576, 591, or beyond?

I’m in the very early stages of putting together a new Greyhawk campaign, and I’m giving very serious consideration to setting it in the CY 591 time-frame, rather than the 576 period which I usually use.

For those who aren’t as close to the “inside baseball” of Greyhawk as I am, that means that I am waffling between using the setting as shown in the folio and Gold Box set, and the setting as it is shown in The Adventure Begins and the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer. The one is before the “Greyhawk Wars” (Gods how I loathe that term) and the other is after.

Part of the reason is that I want to use the D&D Next rules for this campaign, and something about using the latest version of the rules leads me to want to use the latest version of the setting. Too, I find there is a great connection between the 1E rules (or Adventures Dark and Deep) and pre-Wars Greyhawk in my own mind, and I want to give the new game a spin; first with the playtest rules, and then with the final version once they’re published in August.

I know the post-Wars Greyhawk has a bad reputation in a lot of quarters, but I don’t particularly dislike it. I certainly don’t find it “unrealistic” as some of my fellow Greyhawk fans do; there were periods in European history that make the border-shuffling and kingdom destruction/building of that 15 year stretch in the Flanaess seem positively sedate.

Tonally, it is a very different setting, however. In 576, evil is present, but not omnipresent. Strong bastions of Good such as Keoland, Nyrond, the Iron League, and Furyondy (and their allies) keep forces such as Iuz, the Great Kingdom, and organized humanoids and giants at bay. There are skirmishes, but large-scale warfare is rare, and the civilized lands (even those of evil bent) are, as a rule, prosperous and peaceful on a large scale. It feels “sunny, with clouds in the distance.”

In 591, none of this is true. Not only has Iuz conquered the north-central Flanaess, but humanoids taken the Pomarj and southern Wild Coast, the Iron League is shattered and many of its members conquered either by the remnants of Aerdy and the Scarlet Brotherhood, Geoff is overrun, Almor is destroyed, etc. The scars of warfare are everywhere; cities lie in ruins all across the continent (especially in the now-riven Great Kingdom), there is famine, and trade is much lighter than it was. Too, the three greatest Good realms are severely weakened and are themselves in perilous positions. It feels “cloudy, with smoke from burning villages making my eyes water.”

I’m halfway tempted to just jump the whole thing another five or ten years in the future to fix some of the problems and bring a little stability to the Flanaess. A never-ending grind of misery, chaos, war, and death gets old after a while. In order for threats to be credible, the potential outcome must contrast with the present state. “See that smoking ruin over yonder? If you brave adventurers don’t slay the dragon, it’ll get more smokey and more ruined!” just doesn’t seem to do it for me.

I’d make 591-601 a period of exhausted rebuilding and increasingly tense stand-offs. Give Furyondy-Veluna a chance to rebuild its northern frontiers and come to terms with the presence of the Empire of Iuz. Let Nyrond and the North Kingdom fence over the former lands of Almor, which are finally starting once more to blossom. Have North Kingdom and Ahlissa establish a border, with Rauxes still a no-man’s-land where most folk fear to tread. Irongate and Free Onnwal, with support from the Kingdom of Sunndi, expel the last of the Scarlet Brotherhood troops from Onnwal and retake Scant.

I wouldn’t roll back everything, of course; the Empire of the Pomarj would still be a growing threat, creeping up the Wild Coast after their abortive attempt to invade Celene and increasing pressure from the Principality of Ulek. Iuz would loom over everything, of course, but the empire is fragile in the extreme, ready to burst into a dozen shards if something were to happen to the Old One. After all, it happened once at the hands of Zagyg, and almost happened again at the hands of the False Iggwilv. Third time’s a charm?

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

10 thoughts on “576, 591, or beyond?

  1. This is always the toughest choice. My campaigns traditionally outpaced the official timelines so I'd have to squeeze in canon however I could. Now I take everything on a case by case basis depending on where the stories are set. The players aren't usually concerned about the big picture until they're invested in it.

  2. I like the canon settings, but I always want to do my own thing. We moved the timeline up a bit in my old game to CY 915. It worked out well for us.

    I have been wanting to try a Greyhawk 2000 game that was mentioned in Dragon mag back in the 3.x days and I'd love to try a Greyhawk 3000 sci-fantasy game someday too.

  3. I've always been a fan of not taking the 2nd boxed set as canon, but as a thematic guide so to speak. Start with 576 or thereabouts and, over the course of events, the PC's begin to get inclings of some of the wider things happening and they watch as everything goes to hell in a handbasket around them, trying desperately to hold together the bits before they crumble.

    But that could be tough, I suppose, since it sort of predestins the PC's to lose on some level. That smacks of "story gaming" and that's not good fun.

    I'd Say following your impulse to "fix" the things you don't want, or just to advance the timeline a bit to stablize things is a good idea even if I, as a DM, love the idea of the instability and the sense that it could come crumbling down at any given moment. Things get stagnant? Well, that new kingdom formed out of the balkanization of the old suddenly folded under and was absorbed by Iuz or worse. Or that knighthood that you worked with in the past is suddenly revealed to have been working for the Scarlet Brotherhood all along and was paving the way for a northern power base. That kind of thing. Don't see why you can't have it even still, but the added stability gives the powers the be more opportunity to be examining such things, thus leading in some small part to Forgotten Realms Syndrome of "why the hell doesn't Elminster just do it?". Or in this case, why doesn't Bigby's Ghost just do it?

  4. I always try to match the tone of the the system I'm running with the era (or vice versa, rather). When I ran Shackled City under PF a few years ago, I started the thing in 591 and just let things move onward, until I think spring 594 or thereabouts. (I wasn't limiting myself to the published material, obviously, doing additional stuff to bring out the Oerthian flavor.)
    That said, I've only run a post 570s game once (that being it). Call this a vote for throwing another ten years on and jigger with it. It's what I'd probably do.

  5. "something about using the latest version of the rules leads me to want to use the latest version of the setting"

    What did you find in 5e that you liked so much? Perhaps that can be a future post.

    Since you're testing out new rules, pragmatically, you might go with whatever setting timeline you feel the most comfortable with.

  6. Keen to run my first later day greyhawk campaign as my next campaign ( still in expedition to Greyhawk ruins then onto return to tomb of horrors, so expecting the campaign to wrap up. haha ) out of Dullstrand. Seems to be isolated but centralized to a lot of emerging regions. hoping to get them onto some ships ( thanks to Mortellan for inspiration ) VS the brotherhood or against the lendorian elves or had north west if it doesn't work out. would love to see the odd update on where the campaign goes and how D&D next works out for you.

  7. looking to kick off a later day Greyhawk campaign out of Dullstrand in the nearish future ( still in expedition to Greyhawk ruins then onto retun to the tomb of horrors so expecting the campaign to wrap up haha)Looking to get the PC's onto ships ( thanks Mortellan for inspiration ) Vs the botherhood or the lendorian elves ) but can go north west if doesn't work out. would love the odd update on the campign and how you go with the D&D next rules.

  8. Great read. I am starting a campaign with the "from the ashes", "marklands", and "iuz the evil" sources and pathfinder. Wish I had your ready knowledge. I like this era as written but you are right, I think I will find it hard to keep the fun going in the post war era. I was also thinking of ending it with the characters helping to cage Iuz. Then if I run again, I can take some of the dark out of it.

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