A Greyhawk Guide to Blackmoor

Author: DHBoggs /

 I think it is time to put down the pen on this one.  Thank you all for your patience over the past year+ that I have been head-down buried in work on this.  Greyhawk and Blackmoor began their journey together and bringing them back in harmony, while a daunting task, has been a true pleasure.


Here is the promised Greyhawk guide to Blackmoor.


It is a dropbox link so hopefully will work for you all, but if not I will be posting it elsewhere in the coming days.


In a nutshell, this book serves as a guide to people, locations, history, and geography of Blackmoor for Greyhawk players, including a deeply researched timeline.  It brings Arneson's traditional Blackmoor back to the Flanaess where it started.


I'm also going to post links here to front and back covers for those who want them - probably this weekend.


Lastly, this is what might be called a "Beta" release.  It has not been proofread by anybody but me.  I expect a revised version will be needed and humbly ask that if you find any corrections that need to be made or any information you think may be missing and would like to see, or anything like that please let me know either in comments or direct to my email Boggswood@gmail.


Enjoy.



The Blackmoor Greyhawk Map, an Anniversary Gift

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: ,

 Ten years ago I started this 'blog.  To celebrate I have a gift for all of you.

Below is a new, top quality map of Arneson's Blackmoor set within the Flanaess, continent of Oerik, world of Greyhawk, drawn by professional mapmaker Daniel Hasenbos of the Netherlands - where better to find a mapmaker for Blackmoor!  For more of Daniel's Maps look here.


Last fall I began to create something I realized was sorely needed.  Blackmoor, as my readers will know, and Greyhawk started out together as locations on a shared world.  Blackmoor belongs to the world of "Oerth" as much as Greyhawk does, yet few Greyhawk fans know anything of Arneson's Blackmoor and those who may be interested can't be faulted for not knowing where to start the journey, being bombarded with an array of products from OD&D supplement II to current day fan works.


So I took it upon myself to write a free guidebook to Blackmoor for Greyhawk fans.  To that end I commissioned this fantastic map.





Interestingly, and coincidentally Daniel finished the map in March of this year - the fiftieth anniversary of the letter Arneson sent to Rob Kuntz with his first map of "the Northern Marches" enclosed.  That map formed the bases of our new map, along with some input from the "sketch map" of Blackmoor found in the FFC.  All the later maps were also drawn upon for fringe areas, particularly to the south. For more see these posts:

10a/2019

10b/2019

I'm releasing the map now because I am nearly finished with the guidebook and will have that out shortly.  You all may freely use this map as you please as long as you ALWAYS acknowledge where you got it.


I cannot begin to explain in this blogpost all the care and research that went into the maps production but let me reassure you all that this map is as true as I can make it.  I'll even venture to say no Blackmoor map has been so exhaustively researched for accuracy and fidelity to the 1972 Blackmoor and Castle & Crusade society originals while simultaneously designed to fit directly onto the popular Greyhawk map of Anna B. Meyer as shown below.  



And a better resolution version on the 2017 hexmap:



As can be seen, rivers, trails and coastlines match up directly, with the exception of the (inconsequential) Tusking strand in the north, which was a deliberate choice on my part to align with  a bay shown on the Darlene map at that point.  Anna deviated a bit from Darlene here and I wanted our new Blackmoor map to fit on either Anna's or Darlenes maps:



Happy Anniversary everybody.



How Big is Blackmoor?

Author: DHBoggs /

 Surprisingly, nobody really knows.  In the First Fantasy Campaign Arneson described drawing his first Blackmoor map:

 "The basic campaign area reproduced on a large mapsheet outside this book, was originally drawn from some olden Dutch maps. Much of the rationale and scale was based on data found with the Dutch maps."

We have copies of that original map - its the one we have discussed that was enclosed with a letter to Rob Kuntz in March of 1970.  However when we look to that original map, no scale is given, nor is there a scale on the next map we have from Arneson, the "Sketch map" reproduced as an illustration in the FFC.

We can get a rough idea - a very rough idea - if we take Arneson at his word and plop his March 1970 map onto a map of the Netherlands as shown below:




Of course there are a lot of assumptions here.  The map of the Netherlands I used is probably not the one Arneson used.  I just picked an older but modernish map with clear borders to serve the purpose.  Further I placed the Blackmoor Map/Northern Marches map in what seems to be the likely location based on a few coastlines.  In any case, the Blackmoor map stretches pretty much across the width of Holland and those coastline features do fit quite well.

