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    The Old Grey Hawk - An Attempted Style Guide
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    Grandmaster Greytalker

    Joined: Aug 05, 2004
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    Tue Mar 08, 2005 4:31 pm  
    The Old Grey Hawk - An Attempted Style Guide

    Like many people, I’ve read “The Grey in the Hawk” by Nitescreed, ne NightScreed. Whatever else you want to say about it or its author, The Grey in the Hawk is an attempt at a style document for Greyhawk. I have seen no other that does as well. That is not to say that the Grey in the Hawk is perfect. It is not. As time passes, I think the identity of the setting shifts with further publication of material that may or may not adhere to any particular style.

    The idea of a style guide is, I think, a good one. Consistency can be famously foolish but can also be useful, particularly when someone may not be otherwise familiar with the Greyhawk opus. It also doesn’t hurt to be mindful of what you like or do not like in more than a passing way. Gut-feelings only get you so far. However, a style guide is more an adjunct to gut-feelings, I think, and should never replace an indefinable sense of what is appropriately “grey.”

    What follows is another attempt at a Greyhawk Style Guide.

    (1) Story Drives Setting

    Historically, the details of the World of Greyhawk have been told through adventures - stories. Pure sourcebooks, that describe the setting or some part thereof in page after page of detail and exposition, have not been the norm. When designing for Greyhawk, the story being told should always be foremost in mind, rather than a collection of details, that while interesting, are unconnected to events. Even if writing a sourcebook, the facts or details should all be story relevant. If a fact is not story relevant, it should probably be omitted or dwelt upon only briefly. The Living Greyhawk Gazateer is a notable exception in that it was predominantly just an exposition of facts. While applauded, the LGG has also been criticized for this quality as being “dry” or “a tome” or “not an easy read.”

    (2) Focus on the PC Involvement

    Because Greyhawk has been largely defined by adventures, which provided setting details in passing as necessary background, there has also been a focus on PCs as significant actors. Few important events should occur entirely offstage, where the PCs are uninvolved and will only be told what has happened. Ideally, the PCs should be able to become involved, the more directly, the better. If the PCs are not the exclusive focus, they should least have an opportunity to witness the events taking place, with a possibility, however remote, of being involved. Sometimes, as in the opening sequence of Vecna Lives or with the Greyhawk Wars wargame, the PCs participation may have to be vicarious through the players themselves. However it is done, the PCs should not just read about important events or be told that they happened. That is not classically Greyhawk.

    (3) All Events In Context

    Every described fact or event should have a place in the greater context of the setting. This has been described as the “wheels within wheels” effect. Purely random occurrences, unconnected with much of anything, are not the norm. RPGA adventures (Childsplay etc.) that were “dropped” into Greyhawk are the best examples of the problems with unconnected designs. Greyhawk’s facts have been set out variously in a variety of products, yet, there appear interconnections between these facts that give the setting a richness or depth. For example, the references to Iggwilv’s daughter in Mordenkainen’s Fantastic Adventure are more meaningful if one is familiar with the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. Not all Greyhawk material is so subtly referential or cross-referenced but enough is to mark the setting as one where everything has some degree of context with what has gone before or what will follow, or should/could have.

    (4) Loose-ends

    Critical to Greyhawk is the manner in which facts are presented. They are not usually presented in a closed-loop or in absolute terms unless essential to the story being told. Incidental or developmental facts have a noticeable degree of ambiguity. Some just trail off with but a mere mention. These are loose-ends. They invite the imagination and speculation as in no other setting. If Greyhawk has exhibited a sort of pseudo-scholarship and a huge capacity for fan created derivative works that no other setting has equaled, it is likely attributable to the fact that Greyhawk has so many loose-ends left hanging that spur the imagination and get people to wondering “what if” or “how might this relate to . . .” Writing purposefully may too easily omit loose-ends as a careful writer will look to leave a story with no loose-ends. That is not, however, Greyhawk.

    (5) Balance and Neutrality

    Next to the loose-ends, this is probably Greyhawk’s signature feature. Greyhawk is not a setting of white-hats and black-hats squaring off against each other at high noon in the middle of a dusty street. Neutrality plays a larger role in Greyhawk than in any other published setting and there are powerful forces neutrally aligned that seek to balance good and evil. Mordenkainen and the Circle of Eight are, of course, the most famous agents of Balance. If the From the Ashes era may be criticized legitimately, it is in leaving the Greyhawk Wars and the aftermath of the Greyhawk Wars too clearly divided into camps aligned with weal and woe. The Greyhawks Wars and their aftermath were too unsubtle in their aligning of forces. Large scale wars are unsubtle but Greyhawk is not a simulation; it is fantasy. Greyhawk should always see matters left in some degree of uncertainty or equipoise - gray. Any setting impacting event should see forces of neutrality involved, even if only peripherally.

