Friday, 28 August 2020

History of the South-East, Part 9: Maneuvering


“The blade itself incites to deeds of violence.”
Homer, The Odyssey

The blade itself incites to deeds of violence
Life goes on in the Great Kingdom despite its Turmoil. Houses rise; houses fall. Those most likely to succeed, do, whether fate or they themselves take a hand.
The common people go about their everyday lives; they live and die, make a living, and fret about those same things people do, wherever they might be: the welfare of their house and home, their children, their aged parents. And their state within the state, without concerning themselves with the ado that forever spirals about the crown and the Celestial Houses. They know that those doings go on regardless. It was the way of the gentry. And it usually happens somewhere over there; unless one had the misfortune to have it happen in their backyard.


557 CY  His Most Lordly Nobility, Lord Protector of Rel Astra, Drax of House Garasteth becomes ruler of the city of Rel Astra.
Rel Astra is currently ruled by Lord (actually Prince) Drax of House Garasteth, who has held sway over the city since 557 CY. [LGG - 92]

The city and constabular fief of Rel Astra extends from the precincts of the city northwards to the Lone Heath south of the Mikar, including the town of Ountsy, whose mayor is subject to Rel Astra. This trading and mercantile port city is held in hereditary fief by a rival noble house of the Aerdi who are secretly conspiring against the royal house of Naelex, although they are careful to allow no proof of this to fall into their enemies' hands. They desperately seek close ties with Medegia and the Sea Barons to balance the weight of the Overking' s kinsmen in North and South Province. It is reported that the Overking views these machinations with ill-concealed delight, for they are seen as check and balance, as the monarch fears his own at least as much as he distrusts others. In any case, the lord of Rel Astra at the same time desires to check the growth of the Censor's lands and holdings, and secret plots with the freefolk of Grandwood Forest and the Herzog of the South Province are rumored. [Folio - 14]

558 CY  The Kingdom of Shar was of two minds regarding Ivid V’s ascension to the throne. It behooved them to have a stable Kingdom to the north, but they lost their influence in his court and that did not please them at all. It would be best if his tenure was short, they decided, and took measures to ensure just that.
In the madness and infighting following Ivid I’s death, the Scarlet Sign infiltrated the Aerdi court to keep a close watch on things, but with the crowning of Ivid V in [6072 SD] the Great Kingdom settled for a time. The new Overking banished all foreign advisors from the courts of his nation, and the Brotherhood lost its foothold in Suundi.
In 6074 SD, the Scarlet Brotherhood set out to stir trouble for the Great Kingdom. In the Raker Mountain range, members whispered into the ears of humanoid leaders, encouraging them to raid the Bone March. The raids began the spring of the next year, and by the year after that the raids became a full invasion. [SB - 5]

559 CY  Did the orcs and gnolls listen to their whispers? They did, for those whispers promised great things. Land, power and pillage. Riches beyond their imaginings. Did they trust those who whispered? No. Not in the least. But they did not let that away them.
They are not prepared, the whispers said. They look to the barbarians to the north and have not guarded against you, they said. But the orcs were cautious. For they knew not what these red-robed whisperers hoped to gain. And because they had heard the whispers of Men before, and knew that Men had always used orcish blood to blunt the swords of their enemies. The gnolls were less cautious, for the whispers promised them blood, and they do so love the smell of it.

560 CY  Finding resistance limited, the orcs and gnolls made further forays into Bone March, striking widely and deeply so as to keep the Marquis’ forces rushing to and fro across the breadth of his lands to defend against them, never once conceiving that the orcs were acting far more strategic than they ever had before. They were a savage species, after all.
In 560 CY, the northern Great Kingdom province of Bone March was invaded by humanoids from the Rakers.  [TAB - 19]

Hordes of humanoids (Euroz, Kell, Eiger and others) begin making forays into the Bone March, and these raids turned into a full scale invasion the next year. [Folio - 9]

In 560, nonhuman tribes from the Rakers and Blemu Hills struck into Bone March, subjugating the land in 563 and slaying its leaders. [LGG - 90]

561 CY    The forces of Marquis Clement tired. And still the orcs came. And when the orcs found no resistance, the whisperers said, “The time is ripe. He has not the strength to defeat you!” The orcs still did not trust the whisperers from Shar, but they saw the truth in their words. And so, the tribes flowed from their mountains into the Bone March and laid waste to all that stood against them.
...and laid waste to all that stood against them.
They spilled out into the Theocracy of the Pale, and into neighbouring Nyrond. They flowed out into Ratik. That was what the agents of Shar instructed them to do. But their greatest host spilled out onto the Bone March, for the agents of the Brotherhood knew that turmoil within the Great Kingdom was so great that it could not muster effective opposition. And because they had parleyed with Herzog Grace Grennell of The North Province, and he had promised to delay his defense. But also because they had parlayed with others, far darker in purpose than Grennell.
Thus, the orcs and the gnolls made great gains into the March in so little time. But not so in the Theocracy of the Pale, Nyrond, or Ratik, for resistance there was stiff, swift and sure.

563 CY  The Bone March fell to the humanoids and all humans in that area were either enslaved or killed, Lord Clement among them, as he was held up within the walls of Spinecastle, waiting for succor from Ratik and the North Province, when it fell after a prolonged siege, virtually overnight. Survivors say that the orcs and gnolls had nothing to do with its fall, that it fell from within, that dark forces rose up from its very foundations, causing those within to throw open the gates in their haste to flee, and only then did the humanoids gain entry. It was the castles’ curse, they said, gesturing to ward off the Evil they claimed to witness that day.
[Bone March] fell three years later and has been in a barbaric state since. [PGtG - 10]

The hordes did not hold the castle for long; for they too were struck by such horrors that drove them from its halls. While within, they were driven mad; and those that survived said that blood flowed from its walls, that rooms rippled and disappeared, and that they were induced to strike one another down. Retreating from Spinecastle’s horrors, they never again entered it.
Knight Protector
The Knight Protectors of the Bone March were overwhelmed by the hordes, and those who could fled to Ratik, bolstering the defenses of Ratikhill.
[This] land fell to the horde of invaders [Euroz, Kell, Eiger and others], its lord slain, and its army slain or enslaved. Humans in the area were likewise enslaved or killed, and the whole territory is now ruled by one or more of the humanoid chiefs. Exact information is not available. The humanoids gained access to the area by moving through the mountains, and they use them now to raid the Pale, Ratik, and even Nyrond—although any movement through the Flinty Hills. Is at great peril due to the gnomes still holding out there. There is continual border warfare along the Teesar Torrent and in the Blemu Hills of Aerdy' s North Province, although some say that the Overking would gladly make peace with the humanoids to the north and enlist them in his own armies. [Folio - 9]

Most Knight Protectors of the Great Kingdom live now in Ratik, refugees from Bone March, where Clement was a powerful member of the order until the province's fall in 563 CY. Those Knight Protectors stationed in Almor are now in Rel Deven. Some purportedly hide in the Grandwood and Adri Forests, and a few joined the Iron League and are in Sunndi. The order's old heraldry, showing the great crowned sun of Aerdy guarded by a white axe and red arrow, is no longer used. [LGG - 158]

Blood Frenzy
The orcs and the gnolls continued to flow out of the Rakers, betraying and attacking the North Province in their blood frenzy, even as Spinecastle held out against them.
Grenell expected as much and was prepared. He met them within the March, and drawing them into defensive redoubts, he slowed their advance, and then halted it altogether; and having done so, he parleyed with them and allied with them against Nyrond and Almor, for he believed that such a force could not be defeated until it had blunted itself against hard resolve, and he much rather it do so against that of other lands and not his. Then he would turn on the humanoids, and take their spoils as his own.
In 560, nonhuman tribes from the Rakers and Blemu Hills struck into Bone March, subjugating the land in 563 and slaying its leaders. Herzog Grenell of North Province reached out to these usurpers, seeing an opportunity. Ratik and its baron, Lexnol III, had been forewarned and deflected most of the invaders, but could not prevent the disaster that befell the march. Lexnol, a skilled leader and tactician, realized that he was now isolated and no succor would be forthcoming from the south or the court of Overking Ivid V. He approached the lords of Djekul, who had grown less wary of the proud Aerdi in the intervening years and were even grudgingly respectful. With the Fruztii, Lexnol forged an affiliation called the Northern Alliance. Ratik subsequently became fully independent of the Great Kingdom and had the might to both hammer the orcs and gnolls of Bone March and dissuade an invasion from North Province. [LGG - 91]

