Tag Archives: Morrowind

Baroque Fantasy?

My view of creativity is very much in agreement with the thought that great ideas come from filling a mind with lots of fascinating concepts and evocative images and letting them ferment until one day something new comes growing out of the compost heap. A considerable amount of my creative “work” consists of looking for more ideas to add to my heap by reading lots of stuff remotely related to what I am working on (professionals call it “researching”) and pondering of what use they could be to me. It’s totally not slacking!

Morrowind

One thought that has occupied my recently is that many of the fantasy worlds I find highly inspiring for the Ancient Lands seem to share some common features or at least aesthetic. The two biggest influences are Morrowind and Planescape, and I know that the former was directly inspired by Glorantha. And I was actually surprised that Glorantha came into existance completely independently from Tekumel. I had assumed that there’s a direct link between the two, but both appeared in the world of fantasy games in 1974/1975, the very dawning days of RPGs. I’ve been wondering if there’s a name for the style shared by these worlds but it doesn’t seem to be the case.

Planescape

Looking further into it I also remembered additional settings that seem to share at least some similarity. There’s the Young Kingdoms from Michael Moorcock’s Elric stories, Dark Sun, and what I’ve seen also the RPGs Talislanta and Exalted. But it might all have started with Clark Ashton Smith’s proto-Sword & Sorcery tales set in Hyperborea and Zothique (though I admit only having read the former).

Glorantha

One term I’ve often seen to describe both Smith’s stories and Barker’s Tekumel is baroque. Which is described as an “artistic style which used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, architecture, literature, dance, theater, and music” or “characterized by grotesqueness, extravagance, complexity, or flamboyance”. Yeah, that seems to about fit.

Tekumel

What all these settings have in common is that they are clearly not an imagined ancient history of Earth, but set in worlds that are only distantly “earthlike” in having mountains, forests, and seas and populated by cultures and creatures that have no obvious earthly counterparts. (Glorantha and the non-Morrowind parts of The Elder Scrolls aren’t sticking too close to that.) It’s something you can also find in Star Wars that adds spaceships and lasers to the mix but otherwise plays it perfectly straight. This is what sets them apart from the Tolkienian mainstream but also Howard’s Hyborian Age, which tend to be close to alternate histories with magic set on Earths with the coasts and rivers redrawn.

Dark Sun

So: Baroque Fantasy?

It’s not a term that has really been used so far, but I think it is definitly a thing that exist and has regularly shown its face through the last 40 years, often to very high praise. (I’ve found it used once, for exactly the same idea.) When you say baroque it comes with the connotation of “elaborate” and “complex”, and often also “confusing”. But I don’t think that it’s really necessary to have worlds with giant piles of information to evoke this aesthetic. Glorantha and The Elder Scrolls are massive beasts of settings, I’ve heard Tekumel is not very accessible either, and fully grasping Planescape means a lot of reading. (Though if you can get your hands on the box sets, the later is not too difficult to understand.) Hyperborea, Elric, and Dark Sun are all kind of borderline or fringe examples, but they all make do with very little exposition. And as a player, both Morrowind and Planescape can be a total blast even when you explore them without having any clue what you’re getting into.

Elric

The key elements of the baroque that makes this term applicable to this style of fantasy are extravagant, flamboyant, and grotesque. And I think that few people would content these qualities in the worlds I named. There is a certain downside in that baroque also is the name for a time period in European history with a distinctive architecture, music, and fashion, which don’t have anything to do with these works of 20th century fantasy. But it’s certainly a term that would be quite fitting.

Thinking about NPC levels in an Old World campaign

So here I am again, writing about RPGs. Even though I am creating the Old World as a fiction setting, I can’t shake the constant thought that it also would make for a really great campaign setting. And once more I am finding myself getting back to B/X, specifically LotFP. Yes, I know: Oh, the irony! Aside from the magic system (for which I have a complete replacement almost ready) I just really love the game in all its simplicity. Combat, character advancement, and monsters are just exactly the way I really want it.

