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Why Do You Like Or Dislike From The Ashes?

 
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CruelSummerLord
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 17, 2018 5:41 pm    Post subject: Why Do You Like Or Dislike From The Ashes? Reply with quote

There's probably no Greyhawk product more controversial than From The Ashes. If you're familiar with my Canonfire contributions, you're no doubt aware of the fact. However, it wasn't until recently that I could fully articulate just why I dislike FtA so much.

It was Joe Bloch, AKA Greyhawk Grognard, who really spelled it out for me. If you read Mr. Bloch's blog (and if not, you really should!) you may have read a couple of very significant articles:

http://www.greyhawkgrognard.com/2016/03/03/campaigning-in-world-of-greyhawk/

http://www.greyhawkgrognard.com/2014/01/28/576-591-or-beyond/

Mr. Bloch's description of the 576 CY setting illustrated for me just how well it fitted my own personal preferences for a gaming fiction setting, and may indeed have helped shape it. In particular, he talked about how, for all that evil is a very real and dangerous threat, there are also comparable forces of good, and the entirety is not in danger of collapsing-adventurers could pursue their own agendas if they wanted.

In From The Ashes, we have a setting where evil has the upper hand. Most of the lands of good have either fallen altogether or are seriously depleted. The storytelling possibilities are also much more constricted in my mind. In many lands, there's no real possibility of political interaction or conventional dungeon crawls-the giants in the Sheldomar will kill anyone who intrudes on their conquered Geoff and Sterich territories, while I have a hard time rationalizing how any demihuman or non-Suel human adventurers could visit lands conquered by the Scarlet Brotherhood without being immediately thrown in chains, something I've tried to work away from in my own depictions of the Brotherhood and its conquests.

Mr. Bloch talks both about the fact that Gary Gygax's canon implied that there would be a massive conflict like the Greyhawk Wars, and that he would move the 591 timeline ahead several years to provide some stability in the Flanaess. In a thread about post-war Nyrond on Canonfire, GVDammerung also said that Nyrond shouldn't become the "sick man" of the Flanaess, not when there were so many sick men already.

So it was that GVD, and even more so Mr. Bloch, made it clear for me why I dislike FtA in ways I really couldn't articulate until I read their comments. As Mr. Bloch says, the endless grind of misery, war and chaos becomes old after a while. I enjoy having a certain stability to the Flanaess-while there's always the danger of some part of it falling to evil, the whole isn't in danger of imploding. While the Pomarj and the Bone March fell to humanoids in Gygax's original work, places like Furyondy and the Iron League were still strong in their own right.

In short, FtA drastically changed almost everything I liked about the tone and mood of the Greyhawk setting, and in ways I found worse than what came before.

Indeed, that was something I realize now I tried to go for in my own take on the Greyhawk Wars, and my general Canonfire writings. I agree with Mr. Bloch that war was pretty much inevitable at some point from Gygax's status quo...but while the forces of evil won several battles, the forces of good won several battles as well. A few states were forever destroyed, but others that were destroyed in canon still survived. While many peoples have suffered, and suffered badly, they refuse to give up and continue to fight on. This applies to good and evil alike-while Iuz may have lost his original kingdom, his perverse contest with the Cells of Iuz means he still leaves a black mark on the Flanaess, and he is free to pursue other agendas in the Abyss!

In the end, I imagine the Flanaess having more of a "Cold War" stance after the Greyhawk Wars. Small-scale wars, intrigues and realpolitik continue unabated, but even the evil leaders of the Scarlet Brotherhood, the Horned Empire and the Aerdi kingdoms find more interest in consolidating their gains and fortifying themselves than in open bloodshed.

That's my take on FtA, but I know that for every fan that might dislike it there's another that loves it. People have praised Carl Sargent's writing (and I'll give him his due on that, even if his tastes are entirely different than mine) while others thing it gave the Flanaess a good shake-out and made things interesting.

So, why do you like or dislike From The Ashes?
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edmundscott
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2018 9:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It's not at all clear to me that the changes you and Joe Bloch don't like originated with Carl Sargent. My take has been that Dave Cook blew up the world with the Greyhawk Wars boxset (in some ways that I like, some ways that I don't), and then Carl Sargent was tasked with creating a "new" setting from the debris.

If that's true, given where he had to start, I think Sargent did tremendous work, particularly in the details of the Marklands, Iuz the Evil, Ivid the Undying.