Alright then, using the scale of the Netherlands map, from side to side the Northern Marches map is somewhere in the ball park of 120 kilometers, or about 75 miles.

Possibly Arneson was focused on a smaller area and the distance should be less, but it is hard to see where that could be in terms of analogous features in the Netherlands.  Possibly he meant the map to be bigger, although if we stay inside the borders of the Netherlands there's not a lot more room, perhaps another 25 miles at most, and that would mean moving the Blackmoor map to an area where there are no matching features, so we can be reasonably sure the 75 miles end to end scale, give or take a few miles, is about right for the original Blackmoor/Northern Marches map.

Of course, that scale is not at all what we find with later maps.  Instead, as we will see, scales are all over the place.

The first Blackmoor regional maps to be published came with Judges Guild's First Fantasy Campaign, and were drawn by Bob Bledsaw.  These maps do have a scale, and they also encompass a much larger area of the Northern Marches than what we see in Arneson's original map.  Indeed, as we will see, maps of Blackmoor have sometimes taken in less, sometimes more, of the surrounding area.  

On the JG maps themselves, the scale is given as 10 miles per hex, and on the same page as the "sketch map" of Blackmoor, Arneson writes:

"In redrawing the first campaign map, I have decided that it would be advantageous to make some minor changes along the south and west borders to link it with the Judges Guild's "Known World" area (as shown in the Guide to the City State).  My map is twice the scale, 10 miles per hex, and fits into the northeastern corner, bordering the Valley of the Ancients." 

Ten miles per "square" was a favorite scale Arenson used in a number of instances, so ten miles per hex here isn't surprising.  What is a bit more confusing however is the "twice the scale." statement - twice the scale of what?  Neither of Arneson's earlier maps have any scale on them.  Possibly he is merely referring here to the fact that D&D used 5 mile hexes and that was a change Gygax had made late during the D&D draft process.


In any case, I'm not convinced that the Judges Guild maps give us a "true" scale, whatever the hex size.  Possibly they do, but just as possibly it was Bledsaw who determined the physical size of the hexes he overlaid on the map.  Arneson notoriously deferred on details, allowing others to set things up however they wanted.  Arneson clearly told Bledsaw to make the hexes ten miles across, but probably did not give much direction on how big a hex should be on the map.  

Whatever merits or faults they had, these maps from Judges Guild are the first scaled maps of the area. 

The next publication that to have a map of the whole of Blackmoor is DA1.  The DA1 map has the hexes marked now as 24 miles across, even though the hexes appear to be physically about the same size they were on the JG map.  Twenty-four miles is in keeping with the new 6 mile hex system introduced by Steve Marsh in the Expert set rules and carried through to all the later Basic D&D sets.


So Blackmoor appears to have grown - a lot - more than double in fact.  Interestingly however, when a new map was created for DA4, the scale was changed again, but reduced by half, so that the DA4 map was now down to 12 miles per hex, and this scale was apparently retconned to new printings of the earlier modules.  


If this isn't confusing enough, new maps at new scales appear during the d20 Zeitgiest games era.  The principal map was released as a fold out with the Campaign Sourcebook and had hexes slightly larger than the previous Judges Guild and TSR iterations.  These were given as 12.5 miles per hex.  The accompanying scale bar has 25 miles per inch.



ZG also produced a hand drawn, hexless map by Clayton Bunce. 

 Here it gets interesting because two different scales - again - are given for this map at different releases.  Though both versions are identical and use the same scale bar, one iteration of the Bunch map has the bar marked 0-80 in 20 mile blocks with the other is 0-40 in 10 mile blocks.  

Thus the era of "official" Blackmoor publications ended with as much scale confusion as it started.

Now, given that these various maps cover differing amounts of territory, perhaps the best way to grasp these differences in scale, is to consider two points on the map.  In the table below I compare the differences in distance between the towns of Blackmoor and Jackport,  These two locations were chosen because they are on most of the maps and have a fairly straight, close-to-horizontal road between them. 

