What is The World of Greyhawk?

Here’s Brian with a submission about his favourite Dungeons and Dragons setting, Greyhawk. In D&D, a setting is a world you can put your game into. It comes complete with monsters, places to visit, people to meet, etc.

greyhawkFor many gamers, The World of Greyhawk (or just Greyhawk) is the beginning of it all when it comes to role-playing games and while it is not technically the first-ever campaign setting (that was Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor setting by a few months), it is arguably one of the most iconic settings ever created.

A brief history lesson…

In the early 1970s, The Grand Poobahs of Nerddom, Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax agreed to co-create and produce a set of variant rules based on the popular wargames of the era by allowing players to take control of a single character and advance their skills over time in a fantasy setting (rather than legions of nameless, faceless soldiers). Gygax was already incorporating fantasy elements into his wargaming experiences by introducing magic and fantasy creatures (dragons, giants, etc.), but Arneson first struck upon the idea of taking a small group of heroes into monster and trap-filled dungeons beneath castles for fun and profit. Gygax fell in love with the idea and both began word on the game that would become Dungeons & Dragons and pretty much change the lives of hundreds of thousands of gamers for generations. No biggie, right?

To playtest the rules in the early days, Arneson used his setting, The Barony of Blackmoor while Gygax began with a simple dungeon level located beneath the ruins of a castle he dubbed “Greyhawk”. The very first session in the World of Greyhawk featured a dungeon infested with giant centipedes and scorpions. Gygax acted as the DM for the session while his two children (Ernie and Elise) acted as his first players.

That’s right, the World of Greyhawk, the granddaddy of them all, began with two kids, a simple dungeon level, and giant centipedes.

Roots, kids. Roots.

From there, the group expanded with a few new players and Gygax added more levels to the dungeon to increase the difficulty. Soon after, he created a nearby city, also named Greyhawk, as a safe haven for the player characters to rest, re-supply, and sell their hard earned treasures discovered in the perilous dungeon complex. This concept in itself is huge, as the model of looting dungeons and returning to a home base is present in games across every genre.

Word spread locally about the new game and if you believe the stories, dozens of gamers crammed into Gygax’s house nightly to take a turn at the table and brave the dungeon. Such was the demand that one of the original playtesters, Rob Kuntz took up the role of co-DM with Gygax, adding his own levels to the dungeon, and took groups of players (including Gygax himself) on adventures in the World of Greyhawk.

The dungeon and city of Greyhawk expanded every week with every new session and eventually the players did what all players do and asked what waited beyond the walls of the city of Greyhawk. Eager to expand his creation and the playtest, Gygax took his players out of the dungeons and into the open world. As the players journeyed outward, Gygax created new regions and fantastic locations for his playtesters to explore. He populating this new world with NPCs (non-player characters), gods, exotic treasures, monsters, and villains all while developing a rich world history.

Player characters from the original groups went on to become iconic NPCs in not only the World of Greyhawk but also in the core mythos of Dungeons & Dragons. Names like Robilar, Murlynd, Tenser, Mordenkainen, and Bigby appear in books across every edition. Spells associated with wizards such as Tenser and Bigby remain player favorites to this day because come on, Tenser’s Floating Disc made everyone’s life easier and who doesn’t like Bigbys “Hand” spells (Crushing, Imposing, Condescending… okay I made that last one up)?

The World of Greyhawk introduced concepts like political intrigue, war, neutrality, balance, and the epitomes of good and evil.

War played a huge role in the development of the campaign setting, drawing from the wargaming roots of the game as nations collided over power and political squabbles, often with players caught in the middle. For young gamers (myself included) this was a first look at high-concept themes. The game and Greyhawk could be a lighthearted or as serious as needed.

As for iconic locales, Greyhawk really set the tone for establishing environments as important set pieces or characters themselves in adventures. Many of the classic dungeon adventures, The Tomb of Horrors, White Plume Mountain, The Ghost Tower of Inverness and The Temple of Elemental Evil were all created in the World of Greyhawk. If you invoke the Tomb of Horrors in certain company be prepared to have a box of Kleenex and a sympathetic shoulder to cry on. Many were called in that adventure module but few returned.

Greyhawk is near and dear to my heart because it is the first campaign setting I ever played in and when you look at the influence and iconic ideas that came from Greyhawk it is easy to see why so many gamers sing its praises. When I meet gamers new to Dungeons & Dragons, I always suggest taking a trip down memory lane with one of the classic adventures I mentioned, specifically the Temple of Elemental Evil. Everyone should play Temple at least once in their lives.

By remembering where Dungeons & Dragons came from, we have a greater appreciation for where it is now and where it could go in the future. Many fine campaign settings came along after but for me, it all goes back to where Dungeons & Dragons began and the World of Greyhawk: the first homebrew setting.

Brian Patterson cartoonist and GM behind the webcomic d20Monkey.
d20Monkey.com / @d20Monkey

How do I Run a Tabletop RPG?

This post is about a fun and scary nerdy rite of passage: running a tabletop RPG for the first time. It’s scary and rewarding. How do you do it? Brian’s here to take us through the process!

