Thursday, October 29, 2009

Players Wanted

I'm looking for some players in the northern NJ area (Morris/ Sussex/ Warren counties are nearby) to join my AD&D 1E game (set in Greyhawk, of course). I'll be rebooting the campaign slightly after a several-months hiatus, and am looking for a couple of new players to round out the party. We generally play on Friday nights, and don't stay up too too late.

If interested, please either reply here with your email address or send me a private email at the address in the lower-right corner of your window in the "A Note on Legalities" section.

Yeah, that's the picture from Dexcon, not the regular group. For some reason, I don't seem to have one...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Is the Temple of Elemental Evil a Megadungeon?

Norman over at Troll and Flame thinks so. So do some of the commenters over at Grognardia. Personally, I disagree. It does touch on the definition of "megadungeon", of course.

To my mind, a "megadungeon" in the strictest sense lacks an overarching plot. Indeed, it is a wilderness unto itself that adapts to a variety of different plots. Due to its lack of plot-driven nature, it is not the sole focus of a campaign, although it can very well stand as the tentpole of a campaign, and most proper old school campaigns should have such a centerpiece. But it should not be the raison d'être of the entire campaign.

A megadungeon should be large enough in and of itself to absorb the punishment of repeated forays into the depths without significantly depleting the supply of bad guys (and, ultimately, treasure). The mechanism of this replenishment is irrelevant; fountain of endless orcs, insane demigod, miles of troll warrens, interdimensional portals... The replacement rate of the bad guys should exceed the ability of the players to annihilate them. They can achieve local superiority in a given section of the megadungeon, of course; a given level or sub-level can be cleared out, and even claimed by some of the players (as happened in the original Greyhawk campaign, of course). But in the long run, the dungeon wins; you're never "done" unless you say you are.

I have some specific problems with The Temple of Elemental Evil that are somewhat beyond the scope of this post. However, regarding the question of whether it meets my own (admittedly arbitrary) criteria for a megadungeon, I think it clearly does not. It most certainly is plot-driven (the players are there to stop the re-ascension of the Temple in the local area and ultimately beyond). The stock of baddies is limited; kill enough elemental priests of the various factions, and you'll eventually run through 'em all. And, most importantly, it is designed to be "finished". You thwart the minions of the Temple, stop Zuggtmoy from being freed (or, in some cases, freeing her), and then move on to greener pastures.

Not so with a "classic" megadungeon.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Is It Possible to Publish a "True" Megadungeon?

James over at Grognardia has published an interesting essay "Schrödinger's Dungeon" which has garnered a lot of replies in the few short hours it's been up. Much as I like and admire James' work for the most part, I fear he has missed the mark on this particular subject.

I launched this very blog with the lament that James mentions in his first paragraph; we are all the poorer that Gygax didn't have a chance (whether in the later years of his life, or while he was still with TSR) to publish some version of his own Castle Greyhawk. I stand by that assessment.

One of James' key passages is this:
When most people think of a "dungeon," they expect a set of maps with a key describing rooms and their contents. A megadungeon, by its very nature, can't be detailed in the same way. It's a lot more "impressionistic" and relies heavily on ad hoc adjudication by the referee, as the players explore it. Not all of the megadungeon's rooms are inhabited at any given time -- this is important -- and many of their inhabitants might change, depending on player action, referee whim, or the luck of random rolls. Likewise, even the geography of the megadungeon might change, as the referee adds new sections, closes off old ones, or otherwise alters what the characters have experienced to date.
Which is, of course, correct, but which does not address the central point of the Lament of the Old-Timers. We didn't have any model for that process! It was only discerned after years of careful reading-between-the-lines in various disparate sources; The Dragon, fanzines, hints in modules and rulebooks, etc. When I, and others, lament that Gygax hadn't published his own version of the Castle, I think it's implicit that we would have expected that such advice would be sprinkled throughout such a product, implicitly and explicitly. If nothing else, than by example.

