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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Firbolg in the Playground
     
    Kobold

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    Default Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    For example:

    Why are elves and humans allies? They compete for the same resources.
    How does an orc society function if they're as stupid and violent as they're often portrayed? If they're not that stupid and violent, can we use them as antagonists without feeling racist?
    How can there be this many spellcasters but society isn't progressing into magitech?

    Stuff like that. I'm having fun doing rationalizations and revisions on my own, so you don't need to offer solutions. Just nitpick at a straw-man D&D verse!
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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    Why is everyone's armor so impractical?
    Humans and elves can be allies for the same reasons that humans and humans can be allies. The real question is "why are we making alliances with all of the elves at once?" Do they not have political divisions of their own?
    Last edited by VoxRationis; 2015-12-19 at 11:30 AM.

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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    There are several ways around that alleged problem.

    Core to it is remixing what the separate "races," actually are. Perhaps Human, Elf and Orc are just variations of some earlier forerunner species. Or literally creations by some other being.

    One setting idea I had was primarily that Humans, Elves and Orcs have a primordial forerunner. But at present the Elf and Orc strain have instabilities. Elves suffer crippling mental diseases in their later lives. A kind of madness in old age is not uncommon for Elves, think magical Alzheimer disease. Orcs have brute strength in droves but are often born with grotesque mutations and sometimes debilitating mental impairments from birth. Today the vast majority of Elves and a third of all Orcs are Half-Human for that reason. The Elites bred with humans as they were remarkably stable and healthy creatures.

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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    Impractical fortresses not just away from strong support systems but with no alternate means to compensate for them. And towns with the same issue.
    And tiny mini-societies with the complex hierarchical systems that generally need large numbers of people to work.

    Elf food production

    Dwarf food production

    Orc food production/population densities on "marginal lands"

    Lack of price variation from town to town

    Elf skill relative to shorter lived creatures skill levels

    Predator density

    Unchanged murder and inheritance laws in a world where speak to dead is at least somewhat available

    Clear post death results having little to no impact on mortal society. (Don't need the details-we have specialists for that but help from Devils lead to torture while help from angels leads to bliss high - with verifiable, repeatable results)

    Lack of money making services that use even a small amount of magic to greatly increase profits. A commodity price information agency would make a killing off a couple dozen agents half that number of wizards and whispering wind spells.
    Last edited by sktarq; 2015-12-19 at 03:31 PM.

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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    For me, the first thing that really broke it was languages. Somehow humans had diverse names and appearances but spoke "Common," a uni-language that unites the whole species. Likewise for Elves and Dwarves, I just could not suspend disbelief after that.

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    BlackDragon

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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    I always thought of Common as something like Latin during the middle ages/renaissance. People spoke other languages (Italian, French, etc.), but those with education (the upper classes + clergy) could use Latin to communicate with each other. In this scenario, most or all writing would be in Common; there would also be regional vernacular spoken languages, but D&D simplifies it to "all the important people can communicate without much effort."

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    Flumph

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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    As for "common" I find it best to give it a name and a touch of history. And have mostly the educated or those who deal with outsiders know it. (somewhere between Latin the Middle Ages, Greek from way back when through the Byzantine Empire or German in Eastern Europe either during or post the Hapsbergs)
    Then have people do most of their daily stuff in a local language-which the PC's should learn if they want to become movers and shakers.

    Some setting though to cover it via having Greyhawk's Old Kingdom, Eberron's Galifar Empire etc that were dominant enough that their languages are still common even though they have fallen.

    As for elves and dwarves-I give some leeway for the "fewer generations" argument but think that the various racial nations need some regular contact to keep the language together over time. Otherwise I would think cultural splits (like Gold vs Shield dwarves in FR would speak different languages)

    Oh and the one nation per humanoid race/subrace thing always got me.

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    NecromancerGirl

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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    In my case, humans and elves don't compete all that much for resources, per se. They do on some level, but they tend to specialize in different techniques and materials.

    As for languages, even though, as a casual linguist, I love working on languages, in my favorite of my fantasy settings (non-D&D), there's actually only one language. There's lots of dialects, but the gods didn't create the races just to have them speak a different language each. In addition, the gods were in contact with the mortal races until about 300 years ago, so there was some standardization. Dialects have started springing up in the meantime, though, but it's not terribly worse than the American/British split over English.

    My own pet peeves... hard to say. Automatically-evil anything annoys me. Most of my pet peeves are on a micro-level - things like driving horses harder than they would survive - but on a worldbuilding scale, I dislike seeing blatant ignorance of psychology.