During the rule of the House of Naelax, large standing armies have been maintained. This was primarily due to the desire on the part of North and South Provinces, and Medegia, to have security for their independence.
Of course, it was natural for the overking to respond in kind, and the one area where the overking undoubtedly had supremacy was naval (the Sea Barons being under Ivid's control, unenthusiastically). Most of these armies had, in fact, relatively little to do most of the time outside of North Province, where the need to secure the Bone March and to maintain patrols and mount skirmish raids after its fall to humanoids in CY 563 kept troops busy. [Ivid - 19]

What did the Scarlet Brotherhood think about their success? They were elated. They were infuriated. The orcs slaughtered their agents along with all the other humans, for the orcs understood that those red-robed whisperers were not their friends. They understood that they were pawns in a greater game that was not their own. And they recognized the scent of slavery when they smelled it.
The Bone March fell to the humanoids in 6078 SD, and all humans in that territory were slain or enslaved. The plot misfired. The Bone March’s new rulers severed all ties with their human co-conspirators, and few Brotherhood agents escaped with their lives. [SB - 5]

Bone March is now steeped in discord, ruled by a coalition of invading nonhuman tribes, particularly orcs, gnolls, and ogres. Humanity, which once thrived here, is generally enslaved and subject to the capricious whims of petty bandit chiefs and nonhuman warlords who raid Ratik and even North Kingdom at will, going as far as Nyrond and the Flinty Hills to pillage. Nomadic bandit gangs, survivors and descendants of the once proud human culture, prey on one and all. [LGG - 35]

The Death Knight Lord Monduiz Dephaar made good use of the chaos that ensued, craving a kingdom for himself out of the lands surrounding his stronghold somewhere in the Blemu Hills in the wake of the collapse of the Bone March, and even now commands legions of humanoids and bandits, who call him Dreadlord of the Hills. [Dragon #291]
Both Prince Grenell of the North Kingdom and the humanoids of Spinecastle give the Dreadlord wide berth.

571 CY  Was Nyond safe? Was Nyrond secure? Nyrond never assumed as much. There were those less high-minded or enlightened as they might have wished within their fold.
                The Celadon Forest lies within Nyrond and the Duchy of Urnst, but is unclaimed by either. Duke Karll enjoys great friendship with the generally peaceful elves and woodsmen of the western woodlands, and southwest Urnst is well served by rangers from the Celadon, mostly humans and halfelves trained at Stalwart Pines, the only known "organized" ranger school in the Flanaess. However, the situation in Nyrond now borders on civil war. The former baron of Woodwych conducted extensive logging operations here, igniting an anti-Nyrond rebellion. The new king has provided hope to the woods folk, but the new baroness appears every bit as ruthless as her predecessor.
Mighty oaks and elms grow here, tended by treants, sylvan elves, and similar beings. These folk prevent the cutting of any live tree from the forest; the humans and elves who trade with the outside world are generally herbalists. Keoghtom's ointment is said to derive from reagents gathered here. A great fire of mysterious origin damaged the western half in 571 CY. [LGG - 139]
Who started that fire? Did Baron Bastrayne of Woodwych? I wouldn’t put it past him.
Why?
The rebellious Baron Bastrayne of Woodwych had found the Celadon a fair source of bounty, and the local Nyrondese people look at the trees burgeoning in spring, young tender rabbits ready for the pot hopping in the woods, and they decide to take what they can get. [WGR4 The Marklands - 62]
Because he did what he wished. Without the knowledge and consent of the king.
Did his people support him? I think they did.
The western lands comprise the Celadon Forest, the lands around the city of Woodwych, and the Gnatmarsh together with the southern lands around Beetu. These lands were farthest away from the wars, which increases the anger of ordinary people at paying high taxes and tithes since they haven't directly experienced the threat of war. [WGR4 - 69]

But I doubt that the elves let him do as he wished. These were their woods, and not his; an opinion he disagreed with. He might have wished to rid himself of them, once and for all.

[…] the flashpoint of the Celadon Forest, where woodsmen and elves fend off the insurrections of the brutal and corrupt Baron Bastrayne of Woodwych. [Dragon #191 - 66]
               
                Taxes. It always comes down to taxes, doesn’t it? Baron Bastrayne of Woodwych rebelled because of them. And oddly, so did religion within the Duchy of Urnst.
                The dynasty of House Lorinar began in 497, and has provided Urnst with a number of capable rulers. The primary exception to this was Justinian, Karll's older brother, who ruled briefly in 570-571 CY. A devotee of the philosophical school of "Skepticism," realized in the writings of Urnst-born scholars Daesnar Braden and Elbain Hothchilde, Justinian questioned the divinity of the gods, increasing temple taxes some three hundred percent upon gaining office. The duchy had never been a particularly religious place, but the subsequent razing of Leukish's defiant temple of Zilchus triggered the Temple Coalition Revolt, during which great riots embroiled the capital. In 571, most churches withdrew from Urnst, declaring the duke and his noble advisers, the Honorable Chamber, heretics. When Justinian found himself sorely wounded in battle with Bright Desert dervishes later that year, no cleric in the land would heal him. His youngest brother, Karll, a ranger at Stalwart Pines, reluctantly gained the throne in 572 CY. [LGG - 125]

572 CY  Who rules the eastern seas? The elves? They had never laid claim to its vast expanse, despite their having sailed its waters for millennia. The Flan? They were the first men to lay eyes on the Solnor, but they were content to do little more than cast nets into its banks. The Suloise? They, like the Flan before them, colonized coast and island alike, and for a time, it was they who ruled its waves. But it wasn’t until the Aerdy laid eyes on it did anyone truly laid claim to it. Ivid commanded the Sea Barons to secure his coasts, and tame those who raided it. Did they ever truly tame the Barbarians of the north? No. But they did put an end to the piracy of the south, for a time.
The Lordship of the Isles
The Duxchaners are still smarting from the battle, wherein the Sea Barons sank four of their warships and made prizes of three loaded cogs before they could gain safety in Pontylver. [Folio - 12]

More than a century and a half of conflict has ensued between the [Sea Barons and the Lordship of the Isles], and while the names and faces have often changed, the contests are still hotly fought. The Sea Barons won the most recent encounter, the massive Battle of Medegia, fought in the Aerdi Sea in 572 CY. [LGG - 100]

The last century and a half have seen many battles between the two naval powers, culminating in one of the largest in 572 CY. The Duxchaners and their Suel duke had grown increasingly powerful during the intervening years and finally, when an internal squabble among the Oeridian lords on Diren failed to produce a successor in 564 CY, Latmac Ranold of Duxchan became the new prince. He took an increasingly provocative stance among the lords of the Iron League, favoring open conflict against the Great Kingdom to negotiation and subterfuge. Ranold built up the navy of the Lordship and began harassing the shipping lanes of the Great Kingdom as his forebears had done centuries ago. However, this led to the Battle of Medegia in 572 CY, in which the Duxchaners suffered their greatest defeat by the Sea Barons. This action failed to get the approval and support of the Iron League, and the debacle deflated Prince Ranold greatly. As the lord grew older, he appeared to lose his once-tight grip on the islands. [LGG - 71,72]

573 CY  Emissaries of Scarlet Brotherhood appear in the courts of the Iron League.           
The first official act of the organization was the dispatching of emissaries to the courts of the Iron League. Traveling robed and hooded in red, these strangers claimed to be ambassadors from the Land of Purity. Most were excellent scholars and sages who observed in the courts of the Iron League and generously offered their talents to those who needed them. [Wars - 6]

In 573 CY, a secretive monastic group called the Scarlet Brotherhood was discovered living on the Tilvanot Peninsula, south of Sunndi. Despite dark rumors of this group's aims (control of the Flanaess by Suloise-descended peoples) and forces (monsters, assassins, thieves, and martial artists), the Brotherhood was ignored for a decade. [PGtG - 10]

In 6088 SD […] red-robed members of the Scarlet Brotherhood appeared in the cities of the Iron League, describing themselves as sages from the Land of Purity and offering their services. These advisors were accepted by the member-countries’ rulers, albiet with some hesitation, and soon the Scarlet Brotherhood moved into sensitive and vital offices in a handful of other nations, as well. Simultaneously, Brotherhood assassins eliminated intractable foes of the Brotherhood. In most cases care was taken to dissociate the acts from the instigators, but the removals often accelerated the advisors’ advancement. [SB - 5]

