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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Halfling in the Playground
     
    BlueKnightGuy

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    Default I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    I've done a pretty decent job at crafting a setting with a believable history. When you throw in elves, dragons, mindflayers, centaurs yuan ti, and freaking mermen, my brain just shuts down. If dragons exist, even just a few, how and why are they not dominating everything? If elves are as long-lived as they are...if even one powerful cleric can commune with his deity...if wizards can teleport many miles and all corners of the world arw potentially connected with portals and spells that convey messages...how is anything in the world or its history lost, forgotten, unknown, or unexplored (like us DM's so often need it to be)? Does anyone else struggle with this? Does anyone have any suggested reading to cure me of this?
    Carpe Testiculum

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    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    Quote Originally Posted by Atarax View Post
    I've done a pretty decent job at crafting a setting with a believable history. When you throw in elves, dragons, mindflayers, centaurs yuan ti, and freaking mermen, my brain just shuts down. If dragons exist, even just a few, how and why are they not dominating everything? If elves are as long-lived as they are...if even one powerful cleric can commune with his deity...if wizards can teleport many miles and all corners of the world arw potentially connected with portals and spells that convey messages...how is anything in the world or its history lost, forgotten, unknown, or unexplored (like us DM's so often need it to be)? Does anyone else struggle with this? Does anyone have any suggested reading to cure me of this?
    In general, the principle is that the more fantasy elements a setting contains, of any kind, the more difficult it is to conduct durable world-building.

    If durable world-building matters to you, and it sounds like it does, the simplest approach is to reduce the number of fantasy elements available. It is important to recognize that D&D - the setup that many people are most familiar with - is an all-inclusive kitchen sink. It includes every possible element for the sake of maximizing player options and if that wrecks setting consistency, which it generally does, that's considered acceptable. You're quite right to think that full-power D&D (especially 3.5 or PF) simply does not produce viable settings because it the level of magic involved results in bizarre post-scarcity magitech utopias or horrific dark lord hellscapes.

    But there is no obligation to world-build in this way. If you find fantastical elements problematic, then remove, restrict, or adjust them. It's perfectly fine to build a setting with only a small number of fantastical elements. There are plenty of popular fantasy stories with drastically lower levels of magic than can be found in D&D or its imitators. Even in D&D there are the popular variants of E6/E8 that drastically reduce the level of magic present in any given world.
    Resvier: a P6 homebrew setting

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    Dwarf in the Playground
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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    The usual explanation for lost knowledge is that there was some apocalyptic event that mostly destroyed the old wonders, and most of the magic items and artifacts the players find are ancient relics of a bygone age.

    Anyway, I generally agree - there are too many races and powerful monsters to come up with interesting history and societies for each of them, unless you make them extremely rare or unique, not to mention the ludicrous magical potential of the system.

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    RedWizardGuy

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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    Everyone struggles with this. In an inclusive D&D world, the number of deep, malicious conspiracies against all that is light and good starts to become absurd.* Similarly, other levels of conflict can offer more than enough warring factions and layered conspiracies to fill the world to repletion. There are too many sentient races for each to maintain a viable population within a setting small enough to adventure in using premodern transportation methods. Running a game becomes a matter of choosing what to focus on and what to tacitly or explicitly exclude.


    *You've got devil-worshipers, demon-worshipers, (sometimes daemon-worshipers), multiple separate varieties of each of the above, mind flayer colonies, yuan-ti, various Lovecraftian menaces, unseelie fae, more mundane conspiracies like FR's Zhentarim, vampires, evil deities and their followers who are not aligned with any of the above... I'd love to play a game, either a board game (like a reverse Lords of Waterdeep) or a tongue-in-cheek villainous campaign, where the players are leaders of competing conspiracies whose evil plans keep running into each other in a comedy of errors.

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    WhiteWizardGirl

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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    Some people will tell you to limit the number of fantasy elements in your setting. Those people are cowards who are lacking in vision. (I kid.) I suggest that you take every setting element you decide to include seriously and consider how it works in your setting rather than leaning on tropes and cliches from other media. If the conventional take on a setting element opens up a plot hole, it is your job as DM to fix it. And often that means putting your own twist on how that particular element of the setting works at your table.
    Quote Originally Posted by Atarax View Post
    If dragons exist, even just a few, how and why are they not dominating everything?
    So what if they do? Suppose we have a hundred dragons in total, with a dozen or so who are properly old and dangerous. Why not have them be world leaders? Set your starter village in a Belgium expy where the Orangist partisans are backing King Samothrax the Orange - a Very Old Brass Dragon. After all, dragons are depicted as assuming human guise regardless.
    Quote Originally Posted by Atarax View Post
    If elves are as long-lived as they are...
    Perhaps they do not remember for as long as they live? Humans tend to grow senile after a century of life; perhaps an elf's early memories start fading away at the same time. This would also neatly explain why elven civilizations fail to accumulate an overwhelming expertise advantage.
    Quote Originally Posted by Atarax View Post
    if even one powerful cleric can commune with his deity...
    Perhaps the Gods do not all agree on what histories are true. Perhaps the Devils have their own clerics who preach a false doctrine. Or perhaps the Gods are not all-knowing outside their own domains, such that no one god has a monopoly on ancient secrets.
    Quote Originally Posted by Atarax View Post
    if wizards can teleport many miles
    Even in the base rules, there are ways to foil teleportation: veils of breads draped across a room to leave no unoccupied spaces for a wizard to appear within, false decoy chambers with no entrance or exit, temporary settlements which are uprooted or rebuilt in order to foil knowledge of their layouts, astral and ethereal geography which can be exploited or transformed in order to foil supernatural forms of travel.
    Quote Originally Posted by Atarax View Post
    all corners of the world are potentially connected with portals
    Nowhere intended to be secret or secure - having a portal that you do not control would be entirely defeating the point. Fundamentally, portals are a method of travel not unlike an airport or a train route: they congregate travelers at wealthy hubs of infrastructure, where they can be taxed, restricted and commandeered by state actors. If nothing else, they'll want to protect their borders against military rivals and the possible spread of disease and/or spawn-creating undead.
    Quote Originally Posted by Atarax View Post
    spells that convey messages
    Are no more dangerous to secrecy than the invention of the telegraph. Secrets spread faster once they get out, but it does nothing to discover a truth which is still secret; or to discern a false rumour from a true one. As with the question of portals, this simply adjusts the setting assumptions a step forward in terms of historical analogies. Alternatively (and this goes for the portal question as well) you can simply set your game prior to the historical period in which these technologies became widely available. Maybe there just aren't enough wizards around who know sending for it to be a universally available service.
    Last edited by Grek; 2021-03-04 at 07:07 AM.

