Tuesday, April 29, 2014

If I owned Greyhawk

A thought experiment.

If I was in charge of Greyhawk right now, with 5th Edition coming out this summer, and the setting itself having officially lain fallow, for all intents and purposes, for nearly fifteen years, this is what I would do with it.

I'd have a three-pronged approach.

The first prong would be traditional RPG supplements; more specifics on those in a minute. The second prong would be board and card games that were set in Greyhawk and which played on what I think are its unique strengths. The third would be a series of miniatures and scenarios specifically designed to play into the upcoming Battlesystem rules that were announced yesterday.

I happened to catch some of the Q&A from last Friday's video broadcast, and was (pleasantly) astonished to see the Wizards of the Coast guys talking about treating settings in exactly the same way I've been talking about for quite some time now. Choose a (relatively early) point in the timeline and make that the "default" starting point in the setting. Then have a tableau of events happening in the background. Any given DM could use or not use those events as he sees fit. Perhaps his players will alter the course of those events.

Such an approach requires a deft touch and a firm knowledge of the setting, of course. What are the implications of the PCs rescuing Prince Thrommel from the Temple of Elemental Evil? Veluna and Furyondy are merged in alliance. How does that impact what Iuz does in CY 585? Give some alternatives for pivotal events, especially ones which the PCs could reasonably be expected to participate.

But doing so means you can't extend the timeline too far. The Forgotten Realms chronology spans more than a hundred years (the Grey Box being set in 1357 DR and the Campaign Guide being set in 1479 DR). It would be nigh unto impossible to provide viable alternatives for all of the major events that the PCs could influence, especially when they interact with one another.

But Greyhawk, right now, only spans fifteen years (the Folio and Gold Box being set in CY 576, and the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer being set in CY 591). There's a lot of history packed into that decade and a half, but it's still manageable. Certainly enough for a paragraph here and there to describe "alternate timelines" that a home campaign could follow. Fifteen years of in-game time seems like plenty to me, but I might take it out another ten years just to make it an even quarter-century. After that, leave everything to the DM to work out (and stick to that promise!).

So the first "prong" of my approach would have a major setting product, based in CY 576. A boxed set with gorgeous maps would be ideal, but a suitably detailed book would do. Then have another product, which I have previously called the Great Greyhawk Campaign (in homage to the Great Pendragon Campaign product), which details not only the historical changes to the setting over the course of the next 25 years, but gives the DM specific tools that he can use to make the setting come alive through those events. Finally, another end-cap setting product, detailing the world as of CY 601, giving DMs who want to start their own campaigns without the detailed events happening in the background.

That middle product, the Great Greyhawk Campaign, would be a new sort of thing for the setting. I'd organize it by year, broken down by region and season. Have rumors available in different places and different times, so that the PCs will hear about wars and sieges, peace treaties and invasions, as is relevant to where they are at the time. Folks in the Pale in the spring of CY 577 are going to hear different rumors than those in Keoland in CY 585. There would be a detailed breakdown of events in each locale as well. Troop movements, assassinations, intrigues, battles, strange events, royal weddings, etc. Nothing would say that a DM would need to follow this "canonical" timeline, but it would be there, available, and would provide a backdrop against which he could play his campaign.

Adventure modules happening against the backdrop of war and intrigue raging across the Flanaess would follow. Most of the "location based adventures", which don't really change over time, like the Tomb of Horrors or Castle Greyhawk, would be set in 576 as a default, but could be plugged in just about anytime. Others might or might not be timeframe-specific, depending (and if they are, I'd want to include guidelines for moving any of them around in the timeline).

And later on, of course, I'd want to start expanding the descriptions of the world beyond the Flanaess.

The second "prong" would be tabletop board games. I've long been tinkering with a "Merchant Princes of the Flanaess" concept, moving trade goods from city to city. Deliver a lot of silver to Rauxes, and the price goes down. Draw a card, and there's a famine in Wintershiven, and the price of grain goes up there. I've also got a "Fight for the Malachite Throne" idea in the back of my mind. A card game, where players are factions within House Naelax, struggling to get their favorite son on the throne as the reigning Overking lays dying. First there is behind-the-scenes maneuvering, but when enough cards have been played, he dies of natural causes, and the gloves come off. Lots of other such non-RPGs are possible; look at the success of the Lords of Waterdeep board game. That would work in Greyhawk just as well.

And thirdly, since Wizards of the Coast has announced that a mass battle module/game will be forthcoming, a series of miniatures and battle scenarios that capitalizes on the Greyhawk campaign's origins in wargaming. That's one of its great strong points, moreso than almost any other campaign setting (Birthright being a possible notable exception). The Battle of a Fortnight's Length, the Battle of Emridy Meadows, Iuz's invasion of the Bandit Kingdoms, the Iron League vs. South Province/Medegia, the Hateful Wars, the rise of the Empire of the Pomarj... There are dozens of awesome wars and famous battles that could be used as the basis for a whole line of Battlesystem figures and both individual scenarios and campaigns. Dibs on the first set of Knights of Holy Shielding figures...

