Friday 25 September 2020

The Hold of Stonefist Primer


“The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience.”
― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

“The darker the night, the brighter the stars,
The deeper the grief, the closer is God!”
― Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment


The Fierce Forces of Stonefist 
A hard land breeds a hard people, and the land of the Fists is a very hard land, indeed. Cradled between the Icy Sea and the Griff Mountains, it is a cold land of rivers lakes and bogs, where winter reigns for six months of the year. Nevertheless, in tune with their stoic spirit, they adapted and the Dog and Reindeer made life possible, as had the sled and the canoe, and more recently, the kayak; the Horse, less so, and only to the furthest west.

Settled life has always been challenging, structures lifting and twisting with the frost’s heave. Most settlements hugged the coasts, for the seas were always bountiful; and as they migrated inland, they perched atop long, winding eskers. But the flatter, more arable, plains beckoned. Structures were only made possible there by driving posts deep into the clay bed. Due to the short growing season, only those heartiest of crops took root. Husbandry was more successful.

The Flan were the first peoples to dwell here, and they thrived, first under the dominion of Tostencha, then under the Ur-Flan wizard-priest Keraptis, and it was under his tutelage that they, the Colten Feodality, first learned cruelty.

It remained as such until the Suel arrived, and then the Oeridians, until those people in turn were forced north by the Rovers of the Barrens, brought into the fold of that which they had once overwhelmed. All have lived under the shadow of long sealed dwarven gates, their people rumoured to have fallen upon some unknown fate, likely from having dug too deep in their lust for gold and mithril.

Vlek Col Vlekzed
There came a time when Vlek Col Vlekzed, a scion of the Hold in exile, returned, and massacred those delegates of the Colten Feodality. The Stonefist established the Mastership of the Hold as a semihereditary position, available only to his descendants. They were allowed to compete in the biannual Rite of Battle Fitness, which determined the rank of potential challengers to the Hold's leaders.

No boychild could take Vlek's name, so great was his person; each considered the sole property of his mother by the Stonefist. And thus he set precedent among his Fists. Each scion had to earn his right to a name, indeed, his right to vassalage; and upon surviving the Rites, if he survived, he could then take his father's name, or his own name, if he so chose, and upon that name gained acclamation or infamy, and with it his status among his peers.

The Fists, fleet of foot and sled
The Hold took to raiding, over mountains and plains, pillaging what they could lay their hands on from the Fruztii and the more affluent Tenha, and testing their might against the Rovers upon the Barrens. They were regularly raided it turn, even on occasion by the Zeai, the Cruski’s cousins to the west.

And so it went for centuries. The Rite of Battle Fitness had caused the death of so many aspiring leaders that its proponents grew scarce. The Hold became divided between those who supported the traditions of Stonefist, and those who wished to see the restoration of the Coltens Feodality.

Sevvord Redbeard
Until Sevvord Redbeard came to the throne, and took the title of Rhelt.

The Fists have long been at war with the Cruski, the Barbarians, and surrounding Flan clans. But their greatest hatred has always been the centaurs upon the Barrens. It is their belief that the Rovers had known congress with their herds, and the centaurs were the result of those foul unions.

Thus was the reputation of the Hold abroad: Superstitious. Simple. And savage. It should also be said that those who hate them respected the danger they represent, saying that they are as sly as an arctic fox.

Vlekstaad upon White Fanged Bay

It should be said that the Stonehold is not just roaming bands of Fists. They have their tradesmen: Farmers, as noted, miners, merchants, and smiths. They were called scratchers, diggers, babblers and pounders, once; but that opinion has changed as these have altered the prospects of this dour land. Goods have been exchanged with the Free Lords and far Blackmoor, who have sent delegations to the Hold. They have their traditions: the Old Faith is strong here, despite what outsiders believe. 

Inspiration for play in the Stonefist may be found in Dostoyevsky, War and Peace, Dr. Zhivago, Baba Yaga, and the myth of the black serpent Czernobog.

The Hold of Stonefist is a dangerous place where only the strong survive, and where surrounding powers watch with great concern. It is a good home for evil characters; it is also where the Coltens strive to return to prominence.


Country specific resources: Country specific resources:
Dragon magazine #57
WGS1 The Five Shall Be One; WGS2
Howl From the North; WGR5 Iuz the Evil
The Nightmare Realm of Baba Yaga, Adventure Gamebook #8
Adventures in country:
WGS2 Howl From the North
The Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga
The biannual Rite of Battle Fitness
Adventures in the Forlorn and Hraak forests:
The pinewood is exploited by the people of Stonehold for fuel, trapping, and hunting. The warlike Forest People (a Cohens tribe now part of Stonehold) live within. Great bears and wolves roam its depths, and a fair number of white dragons unexpectedly lair within. LGG – 141
Adventures on the Icy Sea
Whales of all sorts frequent these waters, said to be the domain of a mighty leviathan lord. LGG – 148,149
[Big Seal Bay, the] shallow arm of the Icy Sea, lying just east of the Hraak Forest, marks the usual boundary between Stonehold and the Ice Barbarians. Few humans visit this desolate region, though the chiseled outer doors of an ancient dwarven clanhold are said to be visible high in these isolated peaks. LGG – 147
Dungeon delves into Ur-Flan and dwarven ruins.
Adventures in the Griff and Corusk mountains:
Sightings of aquatic monsters on the Abanfyl’s surface are common. The lake is also said to be the home of a family of dragons who lair on a small, haze-shrouded island on the central waters. WGG – 26
Legends tell of a beautiful land in the heart of [the Griff mountains], where buildings are roofed with precious metals and gems lie about on the ground. More reliable are reports that a gigantic city of orcs lies underground here, near Stonehold. LGG – 143
While the lower parts of the mountains are inhabited by humans, various bands of evil humanoids and monsters of all sorts dwell in the central fastness. WOGA - 52
Border skirmishes with the Cruski, Fruztii, and Ratik; defense against Barbarian invasions.
Adventures in nearby areas include:

WGS1 The Five Shall Be One, Bandit Kingdoms
WGR5 Iuz the Evil
Fright at Tristor, Theocracy of the Pale
Forge of Fury, Bone March
The Stolen Seal, World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, Ratik
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
Armistice, Dungeon #84, Griff Mountains
The Sharm’s Dark Song, Dungeon #87
Glacier Seas, Dungeon #87
The Witch of Serpent's Bridge, Dungeon #95
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 Magazine #148
C13 From His Cold, Dead Hands, by Carlos Lising, casl Entertainment, 2019, Jotsplat & the Icy Sea
FB1 While on the Road to Cavrik's Cove, casl Entertainment, 2021, Ratik
Tomb of Zhang the Horrific, by William Dvorak, Rovers of the Barrens.
Exploration of Iceland to the north
Expedition to Blackmoor
Clashes and war with the Rovers of the Barrens, the Zeai and the Cruski. Raids into Tenh, Ratik, and Fruztii.
Trade with Blackmoor and the Bandit Kingdoms
Exploration of the Rift Valley

Stonefist, Hold of
(Pop 60,000+)
Hold of Stonefist: chaotic evil; Flan, Suloise, Common, Cold Tongue
Capital: Vlekstaad (pop. 2,100)
Population: 60,000 +
Demi-humans: Doubtful
Human 96%, Orc 2%, Dwarf 1%, Other 1%
Humanoids: Some
[WOGA  - 36]

Capital: Vlekstaad Major Towns: Bastro (pop. 1,700), Kelten (pop. 2,800), Purmill (pop, 1,900), Vlekstaad (pop. 2,200 before being burned, now 700)

Resources: furs, ivory, silver, gems (I)—
Religions: Erythnul, Syrul, Beltar, Beory, Obad-Hai
[LGG - 108]


In the shadow of the Griff Mountains

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.

The Art:
WGS2 Howl From the North cover art, by Jeff Starlind, 1991
WGS1 There Shall Be One cover art, by , 1991
Hold of Stonefist Shield, from the World of Greyhawk Folio, 1980
WGS2 Howl From the North interior Art, by Ken Frank, 1991

1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
1064 From the Ashes Boxed Set, 1992
2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1980
11743 Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, 1999
9577 The Adventure Begins
9578 Player’s Guide to Greyhawk, 1998
Dragon Magazine
OJ Oerth Journal, appearing on Greyhawk Online
Living Greyhawk Journal
Greychrondex, Steven B. Wilson
Greyhawkania, Jason Zavoda
Anna B. Meyer’s Greyhawk Map

Saturday 19 September 2020

On the Green God and the Elder Evil, Part 1


 “Turn him to any cause of policy,
The Gordian Knot of it he will unloose,
Familiar as his garter”
— Shakespeare, Henry V, Act 1 Scene 1. 45–47


The Elder Faith
I thought I might write about what was the eldest of the eldest in Greyhawk, and in my imaginings, that was the Old Faith and the Elder Evil. It’s all in the name, I thought. This will be easy, I thought.
Iwas wrong.
There has been much said and written about the Elder Eye, the Elemental Evil God, Beory and Obad-Hai, and the Old Faith. But what does it all mean? And where does it all fit within Greyhawk canon?
Canon has become a muddy mess of contradiction as each edition sought to either reimagine or rewrite what came before, shoehorning what was into its narrative. Some of that lore was written by Gary Gygax. Some of it was adapted from Frank Mentzer’s BECMI. From BECMI? Yes, some of Frank Mentzer’s Immortals Boxed Set made it into Greyhawk lore. No matter, lore is lore. We can pick and choose what we wish, as it were. And we ought to, because over the years, it has become a gordian knot, begging for Alexander’s sword.
What is to be made of it all?
And where to begin?
Let’s begin with the Old Faith. That might be easier than Elder Evils.


The Old Faith

“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more”

― Lord Byron


The Old Faith, by its very name, must predate all others; yet its origins are forever muddied by what followed.


Oerth's natural fertility has inspired the devotion of its people. The cult of the Oerth Mother (Beory) once dominated the entire Flanaess, and the traditions of her worship persist in many lands. The present hierarchy of the Old Faith is built upon the ancient religion of the druids, though deities in addition to Beory are worshiped. Of course, other "nature" religions exist outside the Old Faith, even different branches of the druidic heritage, but few of these are in the Flanaess. The druids of the inner circles of the Old Faith gain far more prestige and respect than these other groups. Mistletoe, oak leaves, and holly leaves are their common emblems. Druids of the Old Faith are completely neutral in philosophy and personal alignment. They yield only to the world-spanning authority of the legendary Grand Druid.

Dark Legacy

The practices of the Old Faith are generally in accord with those of other nature priesthoods. The druids do not engage in the sacrifice of sentient creatures, yet there is a dark legacy within the Old Faith. The druids of antiquity allied themselves with the sorcerous Ur-Flan, who once held whole tribes in bondage to their evil. The unspeakable rituals performed by the Ur-Flan went unchallenged by the druidic hierarchy of that era, so long as the former were not so prevalent in any region as to threaten the balance of nature. Eventually, the Ur-Flan sorcerers waned in power and vanished. Some of their magical secrets are still preserved by the Old Faith.