575 CY  Blood is thinker than water. Or so the old saying goes. Far be it of Ivid to refute such a claim. He raised his family high, where and when able, and thus supported House Naelax-Selor’s claim to the throne of the South Province.
            Herzog Chelor, third of that name to rule the once-greatest fief of Aerdy, scion of the House of Naelax-Selor, spent two years securing his base of power. [Dragon #57 - 15]
               
             For nearly 30 years, three rulers of the same name —Herzog Chelor—kept Ahlissa stable. They did this through repression and fear of the magical power and fiendish aid which both they, and their relative the overking, could bring to bear on any rebelling against them.
Since South Province lacked any truly powerful nobles, with large landholdings and powerful armies, the Chelors stayed in control. [Ivid - 128]

Lost Zar
Ivid wasn’t the only one to believe blood thicker than water. He wasn’t the only one securing territory, either.
The arrival of pure Suel from the Scarlet Brotherhood in 6090 SD was a surprise to the people of Zar, who had largely forgotten their heritage and lived in a state of barbarism. The Brotherhood won over the Zarii with gentle words, promises of power and gifts, so the people of Zar taught the Brotherhood what was necessary to survive in the jungles of Hepmonoland. In less than a year, Zar became a primitive daughter state to the kingdom of Shar, sending resources and warriors north to the main Brotherhood lands. The city of Zar is being revovated and restored from ruin.
The Zarii are content with their lot; in exchange for goods and warriors, they receive exotic (to them) cloth, weapons and food. They ferry gents of the Brotherhood along the newly built roads to Lerga, travel to strange lands, fight and pillage; most don’t realize that they are second-class people to the Brotherhood—barely above Hobgoblins. [SB - 55]

576-582 CY         The alliance between Ratik and the Frost Barbarians was mutually beneficial. Not only had they begun to secure the Fruztii’s northern pass, they had begun to make gains against the Bone March to the south, too. But at a cost. They were small nations, their resources were limited, and were the orcs not soundly defeated, and soon, they knew all might be lost.
The humanoids so soundly defeated in the campaign of 575 were again raiding over the border, and the gnomes of the Lofthills (west of Loftwood) were being continually besieged. Losses from the campaigns in Bone March and with the Frost Barbarians could be replaced by mercenaries and volunteers from foreign lands only. [Dragon #57 - 14]

The Frost Barbarians had not turned their backs on their cousins, the Schnai and Cruski, for they had common cause. They each hated the Hold of Stonefist, as did their distant cousins, the Zeai, the whaling Sea Barbarians who dwelt upon the far Brink Isles and Tusking Strand, east of the Black Ice. And the Snow and Ice Barbarians shared common cause against the North Province and Sea Barons, for life was harsh upon the Thillonrian Peninsula, and thought their seas were plentiful, their slim growing season could not support them.
The Schnai noticed their Fruztii cousin’s absence from the seas. And they saw their cousin’s increased reliance upon Luxnor of Ratik. But they were not worried. Let them break themselves upon the Fists and the Bone March, the Schnai said. They will weaken beyond recovery, and will be forever under our suzerainty when Ratik finally fell, for fall it must, in the end. 
And in the Fruztii’s absence, the Schnai increased their raids on the Great Kingdom, knowing that they needn’t share the spoils with them.
The Schnai weren’t the only ones to note the Fruztii’s increased presence in the northeastern theatre. Tenh had heard of the Frost Barbarian’s alliance with Ratik, and they’d heard of their joint strike into the Bluefang-Kelten Pass, and they sent emissaries to treat with them, for, as they explained to them, we have common cause against the Fists of Stonehold, and the Fruztii listened.





One must always give credit where credit is due. This piece is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them, and the new old guards, Carl Sargant, James Ward, Roger E. Moore. And Erik Mona, Gary Holian, Sean Reynolds, Frederick Weining. The list is interminable.
Thanks to Steven Wilson for his GREYCHRONDEX and to Keith Horsfield for his “Chronological History of Eastern Oerik.”
Special thanks to Jason Zavoda for his compiled index, “Greyhawkania,” an invaluable research tool.
Primary sources for this history were the DMG 1e, The World of Greyhawk Folio, and The World of Greyhawk Gold Box, Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, Ivid the Undying, the Greyhawk Adventures hardcover, The Living Greyhawk Journals, Dragon Magazine.

The Art:

Sources:
1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
1043 The City of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1989
1064 From the Ashes Boxed Set, 1992
2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1980
9398 WGR4 The Marklands, 1993
9399 WGR5 Iuz the Evil, 1993
9577 The Adventure Begins, 1998
9578 Player’s Guide to Greyhawk, 1998
11374 The Scarlet Brotherhood, 1999
11743 Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, 2000
Ivid the Undying, 1998
Dragon Magazine
OJ Oerth Journal, appearing on Greyhawk Online
LGJ et. al.
Greychrondex, Wilson, Steven B.
Greyhawkania, Jason Zavoda
Anna B. Meyer’s Greyhawk Map

Saturday, 22 August 2020

The Ratik Primer


“Men Wanted: For hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.”
― Ernest Shackleton


Ratik
I was asked to do a half page primer of Ratik for the Canonfire! website, part of a tour of the Greyhawk where DMs new to the setting could get a feel for where they might wish to run a campaign. I accepted.
How hard could that be, I thought. You would think that writing a half page would be a simple affair; there isn't that much written about Ratik. Or so you would think. There's a lot more than you might expect. I began to read and then to write, trying to capture the essence of so small a country on the fringe of the map.
Needless to say, my first attempt would not be constrained to the half page allotted me. So, I was asked to do an edit. The first instruction was to lose the history lesson. Those interested in Ratik would be inspired to go to the source material themselves, I was told. Sure, I said; and I did just that. That edit was what was uploaded to the Canonfire! page. More or less.
I'm loath to throw anything away. I said as much when instructed to pear the original down. Would DMs new the setting have ready access to the source materials, I wondered? I thought not. Those who already had them probably already know a fair bit about the little country on the edge of the map, assuming they have any interest in such distant lands.
So, I knew when I was asked to edit the original that I would keep it to post it here.
Here it is in its original length. More or less.

Land of Ancient Mysteries
Ratik is in one of the oldest and youngest of nations. It is Flan and Suel and Aerdian. Most nations upon the Flanaess are blended as such, but here in the northeast, they are still very distinct. They are very much three nations among one, regardless how much they might have married between them, which is less than in other areas.
The Sylvan elves dwelt here long before the first recorded human histories, when Keraptis and the Ur-Flan held sway, alone at first, then alongside the dwarves, then the gnomes. I would not suggest that they lived in peace, for they were not of a mind or temperament, but they co-existed for millennia before Keraptis conquered the Flan city of Tostencha and sent his lieutenants into the surrounding foothills to build his empire in Vecna’s wake. Ratik was one of his principalities. The Sylvan elves melted into the Timberway at his arrival, the dwarves into their cities, and the gnomes  into the Loft Hills. The Ur-Flan rose and fell, littering the landscape with fell temples and barrows and stone rings.
...all those who stood against them...
The Suel Houses of Pursuit drove aside all those who stood against them, and the Flan found themselves clinging to the high hills and scattered along the coast. Those Fruztii that remained claimed their lots of land even as they flowed north.
Centuries later, the Aerdy arrived to pacify their northern border and possibly the Suel with it. They succeeded in Ratik, if not so on the Thillonrian peninsula. Marner was raised, and defended, and grew rather cosmopolitan for a northern outpost. It's not a huge city, one would not expect it to be, owing to it being perched on a rocky headland battered by a frigid northern sea.
A line was drawn in the north, an earthen wall and ditch that spanned from the mountains to the sea to mark what was theirs. But that was not enough. The Aerdian frontier marched ever north, and tensions rose until Lexnoll II and King Ralff of the Fruztii came to the other’s aid against the marauding bands of the Hold of Stonefist, The Fists.
Ratik is as two sides of a coin: settled and cultured in the south, cultivated and Aerdian. There are Knights Protectors in shining armour aplenty. Lords. Ladies. Pomp and ceremony. Vast feudal farm folds inland. Herds grazing the foothills. But in the north, it is of mixed heritage, the Suel and Oeridians and Flan long interbred. The north is wooded and sparsely populated, the hamlets and villages little more than clanholds upon the sea, and the crossroads of logging camps, until the forests thin and the heathered highlands and tundra meet the Fruztii and the Kelten Pass, where gold and silver reign, and the defense against the Fists raised towns and trade and walls anew. The Old Faith is very much alive and well in the north, where rangers, barbarians, and druids are more likely to capture the imagination than the knights of derring-do of the south.

