[generic] RPG a day lockdown #64 - what makes fantasy special?

Guvnor

The Guvnor
Staff member
#21
We've all read Moorcock, or Lieber, or Tolkien, or Vance, or Abercrombie, or Eddings, or almost lost it when reading Donaldson. That's the Fantasy we are talking about. Until I smoke what Guvnor has. Then then it is that one. With pursuing rave squirrels.
But Moorcock, REH, Klaar Kashtonz Mith and especially Belgian/French fantasy do have similarly outre fantastical elements.
I was making the point that D&D or even RQ style fantasy can be very prosaic, and not very fantastical.
"M. John Harrison acknowledges Tolkien’s position as the first and last word in fantastic fiction, but begs readers to look more closely, where they will see not the “beautiful chaos of reality,” but “stability and comfort and safe catharsis.”" http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/anti-tolkien
So, the value of this D&D-medievalist-Tolkien fantasy roleplaying as a game is comfortable and safe catharsis within recognisable and non challenging tropes. Yup, that's my answer.
 

Guvnor

The Guvnor
Staff member
#22
Ursula Le Guin said “With fantasy, we simply agree to lift the ban on the imagination and follow the story, now matter how implausible it may be.”
There are some pretty valiant attempts to explore more fantasy and less "Epic Pooh", I nod to Spire, many of the indie games from @James Mullen and others on itch.io

So, no I think pseudo-medievalim is a poor choice for introducing gamers. It comes with too clichés, dodgy social attitudes, and a lack of imagination.
 
#23
So, the value of this D&D-medievalist-Tolkien fantasy roleplaying as a game is comfortable and safe catharsis within recognisable and non challenging tropes. Yup, that's my answer.
There's a lot to be said for that - except that Tolkien has far, far less to do with D&D or faux-medievalism than many people think.
(Sorry, old forum reflex from people saying D&D is Tolkien when the only thing it takes is the idea of a multi-species group and the original kill things and take their stuff ethos is much closer to Conan, grr argh.)
 
#25
This is the easy one I think. For the lowest common denominator of fantasy, vast swathes of the tropes are (within our culture) easily recognisable and understood. We know what a castle looks like, a sword, armour, a horse etc. We have a relatively common understanding of what a dragon looks like (with, of course, those outriders that always appear). It is that common tongue that makes it easier for us to find some sort of shared imaginary space.

I did an exercise on the old UKRP forums where I asked people - without looking at anyone else's answers - to describe a Tavern. I did some basic content analysis on the replies. There were huge degrees of commonality (apart from those special people who despite knowing the parameters of the game decided to describe a space station etc)

Fantasy, in its lowest common denominator, is easy and that's why its special.
 
#26
With the last in mind, where I agree with @Guvnor is that it's a failure of the collective imagination that there's even such a thing as "standard fantasy". Give me setting such as those in Symbaroum, Spire, Glorantha, Tekumel, or Talislanta. Heck, even for D&D there's Planescape and Dark Sun. Fantasy really shouldn't be the "safe" genre it's sometimes seen as.

(and that's just for RPG settings, without moving into literature.)
 
#27
I suppose it's why I refer to it as 'lowest common denominator' fantasy - it is the cultural touchpoints of a lot of western 'stuff', regardless of it's origins. Ask someone in the street to imagine a 'fantasy world with dragons and wizards' (just to give it some parameters away from 50 Shades style fantasy) and once some of them have stopped sneering at the childishness of it all they would *probably* say:

Wizards cast spells and live in towers
Knights ride horses, wear armour and rescue damsels
Dwarves live under mountains, probably greedy?
Elves live in forests, probably superior?
Dragons have lots of gold and treasure
etc.

A lot of the 'creative' settings just discordantly riff off these assumptions. So in Spire, Elves are fascists and the Drow are the oppressed. Turning the usual stuff on it's head. In Symbaroum, elves are elves, but flippin' Kryptonian elves who will readily **** your shit up if you cross them. But its the assumption of Elven Superiority turned up to 11.

If the Elves in Spire were call the Xin and looked like koalas, there wouldn't be any difference to the setting, but there would be to the resonance that people have with it. Ditto Symbaroum. Killer koalas are bad, but brutal, vengeful, armour piercing, multishotting death machine strike helicoptor elves, live a cross between death itself and Greta Thunberg. They're terrifying.

