Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Self-Consistent Fantasy

Found this in a Google Image Search for "realistic fantasy".
There are a few people talking about "realism" in games again. I think that this is a useful discussion, for a couple of reasons. One, thinking about games is good, because when we are thinking about games we are engaging with them, and gaming is good. Two, we need to illuminate our approach to games in order to really form an approach that we can think about rather than "spray and pray", as it were.

Anyway, I am not really going to deal with the question as it applies to medieval-style fantasy. My current idea is a semi-gonzo science-fantasy setting, which has an entirely different set of assumptions. Rather than trying to refit a medieval setting to accommodate dragons and orcs, I would do better to think about what influences from such creatures the peoples of the world would need to adapt to. What we are looking for isn't exactly "realism", though, we want a self-consistency, where the consequences of an assumption are played out in the setting.

Let's start with dragons. I do want to have something like dragons in the setting, but I want them to be more alien than the basic idea, as my idea is that they are, in the setting, extraterrestrial in origin. I've always thought that the "blue" dragons of (A)D&D were the weirdest, with their lightning breath weapon. The rest of the dragons, for the most part, have breath weapons that consist of forces that would be known and understood by medieval peasants (fire, "bad air", and such), but lightning was seen as a particularly divine trait, unrelated to anything that existed in the world. So, I will have dragons, but they will have the lightning breath weapon of the blue type of dragon. Um, but more hit dice, because dragons should be tough.

What would be the response to a flying lightning-generator (as well as other flying combatants, such as levitating airships)? You'd need a fortress that protected against attacks from above. Perhaps an underground bunker. A series of tunnels and rooms dug into the ground, one might say. It's always good to have another rationale behind dungeons. To make these underground fortresses plausible, we'd need to have some way to make mining a little easier. Perhaps the world will have a couple of genetically-engineered races that are better at mining than baseline humans. Now we have dwarves (and perhaps some other races like gnomes, as alternative, less successful designs from the ancient genetic engineers - the goblin races, in my conception, are alien beings come to the Last Continent).

Anyway, this is just one way in which thinking about the different assumptions of the setting can increase verisimilitude and also imply new things about the setting. Another time, I'll discuss why I think that achieving verisimilitude in games, at least ones that tend toward a "sandbox" style of play, is important.


  1. I concur.

    In a ‘fantasy’ setting, we are not modeling reality; we are modeling a hypothetical environment with assumptions in direct contrast to reality. Preferably, as you indicate, the result should be internally consistent. Such a setting has the potential of being ‘immersive’ for the participants – a construct of ‘consensus verisimilitude’ so to speak.

    1. Yep. That's the case for any fiction, in fact.

  2. I agree that self-consistency is more important than driving simulations of reality. I also like to understand the "basis" behind the magic/tech in my campaigns, like if it is elemental based, or what is "mana", or what's the basis for "warp drive", that sort of thing - mostly because it helps me ad hoc things in a consistent fashion when I have these underlying principle to rely on.

    But maybe I'm just a goober.

    1. No, I'm with you. The Referee needs to have an understanding of the "physics" of the setting, in order to make rulings that are consistent. It's possible, of course, to make rulings on the fly and let that "physics" emerge from the various rulings, but most people aren't capable of maintaining a consistency of such a thing over time without a set of starting assumptions.

      I don't mean, by the way, that such a game world "physics" needs to replicate real-world physics, either. A game world might include various baroque forces and substances (such as Aether or Phlogiston) that don't necessarily obtain in the world we experience daily.