Rather, when you look at the modules that TSR did, in fact, publish in the earliest years, the lessons were exactly the opposite of what James defines (and I, in large part, agree with) as the parameters of a "classic" megadungeon. Steading of the Hill Giant Chief et al weren't much given to spontaneity (although lip-service is paid to the notion that the giants will not stand idly by while adventurers make numerous forays into their lairs). There was very much the idea of "come in, clean it out, and move on to greener pastures", and it seems that Gygax himself was consciously leaning in that direction. Here's what he wrote in the DMG (p. 91):
...but when it is all over the monsters will not magically reappear, nor will it be likely that some other creatures will move into the newly available quarters the next day.
It's at odds with how we know his own Greyhawk campaign was run, but it's still an interesting (if contradictory) statement.

But back to James' argument; I think the real value in publishing a "complete" version of Castle Greyhawk (or Castle Blackmoor, or Maure Castle, or any of the various ones that dominated the early scene up in LG) would have been as an example of a starting point. Even the fabled Castle Greyhawk started as a map on paper with notes. Even if the map changed, and the notes most certainly changed based on various player activities (as well as reactions imagined by Gygax and later Kuntz), that starting point would still have been an invaluable resource to have. Most especially if it were accompanied by the briefest of introductory essays in the form of "you know, in the original campaign, none of this was lasting; once the player characters wiped out the kobolds on level 1, such-and-such happened; in your campaign it might be very different" might well have made all the difference in the world!

Instead, we had a steady stream of tournament modules (not that I've anything against them! G1-3 and D1-3 are among my favorite modules ever). They reinforced in the minds of tens of thousands of young dungeon masters (myself included) that dungeons were intended to be relatively limited in scope, have a particular theme, and as a rule end up with a fight against a Big Bad Guy to win access to the Treasure Room (or, in some cases, multiple Big Bad Guys and multiple Treasure Rooms). We learned by the only example we were given.

Imagine what would have happened if, instead of cranking out tournament modules, TSR had settled down to publish a large, if skeletal, Castle Greyhawk. A couple of lines per encounter. Encouragement to DMs to "take it and imagine the hell out of it" throughout.

James is absolutely correct when he states that a published module cannot possibly capture the ever-changing-based-on-player-actions nature of a megadungeon. However, I think that misses the point of the Lament of the Old-Timers. He says:
In every case, the changes are in response to play and it's this quality of megadungeons that makes them hard to put into a published form.
And I must disagree. Any dungeon, no matter how small, can (and should) change in response to play. Whether it's a three-room crypt or a ten-thousand-room megadungeon spanning twenty levels, the change-in-response-to-play aspect is constant. What we lacked, for years, was a model of how to properly set up such an enormous playing field in the scope of a single dungeon setting. How to get past questions of "dungeon ecology" (which Gygax admittedly didn't give a fig about in the beginning, but begrudgingly came to realize as being at least something to take into consideration)? Factions within dungeons were, apparently, a staple of Gygax's approach. A "still life" of them in action, at least as a starting point, would have been a great help in such a context. Ditto the "random zaniness" factor, noticeably lacking from the earliest module efforts of TSR.

James concludes with:
I simply don't think such a thing would ever have been possible and any attempt to present a "Castle Greyhawk" trapped in amber would necessarily feel inadequate. That's the nature of the beast and therefore I think the only way to experience a proper megadungeon is to build it yourself.
And I think here he lays the foundation of his own inconsistency. If I write my own megadungeon (which, incidentally, I have), it exists solely as a starting point. From the moment my players hit the corridors, it's up to me, as the Dungeon Master, to alter and adapt, to change and manipulate, to reflect the actions of those players and how I imagine the inhabitants would respond. If someone else downloads Castle of the Mad Archmage and does the same, or if any of us had done so with a hypothetical "complete" Castle Greyhawk from 1982, what, exactly, has changed? Each of us would have taken (or will take) it in completely different directions, according to our own DMing style and the actions of our players.

Which, I think, is the whole point.

Where the heck have I been?

I meant to wrap up the Religions of Greyhawk thing, and do a lot more work on the next level of Castle of the Mad Archmage, but I got knocked on my ass on Monday with the flu. And having to work all week (at home) through it. And my wife going into the hospital for some serious surgery (which she had today, and all is well), so I played the single parent most of the week, illness and all. And now my daughter seems to have come down with the same damn thing I did.

