Celts in Greyhawk

The other day, someone asked where I thought the 2nd edition Celts Campaign Sourcebook might best fit in to a Greyhawk campaign. The introduction to the book promised suggestions for doing so, but this seems to have been forgotten by the time the book was finalized.

First, it’s important to remember that, even as presented in that book, the Celts are a barbarian people, with technology (such as arms and armor) below that of the “standard” AD&D setting, and this makes it somewhat difficult to import it as-is into Greyhawk. There are exceptions, such as the Suel barbarians in the Thillronian Peninsula, and the Olman folk in the south, but on the whole the assumption is that wherever you go in the Flanaess, you’re going to see pole arms, plate male, saddles with stirrups, and 9th level magic-user spells.

This doesn’t mean that the cultural/magical parts of the book can’t be applied, but I think it works best as this-is-how-things-were-in-the-past, rather than presenting things as they are in the current year. So, cultural attitudes, dress, and even class alterations can be applied.

This leaves the question of where, or to whom, the Celtic model best applies, although it must be emphasized that it’s a mistake to attempt to associate human races in Greyhawk (Suloise, Oeridian, etc.) with real-world races in all but the broadest terms (Baklunish are an analogue for Middle-Eastern/North African cultures, for instance, but to say they’re specifically Arab, or Persian, or Berber is going too far).

The obvious choice is the Oeridian folk, who are described as wearing checks and plaids (obviously associated with the Celtic peoples). The warlike nature of Oeridian society, as well as their organization along tribal/clan lines early in their history also points to their being well-suited to absorb some of Celtic culture’s mores, and some of the changes to game mechanics described in the Celts Campaign Sourcebook.

But as an alternative, I might point to the Flannae peoples, and their ancestors’ penchant for wearing body paint. They too are fierce warriors and were (and still are, in some cases) organized in tribes and clans, but with the same connection to the land as we see in the more Druidically-based culture described in the book. Again, much of the details in the book would apply to a more primitive state of affairs than we see in most of the Flanaess, but this would apply perfectly to the nomad culture of the Rovers of the Barrens, which is of Flan stock.

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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.

6 thoughts on “Celts in Greyhawk

  1. The Oeridians migrating toward the Solnor struck me as a very Gaulish thing to have done. I pictured them having paths aligned to the sunrise on the solstices and the whole bit.

  2. Myself I have always gone with the Flan as being originally and historically Celtic in culture, however, modern “Flan” peoples are to a greater or lesser extent culturally syncretized with a northern branch of the Olman peoples.

    Long, long before the Baklunish-Suloise War, the Olman Empire expanded from the far south into the Flanaess, pushing neighboring peoples even further north. There they merged with the Flan, such that all the Flan became a mix of Flan and Olman.

    The Olman Empire reached as far north as the Nyr Dyv, and when the empire collapsed they left behind a patchwork of barbarian tribes and successor kingdoms, including the realm from which Vecna and Kas would arise.

    By the time the Oeridians and Suel fled east, those kingdoms were long overgrown ruins, and to them, the Flan seemed to be but a singular people with a mix of tribal identities. Some are more like the Old Flan (Tenhas, Sterich), others more like the Olman (Rovers, Lortmil tribes).

  3. The Celts weren’t barbarians. They were a settled people in Europe with an advanced culture in crafting and art for their time. They were an individualistic people that shunned centralized government. They could have developed a written language, but instead chose to value memorization by their bards and druids, which has been to our detriment in understanding them.

    Still, they would seem to belong to a pre- “Modern” history (from the Characters’ perspective). However, like Ireland, maybe there could be an island off the coast, surrounded by a magical mist, which could be a preserve of Celtic culture.

    1. Concur. Moreover, they were limited by the resources of Ireland — if they are located on the mainland, no reason to think that they would still be limited as far as arms and armor — indeed, their craftsmanship might mean they surpass your run-of-the-mill equipment. Also, I don’t think you necessarily need to map the Celts to an existing Greyhawk people. As Archibald notes below, you could have hill tribes throughout. I would suggest placing them in an area large enough to support several clans, with cattle grazing lands — enough to justify feuds and cattle rustling

      Further, if you want to place them offshore per Jerry’s suggestion, there is an Irish mythological island that fits that description: Brasil — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brasil_(mythical_island) — shrouded in mist save for one day every seven years.

  4. I look at this differently… in most of the Glossography encounter tables, there are hillman and tribesmen. I have been struggling to figure out how to characterize the hillmen– who to base them off of? How to really distinguish them from tribesmen? The only real example of hillmen we get from Gary are the bandits that attack Gord and Evaleigh in Saga of Old City, and perhaps Chert, though I don’t have my books right now and I don’t know whether Gygax characterizes him as a tribesmen or hillman. We do get several examples of tribesmen, though, from those who are hired by Obmi in the Hold of Sea Princes, at least… possibly more that I’m forgetting.

    At any rate… perhaps one could adapt Celtic culture to the various hillmen and/or tribesmen found in the random encounter tables? Though we tend to think about Celts in their latter day form on the British Isles, the reality is that they were once all over Europe, and lasted relatively long in Gaul and even in some of Eastern Europe.

    This does, as you have pointed out, bear some similarity to the Flan as well, though I have tended in the past to equate the Flan more with the Native Americans. Perhaps I’ll reconsider the Flan in light of the possible Celtic association… for now, though… I think I may have found my hillmen…

  5. I once played a barbarian from the Rovers of the Barrens as a Celtic warrior archetype.

    I believe that thinking about the Celts has evolved to viewing them less as a monolithic people (race) and more of a broadly shared material culture. I think if you approach it that way you don’t have to worry so much about shoe hornining them into a single Oeridian race.

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