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To the Ends of The Oerth Part 1: That Map, Again
Posted on Fri, August 24, 2007 by Farcluun
efnisien writes "This is the first in a series of two articles providing advice for DMs who wish to develop the rest of the Oerth. As such, it follows on from the excellent articles on the same topic by Roger E. Moore in Oerth Journal 3 and Gary Holian in Oerth Journal 4.

The first article is a detailed examination of the infamous Dragon Annual map of Oerth and the issues it raises in developing the geography of other parts of the planet. It's a little on the long side, but hopefully Greyhawkers new and old will find it useful.

Why the interest in maps anyway?

I suspect that all DMs (and most players) who have campaigned in Oerth have wondered what lies beyond the boundaries of the Flanaess; certainly it is a regular topic with the online Greyhawk community. The following is intended to contribute to the debate, and also make things a bit clearer for newcomers to Greyhawk who might be wondering what all the fuss is about. Just to be clear what this article is not: I am not presenting another version of the Oerth, nor suggesting what may be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ versions. This is simply intended to be a discussion of some of the issues arising from the various published materials on Oerth and the implications they have for the nature of the world (and what PCs experience in it). Oerth is a fantasy world designed for adventure; a number of members of the Greyhawk community have developed lands, characters and magic from the lands beyond the Flanaess and the curious reader is urged to seek this material out for inspiration (plenty of it is to be found here on Canonfire!).

In what follows I am indebted to the articles by Roger E. Moore (‘Oerth from the ground up’) and Gary Holian (‘Measuring up the Oerth’) in Oerth Journal in Oerth Journal ## 3 and 4. Those articles were written before the publication of the map of Oerth in the 1996 Dragon Annual and so did not incorporate that information – what follows is an attempt to do so.
Mapping Greyhawk through the Years

When Gary Gygax designed the original Flanaess it was on a map which was basically an outline of North America, with Greyhawk about the location of Chicago and Dyvers around the position of Milwaukee. The development of the World of Greyhawk as a setting for the AD&D game led to the creation of an entirely new geography which was set down in the marvellous maps of Darlene Pekul in the 1980 World of Greyhawk Folio, reprinted in the 1983 World Of Greyhawk boxed set and (with modifications) in the 1992 From the Ashes boxed set. It was hoped that other continents would be detailed in due course. The Greyhawk setting was always intended to provide a good deal of space for DMs to add their own material, and one example is Frank Mentzer’s Aquaria, a continent east of the Flanaess, which received the approval of Gygax himself, though it never entered the published ‘canon’. For much of the history of Greyhawk publications the most we knew about the geography of the Oerth was the small map on page 18 of the Glossography in the 1983 boxed set, which showed an area extending some way south and a considerable distance west of the Flanaess. A more-or-less identical map was printed on page 3 of the Living Greyhawk Gazeteer, and the Glossography map was also used as the basis of the discussions by Roger E. Moore and Gary Holian in their articles. The lands beyond remained a mystery.

The situation changed in 1996 with the publication of Dragon Annual #1, which included a supposed map of Oerth beyond the Flanaess. The article stated that ‘The TSR staff and the GREYHAWK setting's original creator sketched out this map of Oerth in the early 1980s’, but it seems that the piece was primarily the work of Skip Williams (text) and the late Dave Sutherland (cartography). Essentially they took the Glossography map and massively extended it, just as many DMs had done in their home campaigns.

It is probably fair to say that the map has proved controversial with most Greyhawk aficionados and beloved by few, though a small number like it. The map probably would have gone on to be a curio (much like the map of Mystara presented in the Dungeons & Dragons Master Rules Set) were it not for the fact that Wizards of the Coast later incorporated it into their products. The Living Greyhawk map published in 2000 had a border inset of what was almost the same map (with a few differences and one large error), while the Chainmail game and miniatures line used the northwestern part of Oerik for its setting and included a map showing western Oerik derived from the Dragon Annual map. The existence of these products has left a number of people wondering ‘is this geography canon?’

A quick word about ‘canon’, discussions of which are not uncommon among Greyhawk fans. Unless you are going to write an official product set on Oerth (which is pretty unlikely for most of us), ‘canon’ doesn’t really mean anything: you can just go ahead and do what Greyhawk DMs have done since 1980 and develop the setting in any way you see fit. Given the current nature of official support for Greyhawk, it is unlikely that anybody’s creative efforts will be invalidated by a future product detailing the further parts of the Oerth.