So... life's been busy as of late. Back to the grind soon, I hope!

EDIT: Sweet merciful Istus... seems I'm not alone! Just a quick look at my blog roll shows the same sort of post from Sword +1, Uhluht'c Awakens, and even the sainted Grognardia from a day or two ago. Nil desperandum, my dear bloggers! Across the desert lies the promised land!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Baklunish Pantheon

Istus (Goddess of Fate and destiny) N
Geshtai (Goddess of lakes, rivers, and wells) N
Xan Yae (Goddess of twilight, shadows, stealth, mind over matter, etc.) N

O_o

Is that it?

Yes. I think an argument can be made that the Baklunish don't import the deities of other pantheons into their own worship. The first is historical; if one looks at the map of the migrations of various races across the Flanaess (on p. 10 of the Guide), the Baklunish made naught but a half-hearted foray into the lands currently occupied by the nomads. The proximity of the Oeridians to the Baklunish heartland explains how the Oeridians could have taken the worship of Geshtai and Xan Yae into other lands, as they spread their own vibrant culture and most of their own pantheon. Yet no other cultures made any inroads anywhere close to the Baklunish lands. They are outsiders; aloof, and they are often portrayed as exotic strangers in some of the fiction that takes place in the Flanaess.

It should be noted, too, that Istus, for all her prominence in the setting (including having a rather large, if uneven, module named after her), is not listed as a "common" deity. She is also the only Greater God in the Baklunish pantheon (not that there are all that many Baklunish gods to choose from...). We are told that her centers of worship are Greyhawk (which boasts a small, if identifiable, native population of Baklunish extraction-- notably the only land in the Flanaess that does), Dyvers, Rauxes, Rel Mord, and Stoink. All centers of trade. It is not unreasonable to conclude that those "centers of worship" are merely for the benefit of the Baklunish traders who frequent those capitals of commerce (Stoink, we are told, is a "wasp's nest" of illegal activity, so those Bakluni indulging in the commerce of contraband might well have something of an outpost within its walls).

There is also the commentary of Gary Gygax himself on the subject:
The plan was to introduce a new pantheon of [Baklunish] deities. Obviously that never eventuated... nor will it ever unless WotC decides to do so.
EGG's (understandable) bitterness aside, it speaks to the notion that the Baklunish gods were only partially represented in the World of Greyhawk boxed set, and that their expansion was eventually supposed to have happened. To me, that reinforces the surmise that they are not included in the "common" designation for the other deities. Bear in mind, too, that a natural definition of the Flanaess would begin, not at the left-edge of the Darlene map, but rather at the line of mountains beginning at the Hellfurnaces, through the Crystalmists and Barrier Peaks, and up to the Yatils (much like the Ural mountains are said to divide Europe from Asia).

That being said, and operating on the assumption that the Baklunish haven't imported any gods from the other cultures of the Flanaess, but rather only loaned out two of their own, whose worship was disseminated through the auspices of the Oeridians, several conclusions can be made.

They tend towards neutrality, and they tend towards female deities. The lawful neutral alignments designated for Zeif and Tusmit, as well as the neutral good alignment of Ekbir support this notion obliquely, although I would daresay that a fully-developed Baklunish pantheon would display the same characteristics of the other pantheons thusfar found in Oerth; a marked tendency towards neutrality on both axes, but with certain deities of more defined alignments being presented related to specific interests.

Coming up next-- wrapping it all up, and presenting some conclusions about the nature of religion in the Flanaess.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Flan Pantheon

