Alternate Oerths - Mythic Greyhawk: The North

My thoughts have returned to Mythic Greyhawk and fleshing it out a bit more. 
I like the north, geographically speaking, in Greyhawk. It strikes me as a region with its own distinct life and character. A good mixture of barbarian 'nations', some not-lawful kingdoms (Bandit kingdoms), large swathes of unforgiving wilderness, definite chaos lands of variable flavors (Iuz, Horned Society, Stonefist) and some lawful lands on its borders (Shield Lands, Tenh, Ratik, Blackmoor). In other words, a savage borderland with plenty of potential for adventure in lands where Law exists mostly on the edges.

The vibe I am getting from its barbarian cultures strike me as a bit dull though. I'm pretty sure what the reader is meant to take from the folio is that wolf & tiger nomads are turko-central-asian horse nomads, ice/frost/snow are vikings and and rovers are northern native americans. Wolf and tiger nomads strike me as especially dull, since that trope is already covered in the baklunish lands.

Fortunately, the Folio gives us mandate to make greyhawk our own, so here is my take on how to make the barbarians of the north a bit more S&S-like for adventure potential and flavour:

  • Rovers of the Barrens - Cimmerian. Conan comes from here. Hunter/Gatherers. 
  • Frost, Snow & Ice Barbarians - obvious obviosity. I think I'd just use the Northern Reaches Gazetteer for the Known World if I needed more detail, since that also describes a threefold viking land.
  • Wolf Nomads - Germanic plain barbarians from the time of the Romans. On horse. Human sacrifices and other pagan shit. Large drinking horns, tribal valor, blood oaths and warrior societies, both in pelts and barechested.
Wolf Nomads - Do not fuck with them.
  • Tiger Nomads - I am thinking Cossacks of the east Slavic plains and steppes here. Steeped in slavic sorcery and myth. Baba Yaga, wagon towns and fierce Rus warriors. 
  • Amazons - not mentioned in folio, but I am inserting them for campy s&s vibes.
    Origin - a Suel migratory tribe was captured by raiders in the wake of the rain of of colourless fire. They killed all the men and children of the tribe and took the women for chattel. The captured suel women conspired and killed all the men during the night not long after. They formed a warrior tribe and swore that men would only ever be allowed as chattel and breed studs. They appealed to the goddess wee-jas (whom they worship not as a goddess of anything per se, but simply as their all-encompassing patron goddess) who sealed their vow by making it so all amazonians would only ever conceive female children.
    Culturally, they are a curious mix of a wholly female Sparta, having retained some of their ancient suel knowledges (primarily armor and weapon smithing) thanks to the beneficence of Wee-jas, and a more barbarian viking-like culture.
    Their homeland used to be the land between the Howling Hills and Wyestil Lake, from whence their longships would raid the Nyr Dyv and beyond. That was until Iuz. Since then, the amazonians have been a displaced people. Tribes of them roam north in the Burneal Forest, Blackmoor and the bandit kingdoms. The largest group have made a home north of the Forlorn Forest on the west side of the White Fanged Bay, where they war with Stonefists and the rovers of the barrens. Smaller bands of them may be found all across the Flanaess as mercenary troupes or nomadic raiding bands. 

The rest of the north also deserve some notes.