19 comments:

Scott Anderson said...

I hereby give you permission to pitch it to Hasbro and write several sample chapters. ^_^

mortellan said...

Holy hanna I missed that announcement about Battlesystem. Hmm..

You are absolutely on target with those Greyhawk prongs my friend. Just the battles of Greyhawk alone would have me throwing my money at Wizards. And also, a board game based on GH is something I've hoped for a long time. How hard could it be? You seem to have the crux of that game half figured out for them already!

Good post, keep it up!

jdh417 said...

Mr. Bloch why aren't you working for WOTC?

Werecorpse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Werecorpse said...

I agree with your approach, although I would start the great greyhawk campaign at the time of the battle of Emridy meadows.

Joseph Bloch said...

Now that's an interesting idea, Werecorpse. I chose 576 specifically because that's when the first Folio (and Gold Box) was set. But there's a certain appeal to using Emridy Meadows as the starting point.

Antonio said...

Mearls explicitly mentions Greyhawk as the campaign he would like to bring back. Perhaps there's hope! I may invest again in a WotC game after 15 years, it seems :)

Michael Fuller said...

I love it! Especially the timeline approach.

pure metal said...

One more thing they need to do for Greyhawk - and yes, I've mentioned it here before - is release the Darlene map as a rollable, water soluble marker friendly, vinyl version at the same dimensions. I've begged WOTC to do this and would gladly pay upwards of $200-$300 for such a product.

pure metal said...

One more thing they need to do for Greyhawk - and yes, I've mentioned it here before - is release the Darlene map as a rollable, water soluble marker friendly, vinyl version at the same dimensions. I've begged WOTC to do this and would gladly pay upwards of $200-$300 for such a product.

Norman Harman said...

Hope I don't sound to naysayish but, almanacs, extending timelines, "events" only have place in organized play.

For "home" campaigns the players and DM create that history. Telling me what happens (even if modular or whatever) is impinging on my role and fun as DM.

Charles Akins said...

I thought this was a really great post so I added it to my Best Reads of the Week post. I hope you don't mind.

http://dyverscampaign.blogspot.com/2014/05/best-reads-of-week-april-27-may-2-2014.html

Stuart said...

Can't disagree with anything you've said here. Hasbro should take you on!

Mark B said...

Joe, I would gladly pay a subscription fee to get these products and services from WotC/Hasbro much like I currently do with Paizo. This is case of lost opportunity on IP that is simply gathering dust...

Gray Mouser said...

I've never been a fan of having timelines of events for campaign settings. The idea is to have a DM and players have their own game and have the world develop as they see fit. While it's possible to have some official "advances" I have yet to see this done in a way I would be comfortable using in my own game. The closest thing to come to that would be the WoGH articles Gary and Rob published in a few issues of Dragon back in the day. I think a better option would be a reissue of the WoGH box set with some edits (a revision of the weather generating charts, for example, long with perhaps including some material from the original folio that didn't make it into the box set) as well as some suggested political developments that a DM could integrate into his campaign if he desired or simply ignore. But no future product should make use of such suggestions as being foundational (i.e., you should be able to run any module regardless of "what happened" at a future date).

That being said, I think your concept of having board games and/or card games set in the Flanaess is a great one. I'd love to see, for instance, a game or games tied to historical events that players could participate in. Something like a CCG or strategic board game where players take up the different sides of the Battle of Emridy Meadows would be fun, for example. Or maybe something like the old Avalon Hill "War of the Rings" game where players divide up the different countries and have a war for control of the Flanaess (or even something like a WoGH Risk-like game). Such games would leave the setting itself untouched for RPG's while getting more people familiar with it and thus produce more potential customers for a reissued WoGH box set.

Joseph Bloch said...

That's the beauty of the idea, Grey Mouser. If you don't want to use the timeline, you just set your game in CY 601 and off to the races you go. With the added benefit of all that deliciously rich recent history to build on. :-)

Matt Celis said...

I didn't know they did any Greyhawk stuff after the mid-'80s.

I'd much rather see Karameikos and those other "gazeteer" places used again; what was that, "The Known World"?

tom said...

"I didn't know they did any Greyhawk stuff after the mid-'80s."

keep believing that Matt. you'll be happier.

the post-Gygax "canon" timeline is questionable at best. and some of the modules seem like they were intentionally crap designed to make people lose interest in Greyhawk.

tom said...

You do own Greyhawk, Joseph. We all do. ;-)

From page 3 of the 1980 Folio edition:

"However, that is all past. The World of Greyhawk is yours now--yours to do with as you wish. You can mold new states out of old or inflame ancient rivalries into open warfare as you tailor the world to suit the needs of your players. The time has come for new legends to be created, new battles to be fought, new songs to be sung. It is your world--and welcome to it!"

Allen Hammack; February 6, 1979