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    HalflingPirate

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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    Quote Originally Posted by Atarax View Post
    I've done a pretty decent job at crafting a setting with a believable history. When you throw in elves, dragons, mindflayers, centaurs yuan ti, and freaking mermen, my brain just shuts down. If dragons exist, even just a few, how and why are they not dominating everything? If elves are as long-lived as they are...if even one powerful cleric can commune with his deity...if wizards can teleport many miles and all corners of the world arw potentially connected with portals and spells that convey messages...how is anything in the world or its history lost, forgotten, unknown, or unexplored (like us DM's so often need it to be)? Does anyone else struggle with this? Does anyone have any suggested reading to cure me of this?
    There are several problems intertwined here, and your difficulty is that you see the tangled ball of yarn as one thing. It is many elements, each of which can be solved if you first decide on what kind of campaign you want, and incorporate each element with that in mind.

    Let's say elves. You want a human-demihuman mixed setting, so why aren't the long-lived elves in charge?

    Maybe elves under 200 are too immature and the ones over 300 are too bored for government jobs. They may yearn for how things were when they were young and actually slow technical and social progress when they come to power, allowing more robust societies to dominate them.

    Let's try wizards. Say you want level 20 wizards, but want the PCs to still matter.

    Okay, there are only three of them on the continent.
    3 level 17-20
    6 level 14-16
    9 level 12-13
    18 level 11
    36 level 10

    You can even name them. This makes high level magic attainable, but rare. Your magic items may be ancient or crafted by means other than spellcasting. Level 3 magic may be common, but level 7 magic rare, and the wizard who wishes to attain magic may be so busy with research and adventuring that he has no time to fool around with government.

    Dragons may have once been common, but now are an endangered species due to a kingdom or religion devoted to wiping them out. Now there are thousands of dragonslayer swords lying around waiting for a dragon sighting. The world's remaining dragons may be reclusive and paranoid. Far from wanting to rule anything, they may just want to escape notice.

    Merfolk are stone age barbarians who may craft lovely coral castles, but cannot project power farther than the tip of their whalebone spears.

    Finally, you don't need to explain why things are so in your setting unless you are Tolkien. Just have your NPCs act as if this is normal and react as if the PC got one too many bonks on the head when they suggest otherwise. Maybe the setting is the way it is because the creator liked it that way.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    You do not need to make each setting be a kitchen sink: a world is not fundamentally better because it have more random stuff.
    Last edited by noob; 2021-03-04 at 08:54 AM.

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    ElfWarriorGuy

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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    I'm going to incline more towards the side of picking a handful of fantastical elements to introduce into your world and to make serious, setting-wide changes in response to.

    As for the problem of why magical travel and communication haven't reshaped society, my preferred approach is to make them generally more trouble than they're worth. I amp up the ritual complexity required to cast any "world-altering" spell, like Sending or Teleport. Raising the dead always requires involved, dangerous, costly, and ethically sketchy ritual actions and components. These powerful magics make sense for use in grand circumstances concerning the fate of kingdoms, but are too scary and impractical for everyday implementation. They're not science, and they only tangentially obey consistent rational principles. Sane and sensible people steer well clear of them.
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  9. - Top - End - #9
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Planetar

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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    Quote Originally Posted by Atarax View Post
    I've done a pretty decent job at crafting a setting with a believable history. When you throw in elves, dragons, mindflayers, centaurs yuan ti, and freaking mermen, my brain just shuts down.
    At some point, you need to compromise on one side or another. Fantasy creatures are not inconsistent, but they don't abide to historical consistency, they abide to narrative rules. Even more for those that started to exist as allegories.

    Additionally, don't forget that game mechanics don't need to perfectly match the universe, as they are game mechanics. We all agree that when a combat start, the time doesn't suddenly stops and peoples don't suddenly start acting turn-based. We all agree that just because any PC with 13 Cha can multiclass in Sorcerer doesn't mean that everybody in the world has some Dragon blood waiting to be discovered. But this unperfect match doesn't need to stop here.

    Just because a cleric PC can, by the rule, prepare any single spell of the cleric spell list doesn't mean every cleric in the universe is able to do it. Most cleric might just be unable to change their spell list from day to day. Just because every wizard PC can access to the circle of teleportation spell if they chose to doesn't mean that every wizard in the world is able to master and cast this spell once they reach the appropriate level.
    (IRL, not every scientist is able to master every single part of their domain of expertise, and they might have some trouble on some specific issues)

    Then, just because there is no rule for secondary effects doesn't mean there is no secondary effect. What's the long term health consequences of teleporting? Does that provoke a premature incurable magical alzheimer because of how your brain structure gets messed up each time you use it? Etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by Atarax View Post
    If dragons exist, even just a few, how and why are they not dominating everything?
    Because those who tried were killed, if not hunted to almost extinction? Maybe they used to but they no longer? Maybe they will again in 10 years?
    Give up the idea that the world is stable. Look at IRL history, look every 200 years, it's a whole different world.

    Quote Originally Posted by Atarax View Post
    If elves are as long-lived as they are...
    You can be as long lived as you want, if you are killed, you are killed. Having a life expectancy higher than two centuries just mean you will eventually die in a war (possibly between your own kind) if you don't bunker down and try your best to not attract attention.

    Quote Originally Posted by Atarax View Post
    if even one powerful cleric can commune with his deity...
    Yeah, deity are a tricky subject. But this is a pantheon here, so you're better of with "weak" deities than quasi-omnipotent ones. This mean the deity can be wrong and can fail. In particular, deity don't need to have perfect memory. Chances that they don't remember what happened in the word 100 years ago better than you remember what happened 5 years ago. Deity that have a well organised mean of storing information are probably better of, but even then it what information survive depends on what the Deity cares about.

    Moreover, you probably crafted a reason in-universe for why the gods are not allowed to directly have their avatar walk on the material plane. Maybe this reason also prevent the deity to communicated too much informations through commune?

    Quote Originally Posted by Atarax View Post
    if wizards can teleport many miles and all corners of the world arw potentially connected with portals and spells that convey messages...
    Communication is a robust way of preserving information, but there is a difference between the information being preserved by someone (and kept by them) and the information being known by everyone.

    Those old ruins that you're exploring, maybe the Dwarf knew their location and kept it as a state secret, but since they were pushed away by a war, nobody HERE knew that they existed.

    Quote Originally Posted by Atarax View Post
    how is anything in the world or its history lost, forgotten, unknown, or unexplored (like us DM's so often need it to be)?
    War. Mostly war. Destruction, the only peoples knowing dying, etc. And don't forget peoples or institution that have interest in those information being lost.
    The only reason why the world is not a barren landscape is because there are some gods of fertility that ensures that nature can grow back after destruction.