With my experiences in fiction worldbuilding, my look on preparing a campaign setting for an RPG also changed a lot. In the past I used to attempt to emulate the structure of settings like Forgotten Realms, Eberron, and Golarion, and for a long while really didn’t know what to make of things like Red Tide, Yoon-Suin, or the Wilderlands of High Fantasy. But having learned a lot about Sword & Sorcery worldbuilding in fiction, this very much changed and I am seeing what’s the deal with the later and how it fits my own purposes. Often less is more, and in this case it is much more less that is so much more. I am no longer interested in precise maps, borders, or population numbers for cities and countries. Making up new villages and dungeons as I go will be good enough.

But even when you have a setting that is defined by culture and environments and not by specific places and organizations, to have a campaign in which the players have real agency is that you know who the movers and shakers in the campaign area will be. And one topic that none of the many guides and introductions for running unscripted campaigns ever touch upon is the creation of NPCs. What class level should the major NPCs in the campaign have?

kingconan

Now one very easy solution would be to not set a level for NPCs until the players run into them for a fight. But that causes a pretty major problem. The decision of the players to fight an NPC or not is based on whether they think they can win such a fight or not. Chosing to start a private war with a powerful local leader is as big a choice as players are going to make, and it can only be an informed and meaningful decision if the strength of the NPC is fixed before the decision is made. If you create stats for an NPC only once you know that the players are looking for a fight, their choice will have been meaningless. When you decide to make the NPC beatable or unbeatable for the party at its current strength, the players are completely without power to influence the survival and victory of their characters. Over the years there has been a lot of talking over what makes the differences between the videogames Morrowind and Oblivion (and now Skyrim as well), and one thing that really changed how the games play is the adjustment of enemies to the level of the player, or the lack of it. In Oblivion and Skyrim it has become irrelevant what places you chose to visit and what quests to try, because the difficulty will always be the same. When you discover an area that seems too dangerous for your character, you might choose to leave and go somewhere safer for now. When you then return a long time later, after lots of great adventures and getting many powerful new weapons, and it’s still just as hard as it was the last time, then it really feels like you didn’t make any progress at all and didn’t become more powerful in any way either. What’s the point of reaching higher levels and gaining better weapons and armor if it doesn’t make any difference? In Morrowind monsters and NPCs are always the same strength, regardless of how powerful your character is. While this does mean that you will occasionally have to admit defeat and retreat, it really makes a huge difference to the sense of accomplishment and progress, that is an important part of unscripted videogames and RPG campaigns alike. Losing is good, because it tells you that any victory you gain has been earned.

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Stumbling around in Morrowind

I first played Morrowind right back when it was first released in 2002. But I didn’t get very far as I was just too confused about what I was expected to do and how to figure out how the many aspects of the game work. A few years later I gave it another try but after 20 hours or so I gave up on it once more. Many, many years later I played Skyrim (though that was more than a year after it’s release), and being a much more polished game I had a much easier time getting into it. But again, I soon got bored with it after 30 to 40 hours once I realized that doing all those sidequests is ultimately pointless. All the enemies are scaled to your level and the game is pretty easy to begin with, and nothing stops you from just doing the mainquests all in a row. And possibly be done with them in 20 hours. All the other stuff you do has some interesting sounding dialoges at the start, but then you always go into either a cave or a tomb and kill everyone you find there to get the item at the end and return it to the person who send you to get it. But for what? That person never again has any interactions with you after that and it’s not like you established any relationships or made any progress towards something. You improve your skills and gain treasures, which you can use to make better equipment and learn more spells. But for what? You are already strong enough to deal with everything. You don’t get any stronger because the enemies will always be adjusted to remain just as difficult. And unfortunately, the two main storylines both suck.