    (6) Nostalgia

    Greyhawk is a nostalgic setting. That is not a bad thing. Not only has it been around longer than any other published setting but it has a rich real world history. This is important to remember when considering what might be sufficiently “grey.” Different from the comment on context, nostalgia is better understood as a “harkening back” or a “touching base” or “touchstone” effect. The most obvious harkening backs are the various “Returns” to classic adventures or products. Less obvious are the returning characters or figures native to the setting. Vecna has been returned to most memorably, if perhaps too overtly. It is very Greyhawk to indulge nostalgia by harkening back to prior events or occurrences or even whole adventures. However, care must be taken because too heavy a hand is not good and mere name dropping may appear to be nothing more. Neither is it essential to adopt a pure dungeon-crawl approach. That is nostalgic but a little goes a long way. Evoking Greyhawk’s storied past is tricky but the best Greyhawk products seem to do this. The Istivin story arc in Dungeon nicely attempted to play to nostalgia but then fumbled beyond the D-series touchstone by presently rather mediocre exposition of subsequent events.

    (7) Canon

    In the specific context of Greyhawk, “canon” is largely a fan created concept. Best understood, it is a desire for consistency with prior works such that, for example, County A is not a feudal kingdom in Product 1, a dictatorial theocracy in Product 2, and a secular, pure democracy in Product 3, where all products are set in the same time period. Unfortunately, canon is often stated or construed to require a slavish devotion to every fact, factoid, inferred surmise and developed minutia of the setting. Worse, canon is often stated to be a litmus test of all design, particularly any design that advances the timeline of events in the setting. The worst offenders are more concerned with canon than with a playable or enjoyable setting, some “fans” going so far as to admit to not having actually played in the setting regularly, if ever. To get Greyhawk right, “canon” is important in its broader sense but not in its most cramped reading. Canon is not a litmus test. The past does not define the future; it informs it and then only to suggest, not to require or shape design. Greyhawk must succeed first as a roleplaying game experience and secondarily, it may do so profitably by using canon to suggest, but not to require or prohibit, future developments, bearing in mind the stated desirability of a general consistency. Too great an adherence to canon is not Greyhawk because (if for no other reason) it would quantify too much that should develop as loose-ends (see Loose-ends above) and/or shades of uncertainty (see Balance above).

    (8) A Sense of History

    Related to nostalgia, context and canon is a more specific sense of the history or age within the setting. The history of the Flanaess is fantastic in every sense of the word. The Twin Cataclysms. The Migrations. The Ancient Flan. The Rise and Fall of Aerdi. The history of the Flanaess was momentous and still reverberates. Drawing on this history or adding to it is very Greyhawk. The Greyhawk Adventures, hardback, for example, is one of the most influential Greyhawk products for it introduced Places of Mystery that are now a signature feature of the setting and it did more than simply introduce them; it placed them within the history of the setting, developing the history of the setting in the process. Much of Greyhawk and that within Greyhawk has some kind of history. When designing, giving an item, NPC or even a plot a history is important. Jack-in-Box NPCs, items, plots etc. that just pop-up without any forgoing history should be the exception. This does not mean that nothing new can be created; to the contrary, as with Greyhawk Adventures, new is good, but new that feels old is better.

    (9) Epic Adventures

    It is not unusual to hear some people say that Greyhawk has seen enough turmoil and tumult, that there have been enough setting shaking events. This is nonsense. It is very Greyhawk to turn things upside down, or at least to threaten to. The Greyhawk Wars is the oft cited example of too much. In Vecna Lives, the signature Circle of Eight were killed, but ultimately returned. In Die Vecna Die, Vecna attempted to achieve ultimate godhead and the option is there that he succeeded. The settings creator, in his Gord novels, destroyed Oerth when Tharizdun was released. If not dealt a “sharp check,” giants, in league with the drow and a demon princess, have threatened to overwhelm Oerth. The giants “returned” to try to finish what they started. The Temple of Elemental Evil threatened to raise a horde to conquer all of the domain of Greyhawk and its surroundings if not stopped. Epic adventures, big adventures with potentially Oerth shaking consequences, are very Greyhawk. Greyhawk is not a setting where every adventure is small scale, timid or localized. Let’er rip.

    (10) The Planes

    The frequent occurrence of demi-planes in Greyhawk is nearly unique. The influence of extra-planar creatures, such as fiends, is nearly unique. The lack of direct godly involvement on Oerth is nearly unique. Greyhawks’ destruction by an imprisoned god-thing is nearly unique, at least among RPG settings. Greyhawk’s relationship with the planes is complex. It is often subtle or understated, such as gods refusing to send an avatar when a high level cleric is in trouble. It is often taken for granted, such as Iuz being born a cambion. It can be variant, such as the arrival of a spaceship through a dimensional wormhole. The influence of the planes is, however, a recurring theme. Like anything else, it can be overdone and done to death, but it is very Greyhawk all the same, uniquely so in the frequency and variety of its expression. Greyhawk is not a “low fantasy” setting.

    (11) Nothing is Absolutely Forbidden

    Greyhawk is very, very flexible. There is every variety of magic. There is technology. There is science-fiction. There is the Old West. There is literary allusion. There is comedy, even if low farce. There is a post-apocalyptic element. Greyhawk is not simply “medieval-fantasy” and those who want it so seek to exclude some of Greyhawk’s most unique charms. Nothing is absolutely forbidden in Greyhawk. In the main, Greyhawk is, of course, pseudo-medieval fantasy, but in the corners, it is so much more. Being quirky is very Greyhawk. Fitting for Greyhawk, there is a need to balance the more “unusual” elements of Greyhawk, however.

