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Grayharrowing Adventures

Design & Development

Because a few people have actually asked some questions, and because I do benefit from examining my own creative process, I’d like to share some notes and observations for a campaign setting built from the ground-up. Avremier has been building for nearly forty years and I actually struggle to recall many of the earliest details. Grayharrow was started within the last few years – though its origins do lie in an earlier iteration of Avremier (from the mid-1980s). Very little from that Grayharrow survives to this project, but those small kernels are very important.

Project History

Vythakhar was an unused realm in the first iteration of what is now the Avremier setting. It was a place of strange magic and an atmosphere I could only describe as, “eldritch.” It was a weird place created by a very young me, and none of my players ever reached it. Maybe a shadowy reflection of Melniboné. When I set out to bring Avremier “to the masses,” I found that Vythakhar just didn’t fit my current vision of the setting. So, rather than attempt to force a triangular peg into a round hole, I decided to create an Avremier spinoff, of sorts. Not that Vythakhar is part of Avremier. It is just a mini-setting that takes much of its flavor and detail from the early days of Avremier’s development. Like an archaeological site recently unearthed for study and possible appreciation. What you have here is Vythakhar placed within a more suitable setting, developed by a more mature and experienced me. It is my hope that both have aged well.

So – that’s where Grayharrow comes from. An exotic kingdom that never saw use in my game, poised at the edge of a hand-drawn map that no longer exists. The players just never travelled that far. Possibly for the best. Recently, when I dusted off some of my notes from the 80s and 90s, Vythakhar and its environs came fully to my attention after years of neglect. The timing seemed right, because I immediately began brainstorming a new campaign setting. But, I was no longer a kid living at home, with hours and hours to spare in the building of another sprawling and detailed fantasy world. I’d have to exercise some restraint – something I’m rarely good at when it comes to creative endeavors.

Guidelines and Ground Rules

This was not going to be a project that would grow and develop at a leisurely pace after extensive playtesting. I had set out to build a fantasy world with boundaries and some measure of focus. I would have an overall genius loci, in the form of a fallen deity that left behind titanic skeletal remains. The initial visual was very appealing to me – creating a landscape around a massive skeleton. In fact, this dominant physical feature would help define the true scope of the setting. With a bit of number-crunching and mathematical reckoning (not my personal strengths) I determined that the divine remains would be about 38 miles long. So, Vythakhar would have to be at least that size. And, I just had to place Imharra, the main city of the setting, directly into the palm of one dead hand. Nothing less would do. Also, the skull would be one of the most important features of the setting. The place where the mind of the departed deity would reside. A crucial focal point for the intended flavor and subtext of the campaign world – psionics.

Those who know me are aware that I generally exclude psionics from my own game and campaign setting. Still, over the years, I have come up with psionics-based ideas that seem fun to me. Grayharrow gives me an environment suited to those ideas. A showcase, of sorts. A psionic lich-king with an exposed crystallized brain, served by lawful-neutral psionic paladin enforcers, with leashed crystalline intellect devourers as hunting hounds. Clans of psionically-endowed grell totake the place of a certain type of octopoid-headed humanoid known for psionicallytenderizing and physically devouring the brains of its victims. Hidden domains of mad duergar. Isolated orders of psionic monks. Psionics that originated within the brain of the Dead God – emanating outward into the surrounding realms. I wanted a source that I could isolate and control – just in case.

Imports & Recycling

Honestly, I have a lot of ideas that just don’t suit my existing settings. Tons of stuff that don’t really fit within the established framework of Avremier. Concepts that aren’t funny enough for Duckin’ & Braggin’. That’s how the ‘Color-Titledsettingscame about. Each one embodies a distinct atmosphere or flavor that I’d like to explore in-depth.  Grayharrow’s signature flavor is something I sometimes struggle to describe in simple terms. It is built upon a solid foundation of psionic-based science-fantasy, with a pseudo-Victorian veneer. Not quite Steampunk. Gothic Gaslight, but not always traditional Gothic. There are a few strong literary influences, but I don’t really want to dwell on them. I’ve taken them in different directions and woven them into something more my own. There are other Avremier concepts that have been transplanted fully into Grayharrow – the pivotal city of Imharra being one. Then, there are concepts that were introduced in Avremier, but taken to different levels and in other directions for Grayharrow. Gargoyles, sphinxes, paladins, monks, arcane magic, nonhuman PC races, nonhuman domains, psionics-aided combat, other dimensions, undead, psidead, and more. Just a lot of standards or trappings that I wanted to twist or repurpose into something I found engaging.

Culture, Myth, History & Folklore

Quite a few real-world cultures manage to inspire and flavor the creation of my fantasy civilizations or concepts, but not always to their fullest extent. I’m not interested in creating a fantasy version of Egypt, Greece, Scandinavia, or China – but I do like to take bits and pieces of the look or feel of older cultures for a foundation or framework. I like to give players something they can recognize, but not necessarily something they’ve seen before. I’m not re-creating cultures for use in my game. This is true of Grayharrow even more, perhaps, than Avremier.  

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