But from what I’ve heard, Morrowind is quite different from Skyrim in these respects. The main storyline is much more interesting and the culture of the land original and not just standard generic vikings. And there’s a point to going on other adventures because you have to become powerful enough to be able to survive in the areas where the main storyline takes you to. So with new hope I installed Morrowind again yesterday and jumped straight into it after roughly 10 years.

And at first I enjoyed it very much. But after 5 hours or so, the initial excitement about the weird landscape and intriguing culture started to fade. And I think it was about 10 hours into the game when I made it to the big capital city of Vivec when all motivation to continue left me. And shortly after I’ve quite playing, I realized that this was pretty much the same part of the game where I stopped the last time, 10 years ago. Because in Vivec, the huge flaw of the game becomes terribly obvious. The game is totally dead. It’s lifeless and lacks any soul.

If you’re familiar, that might sound very surprising and completely unjustified. The world of Morrowind is one of the most amazing and creative fantasy settings ever made. Which is true. But the way this amazing world is presented in the game is just mind crushingly dull. It’s so boring. Almost the entire game conists of nothing but deserted paths through the landscape and empty hallways that always look exactly the same. And unless you’re in a tavern or guild house, there just isn’t anyone around. Technical limitations are something that usually is not to be blamed on the designers. Back in the day, Morrowind actually looked very impressive to me. But aside from the giant mushroom trees, the world is really extremely monotonous. The only kind of decorations you find in the towns are wooden boxes. No plants, no animals, nothing. I had to think back to Baldur’s Gate, which was released four years earlier, and while the towns in that game where technically extremely simple, they just felt so much more alive. The colors not as washed out and much more detail on the 2D buildings and flat landscape. And most importantly, it had ambient sound. You hear people yelling in the distance, noises from people working, and lots of animals. Morrowind doesn’t have any ambient noise at all, and that’s perhaps one of the things that really kills the game. Skyrim does and it makes a huge world of difference.

I’ve always loved the world of Morrowind and from what I’ve read it has a very good story. But possibly the worst thing you could ever say about a game is that it is vastly more entertaining to read about it than to actually play the thing yourself. But with Morrowind, this is exactly what is the case. I love the world, but the game is just bad.

Write what you would want to read, Part 2: Stylistic influences

A few weeks back I wrote about my goals in how to structure the ideas for Sword & Sorcery stories that have been flowing through my head for some time. And yes, I could be writing on those stories instead of writing this. But this also is work. Spelling out my thoughts always helps me getting them into order and once I have free floating ideas put into some form of pattern it becomes a lot easier to build upon them. Expanding ideas is always much easier than creating something great out of a vacuum. It’s like starting a puzzle by first sorting out the pieces that go on the edge, put them together to create a frame and then building inwards from there. Trying to find two matching pieces out of 500 is almost impossible and takes forever. (A puzzle under 300 pieces is not worth the effort.)

So here you have my incomplete list of works that captured my imagination and influenced what I would like my own works to be like. In some cases I’ve literally been thinking “I wish there was a fantasy book like this.” Since I seem to be most easily impressed by visuals, most of these are actually movies and videogames. You might also notice that there’s actually more science-fiction than fantasy on the list. But there won’t be any post-Iron Age technology in the Ancient Lands. When it comes to pulp and adventure fiction, their essence is really about personal experience and emotion, which generally can be explored just as well in fantasy as in science-fiction, or even historic settings (see Indiana Jones), and it seems that in the past decades the majority of creators seem to have chosen to go with an outer coating of sci-fi instead of fantasy. After all, in the early days of planetary romance they regularly did both at once. My plan for the Ancient Lands is to continue in this century old tradition of writers and once again going with a fantasy guise again.

