I’ll just say it right away. This is a fantastic issue of Oerth Journal. Five out of five wizards! More than any other issue of Oerth Journal that I remember reading, this issue has strong narrative content and memorable stories in article after article. No longer just backgrounds for the setting, Oerth Journal is telling the stories of Greyhawk, and that’s what Greyhawkstories.com is all about.
Hot Cover Art
First thing you notice about Oerth Journal 34 is the beautiful cover. It depicts a young Iggwilv, from when she still went by the name Hura, looting the treasure vault of Daoud. This picture is near and dear to me because it’s a commission the talented Greyhawk artist LadyLoth did for Greyhawkstories about a year ago. Her work exceeded my expectations. I’m really pleased to see that the piece made the cover the journal in conjunction with my story about Iggwilv’s quest for the Vault of Daoud. The timing accords well with the recent release of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, but that was by design.
Amy “Theala” Crittenden’s “Reimagining Yrag” is a welcome write-up on Gary Gygax’s first player character, Yrag of Greyhawk City. You might wince at the idea of a “reimagining” since most reimaginings of classic movies, stories, and characters would better be described as “defacings.” That’s not the case here. Theala does a great job assembling the canonical information we have on Yrag from across the sources, including Gygax’s own recollections in Dragon and even a deep cut from Living Greyhawk material. I learned a ton about this obscure character, and it left me wanting to see more of this type writing in the journal. Theala adds her own solid speculation and ideas to fill in some of the missing story and bring Yrag up to date, including NPC stats for 5e. Really great work, worth the price of admission.
Quest for Skrellingshald
David Leonard’s story “A Fistful of Baubles” takes us on the legendary expedition of Hardji Beartooth’s quest for the lost city of Skrellingshald, a tale you might remember as one of the more memorable adventure suggestions from Jim Ward’s Greyhawk Adventures. Over on his blog, Greyhawk Musings, Leonard has been doing a lot of work with the Snow Barbarians and the history of the north. All that background immersion pays off handsomely in this full-color imaginative telling of some critical scenes from the Skrellingshald adventure. Bravo! Give us more! Great writing and a great story that raises the bar for the journal and for Greyhawk fiction in general. This is the type of stuff I want to read, and it proves the premise behind Greyhawkstories.com: the Flanaess is full of stories, just waiting to be told.
John Burchfield of BlueBox RPG debuts in Oerth Journal with an article titled “Exploring the Dry Steppes.” It’s framed as an excerpt from an explorer-adventurer’s travel journal. In the highly-entertaining first-person narrative, the author of the journal recounts tracking the Steppe Hunter giant spider when encountering another far more dangerous bug: the J’hol. Didn’t know we had these mantis-aliens in the world of Greyhawk? Check it out. Kristoph Nolen follows up with an “Ecology of the J’hol thri-kreen on Oerth,” employing the sources to place this psionic-powered bug in our world. This was all new territory to me, but the J’hol seems like the type of denizens Gygax envisioned haunting the devastated Steppes and the Sea of Dust.
Scarecrow Bog Bodies
Then comes Les Reno with “Secret Legacies of the Flan.” Reno introduces us to some ancient druidic rituals which combine necromantic arts with the Old Faith to show us another side of the Flan religion. Druidism isn’t all tree-hugging and communing with nature. We’ve got some zombie bog body stuff going on here with fresh adventure hooks and good discussion about Ur-Flan necromancy. Yuck.
Lance Hawvermale continues the botanical journal of Canaldryn the Spry, sage of dendrology with another clever article about the amazing trees of Oerth. This time, it’s the glowy phostwood, ways to utilize them, along with some magical items derived from the trees. This is a solid series that helps round out Gygax’s original vision for the world, and I hope it continues in future issues.
Bane of the Death Knights
Gary (PSmedger) Holian says, “Every time I say I’m done with the Death Knights, they pull me back in!” His new article offers a full-on backstory for the demi-god hero Saint Benedor of the Ashen Hand, previously known only in obscurity from Holian’s original Death Knight work in Dragon, Living Greyhawk Journal and on Canonfire! Ride with the Knight Protectors. The epic story of Saint Benedore sweeps the centuries. Wouldn’t it be cool if PSmedger decided to edit all the Death Knight material together into one sourcebook?
There’s a bunch of other great stuff in this issue too. Mike Bridges brings new installments of everyone’s favorite cultist cartoon. Paul Herridge puts some flesh of the Greenjerkin rangers of the Gnarley Forest with a cool backstory, stat block, and write up for the captain of the band. Richard DiIoia brings us yet another piece of divine Greyhawk fiction when “Bleredd tests a Blacksmith’s Mettle.” Robert M. Guy II tells the story of the secret induction-hazing ceremony of the Scarlet Brotherhood. And most unexpected is the arrival of The Pentagram, a spelljamming ship piloted by Denis “Maldin” Tetreault (of Melkot.com) and Rick “Borb” Esch. The article includes backstories on the ship, the crew, and stats and diagram for the ship itself. Wow. It’s about time we got some of these flying around Oerth.
Iggwilv and the Vault of Daoud
Finally, I’d like to say something about my own contribution to the journal–another episode in my Iggwilv: Mother of Witches series which narrate episodes from Iggwilv’s backstory. Before Iggwilv can find the vault of Daoud and pull the heist, she has to do her homework. So did I. The documentation didn’t make it to print, but I want to give credit where it’s due, with special thanks to Carlos Lising for consulting with me on the story which is derived from the following sources:
- Rasgon Greysage, “The Golden Age of Tusmit,” Canonfire!
- Joseph Bloch, “Looking at the lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, Part Two” Greyhawkgrognard.com
- Gary Gygax, Come Endless Darkness (Trigee Enterprises, 1988)
- Roger Moore, Greyhawk Adventures: Return of the Eight , (Wizards of the Coast, 1998)
- Rick “Duicarthan” Miller and Mike Bridges, “Tuerny the Merciless,” Oerth Journal 25:39-44
- Owen K. C. Stephens and Gary Holian, “The Demonicon of Iggwilv,” Dragon Magazine 336:76-78