Gord’s Birthday

One of the things that I snuck into my “Greyhawk’s World” article from a while ago was a mention of an attack on Strandkeep Castle in the Pomarj by forces of the Prince of Ulek. Keen-eyed readers will recognize that as a reference to the opening scene of Artifact of Evil, the second of Gary Gygax’s books featuring his hero Gord. The series was later continued on in the Gord the Rogue series, published by New Infinities after Gygax left TSR, and he ended up destroying the multiverse, probably in a fit of pique at how he was treated.

That said, the first two books (Saga of Old City and Artifact of Evil) are pretty well established Greyhawk canon, and they fit in well with the events of the campaign related in those Dragon magazine articles, Greyhawk Wars, and From the Ashes.

However, in order to figure out how good a fit those books really are, we need to figure out when they’re supposed to take place. As far as I can tell, there’s no actual mention of the year in any of the books, so we must use other means to make the determination.

First, we can look at the publication date. The original Folio was published in 1980, and was set at CY 576. Can we assume that the campaign years progress at a rate of one campaign year for every real-world year? If so, then we can conclude that the majority of Saga of Old City takes place in CY 581. That was my initial assumption, but unfortunately it doesn’t hold up. The original Dragon magazine article that “advances the timeline” for Greyhawk was published in the December 1981 issue, which would put it at late CY 577. Unfortunately, that article makes reference to events that happened in Reaping, 578.

So the campaign world/real world assumption doesn’t hold up. We need to look elsewhere.

Fortunately, the City of Greyhawk boxed set gives us the answer. In its description of the Beggar’s Union, it describes the war between the Thieves and Beggars, orchestrated by Theobald, as happening “15 years ago”. Now the question becomes, when is the boxed set set?

We know that it can’t be earlier than CY 581, because there is a mention of the Shield Lands being occupied by the bandits and Horned Society (FFF, p. 4), and that happened between 579-581. So now we’ve narrowed it down to 582-585. Continuing our journey through the FFF book, on p. 44 we learn that Caprica Molara left the Shield Lands in 581 (“when the last remnants of that area fell to the bandits and humanoids”), and has been in the city for three years. That lets us put a pin in the City of Greyhawk Boxed Set at CY 584.

As an aside, it’s interesting to note that the City of Greyhawk boxed set seems ignorant of many of the happenings during the course of the Greyhawk Wars, other than the fall of the Shield Lands. The fall of Tenh is not mentioned, Almor is treated as if it still exists, as do the Sea Princes, and the Scarlet Brotherhood has not revealed itself. Obviously from a real-world perspective this is because the Boxed Set was published in 1989, while Greyhawk Wars did not come out until 1991. It is, however, interesting to note that the Wars did include the fall of the Shield Lands, even if the details were slightly different.

So if the Boxed Set is set in CY 584, the war between the thieves and beggars happened in CY 569. At that time Gord was around 14 years old (he was 12 when he entered the Beggarmaster’s service), so he was born around CY 553. He left Grey College some 3 years later (p. 75), and he remained in the city for another 2 years before departing the city with the Rhennee (p. 83). That would put his departure at CY 574.

Eight years after Gord left the city of Greyhawk, he returns to the city at the end of Saga of Old City (p. 339), marking the end of the novel at CY 582. It also places the events of the novel (the plot by the Horned Society to invade the Bandit Kingdoms, the maneuvering by Count Blemu to form an independent realm, the battle with the cataboligne demon in the cairn, etc.) in the intervening time.

As far as Artifact of Evil goes, we have less solid information, unfortunately. Gord stays in Greyhawk with Chert for about six months, at which time Chert leaves the city (p. 32). The battle of Strandkeep happens about another six months later, which would make it CY 583. The fact that the Scarlet Brotherhood isn’t really well-known at this time works with the timeline in Greyhawk Wars; they didn’t reveal their own plan until late in that year, so it’s entirely likely that they were on the verge of their coups in the Lordship of the Isles, and the next year they take over the Sea Princes and Onnwal. And also in CY 584 Turrosh Mak (supported by the Brotherhood, it should be noted) invades the Principality of Ulek, so we can infer that Strandkeep Castle was recaptured, and it’s entirely possible the invasion was a reprisal for that humiliation of the Brotherhood.

It’s hard to track the total time spent in the book, but it seems like it’s only a few months, probably no more than a year all told.

So, my placing the battle of Strandkeep Castle in CY 578 is definitely wrong, although it could be that there was more than one. We do, however, see how the events of the first two Gord books interplay with what we know about the history of those years from other sources. It’s not perfect, as we saw with the City of Greyhawk boxed set missing information that would be developed later, but it’s also nice to see that the pieces do fit in the big picture.

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.

11 thoughts on “Gord’s Birthday

  1. Thank you for this. 🙂 Some 35 years after I bought it as a teenager, I’ve just begun re-reading this whole series of Gord novels, in the order they came out. Even if the later ones are not canon, I plan to enjoy them all over again because they were from Gary, and his creative genius.

