“It is indeed a mistake to confuse children with angels”
|The Wind Dukes of Aaqa|
Tales of the era before the migrations are fragmentary and poorly understood. Did monstrous creatures rule Oerik before the advent of humanity? Did the great races of humans, elves, dwarves, and the like arise by fiat of the gods or journey here from elsewhere? Did the elves raise humanity to civilization, or did humans achieve this on their own? Did the Flan once have their own empires and civilizations? Who built the oldest tombs in the Cairn Hills, the half-buried ruins in the Bright Desert, or the deserted stone cities in the Griff Mountains? Where were the fabled realms ruled by Johydee, the Wind Dukes of Aaqa, Vecna the Whispered One, the High Kings of the dwarves, or the elven King of Summer Stars? What became of the mysterious Isles of Woe, and who dwelled there? No one knows with any certainty. [LGG – 13] (2001)
These are but a few. Some of these were introduced to us within the pages of the OD&D Little Brown Books: Vecna, the Codex of Infinite Planes, and the Axe of the Dwarven Lords, for instance; some from modules: the Ghost Tower and White Plume Mountain; still others like Tuerny and Johydee and Ye'Cind and their artifacts came to us in the AD&D 1e Dungeon Masters Guide; most are but scant paragraphs, perhaps only a line or two attached to some artifact of old.
Rod of Seven Parts: The Wind Dukes of Aaqa are the legendary creators of this artifact. It is said that they constructed the Rod to use in the great battle of Pesh where Chaos and Law contended. There, the Rod was shattered, and its parts scattered, but the enchantments of the item were such that nothing could actually destroy it, so if its sections are recovered and put together in the correct order, the possessor will wield a weapon of surpassing power. [DMG 1e – 160] (1979)
Who might those Dukes have been? They most certainly found their first mention in early play when alignment was limited to Law and Chaos, or Gary Gygax would have spoken of Good and Evil. But aside from the need to create the mentioned Rod (to which we had to furnish with its powers, both baneful and benign), used at the then unknown Pesh, we were left to wonder. And to fill in the gaps.
There were so many gaps then. That leads me to marvel at how unique individual campaigns were then.
Who were these Wind Dukes of yours? Did you even care to ponder; or were such ancient mysteries as these always left unresolved, just names gleaned from a long-forgotten past, etchings on a wall.
Were these mysteries ever resolved? No, not at all, then. Pesh and the Wind Dukes were never mentioned again. Not in the Dragon, not in the Folio or the Boxed Set, not anywhere, despite the expectation that those names and artifacts in the 1e DMG would to be elaborated on. Indeed, we expected they would be, given the clues.
We were invited to obtain one of the commercially available milieux, and place the starting point of your campaign somewhere within this already created world. At the risk of being accused of being self-serving, I will mention parenthetically that my own WORLD OF GREYHAWK, (published by TSR) [….] [DMG 1e – 47]
THE WORLD OF GREYHAWK. This work provides a complete campaign milieu in which to base adventures and characters, place dungeons, etc. Two large full-color maps, a folder, and a 32-page booklet full of ready-made historical and geographical information. [DMG 1e – 236]
|Codex of Infinite Planes|
Jacinth of Inestimable Beauty: Legend relates that the Jacinth was possessed by the fabled Sultan Jehef Peh'reen for a time and then passed into the Land of Ket and southward into Keoland (see THE WORLD OF GREYHAWK), where all trace disappeared. [DMG 1e – 158]
That setting booklet would not be made available for another year. And when it was, it was sparse in detail. And alas, the mysteries in the DMG remained just that … mysteries. We were informed that the setting was “ours to do with as we wished.” [Folio – 3]
Pesh and the Wind Dukes were left dangling in the wind, so to speak.
It would come to pass that those who followed in Mr. Gygax’s considerable wake would drop as equally enigmatic hints as his to whom or what the Wind Dukes might be and where they might have sallied forth from to battle upon fabled Pesh.
The following places exist, but their exact locations are unknown or have been lost to time.
The Eternal Storm of the Wind Dukes:
|The Eternal Storm of the Wind Dukes|
Those who have sought out the storm have never found it; most who encounter it do not return to speak of what they have seen. [FtAC – 37] (1992)
Location unknown? An eternal storm a half-mile in radius should be a beacon, I would think. Perhaps it winks in and out of existence, and never appears in the same place twice?