We can use the scale bars on the ZG maps to give us a pretty good sense of the distance between our reference points, like so:

ZG hex map

ZG Bunce Map


 Roughly speaking, looking at the various maps and scales yields these figures for the distance between Jackport and the town of Blackmoor:

Map

# of Hexes Between

Jackport to Blackmoor Town in Miles

March 1970 Map at 75 miles E-W

n/a

27

Bledsaw 1977 Maps

12.5

125

TSR 24 mile hex

12

288

TSR 12 mile hex

12

144

ZG 12.5 mile hex

9

112

ZG Bunce map 0-40 scale

n/a

37

ZG Bunce map 0-80 scale

n/a

74

Greyhawk Dungeon mag

.8

25

Note that I included a Greyhawk map estimate for fun.  Jackport isn't on the Greyhawk maps but we can plot it useing Mosshold/Maus and it comes out to a scale comparable to the 1970 map estimated scale.

Whats' interesting to note is that either version of the Bunce map, but especially the smaller scale is closer to the scale we got above for the original March 1970 map, and the Greyhawk map came out virtually the same.

The other scales measure the distance in hundreds of miles and make for a rather large Blackmoor.

One way we can look at these is to put them on the real world.  Conveniently, the distance between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh is quite close to the largest scale of 24 miles per hex.  When  the Blackmoor 24 mile per hex map is superimposed on the Eastern United States with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh as reference points, here is what you get:



At that scale, Blackmoor is literally half a continent.  

Downsizing to the 125 mile distance between Jackport and Blackmoor town (roughly Philadelphia to Gettysburgh) leaves us with a Blackmoor about this big:


In this case Blackmoor covers the size of five or six American states.  Depending on how you view Blackmoor, that could be just right, but if your idea of Blackmoor is an isolated northern land akin to Ireland or Estonia, you may find this still to be overly large.  As an interesting comparison, here is a similar map of with four European countries in roughly the same location:


At the scale of ten miles per hex used on the Judges Guild map, Blackmoor is about equivalent to three Great Britains, side by side.


 On the other end of the spectrum, matching the real world with our scale of 27 miles between Jackport and Blackmoor town results in this: 



Even at this smaller scale, Blackmoor is still quite a large area - larger than the state of New Jersey with plenty of room for adventure at perhaps a bit more manageable size.  For me, this is just about right.  It is also convenient that Greyhawks' Blackmoor appears to be at about the same scale.  

Ultimately however there is no definitive answer to the question of scale for Blackmoor, and game masters can choose from the various  scales for what works best for their campaign.

The First PC to Die, Ever.

Author: DHBoggs /

 According to Dave Arneson's Corner of the Table newsletter, Vol. III, #4

"There will be a medevil "BRAUNSTEIN" April 17, 1971 at the home of David Arneson from 1500 hrs to 2400 hrs with refreshments being available on the usual basis. Players may come at any time and any number are welcome to attend what should prove to be an exciting time.  It will feature mythical creatures and a poker game under the Troll's bridge between sunup and sundown."

Of course, this is only an announcement, but we have no reason to think the game did not take place as planned.

That game, you may note, therefore took place 50 years ago to the day this essay is being posted.  Was it the first ever Blackmoor game with Player Characters engaged in a tabletop medieval fantasy adventure?   Or maybe another way of asking that, was it the first game of what we would now recognize as a kind of "D&D"?


There is a very good chance the answer is yes.


Our earliest record tied conclusively to Blackmoor is the Northern Marches map the Areneson mailed to Rob Kuntz in March of 1971 - just weeks prior to the Troll Bridge poker game.  To recap briefly, that map accompanied a letter introducing Arneson's Northern Marches campaign.  He also mentions 4 players (Duane Jenkins, William Hoyt, Edward Wernecke, and Marshal Hoegfeldt) from whom he apparently had commitments to play, as stated in the letter: "The area known as JENKIN’S LAND is ruled by Sir Jenkins while Bill Hoyt rules Williamfort, Ed Werncke rules Swampwood, Marshall Kieston."

Bill Hoyt, from whom we have the map, has made it clear that the campaign as planned in the letter never happened and he played in no games there.  What we are seeing with the letter and map to Kuntz is Arneson's initial planning, at a time before he has a copy of CHAINMAIL with its Fantasy Supplement.

As far as we know, of these persons mentioned only Jenkins actually played in Blackmoor during the pre-D&D period.  Marshall Hoegfeldt very shortly got kicked out of the group, and Bill Hoyt decided to join the Gregg Scott/Randy Hoffa group, and all of them got written up as the "Infamous Characters" Marfeldt the Barbarian, Lord WhiteHead, The Egg of Coot and the Ran of Ah Foo. (Note that later, after D&D was published, Bill did finally play in Blackmoor.)


