Let’s Read: Greyhawk Adventures (Part 1)

I thought it might be interesting to go through one of the often-overlooked pieces of Greyhawkiana out there, somewhat in-depth. The Greyhawk Adventures hardcover book, “designed and coordinated” by Jim Ward, featured writing by at least seven other people, including Skip Williams and Nigel D. Findley. Published in 1988, it features a cover by Jeff Easley and interior art by nine artists, some of it rehashed from earlier products. It was the last of the 1st Edition AD&D hardcover books, and its cover states that it is compatible with both 1st and 2nd edition AD&D.

It is 128 pages long and features a plain two-column format with calligraphic drop-caps beginning each major section and a plain top line with a vegetative flourish separating the text from the section title in the header of each page. Occasionally there are more elaborate vegetative flourishes on the bottom of pages, presumably to take up whitespace, which recall the vegetative illuminations in the Guide to the World of Greyhawk.

The dedication, disappointingly but perhaps not surprisingly, is to Jim Ward’s fans, rather than to the man who created the Greyhawk setting in the first place, Gary Gygax. The book was published during the Lorraine Williams years, so this conscious distancing of the book and setting from its creator is to be expected.

The introduction, in addition to providing an overview of the books contents (deities, monsters, heroes, spells, magic items, geography, and rules for zero-level characters), implies that the book was produced due to intense pressure from the fans of the setting: “This book was created out of the demand by those GREYHAWK game lovers for more information.”

The first section is “Deities and Clerics of Greyhawk.” It describes the deities that are covered in the book as “the most influential deities”, which includes:

  • Boccob
  • Celestian
  • St. Cuthbert
  • Ehlonna
  • Fharlanghn
  • Incabulos
  • Istus
  • Iuz
  • Nerull
  • Pholtus
  • Ralishaz
  • Ulaa
Given that five out of the twelve deities are considered “major deities” (the highest of the ranks of deities in Greyhawk, although the rank of “intermediate god” hadn’t yet been applied to the Greyhawkian pantheons), this is somewhat incongruous, as the Guide to the World of Greyhawk states on p. 62 that “In general, the greater gods are too far removed from the world to have much to do with humanity, and while they are worshiped, few people hold them as patrons.”
The Greyhawk Adventures book, on the other hand, states that “the gods often visit the Prime Material Plane in avatar form to aid their worshipers or just to enjoy themselves,” and that there is usually at least one avatar of a god in the city of Greyhawk at any given time! It also says that battles between godly avatars in the city are not uncommon. This is somewhat unique, and I don’t recall that being mentioned in any of the past or subsequent works dealing with the city. 
It is the case that, when the Guide to the World of Greyhawk was written, the concept of avatars wasn’t being used. But it does seem a stretch to say that the aloof greater deities would then send their avatars down to the city of Greyhawk to brawl with other gods in the streets. 
Each deity is given a detailed description that includes his or her alignment, their worshipers’ alignments, spheres of control, holy symbol, color, and the plane on which they dwell. Their avatars are given more mundane monster-like stats such as hit dice, movement, armor class, etc., as well as a full listing of statistics (STR, INT, WIS, etc.). Finally, their clerics are described in detail, including alignment, raiment, x.p. penalty (necessary to separate them from “baseline” clerics because these clerics get special abilities and access to unique spells, depending on the deity they serve), which weapons they are allowed, and the spell spheres, an explicitly 2nd edition concept. Interestingly, spell spheres are described as “an optional rule in the second edition AD&D game, and can be ignored if the DM wishes.”
Up next: the deity-specific sections.

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 “Let’s Read: Greyhawk Adventures (Part 1)

  1. Of all the published 1st/2nd ed source material on deities, I like this best because it is unique in giving details about the priesthoods.

    For my purposes as a DM for mostly 1st-12th level characters, the deity/avatar specs are not likely to ever be needed. But ways to make clerics less generic, for example, the vast differences between a priestess of Ehlonna and a priest of St. Cuthbert, were quite welcome.

    It is a shame that TSR abandoned this direction and went on to publish more conflicting descriptions of the same deities rather than fleshing oout the remaining ones in this style.

  2. I love this book for it's hidden treasures of lore. I agree on the avatars running around in the streets is more FR. I wonder though, does GHA predate the Time of Troubles era or did it slyly try to ride on its coat tails?

  3. That started with the Avatar Trilogy, Mort, which was published in 1989. So this definitely preceded the Time of Troubles in terms of publication date.

    Whether or not the idea of it was floating around the TSR offices early enough to have influenced Greyhawk Adventures, I think is a question that will not be easily answered. I tend to think not, but have no evidence one way or the other.

  4. This and the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide are the only two books for AD&D that I wanted but never got around to getting (yet). I look forward to this series with anticipation, and have already seen at least one thing that I would love to have, that being the 0-level character rules.

  5. It's always struck me, as Roger points out, that this book was heavily influenced by the Forgotten Realms sensibilities of the day. Not to say that the Realms were inherently bad, just that this is like mixing a really good beer with champaign. Two good tastes that don't mix well.

    I've always been interested in the book, but only as something from which I can mine goodies rather than a whole. I really wish they had done a better job on the deities of specific mythoi section and gotten it to a point where a 2nd edition DM would have had a better time of setting up a campaign there.

  6. I had this book, but sold it when I was culling my collection. It was okay, but I never really got into it. It just didn't mesh with anything that I was playing then or now.

  7. Although I don't have proof, I'd suspect that James Ward threw the avatar's presence into the mix. It feels like his gonzo style rather than FR specifically. I see more FR as Mary Sues who then get entangled with gods.

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