Let’s Read: Greyhawk Adventures (Part 9)

Ehlonna’s tits! Am I still doing this series?

Yes. Yes I am. Even though the last installment was a shade under two years ago. (Sorry!) My work on 5E Greyhawk has given me renewed incentive to look through the sources for material, and Greyhawk Adventures is one of them.

This time out we look at the Magical Items of Greyhawk, and in my estimation this is one of the weakest chapters in the book. Not only are the origins and names completely unimaginative (with such entries as the casket of Furyondy, or the necklace of Almor), but the in-setting details are sometimes suspect. For example, we are told of the Dark Crown of Aerdy:

This evil headgear was worn by one of the original Overkings of the House of Naelex [sic] in the ancient Great Kingdom.

The problem being, of course, that the original Overkings were from the House of Rax. And it wasn’t called the Great Kingdom at the beginning; it was the Kingdom of Aerdy until the Battle of a Fortnight’s Length more than a century later. And they weren’t decidedly evil until much later.  And the House of Rax was succeeded by the House of Naelax, not Naelex (we are similarly told that the capital of the Horned Society was Malog, when it should be Molag). It’s just sloppy writing and editing, but it speaks to the almost afterthought-like vibe I get in this whole section.

I find this an enormous missed opportunity to have brought in all the “missed” magic items from the original Greyhawk campaign that never made it into the DMG or UA. Things like the needle/spear of Zagyg. Of course, that would have been difficult at the time, with Gygax, et al estranged from TSR. But instead we have mostly mediocre magic items with names of geographic locales from the Flanaess tacked on seemingly at random. What else to make of the prism of Greyhawk, which casts color spray and hypnotic pattern once per day? There’s nothing there that particularly ties the item thematically to Greyhawk; it’s just another magic item that any DM in the 11th grade could have come up with.

In some ways, the ones that do convey the theme of their place of origin are worse, because of the heavy-handed and completely unsubtle way in which they are handled. Take the red armor of the Hellfurnaces. It’s plate armor +4 made from the hide of a red dragon, and allows the wearer to save vs. fire attacks for half or no damage. Get it? Hellfurnaces. Fire. It’s a natural!

Now, to be fair, there are some that are genuinely clever in my opinion, and actually add to the flavor of the place whence they come. The chalice of the Shield Lands, for instance, allows the user (who must be a fighter) to take a holy vow and become a paladin of the same level for the duration of a single quest. That’s a nicely themed, non-generic magic item in my view. The black sails of the Schnai are another great one; sails for funeral ships that, when the final piece is burned, summon the spirit of the warrior whose funeral ship it was, to fight for you. It’s a nice call-back to the archetypical Viking ship-funeral, and that goes well with the generally Viking tone of that part of Greyhawk.

If the flaw of this section could be summed up in a single word, it would be rushed. The whole seems like it was knocked off in a day or two, with insufficient thought or research into the lands in which the magic items were supposed to have originated. Take, for a final example, the anvil of the Lortmil Mountains, which is a dwarven magic item that can allow the user to make blades worth 100 times their normal value. That’s all well and good, until one considers that the Lortmil Mountains were under the control of humanoid tribes until the Hateful Wars some 75 years prior to the timeline of this book (the FtA era, 585 CY). Is that enough time for such an item to have been created? Sure, but wouldn’t it have been much cooler to have a humanoid-themed item from the Lortmils, that predated their expulsion, and which could be used in some plot to reconquer the mountains? A few more minutes of reflection on each item might have produced far greater results for this entire chapter. On the whole, I find it a disappointment.

Next up: Geography of Oerth

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.

2 thoughts on “Let’s Read: Greyhawk Adventures (Part 9)

  1. Keep up the good work!

    I find the magic items one of the best sections of GHA. Rushed indeed, but there is more than enough original ideas to make up for the lazy ones.

  2. The Iron Crown of the Bandit Kingdoms featured in Living Greyhawk Bandit Kingdoms plots. IIRC, it was recovered in BDK8-02 Trouble Everywhere You Go by Keith Symcox (with extensive re-writing and edits by myself for many reasons). There's a longer synopsis in my book but the short version is that the crown was recovered by Iuzians in a cave near Wormcrawl Fissure. PCs give chase, defeat the bad guys, and recover the crown. As LG was a Living campaign, the players had options on who to give the crown to (or keep it, but it would attract ALOT of trouble)…the final tally of results from the premiere tables indicated that the PCs gave the crown to the Johrase, in exchange for noble titles, so that the Johrase could give it to their new king.

    Iron Crown of the Bandit Kingdoms
    Price (Item Level): 35,000 gp (17th)
    Body Slot: Head
    Caster Level: 17th
    Aura: Strong; (DC 23) abjuration
    Activation: —
    Weight: 2 lb.
    Fashioned in the land of warriors, this metal
    headgear grants its wearer the benefit of the
    mind blank spell at all times. In addition, the
    crown protects its wearer from magic jar, trap
    the soul, and all other effects that seek to
    separate the wearer’s soul from his or her body
    (except death). As a side effect of this, neither
    the wearer nor the crown can be dimensionally
    transported or moved into extra-dimensional
    spaces (such as a bag of holding).
    Finally, the crown grants the benefit of a
    positive level (+1 on all skill checks and ability
    checks, +1 on attack rolls and saving throws, +5
    hit points, +1 effective level, cast spells as if one
    level higher) to its wearer as long as the wearer
    only has class levels in classes that grant a +1
    BAB at every level (fighter, ranger, etc.). A
    creature that has levels in any spell-casting
    class that does not grant a +1 BAB at every
    level (such as cleric or wizard, but not pious
    templar or paladin) instead suffers 1 negative
    level while the crown is worn. This negative level
    cannot be removed in any manner while the
    crown is worn.
    Prerequisites: Craft Wondrous Item,
    heroism, mind blank.
    Cost to Create: 17,500 gp, 3,000 xp.
    Source: Greyhawk Adventures (1988).
    Updated to 3.5 by the BK Triad.

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