A Short Introduction to Greyhawk, part 2

I talked in part one
of this series
about the main themes of the Greyhawk boxed set released in 1983, which described the world in the year 576 CY . Over the next couple of decades of publication, several major events occurred in the World of Greyhawk, which led to the release in 2000 of the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer (591 CY in the campaign), the second major work (after the 1983 set) that I consult for Greyhawk lore.

If you haven’t read part one, I advise that you start there. This article expands on the information there.

Historical Notes:

Following Gary Gygax’s departure from TSR, Greyhawk fell into an uncomfortable position as the campaign world of someone no longer at the company and, more importantly, someone that the new management didn’t like very much. However, there were still designers at TSR who liked Greyhawk, so every so often the dust was shaken off the campaign setting and a new wave of products ensued.

The first wave of products did not always treat the property with respect; the setting became the dumping ground for inferior products, none more infamous than WG7 Castle Greyhawk.

The second wave of products took the setting in a new direction, particularly by introducing the Greyhawk Wars – a continent-spanning conflict that shook things up greatly, not always in ways that all fans appreciated. A new campaign boxed set, From the Ashes, gave the details of the new order. This advanced the timeline to 585 CY, from the original set of 576 CY.

The third wave of products came out just before D&D 3rd edition was released; these advanced the timeline to 591 CY, and did much to restore the world to a state closer to its original incarnation, whilst respecting the changes of the Greyhawk Wars.

With the release of 3E in 2000, most official development of the setting ceased, with the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer giving an excellent consolidated overview of the world in 591 CY. Unofficially, the RPGA started up the Living Greyhawk campaign which has (at the time of writing) produced hundreds of adventures and advanced the timeline to 597 CY. Paizo Publishing, who produced Dungeon magazine, also printed a number of adventures set in Greyhawk, especially the three Adventure Paths: Shackled City, Age of Worms, and Savage Tide.

While there have been scattered productions since 2000 set in Greyhawk, very little has developed it since then.

This article is primarily concerned with the situation in Greyhawk leading up to the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer.

The Flanaess

The Flanaess is the part of the continent of Oerik that most Greyhawk campaigns are set on; it is the equivalent of Europe in our world, only reversed (east is west). The countries of the Flanaess often have equivalents in our world cultures, but by no means exact – more as an aid for inspiration than anything else.

The threat of Iuz

Iuz is the primary villain of many Greyhawk campaigns. An evil cambion, son of the demon Grazz’t and the witch Iggwilv, he rules a land of orcs and evil humans to the north of Furyondy and Veluna, two of the major forces of good.

He was imprisoned in Castle Greyhawk for many years. On his release (shortly before 576 CY), he discovered that his kingdom had split in twain, the loyal (or chaotic) minions staying loyal, and a splinter group, the Horned Society, ruling the eastern portion of his realm.

Iuz spent the years between 576 and 582 regaining control of his realm, then launched a massive gambit which resulted in the barbarians of the frozen north (Frost, Snow and Ice Barbarians) invading the lands to the south that opposed Iuz. After the ensuing conflict finished, Iuz found himself in control of the lands of the Horned Society, as well as part of the Bandit Kingdoms and most of the Shield Lands.

Iuz’s triumph was not lasting, as some powerful adventurers recovered a relic, The Crook of Rao, and banished many of his fiendish allies back to the Abyss in 586 CY. As of 591, Iuz is still a major threat, but is somewhat distracted dealing with his new territory – the Empire of Iuz.

Iuz provides a major enemy to campaigns set in Veluna, Furyondy, Highfolk, the Vesve Forest and Perrenland. His agents are often also active in the Free City of Greyhawk.

In terms of the campaign setting, Iuz provides an evil kingdom, and a chaotic evil force that loves conquest, thus providing the impetus for military campaigns.

The Free City of Greyhawk

The major attraction of Greyhawk has always been the ruins of Castle Greyhawk, which have many fabulous treasures and dangerous monsters. It is from its dungeons that has come much of the wealth that has turned Greyhawk from a sleepy backwater to a major city in the Flanaess. In the aftermath of the Greyhawk Wars, Greyhawk found itself controlling more land, including the city of Hardby to the south. Today, Greyhawk is a home away from home for diplomats, hustlers, entrepreneurs and wanderers.

Water-trade – from the Nyr Dyv, down the Selintan River, to the ocean to the south – provides most of the commerce and travel in the City. Around Greyhawk are the Cairn Hills, where there are many old burial grounds, many home to strange wonders of the past – monstrous or valuable.

Due to its position in the centre of the Flanaess, Greyhawk excels as a meeting-place, and people from all over the Flanaess can be found there.

The Sheldomar Valley

In ancient history, the Sheldomar Valley was the home of the lich Vecna, a magician of supreme might and evil. In the days before the Greyhawk Wars began, Vecna started his ascent to god-hood, something that has only recently been fully completed. The Kingdom of Keoland stands where his old realm was, and the legacy of his rule has culminated in a supreme distrust of arcane magic in that land.

During the Greyhawk Wars, the border states to Keoland: Geoff to the west, Ulek to the east, came under invasion by humanoids and Giants. Although the tri-states of Ulek were able to defeat their invaders, the Duchy of Geoff was not so lucky, and now is ruined, the Duke now in exile. In this part of the setting, the struggle against the humanoids and giants is paramount.

To the east, the free towns of the Wild Coast fell to the orcs of the Pomarj, who were led by the orcish warlord Turmosh Mak. Ulek and the other nearby states were not able to stop this, and now Ulek guards its borders well.

The Great Kingdom

In my previous essay, I described the Great Kingdom of Aerdy as the Rome of the World of Greyhawk: in decline, with mad kings on the throne and a decadent population. The Greyhawk Wars were a disaster for the Great Kingdom. The Overking, completely mad by this stage, saw the Barbarian invasion as the perfect distraction to allow him to reclaim the lands that the Great Kingdom had once held. He attacked, but on several fronts at once. The first wave was successful – but not for long.

The result shattered the Great Kingdom into many competing realms, with fiends preying on the living. The use of the Crook of Rao did eventually banish the fiends, but the devastation remained. Rauxes, once capital of the kingdom, is gone – in 586 CY, the battle to succeed the Overking as ruler caused a great magical catastrophe that caused the city to be locked behind a magical barrier that few are powerful enough to cross.

Today, the people of the Great Kingdom are rebuilding, in a land where monsters and corrupt nobles are common.

The Scarlet Brotherhood

In the south-east of the Flanaess lurk the organisation of the Scarlet Brotherhood, an organisation of Thieves, Assassins and Monks that seek to raise the Suloise people back to their position of dominance in the world, as they had before the Twin Cataclysms that destroyed their empire 1,000 years ago.

The Scarlet Brotherhood prefer intrigue and guile to open conflict, but they are not above using mercenaries when the cause seems right. In the Greyhawk Wars, they played a major part, and their intrigues came into full view for the first time. Now they hold sway over several lands in the south-east of the Flanaess, and especially have an interest in the jungle continent to the south of the Flanaess.

I like to think of the Scarlet Brotherhood as the Nazis of Greyhawk; they certainly believe in racial purity, and you could also see them hunting rare magic items (as in Raiders of the Lost Ark), but they tend to be sneakier and more terrifying than anything in our world.


So we reach the end of this article, the second part of my introduction to the World of Greyhawk, written some years after part 1. In those years, I’ve held D&D campaigns in the Sheldomar, the ruined Great Kingdom, and the realm of Greyhawk. I hope you find the article to be of use, and that it enhances your games in the wondrous World of Greyhawk!”

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