Thursday, February 24, 2011

Stream #3: making peace with D&Disms

Well, that post title is a bit misleading, as at the end of this stream, I actually end up with current state DARK•HERITAGE, which eschews most of the D&Disms specifically, both from the rules and from the setting itself. But this stream was started, and largely based on, the concept of running games that were more comfortable with some specific D&Disms, designed to run parallel to my development of Tarim Basin DARK•HERITAGE. It was successful enough that I ended up stealing the geography wholesale and making it the all new DARK•HERITAGE geography, tossing the Tarim basin idea out on its ear completely. Tarim basin was a misnomer anyway; the geography was the Tarim basin, the Junggar basin, much of Tibet, and other areas like Ferghana, the Pamirs, etc. that are to the immediate east and west as well.

Oddly enough, my first thought when creating this new geographical model was that I wanted to create a milieu not necessarily for gaming, but for fiction writing. I've always approached gaming with an almost authorial viewpoint and paradigm, and I've always harbored a not-so-secret wish that I'd become an author, and I still pretend that one of these days I'll get my glacially slowly progressing novel draft moving at a good clip again, I'll finish it, edit it, and see if I can sell it. This setting, which I struggled to name for a time (calling it at one point DarkDND--how stupid sounding is that?) was originally meant as a place where I could "practice" writing in short story format, and for whatever reason I was OK with some of the D&Disms in it this time around. Of course, when I started developing it, I did pick an eclectic mix of races and classes to focus on, and minimized standard D&D magic considerably.

My ideas for the setting never got off the ground; instead I developed the setting itself in some detail; as much as I had for DARK•HERITAGE at the time. For that matter, it outright stole a number of places and concepts from that setting as well. I figured why not; a good idea should be portable enough to be re-used, right? (This concept initially led to me archiving "modular campaign setting elements", but let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet...)

Having embraced the idea of a Mediterranean culture, I had an interior sea be a major feature of the map I sketched out, and started liberally stealing place names from lists I had of actual placenames in slightly more obscure languages like Asturian, Aragonese, Occitan and Catalan--I didn't want it to sound exactly like Spanish or Italian, but to give off a similar vibe. This fit in well with some of what I'd already done with DARK•HERITAGE where I'd come up with names like Iclezza, Razina, Bartomeu's Bluff, etc. After bulking out that list with place names like Terrasa, Calça, Sént-Haspar, and others, I had, essentially, developed the Terrasan Empire and its holdings in a format that persists to this day. The only major change that I've done to the area is to attach it to some surrounding areas, weaken the central government considerably, and completely get rid of races like orcs and hobgoblins that I had formerly had in significant numbers as foederati troops.

The next time it was my turn to run for my home group, I had concerns that they may not be in the mood for something too divergent from D&D, because we were coming off of a moderately unsuccessful attempt to have a Call of Cthulhu campaign run by one of the other guys who hadn't run before, and who'd inadvertently turned a few of the players off of the game for good. I ended up grabbing the geography from this setting, breaking the empire apart into city-states, importing a bunch of names from Lovecraft's DreamQuest of Unknown Kadath, throwing in Cryx from the Iron Kingdoms for the heckuvit, and using my hobgoblin militaristic khaganate from my newly minted modular setting elements (the only module that was done at the time anyway.) Although I would have gladly let them go, I ended up making room for elves, dwarves, gnomes, wizards, clerics, etc. I called this game Pirates of the Mezzovian Main, Mezzovian being a name I invented that was meant to sound vaguely like an Italian word that could mean "in the middle of something." Based on the Italian word slash musical term mezzo no doubt, since I don't actually speak any Italian. I ended up quite enjoying this game, as did my players, I think. It was always meant to be a shortish term campaign that ended rather than just going on indefinately, and while my ending might have been a bit anticlimactic, there were some great moments on the way there.

In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I decided that making the entire world of the DARK•HERITAGE setting a desert was a mistake. At first, I attempted to do this more moderately; I kept the desert setting, but added shrinking water sources like a Leigh Brackett Mars or Skaith kind of thing (Skaith was coincidentally always a really close analog to much of my DARK•HERITAGE development, but I think that's because both my setting and Brackett's both drew on space opera Mars as our main roots.) It didn't take long before I decided that this wasn't enough. Looking back to my DarkDND version of the setting, I just grabbed the entire Terrasan Empire and imported it wholesale into DARK•HERITAGE. In fact, I jettisoned almost the entire geography I'd been working with and used the DarkDND geography instead, with a bit of evolution based on my Pirates of the Mezzovian Main setting. In fact, it's fair to say that DARK•HERITAGE today bears more in common today with this stream than it does with the stream that bore it's name for three other iterations. Granted, there always was a lot of cross-pollination between my setting design streams anyway, and adopting a DARK•HERITAGE model for all the little implied setting details and tossing my lenient stance on the various D&Disms I had allowed in DarkDND and Pirates of the Mezzovian Main is a big deal that dramatically alters the tone and feel of the game. Maybe it's more accurate to say that stream #2 and stream #3 fused together to form DARK•HERITAGE as it is today rather than to say that it's at the end of either of those streams individually.

But before we're completely done, I do have one more stream and possibly a few "unstreamed" settings to toss out there in one more retrospective post, then I'll have all my thoughts out of my head and in text format on the question of "how did I get here" with regard to DARK•HERITAGE. At which point, I can simply start posting updates to it again, of course, starting with a brief discussion of the "forgotten province" of the Terrasan Empire, Calça.

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