  10. - Top - End - #10
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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    Quote Originally Posted by Atarax View Post
    I've done a pretty decent job at crafting a setting with a believable history. When you throw in elves, dragons, mindflayers, centaurs yuan ti, and freaking mermen, my brain just shuts down. If dragons exist, even just a few, how and why are they not dominating everything? If elves are as long-lived as they are...if even one powerful cleric can commune with his deity...if wizards can teleport many miles and all corners of the world arw potentially connected with portals and spells that convey messages...how is anything in the world or its history lost, forgotten, unknown, or unexplored (like us DM's so often need it to be)? Does anyone else struggle with this? Does anyone have any suggested reading to cure me of this?
    On the dragon issue, one possibility is that dragons as a general rule simply don't care about dominating everything. Humans as a whole are obsessed with telling other humans what they can and cannot do, even when it involves harmless or entirely personal issues. There's no reason to automatically assume that a dragon cares about anything other than their own individual autonomy and security.

    Merpeople shouldn't have the technology to be an issue for the rest of the worldbuilding, living underwater is a hard hard brake on technological progress.

    Communing with your deity, high-level magic, etc, don't have to be common enough to deeply change the world. And practitioners can be secretive, need to spend a lot of time developing and maintaining their abilities, and otherwise distracted and distanced from the everyday affairs of the world.
    Last edited by Max_Killjoy; 2021-03-04 at 10:46 AM.
    It is one thing to suspend your disbelief. It is another thing entirely to hang it by the neck until dead.

    Verisimilitude -- n, the appearance or semblance of truth, likelihood, or probability.

    The concern is not realism in speculative fiction, but rather the sense that a setting or story could be real, fostered by internal consistency and coherence.

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  11. - Top - End - #11
    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    Quote Originally Posted by Atarax View Post
    I've done a pretty decent job at crafting a setting with a believable history. When you throw in elves, dragons, mindflayers, centaurs yuan ti, and freaking mermen, my brain just shuts down. If dragons exist, even just a few, how and why are they not dominating everything? If elves are as long-lived as they are...if even one powerful cleric can commune with his deity...if wizards can teleport many miles and all corners of the world arw potentially connected with portals and spells that convey messages...how is anything in the world or its history lost, forgotten, unknown, or unexplored (like us DM's so often need it to be)? Does anyone else struggle with this? Does anyone have any suggested reading to cure me of this?
    Putting stuff in for no reason can lead to nonsense, so think about what purpose the thing is going to serve with its inclusion!

    Elves: why are there elves? Where did they come from? Why are they still around? Where are they as a people headed? If the component parts don’t add up to elves that would want to conquer the world, or even engage with it much, then make that obvious. If elves are human/fae hybrids whose bloodline dilutes with human pairings, creatures of fae whimsy not quite in control of their more human emotions, maybe they’re isolating themselves for their own protection and preservation. Long lived creatures will have different risk tolerances. A .1% chance of getting a fatal disease from a yearly activity is something a 70yo human will brush off. The 70yo elf may very well be terrified of that since they still have their whole life ahead of them. Instead of living to 700, their average life expectancy drops to 537 with a 12% chance they won’t see two centuries. Pick a cultural pastime like smoking and it’s not hard to say a majority of elves might just keel over from cancer before long. Sure you can have the 600yo sage, but he’s demonstrably an exception.

    Dragons, (don’t do these wrong or I will send over Marco to bust your kneecaps), are quite varied in their presentations. Again it’s a question of what purpose you want them to serve. When making something such a potent outlier from the rest of the world you usually don’t want too many of them. It’s not too hard to limit the number of mature, world shaking dragons without making them critically endangered (but of course that’s just another plot you can run). As for what dragons do let’s consider they have instincts and motivations alien to our understanding of the world. If they’re big lazy gold lounging lizards who don’t generally care about politics or world domination what do they care about a city beyond its edible populace and the riches? They wouldn’t be tyrants or warmongers, they’d be natural disasters to weather, placate or fight off.

    Of course the risk analysis detail that came up for elves is all the more critical for dragons. So you can live 4000 years? A measly .1% chance of being killed by conflict each year after hatching dumps your life expectancy to under 1000. Maybe most dragons commit suicide by knight once they find themselves with too large an ego, leaving few outliers that win the probability lottery to see the later millennia. Maybe most of the older dragons got killed off semi recently so they’re less populous than they otherwise would be. Maybe dragons are fiercely territorial of other dragons and will fly days to defend their claim from another scaled beast, not minding the humans who set up their little mounds on the patio like ants... at least until they come into the dragon’s lair. Pick a purpose and tune dragons to serve that purpose.

    If you can’t find a good purpose then don’t use the stuff. Pretty simple really. It’s fine to say “no, this setting doesn’t have dragonborn, play something else.”
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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    honestly I'd say just drop the "super intelligent dragons" thing entirely, just make them feral beasts. Maybe one or two smart dragons as magical exceptions, but the rest are just really powerful animals. /maybe/ they still get spells, but that's up to you.

    one thing i found that helps is to make a "Family tree" of the different intelligent races in your setting, and maybe limiting how many of them there actually are. For example in my setting that will likely never be played, there are nine dominant intelligent races. Goblins, Hobgoblins, Bugbears, Elves, Humans, Orcs, Gnomes, Dwarves, and Halflings. They all share a common ancestor, but at some point split off from one another. Humans and Elves are closely related, thus allowing for Half-elves, Orcs aren't far behind, allowing for Half-orcs, but Dwarves, Halflings, and Gnomes are much further back from both humans and eachother, meaning less hybrids with and between those races. the Goblinoids have the most distant relative of all to humans.

    Introducing new races like yuan-ti could always be a problem, but you could say they're either members of other races that were mutated via magic, have a very small population that never spread out too far, or something else of the sort.

    As for things like teleport and communing with the gods, you can always but a soft limit on the magic of the world itself. Perhaps when your players reach the point of having access to teleport, they're only the first or third people with that ability, everyone else requiring mundane methods of travel or communication. You could even make a whole side-quest on figuring it out and learning how to do it right rather then just having the wizard know it by leveling up.
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    BlueKnightGuy

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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    Thank you for all the well thought out answers. I guess my problem is that I'm trying to write a believable history that also incorporates all these fantastic ideas. I do think it can be done without being Tolkien reborn, but...damn... sometimes I just don't know if I have that skillset. If nothing else, I'm a great BS artist, and maybe I can sell it anyway. Once again, this forum proves to be the best place for advice. You could power a small city with the brainpower happening here.
    Carpe Testiculum

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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    I've wrestled with the same issues, and here are a few of the (more generic) solutions I came up with:

    1. Most races weren't originally there. Basically all but goblinoids, elves, and goliaths/dwarves were artificially created, some of them very recently (halflings are only about 800 years old total, and kobolds are 45 years old, as are soul-forged). This means that most of them only exist in small patches on the world.

