TSR had developed a new style of play, one which added
more story elements to our games, which is healthy to long term play. Today you
have many people rebelling against the concept, as it does take some skill to
pull off properly: what it does is that it gives the DM more of a presence in
their games. The Dungeon Master isn’t simply refereeing the game, and judging,
s/he is an active participant, inventing a series of events that are not
random, but serve to draw in the players; providing direction and intrigue.
Deep to the core, it allows the DM to figure out what is going on around the
PCs very quickly. A well written scenario doesn’t feel like it is written at
all, it still captures all of the magic of random play as the players aren’t
confined to story elements; instead they must try to find story elements. They
aren’t restricted the story if they don’t want to be, but the story is still
playing itself out around them.
The end product shouldn’t be a module at all. This story
shouldn’t be scripted, if we do that then we eliminate the player, which serves
no point. TSR’s meta-gaming philosophy was dual-sided, on the one hand,
the modules introduced a more interactive and rewarding concept, but on the
other, they hijacked our tables. From a marketing standpoint, this was how
TSR was able to finally make the company profitable again; where the Gygax team gave you
the methods to enrich your playing experience, giving clear and concise
examples of exactly what you should do from now on, the module itself being more of an example of the principles in action. In 2e
these lessons could only be gleamed by critical thinking. They were still
there, but they weren’t obvious. The DM had to have some background in fiction
writing and find the concepts themselves, they weren’t pointed out to you, they
weren’t explained, they were there but they were hidden. They didn’t encourage
you to take the principles presented and use them yourselves; they wanted you
to buy the next module.
TSR developed a subversive marketing plan that is still used to this
day within the industry, and that is to target almost all of your products at
new players. The longer you can keep the users from actually figuring out how
the game works, the more products you can sell them! This marketing plan began
as soon as Gygax was sacked, but it really took root in 1991.
Within the industry, the Forgotten Realms franchise was
selling very well, that is because the company itself was fleshing out the
world, and many users who were new to the hobby, as well as experienced players
who didn’t want to do it, purchased into it. The advanced users were either
ignoring most of the Forgotten Realms products, or sticking to Greyhawk; this
made the Greyhawk Adventures setting appear to be stagnate. How do we get money from
advanced users cheaply? The answer is gimmicks!
The Greyhawk Adventures module line was still kind of
successful. TSR had used it to keep money flowing in while they established
Forgotten Realms, but by 1991 the Realms was open for business. They now wanted
to focus their attention on 'fixing' Greyhawk Adventures. All they needed was
an epic story that would get even the advanced users excited. This story was
It started with Carl Sargent, a prolific writer from TSR UK;
he understood the meta-game concept and was an excellent writer of it! He was
assigned to “revitalize” Greyhawk Adventures, and he did, with modules WGS1 Five Shall Be One, and WGS2 Howl from the North. The series was supposed to
conclude with a third module in the series, however, even though the WGS line
was selling, TSR figured that they could add a gimmick to really boost sales.
WGS3 was scrapped and reworked into a board game.
This is exciting! Wargaming is a neglected part of the
hobby, it is expensive and completely different from D&D. Even with
TSR’s BATTLESYSTEM rules, the size and scope of the battles that we can
simulate is still limited. If we want to have all out war, we’ve got a problem.
This has always had to be home-brewed, though most of us DMs write around it out of
necessity, but what if there was a product that allowed us to simulate a huge
war? This is a very sound concept and one that would appeal to even advanced
users of the game. They even put their best man on the project, Dave Cook. If
anybody could figure out how to get this done, and in a way to not be sued from
other companies (namely the manufacturers of RISK and Axis & Allies) it
would be Dave Cook. Whether he actually got that done, we’ll never know,
because typical of TSR suits, the concept was ruined by interference from the
As far as I am concerned, and do take my opinion in regards
to this product with a grain of salt because I’ve never actually played the
thing, all of my knowledge in regards to it is through research, and looking at
it through the eyes of the few people who have and were willing to talk about it, but like I said, as far as I am concerned this thing is not just a failure,
but an outright lie.
One would assume that if they bought this box, then they could
play a game which would revitalize the World of Greyhawk as a whole, and make
the events which take place core to their table. Boarders would change, nations
would die, power would be redistributed, and it will be fantastic! And I think
that this game can do that, but not on its own. As written, this entire game is
pointless. The events which you are allowed to simulate have already been
predetermined by TSR. Even if you get different results from the game, you’re
told to ignore them. This isn’t the only
problem with it either. Not only did Cook have to design a game which was
rigged, but he had to tap into two different markets, fans of Table-Top Role-Playing, as well as fans of Board Games. The rules had to be simple, and easy
to master. The final results were unsatisfying to say the least.