2014-02-22 21.19.39At the risk of making asses out of umptions, I’m going to assume a couple of things if you’re reading this article.

Assumption 1: You’re familiar enough with roleplaying games to want to run one. Probably you’ve at least played one, though maybe you haven’t.

Assumption 2: Actually, yeah, the first assumption kind of takes care of it. I guess I’m only making one assumption.

Not An Assumption: Because I won’t assume that you know all the lingo, here’s the lingo I’ll be using this article. An RPG is a roleplaying game. An RPG has players, and usually has a GM (game master, game moderator, referee, storyteller, or other, similar term); that’s the person who runs the game. That’s who you’re going to be.

Running a tabletop RPG for the first time can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. There are ways you can mitigate the stress involved, and it’s one of those things that gets easier and more natural the more you do it. And here’s a secret: it’s super fun.

I enjoy playing a specific role in an RPG; I enjoy inhabiting that role and figuring out what makes that character tick. I enjoy pushing him or her, finding the point at which dramatic stuff starts to happen.

But what I like even more is helping that happen for other people, and that’s what being a GM is all about. There are really two things you have to overcome if you’re going to run a game for the first time: the prep work and the fear.

The Prep Work

Different RPGs require different levels of prep work in order to facilitate smooth play at the table. A game like Pathfinder is going to require a larger amount of prep, as you plan encounters, stat up monsters and other characters, figure out what kinds of treasure you want in the adventure, and so forth. A game like Apocalypse World, on the other hand, requires relatively little prep work; you make your characters, talk a bit about what you’re going to be doing, and then you start.

Prep work is important for a first-time GM. It’s good to have material to fall back on when things don’t go the way you expected, and it’s good to have an idea of how you want to respond to your players when they make decisions. More important than that, though, prep work helps you get in the right frame of mind to run the game.

When you prepare for a game, you force yourself to think about it, to run through possibilities, to immerse yourself in the world. A trick I like to use is to play out important scenes that I think might happen in my head. I imagine the dialog, the action, the setting, the way the characters move. Then I go back and I imagine it going a different way. It helps me run through possibilities and learn to adapt to changing situations, but it also helps me get enthusiastic and excited about the game.

You want to be careful not to over-prepare. I’ve done that in the past. I remember one time, prepping for a session of D&D: I statted out every encounter that was going to happen in the upcoming session, planned every room, placed every monster. Then, in the first encounter, my players made a decision that took them in a completely different direction. It happens.

Prepping too much can foster rigidity of thought when it comes to your game. You want to be prepared, but you also want to be flexible and adaptable, and you don’t want to be frustrated by spending hours preparing material that nobody will ever see now.

The Fear

Running an RPG for the first time is scary. Maybe it’s scary in a good way, maybe it’s just plain scary, but either way there’s a hurdle you have to jump over to do it that first time.

You can mitigate this somewhat by playing with friends you feel comfortable with, people who will support you and work with you and engage with your game in good faith.

Even if you’re still scared, here’s the thing to remember: it gets easier. I don’t just mean that it gets easier the next time you run a game (though that’s also true), I mean that it’s probably going to start getting easier partway through the current game. You’re going to be nervous at first but, somewhere into the game, you’re going to forget how nervous you are and just start having fun.

And that’s what it comes down to: GMing a game is fun. It can be demanding and it can be pressure, but it’s also rewarding as hell to run a game and look at a table full of smiling faces and people high-fiving each other and talking about that awesome thing that happened when you overhear them a week later.

That’s why I do it.

Brian Engard is a game designer and marketing dude who lives in Texas, but don’t let that fool you because he’s really an okay guy. He designs Fate stuff, mouths off about games and diversity and feminism online, and is hopelessly addicted to Storium. Please send help.

D&D and Pathfinder: What’s the Difference?

Cara asks:

What is Pathfinder and how does it differ from DnD?

I am a fan of both, and I know a lot of people who are! On this topic we’ve got Dave Chalker,  a tabletop RPG fan and game designer.


2014-02-22 20.37.02Dungeons & Dragons has had multiple editions, dating back from the 70s to, well, sometime this year. Each edition changes up the rules, has different authors, different options for what characters you can play, different monsters, even different styles of game that it supports.

Think about something like Windows having a bunch of versions, like how Windows 95 is different than Windows XP which is different than Windows 8. A lot of the broad strokes are the same between each one, generally support the same kind of use, but have different looks, feels, and things they’re better or worse at. Each of these ‘versions’ is called an Edition. See a list of D&D editions.

So one of D&D’s editions was 3.5 (just like a piece of software, it was an update to a previous edition, with just a bunch of stuff patched and a .5 added onto the end.) D&D 3 and 3.5 were (and are!) super popular D&D editions.

Once it was announced there would be a D&D 4, a bunch of the folks who worked on D&D 3.5 (the company Paizo) decided to take the underlying engine that powered it and patch it up some more, but not so much that you had to throw out all the books you already had from D&D 3.5. That game is Pathfinder.