    2. Dragons long ago (after some historical events with the ancestors of the goliaths/dwarves) made an internal pact. And one of the big things is "thou shalt not get humanoids involved in dragon affairs". Sure, there's a few places where dragons rule, but they've never been much for ruling over humanoids with rare exceptions. Meddling, sure. Ruling? Why bother?

    3. Elves don't live that long. 200 years max. In fact, no one lives forever. That's actually Rule 1: All that lives must die. And there's a corollary that says that on average, integrated output is roughly constant across humanoid races. So the elf that lives for 200 years doesn't really produce more than the goblin who lives for 50 (on average, with really wide error bars). It's just stretched over 200 years.

    4. There have been multiple cataclysmic events that have reshaped how magic works. Which means that a lot of the old artifacts can't even be made anymore--the laws of magic don't support them.

    5. As for gods, they've got several limits
    5a. All the gods are less than 250 years old. The last crop got killed in one of those cataclysmic events.
    5b. The gods are not the biggest thing out there--the Great Mechanism sets rules even for them. And those rules mean that their direct intervention, even in the form of communication, is quite limited. Another of the Rules: Divine power is exhibited through faith.
    5c. There are lots of things the gods don't know. Where do souls come from? Where do they go? Those are the biggest two, but there are many others.

    6. Mages--there's an exponential drop off. As far as anyone knows, in the civilized lands there is exactly 1 person capable of casting 9th level spells. Or at least he was in his prime, but now he's ancient and dissolute.

    7. PCs are not NPCs. Specifically, most of the people out there don't have PC levels. Most priests are not clerics. They might have one or two spells they can cast once per day each, of particular levels determined by the god at his whim. Etc.

    8. There is a portal network, but it's not replicable and is tightly controlled by an international group with the muscle to keep it from being used.
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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    Quote Originally Posted by Atarax View Post
    Thank you for all the well thought out answers. I guess my problem is that I'm trying to write a believable history that also incorporates all these fantastic ideas. I do think it can be done without being Tolkien reborn, but...damn... sometimes I just don't know if I have that skillset. If nothing else, I'm a great BS artist, and maybe I can sell it anyway. Once again, this forum proves to be the best place for advice. You could power a small city with the brainpower happening here.
    One important, and in many ways helpful, thing to consider is that planets are big. Your setting is almost certainly not operating at a planetary scale. more likely you're dealing with a geographic region that contains a modest number of cultures and polities, probably something in the 10-20 range. For comparison, the Roman Empire, at it's greatest extent under Trajan, occupied ~5 million square kilometers, and the Mind Dynasty at its height in 1450 controlled ~6.5 million. The USA, today, is 9.5 million. Being reasonable 2-3 million sq km gets you a very large and varied area, equivalent to almost all of India or Argentina plus a little. Many settings are in fact much smaller. A game set in feudal Japan, for instance, is working with only 380,000 km.

    Earth, by comparison, contains just under 150 million sq km of land. So really, most of the time a game setting is only working with a couple of percent of the planet. Which means it only needs to contain an equivalent percentage of the fantastical stuff. The 3.5 MM, for instance, contains ~400 monster entries. 2% of that would be a mere 8. Now you obviously wouldn't just do that randomly and there's plenty of entries that are ordinary animals with nearly global distributions like dogs and horses, but in terms of the number of capital M monsters you might place in any given setting you might want to pull only 5-10 from any given monster book (spread across 5-6 bestiaries, you could have a setting with only around 30-40 monster types known).

    So include the things you want in your core area (which should also focus on the 1-3 biomes you feel most appropriate) and you can leave everything else safely 'off the map.' You need to know who the neighbors of your core areas are, and they've probably had some historical influence - ex. games about Japan need to mention Korea and China even though it's highly unlikely any character will ever actually go there - but you don't have to juggle the whole world and all its vast complexity at once.

    Admittedly, to make this work you do need to restrict interregional connectivity. Teleport is the great setting destroyer because it allows characters to bamf to the other side of the world in an instant. Do want it takes to keep your setting within the boundaries of a physical scale you can handle.
    Resvier: a P6 homebrew setting

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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    Quote Originally Posted by Mechalich View Post
    Do want it takes to keep your setting within the boundaries of a physical scale you can handle.
    I tried this. My players immediately said "what's over <there>? Let's find out?" which is rather hard to ignore when that's my primary source of fun as well...what was supposed to be small and grounded kinda...exploded.

    I find it important for me (personally) to have a very firm grasp on the underlying metaphysics/fundamental principles. With that, I can easily slot in new stuff as they explore. Without that, all the planning in the world hasn't helped me.
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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    Quote Originally Posted by PhoenixPhyre View Post
    I tried this. My players immediately said "what's over <there>? Let's find out?" which is rather hard to ignore when that's my primary source of fun as well...what was supposed to be small and grounded kinda...exploded.
    Regional boundaries should overlap with natural geographic barriers, not just as a way of controlling setting expansion, but because that's how organizations build anyway. For most regions you would want to use the answer to 'what's over there' is going to be 'ocean' at least half the time, and 'impassable mountains/desert/tundra' the other half. There should also be language barriers. Regional lingua franca are useful conveniences in a fantasy setting, and aren't implausible, but the idea that a party can travel thousands of kilometers in some direction and still have any idea what is going on is really pushing it.

    And sure, you can make games that are primarily about exploration or colonization, but that just means there are two regions, the one the party comes from and the one they're operating within.
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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    Quote Originally Posted by Atarax View Post
    I've done a pretty decent job at crafting a setting with a believable history. When you throw in elves, dragons, mindflayers, centaurs yuan ti, and freaking mermen, my brain just shuts down. If dragons exist, even just a few, how and why are they not dominating everything? If elves are as long-lived as they are...if even one powerful cleric can commune with his deity...if wizards can teleport many miles and all corners of the world arw potentially connected with portals and spells that convey messages...how is anything in the world or its history lost, forgotten, unknown, or unexplored (like us DM's so often need it to be)? Does anyone else struggle with this? Does anyone have any suggested reading to cure me of this?
    Yes, I run aground on a lot of this in past. Honestly, I find there's no real cope except for to accept that things aren't going to fit together precisely because the world is built for player experience.