Within  a few weeks then of sending his Northern Marches map to Kuntz, Arneson places the notice in COTT for the for the "medieval Braunstein" Troll Bridge Poker game.

The next issue of COTT, (Vol. III, #5) promises the start of "reports from the Black Moors" medieval setting and announces another medieval game on May 22, after the general meeting. This is the meeting where Dan Nicholson received the Spanish Royals character sheet. 

The picture emerging with the two COTT entries and the March letter to Kuntz, is of the initial development of a new campaign, not even yet "officially" named Blackmoor until the May entry.  The picture is further reinforced when we consider that the first Blackmoor experience remembered by several of the Blackmoor bunch is an adventure that takes place seemingly after Arneson returns from a European vacation in mid July.  This would be the "Icelandic Cave" adventure I've mentioned in previous posts wherein Dave's players are on a mission to find none other than Dave himself, after his plane crashlands in Iceland apparently on its way back from his trip to Europe. and somehow Arneson stumbles through a cave there into the land of Blackmoor.


What game, if any, may have taken place on May 22 isn't clear, possibly it was the first Castle/Dungeon game inspired by a monter movie binge that Arneson reported so often (see here for related discussion) but in any case it seems the players involved in the Icleandic Cave adventure don't recall the earlier Troll Bridge game in April - probably because they weren't there.  Arneson's basement was a veritable revolving door of games and gamers and people showed up when they could.


Nevertheless, there is one gamer who remembers the Troll Bridge Game, or at least what he remembers certainly seems to be that game.  That player is Bob Meyer, whom many of my readers may know as the person who took over as Game Master of the Blackmoor campaign after Arneson's passing. Bob has recounted his initial and brief encounter with the land of Blackmoor several times, most recently in the Secrets of Blackmoor documentary.  I won't repeat the whole story, but here is some of what Bob has to say about it:

"I was in the game that had that troll, and I did not care for the rules. The troll killed me in no time at all, and I was a hero! I refused to have anything to do with Blackmoor for a very long time after that."

"I claim to have the first character killed in Blackmoor. How is that for a claim to fame?" From The Comeback Inn Forum


Claim to fame indeed.  Fifty years ago today, Bob the Hero appears to be the first of a very long line of PC's in our beloved hobby to die fighting monsters. 






Fifty Years of Fantasy Role Play Table-top games.

Author: DHBoggs /

 Today marks an interesting, possibly momentous, anniversary.  It has been 50 years since the Boris Karloff movie The Black Room aired as part of a double feature with Werewolf of London on Channel 5's Saturday run of Horror Incorporated in the Twin Cities.  

This marks the second time that the Minnesota station had shown The Black Room, but it may be the most significant.  Lets take a step back and remember what Dave Arneson said:

"Some months after Mr. Wesley left, a local TV station had on several old monster movies, which I watched while eating popcorn and reading old Conan novels. It was then that Blackmoor Dungeon was first conceived. Starting with a few sheets of graph paper, the upper levels took shape. The next week was spent laying out my wargaming table to represent the castle and countryside around Blackmoor."  Wargaming #4 Jan/Feb 1978

The quote above is perhaps the oldest telling of a tale told many times, with much the same detail.  He could never seem to remember the exact books he read or movies he watched, but it seems far to great a coincidence that the pun-loving Arneson called his land the Black Moors in his May 1971 Corner of the Table Newsletter Vol 3 #5, at a time when The Black Room had already aired twice on his beloved Horror Incorporated (January 16, 1971 and February 20, 1971).

So why am I calling particular attention to the February 20 showing?  We have talked before about the Northern Marches map and accompanying letter Arneson mailed in March of 1971 to Rob Kuntz as king of the Castle & Crusade society.  This letter represents the earliest datable record connected directly to Blackmoor.

It is also a matter of only two or three weeks after the February 20 showing of the The Black Room that Arneson mailed this letter.