Those wishing a Celtic, Nordic, or Viking game will be well suited to campaigning here.
Great inspiration for this area can be found in: the Mabínogíon, Beowulf, the Kalevala, Nibelungenlied, Robin of Sherwood (TC), The Last Kingdom (TV), Vikings (TV), The Eagle (film).


Country specific resources:
There are none specific to Ratik, but most pertinent information can be found in:
The Greyhawk Folio
The Greyhawk setting boxed set
Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, Greyhawk Wars
From the Ashes Boxed Set
Dragon magazine #52,55,57,63,191,206,241,243,291,293,294,297

Adventures in the country include:
The Rakers, the Timberway
The Stolen Seal, World of Greyhawk Boxed Set
Armistice, Dungeon #84, Griff Mountains
FB1 While on the Road to Cavrik's Cove, casl Entertainment, 2021
Although later retconned into the Yeomanry, B1 In Search of the Unknown (in the monochrome edition) was originally suggested as located in Ratik. That would make north Ratik would be an ideal location for B2 Keep on the Borderlands as well.
Other possibilities for adventure include:
Forest adventures in the Timberway: trouble with the Sylvan elves, raids from savage orcs and gnolls.
Mountain adventures (and possibly Underoerth adventures) in the Rakers and Griff mountains (alternate placement of G1-3).
Intrigue in Marner and Ratikhill. Ratik has many enemies (the Bone March, Lord Grennell, the Barbarians early on, the Hold of Stonefist, the Scarlet Brotherhood later) and dubious allies (the Sea Barons and Theocracy of the Pale).
Border skirmishes with the Bone March.
Fey fading lands. The sylvan elves would most assuredly have had a long history with the fey.
Ruins of the Ur-Flan from the time of Keraptis.

Adventures in nearby areas include:
WGS1 The Five Shall Be One
WGS2 Howl From the North
RPGA The Fright at Tristor
Forge of Fury, Bone March
OJ#3 A Slight Diversion, Tenh
WG08a, The Sage’s Tower, Rookroost
WG08e, Service for the Dead, Wintershiven
Tomb of Zhang the Horrific, by William Henry Dvorak, Rovers of the Barrens
Out of the Ashes, Dungeon #17, Bandit Kingdoms
Ghost Dance, Dungeon #32, Rovers of the Barrens
Ex Keraptis Cum Amore, Dungeon #77, Burning Cliffs
Deep Freeze, Dungeon #83, Theocracy of the Pale
Glacier Seas, Dungeon #87
The Witch of Serpent's Bridge, Dungeon #95, Schnai
Beyond the Light of Reason, Dungeon #96, Tenh
Raiders of the Black Ice, Dungeon #115, Blackmoor
Ill Made Graves, Dungeon #133, Jotsplat & the Icy Sea
In the Shadows of Spinecastle, Dungeon #148, Bone March
C13 From His Cold, Dead Hands, by Carlos Lising, casl Entertainment, 2019, Jotsplat & the Icy Sea
Mutual defense negotiations with the Barbarian tribes.
Mutual defense with Fruztii barbarians of the Kelten Pass.
Expeditions into the Griff mountains in search of lost Skrellingshald (also known as Tostencha), Greyhawk Adventures hardcover
Trade expeditions to The Sea Princes and the North Province.
The search for and discovery of Fireland, and the arrival of a ship from Fireland.
Espionage with the North Province/Kingdom. Alliance with Knurl.
The Freeing of the Bone March. There would be a great deal of raiding back and forth between these two countries.
I might add that the fallen city of Spinecastle is close by.
In the Shadows of Spinecastle, Dungeon Magazine #148

Spinecastle


There are likely few dungeons to be explored in the North aside from those that might have been constructed by the Ur-Flan, and abandoned dwarven cities, but there are wilderness adventures to be had and seaside mysteries to be discovered.
There are great possibilities for Lovecraftian themed adventures to be pursued here. What might have the Ur-Flan been up to? And what about Rogahn (likely Flan) and Zelligar (a Suel name) from B1? Did they discover some Ur-Flan tomb that turned them to the pursuit of evil?


Archbarony of Ratik
Barony of Ratik: neutral; Common
DRG#52 – 20
His Valorous Prominence, Lexnol, the Lord Baron of Ratik
[WoGA - 32]


Proper Name: Archbarony of Ratik
Ruler: Her Valorous Prominence, Evaleigh, the Lady Baroness (also Archbaroness) of Ratik (CG female human Rog9/Wiz3)
[LGG – 88,89]

Capital: Marner (pop. 3,240)
Population: 35,000
Demi-humans: Mountain Dwarves (8,000 + ).
Gnomes (3.000 +)
Humanoids: Many
Resources: shipbuilding supplies, furs, gold, gems (IV)
[WoGA  - 32]

Population: 138,500—Human 79% (Sof), Dwarf 8% mountain 80%, hill 20%), Halfling 6%, Elf 3%, Gnome 2%, Half-elf 1%, Half-orc 1%
Languages: Common, Old Oeridian, Dwarven, Cold Tongue
Alignments: N, NG*, CN, CG
Religions: Procan, Xerbo, Kord, Norebo, Trithereon, Phyton, Oeridian agricultural gods
[LGG - 89]





One must always give credit where credit is due. This piece is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them, and the new old guards, Carl Sargant, James Ward, Roger E. Moore. And Erik Mona, Gary Holian, Sean Reynolds, Frederick Weining. The list is interminable. 


The Art:
All art is wholly owned by the artists.
WGS2 Howl From the North cover, by Jeff Starlind, 1991
B1 In Search of the Unknown cover, by David A Trampier, 1979 (1978)
Ratik Heraldry, from the Greyhawk Folio, 1980

Sources:
1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
1043 The City of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1989
1064 From the Ashes Boxed Set, 1992
2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1980
9578 Player’s Guide to Greyhawk, 1998
11374 The Scarlet Brotherhood, 1999
11743 Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, 2000
Ivid the Undying, 1998
Dragon Magazine
OJ Oerth Journal, appearing on Greyhawk Online
LGJ et. al.
Greychrondex, Wilson, Steven B.
Greyhawkania, Jason Zavoda
Anna B. Meyer’s Greyhawk Map

Friday, 14 August 2020

Thoughts on "Lowdown in Highport"


“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”
― Marcel Proust

Needless to say, spoilers ahead!

Lowdown in Highport
What did the world need during Wotc’s 4th edition era? More AD&D. More Greyhawk and instalments of the epic Slavers series, specifically. Chris Perkins obviously thought so. It was he who contacted Skip Williams to write a prequel to the A-series, so I assume the resulting compilation was his idea. Against the Slave Lords was published in June of 2013; oddly, that was the same month that WotC released a further finale to A4 In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords in Dungeon magazine #215 titled The Last Slave Lord. I say oddly, because I can’t help but think that the compilation could have only been made better by its inclusion, not to mention that of what followed in December in #221: Lowdown in Highport. (Sadly, that was also the final issue of Dungeon magazine, as well.)
Why weren’t they included? I don’t know. Maybe they thought the compilation was long enough as published. Maybe they thought a longer compilation would have been too expensive. Maybe they wanted to sell more magazines.
No matter, for whatever reason, they were not included, and I suspect that there are a lot of people out there who never knew that these adventures even exist. How could they, many of them having migrated to Pathfinder after the release of 4th edition?
Until now, that is….
In any event, Lowdown in Highport follows A0 Danger at Darkshelf Quarry and precedes A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity. They dovetail nicely into once another, giving DMs another option to following the path set down in A1-4 The Scourge of the Slave Lords, published by TSR in 1986.

