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    Intro Description of the Setting
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    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jun 29, 2001
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    Wed Mar 27, 2024 9:16 am  
    Intro Description of the Setting

    Something that comes up fairly regularly is a newcomer asking people for a description of the setting. This is something I consider rather difficult. There is a LOT to Greyhawk, and what exactly to highlight is a challenge. Along with that is a request for the "theme" or "type" of fantasy that Greyhawk represents, and I dislike most of the answers that others give.
    When the latest iteration of this arose the other day, I finally came up with my own answer, presented here.

    "Tell me about Greyhawk."

    Greyhawk, or more properly Oerth, which is the name of the world, has four continents, the largest of which is Oerik. The eastern portion of that continent is called the Flanaess after the indigenous population. Greyhawk sits in the middle of the Flanaess, and is the location of the original home base for adventurers exploring the original dungeon of the setting, Castle Greyhawk.

    One thousand years ago, two great empires destroyed themselves in magical cataclysms, with the survivors migrating across the Flanaess. Those survivors built three great empires: the oldest is the Keingdom of Keoland, the westernmost the Baklunish realm of Zeif, and the greatest of all, the Oeridian Kingdom of Aerdy that came to dominate almost half of the subcontinent and became known as the Great Kingdoms.

    The fortunes of those empires have waxed and waned over the millennium since the Twin Cataclysms. Zeif and Keoland seem poised to make a comeback, while the Great Kingdom has finally collapsed, leaving several successors, the largest of which are the Kingdoms of Furyondy, Nyrond, Ahlissa, and Northern Aerdy.

    The Flanaess is currently recovering from the great war that caused the final fall of the Great Kingdom, and all of the nations are maneuvering for position even as they recover from the destruction. It is a land where heroes are needed more than ever, as great evils loom and the common folk are threatened.

    "What type of setting is it?"

    Greyhawk cannot really be classified with any of the basic terms. It is written in a manner that accommodates all playstyles and levels of magic and fantasy. There are high magic areas and adventures, low magic areas and adventures, and everything in between and beyond, along with other thematic elements and level ranges. Whatever you want, however you want to play, you can find a place in the Flanaess that is perfect for that mode. Then, because of the robustness of the setting, it is easy to modify any and all of them for another mode. And if you still need a bit more, just cross one ocean or mountain range and there is the rest of the world just waiting to be discovered and developed.

    Rather than limiting the setting with any of the usual tags, I prefer to leave it open as a framework for building adventures and campaigns with the deep history of the game and its creators integral to that framework. Anyone can take Greyhawk and make it theirs, while also maintaining core elements that allow discussions, crossovers, and borrowing from other people developing the setting in completely different ways. It may not have the fine details of other settings, but for me that is precisely its strength and not a weakness.
    CF Admin

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    Fri Mar 29, 2024 6:56 am  

    Thanks for sharing this Sam. Below is a slightly revised version of what I provided to the three people with whom I've been exploring / co-creating my current Hold of the Sea Princes campaign (which started shortly after the pandemic and is going strong some four years later).

    As you'll see, it bears some resemblance to your overview although mine doesn't cover all of the Flanaess but instead focuses on Keoland and the Hold.

    First a little background on the group:

    We've known each other since we were teenagers and played numerous RPGs, including AD&D 2e, when we met. Two of the three played in my 2e GH Wars campaign, which was set in CY 582–83, began in northern Furyondy, and eventually came down to Dyvers, iirc. The third had not prior played in GH, afaik. We've all continued to game over the decades, but this was the first time in a long time (at least a decade) that I played D&D with any of them.

    Burn the Fields, Fly to the Mountains, intrigue and revolution amidst the tropical slave plantations of the Hold of the Sea Princes.

    Will the player characters aid the enslaved peoples’ struggle for freedom? Will they try to counter the Scarlet Brotherhood’s threatened usurpation? And how will they relate to Utavo the Wise’s efforts to establish a new society in the former Grand Duchy of Berghof?