It's the closeness of the Feb 20 airing date to the composition of the letter that makes me wonder about the precise details of Arneson's genesis story.  Mind you, I'm only speculating, but what if, in trying to call up how he started the whole thing some 7+ years afterward, Arneson muddled it a bit.  What I'm suggesting is that watching movies and reading Conan novels inspired the creation of Blackmoor, just as he said, but perhaps it wasn't the dungeon maps he drew that first weekend, but the Northern Marches map sent with the letter to Kuntz?  Perhaps the dungeon maps came a few months later, as seems to be the case from the scant records we have.

There is another hint in the letter itself suggesting this may be the case.  In telling his story Arneson always made sure to point out the influence of Conan novels.  Looking at the early descriptions of Blackmoor Castle, village, and dungeon, there is nothing suggesting a connection to Conan or the Hyborian Age.  We could suggest that those initial connections were lost, overwritten by the Tolkienesque material of Chainmail, but that seems at odds with Arneson's habit of recycling gaming ideas.  We'd expect those hints to still exist in the dungeon if ever they were there.  However, when we turn to the short March 1971 letter to Kuntz accompanying the Northern Marches map, we see a different picture:

"...to the east lay the forested domains of the ERAKS, a breed noted for their cunning and banditry. To the North lie the domains of the SKANDANARIANS, a savage band of sea raiders whose ferocious nature brings them into constant conflict with all their neighbors. To the [northwest] lie the accursed lands of the unholy RED WIZARDS COVEN, whose lands are more dangerous than even the wizards themselves. Finally, to the west and south west lie the lands of PICT'S, a savage band of uncivilized barbarians noted for their cruelty and fierce loyalty to the abomination they call king."

The influence of Conan on the Northern Marches map is abundantly clear in that paragraph.

Whether The Black Room really had anything to do with the genesis of fantasy roleplaying games or not, or whether it was really the Northern Marches map and not dungeon maps Arneson drew after his movie, novel, and popcorn binge,  there is one thing we can say with absolute certainty: by March of 1971, David Lance Arneson had created the idea for a game that would change the cultural landscape of planet Earth.


For more fun on movies and the genesis of Blackmoor, have a look here: More Thoughts on the Cinematic Influence




Education for Character Variability

Author: DHBoggs /

 A complaint voiced toward OD&D and traditional D&D in general is that characters are all the same, whereas "modern" games offer a delicious variety of options for customizing and "building" characters.  Dave Arneson echoed these sentiments in a radio interview:

A lot of the changes between second edition and third edition are actually changes in so far as what I originally wanted to do with the (game) system. For instance with the different classes and the different fields you could learn. I wanted to do that originally, but it was considered too complicated and people couldn’t handle it. Well now that’s come back, you can do that. You could really make a unique character class with the variability; and I always wanted to do that and I do that in my original campaign even today…. Because the players in the original campaign could learn different skills and different abilities, virtually everybody who was a fighter also wanted to be able to throw magic.  And it seemed like everybody who was a magic-user also wanted to be able to fight.

Dave Arneson, Mortality Radio interview, July 9th, 2004.

Back in the day, Arneson's solution for being able to "really make a unique character" was to create an education process where characters could learn the things they needed or wanted.  We can see the roots of his thinking on education in how he initially set up his mechanics for learning spells:

"Progression reflected the increasing ability of the Magic user to mix spells of  greater and greater complexity. Study and practice were the most important factors involved. A Magic user did not progress unless he used spells...  So to progress to a new level, one first learned the spells, and then got to use that spell."

Breaking this idea down generically, a character could progress in "class" skills through learning and subsequent successful practice.

It was an idea that could be applied to much more than magic.

Arneson took it further in his collaboration with Richard Snider, the Adventures in Fantasy ruleset.  He described his thinking in an interview in Pegasus 1:

"I also wanted to get in something on educating your character so one could learn different skills."

Interestingly, while Gary Gygax developed the AD&D system along the rigid class based lines we are all so familiar with, when writing his Gord the Rogue novels he described his protagonists growth very much in keeping with an education based method.

Gord doesn't develop his abilities naturally as a consequence of leveling up and gaining XP.  Initially, Gord is a nothing, but he spends several years learning to climb, pick locks, hide in shadows and so on in a sort of boarding school under the tutelage of master thieves,  Later, he seeks out and hires fencing masters to learn fighting skills and he spends time with Rhenne acrobatics instructors learning tumbling, jumping, juggling and so on.