Allitur (God of ethics and propriety) LG(N)
Atroa (Goddess of spring and the East Wind) NG, Oeridian origin
Beory (Oerth Mother, Goddess of nature, rain) N
Berei (Goddess of home, family, and agriculture) NG
Bleredd (God of metal, mines, and smiths) NC
Boccob (God of magic and arcane knowledge) N
Bralm (Goddess of insects and industriousness) N(L), Suel origin
Celestian (God of the stars, space, and wanderers) N(G), Oeridian origin
Saint Cuthbert (God of wisdom, dedication, and zeal) LG(N)
Ehlonna "of the forests" (Goddess of forests, flowers, and meadows) NG
Erythnul (God of hate, envy, malice, and panic) CE(N), Oeridian origin
Fharlanghn (God of horizons, distance, and travel) N(g), Oeridian origin
Geshtai (Goddess of lakes, rivers, and wells) N, Baklunish origin
Heironeous (God of chivalry, honor, justice, and valor) LG
Hextor (God of war, discord, and massacre) LE
Incabulos (God of evil, plagues, and nightmares) NE
Joramy (Goddess of fire, volcanoes, anger, and quarrels) N(G)
Lirr (Goddess of prose, poetry, and art) CG
Lydia (Goddess of music, knowledge, and daylight) NG, Suel origin
Myhriss (Goddess of love and beauty) NG
Nerull "The Reaper" (God of death, darkness, and the Underworld) NE
Obad-hai (God of nature, wildlands, freedom, and hunting) N
Olidammara (God of music, revelry, rougery, and wine) NC
Pelor (God of the sun, strength, light, and healing) NG
Pholtus (God of light, resolution, and law) LG(N), Oeridian origin
Procan (God of the oceans, seas, and salt) NC, Oeridian origin
Rao (God of peace, reason, and serenity) LG
Ralishaz (God of chance, ill-luck, and misfortune) CN(E)
Sotillion (Goddess of summer, the South wind, ease, and comfort) CG(N), Oeridian origin
Telchur (God of winter, the North wind, and cold) CN, Oeridian origin
Trithereon (God of individuality, liberty, and retribution) CG
Ulaa (Goddess of hills, mountains, and gemstones) LG, unknown origin
Wenta (Goddess of autumn, the West wind, and the harvest) CG, Oeridian origin
Xan Yae (Goddess of twilight, shadows, stealth, and mind over matter) N, Baklunish origin
Zilchus (God of power, prestige, influence, money, and business) LN
Zodal (God of mercy, hope, and benevolence) NG

The Flan pantheon can be said to be the most "generic" of the various pantheons described in the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting boxed set, as all of the Flannae deities are also listed as being "common". As the Flan people were assimilated and/or conquered by the invading Oeridians and Suloise, so too were their Gods and Goddesses brought into the invading culture. This is a process well known to history; the Romans were the masters of such syncreticism, and the Germanic tribes (down to the Norsemen of the Viking age) were not above bringing in foreign deities they found particularly attractive or useful.

The numbers: 36 deities total, 22 male and 14 female. 9 are lawful in some respect, 7 chaotic, and 29 neutral. 19 are good and only 5 are evil. This is in keeping with the numbers we've seen in the Suel and Oeridian pantheons, more or less.

What is interesting is the nature of the Gods of Flan origin. Four of them are Greater Gods, which is a record among "common" Gods originating in a particular race (the Oeridians have 2, the Suel and Baklunish have none). And the nature of those divinities is striking in its importance.

Beory is the "Oerth Mother". The very essence of the living world, encompassing all of nature and the life-giving rain. Nerull is the God of Death; the one universal constant that afflicts all mortal races. In the Gary Gygax "Gord the Rogue" novels, he is equated with the arch-daemon Anthraxus. Pelor is the quintessential "sun god"; another universal godly archetype. Only Rao, as God of peace, reason, and serenity, seems out of place in this quartet, but that might speak to the non-warlike nature of the Flannae, whom we are told were excellent hunters but poor warriors, and which led to their eventual downfall at the hands of the more aggressive Oeridians and Suloise.

This could indicate a certain level of respect, even on a subconscious level, for the Flan from the Oeridians and Suloise. Their deities are the Big Guns, and although the Suel have three Greater Gods themselves, none of them has been accepted by the rest of the populace in the Flanaess. Only the Flan Gods are "common". Folks just don't seem to like the Gods of the Suel.

It is somewhat interesting to note that Beory's position of Oerth Mother is bifurcated by both Ehlonna "of the forests" and Obad-hai. She is the Goddess of the forests, and He the God of nature itself. It might be suggested that they form a "divine pair"; the offspring of Beory, and in their way analogous to the various divine twins whom we see throughout European pre-Christian culture (Freya and FreyR amongst the most prominent examples).

Administrivia

Just a couple of quick notes.