The Old Faith is still widely practiced in the Flanaess, and not only in those regions dominated by descendants of the Flan peoples. The age-old sacred groves and monolithic circles of the Old Faith may include shrines dedicated to any nature deity the resident druids permit, but most often they are unadorned. While Beory the Oerth Mother is the best known deity associated with the Old Faith, any druid of purely neutral alignment may matriculate through the Nine Circles of Initiation, regardless of which nature god that druid venerates.

The most junior druids must first serve as Ovates, simple administrators and readers of auguries who govern only the aspirants who seek admission to the hierarchy. Above the Ovates and the Initiates are those who may claim the title of Druid. They, together with the three Archdruids and the Great Druid, provide tutelage to their underlings (there are nine Great Druids in the Flanaess, one representing each of the geographic divisions outlined in Chapter One). Legends also speak of a Grand Druid and a cabal of ascended mystics called the Hierophants, but complete knowledge of these masters is hidden from those outside the hierarchy. [LGG - 161]

It's odd that it is Beory and not Obad-Hai mentioned. She comes and goes throughout the editions and gets the barest mention in the Gold box: Beory FC Oerth Mother, Nature, Rain N f. [WoGA - 62,63]

That’s not much to go on.

Obad-Hai gets more love.

Obad-Hai FC Nature, Wildlands, Freedom, Hunting N m

Obad-hai, "The Shalm," is an archaic deity of nature and wildlands, one of the most ancient known, having been worshipped by the Flan prior to the arrival of invading Aerdi. [WoGA - 72]

Obad-Hai rules nature and the wilderness, and he is a friend to all who live in harmony with the natural world. [Deities and Demigods, 3e - 86]

It’s implied that druids would worship them. And that the all who would serve them would be druids. The thing is, not all clerics of these faiths are druids:

Clerics who follow Obad-hai usually are druids. A few others are of the normal sort, although they wander as pilgrims in most cases. Such clerics wear russet garments and carry staves. [WoGA - 73] 

Closely associated with the Old Faith is the Old Lore:

The Colleges of the Old Lore are an order of bards appended to the druidic society of the Old Faith. Very few of these archetypal bards are left, as their traditions are primarily those of the ancient Flan. Bards of the Old Lore are distinguished from today's common bards and minstrels by their noble origins, their tradition of scholarship, and their use of druidic magic. The prospective Old Lore bard must be of human descent and noble birth, although half-elves are permitted, as well. Tradition demands that each candidate have proven skill in warmaking and stealth, in addition to surpassing grace, in order to receive druidic training. The Old Lore legacy also includes a small number of magical, stringed instruments crafted specifically for each of the seven colleges of the Old Lore. Recovery of any such instrument is of prime concern to the remaining members of these colleges, and the true enchantments worked by the ancient craftsmen come alive only at the touch of a bard of the Old Lore. [LGG - 161,162] 

One would think that summed it up: The worship of Beory and Obad-Hai is the Old Faith, or is very closely linked to the Old Faith—or is within Flan culture, anyway. 

If that were so, then where did the Green Man from UK1 Beyond the Crystal Cave come from? He too is a nature god. But he’s not Obad-Hai, is he….

Is he a little nature god, where Beory and Obad-Hai are major ones? Is he Beory’s and Obad-Hai’s son? There’s nary a mention of him anywhere else, so I doubt that. Is the Green Man something entirely different?

The Green Man is an inhabitant of the prime material plane who concerns himself with the plants and creatures of the natural, mundane world. He is also interested in the produce of nature, especially that used in the making of beers, ales and wines. This is reflected by his symbol which is the hop — foundation of the finest ales. He adopts many guises (gardener, brewer, forester, etc.) for his dealings with mortals amongst which he favours the simple folk of the countryside. Known by many regional names (of which the Green Man, John Barleycorn and Mother Nature's Son are but three) he is often called upon by peasants and smallholders dependent on the whims of nature to increase their crops and to help them celebrate harvest home in the manner that only he can. They enjoy his appearances as a welcome break from the harshness of daily toil. [UK1 Beyond the Crystal Cave - 30,31]

The Green Man has few permanent worshippers. Some, however, choose him as their patron deity, although he takes little interest in his followers and will only influence the spheres of natural abundance and then only rarely. [UK1 - 31]

Regardless who the Green Man is, he wields power, much as Beory and Obad-Hai do. But where Beory and Obad-Hai are Flan gods and widely known, the Green Man is not.

I’ll repeat: The Old Faith is most firmly rooted wherever the Flan reside.

The Old Faith (druidism), as practiced by the common folk throughout the central Flanaess, was the center of culture [in the County of Ulek]. The sovereign was always a member of the druidic hierarchy, whose position was respected by both the human and nonhuman inhabitants of the county, regardless of the ruler's race or patron deity. [LGG - 117]

It is strong in the Viscounty of Verbonbonc, as well.
Many of the humans of Verbonbonc […] are god-fearing souls, worshiping the Old Faith (druidic or reserving their prayers for St. Cuthbert of the Cudgel. [WG8 Fate of Istus - 93] 

So, the Old Faith was worshipped alongside the new faiths, even if in Hommlet [most] of the local folk are of the Old Faith—the druidical—and consider the Druid of the Grove […] to be their spiritual caretaker. [T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil - 6]

 What can be said of the people of the Old Faith. They are close to the land. They are an industrious folk. They are brewers, cabinet makers, millers, and stonemasons, but for the most part, they are farmers and herdsmen, the common folk, the peasant folk.