And it's easy to make those riffs, because the base clay is so familiar.
 
#28
Moving away from the lowest common denominator, standard fantasy, and easy introductory material - what makes fantasy special to me and makes it the best genre for gaming ever is that literally nothing is off the table when making a pitch for a game. Players might not go for it, but there is no assumption of parameters the way there are with, say, supers or hard SF. Admittedly there are limits to what I find playable, but at least those are self-imposed limits.

Although I love reading the mythic real-world settings and adventures out there, I would never run or play in them because they take away the one thing that I find most liberating about fantasy: you don't have to worry about getting something "wrong".
 
#29
Ask someone in the street to imagine a 'fantasy world with dragons and wizards' (just to give it some parameters away from 50 Shades style fantasy) and once some of them have stopped sneering at the childishness of it all they would *probably* say:

Wizards cast spells and live in towers
Knights ride horses, wear armour and rescue damsels
Dwarves live under mountains, probably greedy?
Elves live in forests, probably superior?
Dragons have lots of gold and treasure
etc.
I wouldn't be so sure about that. I know the first time I played D&D I was totally confused. For me elves were the guys that worked for Santa Claus and dwarves lived in forests with Snow White or were scary, magical creatures in Norse mythology. I had read the Arthurian legends, the chronicles of Narnia, lots of mythology and I knew Conan from the comics, none of that prepared me for D&D, dungeon crawling and its abitrary rules and assumptions and I don't think any one else, other than the GM, had a clue either.

I think these concepts are a lot more mainstream now, but I suspect that is largely because of the success of D&D and its wider influence on computer gaming and MMOs like World of Warcraft.
 

Guvnor

The Guvnor
Staff member
#30
I agree with Tim that D&D has almost nothing to do with Tolkien, and that's a hill I'm prepared to die on.
Elves, hobbits, dwarfs, dragons, orcs, goblins, holes in't'ground.
It's a short hand.. and that's why it's constricting.

Wizards cast spells and live in towers
Knights ride horses, wear armour and rescue damsels
Dwarves live under mountains, probably greedy?
Elves live in forests, probably superior?
Dragons have lots of gold and treasure
etc.
Tolkien, Tolkien/Arthur, Tolkien, very Tolkien, Teutonic but it's JRRT that brought it to modern English culture, etc.. etc..

Whereas In mainstream British folklore.
British folklore Elfs are very different, as are the dwarfs/goblins, boggins, kobolds and so on, dragons are wyrms and live in wells in British folklore, Wizards advise King Arthur and shag sorceress without adequate protection.
I feel that we underestimate the deep effect JRRT had infusing his comfortable version of Teutonic Finnish myth into the English speaking culture.

Now is that all of D&D, no, it has a layer of S&S (wizards are evil twisted perverts that live with apes, snakes and a hefty supply of drugs), knights are evil bullies and imprision and rape damsels, Kings are bastards, WTF are elfs/dwarfs/goblins/dragons? Naked oil barbarians are great.

But when are we making this statement. Now most people play WoW, or watch Twitch, and this D&D/Tolkien/individualist/murder-hobo/Disney melange is swirling globally.

The D&D of now isn't the D&D of 1974, not even the D&D of Arneson versus Gygax, versus Alarums & Excursion #1, or Perrin's Bay State D&D, or Simbalist's C&S, Ken St.Andre's T&T.

It's not that generic fantasy hasn't so many ways to expand and explore real fantasy, but in it's common form it is limiting.

Grrrrr
 
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#32
Moving away from the lowest common denominator, standard fantasy, and easy introductory material - what makes fantasy special to me and makes it the best genre for gaming ever is that literally nothing is off the table when making a pitch for a game. Players might not go for it, but there is no assumption of parameters the way there are with, say, supers or hard SF. Admittedly there are limits to what I find playable, but at least those are self-imposed limits.
I'm really not trying to be contentious here, but if you assume there are shared parameters for a supers game, you will crash and burn. Possibly the genre that most needs careful same-page-establishment.
 