    Exploiting the ceaseless labor of its mainland plantation slaves, the bounty of assorted islands, small southern colonies on the coast of the “Hook” of the Amedio Jungle, and barely-charted sea routes beyond, the leaders of the Hold of the Sea Princes have grown wealthy and indolent for over a hundred years.

    Originating from lords, servants, and sundry ne’er-do-wells who fled the destruction of the ancient Suloise Imperium, the antecedents of the modern Sea Princes sated themselves with brigandry, petty conquest, and slavery against the region's indigenous Flan and demihuman peoples. Later Suel migrants, however, particularly the noble houses of Rhola and Neheli, treated well with the indigenous peoples, displaced the Sea Princes’ antecedents, and established the fair Kingdom of Keoland. Defeated, the Sea Princes' antecedents retreated south beyond the inhospitable Hool Marshes, where they recreated themselves as "free captains" (pirate lords) who raided Keoland’s coastal settlements and the shipping lanes that developed. Eventually, however, their depredations drew the ire of Keoland, which invaded by land and sea.

    In a decades-long war, Keoland checked and sometimes occupied the Hold, but when the Sea Princes renewed their rebellion in Common Year 444 and captured the capital of Monmurg in CY 446, Keoland warred for almost a decade before its king’s death during the ill-fated siege of Westkeep. Rebuffed, Keoland’s armies retreated, and the Sea Princes were free to pirate the sea lanes until CY 464, when they lost the battle of Jetsom Island to the Keoish navy and its allies from the Principality of Ulek. Thereafter, a narrow majority of the Sea Princes determined to focus on managing their plantations and slave-raiding from the coast of the nearby Hook of the Amedio Jungle rather than continue to antagonize Keoland.

    Over a hundred years later, in CY 573, Jeon II of Monmurg became the ruling Sea Prince. He and his allies began advocating to abolish slavery, which raised predictable and vociferous opposition from the Hold’s planters. At the same time, despite their disparate backgrounds, cultures, and languages, the enslaved peoples who labor on the Sea Prince plantations have cultivated a hybrid and polyglot culture, and the winds of revolution have begun to stir the land.

    In this situation, the campaign will begin with the PCs participating, in one way or another, in a slave revolt. Depending on their backgrounds, the PCs might be rebellious slaves, sympathetic allies, or oblivious outsiders suddenly compelled to choose a side. Contingent on how the PCs gel, they might attempt to spread the revolution, lead or betray it, or flee the chaos. Along the way, they might learn about the hidden powers—under and beyond sea and soil—at play and determine how to intervene (or not).
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jun 29, 2001
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    Fri Mar 29, 2024 3:28 pm  

    One of the things I always want to ask when some asks that question is if they can narrow down what they want to know a bit. That is why I tried to cover "everything". Now maybe if they pick an empire from that list I can know where to fill in more.
    CF Admin

    Joined: Jun 29, 2001
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    Fri Mar 29, 2024 6:00 pm  

    In one of the games I ran at GaryCon, several of the (mostly 5e) players were not particularly familiar with Greyhawk, and asked about what it was.

    So I started down the road of explaining Greyhawk, referencing back to Gary's home campaign vs. the published Darlene maps from the Folio vs. the earlier Domesday Book maps of the Great Kingdom, etc., until one of them said something like, "No, really: what is Greyhawk? Is it like Faerun?"

    So I had already been getting down into the weeds of history of the setting, when they had much more basic questions:

    1. Oerth:Greyhawk::Faerun:Forgotten Realms.
    2. Greyhawk City:Greyhawk::Waterdeep:Forgotten Realms.

    That helped steer the conversation into a more-proper direction ;)

    Allan Grohe (
    CF Admin

    Joined: Jul 28, 2001
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    Sat Mar 30, 2024 7:25 am  

    While replying to another post, I came across Mortellan's World of Greyhawk Primer and thought to link it here to help collect various folks' introductions, overviews, primers, etc. for Greyhawk.
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