    Also! Darkness as evil and light as good. But that's more a fantastic design choice than something that makes me say, "That's not reasonable..."

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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    In a setting where there are bigger nastier things who want to eat people I don't have a problem with elves and humans allying against those things.

    What does bother me is unreasonably long histories, especially when characters from those histories are alive, kicking, and still acting like teenagers.

    Ultimate evil I'm not a fan of either.

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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    More often than not, any fantasy timeline is vastly improved by removing one 0 from every number.
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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    The idea of "lost lore" in a world where immortal demons, devils, and angels that have existed since the dawn of time are available for questioning to the right spellcaster. Not to mention the Gods themselves - no piece of historical, technological, and/or magical knowledge should be capable of becoming "lost" unless most or all of the immortal, actively-invested-in-mortal-activities Gods want it to become lost.

    And I have actually been forced to extend the timeline of a setting, due to poor planning around the lifespans of various races. I had some events that I wanted to have faded largely into legend for the common people, with only well-connected scholars knowing the true details. Originally, I figured 750 years in the past would be plenty... until I realized that there would be an entire generation of somewhat-elderly elves who would have heard all about that time period from their parents, or even remember it themselves from early childhood. Ultimately, I guess this should add "extremely long-lived mortal races" to the things that break my verisimilitude, since information would pass through the generations so radically differently in a race that lives 700 years than in a race that lives 70.

    I'll echo others above in disliking the way non-human races get a subrace for every distinct culture or nation, while humans can have dozens of times as many cultures/nations without a single subrace to their name.
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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    Quote Originally Posted by shadow_archmagi View Post
    For example:

    Why are elves and humans allies? They compete for the same resources.
    Not necessarily. In pre-industrial times, most large scale agriculture was practiced in river valleys and along gentle hillsides. If the elf forests are mostly in the mountains, or rainforests far from the rivers, then they're unlikely to compete with humans for living space, and the two would have plenty to trade with each other.

    That's assuming you want to keep the generic straw DnD-verse status quo, of course. In my own setting humans and elves are NOT typically allies, because both of them are land-grabbing *******s who are always trying to transform nearby lands into their own preferred biome (humans expand their farmlands, elves expand their eco-engineered forests). When they're able to get along, its usually because either a) there's a geographical barrier that makes landgrabs impractical, or b) they have a mutual alliance with dwarves who act as mediators. Neither of them really compete with dwarves.

    How does an orc society function if they're as stupid and violent as they're often portrayed? If they're not that stupid and violent, can we use them as antagonists without feeling racist?
    I...dislike "orcs" as a concept. In Lord of the Rings, the orcs were dysfunctional mutants who can only barely survive without the oversight of the dark gods who sired them. They really don't make sense outside of the context of that setting. This goes for both literal orcs, and the various serial-numbers-filed-off orc substitutes (goblinoids, ogres, kobolds, the list goes on).

    If you want to use the orc archetype, and you don't want to give them a supernatural explanation like Tolkien's, the solution is to make them less stupid. Look at various raider cultures from throughout history for inspiration and adapt things as you wish to account for the non-humanlike aspects of the species in question.

    To stay as close as possible to the description given to orcs in the monster manual (tribal nomads from harsh wastelands who periodically raid the civilized lands), I'd have them be herdsmen. Herding cultures can survive in harsh environments, they can eventually build up large populations while still having a tribal structure, and they tend to be very violent. Read up on the pre-Islamic Arab tribes, or the mongols before Genghis Khan.

    How can there be this many spellcasters but society isn't progressing into magitech?
    If the spells/feats/whatever to create magic items are very rare and only a few master magicians have them, that would explain it. You wouldn't even need to change the prereqs for PC's who want to take those abilities, if you're going with the typical DnD assumption that the PC's are exceptional, larger-than-life heroes.

    Alternately, just make casters rarer.
    Last edited by Blake Hannon; 2015-12-20 at 09:24 AM.

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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    Quote Originally Posted by Blake Hannon View Post
    They really don't make sense outside of the context of that setting.
    That goes for so many things in Lord of the Rings! Middle-Earth really is a case of a very specific and unique setting, but way too many people treat it as a generic template.
    We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on very tall tower of other dwarves.

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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    Quote Originally Posted by avr View Post
    In a setting where there are bigger nastier things who want to eat people I don't have a problem with elves and humans allying against those things.

