Over the past few weeks, I have had my interest in fleshing out the RPG world I’ve created rekindled. Its been what I think about in my spare time, which generally consists of time between holding my baby, and the ride to and from work. Well, one of the concepts that I have always known about my world is that there are tribes of barbarians with totem animals on the fringe of the main country of the island, Tyrndall (tear’n’doll). These barbarians, I’d always thought, would ride their totem animals into combat, and probably have lycanthropic leaders.
But the more I thought about it, the less I liked it. It was unoriginal, and didn’t really stick in my brain. I knew I wanted to do use that thought process,, but I’d never really done anything with it. Well, it got into gear the other day when I was speaking to a friend, and he decided one of his concept characters was going to be one of these barbarians. Now I felt I needed to push forward and create the details. It kicked around as I drove and held and drove some more. The end of all that thinking was the Hrondring.
Being a DM for almost 20 years now, I’ve infused a great amount of realism into my world. Sometimes this is fantastic, as it leads other characters to creating more parts of my world because they get hooked on a concept, a god, or a location. However, there is a problem with it, at least in my brain. Because after thinking up the Hrondring, I have a single painful itch that I can’t stop aggravating.
Biology . I start thinking about how to make this cool concept actually work and my logical side of the brain kicks in: How does a race have so many phenotypes? Is there mating between forms? What do they think of having brothers and sisters who are complete animals?
The first person I approached was my wife, who is not really a gamer. She plays boardgames and what have you, but is not a RPG type. After the above explanation of the race, her response can be summed up with “Eww, no. No. No.”
I continued to consider. What would the people I play with think, and how would they approach a race such as this one? What customs have they created around the possibility of birthing animal babies, and how do they treat attraction across phenotypes? And the more it percolated in my brain, the more I was bothered by it. I had to have an answer.So I asked some of my friends, and amazingly to me, each one of them had a different opinion on how to go about making this race work.
-Don’t make it work. Have it separate, multiple races that can interbreed.
-Genetics. Have the animal form be a recessive gene.
-Have it be a ritual. At age one, they perform some sort of ceremony and their true form comes out.
-Why does it matter? Its a fantasy world, who cares!
So, this begs the question, does it matter? How much science goes into a fantasy world? For many years I have worked diligently to put believably good stories behind the stories I tell. I work hard to mix the fantastic elements of fantasy role playing into a real world feel that players can relate to. I find that the research that goes into making the world more realistic and less “sloppy” is an enjoyable task, especially when it comes to historical accuracy, or purposeful inaccuracy
However, on the other side, he fantastic element in a fantasy role playing game is integral to its enjoyment. Everyone at the table is sitting down to a set of expectations, and most would include monsters, magic spells and items, and unbelievable locations. My setting includes a dose of that, but they are all tempered with a steady hand. What makes a setting enjoyable to me is the ability to see it beyond the clutter of dragons and wizards, the concepts behind the dictatorial tyrant and the marauding warlords. To often can an adventure be boiled down to its constituent components and turned into a formula.
However, the same can be said of realism. To many insane warlords or power hungry wizards can lead to disbelief just as swiftly. I don’t know where I lie, honestly, because many of my favorite parts of the world are, to me, compellingly normal.
But, this is not our world, this is not our people. The lands and times, the morals, values and thoughts would be so different. How can projecting my morals on a world with dragons that can kill entire towns, giants that level countries and powerful magics that can drive men mad, come close to the actual thought processes that would develop.
Its an interesting mind game, I think, but sometimes I put to much stock in logic, reasons, and making sense.
Sometimes, A Wizard did it.