  • Knights of the Old Republic: The comic, not the videogame. This part of the Expanded Universe could be seen as a spin-off of the regular Star Wars universe, being set 4,000 years before te movies. You got the Jedi and the Sith, but they are different from those of the later ages, being much more numerous and acting much more out in the open. Which leads to this era feeling even more like traditional fantasy than Star Wars already does. And I actually like them a lot more. It started with the Tales of the Jedi comics in the early 90s, which were created simultaneously to the Jedi Academy novels and served as a kind of backstory but were also standing on their own feet. Later BioWare used those comic as basis for their videogame set some 100 years or so later. And then we got a comic series that takes place just before the game and visiting many of the same planets and having some appearances from the characters of the game, but mostly they are their own story. And while I am not usually fan of American comics, it’s actually my favorite Star Wars work. (After The Empire Strikes Back, of course.) I want to reread it and write a very extensive review for it as wrll. The main hero Zayne Carrick is not so great, being posibly literally the worst Jedi ever. While he’s a complete failure as a Jedi he still manages to become quite heroic in his own way, which is something I consider very much worse exploring in Sword & Sorcery. But to me the real star of the series is Jarael, who is only one character of Zayne’s weird gang of anti-heroes but also got her own storyline that runs parallel to his. And absolutely kicks ass. It’s a bit like Avatar, where the story of Aang was quite entertaining and often interesting, but I really always came back to see the story of Zuko. What I like so much about this era is that it takes the fantasy elements of Star Wars and gives them even greater emphasis, and also makes the universe feel more ancient and mystical. The absolute core concept of the Ancient Lands is “KotOR without the space ships”.
  • Mass Effect: If there is one thing I love almost as much as Star Wars, it’s Mass Effect. The first game blew my mind just by seeing the main menu, but the second one is what I consider the greatest videogame of all time. Mass Effect was created by BioWare after Knights of the Old Republic and being clearly a successor of it, but being set in their own new universe meant that they no longer needed to be confined by the Star Wars license. There are various reasons why Mass Effect had such a huge impact on me. The first one being that it made me understand how much better any story becomes when it is about something meaningful and that this can also apply to whole universes. Mass Effect almost never gets preachy and has no sermons, but everything you run into deals with ending conflict and reaching reconciliation by admiting that you have been wrong in your actions or convictions. Blame and guilt become insignificant compared to forgiveness and only rarely can anyone claim the moral high ground. And because of it the conflicts all become so much more compelling and meaningful. There is real conflict and real doubt, not the artifical lack of ambiguity created by black and white stories where no thinking is required. This also hits very deeply to my existentialist contemplations and believes. These are the kinds of story that are really worth telling. This is the stuff that means something. The other thing about the series is that I like the way the visual style creates atmosphere. There’s something very late 70s movie about them. The way the places in the games feel, particularly the second, is what I want to capture and recreate. There is something ethereal about it which I find just fascinating.
  • Morrowind: I’ve talked about this game a lot in recent months. The world of The Elder Scrolls is not particularly interesting to me in general, but the specific region of Morrowind is amazing. It’s both exotic in its landscapes and wildlife, but it is also a mythic lands, full of philosophers, secret societies, and living gods who live alongside mortals.
  • The Witcher: I love both the books and the games. I often see comments about Sword & Sorcery that claim that it is an outdated genre from the 60s that failed to keep up as culture had been changing and being stuck in a past that has very little to offer to modern audiences. There certainly is a sense that all the good stuff has been by Howard and Leiber and that nothing really got close to them since. But The Witcher seems to me like a series that is very much a new attempt at Sword & Sorcery for the new post-cold war world. I think there was actually a massive shift taking place in entertainment in the early 90s, with one of the most striking examples being the difference between Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. (Also a good topic for a future article.) The stories of Geralt of Rivia have a very strong deconstructive element to them. Fantasy in general, but really Sword & Sorcery in particular, is mercilessly disassembled, all the pieces critically examined, and all the hypocrisies and inconsistencies