    What does bother me is unreasonably long histories, especially when characters from those histories are alive, kicking, and still acting like teenagers.

    Ultimate evil I'm not a fan of either.
    Quote Originally Posted by Yora View Post
    More often than not, any fantasy timeline is vastly improved by removing one 0 from every number.
    Ah, yes, I notice that a lot. One egregious example is the PSX JRPG Legend of Dragoon. Love that game, but they have the events of the Dragon Campaign as 11,000 years ago. Eleven thousand?! We're modern day and we barely know anything about what happened to us that long ago! I think you could take off two zeros from that one! Of course, I could say the same for Fallout, at least as far as the terrain is concerned...

    Anyway, that's why my own original setting is just under 800 years old. Turns out, when you start describing the history of a nation bit-by-bit, a lot can happen in even a century...

    Quote Originally Posted by Yora View Post
    That goes for so many things in Lord of the Rings! Middle-Earth really is a case of a very specific and unique setting, but way too many people treat it as a generic template.
    Yeah. Tolkein put a truly admirable amount of work into his setting, right down to figuring out how the armies of Sauron get fed (basically, Mordor isn't all wasteland), but a lot of the later writers just lifted the aesthetics from his settings without the underlying lore to support it. In Tolkein's world, pretty much everything that wouldn't make sense in a generic fantasy setting has reasons for it.

    Sadly, if anything becomes popular enough it gets imitators and becomes cliche. I'm not sure if D&D had things as well thought-out in the early days, but now, if you want lore for anything you're going to have to dig for it...
    Last edited by Dusk Raven; 2015-12-20 at 05:32 PM.

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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    Quote Originally Posted by Dusk Raven View Post
    Ah, yes, I notice that a lot. One egregious example is the PSX JRPG Legend of Dragoon. Love that game, but they have the events of the Dragon Campaign as 11,000 years ago. Eleven thousand?! We're modern day and we barely know anything about what happened to us that long ago! I think you could take off two zeros from that one! Of course, I could say the same for Fallout, at least as far as the terrain is concerned...
    If you think that's bad, look at the Eberron timeline. The Gatekeeper druids have apparently survived as an organisation for ~16 000 years, vaguely game-relevant stuff starts 100 000 years ago, the goblinoids of Darguun are apparently trying to revive an empire which fell 9 000 years ago (the memory of which has apparently been kept alive by oral history, among races with human-like lifespans) ... and it still falls victim to Everyl's problem where they forgot how many elves and gnomes would remember the events of the Last War.

    Edit: basically Keith Baker is a good writer, terrible with numbers. He also put up sizes and orbital distances for the moons in an online article, without first working out that this meant the largest would cover IIRC 1/4 the width of the sky. 9 times the apparent width of Earth's Moon. And population numbers which made Khorvaire less thickly populated than the Australian Outback.
    Last edited by avr; 2015-12-21 at 10:48 AM.

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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    Humans and Elves allying isn't too bad in my opinion. They can ally for the same reasons two groups of humans do: to achieve common goals, or for mutual defence. What I do find odd, though, is the rivalry between Elves and Dwarves in most settings. One lives on the surface, the other lives underground - why is there conflict between them?
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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    Quote Originally Posted by Doomchicken View Post
    Humans and Elves allying isn't too bad in my opinion. They can ally for the same reasons two groups of humans do: to achieve common goals, or for mutual defence. What I do find odd, though, is the rivalry between Elves and Dwarves in most settings. One lives on the surface, the other lives underground - why is there conflict between them?
    Simply because Tolkien did it and most derivative authors can't tell the difference between a necessary aspect of the genre and a specific case in a specific world.

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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    Quote Originally Posted by VoxRationis View Post
    Simply because Tolkien did it and most derivative authors can't tell the difference between a necessary aspect of the genre and a specific case in a specific world.
    It does seem that way sometimes. There's a lot of Middle Earth clones out there. Strangely, most of them settings don't have Hobbits/Halflings, but have most of the other stuff.
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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    Quote Originally Posted by shadow_archmagi View Post
    How can there be this many spellcasters but society isn't progressing into magitech?
    Just the opposite, magitech bothers me. If magic is used to make devices, why should those devices bear such resemblance to our own? Some resemblance in function, sure, since we invent the things we want to have and those wants may be largely the same. But why should there be any resemblance at all in form and means of operation?

    Maybe there's been enough said on languages, but... Each race (or well defined group of races) has its own language. A person might speak another race's language, but they are very rarely shared. Except Common.

