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A Dungeons & Dragons setting, originally developed by Gary Gygax by amalgamating his and his friends' campaign worlds. As a result, it's often thought of as the "default" setting, to the point where, when the core rulebooks for Dungeons & Dragons have any flavor at all, it's generally Greyhawk-related flavor.The setting is named after the great Free City of Greyhawk, a sprawling metropolis that lies at the heart of the Flanaess, a continent on the world of Oerth, as well as Castle Greyhawk, a legendary dungeon that lies outside the city. Ravaged by centuries of warfare, contested by dozens of races and organizations, the Flanaess is crawling with monsters to slay, ruins to loot, and vile magicians to foil. A very generic heroic fantasy setting, but one which suits the game's needs perfectly. In the Planescape and Spelljammer settings, the world of Greyhawk is part of a larger universe that also includes Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms.Greyhawk was originally introduced as an optional supplement, Supplement 1: GREYHAWK, by Gary Gygax and Robert J. Kuntz, in 1975. Unlike later setting material, Supplement 1: GREYHAWK focused on optional rules as opposed to towns, monsters, etc. The rules introduced for Greyhawk evolved into Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and Greyhawk remained the default setting until the release of Fourth Edition. During this time, numerous setting supplements, magazine articles, and adventure booklets were released for the setting, including Temple Of Elemental Evil and Tomb of Horrors.There have been several Greyhawk novels, but the line never reached the same level of success as D&D's Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms franchises. Perhaps the most notable was the "Gord the Rogue" series by Gary Gygax, the tales of a dashing burglar from the City of Greyhawk.More recently, Mirrorstone Books published The Knights of the Silver Dragon, which takes place in the Greyhawk city of Curston.Greyhawk has not been the default setting since the 4th edition of D&D, but the 5th edition still includes material that was once associated with Greyhawk, such as a list of Greyhawk deities for the Cleric class. The setting seems to have inspired some of the fifth edition's "look and feel", such as its treatment of the Paladin class and the Beholder and Dark Elf races.
The World of Greyhawk contains examples of the following tropes:
Artifact of Doom: There are several of these, such as the Crook of Rao (good) and the Scorpion Crown (do not touch!).
Author Avatar: Mordenkainen (who you may recognize for being the author of many spells of inconsistent quality) was originally Gary Gygax's player character. Zagyg almost certainly was also an avatar for Gygax. So was Yrag the Lord. Bigby (he of the various "hand" spells) was an NPC henchman played by Gygax.
Back from the Dead: After Rary killed him, Tenser was revived through a clone of himself he had hidden away. Of course, this being D&D, there are quite a few ways this can happen.
Boisterous Bruiser: A number of them appear, both good and evil: the god Kord encourages the attitude among his faithful, and the noted warrior Lord Robilar has remained one regardless of whichever alignment he happens to have.
Blondes Are Evil / Evil Redhead: The ancient, defunct Suel Imperium, whose humans were fair-skinned and -haired, was clearly more wicked than its enemy the Baklunish Empire. Its modern descendants, the Suloise ethnic group, has mostly managed to cast off the attitude and reputation. However, certain secretive racist groups continue to plot.
The Brute: Warduke. Originally a D&D action figure from the '80s, an issue of Dungeonretconned Warduke as the martial champion of the Horned Society (an empire of devil-worshippers). A hulking monster of a man, Warduke is presented as the ultimate physical threat in a non-epic campaign.
True Neutral: invoked In earlier Greyhawk stories and adventures, a lot of emphasis was placed on some characters' obsession with preserving the balance, especially the archmage Mordenkainen. To truly understand Mordenkainen's dedication to neutrality and balance, consider this: Mordenkainen released a sealed evil demigod from beneath Castle Greyhawk, simply because good was "too powerful". Thanks, Mordenkainen.
Crossover: Greyhawk has crossed over with numerous other D&D settings, though most of these crossovers are of dubious canon at best.
Oerth is one D&D world among many connected through the Spelljammer, Ravenloft, and Planescape campaign settings, at least until 3rd Edition when different settings were given their own cosmologies.
Vecna and his traitorous lieutenant, Kas, were briefly imprisoned in the Demiplane of Dread, home of the Ravenloft setting. Azalin Rex, one of the archvillains of Ravenloft, also originally hailed from Oerth.
