. Very close to the Points of Light assumption, indeed.
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    Thu Oct 25, 2012 8:50 pm  

    rasgon wrote:
    I think of it as a Sword & Sorcery setting, like Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Conan, and Elric of Melnibone.

    Interesting. I also look at GH in a sword & sorcery approach. But the works of that vein usually get rid of elves, dwarves, orcs and the like, while they are quite well represented in Greyhawk. Also, it seems to me that sword & sorcery authors involve more their heroes in "day-to-day" adventures rather than epic quests (the late Elric being an exception here), even if the heroes have truly outstanding features. This contradicts a bit with the arch-vilain plots which are often present in the GH setting and modules, I think. But of course, in the "trap-filled dungeons" we go back to a more sword & sorcery genre, indeed.

    rasgon, your knowledge of fantasy sub-genres is impressive. Thanks for this list of putative readings ! Happy

    Bluebomber4evr wrote:
    the Flanaess is a tinder box ready to ignite at any second and things could go either way.

    Bluembomber, I guess you're perfectly right. And it's an interesting approach to say that things could better stay that way. DM's can elaborate on that thin balance between different plots, if they want. And it's very consistent with the "mean neutrality" that Gygax had in mind for GH.

    Yet I have a problem whith that approach which says "Greyhawk is core-D&D and you can play it in every kind of fantasy you want". Of course this is true. And players are free to do what they want and the GH setting certainly enables them to do that.

    But my impression is that we could still describe more precisely the specific atmosphere of the Greyhawk world, starting from its inherent features. I know we could go in a lot of directions here, but I would be interested to have your take on this.

    My impression is that it's not only about the kind of play (though I quite agree with what rasgon wrote above, that this approach can sell well). It seems to me there's also something specific about the setting, the world in itself. Well, maybe I'm looking too far, I admit. Probably it's up to each of us. Happy
    Journeyman Greytalker

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    Fri Oct 26, 2012 9:35 am  

    Nellisir wrote:
    Given the presence of Iuz, Mordenkainen, Tenser, et. al. in Greyhawk, and their frequent use as plot instigators, devices, villains, and foils in canonical adventures and material, Greyhawk's claim to be free of "high-level NPCs" is spurious at best.


    Apologies if my intention wasn't clear here and obviously I had not intention of making a contribution that could be deemed "spurious". I acknowledge the presence of high-level NPCs in Greyhawk (it is canonical fact after all) but even in canon sources there is less emphasis placed on their involvement in the big plots of the world. The Circle of Eight are intentionally portrayed as a group that works for the balance rather than for this or that cause. Iuz works well as a BBEG as does Rary if you use the GH Wars plot line and any setting needs high level NPCs, good, evil and neutral, who, at the beginning at least, are way above the power level of the PCs.

    The point I was intending to make was that in FR, the high-level NPCs frequently, either through canon RPG or more often through novels, solve the world-threatening crises themselves and so overshadow any PC involvement. This is not the case in GH. There were no powerful NPCs built into the setting to deal with the ToEE, the Slavelords or the giants in Sterich. It was down to the PCs as it should be.

    I agree with others as well that GH has always been the core catch-all setting but from my point of view, in examining what niche GH can fill, I think we need to look at it through the lens of harsh commercial reality that will ultimately drive whether it is published again. As I said, to my mind, FR has taken over Greyhawk's niche as a kitchen-sink type core D&D setting and so we need to look at the question of where GH sits in a broader sense.

    Just my thoughts......
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    Fri Oct 26, 2012 4:00 pm  
    TSR Description

    I noticed the other day that one of TSR's blurbs on a product from the '70s said something like "medieval fantasy." What's wrong with applying that to Greyhawk?
    CF Admin

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    Wed Oct 31, 2012 8:44 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    Magic is generally at the heart of everything, but it is far beyond the ken of the general population, much as the workings of a nuclear weapon or an international space station are to most of us in the real world.


    That's some deep seeded !@#$ right there! Happy

    I like it.
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    Wed Oct 31, 2012 8:53 pm  

    My personal opinion holds that Greyhawk is unique due to the way the setting portrays a very "humanocentric" and "real" feeling.
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