Was Carl Sargent privy to special knowledge? Did he have access to notebooks and napkins Gary left behind upon his ousting to draw upon? Most likely not. I suspect Carl was as drawn to those relics and hitherto unelaborated references in the DMG as we were and had a burning desire to flesh them out. It make them his own, so to speak. They were wide open, after all – canonically; so, why not lay claim to them, why not fill in the gaps? He could have left well-enough alone. But he did not.
|The Isles of Woe|
For however reason, the Wind Dukes would henceforth be forever linked to the long-lost Isles of Woe.
All well and good, thus far, though. The Wind Dukes remained mysterious, a glimmer in the imagination, figures in the epic sagas like the whispering hymns of the long-dead Wind Dukes of Aaqa. [Ivid – 86] (1995)
I like that. But I’m from an era when adventure modules were hard to come by and sourcebooks were few, when these vague and leading lore drops inspired us to create our own adventures, our own worlds.
2nd Edition changed all that. The pace of publications was swift; adventures exceeded 30 pages; and descriptions of magic items filled a page or two, and not just a paragraph or two. Why make mere mention of the Dukes and Pesh, as was the case in the 1e DMG, when an epic ancient war between Law and Chaos could be told in full?
Eons ago, a great war was waged between the Wind Dukes of Aaqa (the guardians of Law) and the Queen of Chaos. Those polar forces each craved the annihilation of the other, and were so obsessed with enforcing their ideologies that they spared no thought for Good and Evil. For many years the balance of power shifted back and forth, and neither side could achieve the upper hand.
|The Captains of Law Surrounded the Wolf-Spider|
Therefore, they left the Captains of Law to hold the line while they combined all of their powers and created a magnificent ebony rod. With the newly created artifact in hand, the Wind Dukes rejoined the war at the battle of Pesh. The Dukes gave the Rod to the Captains of Law and bade them vanquish Chaos.
A fearsome battle raged for weeks, and the advantage shifted repeatedly between the foes. Finally, the Captains of Law surrounded the Wolf-Spider, and before the legions of Chaos could swarm to their leader's side, the Rod was driven through Miska's body. For a moment, every soldier stood terrified by the horrible scream of the general. Miska's foul blood covered the Rod and penetrated it as he writhed on the ground, and the magical forces of Law that had been infused into the Rod were combined with the essence of Chaos in Miska's blood, which ruptured the Rod and shattered it into seven pieces. Meanwhile, the Wolf-Spider was cast through a planar rip created by the explosion, and he remains lost on an unknown plane. The Queen's soldiers converged upon the site in an attempt to capture the parts of the Rod, but the Wind Dukes intervened and magically scattered the pieces across the world.
Ever since that time, agents of the Queen have been ordered to seek out the Rod at any cost. It is rumored that if she regains all the parts, she can use the reconstructed Rod to find the Wolf-Spider and return him to her side, whereupon the wars will begin anew. [Book of Artifacts – 91] (1993)
That passage in the Book of Artifacts is epic. I wonder, though, at the level of detail expounded in the above passage. It’s as if this were but a blurb of what was already in the production queue.
And lo and behold, could it be anything but? Just two years on, the Wind Dukes were raised from obscurity, indeed from their long-dead [Ivid – 86] presumption, for a boxed set!
I won’t share the entirety of the passage – it’s easily twice the length of the one above – it’s altogether identical to the other, too, if far more detailed. It’s far “bigger,” too.
Warfare raged on several worlds (dozens by some accounts). The opposing armies were mighty. The guardians of Law were the Wind Dukes of Aaqa, scions of an empire already ancient at the way's beginning. [Ri7P 3 – 2]
Bigger, greater, and far more ancient: Prior, in the DMG 1e, only the battle of Pesh was mentioned, with no hint where said Pesh might be; in the Book of Artifacts the was is described as "great," equally mum on location; but this boxed set takes it to an entirely different level: It’s larger than life: THE WAR – full caps intended – so to speak, maybe the First War, presumably; the War that decided the ultimate fate of the multiverse; a war that found its climax on Oerth.
When the Rod was completed, the seven champions rejoined the conflict at the battle of Pesh, on the world of Oerth. After weeks of maneuvering, the two armies clashed on a vast, volcanic plain. [Ri7P 3 – 2]
Some presume that vast, volcanic plain to be in the shadow of White Plume Mountain.
