Sunday, June 7, 2020

The Conquered D&D Setting

It's widely understood that the D&D is generically post-apocalyptic, but seldom is this fact exploited other than the existence of dungeons and treasures, or possibly some science fantasy stuff in old school games. I think more could be done with that idea.

Maybe the apocalypse involved conquest? This could have been a long time ago, explaining a decline in technology (if you wanted to have a decline in technology) or maybe some degree of pseudo-Medievalism is enforced by the conquerors. (This is the case in Divide And Rule by L. Spraque de Camp, and The Tripods series by John Christopher.) The technology level could be more mixed due to temporal proximity to the apocalyptic event like in Killraven (Thundarr appears to be close, though canonically it's been 2000 years!) Another possibility is a society that was not really that advanced when it got conquered, like Lord of the Rings if Sauron won or there was some sort of faerie apocalypse.

There are at least couple interesting elements to this sort of setup. One, is it would set up a world where humans weren't the dominant culture, which would be fairly novel for D&D. Too, it would provide background for PC adventures beyond just treasure hunting. Vance's Planet of Adventure would be instructive with this last part.


SF said...

Was that meant to be "a world where humans were NOT the dominant culture"?

Trey said...

It is! And fixed now.

JB said...

A world where humans aren’t the dominant culture would fit later edition D&D pretty well.

Much as I love the idea of D&D as a post-apoc/far future setting, I always run into the same problem: dwarves, elves, hobbits. It’s damn Middle Earth and no matter how you try to spin it, you still end up with damn Middle Earth. And I don’t really want to re-skin the demi-humans because it’s supposed to be D&D after all but...damn Middle Earth. Again.

The conceits of Shadowrun (or Rifts) are (*barf*) terrible by the way for suggesting the appearance of such creatures in a P.A. setting, whether you’re discussing a ruined Earth or a post-colonized planet (I prefer a terraformed Mars myself).

So I always end up going back to pseudo-Tolkien fantasy with a little S&S mixed in. It’s frustrating and obnoxious, but it (kind of) works (bettter).

Still looking for another way, though.

I love the illo for this post. That’s my type of bugbear.

Trey said...

Well, sounds like the problem is kind of your block on reskinning. ;)

But you know, I think elves et al. can be post-apocalyptic: Bakshi's Wizards, for instance.

Alistair said...

Thanks for the post. I’ve been considering for quite some time getting back to a “D&D” game, which is how I discovered the OSR, sometime around 2014-2016. I’ve had other games to run, so have been just reading various blogs, and mostly really enjoyed G+ before it was cut short. This post reminded me that I had downloaded a sample copy of Vance’s first “Planet of Adventure” novels, “The Chasch” but got distracted. I’ve resumed reading it, along with the first Dumarest novel, to reconnect with where a lot of the early inspiration came from, and am finding it quite enjoyable. Books were written differently then, it seems, and the language and descriptions in both I think will assist my gaming and referee-ing greatly: both from the point of view of language and description, and in the interpretation of a few generated stats (e.g. from Traveller, but also from various Old School and OSR tables) to describe worlds and civilizations. So this has been a very timely reminder, and I’m getting back to my roots. Perhaps one day I’ll go to the other extreme and try some of the computer rpgs that seem to inform so much of today’s gaming and opinion, but I doubt it: I only have so much free time.

Regarding ‘Tolkien’: I don’t find a lot of D&D to be ‘tolkien-esque’ at all, really. In my experience most ‘fantasy’ rpgs using any D&D rules are just a version of ‘D&D fantasy’, and don’t ‘feel’ like anything of Tolkien or Anderson or the mythology I’d read. This was true-ish when I started in 79/80, and seems to have gotten moreso over the decades. The best matches with fiction were a couple of Arthurian style games, and a lot of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser - and they were the games I enjoyed most. I grew up on a lot of tales based on mythology, and SF, plus thrillers and adventure stories. I didn’t read Tolkien until the mid 70s. I didn’t know Poul Anderson wrote fantasy until I encountered AD&D 1e in university, my first RPG experience - but Three Hearts and Three Lions, and Broken Sword, already matched up with all the other fantasy and historical fiction I’d read. I remember hearing about these books as I generated my first AD&D 1e character, but none of the games I got to play in those first years were really like that: at the time, it didn’t matter, because of the novelty of the thing. The better games were very Lankhmar, so I got instead to discover Fritz Leiber’s fantasy, which wasn’t a bad result.

I just think there is still a lot of gold in the fiction of the past, as there is in all that has come since, and that perhaps some of these games are worth considering in the light of the fiction that inspired them.

I read Stranger in a Strange land in about 71 or so, just before I got to High School. I’d already read Starship Troopers, and Catseye, Lord of Thunder and the Beast Master.

Alistair said...

PS: I obviously also need to re-watch “Wizards”. Found it is available online, and have only watched the first 10 mins (it is late here and I have to retire for the evening) — but I’d forgotten how good it was. Thankyou for the reminder.

JB said...

Bakshi's Wizards is, of course, excellent on a number of different levels. However, one of the reasons the fairy creatures work (for me) in THAT setting is the pretty much total absence of humans. You've got the fairy folk on one side, and the "mutants" on the other (looking a lot like orcs) and no humans to be seen.

D&D's "human-centric" vision has these other races as boon companions and diminished cultures in a human world; that's the bit that is too reminiscent of Tolkien. Not that I dislike Tolkien...I'm a fan! I just don't want to play D&D in his fantasy world.

When it comes to fairy tale creatures in D&D, I prefer their portrayal in works like Beagle's "Last Unicorn" or Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books, or even the film "Flight of Dragons" (based on "The Dragon and the George"). For better or worse, that stuff is my kind of "fantasy" (in the fairy tale sense) and none of it is post-apocalyptic.

Apologies...I'm not really trying to be contrarian with this comment; I'm trying to work out my own thoughts on why I find P.A. D&D so frustrating. "Thinking out loud" a bit.