He also multiplied the number of strange locations begging to be explored by something like a factor of ten. (A cooperative online project I keep imagining is using existing 3rd party modules, esp. from the OSR, to fill in all those mysterious dungeons and abandoned castles and mysterious locations that seemingly every sentence of Sargent's writing sprinkles across the Flanaess--places like Echo Crypt or the Dungeon of Tzunk's Hands . . . )

It seems to me the change of tone and the controversial stuff that drove diehard Greyhawk grognards nuts can all be traced to Zeb Cook instead.
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Syzygyst
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2018 6:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ditto to what edmundscott said. The Greyhawk Wars had issues, not the least of which naming them the "Greyhawk Wars." Thought FtA was fairly well done, though not a huge fan.
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xo42
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 20, 2018 8:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I actually love From the Ashes, and am a huge fan of everything Sargent has written for Dungeons and Dragons, not just for the Greyhawk setting. It is dark and at times an abrupt change of pace and tone to what came before it. However, as you and others have pointed out, the seeds for the darkness were laid long before FtA came out. I also look at the conflict and the carnage as being similar to numerous real world events that have decimated and shaped not only geographical boundaries, but also society as a whole (WW II for example). Perhaps Sargent's ideas and tone were influenced by his background (as Tolkien's were by WW I). FtA definitely puts evil ahead and on the march, but at the same time it establishes and highlights beacons of good that can (and do) ultimately win in the end.
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Lanthorn
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 20, 2018 10:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Agree with xo42. I liked the 'shakedown' and turmoil created by the Wars. I grew tired of Goodness as triumphant and applaud the overall change in the Greyhawk world. I enjoyed how Evil fought or absorbed Evil (as with Iuz and the Horned Lands) but wanted to see Nerull put Iuz in check for doing so (though the rationale that Nerull doesn't care so much about pawns in one world among so many seems logical, I STILL wanted him to kick the demi-Power's butt...or at least let him know who IS a REAL Power). I think that Iuz decimated the Hierarchs TOO easily. It should've been more of a scrap, IMO. Like xo42, I think that real world events helped the authors construct what happened geopolitically across the Flanaess. Overall, I was very happy with the resulting product and like that The Good Guys got kicked in the rears (maybe that makes me dark, but so be it). I think it gives PCs a real REASON to want to get involved, if for no other reason than survival. I also like that FtA gave us a breakdown of the Powers and offered rules for clerics and priests (armor and weapons permitted, spell Spheres, etc). I also think that a similar product for ALL Powers should've been written and sold...they missed a real gold mine, I believe, in NOT offering such a product. I know I would've made use of it!

next,

Lanthorn
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DMPrata
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 20, 2018 11:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

While hoping to avert an edition war, I’d like to suggest delicately that part of the contention over From the Ashes mirrors that of the change in play styles from 1E to 2E. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, freewheeling sandbox games were prevalent. PCs delved subterranean labyrinths and looted ancient tombs primarily for their own aggrandizement. A mostly stable campaign setting with the omnipresent threat of Evil enabled such adventuring.

By the late ’80s and early ’90s, play styles had turned more toward the storytelling model, and the 2E rules intrinsically supported this style of play. Kicking down doors, killing monsters, and taking their stuff was seen in many circles as passé. (I know; I was there.) Players wanted more role-playing reasons to adventure, and the world as presented in From the Ashes gave such story hooks aplenty.

I appreciate Carl Sargent’s work, and I think he did a yeoman’s job with his assigned task. His writing is richly evocative. I agree with CSL, though, (and, indirectly, with Joe Bloch) that the changes wrought in From the Ashes are less conducive to my preferred play style (which is why my present campaign is still in 573 CY).
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CruelSummerLord
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 21, 2018 11:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I should note that Mr. Bloch doesn't actually mind FtA himself. I cite him because his blog articles were what helped me articulate just what bothered me so much about FtA in the first place.

And I would say that Carl Sargent did have a hand in the tone that FtA provided, based on his work with Ian Livingstone, who co-created the British Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, founded White Dwarf magazine and is more recently known for his work with Eidos Interactive. Sargent wrote a novel quartet and a gamebook all set in the world of Amarillia, which in just as bad a shape as the Flanaess is, with the few forces of good barely hanging on after a devastating war. So that tone and style seems to really be up Sargent's alley.