The story thus far:
Slavers were raiding up and down the coastlines of the Flanaess, carrying off noble and serf alike without regard to station. Those lucky enough to be affluent could be ransomed, if their families could raise the coin in time, that is. If not, those families were unlikely to see their loved ones again. Peasants and serfs were not so lucky. Their fate was sealed.
Bazili Erek/Brubgrok
Why hadn’t Keoland or Onnwal of Nyrond tasked their fleets to put an end to the Slavers activities? They might have if they hadn’t been embroiled in their own troubles. They were, and hadn’t, and the Slavers were free to act with impunity.
Such was the case in Nyrond. Its attention was firmly held by the nightmare unfolding in the Great Kingdom, and it had little cause to distracted by anything else.
But not all were so occupied. The overlord of Darkshelf was one such. His was an otherwise quiet and peaceful district, until he grew suspicious of a certain dwarf by the name of Bazili Erek, and what might be going on at Darkshelf Quarry. Events unfolded, as events sometimes do, and evidence was unearthed that the Erek was not a dwarf after all, and a Slaver to boot! And that the slaves gathered from Nyrond were being smuggled to Highport, a once wealthy seaport of the Pomarj that had been overrun by orcs and goblins in the aftermath of the Hateful Wars.

Forces of righteousness and honor have recently descended upon Highport, some openly and others in secret, in various attempts to destroy the machinations of the Slave Lords and abolish the abominable enterprise that has taken far too many loved ones from home and hearth. One such doughty servant of goodness is Mikaro Valasteen, a cleric of Trithereon. Mikaro slipped unnoticed past the crumbling walls of Highport with a single mission: to rescue and transport as many slaves to their freedom as possible. [Lowdown in Highport, Dungeon Magazine #221 - 2]
But Valasteen cannot succeed in this task alone. He needs help.
Should you wish to run TSR’s Scourge of the Slave Lords, you can swap out Jack of the Light for Valasteen.

Mikaro Valasteen is a stout but sinewy man of middling years, balding on top but with long, stringy dark hair that hangs to below his shoulders. His locks only partially obscure the fact that one ear is missing. He sits across the table, silent for a moment. “There are folks who need your help,” he finally says. “A group of escaped slaves hide in the city because they can’t flee. The gates are watched. They need a secret route out of town, and I think you’re the folks to find and clear it for them.”
Mikaro stands and begins to pace, warming to his subject as he continues. “There are a number of sea caves along the coast below the city wall, and I believe some connect to the surface above. I’ve already explored several chambers and tunnels that link the basement of an abandoned villa where the refugees hide to the sewers below the city. I believe a path can be traced all the way through.”
He turns and places his hands on the table, giving you an intense stare. “Will you do this thing for me? Will you help these people, these longsuffering victims, return to their lives and loved ones?” [Dungeon #221 - 3]

Thus begins Thomas M. Reid’s Lowdown in Highport. It’s a short adventure and by no means sufficient to bridge the XP gap between A0 and A1, but it’s a good one, I think, also reminiscent of the tournament modules it was meant to compliment. It’s also a dungeon crawl, but in this case, it works.



The question rises: How did the PCs meet Valasteen? If you’re running this module as a tournament, it doesn’t matter. If you are running this as a link in the greater Slavers’ campaign, then you have your work cut out for you. Not only are you going to have to motivate the PCs to come here, you’re going to have to plausibly introduce Valasteen and map out Highport a little, because the PCs are going to want to go there.

There’s a fair description of the sundered city within:
Highport
The town of Highport sits on a small sheltered inlet along the northern coast of the Pomarj peninsula, facing the Wooly Bay. It is divided into two main parts: numerous docks and a port district right on the shore, and a walled urban area at the top of a steep bluff. When humans controlled and lived in Highport, both sections of the town were kept in good order. Since the humanoid invasion, much of the place has fallen into ruin, either razed during the initial attacks or through subsequent neglect.
The port district is little more than a shanty town, filled with ramshackle wooden buildings constructed out of spare planks, boards, and netting. The unstable structures often lean at odd angles, and the “streets” are really narrow, twisting alleys that frequently dead end. Only a handful of original structures still stand, including a couple of inns and several warehouses. Life in the port district is a dangerous, vermin-filled affair that frequently ends in bloody death.
The High City, as the upper area is known, has more breathing room, although its conditions are little better than the port district below. It was once surrounded by a high stone wall to protect it from the depredations of the marauding humanoids that roamed the hills beyond, but much of that protective barrier was demolished in the attacks. The High City is now a wasteland of rubble-strewn streets, and one building in three is a burnt-out shell.
A switchback road cut into the face of the bluff leads from one part of Highport to the other, still protected at each turn by a gated guardhouse. Though sufficient for all the foot traffic that once traveled along it, the road was too narrow to handle all the merchant wagons that needed to move between the two sections of the town, so a number of stout cranes of dwarven design were installed along the bluff to hoist cargo up and down. These are no longer functioning, and only two even remain in place. The rest were cast down during the invasion, crushing hundreds of refugees waiting to flee Highport by boat in the port district below. Those have since been disassembled, their parts used for constructing hovels. [Dungeon #221 - 4]

You may wish to remain true to the original intent of the series.
Several bands of adventurers have been gathered together and will be sent to infiltrate the base and destroy the leaders of this evil band. Caution is recommended, for the true strength and extent of this slave ring is not known, but they seem to be stronger and better organized than encounters with their small raiding parties would indicate. [A1 - 2]

Carrying on afterwards is easy. The forward plot is sketched out within.
He offers them a chance to work with him again, helping more slaves to escape. If they agree, an entire series of daring rescues could take place, using the abandoned villa and the tunnels down to the sea caves as an underground railroad of sorts.
If the characters have come to Highport in pursuit of the slavers responsible for the looting and pillaging along the Wild Coast (as detailed in the adventure Danger at Darkshelf Quarry), he points them in the direction of a temple taken over by the Slave Lords (adventure module A1: Slave Pits of the Undercity) and tells them he believes that the source of the slaving activity can be found somewhere within.
Mikaro can become a regular source of information and aid for the characters. Conversely, he could be captured and later found as a prisoner of the slavers deeper within the A-series adventures. [Dungeon #221 - 15]



The Art:
All art is wholly owned by the artists.
Lowdown in Highport illustration, by Ben Wooten, Dungeon Magazine #221, 2013
Balizi Erek/Brubgrok, by Rich Longmire, A0 Danger at Darkshelf Quarry, 2013
Lowdown in Highport cartography, by Jared Blando , Dungeon Magazine #221, 2013


Sources:
Lowdown in Highport, by Thomas M. Reid, Dungeon magazine #221, 2013
The Last Slave Lord, by Robert J. Schwalb, Dungeon magazine #215, 2013
9039A  A0 Danger at Darkshelf Quarry, 2015
9039 A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity, 1980
9042 A4 In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords, 1981
9167 A1-4 Scourge of the Slave Lords, 1986

Saturday, 8 August 2020

On the Age Before Ages, Part 1


“The story so far:
In the beginning the Universe was created.
This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”
― Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe


Where did Greyhawk come from? Gary Gygax created it, obviously. With a great deal of influence from Dave Arneson, Rob Kuntz, and Len Lakofka, I imagine. I also imagine that each and every one of Gary’s early players did, as well, in their own way. Not to mention those who wrote the modules and sourcebooks that followed.
Few, if any, ever settled on a creation myth, or so they’ve said. I’ve heard interviews where those who had a hand in developing the setting expressed their desire to never actually nail down a creation myth, believing that DMs would wish to write such themselves. Did they? Some probably did; but I believe most never bothered, focusing instead on their own little corner of the world and the adventures within it, not caring whence it came from, knowing their players didn’t either.
Despite their claims, those very same designers pushed the timeline back very far indeed, almost to the very hour, in some cases. Frank Mentzer did. And some of his creations were slipped into the pages of the sourcebooks that followed. Chris Pramas certainly started the clock very close to what might be called a beginning.

What follows is a fairly esoteric collection TSR and WotC passages that over the decades dealt with just that: where did the multiverse come from? Were they successful in what they presented? I will leave that up to you to judge.
What is presented here is by no means complete. Indeed, I left a great many passages out, focussing only on those that predated Time, let alone Space. I like some. I detest others. I’m sure you will feel the same way, although I cannot imagine how. And would never deem to wonder why.
You can skip to the bottom, if you wish, and read my conclusions, instead of wading through such erudite and likely never-to-be-used material.
Still with me?
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.