First, I've added a bunch of new pictures to the Minifigs World of Greyhawk miniatures page. There are still quite a few to go, but as they come up on eBay, I've been grabbing the pictures and integrating them. I also included a couple more comments.

Second, you may have noticed the slightly new look to the blog. Many thanks to Reit Wrecks over at Three Column Blogger for the step-by-step instructions on how to add a third column to the layout, and then how to adjust the margins between the columns. Simple and very effective.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Suloise Pantheon

Allitur (God of ethics and propriety) LG(N), Flan origin
Atroa (Goddess of spring and the East Wind) NG, Oeridian origin
Beltar (Goddess of malice, pits, and deep caves) CE(N)
Beory (Oerth Mother, Goddess of nature, rain) N, Flan origin
Berei (Goddess of home, family, and agriculture), NG Flan origin
Bleredd (God of metal, mines, and smiths) NC
Boccob (God of magic and arcane knowledge) N
Bralm (Goddess of insects and industriousness) N(L)
Celestian (God of the stars, space, and wanderers) N(G), Oeridian origin
Saint Cuthbert (God of wisdom, dedication, and zeal) LG(N)
Ehlonna "of the forests" (Goddess of forests, flowers, and meadows) NG
Erythnul (God of hate, envy, malice, and panic) CE(N), Oeridian origin
Fharlanghn (God of horizons, distance, and travel) N(g), Oeridian origin
Fortubo (God of stone, metals, and mountains) LG(N)
Geshtai (Goddess of lakes, rivers, and wells) N, Baklunish origin
Heironeous (God of chivalry, honor, justice, and valor) LG, Oeridian origin
Hextor (God of war, discord, and massacre) LE, Oeridian origin
Incabulos (God of evil, plagues, and nightmares) NE
Joramy (Goddess of fire, volcanoes, anger, and quarrels) N(G)
Kord (God of athletics, sports, and brawling) CG
Lendor (God of time and tedium) LN
Lirr (Goddess of prose, poetry, and art) CG
Llerg (God of beasts and strength) CN
Lydia (Goddess of music, knowledge, and daylight) NG, Suel origin
Myhriss (Goddess of love and beauty) NG
Nerull "The Reaper" (God of death, darkness, and the Underworld) NE, Flan origin
Norebo (God of luck, gambling, and risk) CN
Obad-hai (God of nature, wildlands, freedom, and hunting) N, Flan origin
Olidammara (God of music, revelry, rougery, and wine) NC
Pelor (God of the sun, strength, light, and healing) NG, Flan origin
Phaulkon (God of air, winds, and clouds) CG
Pholtus (God of light, resolution, and law) LG(N), Oeridian origin
Phyton (God of beauty and nature) CG
Procan (God of the oceans, seas, and salt) NC, Oeridian origin
Pyremius (God of fire, poison, and murder) NE
Rao (God of peace, reason, and serenity) LG, Flan origin
Ralishaz (God of chance, ill-luck, and misfortune) CN(E)
Sotillion (Goddess of summer, the South wind, ease, and comfort) CG(N), Oeridian origin
Syrul (Goddess of deceit, false promises, and lies) NE
Telchur (God of winter, the North wind, and cold) CN, Oeridian origin
Trithereon (God of individuality, liberty, and retribution) CG
Ulaa (Goddess of hills, mountains, and gemstones) LG, unknown origin
Wee Jas (Goddess of magic and death) LN
Wenta (Goddess of autumn, the West wind, and the harvest) CG, Oeridian origin
Xan Yae (Goddess of twilight, shadows, stealth, and mind over matter) N, Baklunish origin
Xerbo (God of the sea, water travel, money, and business) N
Zilchus (God of power, prestige, influence, money, and business) LN, Oeridian origin
Zodal (God of mercy, hope, and benevolence) NG

First, some numbers. There are 48 deities in total (owing to the large number of Gods who are unique to the Suel pantheon); 31 are male and 17 are female. 38 have some element of neutrality in their alignment, while only 12 are lawful and 14 are chaotic. 20 are good and 7 are evil.