This wood and plaster house is well kept, and the barn beyond is bulging with hay, grain, and so forth. Several fat animals are about. Two large farm dogs bark at your approach, and a rosy-cheeked goodwife appears at the doorway.
The large goodwife is friendly, greeting all who call, while her four children look on. Inside, a young girl and her old granny do various chores. The lintel over the front door is carved with acorns and oak leaves. If politely asked, any adult in the family will state that the family is of the Old Faith (i.e. druidical).
The head of the house and his two full grown sons are at work in the nearby fields. These three are members of the town militia. [T1-4 - 7] 

This rustic abode houses the local woodcutter, who is a member of the local militia. He lives with his wife and three young children. He has nothing of interest to characters, and is not interested in adventuring. He keeps his leather armor, battle axe, and heavy crossbow (with 30 quarrels) in a chest in the bedroom. He is of the Old Faith, and will report anything unusual to the druid [….] [T1-4 - 8] 

The house and barn show that this farmer is doing well, and the stock in the fenced-in yard are very fine-looking. You see a fetching feminine face in a window.
A widow and her two grown sons (members of the Militia) dwell here, the latter with their wives and eight children. They are interested in neither trade nor adventuring. These folk are all of the Old Faith. [T1-4 - 8] 

This place is the home of a strapping farmer and his equally large son, the farmer's wife, and six daughters—one of whom has a small child. They are friendly but have nothing of interest to [say.] These folk are of the Old Faith and have lived here all of their lives. The farmer and his son are both militiamen. [T1-4 - 8]

All in all, the people of the Old Faith are hardworking and fruitful, if those excerpts are any indication. Family and community are very much in the forefront of their daily lives. 

The druid is their spiritual leader.

Jaroo Ashstaff
This is obviously a place of worship. The trees are neatly pruned, and the grass is well tended. A carefully placed line of bluish stones sets off the path leading to a rock cairn where flowers, nuts, berries, and garlands of leaves are placed. A small path leads beyond the shrine to a low-roofed wooden building placed under the great boughs of the central oaks of the copse.
A call will bring forth the druid, Jaroo Ashstaff. All comers to the Grove are expected to make an offering here and there (and the druid will remind them, if necessary). If the visitors are not of the Old Faith, they are expected to give several gold pieces to Jaroo as donations towards the needy of Hommlet. The druid will listen to requests for assistance from those who contribute.
Jaroo is an agent of the druids of Gnarley Wood, sent to Hommlet to see if the Temple of Elemental Evil is totally destroyed, and to help repress any rise of evil of that sort. He will give aid by spells, but will not accompany a party. If the visitors are suspicious sorts, Jaroo will follow at a distance to see what goes on. He has a huge black bear, which is always nearby but out of sight 95 % of the time. [T1-4 - 12]

 The village elder is of the Old Faith as well.
This place has an eight foot high stone wall and a heavy gate. It is obviously the residence of some well-to-do folk, and easily defensible in times of trouble.
This is the home of the village elder, his wife, and their four grown sons. Two of the sons are married, and their wives and three children live here also. The elder is a retired farmer, and his sons now care for the fields and livestock. All of his sons have horses, and are very proud of their status. Two servant girls and a hired farmhand are quartered in the stable loft.
All the inhabitants are of the Old Faith. The four sons and the hired hand are members of the militia. In the event of attack villagers nearby seek safety in this compound.
The elder is quite wise and greatly respected. He heads a council whose other members (in order of seniority) are—Jaroo, the druid of the Grove [,] Terjon, chief cleric of the church [,], Elmo's father, Captain of the militia [,], Ostler, the Innkeeper [,] Mytch, the Miller [,] Burne, the magic-user [, and] Rufus, Burne's associate [.]
The latter two are new arrivals to the council.
The elder is also the Justice of the Peace. Once each new moon, he holds a village meeting to hear ideas and complaints. [T1-4 - 12,13]

What else can we glean from that passage? Theirs’s is a oligarchical, gerontocratic society, with hints of theocracy and noocracy.

I note that it was the druids of the Old Faith who kept vigilance after the Temple of Elemental Evil had been sundered, for it is the Old Faith that remembers.

Kella is a druid, and possesses a valuable item made by her professional ancestors, a phylactery of change. This item enables here to use her innate shapechange ability to assume monster form as well as animal. The possible forms are still limited to monstrous reptile, bird, or mammal, the latter corresponding to the hill giant form. The phylactery does not radiate magic, and Kella carries no other magic items, to avoid exposure by detect magic or other means. Kella cannot cast spells in giant form, and will do nothing to give away her disguise; she speaks only when necessary, and is so immersed in her role that she has become almost giantish in her attitudes.

Kella has taken the form and jobs of old Scorpp, spying on the Greater Temple for the leaders of the Old Faith. She fears the current rise in evil power, and knows that time is limited. She also knows that she risks certain horrible death at the hands of Iuz himself should she be discovered, but things have gone well thus far — nearly two months in all. [T1-4 - 101]


Grove of the Green Man

I also note that there was no mention of Beory or Obad-Hai in all that text. Not a one. That might be because T1, The Village of Hommlet was published before the World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, but I would like to think that it’s because the Old Faith is older than either Beory or Obad-Hai. Far older.

The Old Faith has no truck with ethnicity. It transcends mere culture; it transcends race. It endures, because it has always been.


If the Old Faith was concerned about such things, would it ally itself with the Silent Ones?

The Silent Ones have few if any allies of note: Only a few groups, such as the rangers of the Dreadwood (known as the Dreadwalkers) and certain elements of the Old Faith, share any sympathies with them. [LGJ#4 - 15]

…or the Circle of Eight?

Drawmij also consorts with the Hierophant Sverdras Meno, a powerful being who oversees the vast Azure Sea. Meno is thought to be a member of the mysterious Cabal, a congregation of the Old Faith even more enigmatic than the Circle of Eight. Few know that it is the one-time fastness of the hierophant that Drawmij has made into his private residence. [LGJ#0 - 8]

One would suggest yes. They would. The Silent Ones strive to keep destructive magics out of the hands of the uninitiated (or so they say), and the Eight have always said that they strive to maintain the Balance. It’s just that the Old Faith might look upon these through very different tinted glasses. 