The very closest that those writers of Greyhawk sourcebooks ever came to a creation myth was when contemplating the Outer Planes. Where did they come from? Did they predate the Prime Material Plane? The closest they ever came was this tale about the Serpents of Law.
The universe, at its birth, was little more than swirling chaos. A primordial soup of infinite possibilities, the cosmos was both everything and nothing. Through some unknown process, forms coalesced out of the chaos, including the planes themselves and those beings later known as gods. Some of these newborn powers reveled in the chaos, while others abhorred it. The conflict between these two groups, between Law and Chaos, defined the planes and the laws that they would obey.
The mightiest of Law’s champions were the Twin Serpents. These Cosmic Serpents expressed the duality of Law, and were unstoppable when they worked together. Jazirian, winged and feathered, dedicated herself to the cause of good, while Ahriman, scaled and forked of tongue, embraced the darker side path of evil. [Guide to Hell - 2]
That is very much a creation myth, if I may say so. The only thing missing is the hand of God to start it off. But why did Chris Pramas say that those Serpents were “the mightiest of Law’s champions”? We would have been better served had the serpents had coalesced from the swirling firmament, instead of chaos, and that they were the embodiment of the fractals of possibility: to find form, and eternal diversity.
Law and Chaos. Good and Evil were not yet possibilities. Those require higher consciousness than what had emerged.
No matter. This creation is very similar to the biblical creation myth, isn’t it?
Let’s be clear before anyone takes offence; I’m only comparing the myth above to the Christian creation story in this discussion because I was raised in the Catholic faith and it is the one with which I am most familiar.

Day 1 - God created light and separated the light from the darkness, calling light "day" and darkness "night."
Day 2 - God created an expanse to separate the waters and called it "sky."
Day 3 - God created the dry ground and gathered the waters, calling the dry ground "land," and the gathered waters "seas." On day three, God also created vegetation (plants and trees).
Day 4 - God created the sun, moon, and the stars to give light to the earth and to govern and separate the day and the night. These would also serve as signs to mark seasons, days, and years.
Day 5 - God created every living creature of the seas and every winged bird, blessing them to multiply and fill the waters and the sky with life.
Day 6 - God created the animals to fill the earth. On day six, God also created man and woman (Adam and Eve) in his own image to commune with him. He blessed them and gave them every creature and the whole earth to rule over, care for, and cultivate.
Day 7 - God had finished his work of creation and so he rested on the seventh day, blessing it and making it holy.


O Lucifer, Son of the Morning!
Of course, there had to be a Fall from Grace to explain Humankind’s, as well:
"How you are follen from heaven,
O Lucifer, son of the morning!
How you are cut down to the ground,
You who weakened the nations!
For you have said in your heart:
'I will ascend into heaven,
I shall exalt my throne above the stars of God;
I will also sit on the mount of the congregation
On the farthest sides of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will be like the Most High.'
Yet you shall be brought down to Shoel,
To the lowest depths of the Pit.
[Isaiah 14: 12-15]




And with it, the beginnings of the struggel between Good and Evil:
And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, the serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who decieves the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast with him. Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, ' Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His  Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.
[Revelation 12: 7-10]

Most, if not all, Western fantasy follows the Christian creation template, I believe. I would be surprised if it didn’t. Take Tolkien, for instance, his being the best example of a template for worldbuilding, if there ever was one:
Account of the Valar and Maiar according to the lore of the Eldar
In the beginning there was Eru, the One, who in the Elvish tongue is named Ilúvatar, made the Ainur of his thought; and they made a great Music before him. In this Music the World was begun; for Ilúvatar made visible the the song of the Ainur, and they beheld it as a light in the darkness. And many among them became enamoured of its beauty, and of its history which they say beginning and unfolding as in a vision. Therefore Ilúvatar gave to their vision Being, and set it amid the Void, and the Secret Fire was sent to burn at the heart of the World; and it was called Eä.
Then those of the Ainur who desired it arose and entered into the World at the beginning of Time; and it was their task to achieve it, and by their labours to fulfil the vision which they had seen. Long they laboured in the regions of Eä, which are vast beyond the thought of Elves and Men, until in the time appointed was made Arda, the Kingdom of Earth. Then they put the raiment of Earth and descended into it, and dwelt therein. [The Silmarillion, 1979]
If that is not a rewording of the biblical account of creation, I do not know what is.

Just as Lucifer fell, so did Melkor. And just as Michael and Lucifer fought the first war, so too the Ainur and Melkor.
Of the Beginning of Days
It is told among the wise that the First War began before Arda was full-shaped, and ere yet there was any thing that grew or walked upon earth; and for long Melkor had the upper hand. But in the midst of the war a spirit of great strength and hardihood came to the aid of the Valar, hearing in the far heaven that there was battle in the Little Kingdom; and Arda was filled with the sound of his laughter. So came Tulkas the Strong, whose anger passes like a mighty wind, scattering cloud and darkness before it; and Melkor fled before his wrath and his laughter, and forsook Arda, and there was peace for a long age. And Tulkas remained and became one of the Valar of the Kingdom of Arda; but Melkor brooded in the outer darkness, and his hate was given to Tulkas for ever after.
In that time the Valar brought order to the seas and the lands and the mountains, and Yavanna planted at last the seeds that she had long devised. And since, when the fires were subdued or buried beneath the primeval hills, there was need of light, Aule at the prayer of Yavanna wrought two mighty lamps for the lighting of the Middle-earth which he had built amid the encircling seas. Then Varda filled the lamps and Manwe hallowed them, and the Valar set them upon high pillars, more lofty far than are any mountains of the later days. One lamp they raised near to the north of Middleearth, and it was named Illuin; and the other was raised in the south, and it was named Ormal; and the light of the Lamps of the Valar flowed out over the Earth, so that all was lit as it were in a changeless day.
[The Silmarillion, 1979]

Back to Greyhawk and D&D.
Although Guide to Hell may have been vague in how [through] some unknown process, forms coalesced out of the chaos, including the planes themselves and those beings later known as gods, leaving what may have been up to the DM’s imagination, later tomes were not. They went much further and named the spark of all creation once and for all: Atropus.
Behold the death of your world. There, cresting the horizon. Yes, that faint body is he, and he comes for me . . . for us all. Rejoice, for the end is near, and all life, all pain, all suffering shall be silenced in the perfect eternity of undeath.” —Caira Xasten, mad astronomer and ur-priest [Elder Evils - 16]

According to the writings, creation was the result of a “prime mover.” This being’s identity varies with the particular story. Most scholars agree this entity must be the force behind the gods springing forth into existence from the primeval void. This force, idea, or being is called Atropus. […]
Some theologians believe the appearance of these divine agencies came with a dreadful price. In order for them to take shape, there must have been a sacrifice: For life to exist, there must be death. Atropus must have caused its own death and in that sense became the afterbirth of creation, the wasted materials left over from the formation of the gods. Furthermore, since the gods are living beings, and since life relies upon energy gained from the Positive Energy Plane, Atropus must be their inversion: death incarnate, drawing its own power, such as it is, from the Negative Energy Plane. […]
Little remains of the prime mover that made the supreme sacrifice, nothing more than a decaying, disembodied head, leaving in its wake cast-off necromantic detritus that floats through the void. Perhaps atropals—the stillborn gods […] take their shape from these cast-off bits. Atropus is bound to unmake living things, to absorb their souls in an orgy of violence. Its touch is terrifying to witness, as countless barren worlds crawling with restless dead mutely testify. [Elder Evils - 16,17]
So, the spark of creation, much like dreaming Azathoth, was unimaginably, unspeakably, Evil. I have thoughts on that, but I’ll keep them to the end.

There is a gap in the Greyhawk myth. A very large gap in which there were beings that were as gods, if not gods, for the gods had yet to come into being.
This is where Frank Mentzer’s BECMI: Immortal Box Set, published in 1986, sneaks into the Greyhawk mythos.
It was Frank who created the Draeden, and in my mind, that is where they ought to remain, but others disagreed, including them and other creatures like them in the Fiendish Codexis and Elder Evil supplements. Why were they included? I suppose to give epic level PCs that ought to have been retired something to fight.