One of the last 2nd edition scenarios, Die, Vecna, Die!, took the players on a tour of many settings, among them Greyhawk, Ravenloft and Planescape to stop said Vecna in his bid for godhood. The canon nature of several events there is hard to doubt considering that Vecna was at least partially successful if 3rd edition is anything to go by.
Duke Rowan Darkwood, one of the prime movers in the Planescape setting, was born on Oerth. He later used magic to travel to the world of Forgotten Realms, and from there to the City of Sigil in Planescape.
Mordenkainen, along with Elminster from Forgotten Realms and Dalamar from Dragonlance, was one of the "Wizards Three", a trio of archmages who met for friendly get-togethers in a humorous column in Dragon written by Ed Greenwood.
The grandson of Khelben "Blackstaff" Arunsun from Forgotten Realms, Khelben the Younger, took up planewalking and settled down on Oerth.
Completely canon however is the presence of various spells bearing the name of Greyhawk mages (such as Mordenkainen) in other settings. One would suspect Planewalkers were involved at some point.
Crystal Dragon Mohammed: The faith of Al'Akbar, the patron demigod of the Baklunish people, is strongly based on Islam, down to the division between Shiite and Sunni sects. His holy artifacts, the Cup and Talisman of Al'Akbar, were originally published in Strategic Review #7 as fictional Muslim relics.
The name is rather revealing - it's a shortened version of "Allah akbar", "God is great", a common Muslim saying.
Demon Lords and Archdevils: Most of the notable demon lords have had a hand in Oerth's affairs. Most notable are Graz'zt, the father of the half-demon demigod Iuz; Fraz-Urb'luu, a demon prince trapped under the ruins of Castle Greyhawk for centuries; Demogorgon, Prince of Demons, who launched a bid to conquer all of Oerth in the Savage Tide adventure series in Dungeon magazine; Lolth, Spider-Queen of the dark elves, who has ravaged both Greyhawk and the Forgotten Realms; and Zuggtmoy, the Demon Lady of Fungi, who conspired with Iuz to build the infamous Temple Of Elemental Evil.
Devil but No God: Tharizdun, an Omnicidal ManiacEldritch Abomination, is the ultimate force of evil in the cosmology, with the power to force all other evil deities and fiends to do his bidding; there is no corresponding good counterpart. A direct confrontation between Tharizdun and the forces of good would have destroyed the multiverse, so the neutral gods tricked him into sealing himself into a trap.
How dangerous is he considered? The pocket dimension he's sealed in has no exit at all, and the only possible area where it could be cracked open again is eternally guarded by an angel of the highest rank, with direct divine orders to vaporize anything and everything within vaporizing distance that tries to approach, without regard to alignment, circumstances, or intentions.
The undead Acererak, a skeletal wizard who's been dead for so long that all that's left of him is his skull. Easily the most sadistic sonuvabitch in the entire history of tabletop gaming, all thanks to his abode: the Tomb of Horrors.
Vecna: The ultimate evil sorcerer made good. Er, evil. Star of a series of popular adventures (including the awesomely named Die, Vecna, Die!), Vecna ultimately achieved actual godhood as Oerth's God of Secrets. How powerful is this guy? Two artefact tier items are his gouged-out eye and his hacked-off hand, left behind due to his near-fatal confrontation with Kas.
Abi-Dalzim, whose name means "Father of Droughts" in his native Baklunish, worshipper of Incabulos the Black Rider and inventor of another fuzzy-wuzzy spell, Horrid Wilting (which sucks the water from enemies, leaving them withered husks).
Iuz offers sanctuary, authority and screaming victims to certain maniacal sorcerers in exchange for the use of their talents: this cabal includes Kermin Mindbender, Null, the mad illusionist Jumper, the vampire Maskaleyne and the unfortunate Vayne.
Evil Versus Evil: Evil groups like the Horned Society, Iuz, the Scarlet Brotherhood, the Aerdi kingdoms and Turrosh Mak are just as apt to fight and plot against each other as they are the forces of good.
Evil Versus Oblivion: Almost all of the setting's conventional villains (orc warlords, decadent nobility, secret assassin cults and even full-on demon lords) oppose any effort to wake, free, or aid Tharizdun.
