33 minutes ago
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Stuck in Medieval with You
I've been thinking of late about fantasy, both as a literary and rpg genre, and whether there's room for old school-style adventuring outside the bounds of "medieval fantasy."
Obviously, I don't mean the literal, real-world European Middle Ages, but stories with a technology level somewhere between the Iron Age and the Renaissance. Sure, at least on the blogosphere, there's been an emergence of science fantasy, mixing remnant super-science with more primitive technology. Some of these baroque worlds are pretty divergent from real world analogs. There's a definite sort of Heavy Metal dream-logic feel to some, which tosses all sorts of technological assumptions out the window. Still, even in these worlds, one gets the feeling there's a fair number of swords being swung.
I don't think the issue comes down just the firearms, though maybe that's a bigger deal than I'm allowing. Is there any reason dungeon-delving couldn't be accomplished with more "modern" weapons? Would there presence drastically alter the mood?
There's the subgenre of urban fantasy, which may be underrepresented in rpgs, but does exist. Urban fantasy, though, rooted in bringing fantasy to the familiar, doesn't really capture the unknowable aspect that underpins a lot of pulp fantasy. Too much unknown in an urban fantasy setting, and its likely to veer into more of a horror mode.
Then there's fantasy in sort of Victorian-esque settings--what's often called steampunk--a term which really seems to easier to apply as a certain sort of visual aesthetic than literary genre. Some of works often placed in this category, like China Mieville's Bas-Lag stories, and the works of Stephen Hunt take place in full-fledged "secondary worlds," not the usual alternate histories. Mieville's work in particular, could no doubt serve as inspiration for a dungeoneering-based rpg (there are even D&D-style adventurers making an appearance in Perdido Street Station), but is there an rpg work in this direction yet?
weird" out of the setting with the leech of predictability.
That's been precisely the problem with a lot of fantasy space opera/fantasy-space. We get Dragonstar instead of Starlin's Dreadstar. Really, no works have given us weird space fantasy, or dungeon (asteroid?)-delving space fantasy, as far as I know.
So fantasy with firearms is clearly do-able, but its tougher to find those fantasies combined with a world designed for pulp fantasy--picaresque, secondary world settings, with elements of weird, and the unknown/unknowable. I'm not convinced this can't be done, though.
It seems to me what you need is a setting that is removed enough for our time to have been mythologized a bit, much in the same way that the pre-modern world has been. You could set a dungeon-delving campaign in an alternate 1960s, but then you would get urban fantasy (of a sort) not pulp fantasy. The Old West and Victorian England, are definitely mythologized enough, but probably so are the Roaring Twenties and the Napoleonic era, and others. The future is--ironically--pretty mythologized too, but set things too near-future and you're in urban fantasyland.
While traditional fantasy will always have a preeminent place in my heart, I can't help but think that these other eras can be mined for new settings to expand the vistas of fantasy gaming. I'm not sure adventurers should be confine to a technological level that's largely a historical artifact of the fantasy genre's evolution.
I'm gonna think more about that.