[The] Fiendish Codex I mentions immense living creatures known as draedens who existed before the planes existed, including one called Ulgurshek who fell asleep while the Abyss formed around it. The draedens were first mentioned in the Dungeons & Dragons Immmortal Set, which described the draedens as clusters of mouths and tentacles the size of demiplanes who were descendants of beings who may have created the multiverse long before the time of the Immortals. They despise elemental material, seeing everything but perfect void as an unwelcome imposition in their domain. After a period of war and strife ending at least 200 million years ago, the draedens retired, deciding to outlast their enemies by waiting until the rest of creation destroyed itself. [Grey Particle]

Here’s is how Frank first described them:
Draedens are the descendants of beings that existed before the Immortals, beings who may have actually created part or all of the multiverse. Their exact population is unknown, but numbers at least 1,000. Draedens still consider the entire multiverse to be their domain. When Immortals assumed the responsibility for all of existence, the draedens became resentful. But after long strife and negotiations, they agreed to peace. They plan to outlast their enemies by simply waiting until the Immortals destroy themselves, leaving the multiverse to the draedens once again. [Immortals Boxed Set DMG - 39]

Draedens are feared and respected by all who are aware of their existence. A draeden's true but rarely-seen appearance is a cluster of 20 tubular strands, all symmetrically attached at a central node and fanning out at both ends. Each strand has a mouth at each end, and contains a digestive passage leading to the central node. The node is the equivalent of a stomach, and contains several thousand boulders to aid digestion. These boulders range in size from 1-20 feet, and are made of solid diamond, worn to perfect smoothness by the acidic fluids. A draeden's intelligence resides throughout a neural network that spans most of the form. [Imortals DMG - 38]

And here is how they “evolved,” come 3rd edition:
The Ulgurshek Orifice: A wheezing, spattering orifice of tongue-red flesh fills a massive stone-walled chamber attached to a main thoroughfare in the Demonweb. The undulating sphincter lazily devours anything placed upon it, gently transporting the waste material to the bizarre Abyssal layer known as Ulgurshek. The Fraternity of Order catalogues Ulgurshek as the 92nd layer of the Abyss, designating it a “living layer” to account for its apparent sentience. The layer appears to be composed of the innards of some impossibly huge creature. Veins flow like rivers through vast tunnels of organic matter. Fleshy organs the size of boulders hang like fruit from the distant ceiling, secreting corrosive fluid onto living fields soaked in natural acids. Nothing survives for long within Ulgurshek, and Lolth’s minions use the Orifice as an efficient garbage sluice and prisoner disposal.
Only Lolth and a handful of her most trusted servitors and progeny know the truth, that Ulgurshek is not a part of the Abyss but is in fact an immense living creature from the dawn of time called a draeden. The godlike being had already fallen into torpor when the Outer Planes themselves took form. Ulgurshek wasn’t captured by the Abyss—it grew around him as his dormant form drifted through the raw creative matter of the multiverse. Confined by reality, Ulgurshek has no hope of escape. Because its memory plumbs a time-lost era unknown even to the obyriths, Lolth occasionally ventures into Ulgurshek to consult it on some sagely matter, and perhaps probe it for tales of the strategy of its ruthless now-lost brethren. In return, Lolth pledges to hunt out signs of Ulgurshek’s race elsewhere in the Great Wheel.
[Fiendish Codex 1: Hordes of the Abyss - 126]

What does Ulgurshek remind me of? Azathoth. But downgraded from that horror beyond all imagination that it is, the source from which its dreams birth all existence, to a mere layer of the Abyss.
[O]utside the ordered universe [is] that amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity—the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time and space amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes. [The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath]

Draedens were not the only beings who resided in those truly elder times. There were others as equally horrifying as Cthuhlu and Yog-Soggoth, who I believe these creatures were modeled after.
Ragnorra, Mother of Monsters, is a primeval source of life eternally corrupted. Bloated, hideous, and filled with a terrible love for her children, this elder evil wanders the planes searching for new worlds to remake in her image. [Elder Evils - 96]

Are they gods? Or are they something similar? Or are the gods lesser beings to these horrors?
Today, few question the fact that a priest need not worship a god to work divine magic—he needs only faith in an idea. Yet what of the source of this discovery? Who was the first to draw upon divinity without the guidance of a god? Who knows the truth of the first heretic, and of the serpent who exposed a secret no god wished revealed?” —From the Demonomicon of Iggwilv [Elder Evils - 112]

Ragnorra
Ragnorra
Many creation myths divide the world’s history into three distinct eras. The present, the time of mortal races, was preceded by the time of the gods. Before the gods was the age of primeval forces, both good and ill. The Mother of Monsters belongs to that era.
Until recently, knowledge of Ragnorra had been lost to mortals. Now, sketchy reports have begun circulating in scholarly circles of runes in the silver sky of the Astral Plane. Some claim these signs warn of the return of Ragnorra, and their stories are now given more credence than ridicule.
Ancient tales refer to the Mother of Monsters, a gigantic, unnatural creature that birthed horrors that plagued the early worlds. The gods cast this awful thing into the space between the planes. With the world rid of her creatures, they were free to create the mortal races. Scholars have partially deciphered the runes that summarize this history. Most claim they herald the return of Ragnorra.
A vocal minority of planar scholars claim the runes tell not one tale, but many. Each rune has been written atop a previous one, incorporating the earlier rune in its form. The runes’ gigantic size suggests that the story of Ragnorra has been told many times, rewritten each time she is to appear. Each of the prior tales ends in the extinguishing of mortal races on a world and the corruption of all its life.
Moving between the planes, Ragnorra appears about once every 1,500 years on the Material Plane. Her arrival takes the form of a fiery red comet. The astral runes are not a warning so much as a “signpost” that points out Ragnorra’s path to the next world. [Elder Evils - 96]

Ragnorra is a twisted, irresistible force of creation. She exists to spawn life in her own terrible image. Legends tell of her spores raining down upon worlds to fester. The spores parasitize plants and animals, raising blisters that birth monsters, killing the hosts. Even inanimate objects sprout hideous creatures. Some unfortunate sentients infected by spores become aberrant hybrids.
Ragnorra is a vast intelligence, but not a conscious one. She operates on intuition, dreaming inexplicably deep plans. Destruction is not her purpose, but rather undoing the “errors” of the gods and reshaping all life according to her own vision. That this horrid new order is contradictory, destructive, and painful to her progeny does not matter to her.
Ragnorra is no longer content with merely seeding a world from above. She now prepares it by crashing herself into the earth with enough force to raise a vast crater. The collision hurls dust and debris into the air, altering the climate and weakening existing life. Pieces of Ragnorra’s own body rain down from the sky, spreading her awful fecundity around the world.
A group of outsiders from several planes have formed a cultlike society, the Malshapers. Rather than fearing Ragnorra, they revere her power and guide her plans. They create a sort of trail through the multiverse, seeding it with life from a chosen world to lead the Mother of Monsters to her next target. Evidence of this trail manifests as runes in the Astral Plane. [Elder Evils - 96,97]

What came next? Aboleth?. Yuan-ti? Reptiles?
Question: What draconic creator deity emerged from the First Void in the Age before Ages and shed blood in the Shadow Void to inspire all creation? Answer: Io, the Ninefold Dragon. [Expedition to the Ruins of Castle Greyhawk - 91]
What are we to make of this? I would hazard that ALL species have their creation myths and that they are bound to overlap and contradict one another.