The World of Greyhawk, which is a complex place, was dumbed
down and over simplified to the point where it was unable to properly simulate
the actual war, and users at the time who were extremely excited to get this
thing had no idea until they took it home and tried to play it. No matter how
you look at it, no matter how you spin it, or what happened afterwards, this
product was a bold-faced lie. It did not keep any of its promises. This wasn’t
due to David Cook, nor Carl Sargent, but to TSR marketing who misrepresented
the product and what it could and couldn’t do.
Now, Greyhawk Wars wasn’t a total loss. The users of
Greyhawk were angry, but they were still precocious, and typical of the grit and attitude
of advanced users, they weren’t afraid of putting forth effort to rework the
thing so that it can function. It was a sound concept, and it was a step in the
right direction. Simulating an epic war is kind of the holy grail of table top
RPGing. At least this product gave us some of the tools that we needed to get
the work done. I guess, in a way, this is the product that progressive users like.
We enjoy taking concepts and ripping them apart, stripping them down and rebuilding them
the way that WE want them to be, so in effect, the people that were most
injured from buying this game were the new users, which is a change of pace.
I am not going to insult your intelligence by rating this game, as Ihaven’t played it. It sounds
like a fun concept, and since I myself am also working on methods to simulate
huge wars, researching it has been incredibly helpful in pointing out pitfalls
that I hadn’t anticipated myself. Greyhawk Wars spawned its own sub-genre as
people still network to make the game functional, and many tables were able to
succeed! With a bit of research one can find completed alternative rules of
play, or join the networks and further develop it, which is attractive!
At one point, the cost of it was stupid high. At the
end of the day, this is a paper product and not worth the $100+ resellers were
trying to milk out of it, especially considering that the game isn’t functional
for what most of us want it to do. Our friends at DriveThru RPG, I feel, had fixed this
issue by selling the PDF for $5. This allows the user to just print and
assemble the game themselves. Now you can find the game selling for around $35,
which is a lot closer to what it is really worth.
Do I recommend this game? No. I think that more can be
learned by reading about Greyhawk Wars than actually trying to play it. If you
are like me, and would rather spend your time actually gaming than developing a
new system, you’d be best served by avoiding it. If the game was functional out
of the box, that would be a different thing, but it isn’t.
If you have played this game, I ask you to please speak up
and give your impressions of it, there really isn’t much out on the web when it
comes to the product, and any contribution that you may have is highly
valuable. Much of what I have written is based upon the observations of the
handful of people who had experienced it and wrote about it, reading
between the lines, and reaching my own speculative conclusions.
Regardless of if you have played the game or not, TSR
attempted to hijack Greyhawk Adventures with “From the Ashes” a box set
released in 1992 that fleshed out the setting, divorcing it from its
original concept of a user generated milieu, and inserting their meta-gaming
concepts which boosted sales, and pleased new users, but alienated and ultimately
led to the abandonment of TSR's involvement with the Greyhawk Campaign Setting.
While the WGS series was successful and is mostly
well-remembered today, the implications of TSR’s meta-gaming (verses user
created storylines) was catastrophic. It should have served as a lesson to the
company, as well as other game publishers, but it didn’t. They wanted to
provide games with rich and deep storytelling elements, but they did so at the
expense of their advanced users. It is one thing to publish a module and flesh
out a small part of the world map, and provide a few simple scenarios which can
be shared between all users, but it is another to modify an entire setting just
to make money.
I don’t think that TSR ever figured out what advanced users
really wanted from Greyhawk. All we wanted was a muse. We wanted design
concepts fleshed out, not completed. We wanted to learn new styles of play, not
have things dictated to us under the guise that it is now a Living Greyhawk. We
wanted difficult and boring things to be done for us, so that we could focus on
having fun. We enjoyed the story and fictional theories presented, but we
resented that TSR began directing traffic, implying that events in the modules
were core and your games are garbage. Greyhawk was supposed to be a different
experience depending one who was DMing; that has always been its charm. Experts
like Joseph Bloch have found things in the setting that I had never notice
before because they took their time really learning and enjoying the setting.
They were allowed to interpret the same source material as the rest of us had,
but spin it in unique ways. This can still be done, but not until you acknowledge
when gaming companies are micromanaging the users, and take the proper steps to
take your creative control back.
Are advanced users still in the market for new products? I
think that we are, but those products are a lot different from the ones that
are typically being published. As far as our delving into 2e, friends, our
journey is about to get darker.