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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Thither Pellatarrum?

One question which I have not been asked (to my great surprise) is "Why would I want to use Pellatarrum as a setting? It seems like a lot of work."

And to that I have to reply, "No, it's not a lot of work, it's supposed to be the antithesis of work. What you perceive as work is just a high weirdness threshold."

There are many, many things which players and game masters take for granted about their game worlds, usually through a combination of convenience and familiarity. Sometimes these things are good; since all humans on Earth are used to 24 hour days, nearly every fantasy setting has a 24 hour day, because the effort involved in creating and then implementing a different-length day would not be worth whatever benefits such a thing would give.

Sometimes these things are neutral, like a moon in the sky. Moons are nice because they provide light at night. Every setting I have seen has at least one moon; Dragonlance's world of Krynn has three. I have yet to see any setting without a single moon*, perhaps because removal of such would bring up such questions about lycanthropes, tidal forces, and possibly even fertility cycles.

And that's where the problem creep in, because now you're forcing scientific problems upon a fantasy world, where they have no place at all. You'd be surprised just how many scientific assumptions you bring into your fantasy game without realizing it.

Does it get colder the further north you go? Why?  Does the spirit of ice live there, or do you just take for granted that the world is a globe that rotates upon its axis and the colder regions are where the poles are? To me, this is terribly hidebound thinking. If you can accept the existence of dragons and magic and gods, then why must the setting be so boring? The north pole can be the source of all wind and chocolate if that's what you like, and your players have no place to gainsay you, because FANTASY, that's why.

Once you learn to let go of these preconceptions and accept the weirdness, you as the GM gain massive amounts of freedom. Put a glacier right next to a scorching desert if that's what you want. Fantasy should astound and amaze, and having everything be exactly the same as on Earth except with magic isn't especially fantastic.

As a word of warning, however, I would caution against creating a world that makes NO sense, because that will frustrate players (unless you're all into that sort of thing, in which case go for it). As I told a friend of mine:


"Pellatarum is a world that deliberately doesn't make scientific sense. It makes poetic sense.


How does this translate into the antithesis of work? Well, once you've determined why things work, the hows either fall into place or become irrelevant, and that means greater flexibility for incorporating other material.

Do you really like parts of the Forgotten Realms? Put 'em in Pellatarrum. Yank out what you like of Dragonlance and Greyhawk and Dark Sun and whatever else you like, and put them right next to each other if that's what you want. Make a fantasy version of Battleworld if that really suits you.

That's one reason I made the disk of Pellatarrum's Material Plane infinite: it gives me (and you) the ability to put whatever terrain we want, where we want it, without having to account for things like ocean currents and prevailing winds and rain shadows.

If it makes sense to you, put it there. Figure out the why and the rest is easy. That's the opposite of work.


*I would LOVE to see a setting where in place of a moon, the campaign world has a ring system like Saturn.

10 comments:

Talysman the Ur-Beatle said...

*I would LOVE to see a setting where in place of a moon, the campaign world has a ring system like Saturn.

... that you could stand on.

Erin Palette said...

Ring giants instead of Cloud giants, perhaps? With rainbows being bridges from the rings to earth?

Von said...

Very Old Norse.  I like it.

Von said...

Is 1300 words too long for a comment?  I think so.  Still, you appear to have unlocked some Monday morning creativity:

http://kaptainvon.wordpress.com/2011/06/13/arr-pee-gees-sense-and-sensibilities/

Barking Alien said...

Solid stuff. This is my kind of fantasy.

Erin Palette said...

 I have commented upon your comment. Recursion is go!

Von said...

Well, I have commented upon your comment upon my commentary.  SO THERE.

C'nor (Outermonst Toe) said...

 "*I would LOVE to see a setting where in place of a moon, the campaign world has a ring system like Saturn."

That sounds like a fun thing to mess with. I agree that it is good, and should be done.

"That's one reason I made the disk of Pellatarrum's Material Plane
infinite: it gives me (and you) the ability to put whatever terrain we
want, where we want it, without having to account for things like ocean
currents and prevailing winds and rain shadows.



If it makes sense to you, put it there. Figure out the why and the rest is easy. That's the opposite of work."

Not to mention, it means that once you start, if someone wants to play some kind of weird thing, you don't have to worry so much about where their homeland fits in, or bring them in from elsewhere, because you've got plenty of room. And it also means that if I'm playing in one game and running another, as long as they aren't in the same area, it means that we don't have to be careful or completely mess up the other campaign. On an infinite disk, the other side of the world is a long way off. So both of those are even less work once you start using it.

Erin Palette said...

I think the way to counteract that is to just pay especial attention to
"ground level" perception - posts on the grand secrets of the cosmos
without that end up leaving individual GMs turned off, or afraid they'll
interpret that down to the ground level wrong.


Thanks for this. I had one, possibly two posts about cosmology and the rest has been about "practical effects of living in a strange fantasy world" but I do need to be reminded of this, and be mindful of it when I write. The "practical upshot" needs to be foremost at all times.

mxyzplk said...

I totally agree, but the one thing to keep in mind is that with a totally "weird" setting there is a high degree of requirement for explanation of, at least, what players see and how they expect things to work - not in a cosmic sense but in a "when I drop my cup does it reliably fall to the floor, or is that out the window here too?" sense.  That may account for some of the complaints of "work."

I remember a Savage Worlds campaign a friend ran where there were no humans, just a bunch of weird races that were very different - some with wings, some that wanted your body parts to graft to them, etc. He kept forgetting and just saying "there's five guys loading boxes." It made a lot of difference to us tactically if they could fly, or if they could render us orgasmic with a touch, or the other relevant attributes, and it frustrated us no end. He wasn't "doing the work" required to communicate a nonstandard world.

With Pellatarrum there's a bit of that.  "I stand and look at the night sky...  I'm seeing what exactly?" "Do people interpret having a cold as just being sick or is it a sign of influence of one of the elements gone awry?" I think the way to counteract that is to just pay especial attention to "ground level" perception - posts on the grand secrets of the cosmos without that end up leaving individual GMs turned off, or afraid they'll interpret that down to the ground level wrong.

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