    Trying to create a coherent fictional world, you're simultaneously trying to have an omniscient perspective--as writer you establish everything that is "true" and there is no other source, but at the same time you're trying to narrativize every single perspective into a just-so story format that audience are familiar and comfortable with. It's exhausting and is never going to feel fully coherent because...nobody can invent that much anthropological detail and then advance all the moving parts across time while making all the perspectives mesh into a coherent cause-effect chain. RPG histories have it worse than history within a fictional setting within a story with a beginning and end, because the entire point is for the world to curve around the premises of gameplay: what happened in the past cannot remove the functional requirements of "adventurers" in the present. It's a more dynamic version of the eternal status quo in comic books: Batman can never save Gotham or get over his trauma, the fantasy world cannot be constructed past or present in a manner that (1) eliminates the (ridiculous) premise of small bands of autonomous operators within a post-collapse where most of the valuable capital is already processed into worked goods that must be salvaged (2) where there are no systemic bars to individual accomplishment and accrual of power but also everyone operates within pseudo-historical modes of hierarchy and social dynamics.

    RPGs settings are as much pseudo-literary as they are pseudo-historical, and this is important when thinking about worldbuilding, because most of the time logic...be it economic, sociological, geographic, etc...is secondary to theme. This is not only a convention, it's also an heuristic: theme tells a player what to expect and what is expected of them in familiar terms so the game can start. I would love to write monographs about made-up worlds, making that the bar for entry into play just eats time that could be spent on collaborative improv theater about murder and loot.

    [Not that use of heuristics can't be done badly. Pretty much the worst thing in world building is an obvious chunk of culture or history that's been whip grafted into a setting with no imagination or effort spent to add novel or even fun elements.]

    The thing I arrived at is writing world building material should be viewed as a part of play- or screen-writing: the back drops and exposition can be detailed, but their function is to position the actors and entertain the audience (who at a table are the same people). There are conventions that function like shortcuts--the biggest convention being "the kitchen sink" itself, so players have a plethora of customization choices but choices are rarely penalized by the setting's Watsonian mores--allowing the actors to do less work explaining the world and allowing the audience to focus on the specific events occurring. A world-build is not a a complete work unto itself. The RPG setting exists only relative to the players and their level of attention. Unless the players directly address it the copious published lore and the personal inventions are marginalia.

    It's perfectly okay if something doesn't fit, but it's in there anyway because it's fun.

    The aim is Romance of the Three Kingdoms, not Record of the Three Kingdoms.

    With regard to a history full of powerful NPCs, consider:

    RPG worlds cannot function as worlds and accommodate their gamplay frame wherein the PCs are central to all action. Equally apply the mechanical systems that allow PCs to be so powerful and capable to NPCs and the world would not have a lens that made the PCs special or heroic. Equally apply the underpinning narrative conceit of personal power translating to systemic power and all societies would have the same shape--an oligarchy of adventurers with a heavy bias towards casters--and the means of obtaining such power (magic items, access to ancient sites full of cash and magic) would be critical infrastructure, prime real estate, locked away precisely because that's the shortcut to power.

    Pretty much every "X should rule the world" argument starts with an assumption that high numbers on a character sheet are destiny: the hypothetical wizard is on paper smart so he'll be a good king, the dragon's stat block says it's the Leon Battista Alberti of cleverness/magic/smashing stuff so dragons should just run everything. This is technically correct but only functions as rhetoric because of its precise level of abstraction. Since the entire scenario is substanceless--unreal beings floating in a contextless void boasting about the result of dice rolls unmade--it's an elongated, fallacious appeal to the odds...but also evokes the gambler's fallacy in that it does not acknowledge that if actions and decisions are mechanized into checks, then each is a separate statistical event and thus failure and critical failure are possible. Fumble rules exists precisely so that failure is possible regardless of static modifiers to the roll. It's a representations of the way that enormous enterprises have been destroyed by trivial personal failings, or by a powerful person making one core assumption that proved to be wrong.

    I'm being slightly jocular, but...over sufficient time and effort, powerful beings are still going to roll enough pivotal 1s that it means they didn't create an eternal world hegemony. Actual people with power and intelligence have done incredibly stupid things...and I don't just mean one unforced error that collapses the souffle in an instant, I mean long term sunk cost fallacy flailing. Imagine rolling a 1 and just doing years of committed roleplaying following up on the bad idea instilled by that fumble: that's a real thing that happens.

    [To say nothing of the thematic utility of tragic failures, great men defeated by their own hubris, and powerful fools dragged everyone competent down, etc. Even when RPGs are played as flat power fantasies, the fantasy is that the players are competent, not that some third party actor has already sorted everything out.]

    More generally--just stop assuming in the setting is that anyone is a rational actor, let alone capable of meta-aware planning. If step one of power hypotheticals is conjuring with the stat block, step two is a rooted-in-economics assumption that all individuals are seeking maximum utility in a generalizable manner, and thus are using their magic/age/money/being-a-dragon consistent with an understandable set of priorities (that coincidentally match those of someone with all their rule books laid out before them and a handy template of what industrialization looks like). Anybody important enough to mention in a history should be enough of a character to have flaws and perspective such that their actions, including errors and failures, can be explained in Watsonian terms. And that needn't be an essay, it can just be a sentence or two.

    Especially since adventurers are clearly weirdos and perverts dwelling in a demimonde only a few escape from. It makes sense they'd not do anything normal with their wealth and power and instead wander off to found their own dungeons or just adventure bigger on some other plane of existence.


    With regard to the idea of spamming about magic to connect the world

    ...it's a good idea if you're thinking like an omniscient player working on the abstract assumption that everyone will play nice because market forces are rational and shared development lifts all boats, but it's a terrible idea if you think like you're stuck in that world, and even when in-world it's a good idea people are awful and won't do what's long-term mutual beneficial.

    A teleport circle is a strategic gap in personal or national defense so serious that the negotiations over their placement and operation would resemble international arguments over missile deployment. A nation with teleports is a nation that just destroyed a great deal of its jobs and made a lot of internationally-powerful mercantile powers very angry and kneecapped its own ability to tax trade and control distribution of goods. A privately held teleport inside a nation is exactly the same security and economic threat, but also an extra threat because the owners of each side now has the power to control movement that undermines the very idea of states and borders...and is also terrifying because the world's full of clever people that appropriate resources like that.

    Almost all society-transforming magic hacks destroy existing social order so thoroughly that absolutely everybody would be terrified of them because they represent an existential criss, everybody with power would object because it removed the basis of their power, and there's the even more terrifying prospect that magic on that scale means, at minimum, a social structure re-ordered around a small cabal of magic dudes (who hopefully don't go mad or develop any weird obsessions) and potentially far worse unintended consequences down the road if the magic goes wrong or someone makes the magic go wrong.

    [In my opinion one thing that really is lacking in fantasy RPGs is the idea of magic as actual infrastructure that requires maintenance. There's a lack of magic things going bad because all the intricate material bits are misaligned or damage, and very rarely the equivalent of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge or the Bhopal accident...which I think would be very interesting and would also twist the power fantasy of Everything Magic Industrial Revolution.]