    (12) Bring Your Friends

    While not purely relevant to style, Greyhawk has a notable tradition of memorializing real people within the setting, using plays on words or variant spellings to good effect. Tzunk is a play on Rob Kuntz’s last name. The variations on Gary Gygax’ last name are innumerable. Further afield, Iquander, Erik Mona’s screen name and a pre-existing Greyhawk character in the Gord novels, has become something of an “editorial character” as he moves within the setting from rural Nellix to the City of Greyhawk and begins reordering the Great Library to include the works of “Estarius Rose” - Greyhawk author Rose Estes. Greyhawk fan Samantha Quest becomes the Greyhawk dragon Hautna Masq. Greyhawk fan “Keldreth” becomes an NPC of the same name. The Greyhawk fan who first attempted a Greyhawk style guide, Nitescreed, becomes the Aerdi bard Nightsong. The list goes on. Giving a nod to someone within the setting is very Greyhawk and not a few respellings have produced some descent fantasy names.

    These 12 points, then, are my attempt to define a Greyhawk style guide. They are not exhaustive. I make no claim that they should be authoritative or even correct. They seem to me, however, to be a good “pointing in the right direction.” If others contribute, we might be able to arrive at something more widely agreeable.

    Respectfully submitted.

    Glenn Vincent Dammerung (aka GVD)
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jul 13, 2002
    Posts: 1077
    From: Orlane, Gran March

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    Tue Mar 08, 2005 6:56 pm  

    While I appreciate the thrust of this article, I have to respectfully disagree, at least on point 1. While I love the story based nature of Greyhawk, it makes it daunting to get the "feel," of the place.

    I think there is a place, a gaping hole of a place, in GH where some of the non story specific character should be spelled out. Not every place, not even most places, but some place on the Flaness ought to have more character than has been given to it in the stories thus far.

    I too love the indistinct, dangling threads that allow such creative freedom. I loved it more when I was carefree, didnt have a business to run and two kids to chase. It hasn't lost the allure, I just dont have the time.

    When I/We started playing, you were broken in on Hommlet and the Keep on the Borderlands... progressed within a few days to The Ghost Tower, The Lost City, The Hidden Shrine, and The Lost Caverns until finally you were able go Against the Giants. This is a great way to enter Greyhawk. It is the way of the past for most DM's.

    The above is a terrible way if you are new to GH, or worse, new to D&D and you want to start a campaign. You want to get a group togeather, find a place to play and start.

    So what do you need to do... buy a bunch of old, out of print modules, read them, make sense of them, convert them to 3rd edition, buy the LGG and get started.

    I understand the nostalgia, and I think that all major trends in the Flaness should come from story based work, but GVD, I think there needs to be change if we want some new blood.

    As you know (or should as often as we have told everyone) several of us are working on a new Gran March Gazzateer to serve just this purpose... to give flavor and style to a section of the Flaness in a format accesible to new DM's. We think we have started with what is most likely the least explored/detailed/exciting place on the map (though this is not a universal sentiment). Someone new wants to start a new game, and thinks "hmmm, maybe I will try Greyhawk, where do I begin?" This may give them a chance at becoming GH fans.

    Analogy... I love the Jordan books, so do all my friends. But one friend tried to start the series at Crossroads of Twilight, a pretty poor book. Now he wont read the first 10 books, which is unfortunate.

    I think that some of the bland material is what has been lacking from GH. I dont want the super NPCs driving events and saving NPC's. But I am tired of using for or five module covers/art to demonstrate every fighter and wizard in every nation of the Flaness.

    I like your article, and in generl it seems to apply, but we need to attract more to the fold, and to do this, i think we need to change the formula a little.
    Adept Greytalker

    Joined: Jul 12, 2001
    Posts: 465
    From: Ithaca, New York

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    Wed Mar 09, 2005 4:50 am  
    Re: Disagree

    Anced_Math wrote:
    Analogy... I love the Jordan books, so do all my friends. But one friend tried to start the series at Crossroads of Twilight, a pretty poor book. Now he wont read the first 10 books, which is unfortunate.

    Off-topic, I can't blame your friend. I started with the first book, and now I won't read the next 10 or 20. Wink

    Sorry. Couldn't resist a little dig.
    Nell. Happy
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jul 13, 2002
    Posts: 1077
    From: Orlane, Gran March

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    Wed Mar 09, 2005 5:41 am  

    Well Nell, what is the old saying...

    Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder...

    Course some peple are just blind! Laughing

    Hey, what are you doing reading posts, you are supposed to be working on Oerth Journal!!
    Adept Greytalker

    Joined: Aug 28, 2004
    Posts: 348

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    Sat Mar 12, 2005 2:51 am  
    Re: Nell

    Anced_Math wrote:

    Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder...

    Best D&D pun I've read in years!

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