    And the limit on language learning. It's well known of human brains in the real world that learning languages makes it easier to learn more, not harder.

    Standard spell lists. Every Sor/Wiz gets to learn and pick spells from the same list. Every Cleric gets to pick spells from the same list. Etc. Unless someone goes through the arduous process spell research, which most players don't. Making up one's own spells should be both a lot easier and mandatory.

    On a similar note, the standard list of magic items. This is on a similar note because they both amount to "magic is too standardized." How can magic be suitably wondrous when both spells and items are listed like a Chinese take-out menu?

    Unsustainable predator:prey ratio, which is a result of all the predatory monsters. Or, if one addresses that by saying that the monsters are really rare, then there are too many dangerous random encounters.

    Most monsters are just stat balls in costumes. Each one should have it's own reason for being, and for being where it is. DMs don't have to use all the monsters in the Manual(s), but most of us (including me) never make up our own abbreviated lists and corresponding random encounter tables.

    And, while I'm on the subject of random encounter tables, they are based on climate and terrain, but are not regional. Identical climates and terrains can have wildly different animal populations just because they're in different places, but we don't see that. For a small scale real world example, chipmunks and grey squirrels occupy essentially the same niches, but you'll usually see only one or the other is a given location because they compete. You'll see both in a few places where there's lots of food to scavenge, but more often in my experience just one or the other. Or, on a larger scale, American and Eurasian lynxes; the primary reason that one is there and one is here is the ocean between them. The same ought to be true of, say, orcs and goblins, on an appropriate geographic scale.
    Last edited by jqavins; 2015-12-21 at 01:41 PM.
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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    Quote Originally Posted by Tzi View Post
    For me, the first thing that really broke it was languages. Somehow humans had diverse names and appearances but spoke "Common," a uni-language that unites the whole species. Likewise for Elves and Dwarves, I just could not suspend disbelief after that.
    In my campaign setting, Common is a simplistic trade language. Basically an excuse for vendors to always be capable of interacting with players.

    But I explicitly forbide the use of Common to communicate complex ideas.

    Likewise, languages are national/regional, not racial.
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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    Quote Originally Posted by sktarq View Post
    Impractical fortresses not just away from strong support systems but with no alternate means to compensate for them. And towns with the same issue.
    And tiny mini-societies with the complex hierarchical systems that generally need large numbers of people to work.
    I'm not sure what you mean by these two. Could you elaborate?

    Elf food production
    That's easy. Elves are all about nature magic, right? They can be masters of ecological engineering, manipulating their home forests into perfectly suitable elf habitats. The bushes and shrubs all have berries, the herbs and smaller plants are all edible or have starchy roots, the trees all bear fruit or nuts, the fungi that colonize the fallen trees are all edible, even the insects and spiders aren't bad fried. The fruit tree canopies are shaped in just such a way to attract flights of roosting doves and pigeons, the rivers and ponds shaped to catch nutrient waste from the forest and grow huge schools of carp and catfish. An elf forest only looks natural to the untrained eye.

    Its still not as efficient as human agriculture, but since elves typically have a slow birthrate and long lifespans their population density is likely going to be lighter than ours, so they can get by.

    Dwarf food production
    This is trickier.

    One solution is to have dwarves practice conventional agriculture and pastoralism in the sheltered valleys and plateaus within their mountains. That makes them less of a subterranean race though, which kind of ruins them.

    I remember someone on the old WOTC boards suggested dwarven aquaculture, with huge natural or artificial lakes under sun-windows. You'd still need the dwarves to get some kind of fish food to support that though, and the space requirements to raise enough fish for a decently sized dwarven city would be kind of ridiculous.

    The best option is probably just to go full fantasy and invent a whole underground ecosystem that isn't based on photosynthesis. The underdark in a lot of settings has forests of giant, luminous mushrooms all over the place. Maybe those mushrooms (or a similar underdark producer) saps energy from the spirit of the earth or something, which in a DnD world is no more or less mystical than being fed by the light of the sun. Maybe there are heat-using plants that create huge tangled forests around underground hot water and magma vents? These producers are then food for all sorts of underground fauna. This could feed not only the dwarves, but also all the various underdark races who typically have the same issues.

    If you use that last approach, dwarven cuisine is going to be very different from what the surface dwellers eat, since its all derived from an alien ecosystem. Maybe there's a roaring trade in exotic foods between the dwarf caverns and the cities of the surface races? Major cities might have pricey dwarf restaurants where you can order glowy mushroom salad with authentic blind cave shrimp sauce, while meanwhile wealthy dwarves in their caverns are paying top dollar for such exotic delicacies as mashed potatoes and lamb chops?

