On Greyhawk, the Forgotten Realms, Netheril and the Tharizdun Controversy

Greyhawk vs. Forgotten Realms

Those versed in Dungeons & Dragons lore will note that I make easy use of Forgotten Realms concepts, locales, organizations and deities in my campaign which is nominally set in Greyhawk. I choose to use Oerth as my campaign setting for several reasons. The most basic of these is that it has a grittier feel than Forgotten Realms, and I’m attracted to that aspect of it.

Secondly, and equally important, is that the Realms are too famous, too developed, too detailed and just plain too epic. While Greyhawk has certain legendary figures such as Bigby, Mordenkanien and the like running around, most of them are just that: legends in the background who aren’t currently running around affecting everyday events.

Playing in the Realms to me is like playing Star Wars during the Rebellion Era: no matter how awesome your characters are, no matter what they do, Luke Skywalker gets to blow up the Death Star and defeat the Sith. Likewise, no matter how awesome you are on Faerun, there’s still people out there like Drizzt, Elminster and the Lady of Silverymoon doing all the really awesome and epic stuff.

Greyhawk, by comparison, though it’s had lots of metaplot over the years, has always felt like that stuff is optional. It’s a wide open world, detailed enough for you to know who is what and where, but open enough for you to make it your own. For my game, I’ve dumped everything all the way back to the original TSR boxed set, and am only gradually and piecemeal adding things in from later stories as they suit me. To make another Star Wars analogy, it’s like Disney’s New Canon adopting elements of the old EU.

While there’s nothing stopping you from doing the same in the Realms, the very things you’d need to dump are the things that give the Realms its very feel, so it’s not the same thing.

Agree or not, that’s how I see it, and that’s why I choose Greyhawk—it’s easier to make it my own, while still giving me a solid basis to build on so I don’t have to do a ground-up world build, and which my players will immediately find familiar.

That being said, I borrow from anywhere that suits me—you’ll notice the use of the Lord’s Alliance as well, which though not clearly named does have some precedent in Greyhawk (see the introduction to the original A1, where an alliance of Lords has called for help in defeating the slaver menace).

In the end, if something doesn’t fit what you know as Greyhawk canon, it’s probably not a mistake. It’s probably just that I’m using the original conception of Greyhawk from the first TSR boxed set, and then making it what I need.

The Greyhawk Wars

Arguably the most important metaplot event in the campaign setting is the Greyhawk Wars, which reshaped the setting and defined much of the second and third editions of play.

Our game is set pre-Greyhawk Wars, and it is unlikely that this event will ever happen, as I have an entirely different direction in mind to take the setting and campaign. Besides my importing of concepts and elements from other settings, this is perhaps the largest difference between “my” Greyhawk and the “canon” setting.

The Tharizdun Controversy

There has for many years been some controversy regarding Tharizdun and the Elder Elemental God. Students of the setting tend to get very outraged at the conflation of the two, pointing out that even Gygax said he considered them separate beings.

Honestly, I’m conflating them because I don’t care about the controversy or canon, and it suits my game. Going back to our Realms discussion, The Elder Eye is conflated with Ghaunadaur in the Realms, but if you closely examine the deities, there are too many similarities to ignore. Thus it is, I consider Tharizdun to be the same as Ghaunadaur much as Lolth in the Realms is the same as Lloth in Greyhawk, or Tiamat is largely the same as Takhisis in Dragonlance.


Once again we see my propensity to borrow from where I see fit. Netheril is an ancient evil empire on Faerun, according to canon. I’ve decided to adopt the name and use it as a legendary, lost empire in Greyhawk’s distant past. I’m using nothing else specific from the Realms-ian version; mine is based more on Robert E. Howard’s Acheron (right down to the references of “purple towers”).


Machinations of the Slave Lords! jasonvey jasonvey