There are some interesting duplications here, now that the Suel-only deities are included. Xerbo is almost entirely superfluous, with Zichus covering money and business, and Procan covering the seas. Magic is doubly represented by Boccob and Wee Jas, whose other sphere of influence-- death-- is also covered by Nerull.

The pattern continues throughout the pantheon; gentle Phaulkon's mastery of the winds is challenged by no fewer than four deities of Oeridian origin (Atroa, Sotillion, Telchur, and Wenta), while even Lendor as God of Time finds his role already taken by Cyndor. Fortubo, the Suel God of mountains, finds a rival in exotic Ulaa, while both Llerg and Pelor make claim to being the God of strength.

Why? Why would the Gods unique to the Suel pantheon find themselves being edged out by more popular rivals? More to the point, why would the Suel themselves bring in alien Gods that would tend to rival their own, more native Gods and Goddesses?

At the risk of playing armchair psychiatrist, this could speak to an inherent inferiority complex amongst the Suel. Once possessors of a large and powerful empire, now reduced to refugees in foreign and hostile lands, perhaps they felt that Oeridian deities might somehow be stronger than their own, failed, pantheon.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Oeridian Pantheon

Allitur (God of ethics and propriety) LG(N), Flan origin
Atroa (Goddess of spring and the East Wind) NG
Beory (Oerth Mother, Goddess of nature, rain) N, Flan origin
Berei (Goddess of home, family, and agriculture), NG Flan origin
Bleredd (God of metal, mines, and smiths) NC
Boccob (God of magic and arcane knowledge) N
Bralm (Goddess of insects and industriousness) N(L), Suel origin
Celestian (God of the stars, space, and wanderers) N(G)
Saint Cuthbert (God of wisdom, dedication, and zeal) LG(N)
Delleb (God of reason and intellect) LG
Ehlonna "of the forests" (Goddess of forests, flowers, and meadows) NG
Erythnul (God of hate, envy, malice, and panic) CE(N)
Fharlanghn (God of horizons, distance, and travel) N(g)
Geshtai (Goddess of lakes, rivers, and wells) N, Baklunish origin
Heironeous (God of chivalry, honor, justice, and valor) LG
Hextor (God of war, discord, and massacre) LE
Incabulos (God of evil, plagues, and nightmares) NE
Joramy (Goddess of fire, volcanoes, anger, and quarrels) N(G)
Kurell (God of jealousy, revenge, and thievery) CN
Lirr (Goddess of prose, poetry, and art) CG
Lydia (Goddess of music, knowledge, and daylight) NG, Suel origin
Myhriss (Goddess of love and beauty) NG
Nerull "The Reaper" (God of death, darkness, and the Underworld) NE, Flan origin
Obad-hai (God of nature, wildlands, freedom, and hunting) N, Flan origin
Olidammara (God of music, revelry, rougery, and wine) NC
Pelor (God of the sun, strength, light, and healing) NG, Flan origin
Pholtus (God of light, resolution, and law) LG(N)
Procan (God of the oceans, seas, and salt) NC
Rao (God of peace, reason, and serenity) LG, Flan origin
Ralishaz (God of chance, ill-luck, and misfortune) CN(E)
Sotillion (Goddess of summer, the South wind, ease, and comfort) CG(N)
Telchur (God of winter, the North wind, and cold) CN
Trithereon (God of individuality, liberty, and retribution) CG
Ulaa (Goddess of hills, mountains, and gemstones) LG, unknown origin
Velnius (God of the sky and weather) N(G)
Wenta (Goddess of autumn, the West wind, and the harvest) CG
Xan Yae (Goddess of twilight, shadows, stealth, and mind over matter) N, Baklunish origin
Zilchus (God of power, prestige, influence, money, and business) LN
Zodal (God of mercy, hope, and benevolence) NG

I'm deliberately leaving demi-gods out of this listing, as I think they have a different status in the context of cultural pantheons that I'll address at a later time.

