airwalkrr's Out of the Abyss
Magic in Greyhawk
To appreciate how people of the Flanaess, both on the surface and in the Underdark, perceive magic and why they are generally so fearful of it, it is necessary to understand how magic has been used in both the past and present as a tool of terror, cruelty, and subjugation. Magic is power in the World of Greyhawk, and power tends to corrupt. It is this tendency towards corruption that people of the Flanaess fear most. Magic might have its uses, but the examples of its use for the benefit of people are far outweighed by those of its use to harm, intimidate, and control.
Many centuries ago, magic was the primary tool of nefarious despots who ruled over enormous empires. The ancient Ur-Flan, most notable among them Vecna, the ascended god of secrets, mastered necromancy and used it to create undead abominations to conquer and control vast populations. Those who did not succumb to the will of the Ur-Flan were often slain with magic spells then animated as undead to serve dutifully. The Flan people of ancient times abhorred this practice, and in time managed to overthrow their oppressors and erase many of the most powerful necromantic magics from history so that they might never be used again. Meanwhile in the Underdark the drow utilized the same necromantic magic to craft some of the most horrific undead ever known. Though the means to create these horrors was lost in devastating drow wars, the creations remained, some of them self-propagating, their victims joining them in unlife.
Next came the Baklunish- Suloise Wars. The Baklunish Empire and the Suel Imperium fought against each other for decades, honing their battle magic and raining down destruction upon each other. But their spellwork on the battlefield was nothing compared to the Twin Cataclysms: the Invoked Devastation which destroyed the Baklunish Empire and the Rain of Colorless Fire which reduced the Suel Imperium to ash. These indiscriminate magics of war decimated entire populations of innocent people. They are still cited today as among the chief dangers of magic.
As the surviving Suloise people fled from their burning land, some traveled through the Underdark for long periods, coming into contact with the drow. The worst magic of the two peoples was occasionally exchanged, and the drow, longtime fiend worshipers, enriched their ties to other dark entities such as the Elder Elemental God. House Eilservs of Erelhei-Cinlu would eventually come to worship the Elder Elemental God almost exclusively, and this would lead to an arrangement between the drow and evil people on the surface which would spell yet another disaster for the Flanaess, the rise of Elemental Evil. Several wars would be fought on the surface and in the Underdark over the power of Elemental Evil, devastating whole nations and cities in the process.
There are also modern threats that magic poses to the people of Oerth. The evil demigod Iuz rules over a worldly realm in the northern Flanaess, using mortal wizards and clerics known as the Boneheart to do his bidding. In the east, the Great Kingdom is ruled by the decadent House Rax which presides over what is now known as the Fiend-Seeing Throne. The fiends which serve Rax are brought to Oerth using magic devised by some of the most nefarious conjurers ever seen. Even the majestic City of Greyhawk is haunted by the arcane experiments of the mad archmage Zagig Yragerne.
For every positive effect magic has had on the lives of common people, they can name at least ten negative effects. This is just as true in the Underdark, where the most feared creatures are not monsters, but drow mages and priests who serve demons and other fell powers. So it is that magic is generally viewed in a very dark light in the Flanaess. It is seen primarily as a tool to animate undead, a way to destroy things, and a means to summon fiends. Compared to these, the benefits of magic seem relatively inconsequential.