Monday, November 21, 2022

A Game Needs A Game World

In cobbling together Hack'D & Slash'D (I hesitate to call it 'game design' really - more like a bunch of covers of a greatest hits collection with some original guitar solos thrown in for good measure), I was cognizant not to include any setting material - or the suggestion of setting material. The Hand of Vecna implies someone named Vecna from a certain place died under certain circumstances and for some reason his hand persists. That's setting. I defaulted to the most iconic D+D tropes, because they are the most iconic, not because they are the best. I have no "in this world, gnomes take the place of halflings" because there is no 'this world' for that to be true in.

However, I have a hankering to build a game world from raw cloth. I've been playing in and tinkering with the same game world for several decades now, and the stories there are starting to get a little stale for me. I LIKE the setting (a lot), but that doesn't mean I have to be indebted to it. 

I'm free to see other settings is what I'm saying.

So, since the goal in game cobbling was to put together the most iconic version I could that fit with my preferred play style, the setting should be the most iconic setting I can come up with that fits my preferred play style. Is there a way to straddle the line so that it is neither so 'original' that it doesn't feel like a classic setting, but not so 'classic' that it's just a best-of including Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms (I'm so old that "Dragonlance" is still 'new school' to me. Kender? Get off my porch with yer new-fangled halflings!)?

What makes a D+D setting iconic? What are the default settings for a default setting?

Here's a top ten, in no particular order (and that is almost guaranteed not to be your top ten)

1. A multiverse. There are many planes of existence beyond this one in some sort of cosmic wheel-ish kind of thing. There are ways to get there. Portals and doors and conduits exist.
2. Polytheism. There are many gods and god-like entities interacting with this world. They generally don't get along with each other.
3. Swords. There is a lot of conflict. People generally don't get along either. 
4. Sorcery. There is a lot of magic. This doesn't mean it's 'high magic'. For some strange reason, Forgotten Realms jumped the shark for me when I read about how continual light spells were used to power street lamps that never went out... and magic users were suddenly reduced to being National Grid. Magic was no longer magical. Even though magic is not exactly rare, it's also still mysterious.   
5. Feudal Europe as a rough historical foundation. Parallels for African traders, Viking warriors, Chinese explorers, and Aztek builders can live at the peripheries of the game world, but the foundational setting is Feudal Europe. You don't travel to the moon; a piece of the moon falls into this land and has a dungeon in it.
6. History. The place is lived in. There is at least one 'earlier age' (probably a golden age) that was better than this one. 
7. Lots of dungeons. Lots of reasons to have lots of dungeons.
8. At least one big dungeon. The signature location of the place. 
9. At least one big city. The signature city of the place. 
10. Lots of strange stuff. It doesn't all make sense. Logic gets checked at the door. It's a puzzle where half the pieces are from another set, but you manage to squeeze them all together anyway.

First thoughts:

I'm looking for ways to connect dots among the top ten. Here's a possible starting point:

The golden age was a time when magic reached its peak (an era of high magic). Then something happened, and magic was blamed. Something bad. A war between good and evil. The dungeons are largely relics of where the evil things live(d). 

I mean, good had to win, right? Because if evil won, then the whole place would be ... well, not this land anymore. So, good won, but at a great cost. Sacrifices were made. There is a lot of bitterness for the many sacrifices that were made, and everybody thinks their sacrifices were bigger than anyone else's. Lots of tragic backstories to go 'round. Lots of simmering anger that prevents lasting peace or everyone sitting around a fire holding hands.

Now, magic is viewed with tremendous suspicion. Even faith magic, despite its difference from arcane magic, is part of the circle of distrust. This would mean that people don't flock to church on Sunday morning (if ever), and temples are largely relics of the past. People have moved on from the gods, and maybe just default to believing that fate is fate, and that's it. The gods are not a big factor anymore. This would make both clerics and magic users social outcasts; people don't go to the wizard's tower to buy potions; they walk on the other side of the street and never pass it on a full moon. And even though the local bishop might be able to cure your son's disease, you won't go there because you don't believe in the power of the gods, and you think it's all evil in disguise. You won't be fooled again.

Can you tell that the last few years have made me question my faith in the goodness and intelligence of collective humanity? Ugh.

Okay. This feels like a classic setting sort of thing... I'll keep going.

I suppose I need to name the place. Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk and Aerth are all sort of iconic sounding names. The Splintered Realm is a relatively iconic sounding name. 

I've always liked "Arvandor" as a name, but that's already in D+D. I've used Arvandoria as my parallel for Narnia, but the 'ia' ending gives it a bit of a faerieland feel. Andor is a TV show. Vandor is a minor Star Wars Planet. Kandor is the bottle city from Krypton. Candor means truth (without softening the blow). Gondor is a Middle Earth nation, so Gandor is too close... Qandor feels Middle Eastern. Maybe go with something else... I like that rhythm, but it has been pretty much strained to breaking. What about Andar? That's a slight step to the right. Still same vibe, but different enough....

I like Middle Earth (who doesn't), so maybe Middlemeet? 'Mid' roots suggest Viking echoes, so maybe avoid that since it leads to a particular aesthetic/imagery. I like things like hub, nexus, hub, core... maybe a play on words with one of these? Nexos or Coren. Those aren't bad.


Meh. I'll keep thinking on this...

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