Friday, March 20, 2015

Let's Read: Greyhawk Adventures (Part 7)

Boy, has it been a long time since I've done one of these. But we're not through the book yet, and there's plenty more to cover. This time: the Hall of Heroes.

The Hall of Heroes is a selection of fourteen NPCs with stats and in-depth descriptions and histories. Seven of them are in the City of Greyhawk itself (remember this was published at a time before the Greyhawk Wars, so it's still theoretically set in CY 576), and the rest are from further afield in the Flanaess.

The trouble is, most of these NPCs are not ones that the PCs are ever likely to encounter, at least on a regular basis. Thus, their inclusion in the book is something of a mystery. We have:

  • Nerof Gasgol, Lord Mayor of Greyhawk
  • Derider Fanshen, constable in Greyhawk (also a 12th level cleric of Pelor)
  • Sental Nurev, Captain-General of the Watch in Greyhawk
  • Org Nenshen, Master of the Thieves Guild in Greyhawk
  • Turin Deathstalker, Master of the Assassins Guild in Greyhawk
  • Ren o' the Star, Master of the Traders Union in Greyhawk
  • Jaran Krimeeah, lord of the Valley of the Mage
  • Tysiln San, First Protector of the Valley of the Mage
  • Korenth Zan, Father of Obedience of the Scarlet Brotherhood
  • Alesh Marin, member of the Scarlet Brotherhood (in Stoink)
  • Karll of Urnst, Duke of Urnst
  • Tang the Horrific, Prince of the Clan (from the Dry Steppes, but now a wandering mercenary barbarian)
  • Timitrios Spartakos, magic-user originally from the Great Kingdom, now in Greyhawk, and with a backstory tied to Jaran Krimeeah
  • Guiliana Mortidus, cleric and member of the Horned Society
Of these, the DM isn't likely to really need the likes of the Lord Mayor and heads of the guilds of the city of Greyhawk (especially when they are covered in the City of Greyhawk boxed set, which appeared the year after this book was published), or the Duke of Urnst. Figures like the Mage of the Valley and the head of the Scarlet Brotherhood are deliberately supposed to be obscure, and detailing them here destroys their mystique. 

The only ones that look to be particularly useful in a day-to-day sense are Derider Fanshen, Alesh Marin, Tang the Horrific, Timitrios Spartakos, and Guiliana Mortidus. Tang could be a terrific recurring character, one full of bluster and flash who storms onto the scene, steals it, and then bounds away. Guiliana could be a good long-term protagonist for a mid-level party (she's an 8th level cleric, and works as an agent for the Horned Society who's been sent on missions before, and has a band of underlings). Timitrios could be a good magic-user-for-hire; he's got some interesting quirks and a great backstory, with some built-in enemies that could spell trouble for anyone he's associated with (like the PCs).

On the whole, this is one of the least useful sections of the book. Five out of fourteen NPCs are useful in a day-to-day sense, which is a pretty bad percentage. Much of the art is recycled as well, which is doubly disappointing, but there are a few fun new pieces that do the job.

5 comments:

tom said...

Greyhawk Adventures should not be blamed for its similarity to a product that was released a year later. City may not have even been on the radar at the time. Sure, Gygax had been promising it "any day now" from 1979-85, but post-Gygax TSR probably took that as incentive to make sure it never happened.

And if few of the NPC's were directly useful, so what. Neither did the Greyhawk Folio or Boxed set. Only the modules gave us NPCs for players to interact with, and most of those were intended as one-offs who got defeated or killed at the end. Like the rulers in WoG, they provide shadowy and inaccessible figures who pull the strings and are spoken of in hushed tones while their underlings & lackeys do all of the work.

They provide direction and tone to the organizations they head. It is the DM's responsibility to fill in the ranks with NPC's the players will actually interact with.

Mike Bridges said...

Interesting assessment. For my own lengthy Greyhawk DM career, the only NPCs from this book I felt compelled to use (before the City boxed set came out) were the City of Greyhawk officials. I ran a lot of urban campaigns and the following boxed set only increased my need for these type of political figures.
What I wish I used were the ones you advise. Tang had potential as did the Scarlet Brotherhood ones. I guess I didn't know what I wanted to do with the brotherhood until it was too late, ahem Greyhawk Wars.

Joseph Bloch said...

I wasn't "blaming the book", tom. I was assessing its utility for a DM today.

tom said...

Utility is what you make of it.

If your gaming group is content to stay on the latest edition treadmill. GA's utility would be precisely zero.

If you still play AD&D and take GA at face value, it's utility is still pretty low -- everything in the first 3 sections has been published elsewhere in materials you probably have. You might gain a few spells or magic items you can use. the new geographic features are interesting, but if you want your players to see any of it you'll probably have to railroad them there. you might find 0-level cute for a while.

But at least for me, the real utility lies in mining the book for the small gems that inspire me to create something new and original, whether it be fleshing out the rest of a Thieves or Assassins Guild based around the leadership of Org Nenshen or Turin Deathstalker, or building an interesting adventure involving one or more of the items from this book in some way.

btmcrae said...

Dead on, Joe. "Stats for the most awesome people in Greyhawk" is not exactly topping the list with regards to utility. It isn't as bad as statting out deities to no purpose, but it's getting close! :p "Low utility" aptly describes the Hall of Heroes section. Players are likely to interact with low- or mid-level functionaries of any of the folks mentioned, but with those persons themselves? Likely never. Accordingly, the Hall of Heroes section has very low utility for anyone who plays in Greyhawk using any rules set of any kind.