What we do know is that druids are priests of nature. The 1e PHB tells us as much:

The Watchers of the Wood
Druids can be visualized as medieval cousins of what the ancient Celtic sect of Druids would have become had it survived the Roman conquest. They hold trees (particularly oak and ash), the sun, and the moon as deities. Mistletoe is the holy symbol of druids, and it gives power to their spells. They have an obligation to protect trees and wild plants, crops, and to a lesser extent, their human followers and animals. Thus, druids will never destroy woodlands or crops no matter what the circumstances. Even though a woods, for example, were evilly hostile, druids would not destroy it, although nothing would prevent them from changing the nature of the place if the desire and wherewithal existed. In similar fashion, they avoid slaying wild animals or even domestic ones except as necessary for selfpreservation [sp] and sustenance. [PHB 1e - 21]

There was no mention of Beory until first detailed for the Dungeons & Dragons game in the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Game Setting (1983), by Gary Gygax. Beory is considered to be a manifestation of the Oerth itself. She does not care for anything else, and mortals or other deities only concern her if they threaten the Oerth. She is distant even from her own clerics, who wander the earth to experience the different parts of the world. They spend their time communing with nature and often associate with druids. [Wikipedia]

Or of Obad-Hai, for that matter.

The Oldest Faith

So, what is the Old Faith, if not Beory or Obad-Hai? Might it not be the worship of the Green God and the Earth Mother then, of the sacred male and female, of nature, whatever its manifestation?

Might I suggest that it is OLD. The Oldest faith. Older than even the Gods themselves, and that it finds its origins in the spark of creation, that it is the force behind creation, itself.

Might I suggest that those gods that followed this creative force are only pale imitations of this ancient creative force, creations of our imaginations given form and power by our very need to understand the unknown, and have congress with it.

Pelor, Pholtus, Phyton, Breeka, or Obad-Hai, or Beory.

What’s in a name, anyway?

So, how ancient is the Green God, anyway? And what might it look like, if anything?

What might it look like, if anything?

If I may be so coy:

Jaroo leans forward and says, “Well, the Green God is what gives a druid his power. It is the divine force created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds us, the Oerth, and the Multiverse, together.”


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.

The Art:
Obad-Hai, by Kyle Anderson, from Deities and Demigods, 3e, 2002
The Green Man, by Timothy Truman, from UK1 Beyond the Crystal Cave, 1983
Hommlet, by Dave Trampier, from T1 Village of Hommlet, 1979

1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
1068 Greyhawk Wars Boxed Set, 1991
2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
9066 UK1 Beyond the Crystal Cave, 1983
9147 Temple of Elemental Evil, 1985
9253 WG8 Fate of Istus, 1989
Dragon Magazine
11743 Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, 2000
Deities and Demigods, 3e, 2002

Friday 11 September 2020

Thoughts on A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity

“Begin, be bold, and venture to be wise.”
― Horace

Slave Pits of the Undercity
It is time to put a stop to the marauders! For years the coastal towns have been burned and looted by the forces of evil. You and your fellow adventurers have been recruited to root out and destroy the source of these raids. But beware, hundreds of good men and women have been taken by the slavers and have never been seen or heard from again! [A1 - 1]

For those of you who are of a certain age, or those who have read my thoughts on A0 Danger at Darkshelf Quarry, and Lowdown in Highport, you know the events leading up to this module. For those who haven’t, this is how the adventure was introduced:
For several years, organized bands of pirates and slavers have made a living by raiding the coastal towns on the Sea of Gearnat. Ranging from Onnwal to the Wild Coast, they have descended quickly and ruthlessly on the small towns and villages, and carried off innocent citizens into the night. Although these marauders were not approved of by the lords and rulers of the lands they raided, they were allowed to continue their depredations. Feuding amongst the lords and lack of funds prevented all but an occasional naval battle with the villains and the slow fortification of towns. Bribery was often a more effective method of protecting one’s lands from the incursions of these avaricious seawolves.
Recently, however, the slavers’ attacks have become more frequent and vicious. Believing their prey to be weak and helpless, the raiders have burnt entire villages and pulled down the walk of towns. Women, children, and whole families have disappeared; and though bribes are accepted, the agreements are ignored. Vast tracts of coastline have been reduced to ashes, left barren except for packs of wild dogs.
The lords have finally become determined to take action, forgetting their petty squabbles to unite against the marauders of the yellow sails. Through information gained from escaped slaves, and those fortunate enough to have been found and bought by families or friends, the lords have traced the slavers to a port from which they launch their swift attacks on the coast – the despoiled city of Highport in wasted Pomarj. Some who have lost kin and fortune to the reavers have advised taking a fleet and crushing the outpost, but cooler heads have prevailed. They have pointed out that such a base is undoubtedly well-defended and that the slavers, if alarmed, might arrange that loved ones and kin are never seen again. Instead, they have chosen a plan of stealth. 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.
Highport was once a human city, but the land and town have been overrun by humanoids - orcs, goblins, kobolds, ogres, and gnolls. Looted, burned, and ill-kept, the city has become a base for human outcasts wishing to deal with these unsavory creatures. Your party, provided with transport, has managed to arrive in Highport and pose as one of these groups come to deal. [A1 - 2]
The PCs have been hired to investigate and put an end to these dastardly foes. Sounds exciting.