On the other hand, many DMs do like to make at least some use of material that is out there, and so even if you aren’t a fan of The Sundered Empire (the Chainmail setting) it can be nice to incorporate ideas from that background. To this end I shall take a closer look at ‘the Map’ and some of the problems arising from it, and offer some suggestions as to how you might work it into your campaigns, should you wish. Those who have already decided the map simply doesn’t exist in their Oerth can ignore most of what follows, and they would be entirely justified – Gary Gygax has always suggested (going way back to his fiction piece ‘The Gnome Cache’ in Dragon #1) that there were an infinite number of parallel Oerths (and Aerths and Yarths) out there, each one subtly different from the rest – your campaign is one of these, and if your Oerth looks different, that’s absolutely fine.

Back to the Drawing Board: The Dragon Annual Map

So lets consider the map. Why is it controversial? I suggest three reasons. The first is quite simply that in detailing the rest of the world the map takes away some of the space DMs have to play with. But, as noted above, if you don’t like the map feel free to disregard it.

The second defect of the map is actually the easiest to remedy: the names. Many of the civilizations on the original Dragon Annual map have, it has to be said, pretty lame titles: Orcreich, High and Low Khanates, Arypt, Zindia, Nippon, Tharquish Dominion anyone? To be fair to the creators, the accompanying text makes it clear that the information is ‘second-hand’ and that in most cases these are not the real names of the lands in question. Thus, they can be pretty easily disposed of. This makes sense on a number of grounds – some of the names (and the types of civilization they implied) were in very odd places – Nippon being off the coast of Zindia, for example, rather than near the Celestial Empire. Moreover, the map seemed to be very old (showing the Suel and Bakluni empires) and thus the nature of the lands could have changed a great deal in the intervening centuries. There has been a good deal of discussion in the online community about the civilizations on the map and the reader is referred to those threads for a number of good ideas.

The third, and perhaps largest problem with the map is the geography itself. The western part of Oerik is basically a big rectangle with triangular peninsulas in the corners terminating in islands – not the most interesting geography. Of course, such a judgement is a matter of taste, and there are plenty of people who like the area, even if it contrasts with the detailed and subtly-drawn coastlines of the Flanaess.

The major issue is one of size. Western Oerik is too big. Let me explain the reasons for this. First of all, let’s make it clear that there is nothing wrong with having a very large supercontinent on a fantasy world – there are many examples out there. But the geography presented on the map contradicts what we already know about Oerth from other sources. The Guide to the World of Greyhawk in the 1983 boxed set stated that the Oerth has ‘four great continents and countless islands, and four great oceans and countless seas’.

What lies beyond

Now, if Oerik as depicted on the map is one continent, where are the other three? The Living Greyhawk Gazeteer, trying to reconcile contradictory information, provided the following suggestions: Hyperboria at the north pole is the second continent; the continent far in the south is a third, and Hepmonaland is the fourth and smallest continent.

Is Hepmonaland a contintent? Roger Moore was inclined to think so in OJ3. Although it doesn’t look particularly big on the Dragon Annual map, we have to bear in mind Gary Holian’s map corrections from OJ4. Incoprorating these, I estimate the area of Hepmonaland to be of the order of 2.4 million square miles, or perhaps slightly more. For comparison, that makes it smaller than all of the Earth’s continents, but not too far short of Earth’s smallest continent Australia, which weighs in at about 2.9 million square miles (about 5% of the Earth’s land area). Does that make it one of the ‘great continents’ mentioned in the 1983 boxed set? Possibly not. You could take Hepmonaland as is, whether or not you use the material in the Scarlet Brotherhood supplement by Sean K. Reynolds. There’s plenty of scope for adventure on ‘island continents’ – the Mystara setting has a few of them. Alternatively, as Roger Moore suggested, you could make Hepmonaland quite a big bigger, as David Howery did when he creating a sub-Saharan Africa-style continent (see Dragon #189 for more details).

If you decide that Hepmonaland doesn’t qualify as a ‘great continent’ then there is scope to find a fourth continent elsewhere. But where? This returns us to the problem of Oerik’s size. If one accepts Gary’s corrections in OJ4 (as I think we must), Oerik and its offshore islands as depicted on the Dragon Annual map cover almost 240 degrees of latitude from east to west: from the Aerdy sea to the large island of the northwest coast (called Thalos in the Chainmail material), in other words some two thirds of the way around the surface of the Oerth. At the equator this is a distance not far short of 17,000 miles! This really doesn’t leave room for much else.

