Monday, April 8, 2013

Choosing Degrees of Fantasy

Cover of Mythic Adventures Sourcebook
By Wayne Reynolds
Last week, while dealing with a rather bad case of the flu, I found myself spending the few moments I wasn't asleep or coughing up a lung jotting down a few concepts and ideas for a "Points of Light" style setting that I'm going to flesh out for a future Pathfinder game.

Before I can fully flesh this setting out though, I need to make a few decisions that will influence the setting in a number of different ways. The biggest decision I need to make, in my opinion, is how fantastical the setting is and what is the magic level of the setting.

Most people tend to file settings under one of three levels of fantasy and magic. These are High Fantasy/Magic, Medium Fantasy/Magic, and Low Fantasy/Magic. Each category has its own unique elements that can make a game feel radically different from another.

High Fantasy/Magic settings are worlds where the fantastical elements are cranked up to 11. Powerful magic is extremely common and almost anything is possible. Low Fantasy/Magic settings are worlds where the fantastical elements exist, but are not very common and magic is rare and usually feared and misunderstood. Also, Low Fantasy/Magic settings seem to be grittier and darker in my experiences with them. Medium Fantasy/Magic settings are worlds that fall somewhere between High Fantasy/Magic and Low Fantasy/Magic. The fantastical elements are prominent, but not as overly-abundant and magic is common, but as ubiquitous as in High Fantasy/Magic settings. As the name implies, it is a middle ground between the two.

Personally, I have never been a big fan of High Fantasy/Magic settings. To me, the ubiquitous nature of the fantastical elements and magic makes those elements less fantastical and magical. When I play a fantasy game, I want the creatures and magic to be mystical, strange, and interesting. The fantastical elements should not be something so...normal. While not all High Fantasy/Magic are like this, enough are and I just try ignore them.

While I love Low Fantasy/Magic settings, I feel the concepts and ideas I have for the setting wouldn't mess that well with that degree of fantasy. Also, the Pathfinder rules system doesn't do Low Fantasy/Magic settings that well.

So, after going through the process of elimination, that leaves me with Medium Fantasy/Magic, which I believe will be a good fit for the setting. The Fantastical elements and magic will be common, but not common enough to make them trivial and boring. The basic idea of the setting is that it is a large, but isolated landmass that is slightly smaller than Australia that was once ruled by a mighty kingdom that was established by foreigners who landed on the landmass after flying a cataclysm that destroyed their homeland. A few centuries ago, the kingdom was torn asunder by a vicious civil war. Now, a number of independent city-states (three ruled by humans, one by dwarves, and one by elves) rule the surrounding towns and villages and large swaths of frontier separate them from each other. Most people have only traveled a few miles away from their home town or village, so most of their knowledge about the known world is based on rumors and hearsay. While magic is a well-known force in the world, only a handful of individuals ever gain the ability to actually use it and those few who do learn it tend to be very wary when accepting apprentices to teach their secrets to. While people know dwarves, elves, and the other races exist, they are not normal sights in the human-controlled realms and tend to keep to themselves for one reason or another.

One of the major concepts I wanted to explore with this setting is the thrill of exploration and the discovery of the mystical and mysterious. Because of this, I really think the Medium Fantasy/Magic level fits perfectly and I'm going to run with it for now.