In game terms Gord begins on the thief class and then becomes a fighter/thief and fighter/theif/acrobat.  The class system as it evolved in D&D is all very complex and all very artificial, and all very uniform.  For Gord, that uniformity is strange, because the novels present him as a uniquely individual character learning his new skills one at a time under instruction.  No doubt, most players want their character to be just as individualized as Gord, so shouldn't they be able to learn through schooling just as Gord did? 

Some may argue, as Arneson was implying in the opening quote, that contemporary games offer character individuality to players as part of their class structure.  However, it has been pointed out more than once that such character customization is largely illusory since players in particular classes are given particular options which often result in players choosing the same "best" options that most other players choose.  The design pressures of today's games funnel players to create very similar "individual" characters.  

Furthermore, because the characters choices occur automatically at certain stages of the game - usually when leveling up, flexibility to craft the character in unique ways is limited.

A character with something like all of Gord's abilities and variability could be better modeled through an education system within 3 broad and encompassing classes - the original three - Fighter, Cleric, Magic-user.

Gord is obviously not a cleric or MU, so he is a fighter.  Using the money he got from thieving, for example, Gord sought out fencing instructors of a particular sort and this particular training can be reflected in his character sheet through education. 

To be clear, what I'm advocating here is something more than a skill system.  This idea is a bit more radical and it is simply this: 

ANY ACQUIRED FEATURE, BONUS, SKILL, ABILITY, POWER, FIELD OF KNOWLEDGE, OR DEVELOPED TRAIT AVAILABLE AS A BENEFIT OR OPTION OR ATTRIBUTE AT ANY POINT IN ANY CHARACTER CLASS, SUB-CLASS, OR PATH IN ANY VERSION OF D&D, CLONE, OR VARIANT OF ANY SORT CAN BE REPLICATED AND LEARNED THROUGH AN EDUCATION PROCESS.

Sorry for the all caps, but it's a fairly radical thesis.  The only exception to the above statement is abilities that require the character to be of a certain nature that they aren't.  A human can't learn to flap their arms and fly like a bird or self immolate on command like a balrog, but they can learn to kick open doors like a monk or assess the value of jewels like a jeweler.  Likewise a Magic- user can't learn to turn undead like a Cleric, but they could learn to backstab if they wanted to.

For how this might work, we can look to the ideas in the AiF education system and see what might be gleaned from there for a D&D game.

Sure, folks can adopt wholescale the education system in AiF or for that matter, some other rule set, but these tend to be fiddly and specific, whereas what we need is a ruleset that will cover any characteristic we want a character to acquire. 

The first thing to note about AiF's education system is that it isn't simple.  Not surprisingly, it is designed to fit a particular system.  It also attempts to "realistically" asses how hard it will be and how long it will take to learn each particular subject and a laundry list of subjects is provided, each with it's own statistics.

Characters are assigned a formula to asses how well they can learn, that is based on the presumed difficulty of the subject and the length of time spent studying and the character's Intelligence score.

For a game, the simulationist approach taken in AiF is really overkill.  We really don't need to do all that. Instead, we can take the basic principals that Ability Scores and practice time are key factors and rather than guessing this and that length of time for this and that subjects, an average learning time will work just as well for game purposes.

So here is what I do, and here is what I recommend.  For any thing a character wants to learn or any skill they wish to acquire, I assume it will take them a number of months of continuous study to master.   The number of months is equal to 20 minus their Intelligence score for any cerebral subject, or minus their Strength score for any purely strength based activity, or minus their Dexterity score for activities requiring a steady hand and a quick eye.

A character with an 18 Dexterity could learn to pick pockets efficiently in a mere 2 months, but a character with an 8 intelligence would take a year of dedicated study to learn a new language well enough to carry on a street conversation.  Some negotiation between referees and players is inevitable, but will also ensure that each character will truly have their own unique qualities.

This method is very flexible and you can add layers of expertise and skill to any subject.  A character might learn basic cooking skill and then go on to expertise in orc cuisine, for example.

You could apply this method to weapon specialization rules or technical skills, to going berserk or learning to heal - anything.



 

Greyhawk Timeline According to Gord

Author: DHBoggs /

 When the original Greyhawk folio was published, the default date for the setting was Common Year 576.  Since then the setting date has been continually advanced through various publications.

Among the first to advance the date was The Greyhawk Wars, a product which has had a somewhat contentious reception, in part because it was published after Gygax's ouster from TSR and did not have his blessing.