Fantastic Racism: Plenty to go around, especially since several groups haven't even shaken off ordinary, intra-species racism.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Baklunish people are similar to real-world Middle Easterners. The Olmans and the Flan are clearly based on Native Americans-the Flan on northern First Nations (Cree, Sioux, Iroquois, etc.), and the Olman on the southern nations, especially the Maya and Aztecs. It's implied that the Rhenee are Roma, having arrived on Oerth from another place called "Rhop"—possibly Europe. The Great Kingdom of Aerdy had a Holy Roman Empire vibe to it.
The Flan are a bit peculiar about this- they once had thriving, advanced kingdoms about two millenia ago or more, from which extremely powerful spellcasters like Vecna and Acererak came; by the time of the the Twin Cataclysms and the Great Migrations a little over a thousand years ago, however, they had reverted to "primitive" tribal enclaves for unknown reasons (although giving rise to at least two of the setting's greatest evil sorcerers could be related to said reasons...). Also, several of the more successful Flan groups quickly integrated in or adopted the newcomers' hierarchy, meaning that sizeable flan-blooded populations are rather common, and a few nations are dominated by this ethnic group.
The evil wizard-lord Keraptis disappeared (and is usually claimed to have been killed) about thirteen hundred years ago. His rise and fall may have been part of a general downward trend that resulted in the collapse of civilization in the region. Records from the time are, to say the least, sketchy.
Fantasy Gun Control: Guns are generally accepted not to work on Oerth, although exceptions are made in some cases for the hero-god Murlynd and his paladins.
Five Races: Humans, dwarves, elves, gnomes and halflings.
God of Evil: There are dozens of evil gods, though Tharizdun is the one who most closely embodied pure, destructive evil.
God's Hands Are Tied: It's generally accepted that the gods cannot intervene directly on Oerth without starting The Apocalypse, and can only act through their mortal servants. This typically takes the form of granting divine spells, although they can act on a larger scale if their mortal servants meet the right conditions, such as using an Artifact of Doom. Exceptions to the rule are gods who actually dwell on the Prime Material Plane such as Iuz and Wastri (who tend to be among the weakest gods (AKA demigods), though still far more powerful than most mortals). St. Cuthbert has also appeared on the material plane on a couple of occasions, although it's implied that the gods of evil may be able to do the same at some point to restore the balance.
Gods Need Prayer Badly: Averted. While the gods of Oerth can derive extra power from worship, they do not need it to survive or be gods. Boccob, who has the not very reassuring nickname "The Uncaring", is worshiped by very few people, yet is still a a greater god for example. Many deities with huge followings are less powerful than other deities with smaller ones.
Good Is Not Nice, verging into Light Is Not Good: The church of ostensibly Lawful Good god Pholtus, who commonly start prayers with the worryingly appropriate "O blinding light"; they have a strong streak of intolerance towards any other religion, even other good and lawful ones, considering non-Pholtus worshippers to be misguided, heathens or heretics, and advance a form of proto-monotheism with Pholtus as the sole god worthy of worship; taken Up to Eleven in the Theocracy of the Pale, where martial law and The Inquisition have been active for 200 years, who considers all other nations to be wretched hives for not worshipping Pholtus exclusively, and which has territorial and religious imperialistic designs on all its neighbours. Their hat is pretty much being Knight Templars. Consequently, they're considered Lawful Neutral as a whole rather than Lawful Good.
Hidden Elf Village: The elven kingdom of Celene, which refused to aid its human allies during the Greyhawk Wars. The elven race as a whole tends to subvert this, as while they will help humans and other races in need they're just more comfortable living among their own kind. Even within Celene itself, many elves disagreed with their queen's decision to not help their human neighbours, and work to help the humans anyway.
In the Theocracy of the Pale, the only legal religion is that of Pholtus — all other religions are expressly forbidden.
In many areas religions based on evil deities are officially forbidden because of the death and destruction their worshippers tend to cause.
Incredibly Lame Pun: Brian Blume had devised the character of Rary with the intention of levelling him up only to third level. Why third level? In the old D&D and AD&D game rules, the different levels had titles. a third-level magic-user was styled "medium." According to Gary Gygax, Blume just wanted to be able to call him the "Medium Rary."
Has anyone ever killed him by knocking him over a cliff? "My, that's a long way to tip a Rary."
And the Nyr Dyv, the lake of unknown depths. "Nyr Dyv" is pronounced like "near dive." Get it?