We have a few Divine Groupings here. Atroa/Sotillion/Telchur/Wenta are an obvious first choice, but it is interesting to note that their genders seem a tad out of whack. Three females and one male. Indo-European tradition allows for Divine Twins to be of either gender (Pollux and Castor, for example, or Freyja and FreyR), but a four-way split seems intuitively to want two males and two females. But it is not so. Perhaps Atroa(spring)/Wenta(autumn) and Sotillion(summer)/Telchur(winter) function as a sister/sister sister/brother combination. Perhaps some Oeridian myth recalls the bitterness felt by Telchur at being the "odd man out" (literally) and thus his affinity with the harshest time of the year. Pehaps Velnius would be their father, and this would be a myth that originated with the Oeridians?

The brotherhood/rivalry between Hextor and Heironeous is already well-attested. There seems to be a bit of a brotherly rivalry between Celestian and Fharlanghn as well, but its nature is unknown to us. Why, exactly, does Fharlanghn wander endlessly?

It's interesting that both the "noble" warriors-for-Good Gods (Saint Cuthbert, Heironeous, and Pelor) as well as the "soft" Good Gods (Allitur, Delleb, Rao, and Zodal) are here. I think it's possible the two leanings of Good; "active" vs. "passive" could have a mythological conflict.

What I find ultimately fascinating is that, looking at things from a pantheonic perspective, "common" deities like Boccob could be very different in an Oeridian church than he would be in a Suel temple. I'd probably do a whole new write-up for each, one for each perspective (i.e., pantheon).

In terms of numbers, 19 members of the pantheon have Good as part of their alignment. Only 5 have Evil. 10 are Lawful and 8 are Chaotic. A full 29 have at least some part of Neutrality (I'm pretty sure that is a trend we'll see throughout this exercise, and it's a function of Gary Gygax's innate sense that deities should be ambivalent at least on some level). There are 39 deities in all, 25 male and 14 female.

Pantheons and Henotheism

James over at Grognardia made an excellent post about the background of a certain religion in his campaign, and in the comments made the following observation:
I always found the quasi-medieval society of D&D a poor fit for the kind of religion we see in most fantasy settings. Likewise, such religion is rarely pantheonic, tending more toward a kind of weird henotheism.
Now, for the benefit of those who might not be as up on henotheism as I am (it's really weird how it's come up in two completely unrelated blogs I frequent in two days), henotheism is essentially the practice of worshiping only a single God, while acknowledging the existence of others.

While I would vehemently disagree with James on his first assertion about the suitability of quasi-medieval societies for polytheistic religions, I agree wholeheartedly with his point that most fantasy RPGs (or, at the very least, D&D and its derivatives) encourage a certain henotheism by positing a world with many Gods, but requiring clerics (and, by implication, encouraging other characters) to worship a single "patron deity". AD&D was particularly rife with this idea, and it is apparently to be found in the very original Greyhawk campaign as well, with the Gods Pholtus and St. Cuthbert only being invented so clerics in the campaign would have some sort of deity upon which to hang their spiritual hat (or, perhaps in the latter case, chapeaux). The original AD&D goldenrod character sheets even had a box for "patron deity".

Historically, of course, there is a certain precedent for such a thing. Ancient Egypt toyed with the idea, and there are some indicators that the pre-Biblican Hebrews had a similar arrangement (hence the "thou shalt have no other Gods before me" in the Commandments; it is difficult to have other Gods if no other Gods exist). The ancient Romans certainly had folks who worshiped a particular God to the exclusion of all others (although, in a key distinction between themselves and the Jews (who had an official exemption from the practice) and the Christians (who, originally, did not), they found themselves capable of making pro forma offerings of incense to the deified Emperor (and, presumably, other Gods as well). We are told that, among the ancient Norse, certain individuals were known to be especially close to certain deities, but it is unclear whether that precluded them from attending a sacrifice on behalf of another. One imagines not, but their private practice was almost certainly henotheistic.

Anyway, to the gaming point here; James made a good point about the lack of historically authentic polytheism in many (if not most) fantasy RPG settings. Greyhawk is no exception to this, although it does have the seed of a solution, originally presented in the gold boxed set. Therein, on pp. 63-64 of the Guide, we have a list of deities that includes, among other things, their racial origin (common, Oeridian, Suloise, Flan, Baklunish, and unknown).

This, I think, provides the kernel for the development of a pantheonic approach to religion, vis-a-vis Greyhawk.