Moreover, where are the four great oceans? The Solnor would be one (the part of which off the west coast of Oerik is called ‘Oceanum Titanicum’ on the Dragon Annual map). The large southern ocean (incroporating the ‘Ocean of Storms’ and ‘Pearl Sea’ on the map) is a second. We can allow the Dramidj to be a third, whether or not we like the assertion in the Living Greyhawk Gazeteer that it is a circumpolar ocean (as an aside, from the descriptions in the 1983 boxed set I suspect the Dramidj was intended to extend some way west and south and may eventually have washed the west coast of Oerik). Where is the fourth ocean? On the Dragon Annual map it is missing, unless we want a south polar ocean around Polaria, similar to the Southern/Antarctic Ocean of Earth. But that would mean of the four oceans of Oerth, two are polar Oceans and only two are ‘regular’ oceans. This works, if you want it to, but once again I strongly suspect that the ‘four great oceans’ mentioned in the 1983 boxed set were not intended to include polar waters.

One suggestion is to put a landmass into the middle of the Solnor and split it into two oceans. This is of course the answer for the fans of Frank Mentzer’s Aquaria out there, or for those who wish to include a Gonduria (the large western continent mentioned in Gary Gygax’s Gord the Rogue novels, separated from Oerik by the ‘Agitoric Ocean’). The problem is that the Solnor isn’t big enough on this map – we know that at the latitude of the central Flanaess it’s at least 1000 leagues wide, and it would be very difficult to fit in anything other than some islands between there and the west coast of Oerik.

The Living Greyhawk Map Inset

Incidentally, this matter brings us to the world map inset into the border of the Living Greyhawk depiction of the Flanaess. I mentioned earlier that this map had one big mistake, and here it is: it makes the Solnor too wide. From this version of the map you would think that the Solnor covered an east-west distance not too much less than Oerik does, but this is of course wrong: the equatorial distance on the map is something like 28000 miles, but we know that the equatorial circumference of the Oerth is 25200 miles – the map-makers here added enough space for an extra continent, but they made the Oerth bigger in the process!

Three other main changes were made on the Living Greyhawk map. The first was to ‘break’ the land bridge between Oerik and Hyperboria which appeared as a mountain-covered isthmus on the Dragon Annual map. This is correct given that the accompanying text to the original Dragon Annual map stated that the bridge was seasonal and mainly made of ice. This revised version of western Oerik is also that found in the Chainmail map of the Sundered Empire.

The second change was to move Fireland some way to the west, so that it was closer to the eastern shores of Oerik. The size and shape of Fireland was left mostly untouched.

The third change was to alter the shape of the southern continent and move it further east. On the Dragon Annual map, the west end of this continent, featuring a large bay, was positioned due south of Hepmonaland. The other end lay to the west, near far southwestern Oerik. It is important to note that the area between the two ends of this southern continent – spanning perhaps 60 or 70 degrees of longitude – was unmapped on the Dragon Annual map and its shape was unknown. The revisers of the Living Greyhawk map seem either in error or as a conscious decision to have decided to excise this large unmapped area from the map and simply joined the two ends of the continent together, moving the western end of it some 60 degrees of longitude eastward in process. This made the continent far smaller and gave it a ‘grasping fist’ shape.

Cartographic Ingenuity

There are a number of options for the DM faced with all of this. The first is to accept the Dragon Annual/Living Greyhawk map as is, agree that Hepmonaland is a ‘great continent’, and not worry too much about the missing fourth ocean. You might make Hepmonaland bigger, or try to insert a landmass between the two ends of Oerik, although that does make the resulting oceans very narrow.

If you agree that the western part of Oerik is a bit too big, you could make some changes here. Who says this is even the same continent? Perhaps the span of land joining it to eastern parts is narrower than appears on the map, and this western region is an equivalent to Gonduria (or whatever you wish to call it). However, this is a slight problem if you make much use of the Sundered Empire material, as the locale is definitely identified as ‘western Oerik’ – but maybe western Oerik is to eastern Oerik as North America is to South America.