It’s been forty years since David Cook penned Slave Pits of the Undercity. Has it held up? That’s a matter of opinion.
Modules have certainly evolved since it was released, WotC preferring to publish long adventure paths in preference of their shorter cousin, the tournament module. In truth, the tournament module is alive and well, and has evolved as well, leaving their initial format behind long ago.
Personally, I don’t think that A1 has aged well. It was released during the Monte Hall era, when PCs required a lot of magical items to face down those enemies they were sure to meet. But that isn’t, exactly, what dates it—although that does, as well, when one considers the lack of magic treasure to be found in those epic modern adventure paths; it’s the lack of verisimilitude and what we might call dungeon ecology.
Tournament modules were meant to be short, completed, if possible, in the four-hour timeslot allocated it at a convention. (Full disclosure, I’ve never been to a gaming convention, let alone participated in one of these competitions, so I can only repeat what I’ve heard from those who have.) They were meant to be challenging. To be so, the designers invariably included a couple new monsters to trip up those players who had memorized the Monster Manual. Those monsters were pretty “trippy,” in my opinion, many of them never to see the light of day again, except maybe in someone’s home campaign.

Upon rereading the module recently, I was of mixed mind as to how it held up. It’s not horrible. It’s not bad, either. For a classic tournament module, it’s really good, in fact.
But I must say that I was never a fan of dungeon crawls, and far too many classic modules were inundated with them.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved them when I began playing AD&D all those years ago. And were I thrown back into one, I’d likely feel the same thrill I did then, too. But why are they there? Was there a classic period of dungeon building when all kings and nobles and Ur-Flan priest-wizards wouldn’t be caught dead without having one tucked under their estate?
“How’s the dungeon coming, Acererak?”
“Great! I’d love to tell you about it, but…secrets, traps, you know the drill. I wish you could see it; it looks like a grinning skull when viewed from on top!”
“I shouldn’t have told you that.” Casts Finger of Death.
So, if I were to run this classic now, what would I do to “fix” it? I’d ditch the dungeon. Keep the action above ground. Okay, I’d throw in a basement or two, if you must know. Nothing scales a PC more than plumbing the depths.
My complaint aside, is it good? I thought there was a lot to recommend it. Hordes of orcs guarded it; there were a number of undead scattered about it. Tortured slaves to rescue. And dastardly villains to defeat.
But the layout has to go. The temple looks like a dungeon and not a temple. And don’t get me started on the aspis. Were they ever used again?

No matter. It was always meant to be a one-off, but what if it weren’t? It needs greater depth. It needs greater continuity beyond a simple map pointing the PCs in the right direction, to the next module, to the next dungeon. Luckily, everything needed to do just that is already included in the A-series. I would not rewrite it so much as retool it.
Sturm Blucholtz

Firstly, the cleric and the Slave Lord (thief) ought to play a greater role in the narrative, and in keeping with such, they ought to be named. In 1986’s A1-4 Scourge of the Slavelords, the thief Slave Lord was named Sturm Blucholtz (a member of the Slavers’ outer circle), and then in 2000’s Slavers, they were referred to as Dirk (we’ll assume that’s Sturm’s alias) and Pieta. How ever you choose to name them, I’d make Pieta an acolyte of the Elemental Eye (and not a cleric of Grummsh as suggested online in the Great Library of Grehawk) for continuity and simplicity’s sake. Why? Because I really like the Elemental Evil, that’s why. And because it was referenced in A0 Danger at Darkshelf Quarry.

Secondly, there should be cameos to link this narrative with those that follow. One might be Nerelas of A3 Assault on Aerie of the Slave Lords, there to inspect Highport’s efficiency of operations.

Thirdly, Highport needs to be developed. Unless you are running this module as a tournament and start the PCs at the foot of the temple, they are going to explore it. There’s a fair description of the sundered city in Dungeon magazine’s Lowdown in Highport.
The Temple Ruin in 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, Lowdown in Highport - 4]

Finally, and most importantly, the temple and surrounding buildings need to be re-mapped and fleshed out in detail. That’s where the action is, after all. It was, but I don’t like the look of the layout. The temple and the surrounding structures look like a dungeon, and they most assuredly would not.  I’d move the Slave Lords to the rectory and develop that even more fully. Infest the cemetery with undead; have quite a few of them milling about, guarding the approaches. Fill the temple with too many orcs to fight, and the basement with too many slaves to liberate. Would there be traps? Not in the temple, surely. In the rectory? Maybe on doors barring personal quarters and chests, to safeguard their personal treasures from the orcs, but not in many other places; the Slavers ought to feel secure here, if they were to feel secure anywhere. They are in the heart of the Pomarj, after all. Who could possible attack them there?

So, once again, the question need be asked. Did I like A1 Slave Pits of the Slave Lords?
I did. It might not sound like it, but I did. David Cook did a hell of a job.

The Art:
Cover Art, from A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity, by Jeff Dee, 1980
Temple Cartography, from A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity, 1980
Two Adventurers Fighting Aspis, from A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity, by Bill Willingham, 1980
Sewer Orcs, from A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity, by Jeff Dee, 1980

9039A A0 Danger at Darkshelf Quarry, 2013
9039 A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity, 1980
9040 A2 Secret of the Slaver’s Stockade, 1981
9041 A3 Aerie of the Slave Lords, 1981
9042 A4 In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords, 1981
Lowdown at Highport, by Thomas M. Reid, Dungeon magazine #221, 2013

Friday 4 September 2020

On Vlek Col Vlekzed

“Some are born great, others achieve greatness.”
― William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