exposed. But they are not just a hateful critique or even a satire, but instead continue and attempt to straighten out the faults and emphasize the qualities. Or to put it more bluntly, Sapkowskis characters travel trough fantasyland and continuously call each other out on their respective bullshit. But they also have genuine respect and appreciation for their redeeming qualities. Sapkowski takes all the different characters of fantasyland down from their high horses and cuts them down to size, and they all come out of it stronger and you can appreciate what they have to offer for storytelling in the 21st century. Sword & Sorcery is not obsolete, but it could really use some fixing up. And I think reading the books can really help to recognize in which areas Howard and Leiber could be expanded on. They are a solid foundation, but not the end of all there can be to Sword & Sorcery. The writers of the videogames also manged to capture this aspect of the stories very well.
  • Thief: I actually finished this 17 year old game for the first time only earlier this year and somehow I still have not been able to finish the review draft I’ve started for it. The main character may look like a cliche now, being a sneering and sarcastic loner with a dark hood and a master thief as professional as he is unrepentant, but I think Garrett might actually have started this whole trend. Thief is the most straight example of Noir fantasy you’ll ever come across. It’s always dark and rainy in a claustrophobic city of narrow alleys and high roofs and it feels like The Maltese Falcon set in a steampunk version of the middle ages. The first game of the three also is a pretty straight Sword & Sorcery experience, which the second game largely abandoned and went more steampunk James Bond. Though it makes sense as each game focuses on one of the three factions of The City and the first one is all about the Pagans who worship Chaos and nature, while the second is about the Mechanist who are all about Order and technology. I hope to get a propper review done soon, but I really love the first game. It has relatively little action in the conventional sense, but Garrett’s sneaking around in extremely dangerous and heavily guarded places is just as daring and outrageous, even if there are no buckets of blood or piles of corpses. It’s a very gloomy and well thought out story which in many sections dips very strongly into horror as well. What I want to take away from it the most is how ot creates tension, danger, urgency, and dread without relying on combat.
  • Riddick: Thinking of the Riddick movies as very well made B-movies would not be inacurate. And if someone calls them cheesy, cliched, and failing at trying to be artistic, I could see where this impresion would come from. While they are science fiction on the surface, they have the undiluted essence of Sword & Sorcery running through their bodies. It’s hardboiled Planetary Romance. Genres that have always had a reputation for being a bit trashy, but every Sword & Sorcery fans that under the simple and rough presentation there is a depth of meaning and emotion in them that many great artist would envy, if you just know what to look for. The third movie is of similar quality as Conan to me. They are small productions but true art. Like Italian exploitation movies from the 60s were “art”. Of a type that probably is so foreign to most people that it might be impossile to see. What I like about the movies is the sense of desolation and a huge universe that seems almost empty. Civilization being tiny while the wilderness is empty is an idea I find very fascinating but rarely seems to get explored in fantasy. And of course, there’s Riddick himself. He is super cool to the point of beinf ridiculous, but the movies treat it with full seriousness and that makes it work. And as his story progresses (though there is barely any real plot in the conventional sense) you get a character that is both a real monster but also not despicable. He’s a beast, but a magnificent one.
  • Mushishi: This was originally written as a series of short novels, if I recall correctly, but also made into an absolutely amazing anime series a while back. Mushishi is about Ginko, a man who wanders Japan and can be thought of as a kind of ghost hunter or exorcist. But the creatures he is dealing with are not great dragons or demons, but just mushi. The tiniest and most primitive of spirits that are more similar to bacteria than to people or animals. They are a fundamental part of nature, but invisible to most people, except for the mushishi. The series is very slow, has few words, and very little happening, and is very melancholic in mood. While mushi are a part of all nature, it sometimes can happen that their presence has unusual effects on people who get too close to them. And since they are invisible there’s usually no way to tell where they are and what they are doing, unless you know exactly what to look for. When strange events are happening or people seem to become cursed for no apparent reason, the mushishi are the only ones who can help. The special charm of the series is that Ginko can identify the