The eons of conflict between the two opposing forces finally reached a conclusion of sorts on the Fields of Pesh, a land in the shadow of White Plume Mountain on the world of Oerth. [Age Before Ages, GreyhawkWiki]
As to the Wind Dukes, all their past mystery has been set to rest.
Aeons ago, the vaati ruled a vast empire spread over several worlds on the Prime Material Plane, with footholds throughout the planes. When war between Law and Chaos erupted, the vaati were nearly annihilated. They survived only by creating the Rod of Seven Parts and using it to end the war. [Ri7P 4 – 13]
Indeed, no detail is left to the imagination. People, society, classes, castes, are laid bare. As are they.
Vaati look like statuesque humans. They are tall, muscular, and androgynous. As a rule, they wear no clothing, but usually wear belts or harnesses to carry weapons and equipment. Vaati have smooth, ebony skin, brilliantly white eyes that sparkle with inner light, and velvety black hair (which usually is kept closely shaved). [Ri7P 4 – 13]
This race of lawful immortals has mostly withdrawn from the affairs of mortals as it tries to recover from the losses it suffered during the war against Chaos. A small, dedicated cadre of vaati have remained to dedicate themselves to tracking the Rod and thwarting the queen. Yet all is not well in the beautiful Vale of Aaqa. One Wind Duke has grown impatient with the uneasy truce that has existed between Law and Chaos, and seeks to reopen the war by releasing Miska. [Ri7P 1 – 3]
A couple of the Wind Dukes are named:
Arquestan, a good-hearted vaati [Ri7P 1 – 3]
He is a Wind Duke, a member of the race that created the Rod of Seven Parts. [Ri7P 1 – 28]
His thirst of for a new war with Chaos has been festering for millenia [.] [Ri7P 2 – 62]
Qadeej's answer is a complete fabrication. The queen wants the Rod assembled so Miska can be restored to full health and escape the cocoon of law, and Qadeej knows it. Once he has convinced the PCs that assembling the Rod is the best thing to do, Qadeej vanishes back to Aaqa. [Ri7P 2 – 44]
Others are named later: Amophar, Darbos, Emoniel, Nadroc, Penader, and Uriel. [Wind Dukes of Aaqa, Greyhawk Wiki]
So too those slain: Icosiol and Zosiel [Dungeon #129 – 40] (2005)
This is all well and good. It’s an adventure. For high level characters, characters that are higher level than most kings in the Gold Box.
[T]his adventure is written for a party of five to seven characters at the 10th to 12th level of experience (60-70 character levels in all). [Ri7P 1 – 4]
And high level characters require greater challenge. Greater stakes.
But, to my mind, the cost of this epic adventure is mystery and wonder.
Are the Wind Dukes of Aaqa still the legendary creators [DMG 1e – 160] of the Rod in Seven Parts when [a]ny sage can tell the party that the vaati are a lost race of immortals more commonly known as the Wind Dukes of Aaqa. [Ri7P 3 – 4]
A sage versed in folklore, history, or law […] can tell the party the whole story of the battle of Pesh and the events leading up to it. [Ri7P 3 – 4]
Theories from sages and historians tend to reveal more about their authors' preferences than they do about the truth of the matter. [Ri7P 3 – 2]
Indeed, they are no longer “a group of very seclusive and ancient wizards as powerful as the Wind Dukes of Aqaa” [WGR5 – 60] at all if they are the vaati, an ancient race that seems to have more in common with divine and infernal beings than mere mortals.
|The Battle of Pesh|
The fight against the Queen of Chaos was long and relentless, and it culminated in the Battle of Pesh. The Wind Dukes won a pyrrhic victory there — the loss of so many of their greatest leaders (including the great Wind Duke General Icosiol) weakened their hold on not only the Material Plane but the Inner Planes as well. Over time, their elemental allies drifted away, and more realms were sealed from the planar byways.