    There's a similar issue with all information circulation in fantasy worlds. Even if someone knows of something dangerous, there's little incentive to distribute that information because basically everything dangerous also has utility, and many dangerous locations are deliberately made dangerous by someone working an angle who wants people to shut up. Dungeons, crypts, and ruins are closer to concealed weapon labs, black sites, and WMD storage facilities than they are to real-world dungeons, crypts, and ruins. Pretty much everybody working in top tier magic is guarding their IP in an underground bunker but also has ears out to see if anyone's taking notice: for most people, most of the time, shutting up and keeping their heads down is safer. Adventures tend to start at the precise moment that the villagers calculate that shutting up isn't keeping the body count low. But even "adventurers" aren't incentivized to share information, because their entire economy is plunder-based and each location is chance to get rich quick.

    The rapid disintegration of historical information in fantasy settings...actually makes a kind of sense. Most of the important ruins full of magic stuff were created by cultures with an incentive to...not share anything with anybody...and often even had internal barriers in which only people at the top of the hierarchy were Need to Know. Magic also meant unique ways of retaining information without creating records that could be translated or decoded just through analysis and study, so there'd be less documentation and correspondence. On top of this, a lot of the archaeological clues that could point one to an important site relate to logistics...roads, water sources, food supply...that magic circumvents or conceals. And when these societies collapse they tend to leave very few survivors and very little of the kind of normal material culture that allows others to fully understand what happened. Magic civs tend to collapse like Thera did...in a boom large enough that everybody remembers the end, but has to speculate about what happened before the end...but also be the kind of jerks where nobody misses them or cares to devote time and energy to preserving their culture.

    On dragons:

    Dragons are the ne plus ultra of smart and magic and being giant fighty things. There are beings that are as powerful, but those are either putting in lot of effort to reach that tier, doing team-ups, or have subjected themselves to one of those tedious supernatural forces that grants conditional power. Dragons are effortless in all their power, and they value that eliteness and the independence it grants them: their culture is very much one of each dragon pursuing their own interests in their own domain, with lethally formal etiquette circumscribing who can interlope or interfere with the actions of another. Even when they're nice and willing to aid others it's magnanimity not solidarity. Interacting with other things is always looking down and demanding they look up.

    A dragon that obsesses over collecting and tending bipeds...caring about the shape of their habits...is weird like a cat lady. Sure it makes sense to be worshiped by bipeds, and dictate terms to them and be amused by their obedience and awe. It's even fun to pass for one briefly, and play power games at their handicap level...but to actually devote time and energy to regimenting their existence generation after generation--that's some kind of outre fetish, dallying with the things that can't possibly pose a challenge....

    On elves and long lived creatures:

    Being an elf is like living the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. Compared to someone who live 80 years, you'd perceive time and change differently. To the former and 200 year old tree is An Old Thing that collects awe by virtue of its age; to the latter that same tree is a thing that will flourish and die and be replaced by another tree that will flourish, age, and die. Things that would be singular events--prodigies and miracles--to the latter would be cycles to the latter.

    As an individual the things you experience don't feel like "history"--someone else, usually someone younger, has to come along and explain that you were living history--and I think if you lived to be a 1000 it would still feel that way, particularly if you spent most of your time around other people who had the same experience of time. And "history" would feel different because generations would have so much overlap: your grandparents wouldn't be people you knew for a slice of two decades during which you were a child they handled carefully; your great grandparents wouldn't be a small collection of stories and artifacts threaded into a summary. The great and terrible events of the past would be preserved not as overarching records, but as deeply personal transmissions filled with subjective impression and sensation: would a central record, a unifying story of What Was even be necessary? History is a narrative to weld people together by positing a common past that explains the culture of the present, but if the people of the past are so near, so intimate, the attempt to form a sweeping narrative would feel forced and artificial. Every elven story would be both large and personal--bildungsroman as historical epic--and filled with emotion and impression.

    It would all be very personal. It's not just a war five hundred years ago where soldiers were little strategic widgets; it's the war where grandad died and dad had to crudely bury him in the field of contest and couldn't find tears in the midst of the exhaustion and the exhiliration, and has felt shame ever since. It's not abstract triumphs and the smear of retroactively-shared "victory," it's the deeply private mix of relief and grief and trauma. All of which, I think, would mean that elves would not simply be easy-access accumulations of data about the past. What a human would think of as "long ago" and involved people so long dead they are abstractions would for an elf have a personal dimension--even if it wasn't their story, they could imagine those people from ago, empathize with them or recall details that made the something more than information. I think it would be very hard for an elf to talk about the past with a human, because the two would have entirely different emotional and informational landscapes. The human would find the elf sentimental and unfocused and lost in poetic detail, and the elf would find the human cold and offensively demanding.

    It's floated in some editions of D&D that elves don't become "adult" and adventure until they've lived a 100 years, and what I like to imagine is that this is not a function of physical maturation, but because longevity imposes on elves unique distress and confusion when dealing with shorter-lived beings: the existential terror of realizing your non-elf intimates will decline and die while you don't change; the loss and alienation as aging robs others of physicality and memory and dignity; the incredible anger felt when someone whose life is already fleeting takes foolish risks or fails to appreciate fleeting good moments; the bafflement faced with people who see the past as finished things set on a shelf for storage, to be taken down and briefly admired, as opposed to the roots that grow the trunk that grows the branches that will bear the seeds that will grow the next roots....

    The kitchen sink:

    Fantasy settings have hard to conceptualize relationships with scale and density. Part of this is that they sample high fantasy, so things are often big--big kingdoms, big armies, big magic things--to convey awe. The other half is the two-headed snake of producers wanted to sell new stuff under the umbrella of established IP, so settings keep getting new widgets; and evolving audience tastes wanting their preferred widgets in popular settings. It's an inevitability, and we are many, many cycles into this where new IP often exists only to compare and contrast itself with old IP and present the merits of its own stuffing-of-widgets arrangement.

    When building a setting it's good idea for there to be gaps in the world...both the history and the geography...in case you have a clever thing you want to fit in at a later date, and there's always the option of the "here there be dragons" regions beyond the map actually containing more stuff. Particularly if there's new political entities or big chunky new adventuring regions that needed to be dropped in somewhere.

    Honestly, though, with a lot of the "designated antagonist" sapient species--like yuan ti and illithids--part of the beauty is that they're modular. They don't actually have to be fluidly integrated into the setting space because they're, in the lore, things that hold themselves apart and specifically hide: no reason to site them on a map, just wait until you want to use them and then snap them until place like a peripheral device. A yuan ti nest can be hidden underneath anything...a forest, the city's public baths...on a moment's notice. This is true even of the critters that are typically presented as outlanders that do ooccupy space in the setting--orcs, goblins, etc--with the vagaries of planar travel and divine intervention, they dont' actually have to take up space: they can just arrive when needed. There are also the socially invisible: most societies have nomads and outcasts that are operate in a way that they move through "normal" sedentary cultures but are not acknowledged beyond their occasional utility

    (And...if needed...an explanation can be made for where they came from)

    This works temporally, too. Any of the cryptic, intrigue-and-hiding heavy creatures can be retroactively inserted into the setting's history. Things that live in extreme environments may have non-intersecting history--mermen have no stories that surfaces would understand--or not have the kind of history that appears on the surface of grand--lots of foragers and nomads exist and experience change and transformation, but retain their past only as personal narrative, and their experiences don't impact power politics and are thus almost never a part of formal history.