source of the problem and show the people how they can avoid any further harm from the mushi. But he does not destroy them and he also has no ability at all to reverse the damage that has already been done. Sometimes people die from the mushi, often they are severely cripled or maimed. This is no kind of curse that can be lifted and Ginko has no magic to remove the effects. All he can do is to help the people to live with the changes and to ease the pain, and sometimes his help comes too late. In many ways, Mushishi is the total opposite of Sword & Sorcery. There is no fighting or any action scenes. It’s not fast paced and loud but extremely slow and quiet. But what I really love about it is how it deals with the aftermath of encounters with the supernatural. One way in which I think classic pulp tales are falling short is that they generally don’t bother with any consequences. You get a big fight scene and it’s done. I’m actually not much of a fan of action scenes and violence, it always is much more interesting to me how people are dealing with it. And sometimes you don’t win and everything is alright again. Mushishi is all about that.
  • Wuxia: If you’re not familiar with it, it may come as a surprise that the Chinese really love fantasy. Specifically the genre of wuxia, which really is pretty much exactly the same as Sword & Sorcery set in a Chinese inspired world. And they’ve been making a lot of often pretty good movies based on novels for quite some time. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is probably the most famous one in Europe and America (though not considered particularly remarkable in China), but there’s also Hero, and House of Flying Daggers and I also very much enjoyed Reign of Assassins and the most recent adaptation of A Chinese Horror Story. For one thing, I really quite like the setting. Most of it is based on medieval China and probably just as accurate as western fantasy is dealing with medieval Europe. There’s swordfights, witches, and monster. Evil spirits are different than Greek monsters or classic demons, and the magic system is based around chi, similar to the Force in Star Wars, which is all very appealing to me. But there’s also one big difference to western Sword & Sorcery and that is the big place that is made for romance. Romance in western fantasy usually is terrible. But most wuxia movies I’ve seen somehow make it work. Queen of the Black Coast might be somewhat similar. Or pehaps the messed up relationship between Geralt and Yennefer in The Witcher.
  • Ghost in the Shell: A great comic and the movie based on it is probably my favorite movie after The Empire Strikes Back. Ghost in the Shell is probably the defining work of the post-cyberpunk genre, (which is primarily defined by removing the punk from cyberpunk) and particularly the movie adaptations are extremely existentialistic. All the main characters are cyborgs and the main hero has so many enhancements that she has essentially turned into something superhuman, more machine than mortal. While it is as hard as hard sci-fi can possibly get, it often turns quite deeply spiritual. When the brain can be directly plugged into computers and machines, it really feels a lot like magic. It’s a world vastly greater than the human mind with possibilities that can not even be imagined. And of course, there’s also various forms of mind control and manipulation of memory and thoughts. Ghost in the Shell has a really important impact on me to how I am thinking of incorporating magic and the Spiritworld into fantasy stories.
  • STALKER and Metro: Stalker is a videogame inspired by a Russian novel and a movie, while Metro is a series of Russian novels which also got two videogames closely based on them. They are all post-apocalyptic science-fiction and can there really be any kind of sci-fi more closely related to that? I am pretty sure that the games and Metro novels are very strongly based on the experience of growing up in post-Soviet Russia and Ukraine. Things were not great under the Soviets, but in many respects things totally went to shit after that. Turning to post-apocalyptic fiction as a means of expression seems completely natural in that situation. They are not dreams about creating some new utopian societies inspired by the Old West, but instead you have some people who just somehow survive and linger in the ruins because they really have no idea what else to do. It’s not a rebirth of civilization. It’s just some remnants fading away. What inspires me about them is the strong presence of ruins. Wherever you look it’s urban and industrial decay. The Ancient Lands are a world where villages and towns disappear just as fast a new ones are build, with societies remaining at low numbers and ruins being found anywhere. And sometimes there’s still stuff left that can still be useful to the people of a later generation. I want to make exploration and treasure hunting a big theme, as that’s what lots of Sword & Sorcery bheroes do, but instead of robbing tombs I want to go with the leftovers of failed settlements. Both Stalker and Metro are giving me lots of ideas for both ruins and treasure hunters.