Irony: The toad-like demigod Wastri, whose priests themselves become more toadlike over time, is basically the patron of humanocentric Fantastic Racism, amusingly enough. Lampshaded in The Living Greyhawk Gazetteer:
The fact that he dislikes nonhuman races, yet is only barely human himself, is an irony lost on the godling.
Ladyland: The city of Hardby was founded by a Suel witch as a monument to the superiority of womankind after men caused a great magical war, and is traditionally ruled by an all-female council of gynocrats led by a despotrix. However, in recent years, male-dominated guilds and trade unions have been chipping away at their power.
Left-Justified Fantasy Map: Inverted—to the west lies the trackless Sea of Dust, all that remains of the Suel Imperium after the Rain of Colorless Fire burnt it to ashes. The ocean lies to the east and south.
The Man Behind the Man: Iggwilv to Iuz, and to a lesser extent, Graz'zt to Iggwilv. Although given the peculiarities of their relationship (both are basically tsundere for each other, and both have Out-Gambitted the other quite a few times), it's hard to say who's the boss at any given time.
Mechanical Horse: Lord Robilar has one that Rary the Archmage built for him. Actually, Rary is rather fond of building magical automatons generally, including a full-sized dragon.
Mirror Universe: Oerth has several parallel worlds, including Aerth, Yarth, and Earth (and possibly Mystara and Nerath). The most notable, though, is Uerth, where everyone's alignment is switched (most notably Bilarro, the evil double of Robilar).
A Nazi by Any Other Name: The Scarlet Brotherhood, a group of blond, fair-skinned human supremicists who practice selective breeding amongst themselves, and are devoted to exterminating certain groups of humanoids (like elves and dwarves) and making slaves of others (like goblins and orcs).
But on a related note, this setting was the Trope Codifier for D&D's dark elves. Though much rarer than in the Forgotten Realms, they even display the same tendency towards being redeemable, as proven by characters like Leda and several of the rebellious dark elves in the city of Erelhei-Cinlu. The Unearthed Arcana sourcebook even references the idea of drow being rebels due to their alignment. And all of this actually precedes the introduction of Drizzt Do'Urden.
Our Gnomes Are Weirder: Well, not really in this case; they're completely conventional D&D gnomes with the regular subraces like svirfneblin familiar to most players.
Our Orcs Are Different: Out of all the D&D settings, the orcs of Greyhawk are probably the worst, if only because they have no notable heroes to show off their Proud Warrior Race Guy side (well, there's Turrosh Mak, but he's clearly too much on the "total asshole" side of things to be seen as admirable). They're very much of the "Tolkienian Orc" model, especially in early editions when they looked like pigs.
There is a notable exception to this rule, though; the sultanate of Zeif has a sizeable population (10%, or about 140-150,000) of integrated orcs, descendants of mercenaries hired by the ancient Baklunish empire who mostly assimilated into the culture of the survivors over the last thousand years.
Phantom Thief: Gord the Rogue. He steals mainly for the challenge (and because he loves treasure).
Physical God: All of the gods are capable of taking material form, but the ones who most often walk the Oerth are Iuz, who rules an Evil Empire as its god-king, and Saint Cuthbert, who often dispatches avatars to fight Iuz.
Ragtag Band of Misfits: Fairly common to any Dungeons & Dragons setting, but Greyhawk can have some particularly odd ones. Mordenkainen used to belong to one that turned out to include the Big Bad Iggwilv when she was starting out, for example.
Paul Kidd created one of the oddest adventuring bands this side of Planescape for his Greyhawk stories. How often do you see an adventuring band comprised of a human Ranger with an attitude befitting a Paladin, a still-sentient redeemed and very friendlyHellhound's skin, a fairy sorceress (with a crush on the Ranger), a naive young adventurer-wannabe, a shy and humble sphinx, and a Motor Mouthed merchant (who eventually ends up as a badger), to say nothing of the prissy sentient sword?
Religion of Evil: Kinda comes with the territory when you have a bunch of evil gods active. Fortunately, there's just as many good gods (and just as many neutral gods) with their own churches.
Retcon: After Gygax and Kuntz both left TSR, in the Greyhawk Wars storyline, Kuntz's character Lord Robilar betrayed his friends, killing some of them; Kuntz was none too happy. Twenty years later, Wizards of the Coast published Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk, in which it's retconned that Robilar had been replaced by an evil double from a Mirror Universe.
