19 July 2009


It all started with The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien wrote this epic saga, which captured the imagination of millions. Eventually, this lead to Dungeons and Dragons. Which, of course, spawned a great number of copycat games. Even today, when you use the word "fantasy," it conjures up images of a pseudo-medieval fantasy world populated not only by humans, but elves, dwarves, goblins, halflings, dragons, and a variety of other monsters.

But let's look at the definition of "fantasy:" The creative imagination; unrestrained fancy. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the concept of high fantasy, in a Tolkien-esque setting. I'm just saying that it's not true fantasy. There's no longer anything creative about the typical elves-and-dwarves setting. It was created almost a century ago. Very little has been added to it.

This is one of the reasons I'm so fond of The Dark Crystal. It was new; the world had never before seen Gelflings, Skeksis, or Podlings. This is what I call "True Fantasy," the result of creative imagination, and unrestrained fancy. Rather than reuse what already existed, the creators developed something new.
I once tried to do this myself. I worked with some friends to try to create a setting that was "casually miraculous." There were six species in this world, all of which I tried to create from scratch. They were such bizarre people as a race of slug-like entities who vomited their offspring into a jai-alai style mitt and flung them as a weapon, or a living clay entity with no native shape. They lived in a world where the lowest moon orbited the planet in such a manner that every hundred years, it scraped across the peak of the tallest mountain, at which point it was possible to step from one to the other.

I was discouraged from this by a passage in Robin's Laws of Good Gamemastering: "North American audiences... will give up their beloved archetypes when you pry them from their cold, dead fingers." Which made me wonder, what's the point of creating a unique world that doesn't fit into any existing preconceptions if nobody's going to buy it?

But I still maintain that fantasy, true fantasy, is not the typical elves-dwarves-trolls-&c. that we think of today.

I once looked into making a new but still accessible fantasy genre. I examined the way that Tolkien had created Middle Earth. He took a lot of elements from Norse Mythology (the elves from Alfheim and the dwarves from Nidavellir, as well as the archetype of the dragon guarding a hoard of gold), sprinkled in a dash of Celtic Mythology (the goblins), and created his own addition (the hobbits). Which started me to wondering if I could do something similar with other mythos.

My first attempt (prompted by a friend's suggestion) was Middle Eastern mythology. But after looking briefly into it, I realised that I didn't know enough about the culture or the mythology to do it any justice. Celtic mythology doesn't work well, since there aren't really any non-human races, unless you go for more recent folklore involving the fae, but that's been done (GURPS: Faerie, Dark Ages: Fae and, to a lesser extent, Changeling). Perhaps I could create something from Greek Mythology (using, for example, satyrs and centaurs), but even that would be perilously close to things like Hercules and Xena. Maybe I could work with Aztec mythology...

Also, why does it always have to be a psuedo-medieval theme? Never mind the occasionaly ham-fisted introduction of totally incompatable elements such as ninjas and samurai. Why not a fantasy world based on a Roman setting? This was touched on with the 7th Sea game, which was set in a high-seas piracy setting. But even that wasn't truly fantastical.

Anyway, I just thought this was food for thought. So until next week, I bid you a fond

Game on!

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