Living Greyhawk Gazetteer
Living Greyhawk Gazetteer Capsule Review by Bradford C. Walker on 08/05/02
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 2 (Sparse)
Non-RPGA folks are--at present--better served at the fan-run Greyhawk sites run by the grognards, or by choosing another setting entirely.
Product: Living Greyhawk Gazetteer
Author: Gary Holian, Erik Mona, Sean K. Reynolds, Frederick Weining
Company/Publisher: Wizards of the Coast/RPGA
Line: Dungeons & Dragons/RPGA
Cost: $26.95 (US)
Page count: 192 pages
Year published: 2000
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Bradford C. Walker on 08/05/02
Genre tags: Fantasy
Every edition of Dungeons & Dragons has two campaign settings in common: The World of Greyhawk and the Forgotten Realms. In the Third Edition, the World of Greyhawk resumes its former status as the default campaign setting of Dungeons & Dragons. While it’s great to see that every new Dungeons & Dragons rulebook to hit the stands quietly supports Greyhawk, it doesn’t hurt to have a meaty supplement to provide the foundation needed to provide the necessary context for one’s own campaigns.
The Living Greyhawk Gazetteer is a 192 page softcover supplement dressed in the style of the Player’s Handbook, which means that this supplement is aimed squarely at players first and Dungeon Masters second. This seems weird, until one realizes that this is a book meant for use with the RPGA’s Living Greyhawk campaign; this supplement is the foundation document upon which all who play in the RPGA’s campaign build upon for their characters and their adventures. However, that is not why I purchased this book; I bought it because I wanted a detailed document that described the World of Greyhawk in the manner that I delineated above, and that isn’t exactly what I got.
The style of this supplement, as is common with Dungeons & Dragons supplementary products, is classy and well done. The cover artwork depicts Rary the Traitor between two dragon heads—one blue, one bronze—as he looks out over the Bright Desert at either dusk or dawn. In the clouds above is Lord Robilar fighting a dragon, apparently some sort of vision imparted to Rary by his magic. The interior artwork depicts various events or places, as noted by the captions in many cases, and all of it is in black & white. The inside covers depict the current heraldry of the various states, orders and other powers of the Flanaess; this is a nice touch of generational emulation, as this is what the original version did. The layout is simple, yet effective, making the text easy to read and reference due to the water-like flowing feeling imparted to the reader. There is no index, which is a pity, but the book functions well without it. It also has a full-color fold-out map inside, which does take some care to remove from the book without tearing it into an unuseable mess; the map lacks political borders, which hampers its practical use by DMs and players alike. There are no regional or site maps of any kind, which also hampers its use significantly.
The book’s content divides itself by chapter, with an appendix detailing specific variant rules used for the Living Greyhawk campaign that players need to know as well as how to contact the various Triads that administer regions of the campaign setting. (The last bit is of importance to non-RPGA members because that’s how one plugs into the RPGA’s product support for Greyhawk, and Greyhawk is theirs to develop- not Wizards.) Much of this content sticks to that information that a player needs to know in order to play his character appropriately, with the balance being that which a DM needs to know in order to design appropriate adventures.
The first chapter provides an overview of Greyhawk’s celestial, temporal and geographic conventions. The second goes over the peoples of Greyhawk and their languages. The third provides an overview of Greyhawk’s history, one that hits the high points and gets a newbie up to speed well enough to play. The fourth is the longest, as it goes over all of the states of the Flanaess, and it provides the following: a snapshot of the physical and political condition circa 591 Common Year, an overview of local history and its present condition and its current ambitions. The fifth does the same for the major geographic locations of the Flanaess, but in a much more concise manner, and the sixth for the major political factions. The seventh addresses the gods of Greyhawk, and the Living Greyhawk appendix comes after that. It’s quite the toolkit.
That’s right, I said “toolkit”. Elements that some gamers consider of vital importance—such as regional maps to show details such as important cities and towns, roads, etc—are not present in this book. If you want them, then you must fire up your browser and look to the homepages of this or that Living Greyhawk Triad and hope that they bothered to put out competent support documents. The gods are in simple alphabetical order, and not according to their pantheon. Polytheism is declared, but the churches act like medieval Christianity more often than not and there is little thought given to the sort of setting-specific modifications given to the Forgotten Realms. As this is intentional, I bite down and bare it grudgingly; again, this is meant to get gamers into an RPGA campaign more than anything else. There is meat in this book, but not what most would consider enough to be useful even if you do like to roll your own most of the time. I wanted a book that has enough information so that I don’t have to invent large-scale geographic or political details, and instead can concentrate upon adventures and other small-scale details that are the proper purview of a DM’s regular responsibilities in such situations.
If you’re willing to take the time online to hunt down the information at the Triad sites and at the official Living Greyhawk site, then you’re either in the Living Greyhawk campaign or you’re one diehard Greyhawk player. Either way, it’s more trouble than it’s worth most of the time. I find it regrettable that I must recommend against this book for all but its very narrow intended audience; non-RPGA folks are better served at the fan-run Greyhawk sites run by the grognards, or by choosing another setting entirely. Maybe this will change as Dragon Magazine's Living Greyhawk content grows, but this is where I stand at this time.