The gods would have mortals believe that in the beginning, they created the world. That they helped shape the world is not in dispute, but they were far from the first to cast their influence across the Material Plane. The aboleths lived in the primeval depths before the first deity wrought life from primal clay. The elemental races established vast multiplanar empires long before the first priest offered prayers from a crude stone altar. And in the roiling deep of the Abyss, demons had already conquered entire planes before the advent of intelligent life on the Material Plane. Most powerful among these ancient demons were the obyrith lords.
Led by the Queen of Chaos, the obyriths waged murder against the elemental Wind Dukes of Aaqa. Those who refused to join the Queen were punished and imprisoned. Obox-ob, then the Prince of Demons, withstood her call. In a great war, the Queen defeated Obox-ob and crowned her consort, Miska the Wolf Spider, the new Prince of Demons. Yet when the Queen’s legions were defeated on the Fields of Pesh, it was ironically the obyrith lords she had cast out or imprisoned who survived. […] One such obyrith lord was Sertrous, a minor demon lord associated at the time with parasites and crawling things. Ever rebellious, Sertrous slew every demon that came to his Abyssal lair to recruit him to the Queen’s cause. He had little defense against the Queen herself, who quickly grew tired of his insubordination, destroyed his body, and cast his essence into the gulf between planes as one might cast aside a carcass. Yet this did not spell Sertrous’s doom. As his essence passed through the Material Plane, Sertrous made a desperate grab at an anchor to prevent his passage into the void beyond. All he found was a lowly serpent, wallowing in the mire of a primeval fen. […]
For untold centuries, Sertrous lived as a serpent. At first, he was confined to that serpent’s body. As he healed, his essence transformed the serpent into a new physicality that took on the madness of his previous demonic form. Yet he retained serpentine features—partially as a disguise if agents of the Queen encounter him. Sertrous watched from his fen as the mortal races grew civilized, established their own empires, and raised temples to honor the gods. Sertrous grew jealous of their prosperity and coveted the devotion mortals heaped upon the gods. And so he waged war on them, plaguing these first nations with armies of serpents and monsters from the fen. […]
When the beleaguered mortals called upon one of their deity’s most powerful minions, the solar Avamerin, Sertrous claimed his first and greatest victory. Avamerin led a great army into the fen to destroy Sertrous. The obyrith’s minions were evenly matched with the angel’s, and in the end only the obyrith and the angel survived to face one another. The battle was intense, but in the end the solar defeated the serpent. As Avamerin raised his sword and prepared to strike the killing blow, Sertrous asked him a simple question: “Why serve your lord when his playthings can gain the same strength of power through their own will?” Avamerin struck then, slaying Sertrous. He returned to civilization with the obyrith’s head as proof of his triumph and spoke to the nation’s priests of the demon’s foolish words. […]
Yet in spreading these words, Avamerin unwittingly released a great secret. Scholars and priests puzzled over Sertrous’s dying words and made an incredible discovery: One need not worship a god to gain the power of divine magic. Rather than worship a god, a cleric could worship an ideal and gain the same reward. He could worship the mountains, or the sky, or the act of war, or himself. He could even worship a slain obyrith lord. Avamerin saw this plague of godless priests thrive and was powerless to stop it. The solar realized his error, and when he confessed to his lord, he was stripped of his rank and reduced to a planetar’s status.
Enraged, Avamerin cast aside his servitude and stole Sertrous’s head, claiming that the dead demon was wiser than the gods. The gods recoiled and took from Avamerin his beauty. If he would ascribe such value to a serpent’s words, he would be one with them. The gods gave him the visage of a snake and banished him from heaven. Yet the damage had been done. The angel became the fi rst heretic, and he devoted the rest of his existence to serving the one who had opened his eyes. In time, the devotion of Avamerin and those he recruited to his Vanguard would be enough to restore Sertrous to life and prove what the fallen angel had come to believe was the truth beyond the lies of faith. [Elder Evils - 112,113]

There are other equally inexplicable horrors penned throughout the editions. My favourite is Zargon from B4 The Lost City.
Who can stand against the might of Zargon the Returner? Surely, no man is strong enough of courage and skill to face my master in combat. No god would dare confront him, for he has brought low others before. Nay, when Zargon awakens, all shall tremble as the world is born anew in his foul image.” —Dorn, Ascendant of Zargon [Elder Evils - 144]

Sliding into a large, slime-covered chamber, you find that the floor is littered with bones. Suddenly, you hear a rustling noise from the north wall. There, a huge humanoid figure rises from the slime, standing 15' tall. Its head is that of a giant lizard. A black, 2'-long horn curves upward above its single red eye, and sharp teeth fill its mouth. Instead of arms, the creature has six tentacles, three on each side of its body. These end in razor-sharp talons. Instead of legs, the creature slithers toward you on six more powerful tentacles. [B4 - 23]
Although Zargon is ancient, it is no god. It is a cunning creature that discovered its "godhood" makes it easier to get victims. Zargon was worshipped by primitive peoples in early times, but retreated underground when the primitives were wiped out by the ancestors of the Cynidiceans. Zargon remained in a strange hibernation for many years. By chance, the Cynidiceans built the pyramid on the spot where Zargon's original shrine stood, and the later digging of the Cynidicean slaves awakened the creature. [B4 - 23]
Why do I like it? Because it is eternal, yet small, local, and only potentially unbeatable should be brave enough to face it.

Aside from Cynidicea, where else might one find clues to those mysteries of the Age Before Ages?
You could look to the ocean depths, to the Sinking Isle of the Solnor, and the Pinnacles of Azor-Alq in the Dramidj Sea. Look to the icy Burning Cliffs to the north and the Twisted Forest and the Pits of Azak-Zil to the south. For surely there are answers to those riddles there.
I would look to the ancient glyphs etched into the stones of temples choked by the jungles of Hepmonoland, drowned beneath the Sea of Dust, and lost high in the sky at Skrellingshald.
But do not attempt to decipher them. Madness awaits you there. Instead, put an end to those you find there, for if they awaken those who sleep, we should all wish they had left those mysteries alone.

What do I have to say about all this?
Keep it or throw it all out, as you will.
That might seem a cop out, considering how much work was put into all this creation, but as I inferred, I gather it was all written to give epic level characters something to battle and defeat.
Let’s simplify, shall we? Order and Entropy emerged from the void at the spark of creation. What caused that spark is anyone’s guess. What immerged was infinite possibility. Two aspects of the same thing; indeed, two sides of the same coin.
Order created the possibility of infinite form, of which Life is but a small part, marching towards inevitable perfection. Entropy abhors stagnation, preferring a state of eternal infinite possibility. Neither is good or evil; such considerations require thought, and the initial spark was not conscious, as yet. When consciousness did arise, those earlier states of being would have no notion of what either might mean.
The Green God emerged from Order, giving the multiverse form for which infinite possibility of form arises. We might call it Beory, Obad-Hai, and then later, the gods of light and creation, what we in our limited scope imagine it might be. Each in turn were given form by our imagining, shards, fragments of that inexplicable whole.
The Elder Evils emerged from Entropy, and from that emerged the Elder Elemental God and the Elder Eye; Tharizdun, Azathoth, however you wish to name them/it. They are unimaginable, in explicable; unnameable horrors, as H.P. Lovecraft would have described them, and should remain as such. If you want to fight eldritch horrors, crack the pages of the original Deities and Demigods with the “Cthulhu Mythos” within and have at it. Or better yet, buy Sandy Petersen’s Cthulhu Mythos, published in Pathfinder and 5e editions.
I’ll look at these in more detail in upcoming posts.
Creation should be mysterious. It ought to baffle mortals’ minds. Was there a time before Beginning? Is that even possible? That ought to not matter, because no mortal should be able to understand, let along defeat a god, however young it may be.

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of the infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.”
― H. P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories


One must always give credit where credit is due. This History is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them, and the new old guards, Carl Sargant, James Ward, Roger E. Moore. And Erik Mona, Gary Holian, Sean Reynolds, Frederick Weining. The list is interminable. Thanks to Steven Wilson for his GREYCHRONDEX and to Keith Horsfield for his “Chronological History of Eastern Oerik.”
Special thanks to Jason Zavoda for his compiled index, “Greyhawkania,” an invaluable research tool.
Primary sources for this history were the DMG 1e, Deities and Demigods 1e, Guide to Hell 2e, Elder Evils, Fiendish Codex 1: Hordes of the Abyss; Fiendish Codex 2: Tyrants of the Nine Hells, the Greyhawk, Adventures hardcover.


The Art:
All art is wholly owned by the artists.
The Serpents of Law, by Hannibal King, Guide to Hell, 1999
Draeden, by Jeff Easley, Immortal Box Set, 1986
Ragnorra detail, by Daarkefrom Elder Evils, 2007
Aspect of Sertrous, by James Zang, Elder Evils, 2007
Zargon detail, from Elder Evils, 2007


Sources:
1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
1068 Greyhawk Wars Boxed Set, 1991
2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1980
9049 B4 The Lost City, 1982
2023 Greyhawk Adventures, 1988
11431 Guide to Hell, 1999
Fiendish Codex 1: Hordes of the Abyss, 2006
Fiendish Codex 2: Tyrants of the Nine Hells, 2006
Elder Evils, 2007
Sandy Petersen’s Cthulhu Mythos, 2018
Dragon Magazine