It was the best of campaigns. It was the worst of campaigns.
At Gen Con Indy eight years ago, Living Greyhawk kicked off. It was big the moment it started and got bigger as it went. During the campaign’s run, it has seen perhaps eight to nine hundred different adventure modules, when all core, core special, regional, metaregional, introductory, adaptable, adapted and interactive modules plus mini and special missions are all tallied together. Maybe even more – I have no total figures, no complete listings of the massive amount of introductory modules that Nyrond released annually, or a full reckoning of the mini-missions of Sunndi. It is not outside the realm of possibility that now, in the end, the modules of Living Greyhawk have reached quadruple digits.
Living Greyhawk was global campaign, breaching, with its strong online support, language barriers and borders in a way its predecessor Living City never could. I’ve played Living Greyhawk in three different nations, with fellow players of seven different nationalities. If there is or has been another campaign in which this has been possible, I am not aware of it.
It was good while it lasted.
At Gen Con Indy 2007, the axe fell with the announcement of Dungeons & Dragons 4E. We got a year to wrap up our regional storylines with a cut-down module allotment. Play numbers fell when the campaign’s finitude became clear. Module writers fled, triads lost motivation. There was and still is a great deal of bitterness and a feeling the final core storyline was poorly handled, as well as a perception that the campaign and the players were screwed over in what should have been the campaign’s beautiful swansong. What campaign infrastructure didn’t fade got mostly transferred over to Living Forgotten Realms, the supposed heir to the throne, and have had to divide their attention between ending Living Greyhawk with the dignity it deserves and kicking off Living Forgotten Realms less than two months from now.
And now it ends, with a bang, not a whimper, and the culminations of a dozen major storylines, some of them originating from the first years of the campaign. There has been great upheaval in other regions, with wars, fiendish invasions and planar rifts plaguing the land. A full reckoning of these end days will, I am sure, be forthcoming in due time.
The module database is still active until the end of the year, though all the triads will be let go of their positions at the end of today. After December 31st, 2008, it will be gone, like rain in the mountains, like wind in the meadow, behind the hills, into shadow.
Though I have had frequent harsh words for various aspects of the campaign, I have said them because I cared. It was a good campaign, one of the best. I have said it before, and I will say it again: in Living Greyhawk I have seen both the best and the absolute worst of adventure module writing. There have been magnificent epics, investigations that dared to be intelligent, exhilaratingly straightforward hack-and-slash adventures and even moral and ethical challenges.
I have played 149 Living Greyhawk modules. Most of them were pretty good, a few were pretty bad, and some were the finest I have ever played, putting many if not most of Wizards of the Coast’s and TSR’s published modules to shame.
Though I have called out the worst in the past, I must refrain here from naming the best – the list would simply be too long to be included here. It will have to be a future project.
Meanwhile, I ask that the readership name their own favourites among the corpus of Living Greyhawk adventures. My own experience is mainly limited to the Principality of Naerie, the Splintered Suns, and the core – though I’ve also adventured in both the Free State of Onnwal and the Kingdom of Sunndi – and I only came to the campaign in 2004. The rotation of adventure modules and the regional system make it so that no single man can know all that has been released for the campaign.
I consider this a feature, not a bug.
It fostered an atmosphere, a feel unique to each of the regions, giving the modules a context beyond the immediate. Done well, they felt like different places, with different peoples, customs, politics, and local concerns. As France is different from California, so is the Caliphate of Ekbir different from the Kingdom of Nyrond.
The other thing Living Greyhawk did remarkably well was create the sense of a truly living world. It is possible it came out clearer in Naerie with our relatively small population, but in Living Greyhawk, you felt you were truly affecting the world of Greyhawk, and even more, there were other people also affecting it somewhere out there in the world, and the stories began and ended, thrones toppled and rumours came to our distant shores from those lands without our characters ever intervening. The Liberation of Scant. Sewarndt’s coup in Nyrond. Iggwilv’s attack on Perrenland.
Of course, the RPGA has, all this time, had only a handful of paid employees. The vast, overwhelming bulk of the work done on Living Greyhawk has been volunteer or freelancing for a nominal fee. Regional and metaregional modules were, at least in my time, unpaid labour. So were regional websites, gazetteers, metaorganisations and cartography. While core modules were paid for, the fee was so small that I know at least one writer outside the United States had the checks framed instead of cashing them.
Thus, I thank these Stakhanovite heroes, who each did their part in making Living Greyhawk the best campaign it could be. While nothing is perfect, and I would be the first to admit the many imperfections of both the campaign and my own contributions to it, it was good. While often slowed down by bureaucracy and accounting, these did not detract from the experience once the table convened and the dice began to roll.
I thank the Circle, the metaregion representatives, the Triad members, the module writers, and anyone else who worked for the benefit of the campaign in these eight years, be they webmaster, playtester, moderator of a regional discussion forum, convention organiser, proofreader, or card-carrying judge.
Finally, I must thank the players. A campaign does not exist without players. By my association with Living Greyhawk, I have met many wonderful people, made new friends, gamed with a hundred different people. I couldn’t always get along with everyone, but when you put enough people in the same room, personalities will eventually clash. It’s been a great campaign, overall, and for that, I thank you.
And now it all comes to an end. We still get to play, sure, and the database isn’t going anywhere for another six months, but the campaign has reached its conclusion. There will be no more.
I, and I expect some others, will keep their Living Greyhawk characters and continue the campaign past December 31st, into the undiscovered country of home campaigns. The Principality of Naerie is not going anywhere, we have a backlog of modules from other regions should our characters wish to head abroad, and we can write our own adventures. So, in January 2009, we’ll release the Naerie Gazetteer 599 CY, tying up the plots concluded in our regionals and adding some new developments. We’re offering it as a fully fleshed region for anyone to use in their home campaign, ripe with adventure hooks.
RPGA is moving on to Living Forgotten Realms. I’m not, for a variety of reasons that I shall not elaborate here. It is an option for those who like 4E. I wish RPGA luck with it. They’re going to need it.
Finally, there’s the next global campaign for me – Pathfinder Society, by Paizo Publishing. It uses the Pathfinder RPG rules, developed from Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. It is run by Nicolas Logue, one of the finest adventure writers whose work I’ve had the pleasure to peruse, and the campaign’s faction system would seem to be straight up my alley, offering ample opportunity for skullduggery and developing some friction between party members, which I find creates better roleplaying. Reading their forums, the campaign staff’s enthusiasm is contagious, and I cannot wait to get my mitts on the rules and the setting book – significantly inspired by Greyhawk, by the way.
It’d seem I’m not the only one feeling Paizo’s love – there’s a couple of familiar names to be spotted on their forum already.
Though this is the end, there are great many new beginnings in the works.