The Borderlands:
  • Highfolk = Rivendell. 'nuff said.
  • Shield Lands - Teutonic Knights meets the Crusades. Not really part of the north per se, but this is the point from which the realms of Law try to expand its sphere into the north and push back the forces of Chaos. 
    The Horned Society is an obvious justified 'good vs evil' enemy, whilst the bandit kingdoms are the target of more conventional political expansion tactics, as the teutonic knights employed in the Baltics. They get their funding and support from Veluna and Furyondy.
    Good for military campaigns of all kinds. Would also make a good place to carve out a domain of one's own in the Horned Lands or bandit kingdoms and get a landed title (maybe even some support) to go with it from the Shield Lands.
  • Tenh - Been covered. A barbarian realm that evolved into civilisation, but retains its roots. Its neighbours make it a good place for adventure, with incursions from the rovers and (especially) stonefist an issue, the bandit kingdoms to the west and the Pale to the East (whom I envision are militantly impositioning themselves in religious affairs. Usurpation via religion, basically). And plenty of wilderness to explore as well.
  • Blackmoor - Ignoring the real-world history of how Blackmoor ended up in Greyhawk, this is a bit of an oddball. Formerly the most remote of aerdi outposts, it is a civilised community of law that has somehow ended up isolated and cut off from the rest of the lawful flannaess by barbarians, wastelands, evil chaos realms and the fact that the civilisation that originated blackmoor no longer has the reach, power nor desire to maintain contact with its former province.
    Its only real contact with other realms is downriver through the Burneal Forest and wolf/tiger nomad territory to Lake Quag in Perrenland (and from there, further downriver through veluna to the Nyr Dyv). Not exactly a safe journey, given that the folio describes the savages of the Burneal as what seems to be basically R.E. Howards' Pictland.
    Blackmoor reminds me a bit of Nentir Vale from 4e, but perhaps more isolated. Dantredun evokes Damkina (of Wilderlands of High Fantasy) to me, and makes me want to set up a White Throne there for the Lord of the North (little actual power, but the name still attracts trade and respect in the north). An excellent point of light for a northern borderland campaign where the emphasis is more on very little happening in terms of the wider world, but room for the PCs to shape this local isolated sphere.
    Culture? Anglo-saxon (like Ratik below) with a good splash of Mad Max, owing to its isolation and proximity to chaos. 
  • Ratik - I never really took much notice of Ratik before, but now that I did I wonder why I overlooked it for so long. This looks a great place to run a campaign from.
    The northernmost point of civilisation in Aerdy, in disturbing vicinity and reach of the longships of the Frost/Snow/Ice barbarians. And still separated from the rest of Aerdy by the savage Bone March. Danger on all sides basically, a realm that survives explicitly thanks to its dedication to virtues like honour, bravery, honesty and compassion.
    Quite unlike its southern fat cat cousins, whose self-absorbed indifference to the trials of the north may itself cause problems. The Theocracy of the Pale across the Rakers probably have more interest in Ratik than anyone in Aerdy (I imagine some of its inquisitors take liberties they shouldn't inside Ratik). An excellent place to run a borderlands campaign.
    With the demi-human enclaves supporting Ratik and the on-off enmity with the north barbarians (depending on how big a threat humanoids are to force temporary alliances against them) and its isolated nature, there's an almost romantic fantasy feel to this. Reminds me a bit of Thunder Rift and might be used for similar purposes.
    I see the culture as being a developed anglo-saxon one.
The Antagonist lands:
  • Iuz - Less Sauron's Mordor and more Vlad the Impaler's Transylvania. But with real monsters, humanoids and dark magic. As mentioned previously, I don't envision Iuz as the obvious Sauron figure (at least not yet, if ever). He's powerful and evil no doubt, but also a mysterious and largely unfathomable entity.
    His aims are unclear and his main rival at this point is the Horned Society. You tell them apart like this - Iuz's land is a Chaotic morass of festering evil with opaque purpose and direction to it, other than that Iuz is master of all. Lots of random evil shit going on for no real reason. Whilst the horned lands are more organised, industrious and seem to have simple conventional aims of power - solidify hold on current lands and expand into neighbouring lands as far as possible.
  • Horned Society - This is a bit hard to grog other than "humanoids with evil human masters". Are they basically the bandit kingdoms with humanoids and deviltry as the religion? Unlikely, given the emphasis on the hierarch being high-level priests and magic-users. No, this is more distinctly Cabal-of-Evil-Land, in the style of Saruman's orcs. Industrious, focused.
    They see the chaotic evils in Iuz' lands as potential conquest, and hold back only out of healthy respect for the power of Iuz. Like most others, the Hierarchs see the Horned Lands as the superior force between the two and the greater player in any potential theatres of war.
    The clerics among the hierarchs really fucking hate Iuz and want to destroy him, since they are compacted to devil princes and Iuz is demonic (theologists and philosophers interpret devils' brand of 'lawful evil' as just another spin on Chaos, but the distinction is seemingly meaningful to devils and demons).
  • Stonefist - evil s&s Frank frazetta style barbarians. Mad Max fantasy. No one likes them and they are fine with that. Come for the fighting pits. stay for the loot.
  • This guy definitely fits in with the hold of Stonefist

  • Theocracy of the Pale - As mentioned, this is basically the Children of the Light from Jordan's Wheel of Time, where we are most likely to have witch and wizard hunts and inquisitions.
    I see the Pale more as an influence in other lands than a land of adventure itself, where they go to stick their religious noses in other people's business; with mace and chainmail.
    Not that they are evil, but they are menacing and quick to ruthless enforcement of their own orthodoxy. The kind of righteous assholes PCs love to hate. OTOH, as extremely lawful they are also likely allies against chaos forces. And some of them may even be just, fair and wise in their interpretation of the Law.


  1. I'll second the appeal of Ratik. My last campaign was set there, as will (I think) my next. I've always been partial to the Wild Coast and the Domain of Greyhawk, but I decided to go with Ratik several years back and I'm glad I did. Great mix surrounding it, as you said, and I love "borderlands" campaigns.

  2. What a great article!
    It's always refreshing to see people making Greyhawk their own! Especially that you reference the original books regarding making GH suit our own games!
    The only point I would disagree with is -
    "Wolf and tiger nomads strike me as especially dull, since that trope is already covered in the baklunish lands."
    For my personal game, I make them more similar to the Mongolian Horde. … they have a similar history with the "Golden Horde", they're founded by a mythical celestial "Wolf", and the split-off Tiger Nomads are more like when Ghengis Khan's descendants invaded China, and founded the first dynasties there. Tigers are common in China, after all. Also, I like how the titles for rulers line up more with Mongolian stuff.
    Although, I make the lands of the Baklunish West more Persian than anything.

    So, though the predominant races of both cultures are Baklunish in origin, I make them distinct from each other, kind of like you do.

  3. Great article. Don't forget the Great Kingdom, ruled by an evil devil worshipping King who doesnt care if his armies are living or undead.

  4. If Iuz is a bit like Vlad the Impaled, does he play a role like keeping the marauding Wolf and Tiger nomads at bay?

    1. I am loving that angle! At least as a pretense still upheld from earlier times.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Fantasy Map Review IV: Forgotten Realms

Fantasy Map Review II: Greyhawk

Fantasy Map Review III: Dragonlance

Review: Five Torches Deep

Comparison: Five Torches Deep vs Into the Unknown