    And in the case of new playable species dropping into a region or setting...honestly mutualism and shared culture across species makes a lot of sense (and the idea of one species/one culture/one biome is just terrible) compared to create yet another cultural isolate. Your classic fantasy races, your classic antagonist races that have been retrofitted to be playable, and your new Eberron-y races all are critters that have roughly the same physical needs, and most don't have physical processes that are noisome to the rest...nobody's rubbing scent glands on stuff or coughing up compacted pellets...such that most subsistence cultures (learned systems of survival keyed to an environment's specifics) would work as good for one as another.

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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    Quote Originally Posted by Atarax View Post
    I've done a pretty decent job at crafting a setting with a believable history. When you throw in elves, dragons, mindflayers, centaurs yuan ti, and freaking mermen, my brain just shuts down. If dragons exist, even just a few, how and why are they not dominating everything? If elves are as long-lived as they are...if even one powerful cleric can commune with his deity...if wizards can teleport many miles and all corners of the world arw potentially connected with portals and spells that convey messages...how is anything in the world or its history lost, forgotten, unknown, or unexplored (like us DM's so often need it to be)? Does anyone else struggle with this? Does anyone have any suggested reading to cure me of this?
    I don't think others touched on this as much... but don't forget, creatures and factions have rivals and enemies.

    So there are dragons. So what? In addition to the point raised above about them not necessarily thinking the way humans do, dragons are competitors. They compete for all the things dragons want - food and hoards, usually. Dragons of the same ilk will also be fighting over mating opportunities. Wyrmlings are powerful by the standards of normal animals, but they aren't invulnerable. Apart from intra-species conflict, I bet predatory monsters would eat a dragon wyrmling any day (not unlike how eggs and hatchlings/cubs are favoured foods of many a predator). Then factor in folk who will want to slay dragons, and you have reason to believe dragons aren't always large and in charge.

    So there are clerics communing with their deities. So what? D&D deities aren't resumed to be omniscient. Any given deity will have rivals or enemies within the pantheon, and they will want to keep their secrets. Other powerful otherworldly creatures might also be able to keep secrets from deities.

    Any power in this world has comparable powers that hate it and want it to die, and even if they can't just kill it, they can stymie its efforts, hide things from it, and the like.

    Taking this into account isn't a cure-all, but it helps.
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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    I have two answers in my settings that I pretty consistently go for. It's either

    "This is a weird kitchen punk setting, don't ask too much about it. Embrace the chaos of a world with 200 intelligent races all somehow surviving"

    or

    "Nah, that doesn't exist."

    Last time I tried to write a D&D setting with a detailed history, it had humans, elves and dwarves (statted as gnomes) as primary intelligent races. There were exactly three known dragons in the world, one of which was currently awake and creating dragonborn and kobolds as minions with magic. There were anywhere from 5-7 gods in the world, depending on who you ask, each with exactly one supernatural servant race. For a while, I considered putting in Aboleths under the sea for one adventure, but decided against it.

    And high level magic was generally rare.


    (If anyone cares about dragons specifically, all known dragons are great old wyrms that are near immortal. They are intelligent and magical but sleep for centuries at a time, then wake up ravenously hungry. Two dragons wake up every few centuries and go on rampages. Their sleep is monitored by a dedicated international order that is trying to prepare for the inevitable devastation, of the kind that creates new deserts when the fire dragon wakes up.
    The third dragon is the Dragon Empress. She also sleeps for centuries, but her magic is more mental and transformative. She created a half-draconic hierarchy that serves her and prepares tribute and food for when she wakes up every few centuries. They send out heralds every so often, announcing that in ten years, the Empress will wake up and all neighboring nations better send a few ships of treasure.)
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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    Quote Originally Posted by Mechalich View Post
    Regional boundaries should overlap with natural geographic barriers, not just as a way of controlling setting expansion, but because that's how organizations build anyway. For most regions you would want to use the answer to 'what's over there' is going to be 'ocean' at least half the time, and 'impassable mountains/desert/tundra' the other half. There should also be language barriers. Regional lingua franca are useful conveniences in a fantasy setting, and aren't implausible, but the idea that a party can travel thousands of kilometers in some direction and still have any idea what is going on is really pushing it.

    And sure, you can make games that are primarily about exploration or colonization, but that just means there are two regions, the one the party comes from and the one they're operating within.
    I dislike this, as a matter of personal taste. That basically means you're on small islands or contrived "there are visible invisible walls everywhere" scenario. That's basically just enforcing invisible walls for DM convenience at the setting level.

    I have a post-cataclysmic setting where people are expanding out from a bunch of scattered "points of light". They all shared a common language before the cataclysm, but everyone thought that the others were destroyed. So much of it is pretty natural. But yes, if they leave the half-continent (or really even get to the fringes), they do encounter language issues. Heck, most of the sub-populations speak "common" as a trade language at most, rather than their native language.
    Last edited by PhoenixPhyre; 2021-03-05 at 12:19 PM.
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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    Something to read for inspiration would be Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos series.

    Vlad begins the series as a human assassin in an empire of elves (the terminology is a bit different in the book). Things that are extremely common in the series include psychic powers, teleportation, and resurrection (to the point where there are three kinds of assassination: regular, permanent, and Morganti, which uses special weapons which destroy the soul; regular assassinations might be used to simply send a warning). Almost everyone has some degree of magical power (provided by being citizens of the Empire), but many don't learn to use it beyond some cantrip-level stuff (checking the time, maybe an umbrella spell).