I'd dispute the statements by DMPrata and Lanthorn that reasons for the PCs to actively get involved were a new thing in FtA, especially when modules like Against the Giants and the Temple of Elemental Evil were already providing such things. If anything, FtA made Against The Giants meaningless, since the giants come back to ravage Geoff and Sterich anyway.
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SirXaris
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2018 3:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I found much that I agree with in every post above. Razz

Truly, I was excited to read the Greyhawk Wars boxed set mostly because I had already worked out that exact scenario on paper myself (well, there were slight differences). However, whenever I begin a new campaign, I always start it about 576 CY so that my players can experience the old modules, the original Greyhawk setting, and be some of the forces that effect any such change in the Flanaess as the Greyhawk Wars might impose. In other words, my players should have the opportunity to decide, through their actions, if such a Flanaess-wide war breaks out, how it begins, and how it ends.

I appreciate Sergeant's work for the ideas it provides. I hold it in the same esteem as I hold the original modules. I love them for the framework they provide and I freely add to them whatever I think will benefit our game and take away from them anything that I don't like.

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vestcoat
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 26, 2018 8:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ditto about the subject line being wrong. Zeb did the damage and Sargent will forever get the blame.

Somewhere on these forums, I've already written about Gary's plotlines inevitably being headed to something similar to the Wars. With that in mind, what did everyone expect to happen? Should the Flanaess have gotten SAFER? Yeah, Zeb could have left thing less dark, but post-war Flanaess is still on par with Lord of the Rings, the Dragonlance chronicles, Game of Thrones, etc. Wasn't 4e all about "points of light" too (honest question)? FtA still has safe bastions, how many pastoral villages do PC's need?

Anyway, here's what I like about FtA:
*dark ages. Buying a horse becomes an adventure. Securing safe lodging amid suspicious and desperate men becomes an adventure.
*Sargent's ideas are great (other than scores of similar names). The Caves of Milk. The politics. The realism. The Ship of Fools. Every page is bursting with them.
*There are epic NPC's, but they don't overshadow the players. The high-level NPC's tend to be aging, diseased, paranoid, reclusive, otherworldly, or concerned with more than the PC's can fathom or are interested in.
*Overwhelming evil requires PC's to adopt all kinds of subtleties: compromise, alliances, morale boosting, disguise, stealth, etc. Planning an attack on the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief is awesome, but sneaking into the City of Skulls, Garel Enkdal, or Night Below might be even better.
*there's less room for good alignments and lack of compromise in general. In FtA, the neutral alignments come to the fore. The fate of the world really rests in their hands and which way the neutrals swing. Will good relax their rigidity enough to ally with former bandits? Will the forces of reason break down Celene's nationalism? What about the LN Theocratic, the mercenary Perrenlanders, undead Drax, the broken CoE, the Mage of the Vale, the chaotic barbarians, and the opportunistic Ketties? THIS is the focus of FtA, not the evil empires. The world is more grey and complex than it was in 576CY. It's a more neutral world, not more evil.

Here's what I don't like:
*more canon to juggle. Sometimes simplicity, imagination, and following the players' lead is best. It's hard to beat the 32-page Folio.
*I asked "how many pastoral villages do we need" and that sword cuts both ways -- how many evil empires do we need? Do we really need Rauxes, Scant, Dorakaa, Molag, Spinecastle, Gorna, etc. all waiting for PC's to sneak into?

That's it. I basically love FtA and it makes my imagination drip every time I read it.
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Lanthorn
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 28, 2018 1:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

CruelSummerLord wrote:

I'd dispute the statements by DMPrata and Lanthorn that reasons for the PCs to actively get involved were a new thing in FtA, especially when modules like Against the Giants and the Temple of Elemental Evil were already providing such things. If anything, FtA made Against The Giants meaningless, since the giants come back to ravage Geoff and Sterich anyway.


I wouldn't say that FtA made it 'new' for PCs to get actively involved. I would contest that it made it MORE incumbent upon them to do so, however.

Coincidentally, I am just now wrapping up (?) an adventure involving Against the Giants that predates the Wars by a year or less. The giants are preparing for their massive assault on humanity, something the PCs are just now beginning to realize. The PC's recent retributive sniping attacks against the Steading are giving Chief Nosnra even more reason to join the war against mankind. In my mind it doesn't make Against the Giants redundant. It merely sets the stage for the whole-scale war to come.

