Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Return of the Fey

It's not uncommon in urban fantasy or speculative fiction to portray the realms of myth and magic as something just out of touch with the mundane world, occasionally intersecting.  There are even some games that have a similar theme - the premise behind Shadowrun was all the myth creatures return in a near future, at the dawn of the Mayan 6th Age, blending fantasy with cyberpunk.  I don't remember seeing that approach used with a D&D setting.

Over at From the Sorceror's Skull, Trey has been posting some weekly blurbs he's calling "Apocalypse Under Ground" - readers here should them check out.  (And, uh, Trey should label them or something so I can link to the series instead of the first post…)  The central conceit is this… what if D&D's "adventurer culture" was a recent thing?  What if some fundamental thing changed in the near past, and suddenly dragons and monsters and dungeons and nightmares of every shape and form start coming back to the surface from deep underground?

Take your favorite myth cycle or bits of legendry and develop a suitable apocalypse - perhaps it's the beginning of Ragnarok, and the barriers separating the Nine Worlds have faded.  The island of Avalon has returned, the Greater Seal of Solomon was shattered, or it's the time of the astral conjunction or harmonic convergence.  Maybe something has shifted in the cosmic battle between Law and Chaos, and the intersection of the mortal world with the magic realm is the result of Chaos triumphant.  Like the picture above, showing Oberon and Titania* re-entering the world, I would use the return of the various Fey as the initiator of "The Change".

Here's what I like about this type of campaign setting for D&D… you can take your favorite real world historical period, dump all this magic and chaos on right top of it, advance the timeline a few years, and then roll in with the adventurers.  It's the Thirty Years war, and the world groans beneath the weight of religious strife and constant warfare, until the horror is complete and the doorways to chaotic Faerie gape open again, allowing goblins to swarm across the battlefields of Europe.  Trade and travel suffers from a countryside suddenly overrun with monsters from beyond.  Where there was a barren moor, a strange tower has appeared overnight; the dead rise from unhallowed earth, and in the heart of every kingdom, at least one yawning cavern grants access to the dark places underground where the monsters have waited, and watched. The only place where people can find the kinds of weapons that can be used against the monsters is by entering the dungeons.

The problem with using the real world as a D&D setting is rewriting history to account for the presence of humanoids, demi humans, and magic, and by the time you shoehorn them into this faux history, you've pretty much rewritten The Grand History of the Realms or The Silmarillion.  I'm pretty lazy.  I'd want to use the real world as is, keep a few thousand years of world history the same, up until about 5 years ago when everything changed during the Chaos Apocalypse.  All this magic shit happened and dungeons and the Underdark appeared whole-cloth overnight.  All those things whispered about in dark fairy tales and hinted at in ghost stories are suddenly true, and they want to eat you.

Maybe you'll have other mental images, but for me, I kept thinking of one of my favorite X-Men comics from back-in-the-day, it was a two-part story called "An Age Undreamed Of" where a sorcerer from the Hyborian Age, Kulan Gath, casts a master spell that turns Manhattan into a fantastic realm of magic and swordplay.  In that particular story, heroes and villains are changed into their fantasy analogs - Captain America is a blonde barbarian with a shield and sword, for example.  Long suppressed enchantment would remake the world overnight, and humans would be forced to seek alliances with the exotic and foreign demihuman invaders as they struggle to adapt to a world where the rule of science has been replaced by magic.

I'm filing this one in The Junkyard** to refer back to on a rainy day.

Edit:  Trey is kindly labeling the series, you can find all the entries here: Apocalypse Under Ground

*Images:  The top one is Charles Vess from, Sandman: A Midsummer Night's Dream, the bottom is the cover to Uncanny X-Men #190.

**The Junkyard is the place I put campaign ideas that I'm just not ready to act on; it helps me manage my gamer attention deficit disorder by putting future campaign notes somewhere for reference and gets them out of my head for a bit.  Next time there's a TPK or we're ready for a change, I know I can visit the Junkyard and see what kind of ideas are stored away gathering dust.


  1. I've been pondering this myself, ever since reading up on Elizabethan history. You'd have John Dee suddenly discovering his magic works, and he'd start tutoring others; you could use the medieval bestiary to populate the world; and replace the trouble with the Spanish with hordes of Orcs.

  2. A historical figure like Dee would be a great instigator for a man-made mystic apocalypse. I've been on this early modern kick, Alexqnder Dumas and the 30 Years War, so I'd probably place it later.

  3. It's one of my all-time favorite X-Men stories as well.

  4. Nice - I like that idea a lot. I'd probably set it during the Dark Ages, because it's easier that way, but the beauty of it is that you could do it anywhere and make it cool; Ancient Greece or Babylon also leap out.

  5. That era of the X-Men was certainly their high water mark, and that is a particularly good story.

  6. Doesn't Rifts have a similar back-story?

  7. This is actually the theme of the one-on-one I just started with my wife. :P

  8. I'll label them now. :)

    I like this idea a lot. In the past, I've thought about a somewhat different take on the "D&D tropes in the modern world" that underlies both Shadowrun and my own Weird Adventures in different ways. "Elevator pitched" in one sentence: "1492 was year magic was rediscovered."

  9. 1492 was year magic was rediscovered...

    Something about that immediately triggered thoughts of the fountain of youth, or El Dorado, or perhaps "Montezuma's Revenge"... some element of colonialism, imperialism, or a by-product of the age of exploration precipitated the return. "Modern" people forgetting the primal roots of myth and folklore until the myths are staring them in the face. Very cool stuff, looking forward to seeing how your column develops.