Enter the WORLD OF GREYHAWK...
...A world where bandit kings raid from their remote stronghold;
...A world where noble elves fight savage invaders and where bold knights wage war on the terror of Iuz;
...A world scarred by a vast Sea of Dust, across which drift lost memories from the awful forgotten past.
Enter a World of Wonder & Intrigue...
Fantasy Game Setting for a panoramic view of this fantastic place.
More than a collection of maps and names, it is an active world filled with decaying empires and dark forests. Game elements include the gods of Greyhawk, the clash of political factions, and encounters in this wild land.
World of Greyhawk Fantasy Game Setting (1983), by Gary Gygax, is the core sourcebook for Oerth, the world of Greyhawk. It was published in October 1983.
Geneva Origins. The world of Greyhawk began as Gary Gygax's setting for his house D&D game. This primordial Oerth was centered on Castle Greyhawk, an infamous series of dungeons created by Gary Gygax and Rob Kuntz. The wider world got some attention too … and it was rather different from what TSR eventually published. Gygax's original world of Oerth (pronounced "OITH") looked a lot like the Mid-West that Gygax lived in, with the Nyr Dyv taking the place of the Great Lakes. You can still see this Earthly basis for D&D in early products like Supplement I: Greyhawk (1975) and the Monster Manual (1977), each of which references Earthly locales.
When Gygax was asked to create the World of Greyhawk product, he was somewhat surprised that other GMs weren't interested in creating their own worlds. Nonetheless Gygax was game … except he didn't want to spoil his world for his own players, so he decided to move the officially published Greyhawk away from its Earthly origins.
Gygax started out with a new map. He filled two large sheets of paper after learning that was the biggest map that TSR could print. (The maps were later finalized in full color by Darlene, with the result being one of the most famous and beautiful maps in gaming.) Afterward, Gygax wrote up descriptions of the countries and locales that were found on that map, drawing from his own campaign, but adjusting facts as appropriate for the new map.
The World of Greyhawk that TSR produced was thus something old and something new.
The Folio and The Box. Greyhawk was originally published as a folio called The World of Greyhawk Fantasy World Setting (1980) and then was reprinted a few years later as a box called The World of Greyhawk Fantasy Game Setting (1983). This second edition was vastly expanded. Though the first edition of World of Greyhawk had all of the geographic information — as well as short articles on calendars, history, languages, and even runes and glyphs — the second edition added scattered information on topics like trees and races, but also made two big expansions. The first was a set of encounter tables for Greyhawk, while the second was a listing and description of the gods of the world.
Much of the new material found in the second edition World of Greyhawk box had premiered in Dragon magazine, a work process that Gygax used frequently at the time. Greyhawk's new weather system had originally been authored by David Axler for Dragon #68 (December 1982). Gygax himself had been writing about the politics and shape of the world since 1980 (with some help from Len Lakofka and Rob Kuntz); more recently he'd detailed the deities of Greyhawk in a series of articles that ran from Dragon #67 (November 1982) through Dragon #71 (March 1983).
The WG Line. The World of Greyhawk supplements were the foundation for TSR's first ever setting-based product line, the "WG" series. It began with WG4: "The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun" (1982) and reached its mature form with WG5: "Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure" (1984), the first adventure to feature trade dress matching the World of Greyhawk box, The missing adventures in the series, WG1, WG2, and WG3, were partly explained in the box, which listed "The Village of Hommlet" as "WG1" and "The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth" as "WG3". At the time these adventures were being published as "T1" and "S4", but the intention was presumably to renumber them when they were reprinted.
Expanding Greyhawk: A Whole World. The gazetteer in the World of Greyhawk box lists itself as "Volume III" and says it is "A catalogue of the land Flanaess, being the Eastern Portion of the continent Oerik, of Oerth". In other words, there was a lot more world out of there. For now, though, World of Greyhawk concentrated on eastern Oerik.
The portion of Oerth is revealed through the description of not only the countries of eastern Oerik, but also its landscapes. Locales like the Crystalmist Mountains, the Gnarley Forest, the Nyr Dyv, and the Sea of Dust are probably as famous as the Bandit Kingdoms and the Horned Society, and that's thanks to the unique method that Gygax used to depict his world.
The amount of crunch in World of Greyhawk is also impressive, including its encounter tables, its weather rules, and its birthplace tables. Much of this would be unusual in D&D settings of the later '80s, which more often focused on fluff.
Expanding Greyhawk: Adventures. Though the descriptions of the countries and landscapes of Oerth were important, World of Greyhawk also served another vital purpose: it linked together all of the AD&D adventures published to TSR by that point by placing each of them on the map of Greyhawk. Some of these adventures had already been lightly connected to Oerth, while others could have been set anywhere … but now a GM could run them all as part of a coherent world.
The adventures brought into Greyhawk through the World of Greyhawk box were: A1-4; C1-2; D1-3; G1-3; EX1-2 (called GC1-2); I1; L1; N1; Q1; S1-3; S4 (called WG3); T1 (called WG1); and WG4.
Expanding AD&D. Prior to the publication of the World of Greyhawk box, the state of the art for gods was found in Deities & Demigods (1980): they were fully statted up, so they could be killed by PCs. The "Glossography" in World of Greyhawk is similarly full of stats for deities, but the "Guide" offers a different take. Here, gods are explained textually, and there are even some special rules given for the priests of certain gods — a foreshadowing of the specialty priests that would appear in AD&D 2e (1989).
Future History. Over the years, TSR and Wizards have published a few more overviews of the portion of Oerth that was depicted in the World of Greyhawk: From the Ashes (1992), Greyhawk Player's Guide (1998), and the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer (2000).
However, when Gygax wrote that World of Greyhawk was "Volume III", he was imagining a larger world. At various times Frank Mentzer, Len Lakofka, and Francois Marcela-Froideval were each going to create one or more continents east of Oerik, while an Asian-influenced continent was planned for the west. Gygax imagined that there would eventually be "a real globe".
Though the lands depicted in World of Greyhawk have been detailed in the years since its publication, there has been almost no expansion beyond these lands of eastern Oerik — with the one major exception being the Sundered Empire that Chris Pramas designed for the Chainmail Miniatures Game (2001), which lies in western Oerik.
About the Creators. Gygax was the creator of Greyhawk and the co-creator of D&D. He also wrote Greyhawk's most famous adventures, such as the GDQ sequence (1978-1980), T1-4: The Temple of Elemental Evil (1985), and S1: "Tomb of Horrors" (1978).
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.