Just my opinion,

Lanthorn
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xo42
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 28, 2018 3:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Excellent points Vestcoat, especially regarding how the events in FtA affect Neutral PCs/NPCs, and influence their actions. Just like in many elections, the decisions of those in the middle (Neutrals) has the ability to tip the scale and influence the final result in the end.
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Osmund-Davizid
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 31, 2018 9:32 pm    Post subject: My thoughts on FtA Reply with quote

I will go on record for being a FtA fan! Mostly because I liked Carl Sargent's writing style - he always gave just enough details to make things interesting without doing too much for you. I think the Marklands, Iuz the Old, and Ivid the Undying are some of the best products for Greyhawk ever. I am constantly thumbing through them and referencing them.

Secondly, I hear the critiques of FtA and understand them, and to a certain degree I agree with them. But I have always been pretty good about mining the published materials for what I like and ignoring the rest. I use most of the information from the aforementioned products in a pre-Gh Wars setting (my campaigns began in 576 CY).

Finally, I have said it in other posts before, but one of the draws I have to Greyhawk was that, compared to some of the other published worlds, there was less support for it. Even FtA, the big world shaking event, really did not have a ton of published support (when measured against to a comparable FR event for example), so I felt that those of us who collected and used GH material were still in control of our campaigns, not at the mercy of the next round of books/games/promotional materials.

Plus, I liked the grim and dark feel of FtA. That may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I felt like it gave some more direction and purpose to my PCs. I always liked playing the paladins and cleric types, so that was my idea of a good time.

O-D
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hedgeknight
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2018 3:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
But I have always been pretty good about mining the published materials for what I like and ignoring the rest.

This has been my motto for ages and it is what I'm currently doing with my 1E campaign (set around 576 CY). War is talked about and fretted over, but will it actually happen? Probably not in my campaign.

And in full disclosure, I've never read From the Ashes (ducks behind a shield! Wink ). But with all of the praise lavished on Sargent's writing, I think I know what I will be doing over the rainy weekend to come.
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JasonZavoda
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 03, 2018 5:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

From the Ashes is wonderful for plundering ideas but it is just another DMs or group of DMs Greyhawk campaign. What was wrong with it for me as a published setting is the problem I have with FtA.\

But it is more than just FtA it is the problem I have with every TSR setting other than Greyhawk.

The idea was to give an unfleshed world to DMs so that they could make it their own and yet have common ground, the same starting point, as every other DM using Greyhawk. We can all go back and say I started here and then here is what I changed, where I went, what is mine. FtA robs DMs of this because so much is Sargent; the tone, the atmosphere and the dense amount of details once you delve deeper and get into all the Sargent material beyond the boxed set.

But FtA is a treasure trove to be plundered, especially for a Greyhawk DM, even if it just gives you ideas on not what to do. FtA inspires even if it simply makes a DM think of what they would do differently.
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heychadwick
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 06, 2018 5:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I started with Greyhawk when it was the only option. I was a kid and I had a hard time with making some of it live in my head. I was swayed by the Forgotten Realms for many years due to the flavor of the creator. It has it's own issues, but what turned me off was the constant continuity of "official" story via many, many novels. Too many stupid events and years of it made it almost impossible to ignore.

Living Greyhawk got me back into Oerth and I've been happy. To me, the Greyhawk Wars are ONE event. I can pick before it, during it, or after it. Or ignore it. I can deal with this as there is enough content as a DM to work with. It's not too much, but it gives some flavor and background to the game world. It's not too static nor too fluid. Its Goldylocks to me.

I'm taking my son and his friends through his first campaign. We are in Year 2. Eventually the Greyhawk Wars will ravage their homeland of Furyondy and be an epic event I hope they never forget. I have a lot of content to start with them as adventures doing their own thing, but eventually the game world will wrap them up in bigger events.
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NorkerMedic
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 11, 2018 5:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

LIKE

The Fading Lands!

specialty priests/spheres

Domain of Greyhawk material

card-stock mini-adventures


DISLIKE

Some, but not all, of the Greyhawk Wars timeline and results
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xo42
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 11, 2018 5:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

NorkerMedic wrote:
LIKE

card-stock mini-adventures


I was actually disappointed in the card-stock mini-adventures in the FtA boxed set. I thought the card-stock adventure cards in the City of Greyhawk boxed set were amazing and I still frequently use them. However, I thought the ones in FtA weren't as well thought out and developed. They were also cheaply made compared to the CoG ones, which I found odd.
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vestcoat
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 12, 2018 12:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good point. On the plus side, the two short adventures in the Campaign Book are quite good.
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