You could even detach the western part of the continent entirely and move it further west into the sea. This gives us an extra sizeable continent and arguably an extra ocean, and the bulk of this continent means that there could be room to place an Aquaria-type map somewhere down the west coast if you wish, or still leave scope in the northwest for Sundered Empire lands if you really feel the need to include them. You may need to alter the coastline a bit and shrink this new continent down however, as the Solnor would otherwise be pretty small. This new western continent could end up bigger than the rump of Oerik – but Oerik has never been called the biggest continent on Oerth, only ‘the major centre of the world’ – in the opinion of its inhabitants, of course – so Oerik does not have to be the biggest continent.

Another option is to approximately keep the outline of western Oerik, but make it cover a much smaller area. This lets you keep your Sundered Empire maps, should you use them, and might be regarded as improving them, because as things stand the nations in the Sundered Empire cover vast areas (at least by Flanaess standards). Of course, there is no guide to matching the Sundered Empire timeline with the Flanaess timeline, so who knows whether all these civilizations were contemporaneous?

Plenty of Greyhawkers are not fans of the Chainmail setting, which is very different in tone to traditional Greyhawk products, so you can ignore it entirely, but still keep the outline of this truncated western Oerik as a good place to drop in any civilizations that you fancy, be they your own invention or ideas from the Gord the Rogue novels, Sagard the Barbarian gamebooks, or elsewhere. You could even include the civilizations from the original Dragon Annual map!

A shrunken western Oerik and expanded Solnor/Oceanum Titanicum gives room to place another, smaller continent – Aquaria for example. And note that current maps of Aquaria give little info on the place other than the central part of the west coast – what lies elsewhere, particularly to the east, is unknown to all apart from Frank Mentzer himself and perhaps some of his players.

What about the far north? There are many ideas, some of which were suggested by Roger Moore. Is there an opening in Hyperboria to a Pellucidar-style hollow world? Who really does live in that arctic continent? Maybe the pale-skinned Suel came from up there in the first place before establishing their empire in the south of Oerik, or maybe giants or other exotic species are common up there. Note that Hyperboria is quite a big place. If the revised Living Greyhawk map inset is any guide, much of Hyperboria (which was mostly a blank on the original Dragon Annual map) extends from the north pole to the 70th parallel (plenty of this could be frozen sea, of course). This is quite similar in size to Antarctica on Earth. However, the arm of Hyperboria that extends down to meet northwestern Oerik is far larger than the arm of Antarctica which stretches up towards Cape Horn in our world.

Meanwhile there are various possibilities for the southern continent. The Dragon Annual left a huge chunk in the centre of this continent unmapped, so if you wish to ignore the smaller version presented on the Living Greyhawk map you could fill in all that uncharted wilderness and coastline. Or you could utilize the smaller version of the continent from the Living Greyhawk map, which is still a sizable area – once again, a number of suggestions for what civilizations might lie down there are available online, and you should check them out.

And don’t forget islands! The 1983 boxed set makes it clear that there are a vast number of these, and many are probably uncharted. The majority would probably be fairly small, but whatever version of the world map you use (or devise yourself) there could be scope for several islands the size of New Guinea, Madagascar or Borneo – or even someplace the size of Greenland. Incidentally the archipelago of Fireland covers a somewhat larger area than Greenland does. Fireland is still less than half the size of Hepmonaland, though it doesn’t appear that much smaller on the Dragon Annual map – this is thanks once again to the effect of latitude on distances and areas.

And Finally

Of course, whatever shape your Oerth takes, you could still use the Dragon Annual map as an incorrect in-game ‘adventurers map’ - that is certainly the style in which Dave Sutherland illustrated it. Possibly it could be the object of a quest - found in a haunted tomb or other inaccessible area. Or maybe it might be acquired from a shady seafarer in one of the less civilized taverns of Greyhawk city, Dyvers or Sasserine. If your Oerth looks very different from the Dragon Annual map, all the better - just consider how incorrect some medieval European maps of the world were. This might be particularly useful if your players are longtime Greyhawkers and think they know it all – imagine an overland quest to Thalos where the party finds not a mountain range but an ocean preventing them from accessing western Oerik. As ever, it is up to each DM to make the world their own.

Next time: Axial Tilt, Prevailing Winds, and Why the Oerth should be a lot hotter than it is!

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Re: To the Ends of The Oerth Part 1: That Map, Again (Score: 1)
by mtg ( on Mon, July 30, 2012
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Returning to CF! after a several-year hiatus, I found this thoughtful article very useful to orient myself to Oerth. I disliked the DA map but hadn't understood adequately what the LGG did to it (except that Fireland always felt way too far away).

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.  Only thing I'd want (besides Part II) is a variety of sketches regarding the various options you note!

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