Science Fantasy: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. It concerns a crashed spaceship filled with aliens and robots—in the fantasy world of Greyhawk. The players can even hijack a suit of Powered Armor and take it with them after the adventure ends (though thankfully it has limited fuel). Needless to say, many fans consider it Fanon Discontinuity.
However, there have been a number of Shout Outs to it over the years. 4th edition even included stats for the Vegepygmy (an enemy introduced here) and a number of the classical sci-fi weapons.
Iuz (and eight other demigods, including two other evil ones) were trapped beneath Castle Greyhawk by Zagig Yragerne, who siphoned off their power to become a god himself.
Fraz-Urb'luu was also trapped in Castle Greyhawk by Zagig, presumably as a practice run for his gambit at godhood.
At the beginning of time, the unspeakably powerful and insane Tharizdun was trapped in a remote demiplane by the rest of the gods.
Star Power: Celestian is the deity of space and the stars. He has a number of space/star related powers, including Aurora Borealis, Comet, Meteors, Space Chill and Starshine.
Take That: The bizarre Egg of Coot, a ruler in the Blackmoor area, was a jab at a certain Gregg Scott, who ran a wargames miniatures company and with whom Dave Arneson had previously clashed. (It's often mistaken for a jab at E. Gary Gygax.)
Technical Pacifist: The clerics of Zodal, god of mercy, are allowed to fight but typically deal nonlethal damage.
Theme Naming: Ernest Gary Gygax named a huge number of people and locations after himself, including Yrag, Tenser, Urnst, and of course, Zagyg/Zagig Yragerne.
A lot of other people were named after Gygax's players and children, or drawn from other mundane sources:
Drawmij, of Drawmij's instant summons fame, is Jim Ward's character. Spell Jim Ward backwards... There's also a Drawmidj Ocean.
Melf (of Melf's acid arrow), a male elf character, was named from what appeared at the top of the character sheet: M Elf.
The Undead: Notables include the liches Acererak and Vecna, described above. Also the first death knight, Saint Kargoth; the vampire Kas; and the piteous, zombielike King Ivid the Undying.
Ivid's state was a bit of Laser-Guided Karma, though; in his insanity, he arranged to get evil clerics to create a new type of powerful, free-willed undead, the Animus. He then proceeded to give the "gift" of death and reanimation as an animus to scores of lords, generals and priests without bothering to find out if they wanted it. Needless to say, a lot of his supporting hierarchy was either pissed or terrified they would be next; his own animus transformation following his assassination shattered what little lucidity he had left, leaving a paranoid, gibbering and unpredictable wreck, whose only notable accomplishment was completing the ruin of the Great Kingdom, his own realm.
Vain Sorceress: Iggwilv, the Witch of Perrenland, the mother of Iuz and on-again-off-again consort of the demon Graz'zt. She appears as a stunningly beautiful young woman and sadistically kills anyone who sees her true form—a hideous crone.
The successor-states born from its final collapse are at each other's throats, but those successor-states who'd seceded in the previous centuries (the Great Kingdom's been losing chunks for a long time) get along pretty well for the most part.
Mordenkainen wants to keep balance, even if it means unsealing evil demigods and razing entire kingdoms.
What Might Have Been: Gygax had planned to write a series of expansions covering the rest of the continent Oerik (of which the Flanaess is only the northeastern portion), but his recurring absences from Lake Geneva to work on the animated series and potential movie deals in Hollywood forestalled that (and ultimately helped lead to his ouster from TSR at the end of 1985). An official map of the entire continent was eventually released in Dragon Annual #1 in 1996, and later publications such as the Chainmail relaunch in 2001 and the Canonfire! fan site added more details.
Eastfair, capital of Great Kingdom successor-state North Kingdom is noted as being a reflection of the debauchery of its monarch, Overking Grenell.
The City of Greyhawk itself qualifies: although it has many good inhabitants, the city is essentially run by a council of merchant guildmasters and leaders of organized crime. The rich - and/or the magically talented - live in luxury among gardens, fine restaurants and concert halls, while at the other end of town overpopulated slums are so rife with crime and disease that being a member of the Beggar's Guild is a step up.