Well, I’ve spent most of the Easter holidays having a terrible flu, so I hope you’ve had it better. All I managed to do designwise was some really incoherent notes and I thought I should do an update about how the setting took shape and how that influenced the rules.
I set out last autumn to do something that would have been closer to a OD&D clone but realized while reading Dungeon World and 13th Age for inspiration that it was kind of a no-starter for me. Dungeon World and 13th Age are just that good and I think I can’t do better than those. Aside from that, I think there are enough OSR games in the world anyway.
This led to me approaching this project from a different angle, what I actually wanted to be in the game. There’s all kinds of fun stuff in D&D but do they have to be presented in a traditional D&D’ish rules framework? I think not. And then there was the thing about faux-medieval fantasy which I feel doesn’t really offer much to me when it comes inspiration. Sure, I occasionally dip into medieval stuff whenever I feel that’s fun, but on the whole, the Early Modern period is far more interesting. You’ve got the modern nations emerging in Europe in their present shape, there’s players on the field that tend to get ignored in medieval European fantasy, there’s a million things that could have gone differently. For instance, the lack of Christianity reframes a lot of the societies in the game. You still have the Norse occasionally performing human sacrifice and a lot of folk belief coming out of the woodwork.
Two things I wanted to keep in the game were Dwarves and Elves, in their Tolkien-like incarnations. However, I got to thinking about going full Tolkien on them: what happened to them once the early part of the Fourth Age passed? The Dwarves didn’t have much going for them, what with Tolkien talking about them eventually fading out because they didn’t have the population growth to keep going.
So, the Dwarves of SotE are basically that: an ancient race on it’s last legs. All they got left is a whole lot of empty mountain halls and meaningless titles which aren’t respected by humans at all. Still, it’s not all gloom and doom: the traditionalist dwarves look for the coming Golden Age because Dwarven history is cyclical, and the non-traditionalists are quite happy existing side to side with human society.
The Elves are those who’s ancestors for some reason didn’t go West. Maybe they loved the land too much or maybe they were not allowed to go there for some transgressions and whatnot. The Elves live for a long time and thus they had a harder time adjusting to the emerging new human society, because they actually lived through the changes. And there’s a whole lot of bad blood in Elven families because some think they were robbed of their heritage on account of the fact that there’s no longer a West they can go to. So Elves generally build small communities in the wilderness and try to deal with the grief of being strangers in an age they didn’t want to see.
But of course, that’s not all of it. Some younger elves got past the grief and decided to keep living. There’s young elves who join various Ranger organizations that deal with frontier guarding and keeping monsters away from communities. Others turned to gunsmithing and realized they’re pretty good at it, on account of the archery tradition Elves have always had.
Those two are things that I realized I wanted to write about. There’s a lot of pathos there, in the disappeared greatness of the Dwarves and the grief of the Elves, but there’s always something positive too. You either look to the future or you wither and die.
I just noticed I have some really weird capitalization going on there, but I’ll blame the flu.
Another thing I wanted to deal with is that too many fantasy setting don’t really take into account what magic does and what it means that there’s monsters out in the woods. Its hard to put in polite terms, but I think Forgotten Realms is one of the laziest creations out there. Conversely, Keith Baker’s Eberron and Greg Stolze’s Heluso and Milonda go into the whole thing of how magic affects society. SotE doesn’t have omnipresent magic because stuff like magic items are extremely rare unlike in Eberron, but nearly anyone can learn a few spells without a hitch. Magic is a commercialized resource, and the access to higher tier magics is primarily limited by social factors. The guys in Sweden who know that when you make a certain type of sound in the Draconic tongue, it turns your words to fire, they don’t want everyone to know how to do that, because that would make it impossible for them to make a living off being wizards.
But I digress. Dungeon World and 13th Age are pretty much the perfect incarnations of the D&D game experience and I can’t really shoot for that. For one thing, I don’t have Heinsoo or Tweet writing for me. Instead, I want to offer something different: a game where structure and society matter. And owlbears matter too.
To round it off, I revealed today to a friend that the first mini-expansion to Swords of the Eastsea will be called Friend Folio. It will be about adventuring housecats (you can play one) and rules on simplifying the SotE rules into something that kids will like. Cats are awesome.