    Orc food production/population densities on "marginal lands"
    Like I said earlier, herding makes sense for orcs.

    You might also want to make them natural scavengers, with digestive systems like bears or pigs, able to eat just about anything organic, even if they prefer proper food.

    Lack of price variation from town to town
    This one is pretty much impossible to justify, unless you do something like the Tippyverse and have a teleportation network that makes it easy to move goods across the world.

    Elf skill relative to shorter lived creatures skill levels
    This one is easy.

    Elf NPC's are all a few levels higher than their counterparts among other races, which also compensates for elves being fewer in number. If you're playing an elf PC and starting at level one, just say that you're a very young elf.

    Predator density
    One approach is to have the world be absurdly bioproductive, everything overgrown and teaming with life. Your campaign setting is going to look very different than most if you do this, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

    Another is to just change the lore for a bunch of the monsters and make them herbivores. That won't stop you from using them as enemies; some of the most violent and territorial animals in real life, like hippos, rhinos, and wild bulls, are herbivores.

    Unchanged murder and inheritance laws in a world where speak to dead is at least somewhat available
    How much of a change would this really cause? Speak With Dead would just give you a new way of gathering (very strong) evidence for such cases. The laws themselves wouldn't necessarily be different.

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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    Quote Originally Posted by Blake Hannon View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by sktarq View Post
    Dwarf food production
    One solution is to have dwarves practice conventional agriculture and pastoralism in the sheltered valleys and plateaus within their mountains. That makes them less of a subterranean race though, which kind of ruins them.
    It only ruins one conception of them, i.e. dwarves as altogether subterranean. Personally, that's never been my concept of Dwarves. I see them as masters of stonework and mining, but with most of them having homes on the surface. Their stonework includes a lot of surface buildings, they trade with other surface dwellers, etc. Sure, some prefer to spend all or most of their time underground, but there are dwarven farmers just as there must be Klingon farmers we never hear about.

    Unchanged murder and inheritance laws in a world where speak to dead is at least somewhat available
    How much of a change would this really cause? Speak With Dead would just give you a new way of gathering (very strong) evidence for such cases. The laws themselves wouldn't necessarily be different.
    I agree, but how about murder and inheritance laws where resurrection is at least somewhat available?
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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    The worst offender for me is polytheistic religions that act like monotheistic religions.

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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    Magical deus ex machina devices.
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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    Quote Originally Posted by JoeJ View Post
    The worst offender for me is polytheistic religions that act like monotheistic religions.
    This for certain is part of my gripe with standard D&D religion. Mainly the whole Gods are universal aspect. I.E. no matter what culture you are in all gods and goddesses are uniform across all societies.

    Really, Palor is Sun God good guy law guy everywhere? EVERY CULTURE HAS PALOR?!

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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    Quote Originally Posted by Tzi View Post
    This for certain is part of my gripe with standard D&D religion. Mainly the whole Gods are universal aspect. I.E. no matter what culture you are in all gods and goddesses are uniform across all societies.

    Really, Palor is Sun God good guy law guy everywhere? EVERY CULTURE HAS PALOR?!
    And Pelor, along with every other god, has missionaries and evangelists that try to get people to convert, and an ethos that his priests give sermons about to a congregation that meets once a week, and has faithful believers who go to be with him after they die. The developers apparently have absolutely no idea how polytheistic religions actually work.

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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    Quote Originally Posted by JoeJ View Post
    And Pelor, along with every other god, has missionaries and evangelists that try to get people to convert, and an ethos that his priests give sermons about to a congregation that meets once a week, and has faithful believers who go to be with him after they die. The developers apparently have absolutely no idea how polytheistic religions actually work.
    Eh, its not ..... errrrr the most incorrect. All of those are features of SOME religions, even some mystery cults of the late Roman Empire and post Roman world.

    But like ALL OF THEM!?

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    Default Re: Things that break verismilitude for you in a fantasy setting

    Quote Originally Posted by Tzi View Post
    Eh, its not ..... errrrr the most incorrect. All of those are features of SOME religions, even some mystery cults of the late Roman Empire and post Roman world.

    But like ALL OF THEM!?
    The developers obviously used modern American Christianity as their model and either didn't know or didn't care how different that is from the religions of the ancient world.

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