The World of Ark

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Glittering Isles of Greyhawk: What makes a setting?

I've had dozens of people ask me one question about my gaming: "What is it about a setting that interests you and makes you want to play in it?"

I can say without a doubt that the island of Harn comes up almost every time. If you don't know what Harn is; check out this map:

Harn is a creation of Columbia Games Inc. which you can explore HERE. Without a doubt, Harn is the MOST DETAILED SETTING I've ever run across that is for sale to the general gaming public. Hands down. Several of the things that make Harn just awesome:

1) Harn is a base setting to start a campaign from. There are no novels or later gaming supplements that mess with the history of the starting point. Once something is published for Harn, that is the way it is no matter what. You can go back in time to create your game, or into the future; but the best way to play in the world of Harn is to start from the date given in the various books.

2) The artwork. Not once have I ever looked at a piece of art for the Harn setting and thought anything other than "That is what it looks like! That is what I want my players to see so they have something other than writing to describe the people, places and things!" Richard Luschek (LOO-shek) is the individual who either picks the artist needed or, more often than not, delivers that need himself. You can find his art HERE or HERE (the latter being his own Blog that you can follow). Personally, I use his art for various games I'm playing that aren't even set in Harn. The art is what I like to call "True Medieval" and not so fantastical that it is hard to believe. I can relate to every single piece he has ever put into a product sold by Columbia Games. 

3) Did I mention detail? Well, there is MORE detail. Many of the smallest villages are detailed; right down to the peasants. I don't just mean for the current adventure, I mean I can pick up my Kingdom of Kaldor book and find immediately how many households live in Pendeth (which is in the Earldom of Neph) and even what the land quality is! I know the name of the man that rules there: Constable Garath Ruseller...and I know what the man looks like too!

4) Price. I've heard some people say that Harn is isn't. You may wonder what I mean when its setting books cost $30; but you will NEVER have to worry about buying another one. Do you know how many Forgotten Realms setting books I've had to buy?! With Harn, what you get the first time is what you need all the time. Find the full list HERE of their products over at

Now, you are wondering: "What in the Nine Hells does this have to do with Greyhawk!?" It has EVERYTHING to do with Greyhawk. The amazing thing about Harn is that you can plug it into ANY setting you want. I have used Harnic villages in the middle of Cormyr of the Forgotten Realms. I have placed entire Kingdoms (the Kingdom of Chybisa) right alongside established settings like the Viscounty of Verbobonc in Greyhawk; simply replacing the capital of Chybisa with the city of Verbobonc. But most importantly for my new home game: I am going to be using not only Harnic villages and towns for my game (all of them ready made mind you!); but also rules supplements from Harn as well.

I'm a big fan of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (first edition people!); anyone that really knows me knows that. I'm just as big a fan of the game products from Columbia Games that I can use to plug in wherever I want. OR, and often even better, I can simply run my AD&D game right in Harn without having to change a thing. Harn has magic, but it is softer and more subtle; so I just change available spells and I'm ready to go. I've detailed a bit about how I plan to use HarnManor in my Glittering Isles campaign HERE.

So, to answer the original question: a setting is awesome to me when it gives me everything I need, but still leaves room for me to create what I want. End of story, that is my answer.

For that, Harn (and its MANY supplements) delivers on that need hands down. A synopsis of how Harn is going to help me.

City of Tashal transforming into Widdershin
The City of Tashal (located in the Kingdom of Kaldor) is going to be transformed into my Glittering Isles city of Widdershin. I had tried to make a map...but I failed in getting the right feeling that I want from a map. I only make two primary modifications: a) There will be no bridge across the river because the river is going to be far too wide for one. The gate that once belonged where the bridge crossed the river (and a minor gate to the south on the wall) will now simply service the docks I plan to build. b) change the inhabitants affiliations to those that fit into Greyhawk (this is the larger change, but most of it is likely never to be encountered by the Party).

With that, my need for a Capital City of Widdershin is taken care of with minimal effort on my part. Though Widdershin's stated population is only 6,500 compared to Tashal's population of 11,400; I can easily explain this away to a dwindling population (as I already stated in previous writings) and many segments of the city being less crowded; while in the height of trade season, the place can hold many more who are passing through either via caravan or ships.

City Gate of Widdershin from outside in the village of Artoen
There are many, MANY more things that the folks at Columbia Games have created that I plan to use in my AD&D game other than their villages, cities and artwork. The adventure modules that they have created are second to none in being easily adapted to any game system. Their wide selection of Bestiary material enables me to have a wide variety of materials to draw on (with amazing art as well).

I'll post more as my conversions go along for my Glittering Isles of Greyhawk home campaign; but before I do that, you should go out and purchase some of these amazing products! This isn't a paid advertisement here seriously should invest some time/money into getting these materials to make your home games even more awesome.

NOTE: All images here are property of Columbia Games Inc. and Richard Luschek. Used with permission.


  1. It's an interesting question and one that I've been asking myself alot without realizing it since getting back into the hobby a few years ago. I am a Greyhawk guy first and foremost; I cut my teeth on the setting as a teenager and continue to like it for all the same reasons I did back then. The political situation between nations, the iconic NPC personalities, the flavour of its history, and the wonderful locations (Free City of Greyhawk being a true "Gem") all combine to make it my favorite. It has its shortcomings, however.

    These shortcomings have caused me to think on what would be an ideal setting in my mind. Here's my list:

    Complete World Map. I just can't do without this. I at least need the complete continent with surrounding oceans. It's not that every adventuring party will want to explore off map, but what if they do? What's out there? It's a real possibility when running age of sail or Spelljammer enabled adventures. I don't have the time or skill at present to render the "missing" parts of these worlds. The Greyhawk setting suffers a bit from this, but Forgotten Realms more so. Lately I've been looking at fan made add-ons to the published Greyhawk map, but it's still a lot of tinkering around. The Harn map you posted here is perfect for me in terms of geography.

    Well developed world. Greyhawk is developed enough for me to use with little alterations if I want, but also highly customizable. I like it. I also have come to appreciate Golarion from Paizo. Man, so much info for their world. It saves time and increases the quality of my presentation when things are that developed. I've lately been taking material from Paizo and applying it to Greyhawk where needed.

    Fringe / beyond the frontier lands: this is one area I find difficult with Greyhawk. It's nice to have expansive areas that remain in unexplored or at least unsettled mystery.

    Anyway, these are a few areas I consider. I haven't read any Harn material, but the map seems right up my alley. With Spelljammer enabled adventurers, maybe I'll need ALL these worlds!

    1. Harn has an entire Universe detailed. I think you would love the entire setting...just look for "Harnworld" and you will be happy you got the setting, even if you don't want to play HarnMaster.

  2. The thought of playing Harn makes me weep. I wish everybody played it at least once. So happy to see someone use it in my favourite setting.

    1. I love both the HarnMaster RPG and the setting itself. I have found it difficult to find a group to play HarnMaster I brought it to Greyhawk!

      My dream would be to play the HarnMaster rules in Greyhawk!

  3. Hi there. I'd like to point out that the map you show is in fact published by Kelestia Productions, not Columbia Games. Their website and store front is

    1. Which map are you referring to?

      Columbia did create Harn...yes?

    2. Up front I'll say I'm the end all be all of Harnic knowledge, but this is the way I believe it goes. Columbia games was the publisher and may have contributed some to the world and game, but the creator and primary contributor of content was the late N. Robin Crossby. It was Robin that created the game, the world and much of the content to include most if not all of the maps. in later years he started kelestia to release Harn Canon content as there was a rift between him and Columbia games.