Is Greyhawk Relevant?

One of the worthies over at EnWorld posted the following:

I’m sure that many of us have played at some point or another in the world of Greyhawk. This was Gygax’s world, home to some of the greatest classic dungeons in D&D. It is for that nostalgia factor that we hold it in such high regards.

Yet as time has gone on and the hobby has evolved, I have to wonder if it still holds up all these years later.

One of the questions I ask is why WotC would ever want to re-release Greyhawk. They might get some sales based on nostalgia, but what really sets it apart enough to draw in a new crowd? My fear on this is that, as a generic setting, it will be outshone by other generic settings, most notably the Realms. It doesn’t offer the wide range of cultures that other settings do. There’s nothing geographically or culturally that really sets it apart.

But what of the classic dungeons? My guess is that they’d rather release those in books like Tomb of Horrors. Rather than put out a setting about dungeons, put out books on dungeons.

Does GH need reinvention? I would say yes. It needs to be set apart somehow.

I don’t know what Greyhawk needs, or how to make it more relevant to the modern-day gamer. I wish I did. I would hate to just see it fade away, yet that seems to be what’s happening. Should it be another continent on the same planet as the Realms? Does it need a makeover?


As you might imagine, gentle readers, I do indeed have a thought or two on this subject.

First off, the question of relevancy depends on the context. Is Greyhawk relevant in terms of Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, and those who play it? Not really, unless folks have taken the older material and converted it for use in the new version (and many certainly have, and nothing’s wrong with that, if 4E is your thing, it just happens to not be mine). So if you define relevancy by product sales, Greyhawk probably isn’t very relevant right now (that could always change, of course, if WotC ever decides to release a 4E version of the setting, Istus forbid!).

That being said, 4E sales are not the be-all and end-all definition of relevancy. New material is still being created for the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting, by myself and many putting out better stuff than I. Many more people, by several orders of magnitude, still play in the World of Greyhawk setting despite the fact that WotC isn’t putting out new product. So in terms of actual use, Greyhawk is indeed “relevant”, because people are actively using the material that’s out there, and making new material of their own.

I suppose it all comes down to how one measures relevancy. Sales, or fun?

Some of the comments in that EnWorld thread are well worth reading, btw. Some excellent insights, especially the bits about how the various nations of the Flanaess should be constantly skirmishing with one another, rather than all engaged in a continent-wide conflict. Precisely how I envision the Flanaess, and a vision that I think meshes with Gygax’s Dragon magazine articles from the early 1980’s on the subject.

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.

13 thoughts on “Is Greyhawk Relevant?

  1. It's relevant to younger gamers even if they don't realize it in the same way that the Beatles and Pink Floyd are relevant to modern indie music fans.

    It's relevant to me not only as a huge element of my past D&D gaming but as an example of a setting that, despite having been designed for mass appeal and overhauled for publication, had its genesis in ACTUAL PLAY rather than focus groups and branding. It's clearly an individual labor of love from an era of artisanal RPG products.

    The less relevant Greyhawk is to WotC, the better, given their absolutely god-awful handling of the property in the past.

    To me, the Folio version is very nearly perfect, a great "bird's eye overview" counterpoint to my equally-revered Wilderlands. It's done the way I want a product of its sort to be done.

    I don't see ever running a Flanaess campaign again, although the notion strikes me occasionally to run a "classic" Greyhawk campaign for new gamers. But I still read the Folio as an example of what I should be aiming for, the same way I read the Arduin Grimoires despite having no intention of running an Arduin campaign in the future.

  2. Sales are one thing with their "market has spoken" sort of judgement.

    Yet, like all true classics, Greyhawk has stood the test of time. After twenty-five years of fan-based love, continuance, and support, AFTER it was essentially abandoned (by the powers-that-had-been when its creator parted ways with them) it is STILL with us. Boccob be praised! 🙂

    Greyhawk will always be around. Yes, it is the no-frills-non-bells-and-whistle-no-extras-no-corinthian-leather-seats-etc D&D setting. But it was and is always so much more. So much can always be taken from elsewhere and given to it, molded and added to it. Un like the other pre-packaged worlds-in-a-box that everyone can't help but stay on the same page with. Heck, when Forgotten Realms came out, I even adapted it partially as another continent on my own Oerth. I am sure others did.

    Greyhawk is the one size fits all that can be sculpted into what every DM & their playing group wants to make of it.

    Even if the 4E treatment comes to Oerth, and it has in some ways, that's okay too. Greyhawk is in everything because it sprang from the spirit of the game & its creator.


  3. The very definition of it NOT being steam-punk-esque, high-science, magic-null, made up like a spooky film, or macro-scale adventuring (attribute those to whichever of the other commercial settings out there that you like) is just one of the bigger reasons for my always having been intrigued by Greyhawk.

    Sometimes, these things do not need a plethora of gadgets, gaskets, quirks like sentient robots or bloodlines that give monumentally powerful abilities to command whole nations to be interesting. They're good on their own merits and don't require that they do things in unique ways, or with quirky little tricks and doodads. Sometimes, that thin veneer of 'uniqueness' or the ability to define something for branding purposes hides the fact that the writing, the originality, the story or the lasting appeal really isn't actually very well supplied.

    But Greyhawk? The fact that it still has adoring fans who carefully and lovingly dote on the aging realm should tell everyone something pretty important – Greyhawk was built to last and, for me at least, it will continue to last specifically because the writing and the world itself isn't pigeonholed by some sort of branding quirk.

    In it's heart lies much of the foundation for everything that came after it. The later settings, as they streamed in, found they had to be branded to be different from Greyhawk. Greyhawk still exists, and everything that comes after has to be distinguished from it… That feels pretty damn relevant to me.

  4. I concur with the previous comments.

    Greyhawk is forever.

    I think the more we can post about the details of the world, whether it be details of the Folio or modules that were incorporated into the setting, the more it will reach a younger generation of players.

  5. I have been playing since the D&D red box Basic Set and AD&D 2nd Edition so, like many of the older gamers, I couldn't avoid being exposed to Greyhawk if I hadn't wanted to.

    Greyhawk's strongest aspect, and, IMHO, where it outshines every other campaign setting (with the possible tie with Eberron) is political intrigue.

    Sure, you can design political intrigue into Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, and probably even Dragonlance in you tried hard enough. However, Greyhawk seemed made for these sort of plots.

  6. You know what they did to the Forgotten Realms in the 4th Ed. so better hope that WotC never prints anything about Greyhawk until an oldschool inspired 5e.

    It's more than enough that they'd destroyed one world…

  7. I think the EnWorld poster missed the point and the relavance. If by not as "culturally diverse" he means there's no Drow orc kings, dragon men or tielflings riding on gelatinous cubes mounts, he's probably right.

    The beauty of Greyhawk is in the setting itself. You can run many different genres. Urban sword and Sorcery? Bandit Kingdoms or Greyhawk. Fey fantasy? Celene. Horror fantasy? The Great Kingdom. Arabian fantasy? Zeif and Ekbir.

  8. Yeah, considering the number of cultures represented in the Flanaess, including some with no analogs in human history, the "not diverse enough" charge is insane.

  9. Bah! Whenever anyone asks, “Is — relevant?” just ignore them. What does that even mean? Nothing. What does answering that question tell us? Nothing. Relevancy is very relative. Without a very specific context, the word shouldn’t be used.

  10. When I got back from Gen-Con, the first thing I did was start drawing a map of the area around "Vlekstaad" (the capital of the the "Hold of Stonefist"). I'm fired up to DM a Greyhawk game! It is still relevant to me and always will be.


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