Vlek Col Vlekzed
The Hold of Stonefist has always been an enigma to those outside looking in. It is an Evil land, most say; but those who do have suffered its raids and its crimes of War. Sol never shines there, they say; and because of it, the souls of the “Fists” are as black as pitch. Those same Fists laugh when they hear such things, arguing that they are Flan, and are born of Beory and given the breath of life by Obad-Hai; before they bear Erythnul’s witness and beat those to suggest otherwise within a hair’s breadth of death.
What is known is mainly hearsay, for few would dare to brave its harsh lands.
A frigid climate and brutal regime combine to make Stonehold one of the harshest lands in all the Flanaess. Bounded to the west and north by the Icy Sea, Stonehold's southern and eastern borders are formed by the Griffs and Corusks. The majority of Stoneholders live a seminomadic existence, moving to the northern tundra in summer and migrating south in the autumn. The remaining third or so of the population dwell in permanent settlements, mostly west of the Frozen River. Brute strength has long been the main virtue espoused by the people of this land, and treachery the byword of her leaders. All of the bordering nations are Stonehold's enemies. Stonehold has no trade, her only export being war, and in this she excels. [LGG – 108, 109]
Are these claims true? Most are. Some are not. The Hold is rich with the most luxurious furs, ermine and sable and mink, and the most sought-after ivory, from walrus, and the tusks of mammoths and mastodons, no less. The purest silver gleams from its rock face, although who might be mining it none can tell, as most Holders wouldn’t know one end on a pickaxe for the other, unless it were used to crack a skull or two, that is.
As I said, the Hold is an enigma. As was its founder.

What is known is that [the] original Stonefist, one Vlek Col Vlekzed, founded his chiefdom around CY 430. Vlek was cast out from the Rovers of the Barrens for banditry, deceit, and murder, but a small number of warriors and their families followed this harsh and brutal but charismatic man. [FTAA – 38]
Was he a Rover? Some clam he was; but I doubt the veracity of that claim. He was Flan, that much is certain. But so are a great many of the Stonefists. In fact, I believe that Vlek was a Colten, once.
The people of the Hold of Stone Fist […] are primarily hybrids, [of] Flan/Suel [descent.] [WOGA - 13]
Most Holders are Flan (even if they are spotted with the blood of the Suel), for so too are the Rovers and the Tenhas, and a great many of the peoples inhabiting Theocracy of the Pale.
The […] citizens of the Theocracy of the Pale are primarily hybrids, [of] Flan/Oeridian [descent.] [Dragon #55 – 18]
So, regardless whether Vlek was a Rover or a Colten, he was Flan, and thus a product of The Old Faith.
The practices of the Old Faith are generally in accord with those of other nature priesthoods. The druids do not engage in the sacrifice of sentient creatures, yet there is a dark legacy within the Old Faith. The druids of antiquity allied themselves with the sorcerous Ur-Flan, who once held whole tribes in bondage to their evil. The unspeakable rituals performed by the Ur-Flan went unchallenged by the druidic hierarchy of that era, so long as the former were not so prevalent in any region as to threaten the balance of nature. Eventually, the Ur-Flan sorcerers waned in power and vanished. Some of their magical secrets are still preserved by the Old Faith. The Old Faith is still widely practiced in the Flanaess, and not only in those regions dominated by descendants of the Flan peoples. The age-old sacred groves and monolithic circles of the Old Faith may include shrines dedicated to any nature deity the resident druids permit, but most often they are unadorned. While Beory the Oerth Mother is the best known deity associated with the Old Faith, any druid of purely neutral alignment may matriculate through the Nine Circles of Initiation, regardless of which nature god that druid venerates. [LGG – 161]
A mixed legacy, indeed. Vecna was Ur-Flan. So too Keraptis, and Keraptis had reigned over the whole of the northeast for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
Did that make the Coltens evil? Not necessarily; but the Coltens had lived under Keraptis’ rule, and they would have learned and understood their lessons well: that strength must be obeyed, and the weak subjected, enslaved and plundered. They would have learned cruelty as well as the application of strength, an important lesson to those living in a harsh and unforgiving land.

Was Vlek evil? Maybe. Most likely. His actions would suggest as much. The weapon he wielded would suggest as much, as well:
Stonefist Sword of Rage +2: This two-handed sword was enchanted during the reign of Vlek Col Vlekzed. No one is sure if Vlek wielded it himself, though the warriors of the Hold of Stonefist stubbornly (and violently) claim so. No one doubts that the weapon contains the strength and ferocity upon which Vlek built his domain. [GA – 87]
Such a weapon would truly be favoured by one who would venerate Erythnul.

He was surely driven to conquer.
The Rovers of the Barrens
Stonefist, then Vlek Col Vlekzed, founded his chiefdom in approximately 430 CY. Vlek was cast out from the Rovers of the Barrens for banditry and lying, but a small number of warriors and their families followed him as leader. For several years he wandered around the fringes of his homeland, raiding and stealing from everyone without prejudice. These minor successes attracted a growing following of fellow outcasts, bandits, criminals and like unsavory types. Yet with this strange mixture of fighters, he mounted a highly successful raid into Tenh, swung down into the Bandit Kingdoms and recruited more followers, and then defeated a punitive expedition sent from Tenh. When threatened by a bandit kinglet, Vlek replied by surprising his stronghold, sacking it, and carrying away most of its population. Riding unmolested through the lands of his former people, but not caring to test their fighting ability, Vlek moved beyond White Fanged Bay and established a fortified settlement as a permanent camp. [WOGA – 36, 37]
Vlek moved them beyond White Fanged Bay, where he established the fortified town of Vlekstaad. The Coltens were very uneasy with his presence in their land, but Vlek promised a truce and offered to negotiate with their leaders. As the Coltens traveled to the appointed site, they were ambushed and slaughtered by the followers of Stonefist. The remainder of the Coltens host was routed, and Vlek settled down to rule over the whole territory. [LGG – 109]
As Vlek's infamy spread, malcontents from many nations came to his standard, despite his new name of Stonefist (implying both a terrible foeman and an inflexible ruler). [WOGA – 36, 37]

