An Interesting Question of Setting

After returning from a long sabbatical I used to finish the public manuscript of Faerie Tales & Folklore, I was greeted with an interesting question from a member of the Faerie Tales & Folklore G+ community:

“Why didn’t you go for a particular, explicit, setting?”

There are many reasons for this decision, some being more simplistic then others and one that requires some sideways thinking. In this blog, my first in some time, I hope to answer this strangely complex question. (Continued below)

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First, let’s look at the most basic and simplistic answer, Faerie Tales & Folklore is driven by the stories the players wish to tell. To this end, I had hoped to create a game that could traverse the eras and cultures of our world with little effort. My intention was to fashion a setting which sat alongside the world we know through history, and paralleled the one we know through myth. By using the historical Earth as my setting, I was unencumbered from many of the demands of world building and allowed to provide greater detail to those elements which set the Mythological Earth apart from its mundane counterpart.

Second, while writing Faerie Tales & Folklore, I had a desire to keep a strong focus on the literary aspects of human culture. That said, choosing a single literary source as primary inspiration for the game’s design seemed far too limiting, both to myself and to potential players. One of the often lauded elements of early roleplaying games, and the recent crop of “old school” titles, is the inherent hack-ability of their included settings and rules. To aid this, I included a number of literary reviews to give both a sense of what is possible within the rules, but also how the advancement of the eras affects the game. By including a broad variety of literary inspiration, I was also allowed to add the idea of plot points and themes. This addition provided an important modular resource to handle the wide array of game types and settings the rules allowed. When combined with ideas such as: the three non-culturally based classes and lineages, introduction lines, and the various natural language systems, nearly any type of historical setting can be conjured forth.

This brings me to the most important reason for the lack of a “specific” setting within the pages of Faerie Tales & Folklore. It actually does have a very specific setting, however it is not a setting in the way we commonly think of one. To explain, the Mythological Earth referenced in the manuscript is actually a fusion of two settings: the world we know that is populated by the things with which we are familiar; and the Otherworld, from whence all magic and myth reside. The setting provided with the game IS the Otherworld and all which that entails. The central conflict within the setting is not simply good against evil, it is the mundane versus the supernatural. Where upon the Earth your game unfolds is not the setting, the setting is the otherworldly influence which allows the game to live up to its name, Faerie Tales & Folklore.

Some might ask:

“Then why did you not describe the Otherworld in greater detail?”

To answer this, I would point those who ask to its many attestations in literature. Many such tales offer a mutable view of this strange land, often changing from teller to teller. It is this ubiquitous flexibility of form and purpose that I hoped to maintain. Simply put, it is the realm of the tale’s creator to offer the particularities of the Otherworld envisioned within the stories they pose. Such descriptions are as varied as those who pen them.

Dante Alighieri writes of The Primum Mobile:

As in a circle, light and love enclose it, as it surrounds the rest and that enclosing, only He who encloses understands.

The tales of Irish bards tell of Tir Na nÓg:

Oisín arrived in Tír Na nÓg and was very happy there with Niamh. Her stories of the land had been true. Everyone was young, and beautiful, and happy. Upon meeting an older woman, Oisín was confused, as he thought everyone there was young. The old woman explained she had been older when she arrived, and that in Tír Na nÓg she would continue to get younger until she reached the age of a child.

The Poetic Edda speaks of the Otherworld’s effect upon its heroes:

So was Helgi beside the chieftains, like the bright-growing ash beside the thorn-bush and the young stag, drenched in dew, who surpasses all other animals and whose horns glow against the sky itself.

Thus, it becomes the mandate of the current tale’s narrator to define the ever-changing realm. After all, this is a game of telling one’s own tales and keeping the setting open to interpretation seemed an important goal. Those few who have written of the Otherworld tend to maintain a certain undefined nature to the realm, leaving much to the listener’s imagination. I felt this was an important element of the myths to uphold, as it allows for a greater amount of flexibility within the game itself and the stories one may tell through its play.

In the effort to provide the tools needed to tell tales as far fetched as those of our own people’s myths and legends, I included tools to create whole planets, planes of existence, and fantastic beasts. There are rules for games stretching from the Stone Age to the dawn of the 20th century and there are even rules for telling tall tales. They are all united by the existence of the Otherworld and its impact upon the mundane. If players need detailed information on a particular era, there is an astounding number of resources available where one can learn as they wish. Books, films, television broadcasts, and the ubiquitous world wide web are all great examples of such resources. The manuscript itself suggests utilizing these sources of information as often as necessary to ensure a the creation of a believable experience for everyone involved.

If the plethora of historical and mythological sources exists to inform you of the contents of the mundane world and the myths of our people, then Faerie Tales & Folklore exists to inform you of how the Mythological Earth is different from our own. It lays a framework upon which your own tales can be set. I hope that somewhere in all this blather, the question was answered to the satisfaction of the one who asked. It is also my hope that others may glean insight into some of the reasons why I choose to present the Otherworld in the way It was and why having the Mythological Earth resolve with our own was so vital.

What tales shall you tell and where shall you go? These questions can only be answered by you, the players. Go forth with an adventurous mind  and enjoy game night friends… May your imagination serve you well.

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