Friday, October 2, 2009

The Familiar and the Strange

I realize that among the the items in Athanor that seem most out-of-place on Athanor are dinosaurs and the use of Earth-analog languages and cultures in Athanor. Part of this is an experiment. Back in college, I had tried to have more complex cultures as part of my FRP, but I remember the reasonable and convincing words of my friend Dean who essentially told me that nobody wanted to have to study to play D&D.

As you can tell, I have fun doing world-building. I like the weird, the fantastic, and event the nonsensical in my games. And while I have friends who like to read up on a fully-realized game world, my experience is that games should feel like fun, not work. I think this is part of the problem with worlds like Tekumel and Glorantha and even, to some extent, the Forgotten Realms. Too much crap to read. Tekumel confounds this further by having odd languages, weird names, and strange customs. Most of the players I have known don't want to play amateur anthropologist.

So how to do alien and pulp and weird and fantastic? I chose to use elements of the familiar. Dinosaurs because 1) they're cool, 2) they're a bit gonzo, and 3) they are a signal that this isn't a typical D&D campaign. The language and culture thing... well, that's an experiment.

When I was first thinking of Athanor, I had complete generic fantasy cultures in mind. That's where the historical names of the Aquilan Empire and the Witch Kings of Ylum come from. Those are names that have been tumbling around the old RPG setting mind for a while, and I have even used them before in other campaigns. But along the way, I grew dissatisfied. Fake names have little resonance, but if the cold, emotionless, rigid blue guys with a sense of racial superiority have Germanic names, maybe that creates some sort of easy mental shorthand by taking advantage of people's existing stereotypes. We'll see. Maybe this won't work. Beats me.