Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Chaos in Gothic Greyhawk

Spoilers:  note to my players, because I muse about some future adventure opportunities here, you may want to skip this one...

One of the trends in urban fantasy I wanted to pilfer for D&D was to turn some of the "great powers" of the world into recurring characters that interact with the player characters from time to time, more so as they become powerful and noteworthy.

I'm sure you've read of plenty of stories like this - I'm thinking of the works of Mike Mignola (Hellboy and BPRD), the stories of Neil Gaiman, even the Dresden Files.

This ties right into the cosmology post I made a week or so past.  I'll start with the powers of Chaos and build from there in future posts.

Chaos and the Abyss
There are many elemental lords and suzerains throughout the elemental chaos, including the elemental Princes of Evil (from the Fiend Folio).  The following powerful entities  are the ones currently exerting the most influence on Greyhawk.

Symbol of Tharizdun
The Chained God
Most myth cycles begin with the universe in a state of Chaos, and the first act of creation is to bring order to the maelstrom by subduing  the monsters of chaos.  Whether it's Marduk quelling Tiamat, Ymir slain by the Borrs brothers, or Kronos defeated and imprisoned by the Greek gods, it's repeated again and again; so it was the same in the mythic past of Oerth.

A primeval force of Chaos, the Elder Elemental God, was imprisoned at the dawn of creation, and ever has it strived to break it's bonds.  Illicit cults in Greyhawk call this primeval monster or titan, Tharizdun.  The Chained "God" represents ultimate evil and the source of all corruption.  It's presence in the Elemental Chaos created the Abyss, and the door to its prison is the lowest lair of the Abyss.  The first act of creation was when the Eternal Spirit (known in the Theocracy of the Pale as the Blinding Light) defeated Tharizdun and imprisoned it, bringing order and stability to the mortal world.

There are many who strive to learn the way to open the prison and free this entity.

I can envision a time in the future where the party will have the opportunity to explore a forgotten temple to the Chained God, and perhaps run into a cult of drow that have forsaken worship of Lolth for the chained god as well.  :wink:

Best Orcus picture ever
Orcus is the Demon Prince of Undeath and is responsible for unleashing corporeal undead on Oerth, particularly ghouls and vampires.  (Yeenoghu is associated with King of Ghouls in the 1E MM, but I'm stripping him of that misplaced honor).

Orcus is the source of the vampire curse, the ghoul curse, and the ghoul sickness that is currently tearing up Sterich.  His long term agenda is the cessation of all Oerthly life.  He's the patron for Cyris Maximus, the vampire freed on Death Mountain, and it's Orcus's dream sendings that cause Strahd to reawaken from his ages long sleep in the Valley of the Mists.

Other entities
Other powerful entities that will play a role as the campaign develops are Lolth, demon queen of spiders; the demon prince Graz'zt, Iuz the Old; and Iggwilv, greatest of evil magic users.

Metaplot and the Sandbox
There is no single force of Chaos; there are many factions that draw on the power of Chaos for their own destructive ends.  The power of Chaos is waxing as the Ghoul Plague spreads.  Orcus will begin to marshal the forces of his death cult to find lost Iggwilv's trove and return the demonomicon to the world, while striking a blow at his rival, Graz'zt.  Will the players compete with the death cultists and race to be the ones to find the demonomicon first?

Meanwhile, rogue drow in league with the Chained God will see the opportunity to extend their dominion to the surface world.  The instability brought to Sterich by the Ghoul Plague will make the land a ripe target for the giants.  (At this point, I haven't gotten far enough in my War Machine work to know if the plague will be contained in Sterich or if neighboring kingdoms like Geoff or Keoland must lend aid).

The trick to having big metaplot type events in a sandbox, is to have them going on in the background and let the players ignore them if they want.  I know the group's mid-range goals involve visiting Barovia.  After that, they hinted that they might return to Sterich and see if they can help with the mop up.  I expect the Flannish hill and mountain people to reclaim the upper valley in the power vacuum, throwing off the yoke of Istivin, and that could result in a civil war between the Oeridians and the Flans - something ideal for the players to choose sides and tip the balance - and maybe get their own dominions, too.  Meanwhile, the death cult would be hunting for the artifacts, and the giants would be making preparations for war.


  1. Wow. I wish I lived closer to your neck of the woods, that game sounds great!

  2. I'll second Higgipedia on that. Sounds awesome!!

  3. It seems to me that having a bit of metaplot, knowing a bit about the movers and shakers of the worlds isn’t a bad thing, especially if you don’t force the metaplot down the player’s throats. If they decide to engage it, that’s one thing, but if they ignore it in favor of other elements, then allowing them to focus on it if they want.

    Also, you are so right, that is the best Orcus picture ever.

  4. David, I felt I needed to disclaim a bit - one mentions metaplot and some folks immediately think of the most notorious railroads ever published.

    Whereas, having other actors and agencies at work in the sandbox adds to the depth of the world.

  5. I lived and DMed through 2nd edition and 3rd edition. I played, ran, and even made some terrible metaplot railroads! I now know better.

    At the same time I expect there to be things going on while the players aren't directly watching.