The Fists
[Stonefist established the] Mastership of the Hold [as] a semi-hereditary position and title. The descendants of Vlek (he had 219 wives and 351 male children who survived to maturity) compete in a bi-annual "Rite of Battle Fitness." The winner may challenge the Master, one of the Atamen of the three towns, or lead a warband and become a chief. The surviving losers join the standing warbands (the "Fists"), those who did best becoming chieftains, sub-chiefs, and leaders of raiding bands. These savage war and raiding bands commonly raid Fruztii, Tenh, and even the Rovers of the Barrens. About 30% or so of the population of the Hold dwell in permanent settlements, and from these people are drawn the bulk of the footmen. Most of the balance of the population are semi-nomadic, moving into the northern tundra in the summer, and migrating south in the fall. From these people come the horsemen and light infantry of the "Fists." [WOGA – 36]

When Ratik and the Fruztii made peace, the subsequent battles for the Kelten Pass brought several telling defeats to “fists” led by the descendant warband leaders. The Hold was then divided between those who followed the laws laid down by Vlek Col Vlekzed, and those who claimed that Stonefist’s methods are no longer appropriate and the Coltens Feodality should be restored. The nomads and settlers west and around the Frozen River championed the ways of Stonefist. The population around Kelten and the Hraak Forest wished to establish new forms of leadership. [Dragon #57 - 13]

The Coltens folk had no place in this hierarchy, and many fled to the Hraak Forest, or beyond the Big Seal Bay and the northern thrust of the Corusks to dwell in the Taival Tundra, in the land of the Ice Barbarians). [LGG – 109]
[Few] tundra-dwellers are Ice Barbarians, most having Flan ancestry and being related to the Coltens of Stonehold. They do not serve as warriors for the Cruski, instead paying tribute to their Suel overlords to be left alone. [LGG – 54]
Those who could not flee remained in servitude to Stonefist and his descendants. [LGG – 109]
Vlek ruled by terror and brutality, but his people loved him for it. [FTAA – 38]

The Stonefist
Vlek fashioned his land after his own philosophy. Only the strong were fit to rule. And long did he rule, despite the challenges he had to face.
The Rovers hated him forever more.
[The Rovers] practiced their fighting skills against the men of the Hold of Stonefist and the savages and humanoids they met on raids into the Cold Marshes. [Dragon #56 - 22]
As did the Barbarians.
The Ice Barbarians are an utterly chaotic bunch, inhabiting the bitter northern and eastern edges of the Thillonrian Peninsula. They are formidable seamen, raiding west along the northern coast of Stonefist (in summer when the break-up of ice allows this) [.] [FTAA - 28]
In high summer [the Cruskii often find fighting by rounding the coasts of the Hold of Stonefist, and […] have both hatred and respect for the dour inhabitants of that land. [WOGA – 26]

And there are dangers upon the tundra.
Legends tell of a beautiful land in the heart of [the Griff Mountains], where buildings are roofed with precious metals and gems lie about on the ground. More reliable are reports that a gigantic city of orcs lies underground here, near Stonehold. [LGG – 143]
Great bears and wolves roam [the] depths [of the Hraak Forest], and a fair number of white dragons unexpectedly lair within. [LGG – 141]
Yeti and giants scale the heights, sabretooth tigers prowl the forests. Mammoths, mastodons, woolly rhinos and wolverines.
There are others, too; horrifying things. Winter wolves, remorhaz, ice toads and trolls. A hag or two for good measure.
And truly inexplicable things, too.

The Nauskiree
Nauskiree are tall, bizarre monsters thought to have migrated to the northern Flanaess from Telchuria before the twin Cataclysms, figuring into old Flannae tales of that region. Solitary hunters, they act much like trap-door spiders, hiding for long periods of time until prey approaches, then striking out with magic and teeth. Although they hunt alone, they are sometimes enslaved by frost giants and used as guardians.
Nauskiree appear almost bipedal, their torsos being larger than their pelvis. However, their extremely long limbs and greater weight on their forward half make it hard for them to lift both forelimbs for more than a moment, and so the creature gets about on all fours. Its skin is gnarled like bark, and coloured in a random pattern od dark gray and white that resembles snow clinging to the trunk or branches of a tree. Its skull-like head and some of its joints are surrounded by stringy gray hair resembling dead grass or pine needles. [LGJ#1 - 22]
To come upon one is almost certain doom. A deathly cold cling to them, and those who stray too close are stricken by it, their limbs torpid, their minds clouded with confusion.

The Hold would seem a truly uninhabitable place.
Did any of these defeat the Stonefist?
Not a one.
Nor his progeny. Or his people.
From this mix of settled and semi-nomadic people, Vlek's descendants created a fierce and savage raiding force. [FTAA – 38]
Is it any wonder that the Fists are a fearsome people?

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. 
Special thanks to Jason Zavoda for his compiled index, “Greyhawkania,” an invaluable research tool.

The Art:
Vlad by oleolah
Nauskiree, by Sean K. Reynolds, illustration by Sam Wood, from Living Greyhawk Journal #1

1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
2023 Greyhawk Adventures Hardback, 1988
1064 From the Ashes Boxed Set, 1992
9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1980
9577 The Adventure Begins, 1998
9578 Player’s Guide to Greyhawk, 1998
11742 Gazetteer, 2000
11743 Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, 2000
Living Greyhawk Journal, #1
Dragon Magazine 55,56,57
Greyhawkania, Jason Zavoda
The map of Anna B. Meyer