Greyhawk Adventures & The Fate of Istus review

The World of Greyhawk, the world created by the originators through play. The world of the true pioneers of our hobby! You know it already. It is the world designed for very advanced users of the game. The nay-sayers like to say that TSR kept Greyhawk from Gygax when he left the company, just to bury it. The world of Oerth never got the amount of support shown to the other settings, but that is why it is so favorable! You buy the box set, read the little pamphlets and look at the map, and you start writing! Much of the support that was given to Greyhawk was ignored. It is a world that supports the imagination, each table running the box completely different from one another. Today this setting is a huge cult hit: You want to go back to the roots of D&D; you roll up some Greyhawk characters and see what happens!

By 1989, the thought of discontinuing the setting was nixed. While the company was slowly and carefully establishing Forgotten Realms to be as marketable as possible, they needed to keep some income flowing, thus the Greyhawk Adventures product line was kept as a grindhouse-like money maker. Modules for the setting paid the bills, and they suffered from a lack of quality.

I thought that it was Dragonlance that first entered the 2e era, but I had totally forgotten about Product 2023: Greyhawk Adventures, written by James Ward and published in August of 1988. It isn’t a true 2e book: it is a hardcover with the compatibility starburst, that attempted to introduce the world to 2nd Edition, but they didn’t have much information to work with! The quality of the material inside is extremely high, and not found in any other book out there. Ward credits it as a fan created project:  he solicited the D&D community to give him feedback, and feedback he got! What this book reads like is a huge, hardcover issue of Dragon Magazine, focused completely on the world of Greyhawk, and it is awesome!

There are very few 2e mechanics in the book, namely THAC0 and the spheres & schools of magic system was hinted to. While this hardcover wasn’t as functional as Forgotten Realms Adventures was, it is still a really really great book! As far as Greyhawk goes, it was marketed to advanced users of the game; users that could competently make their own conversions, so the designers could get away with just addressing the barest minimum to the setting.

While Greyhawk Adventures addressed what was added, it was up to a mega-module called WG8 Fate of Istus to address what was to be taken away. Again, this module does not run as a 2e product, it is intended for established 1st Edition player characters, but by the end of it, it says that all of the characters will be 2e compatible.

The module itself has four different authors, and it is written in a very grindhouse style so there really is no way to actually run this product smoothly, not logically anyway. It is a collection of ten mini adventures in which each 1st edition PC class is tested and their fates are decided. I personally don’t think that this product is all that necessary, however it does have a few positive points worthy of noting, namely the fact that there is a lot of stuff that a DM can lift from this booklet! NPCs, maps, descriptions, items; as a whole, the product isn’t very strong, however, cut up, it’s basic parts are desirable to a DM who is strapped for time filling in sections of his world that don’t really require his attention; but the best reason is actually one of the books greatest failures, it is a chance to compare the writings of 4 very talented men; specifically, this book features one of the few times that you can actually read the work of the legendary Robert J. Kuntz. That alone is worth the price of admission!

Module WG8 seems to be more of a product to be read, than one that should actually be ran. DM’s who had ran parts of it were happy with the results, however many agree that as a whole, it is deeply interesting but something to be ran only if you want to make your players miserable. Is it worth owning? YES! But I would recommend Fate of Istus as a PDF. In regards to Greyhawk Adventures, I rate that product as a B, just because it is so damned fun! I’m not sure how usable the thing really is, but you will still love reading it. It offers unique spell lists from major NPCs that are cool (many names you’ll recognize from the PHB), and written in the style of Ed Greenwood’s Dragon Magazine articles. It also features unique monsters (a few making appearances in the Greyhawk Monster Appendix), and a system for running 0th level PCs.


Greyhawk users are a different breed of player that put self-expression and invention over established canon; as far as I am concerned, Greyhawk as a setting has been completed for a very, very long time! There is still some gold to be mined from published works, but they are far and in between. The lessons of Greyhawk can spill over to the other settings! Even Forgotten Realms works best when most of the supplemental material is completely ignored! A designer’s vision is best established through play, not through memorizing a bookshelf of stuff created by others. Where one user sees an overly generic and incomplete world, what one is really looking at is freedom! 2e didn’t force itself on the setting, if it did then it would had been ruined. Advanced users know that you can still use the 2e system as well as keeping what they really love from the first edition rules and be fine! While Greyhawk was a huge financial failure, as art, I feel that it is far superior to any other product out on the market.


Brooser Bear said...

I have the Greyhawk book, you mentioned, the Folio, and the Boxed Set. If I remember correctly, folio had the best map, wall size, in two parts, while the Boxed set had the best Gazetteer and the Encounter Table book. Greyhawk is also the implied setting in Gygax's DMG, PH, Artefacts and their associated encounter frequencies.

This is important, because the most overlooked part of Gygax DMG, Appendix A for creating a random dungeon, AD&D 1st E Treasure table, and the lists of his tricks and traps, all this is an intricately programmed adventure design algorithm that will replicate the settings of the stories in the Appendix N as well as the motifs of the Chivalric Literature from the middle ages (all those fountains with magical effects and talking statues).

Regarding the experiences of the Greyhawk vs Forgotten Realms, Grehawk is the Continental Europe Realms is the Balkans. Greyhawk is the world that arose out of the ashes of a nuclear war on the verge of another Great War. It probably reflected the realities of the Cold War and the mutually assured nuclear destruction at the subconscious and pre-conscious levels. In comparison, Forgotten Realms is honeycombed with mini-enclaves of distinct and separate ethnic and cultural groups, like the historic Balkans, on the edge of civil war, just like the Balkans were when TSR was publishing and promoting the Forgotten Realms.

RipperX said...

That is a very interesting statement! And a very correct one. There really was no other show in town when the DMG was written, and they do line up.

I love Appendix A, my current dungeon that I am running was actually designed by using it! It is also very handy in a pinch, providing some color when the party has found themselves off of the map. To say that it is linked to Appendix N, this is a link that I myself had never made.

Greyhawk, as a collection of stats, is an amazingly versatile system. In the back of one of the Monstrous Compendium Annuals, they include a bunch of Random Encounters tables, this was, to me, more important that the book itself. The 2e DMG showed the DM how to design his own, but only gave one example. While it is prefered to design it yourself, this isn't always possible. I couldn't remember which book the tables were in, so I just lifted the ones from the Greyhawk box, and when I finally did find it, I discovered that these lists were identical to one another. They had simply reformatted common regions from Greyhawk, the same as I did.

Brooser Bear said...

The book with encounter tables came from the Greyhawk Boxed Set. Not just Appendix N, but to the Chivalric Romance, or the Medieval fantasy literature. I keep thinking that Random Encounter Tables to fantasy role playing are what exposition is to writing fiction.

Post a Comment


Contact me at

Search This Blog

Blog Archive