  2. That’s so weird. Just yesterday, before you posted, I happened to be researching when exactly the war with the Beggar’s Union occurred 😉

    I had been looking at a fan-made Greyhawk module on the Canonfire site – CGA1, “A Case of Meazels” – which is set in 576 CY, but which refers to “The Great Burn . . . a block of buildings that were leveled by fire in 566 CY in a war between the Thieves Guild and the Beggar’s Union.” My guess is that the author (Brian Dougherty) didn’t catch what you caught in the City of Greyhawk boxed set about “Caprica Molara” leaving the Shield Lands (in 581?) and then living in Greyhawk for “three years” (until 584?). He must have assumed that 581 was the year for the City of Greyhawk boxed set – probably because, as you noted, the boxed set is otherwise “ignorant of many of the happeneings during the course of the Greyhawk Wars.” 581 – 15 = 566.

    But there’s more 😉 I found a discussion thread on Canonfire where someone (Robbastard) cited The Adventure Begins and the Living Greyhawk Journal #17 as saying that the war with the Beggar’s Union took place in 571 CY. The Adventure Begins (on page 61) says, “A violent conflict in the Old City of Greyhawk between the Theives’ Guild and the Union of Beggars in 571 CY led to a portion of the Old City being burned down by accident.” 571 + 15 = 586.

    So that’s a bit of a pickle. But I think a few details from the City of Greyhawk boxed set offer a possible way of reconciling with date cited by The Adventure Begins. First of all, the City of Greyhawk boxed set (on FFF pg 44) says, “Theobald . . . precipitated the war . . . some fifteen years back.” This makes it enough of an approximation that you could say it was 14+ years back (i.e., more than 14, and so enough to round up and say 15). So depending on where exactly you are in the calendar, you could say, 571 + 14 = 585.

    At that point, you need only posit that when Caprica Molara left the Shield Lands, it was at the end of 581, so that the three years she spent in Greyhawk were 582, 583, and 584, bringing us to the beginning of 585 for the context of the boxed set.

    How does that sound as a way of reconciling with the later publication’s claim that the war with the Beggar’s Union happened in 571?

    1. Unfortunately, the City of Greyhawk boxed set says pretty clearly that Caprica Molara was one of the last people to leave the Shield Lands before they were overrun. So that pretty much leaves out a departure in 581.

      I think there is an “out”, however; there could well have been more than one conflict between the thieves and beggars. One in 569 (started by Theobald, as explicitly stated in CoG) and another in 571 as recorded in The Adventure Begins with the fire, which doesn’t mention Theobald at all (because he was dead by that time). It also cleans up the fact that there’s no mention of such a fire in Saga of Old City.

      Of course the real reason for the discrepancy is that there was no central “bible” maintained for the setting, so each writer was supposed to figure these sorts of things out on their own, and figuring out exact dates can be difficult sometimes. But it’s fun to reconcile these sorts of discrepancies “in-game”.

      1. Yes, it’s always fun trying to sort out these timelines and come up with ways to explain how it all fits together 🙂

        I like your suggestion about multiple conflicts between 569 and 571, especially given no mention of the fire in Saga of Old City.

        I’m not sure what you meant by, “So that pretty much leaves out a departure in 581.” In your original post, you had said that Caprica Molara left the Shield Lands in 581. And in my original comments, I also affirmed the same year of departure. I was only broaching the topic of when exactly in 581 she had left — early in the year, or late in the year. (Not sure if the published literature clarifies when exactly within the year of 581 that “the last remnants of that area fell to the bandits and humanoids”?) If we have the wiggle room to say that she left late in the year of 581, then you can roughly start counting from 582 onwards for the 3 years that she lived in Greyhawk.

        Anyways, fun stuff 🙂

  3. I use the freeing of Zuggtgmoy as my reference point. I believe she is freed between 576-579cy. In FtA she is freed sometime before 584cy.

    At this point in the story I believe Gord is between 26 and 28. It is mentioned that he was gone from Greyhawk for 8 years (SoOC pg 339) when he returns at the end of Saga of Old City. Making his birthyear from between 548-553cy

  4. I’m on the last book, Tharizdun just escaped his prison. I only read the first two books back when they came out, so this has been a real treat, although I know I’m going to be sad when the story finally ends and I don’t have another volume to look forward to.

  5. Great article!

    I’ve always placed The City of Greyhawk in 582CY and the Caprica reference an error that should denote her as one of the last to flee the assault on Axeport in 579CY (not the end of the full invasion) with her 3 years in Greyhawk then tying in with a 582CY date.

    The ommission of anything to do with the GHW is too problematic in my eyes for the product to be set in 584CY.

  6. Actually, considering this a bit more, I think that ‘but three years’ should read ‘but three months’. ‘But’ implies she’s only been there a short time & three years is actually a decent length of time to have been in the city.

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