Wednesday, March 30, 2011

More thoughts on The Wild Frontier

Take me home to the Isle of Dread
As usual, one of my half-baked theories (from last post) was challenged by Trey and it forced me to refine the idea further (thanks brother!).  Regarding Points of Light and Wild Frontiers - a frontier setting could definitely be presented as a Points of Light sub setting; however, it's the presence of a large civilized land (a huge swath of light) back in the settled areas that lets people zoom around the world and get out to the frontier in the first place.

For instance, X1 The Isle of Dread could be considered a Points of Light setting; there' s a single settled area (the native village  of Tanaroa) and everything else on the island is a wilderness hex crawl.  However, a party isn't even reaching the Isle of Dread (a good 700-800 miles across the Sea of Dread) without a degree of civilization back home that postulates large sailing ships available for purchase - shipyards, commerce, navigational technology, the whole thing.  Luckily, the Isle of Dread was part of the "Known World" setting, Mystara, which was a highly civilized, human centric campaign with a technology level of the Renaissance (and a high level of magic, too).

I think it would be pretty fun down the road to make a Wild Frontier campaign - Renaissance, post-Renaissance, or Age of Sail.  There could be politics, duels, and intrigue back in the civilized lands, and monsters, looting, and plundering ruins out on the frontier.  Throw in pulp action in far away lands - pyramids in the desert, forgotten ruins in the jungles, lost worlds filled with dinosaurs.  It'd also be easy to run this type of setting with some Gothic Horror, and put all the black and white 1930's era movie monsters in "the Old Country".  …Must… avoid… the… attention deficit…. disorder.

Quick idea for a poll - what historical era does your fantasy game *most* resemble?  I'm wondering just how common are Renaissance style ships and long distance ocean travel in folk's games?


  1. My fantasy worlds change a lot as they are often created for a couple of years and then tossed for a new idea. I've had D&D campaigns ranging from Neolithic ice age worlds to Jetsons style worlds with magic flying cars. I'd say I average out at High Middle Ages though.

    Regarding ships - that seems to be a big stickler. Players, or least the one's I've DMed, seem to be stuck on the whole Golden Age of Pirates thing. They expect Blackbeard, just without guns - and catapults and ballista that have the firepower of cannons. Describing a true medieval carrack to players is a challenge as it seems so - underwhelming - I think. Everybody wants galleons. :)

    - Arrrrrrk

  2. I've said "Dark Ages Europe", because of religion and generic feel. But I'm going to have vulcan-like elves, mutated dwarves and klingon-like half-orcs, so not a regular "Dark Ages Europe" ^^

  3. My world has got a sort of Renaissance thing going. The High Kingdom is large a powerful. Humanity has never had it better off, large sections of 'The Map' are at least partially filled in, its an era of exploration and trade. The High Kingdom is poised either to soar into a golden age or collapse into decay. I will leave it to my players to determine how it all plays out.

  4. I think you forgot to add one important option to the poll: Viking Age. While contemporary with the Dark Ages and interacting (read: trading and raiding) with Dark Ages Europe, it did have heroic feats of seamanship, exploration and discovery, up to and including the discovery of Greenland and North America circa 1000AD.

    Sure, the ships were smaller, but what is more heroic than 35 hardy Norsemen heading in a longship to shores unknown, like Leif Ericson and his brave men did?

    Anyhow, my setting, Wounded Gaia, would be a little more difficult to define. The main technology level and social organization level is similar to the Dark Ages, with a lot of chaos and no real central authority, with chainmail-clad warriors fighting each other with swords and bows. But seafaring technology is more or less Viking Age, and the remnants of the long past Age of Blossom come from an era of Post-Renaissance Steampunk.

  5. Well.. the City is roughly the 1930s. :) I do utilize these tropes though--the New World is less densely populated than in our history, so there are swathes of wild spaces still (more like 1900) in the West.

    Also, I inverted the Age of Exploration, and have the Old World is the "points of light" setting, having gone all post-apocalyptic in the wake of the Great War.

  6. This strikes me as sort of funny - I didn't own a huge # of game supplements back when, and most of those were very early on - there's tons of stuff in mid-to-late 80's that I'm very unfamiliar with.

    So when I hear about "Mystara", the only context I have is that it was the fleshing out of the sample map from the Expert rules. The notion that Isle of Dread is in the "Mystara" universe is a post-Isle-of-Dread concept - that game world didn't exist in any real form for anyone actually playing the Isle of Dread. Was the world highly civilized, or a bunch of nose picking peasants? Looking from the context of the time of its release, there's no way to know.

    I still look at the MM2 and think "man all those fancy new monsters, but I like the classics"...

    Not going anywhere in particular with this comment, just something that occurred to me.

  7. Yep, Isle of Dread has pirates, sunken ships, and a distant tropical island that would seem to imply the kind of high adventure on the seas that fits a different genre than the typical medieval or dark ages points of light setting.

    @Pat - I understand where you're coming from, campaign settings accrete a lot of dross over time that tends to change the original vision. Even in the Gothic Greyhawk game, we're trying to cleave to the folios and not so much the boxed set and ignore (or reimagine the later elements).

    In the case of Mystara, you have the primitive Karameikos map in the first Expert set (very wild and PoL). Then you have the Isle of Dread, and a bare bones sketch of the Known World. Mentzer set adds towns to Karameikos. Then the Gazetteer series kicks off, and the Known World eventually becomes highly detailed as a Renaissance era setting with flying magical ships and a faux Atlantis with 1,000 level 36 magic users ruling it (not kidding).

  8. Knights of the Astral Sea is very pulpish, but we touch on all sorts of other genres. We spent a lot if time in Elizabethan England and various fairy lands. Last session was 60's super-spy.

  9. My current fantasy game is set in the Pleistocene. I guess it's sci-fi really, but the setting contains critters and Hominids from across the world and the epoch, and more then a few adventures have featured shamanism and spirits (Although no mystic PC,) so I count it as a low magic fantasy setting.

    The campaign prior to that was set in a world where magic and genetic engineering evolved side by side. Organic technology and High magic were the norm. I had originally intended it to be a superhero-esque setting, but in game play it took on more of a noir feel (I swear I didn't try for the gene/ cyberpunk cliche, but it worked.)

  10. My last campaign was fairly Renaissance, Age of Sail, sort of setting; but that was the background, as the adventures took place on a newly discovered continent with a single port town acting as the gateway to adventure. Tried to make it a Lost Worlds sort of place; slightly succeeded, but not as well as I would have liked.

    The next one will be set in a decaying Empire, with wilderness to explore, and isolated towns and cities; so a mix of stuff really. Technology will be whatever is implied in the LotFP rules. :)

  11. Dark Ages/ Early Middle Ages, because the spirt of the era lends itself to the more "points of light" type gaming. Sure, you have forming countries, and a few cities, but everywhere else is unknown, with ruins and fallen empires.

    Plus I like mail over plate. Seems more gritty.

  12. @Omer: I forgot to say this previously, I agree with your take on the Vikings - they break the "rules" of the Dark Ages setting by having such awesome ship technology (I did remember them, just rolled them into Dark Ages). One can make the Northlands settled and "wholly light" - if the Northlands were Points of Light, wild and crawling with ruins and monsters and treasure, why would they need to raid and seek adventure elsewhere?