Interestingly, Gygax himself also continued to advance the Greyhawk timeline, both in Dragon Magazine articles and in his Gord the Rogue novels.

Below is what can be cleaned of the political machinations ongoing in Greyhawk according to details from the Gord series of books.

Surprisingly, while a lot of folks have given thought to various parts of the timeline, including most notably the esteemed Eric Mona, I have yet to come across anyone who put it all together as I have here.  

(Events of Saga of the Old City)

559 CY:  Flocktime: Gord Born.

576 CY: Small naval battles erupt between the Rhennee and Duke Karall of Urnst.

578 CY: The Horned Society occupies the Bandit Kingdoms of Warfields and Wormhall.

578 CY: (Sunsebb 1) The Battle of Woodford. A twelve thousand strong Aerdian army led by Grand Marshal Dreek bent on invading Nyrond through the Adri forest pushed back at the Harp river. 

(Events of Artifact of Evil).

579 CY:  The Horned Society wages war against the Bandit Kingdoms.  The war is ongoing and in stalemate. (p95)

The Scarlet Brotherhood and the Horned Society act in concert as allies. 

580 CY:  The principality of Ulek attacks and conquers Strandcastle Keep in the Pomarj - a bastion held by the Scarlet Brotherhood. (Chap 1&2)

Iggwilv frees Zuggtmoy from her prison in The Temple of Elemental Evil. (p. 330)

A large army of Pomarj monsters under The Scarlet Brotherhood moves through the Suss and Welkwood forests, harried by elves and woodsmen.  The force attacks Celene, and are defeated in a battle that lasts 2 days. (p231)

Iuz Moves against the Hierarchs of the Horned Society.  Blackmoor, the Hold of Stonefist, and the Bandit Kingdoms ally with him.  (188-189)

An Army of Iuz under the command of the wizard Lord Ormuz is ambushed in the Vesve Forest and defeated by an army under the command of the wizard Mordenkainen. (chap29)

Iuz conquers Molag, subjugates the Horned Society, and begins construction of a new palace in Molag as winter sets in.

Iuz is now the self-titled Emperor of Evil and Lord of Pain. He receives tributes and offers of alliance from all of the Bandit Kingdoms, the Hold of Stonefist, and factions of the Wolf and Tiger Nomads. (p. 343-44)

*581-582 CY: (Events of Sea of Death)

*583 CY: (Events of Come Endless Darkness)

Iuz, assisted by by Iggwilv and Zuggtmoy, launches a massive, multipronged, attack.

Iuz takes control of the Vesve, and the lands west and south to the Velverdyva, but is stopped at Chendl.

Iuz captures the territories of Furyondy north of the Crystal River, and the Shield Lands excepting only the capital island.

The Bandit Kingdoms and the Rovers of the Barrens acting under orders from Iuz, overrun the Duchy of Tehn.

Iuz directs the The Hold of Stonefist to attack the Theocracy of the Pale. Urnst holds. Highfolk holds.

The Great kingdom marches against Nyrond, Almor, and the Iron League.

The Bakluni fight the nomads to the North and South and come to a stalemate.

The Scarlet Brotherhood in the Pomarj attacks Celene, Ulek and Urnst.

*584 CY: (Events of Dance of Demons)

The Great Kingdom is in a state of civil  with both north and south provinces allied against Ivid. Medegia is also in open rebellion.

 

* These dates are not possible to nail down through internal chronology in the novels.  While Gord's age is stated in several instances, his journeys into and on other planes make his age greater than it would be by an unknown number of years had he remained in Greyhawk.  This is made explicit in Sea of Death where it is stated that he appears to be merely 20 years old (p55) but is actually at least 28 (p58). Given his birthdate of 559, Gord should have seen his 21st birthday near the start of SoD, so his appearing to be 20 years old at the start of that book fits the 581 date as following shortly after the events of AoE. DoD has Gord being 30 - two years older than the 28 he is said to possibly be at the Start of SoD. Therefore the dates used here follow the logic that, not counting the 8 years he ages while plane hopping, he is 20/21 in SoD and 22/23 at the start of DoD and reflect an approximate of the amount of time needed to account for the events mentioned.  They also roughly match the published Greyhawk Wars dates.

Interestingly, while the Greyhawk Wars unfold differently in the TSR publication, the end results are much the same.  It may be worth a post attempting to harmonize the two...

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