That means Pathfinder is another version of D&D, just made by a different company than who makes the official game with the D&D name on it. (In this author’s opinion, a lot of games are D&D, which I’ll talk about later.) Pathfinder takes D&D 3.5, keeps most of the main concepts, character options, and mostly maintains compatibility between the two. At the same time, Paizo puts out a steady stream of many new books, supplements, adventures, and more.

At the moment, a lot of data points towards Pathfinder being the biggest RPG currently putting out new products, especially while D&D works on its next new edition. That’s one of the big advantages of Pathfinder: new books all the time, and not just official products, there’s also all kinds of smaller companies and fans publishing too.

Between that, and everything made for D&D 3 and 3.5 still floating around out there, there’s sourcebooks, tables, spells, and whatever other super-specific supplements you could ever want for your Pathfinder game. It’s also very well supported with organized play programs for those who don’t just want home campaigns with it’s Pathfinder Society having branches all over the world.

That is all to say: Pathfinder is very closely related to D&D. D&D (in all its editions) and Pathfinder all have their different strengths and fans. Likewise, there are plenty of other games that are great that are related to D&D, including (but not limited to) 13th Age, Dungeon World, Labyrinth, Dungeon Crawl Classics, and many more. Largely they share a lot of the trappings of D&D, even in many cases directly patching up a specific D&D edition, with a lot of the terms being common between them.

I hope that all that explains what Pathfinder is. As for how it differs from D&D… well, what D&D is in the first place varies depending on who you ask: even the original creators of D&D disagreed about it. My only advice on that front is to try as many as you can and see which one is the most D&D to you, and enjoy the heck out of it.

If you want to get started, you might check out ENWorld.org for a forum with people talking about D&D of all kinds.

Dave Chalker is a freelance game designer, game developer, and editor-in-chief of Critical-Hits.com. His RPG credits include work on Dungeons & Dragons, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, and the Firefly RPG. His other tabletop work includes Get Bit!, Criminals, and Heat (currently on Kickstarter.) You can find him at @DaveTheGame on Twitter or on Critical-Hits.com.

Dungeon World: Tabletop RPGs Made Easy

Dungeon World Cover

NotAnNPC asks:

So…I want to know more about Dungeon World. I’ve seen several tweets about it and how easy it is to play. How is it different from other table tops like D&D and Pathfinder?

 To answer this question, we have Jason Pitre. Jason is an indie roleplaying games enthusiast and writer and he loves Dungeon World!

Thanks for asking! Full disclosure, I have been a fan of Dungeon World since the early iterations.

Dungeon World is the brain-child of Adam Koebel and Sage Latorra, who have worked together to produce a really fascinating game that reproduces all of the excitement of nostalgic, classic D&D. It’s a game where you play badass fighters, strange wizards, zealous paladins and devout clerics, fighting orks and dragons. The designers describe it as a love-letter to the way they remember playing Dungeons and Dungeons as kids.

The system behind Dungeon World is quite different from other tabletop games such as modern D&D or Pathfinder, for good reason. Dungeon World is inspired by and derived from the Vincent Baker’s brilliant post-apocalyptic game “Apocalypse World”. Vincent is well known for coming up with innovative mechanics, which Adam and Sage have refined and recreated to fit the dungeon environment.

The basic system is simple. The GM (Game Master, person who decides the story the players are in) asks you what you want to do. You describe your clever thief sneaking into the royal treasury, bypassing a couple tripwires and generally being stealthy. The GM describes the heavy footfalls and clanging of boots heading in your general direction and asks what you would like to do.  You describe hiding behind a bookshelf in the shadows, and everyone agrees that it makes sense that you could do that.  You didn’t roll dice for any of that.

The entire game mechanic revolves around these moves, which are always resolved by rolling 2d6 + your attribute modifier (2d6 means two six-sided dice).  If you get a 10+, you succeed with style. If you get a 7-9, the GM will offer you some hard bargain, drawback or other complication. If you get a 6 or less, then the GM gets to be mean to you, but you get an experience point that will help you level up.

Let’s say that you want to then sneak out of the shadows and steal the key from the passing guard’s belt. In such a case, you would roll 2d6 to use your move “Defy Danger”.  You roll a 7, +1 for your Dexterity modifier, for a total of 8.  The GM smiles and says that you can get the key firmly in your grasp, but you will attract the attention of the guard. Your life gets a little more complicated, but you did get most of what you wanted.

The system pretty much says that you only roll the dice when it’s interesting to do so. It means that you have free-flowing combat, players have authority to define parts of the setting and you don’t get bogged down in the record keeping of exactly how many arrows you have in your quiver. It’s lightweight, needing almost no preparation and supporting the GM with some excellent guidance text.


Jason Pitre is the owner, designer and barista at Genesis of Legend Publishing

Designer of the Spark Roleplaying Game and Posthuman Pathways

More information about Dungeon World is available here. For even more rules information, check out the Dungeon World SRD!

Do you have experience with Dungeon World? What do you like about it?