RPG Book Review: World of Greyhawk Boxed Set

AD&D 1st edition and Original D&D started out without much in terms of first party setting support, with the first setting that was commercially published for the games being from a third party – the Judges’ Guild’s City State of the Invincible Overlord. Eventually, TSR got around to putting out their own first campaign setting, the World of Greyhawk, as an official setting – first as a small pamphlet, then as a larger boxed set with fold-out maps and several books describing the world.

The boxed set contains a variety of pamphlets describing the setting of the world, along with a country-by-country breakdown, descriptions of major geographical features and the perils that lie within (such as monster populations in those areas), and the gods of the world.

The country breakdown is less divided by geographic region, and more done in alphabetical order. The reasoning somewhat makes sense, but doesn’t make as much sense from a gameplay standpoint. As a DM, I want to know what countries are in contact with each other, and how they interrelate to each other. This is aggravated somewhat by the fact that Greyhawk is notable as a campaign setting by having multiple human ethnic groups within the setting. Further, the game does recognize the differences between the differences between these cultures by having different deities in the setting come out of different cultures.

Considering that clashes between cultures have been something of a big deal throughout human history, having an understanding of the cultural demographics of particular countries would really help DMs get the flavor of what life is like in the country, and how it relates to their neighbors – and in turn how those cultures relate to the other races (Dwarves, various flavors of Elves, etc.) within their borders.

That said, it is worth mentioning that of the various ethnicities within Grayhawk, something that isn’t called attention to and sadly is forgotten by the art in later editions is that the predominant skin color of the World of Greyhawk isn’t white. It’s various shades of brown – and there isn’t discrimination based on skin color outside of the Great Kingdom (which is one of the predominantly Evil kingdoms in Greyhawk – their version of the Late Roman Empire).

I can infer some cultural information about the various groups based on the deities within those groups, but it’s really up to the DM to figure out what those societies are actually like. We get a bit of this as well from the descriptions of the various countries, but that information focuses less on societal identity – as we don’t get human demographic information – and more on national identity. It’s still useful to a DM, but there’s a bunch of narrative options that are left off of the table.

The religious information is generally nicely done. Unlike in Deities and Demigods, we get some real focus on the “portfolios” of the Gods – what parts of life do they care about. None of them have real combat stats – though some combat information is reproduced from Deities and Demigods. The book gives some information of the vestments that clerics of the various deities have, and what their weapons are (and consequently what you can assume their favored weapons would be, if you’re using those rules).

The book doesn’t get much into the relationships between the various Gods though – whether particular Good Deities would be inclined to take an active role in fighting some of the Evil Gods like Iuz, or if certain acts would be particularly reprehensible to followers of those gods (do followers of Boccob find destruction of books reprehensible?) It comes up in a few occasions – Hextor and Heironeous are in conflict because of how they represent different perspectives on combat and war – but other deities generally come across as being mostly ambivalent.

All of that said, even in comparison to the game materials put out in the “Greyhawk Adventures” Orange-spine book, and the 3rd edition Greyhawk corebooks, this is still some of the most comprehensive rundowns of the society of Greyhawk that have been published. Its omissions are significant, but nowhere near as dramatic as the omissions from setting core-books in later editions, and there’s a lot of useful material from here that is missing from other later editions.

The boxed set is available digitally from DriveThruRPG and the Dungeon Master’s Guild site, and physical copies can be found on eBay.