Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Weird, the Normal, and the D&D


So the Gamer ADD is hitting me hard.  I've been reading the new Weird Fantasy thing and this idea of converting Chaosium's Lovecraft Country sandbox has been ricocheting around my cranium, and my typical Gamer ADD risk mitigation strategy - parking the idea in the Junkyard - didn't work the first time out.  I wrote an article a while ago on Gamer ADD management strategies - mitigation, acceptance, avoidance and transference.  Parking an idea in the Junkyard until the time is right hasn't failed me yet!

There were lots of interesting comments yesterday about "What is the Weird?"  The thing I come back to is the general agreement that Weird needs Normal for contrast.  I have a hard time with Normal in a regular D&D world.  Normal is all about mundane, every day stuff; a fantasy world is built to instill a sense of wonder.  Normal is in the mind of the players - the default elements of the world need to feel familiar for the players.  (Sword and Planet, get the heck outta here - don't let the door hit you on the way out).

Alright, you say - just make your D&D world low magic, an analog to a real-world historical period so it feels grounded.

I find myself coming back to two periods in particular - post-Renaissance and the Roman Empire.  The historical Dark Ages and the Medieval periods seem too provincial and claustrophobic; the cosmopolitan nature of the Roman world and the Renaissance world supports a lot of the elements that modern folks take for granted in the world - autonomy, freedom of movement from place to place, a merchant class, inns and taverns and restaurants, mail and communications, commerce, and a degree of sophistication in culture and government  that creates art, theater, and politics.  An alternate earth in those periods could be made to feel "normal" to a modern sensibility - the Renaissance perhaps more so than the Roman world.

So I'm kicking around the idea that my sparse, Lovecraftian Weird Fantasy sandbox will either be placed in the South of (fake) England or France during the Renaissance, or will be at the height of the Pax Romana.

The Renaissance gives you overseas travel, the beginning of the Age of Sail and the colonization of distant places; there's definitely a pulp vibe to discovering vile cults in distant jungles.  I've previously remarked that the thing I miss the most when doing a standard D&D Dark Ages sandbox is the sea travel and exploring distant jungles or lost islands - it just doesn't fit the Medieval theme.

Chaosium has a whole Cthulhu expansion built around Rome (Cthulhu Invictus); it takes mythos entities and maps them to the creatures and stories of Greek and Roman myth (and vice versa).  Scrolls and relics, gods and new religions poured into Rome from the conquered territories and hinterlands; this would provide lots of opportunities for adventures involving cults, artifacts, and "books" of forbidden lore right in the capital city, let alone putting the campaign on the frontier and dealing with the unknown earth beyond the rule of law.

The game would be low magic D&D, most likely LOTFP rules, and draw heavily from Realms of Crawling Chaos and the Mythos stories.  While the Black City is still my main focus, I think I'll start keeping a second brainstorming notebook while I work through these ideas and see if one of them has mental legs.

I thought about going full circle and making the Viking Age a setting for both a Lovecraftian sandbox and the Black City megadungeon in the same milieu.  The world could be presented as low magic, gritty, and "realistic".  However, the tone of the Black City as a campaign dungeon, the gold-rush nature of having a sprawling ruin with lots of active adventuring parties plumbing the depths in competition, means supporting so many of the tropes of D&D that the dissonance might be too much for me.  It's awesome fodder for a D&D campaign with a touch of Lovecraft; not so much for a Lovecraft game that just happens to be using D&D rules.  But I'm brooding on it.

Anyway, next up, some more table-related items for the Black City (building the megadungeon project is still the top priority).