The decline of the Wind Dukes took centuries. In that time, they built enormous tombs to honor their dead, choosing sites on the Material Plane near to where they fell as the locations of their eternal rest. One of the greatest of these tombs was that of Icosiol, the general who defeated the Queen of Chaos and her lackey, Miska the Wolf Spider. Icosiol used a potent artifact called the Rod of Law to cast them into the outer darkness. This great victory came at a significant cost, for the Rod of Law fragmented to become the Rod of Seven Parts , and Icosiol himself was slain in the final battle. Millennia later, the Wind Dukes have passed into legend, and this tomb still remains hidden under the Fields of Pesh, its entrance concealed hundreds of miles to the south behind a collapsed section of tomb for another Wind Duke (Zosiel, slayer of the demon Kizarvidexus) known today as the Whispering Cairn. [Dungeon #129 – 40] (2005)
|Figures of Myth and Legend|
Your PCs should hit 12th level at some point in this adventure […] [Dungeon #129 – 39]
Adventure Paths in Dungeon Magazine are quite similar to the weighty tomes of 5e that followed, taking their cast of characters from infancy to eventual epic feats, defeating the likes of archdevils, elder evils, and Queens of Chaos; so much so that I expect the first made the latter possible. Bigger and better, some may opine. They got what they wished: heroic characters engaged in epic exploits.
Am I a fan? No, but I see the appeal; so, I don’t judge.
I prefer a smaller scale, one reminiscent of when I began, of a decidedly mortal man, delving ever deeper into the dark depths of an ancient tomb, his torch sputtering, his arrows or spells few. The light of the torch plays across the glyphs etched into the limestone. They’re old, ancient in fact; but he’d come across similar ones before. One stands out from the others: Aaqa!
There are others who share my view, I imagine, who harken back to those days of yore, before PCs began flitting about the multiverse. Note this passage:
Rod in Seven Parts
Created by the Wind Dukes of Aaqa in prehistory to defend Oerth from armies of Chaos, the Rod was split into seven parts and scattered. [Dragon #299 – 103] (2002)
I detect no mention of elemental vaati or planar travel. What I detect is a potential for creation.
“Without myth, however, every culture loses its healthy creative natural power: it is only a horizon encompassed with myth that rounds off to unity a social movement.”
―The Birth of Tragedy
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.
Special thanks to Jason Zavoda for his compiled index, “Greyhawkania,” an invaluable research tool.
Codex of Infinite Planes, by Daniel Frazier, from Book of Artifacts, 1993
The Captains of Law Surrounded the Wolf-Spider, from The Rod in Seven Parts, 1996
Vaati, by Glen Michael Angus, from The Rod in Seven Parts, 1996
The Vaati, by Glen Michael Angus, from Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume 4, 1998
Vaati tomb detail, from Dungeon #124, 2005
Dragon, by Erol Otus, from The Rod in Seven Parts, 1996
1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
1064 From the Ashes Boxed Set, 1992
1145 The Rod in Seven Parts, 1996
2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
2138 Book of Artifacts, 1993
9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1980
9399 WGR5 Iuz the Evil, 1993
9577 The Adventure Begins, 1998
11434 Return to White Plume Mountain, 1999
11621 Slavers, 2000
11743 Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, 2000
Oerth Journal #1, 2
Living Grayhawk Journal #2
Dragon Magazine #82, 167, 293, 294, 295, 299
Dungeon Magazine #129
The Greyhawk Wiki
Greychrondex, Wilson, Steven B.
Greyhawkania, Jason Zavoda
The map of Anna B. Meyer
Amazing compilation of info on these iconic figures. I always had "Elric" law vs chaos in mind when "Dukes" were mentioned at war and with epic artifacts. Elementals or not, its remarkable how their backstory grew over time and over different authors. There is surely more to be told than just Pesh. Paizo went in the right direction in Age of Worms. If only that AP focused more on the Ro7 parts. I was never a fan of the boxed set adventure.ReplyDelete
Thanks David, this is a fabulous rendition.ReplyDelete
Awesome article David. I have often wondered about this enigmatic group from early times and you have done the deep dive to put it all together. Again! Love it.ReplyDelete
These guys just came up in our 3.5 campaign last week. Timely and informative Dave!ReplyDelete
My son Henry's current 1:1/solo campaign in Greyhawk is set at the mouth the Nesser River in a town named Relaqua. While working up the names of the settlements in the region (which is pretty much ignored in the 576 version of Darlene's Greyhawk map), we decided that the town was originally named Rel Aaqa, which over time was simplified to Relaqua.ReplyDelete
But, that Aaqa part does play into the region's history, as we continue to explore it in at the table :D