    It has a lot of in-series definitions of things (like necromancy), but it's accessible and a good look at worldbuilding between an elven empire, and issues dealing with the adjacent and present humans.
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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    Quote Originally Posted by PhoenixPhyre View Post
    I dislike this, as a matter of personal taste. That basically means you're on small islands or contrived "there are visible invisible walls everywhere" scenario. That's basically just enforcing invisible walls for DM convenience at the setting level.
    It doesn't mean small islands at all. I said 2-3 million kilometers for a setting/region. That's a big area, like the size of Argentina, which is the 8th largest country on Earth. And if you look at Argentina, you can that's it's surrounded by natural geographic barriers: ocean to the east and south, a giant and nearly impassable mountain range to the west, and forests to the north (though this one has been opened up by land use changes in the modern era). The world produces very real 'walls' at a large scale.
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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    Quote Originally Posted by Mechalich View Post
    It doesn't mean small islands at all. I said 2-3 million kilometers for a setting/region. That's a big area, like the size of Argentina, which is the 8th largest country on Earth. And if you look at Argentina, you can that's it's surrounded by natural geographic barriers: ocean to the east and south, a giant and nearly impassable mountain range to the west, and forests to the north (though this one has been opened up by land use changes in the modern era). The world produces very real 'walls' at a large scale.
    I just started thinking about the Ringworld...
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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    A major consideration is, why are you creating this world? Is it a literary masterpiece of which every detail will be scrutinized by scholars as yet unborn? Is it a sandbox in which you and your friends will play?

    Keep in mind that both Star Trek and Star Wars began as the latter. But if your goal is to have fun, then save your energy for creating the next game session and worry about a perfect historical and ecological background in your spare time.

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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    A common language is not that unlikely. Greek was spoken from Spain to Pakistan, even before the Roman Empire. That's over 6500 kilometers, over 9000 if you walk.
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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    Setting Element: Common Common is one of the major universal languages, alongside Druidic and the True Speech. Not because it is particularly expressive, or elegant, or logical, but because the seemingly random babbling of infants will always eventually converge upon the Common tongue given a few years of gurgling. This happens regardless of species or upbringing, and even a child raised by wolves will still grow up speaking a few isolated words of Common here and there. This process of Common acquisition can only be halted by preventing the child from babbling (often by teaching them a 'secondary' language while still in infancy) and can be resumed, even later in life, if a person spends enough time making random mouth noises and paying attention to how they sound. The Common Sign language (often referred to as Undercommon by surface dwellers) follows the same process, but for gestures - all idiosyncratic systems of gesturing eventually converge upon Common Sign unless the users purposefully go against their instincts when assigning and interpreting meanings.

    The majority of natural languages incorporate Common at their core, expanding upon the vocabulary and adding their own systems of tenses, moods and modifiers. Dwarven, for example, has an extensive vocabulary for different varieties of stone, a system of altitude-based direction modifiers, different words for 'my left', 'your left' and 'their left', and a set of pronouns and imperative verb tenses based on relative domain-expertise where eg. a jeweler might address his apprentice differently when speaking as a master jeweler than he would when simply speaking as an inhabitant of the same cavern compound. Elven, conversely, is an exclusively synthetic language constructed by the Elves in order to systematize and improve upon the 'unrefined' nature of Common - most Elves either refuse to speak Common at all, or else speak it with the occasional odd emphasis drawn from places where the prescribed grammar of Elven differs from the often irregular constructions found in Common.
    Last edited by Grek; 2021-03-06 at 03:06 AM.

  28. - Top - End - #28
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    Here are a few quick tips I have:
    • Accept Imperfection: Both your own (not everything is going to make perfect sense) and that of the actors in the world. People will make bad decisions and miss "obvious" things for generations. It has happened before it will happen again.
    • Accept Contrivances: If you have to make sections of the map overlap with other worlds so you get creatures that don't exist anywhere else than do it. Especially if you fold them into the setting's premises and let those effects be felt it can work better than coming up tones of individually more natural solutions.
    • Cut the Cruft: Don't include things that don't fit the setting, you don't want to deal with or you don't have any ideas for.
    • Think about Interactions: This really helps things feel more natural and also solves the whole "there are 6 things that could have ruled the world" problem in that they can kind of balance each other out.
    • Remix and Adjust: I don't think I have ever written a setting where elves took a hundred years to grow up because... that's really hard to actually work with.

  29. - Top - End - #29
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    Quote Originally Posted by Atarax View Post
    I've done If elves are as long-lived as they are...if even one powerful cleric can commune with his deity...if wizards can teleport many miles and all corners of the world arw potentially connected with portals and spells that convey messages...how is anything in the world or its history lost, forgotten, unknown, or unexplored (like us DM's so often need it to be)?
    [Emphasis mine]

    This has a pretty simple answer that I think dovetails well with the idea of designing dungeons to the party's level: the explorers who came through here before didn't care that much about documenting the trip and weren't interested in carting off all the valuables.

    I've been (informally and dilettantishly) studying the Aztecs a lot over the past couple years, and I regularly see stories popping up about artifacts or bits of architecture that are just now being unearthed. That's because when the Spanish arrived in Mexico, they weren't interested in making an anthropological study of the Aztecs or carefully diagramming their cities; they just needed terrain maps that would help them seize and control the land, plus maybe a satchel of gold trinkets and souvenirs to show the monarchs when they got back so their trip wouldn't look like a waste of money. The Huns ruled the entire steppe region and were making credible pushes into Rome's territory in the 5th century; you'd think that with an empire that size, we'd know more about them than "they existed around this point, they definitely covered at least this patch of land, and they had this one guy named Attila that was apparently super powerful." (Obviously there's more than that, but not a lot more.)

    The kinds of conflicts and mass evacuations that leave ruins intact enough to be explored tend to be performed by people who aren't that interested in historical preservation or documentation. When people call something "unknown" or "unexplored," usually that just means "not known or explored by my culture," or else it's thus far proven too dangerous to explore. "Lost" is probably the more appropriate word most of the time, and usually it's more like "discarded" - someone else took it and decided it wasn't worth keeping.

    As for why there's always treasure lying around in dungeons, the easy explanation is that after a 10th-level wizard conquistador drives off the locals, he's not going to be interested in carting home a +1 sword or even a wand of magic missiles when he needs to make room on his boat for all the gold, souvenirs, and probably prisoners/slaves he's taking home. This is incidentally also a good explanation for how dungeons get sorted by level - you're not turning up 12th-level treasure because a 12th-level party has already been through here and hoovered up the riches; repeat til you get down to your party's level.
    Last edited by jinjitsu; 2021-03-07 at 10:31 PM.

  30. - Top - End - #30
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    Clistenes's Avatar

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    Default Re: I have trouble incorporating certain fantasy elements into my world

    So don't incorporate them...

    Later, if you want to add Mindflayers: A Nautiloid ship has crashed and the crew are the first Mindflayers to set foot on the world...

    A Red Dragon? Dragons were sealed by gods in ancient times, left asleep deep underground, but a stupid, ambitious sorcerer has awakened one...

    Mermen? They live deep under the sea and they feel uncomfortable near the surface; when they accidentally meet surface dwellers communication is impossible due not only to the lack of a shared language, but also to their alien culture and mindset...

    If a creature is too powerful for your setting, they don't exist until you need them...
    Last edited by Clistenes; 2021-03-24 at 05:15 AM.

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