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.

2 thoughts on “Who kicked the dogs out?”

  1. What about Morrowind turned you off to it?

    I never especially liked dice rolling combat in a video game, and alchemy and enchanting were both hilariously broken in opposite directions, but it remains one of my favorite videos games of all time.

    1. My main problem with the Elder Scrolls series is that it is open world games with a very loose story. They have a main plot, but it’s only a very small part of the game and often you spend 10 hours doing completely unrelated things, then come back doing another quest in the main storyline, and go back to other random things. And these games are so big that they feel very directionless to me.
      The other big thing about Morrowind in particular that killed it for me is the dialogue system. When you talk to an NPC the game freezes and a dialog window pops up. Either blocking the face of the person you talk to or very often freezing the face mid-animation looking goofy. And then dialogues are not following a dialog tree like in BioWare RPGs, but you click on a word to get more information on that topic. It all really doesn’t feel at all like you’re talking to someone, you’re browsing wikipedia. Which given all the NPCs an almost total lack of individual personalty. And your own character doesn’t even have any lines at all. The result is that even this amazing world very quickly felt very sterile. There are no people in the whole world. Only people shaped monsters and people shaped signposts.
      Skyrim does a lot better in that department, having all the dialog NPCs fully voiced and using a more standard dialogue tree system. But your own character isn’t and nobody ever makes any mention regarding your personalty. The first Dragon Age is bad in that regard, but at least people have emotional reactions to what dialogue option you pick. In Skyrim they don’t and you’re really just an observer and not a participant in any way.
      But having all these nice skripted scenes and fully voiced NPCs made the world feel a lot more alive than the completely dead Morrowind, so I kept playing that for much longer. Probably 40 hours or more. But evntually I realized that all these sidequests are really very short and entirely self-contained. Meeting the Stormcloak warrior and fleeing with him to the next town to hide in the home of his relatives was great. And then going to the city on their behalf and working for the local lord, his court mage, and his general was also great. And then this part of the game is done and to my knowledge you’re never going to talk to any of these people ever again. And that seems to be the case with all the sidequest lines as well. The scripted scenes are well done, but they don’t come together to form a single whole. They are just more or less random and unrelated stories and you never seem to come back to people you’ve come to know. And that really is what kills the series for me. I want strong narratives and characters with personalties and complex relationships. The Elder Scrolls does not have that. These games are just the player alone with the environment. Very wonderfully done environments, but they are empty. No actual substance of the kind that entertains me.

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