It's been since 1997 that I've gotten a chance to run a game on the Oerth. Our group here, for the last month, has been based in the village of Hommlett in the Kron Hills - doing that thing you do when you're in Hommlett. Though it's been quite some time, I remember this place like my long lost homeland - if I were from the Free City of Greyhawk. For my players, it's a bit unfamiliar - like the Gygaxian traps that make this crazy dungeon crawl such a classic.
My players couldn't help but think they were going to kick in doors and take names, and that the Temple of Elemental Evil would be as much a pushover as most of my dungeons. They are finding, by comparison, my homebrew dungeons are much more forgiving than the classic series we've kicked off. Partly it's a dissonance of game design philosophy and partly that of adventure design. The concepts AD&D1e was built around are no longer in place for the larger gaming community. It's like since 2004 or so, the MMO mentality has really taken over all aspects of gaming, so that the original designs don't seem to make sense in a context where you want a party to succeed at the adventure. Also, a party with the newer concepts in mind will face a terrible dilemma once they start T1.
The original setting of Dungeons & Dragons, the world of Greyhawk is one of the most comprehensive and welcoming settings for any game anywhere, in my opinion. There's a lot of material out there for the setting, and muddling through it all to place everything where it's supposed to be has been a fun chore. Since I've separated all the editions' storylines, it's much easier to see the progress and development of the campaign setting and accompanying stories. The idea with this particular setting is that it will sort of be the yardstick by which all others are compared. We've started with 1e, but the only edition that Greyhawk doesn't have published adventures for is 4e. Yes, I know about The Village of Hommletti for it, but I don't really count that. That's more of a collector's thing.
So we will be visiting Oerth in every edition. I'll be using almost exclusively the published adventures, ad-libbing only where needed. The idea is that we experience the changes of Oerth from 1979 to 2008, in three editions and three storylines.
I also want to say if 4e had more Greyhawk material, I probably would have been on board from the beginning.
Greyhawk offers us a wide range of possible characters. Though I'm restricting each game to each corresponding edition, anything and everything in D&D is on Oerth. That means no restrictions on characters, except where placed by the basic rules. In 2e, there's the Complete Humanoids Handbook, and in 3e...well, there's a lot more stuff. Personally, I think the high water mark was 3.0 edition. The "Option Explosion" happened, and (before the glut of splatbooks) the stuff that was available in hardcover, softcover and on the web was for me and my players a perfect cauldron of gaming goodness.
All the most fantastic of the D&D monsters are on Oerth as well. Monsters that players have only heard about (jokingly or not) will rear their ugly head. One example we learned from in the past few weeks is Green Slime. Oh yeah, Green Slime is a nasty hazard, and I've read about it since the first Monster Manual. Yet, I realized I've never used it in an adventure. We might have spoken about it before, but it's kind of hard to believe my players, die hard gamers that they are, have never heard of it. They learned about it in the moathouse near Hommlett, and it's a miracle that none of them ended up as another puddle of Green Slime.
They were incredulous. I can only assume we'll have more of this when we encounter bugbears (I've always used orcs & goblins), displacer beasts, gelatinous cubes, rot grubs and a host of other monsters I've either thought were too old hat and corny, or simply been too afraid to use.
Magic is a different beast on this world as well. I've run low fantasy campaigns for years and years now, and Oerth is going to be a break from that. I've said before that I feel that Oerth is completely saturated in magic and I've wanted that to show. One side effect from a high magic society is that the tropes of adventure gaming have come to light. There's always been an aversion at my table to the whole "we're adventurers, dungeon explorers, come to save you from monsters" attitude and roleplay that seems to be tongue-in-cheek jokes throughout a lot of the setting and rules. No more says I...there will be magic, spells, monsters and crass foolery about the dungeons in a manner befitting characters in such a setting. Not straight Looney Toons...it's mixed with a little bit of Shakespeare.
This is also the home of some of the most iconic names in D&D. Bigby, Tenser, Drawmij, Mordenkainen. Melf. Lord Robilar. You know...the old crew. When players realize this, it tends to draw them into the world of Oerth just a little more. They've all seen those names in print, just in the basic books. I find there are few outside the realm of Dungeon Mastery that know the secrets of the Oerth, but these names have a definite resonance of familiarity even on other worlds.
For me, the Oerth is a vibrant place of great and powerful magic. Terrors and treasures untold exist within this continuum. There is a certain sort of crazy that applies to the Oerth, a sort of implicit lunacy that you must partake in just to accept the world as real for a few hours on Game Day. Abandon the logic, the low fantasy tropes we've held to for the last decade or so. It's not about gritty realism.
Greyhawk Adventures is about every single one of those iconic images that D&D is famous for.