#33
Given that The Hobbit wasn't published until 1937, surely there are a whole bunch of fantasy tropes which were already in public consciousness from sources like Ivanhoe, Robin Hood, Sinbad the Sailor, Beowulf, St George, the Lambton Wyrm, Jason and the Argonauts, the labours of Hercules, etc, etc? Those were endlessly recycled as pop culture, be that kids' books, silent films, Saturday morning movie serials, and the like. Some of them are seen as Important Cultural Icons (TM), so kids were forced to learn about them at school. No English kid could get away with being ignorant of dragon slaying as an acceptable English pastime, because St George is their patron saint! German kids had Siegfried/Sigurd for their dragon slayer, though I point out that a "educational but fun" book my Scottish mum had in her 1940s childhood included the story of Siegfried's dragon slaying. (Obviously American kids would not be indoctrinated about St George or Siegfried to the same extent).

Then sprinkle Prince Valiant and the Hobbit and other more recent tales (where recent = 1937) over the top of all that.

Jason and the Argonauts is just as much a model of an RPG party going on a quest and a monster bash as the Hobbit is. It's a much better model in many ways, because Jason and his mates kill more people and take more stuff! :)
 

First Age

D&D h@ck3r and Hopepunk
Staff member
#34
But Moorcock, REH, Klaar Kashtonz Mith and especially Belgian/French fantasy do have similarly outre fantastical elements.
I was making the point that D&D or even RQ style fantasy can be very prosaic, and not very fantastical.
It is a point, though I personally haven't lost the fantastical shine for magic, strange beasts and monsters, ancestries, places of mystery and such like. I have dabbled in the Electric Bastionland and much as I like it, I don't need to go there to get my fantasy kicks.

"M. John Harrison acknowledges Tolkien’s position as the first and last word in fantastic fiction, but begs readers to look more closely, where they will see not the “beautiful chaos of reality,” but “stability and comfort and safe catharsis.”" http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/anti-tolkien
So, the value of this D&D-medievalist-Tolkien fantasy roleplaying as a game is comfortable and safe catharsis within recognisable and non challenging tropes. Yup, that's my answer.
I'm not going there on Tolkien with you, we've done that argument trope too many times. :D

Despite that, it is a good answer. I wouldn't wish to restrict anyone to the tired hackneyed tropes that their own long teeth have gnawed all the goodness out of. But those old meals, along with the new cuisine(?), are fantastical nevertheless.
 
#35
Given that The Hobbit wasn't published until 1937, surely there are a whole bunch of fantasy tropes which were already in public consciousness from sources like Ivanhoe, Robin Hood, Sinbad the Sailor, Beowulf, St George, the Lambton Wyrm, Jason and the Argonauts, the labours of Hercules, etc, etc?
Personally, until I was exposed to D&D, I never viewed Ivanhoe/Robin Hood, Greek or other mythology or Simbad as belonging to the same general category any more Zorro, Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes or the Three Musketeers.
 

First Age

D&D h@ck3r and Hopepunk
Staff member
#36
I feel that we underestimate the deep effect JRRT had infusing his comfortable version of Teutonic Finnish myth into the English speaking culture.
I really don't, but I happen to like it. I suppose we could debate how comfortable The Simarillion actually is, but I'll roll with your proposition and I can see how people can stay with it and not branch out to other fantasies. I have shelves of other stuff and like that too.
 

Guvnor

The Guvnor
Staff member
#37
@First Age I quite like a bit of middle class bourgeois Pooh Bear Adventuring and I love the appendix to the Bible that is the Silmarillion.. no really, I really really do..
 
#38
Personally, until I was exposed to D&D, I never viewed Ivanhoe/Robin Hood, Greek or other mythology or Simbad as belonging to the same general category any more Zorro, Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes or the Three Musketeers.
I honestly think that quasi-historical material is a whole different genre to Tolkien, which is again a whole different genre to Howard. I certainly slice off historical fantasy into its own thing, which overlaps with historical fiction. That leads to another digression - do we have hard and soft historical fiction in the same way as hard and soft SF? I think we do.

But I'm not sure whether any of what I've just written is particularly helpful.
 

First Age

D&D h@ck3r and Hopepunk
Staff member
#39
@First Age I quite like a bit of middle class bourgeois Pooh Bear Adventuring and I love the appendix to the Bible that is the Silmarillion.. no really, I really really do..
But what fantasy do you love? And the gaming that you would present and play to express it?

Rid yourself of instructing on the imaginative corpulence of D&D and other pale undying old copies. Tell us of the fantasy that you would actually ideally want to explore when unfettered by the aged tropes that drag us down?

Mind you, running a game based on the Bible's appendix, now you are on to something...
 
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