When we break down the Gods listed there by pantheon, assigning the "common" deities to each, we come up with a much more interesting breakdown. Some of the more immediately notable points:
  • All of the Flan Gods are common. They have been absorbed by all the other cultures in the Flanaess. Presumably, this is because they were present when the invading Suel and Oeridians came into the Flanaess.
  • Oeridians have some unique deities, as do the Suel and Baklunish. Some of them cross over, but not all.
The listings do bring up a few questions that, as far as I know, have never been answered. Some of the "common" deities are listed with a specific racial origin, and some are not. I might speculate that this means they have retained some of their "foreign allure" even though they have been otherwise assimilated into other religions. The others, presumably, each appear in identifiable form in each religion, albeit wrapped in a completely culture-appropriate bundle.

Three Gods are listed as having "unknown" origins; Tharizdun, Wastri, and Ulaa. Tharizdun and Wastri make sense; they are not part of any pantheon, and I can easily see how their worshipers would have an exclusive bond with their Gods. However, Ulaa is also listed as being "common"! If I am following the "foreign allure" concept from above in such cases, it leads me to the conclusion that she is present throughout the three cultural pantheons, but her presence is discordant. She's universally alien; obviously an import from someplace, as she doesn't fit in to the normal pattern of worship, but her cultural foreignness is truly foreign. Where Pholtus speaks with an Oeridian accent, nobody can quite place Ulaa's.

In the next day or two, I'll post the specific breakdowns by pantheon as it relates to the World of Greyhawk, along with a few thoughts on the implications of each.

Regionalizing Humanoids

Honestly, what is the difference between an orc, a hobgoblin, a goblin, a kobold, and a gnoll? It's not hit dice; they range from 1-1 to 2 HD, hardly a vast range (3+1 if you include bugbears, but the point remains). Some are lawful evil, others chaotic evil; the way I play them, that would be seen as a difference in tactics (LE being prone to fighting in close order squares, with CE attacking in swarms), but that's not necessarily a universal thing. Weapons? Pole arms, mostly.

And if there's no real difference between them, why have different species of humanoid in the first place

One way to give them that real difference would be to distinguish them by geography. I could envision a campaign where, say, there are humanoids all over the place, but where you go determines what sort of humanoids you find. This could be done in the Flanaess; the hobgoblins of the Great Kingdom, the orcs of Iuz and the Bandit Kingdoms, goblins as the scourge of the Sheldomar Valley, etc. That would give some nice flavor in terms of distinguishing one area from another, as well as providing for a means of tipping off players that something's Not Quite Right ("Those were kobolds! There shouldn't be a kobold within a thousand miles of here

Another way to regionalize your humanoids is to give them some real distinguishing characteristics or abilities that differ by geography. If you just have to have your orcs and goblins shuolder-to-shoulder across the land, you can still break things up and give the players an unexpected twist. Perhaps the orcs in the northern Vesve Forest have honed their archery skills out of necessity from combatting the nearby elves, and now have a +1 to hit with the longbow (which is carried by 75% of them in addition to their regular weapons). The hobgoblins of the Bone March, on the other hand, might have mastered the giant lizards of the region, and formed a force of cavalry mounted on the beasts. Perhaps the goblins of the Pomarj are chaotic evil rather than lawful, and their behavior and tactics will be changed as a result. The kobolds of the Hollow Highlands could get a +1 to hit with their trademark blow guns.

Humanoids don't have to be as cookie-cutter as they are in many games, or as uniform as they are presented in the Monster Manual. On the other hand, their modifications shouldn't be capricious (well, *these* gnolls are blue, and they have 8 HD each!). Assigning the characteristics by region helps with both of these goals.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Back in the Old Digs

You know, I should have known it wouldn't last when I couldn't bring myself to take down the laminated Darlene Greyhawk maps from my office wall.

I'm not giving up my plans to create a homebrew campaign, or tinkering with the rules (or even develpoing my own completely new game), but ultimately there's no way I'm going to give up my beloved WoG completely. So... I'm back in the old blog!

I've imported all the posts and comments from the Grognard's Lawn, so nothing will be lost, and no need to jump back and forth between the two. I'll be taking down TGL completely in a week or so, once everybody has a chance to get the news.