Creating a world inspired by Morrowind

Morrowind is one of the truly amazing RPGs among videogames. Over the last 20 years there probably have been hundreds of fantasy videogames, but Morrowind has always been in a category of its own. Even when you look at fantasy works in other mediums, it’s still something very unusual and quite unique. Most recently Skyrim has had a huge impact as the last game of the Elder Scrolls series, but as pretty as the world of that game is, it’s still mostly pretty ordinary European-style medieval fantasy, with Vikings driving out the Roman Empire from their land and some dragons and elves for good measure. Nothing we havn’t seen a thousand times before. But Morrowind, even being set on the same planet and right next door, is a place very much unlike anything else in fantasy. The most similar setting I can think of would be the AD&D world Dark Sun, and you might also consider the venerable common ancestor of all heroic fantasy and space opera Barsoom from A Princess of Mars.

Very obviously on first glance is that Morrowind and these other settings have very unique landscapes and wildlives, as I had mentioned two weeks back. The plants look different and there are many common animals that are not seen as monsters but are completely unlike any animal we have on earth. (Or at least in Europe and North America.) And even more, there is also a noticable absence of almost any animals we are familiar with. But that is only on the very surface and only affects how the world looks. While the visuals in Morrowind look great, it is not all there is to it and this element is mostly irrelevant for stories or campaign settings. Strange looking animals and plants don’t make a difference by themselves in regards to how the world and the people in it tick.

morrowind-2013-02-02-12-33-23-55I’ve been discussing this topic with other people over the last weeks and it resulted in quite a number of very great thoughts, realizations, and discoveries about what you can do to create a world that feels similar to Morrowind without being a direct copy of it. And even if that’s not your intention, any single one of these should be useful as a starting point to making your work more unique and different from the standard medieval European fantasy.

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Who kicked the dogs out?

Someone in a forum asked for fantasy novels set in a world with a style similar to the old videogame Morrowind (so far we’re mostly drawing blanks) and that got me thinking some more about that particular setting again. Back when I was 18 I thought it was a bit daring in how different it is from “proper fantasy” and it was ultimately the gameplay of the series that never got me really deeply invested in the game. But the setting and particularly it’s aesthetics stuck with me ever since and these days I hold it in very high esteem precisely because it’s so different.

While the stuff I had been working with before I nailed down the original concept for the Ancient Lands was pretty generic standard fantasy stuff and I am not ditching everything of that just because it’s generic, I very quickly got excited about the idea of also drawing inspirations from some very nonstandard works to create a somewhat unique style for my own world. Among Morrowind and Star Wars, there’s also the two classic and very quirky Dungeons & Dragons settings Dark Sun and Planescape, the continent Kalimdor from Warcraft III and Xen’drik from Eberron, and at least visually I am very taken with the John Carter movie. And thinking about what makes Morrowind so unique and interesting that could be found in unrelated fantasy novels also got me to start looking for what things these settings have in common that I might incorporate directly into my own setting.

And one very destinctive thing thing is that not only the environments look somewhat otherworldly, the wildlife is also completely different from what we have in Europe and North America. There are no dogs and wolves. Also no bears and no wild pigs. And people don’t keep horses, cows, and sheep. I already created a good number of animal-like creatures, mostly based on reptiles and insects, many of which can serve quite similar roles. So how about kicking out the dogs? And the wolves and the horses, and the sheep? Horses would be the biggest immediate change as far as players are concerned, but being all forests, mountains, and islands they didn’t really have much of a prominent presence in the setting to begin with. Usually “nonstandard fantasy” means not having elves and dwarves and giving people guns. (Yes, not only is there such a thing as “standard fantasy”, there’s also “standard nonstandard fantasy”.) But going the opposite direction and taking even more real world elements out of the setting and replacing them with more made up things might actually be a really interesting direction to explore. It worked for Dark Sun and Planescape, and those are probably the two best settings ever done for RPGs.