Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Prehistory Fantasy Setting

I've been lax in posting on the blog, I blame my own laziness, my wanting to hang out with a good gaming buddy before she leaves Santa Fe forever, and my own laziness. And anime, and videogames.

Regardless, when I've made time to write gaming stuff, I've focused on a few themes, all of which I've discussed as campaign pipe dreams in my talks on the Unabashed Gaming podcast, but today I'm going to try to word-dump about the game that intrigues me the most about writing/running:

Paleolithic D&D, or more specifically, Prehistory Fantasy Setting. Because there's no way in hell I can mesh this setting with traditional D&D.

What initially drew me to this concept was the realization that players who engage in fantasy roleplaying tend to know all the tropes. They read through the supplemental material, and if you throw a floating many-eyeballed creature at them, they instinctively know it's a Beholder. And that line between player knowledge and character knowledge is super thin, because in the D&D world, a lot of it has been explored and recorded.

Now, looking at my more embraced roots with Call of Cthulhu, even if your players know what a Shoggoth is, their characters have no idea what this protoplasmic mass of bubbles flooding its way toward them is. They don't know what a night-gaunt is. Maybe it's a vampire, or a gargoyle. Or a demon! Call of Cthulhu is all about describing what creatures look like, using sweeping generalities, because characters are not sticking around to draw detailed anatomies of them, unless they're Richard Upton Pickman, and fuck you no one is playing Richard Upton Pickman.

Regardless, this line of thought (coupled with a few sessions spent playing the world-building game Dawn of Worlds) brought me into thinking about the origins of races in D&D, and how they tried to survive in their earliest days. I decided it would be interesting to try to take a party through a hypothetical wooly mammoth hunt, or an encounter with a migrating family of sabertooth tigers. Taking the concept of assigned quests to be exactly that; journeys into the unknown, encountering unfamiliar sites, sounds, and creatures, and returning back to their homes with new stories, trophies, and scars.

I won't get into the minutiae on this post, but I'll drop some future post ideas here for my own personal use later on. Topics such as:

-Which system to use/base this setting off of?
-What fantasy races to include, what unconventional fantasy races to use?
-Whether to incorporate interaction between the fantasy races, or should xenophobia prevail?
-How to incorporate migration, agriculture, etc.
-Whether to include civilizations that are (somewhat) more advanced than those of the player characters.
-Ideas for the types of quests players would embark upon.

Hopefully I'll return to these concepts later.

For now, I'm out.


  1. Looking forward to this.

    GURPS Ice Age might be a good reference book for "human-centric" paleolithic fantasy. For more fantastic elements, there's tons of mineable material in the Monster Manuals. I remember reading a thread long ago where someone suggested that beholders were evolved from cyclops, so evolved that they no longer needed a body, just a case to hold their massive brains. (Also, they had an inferiority complex about their single eye, so they genetically grafted on many more.)

    You could take a concept like that and dial it back to when beholders were breaking away from cyclops society. Then there's races like the aboleth or the neogi who basically cry out to be ancient slave lords creating humans and demi-humans to serve their own ends, like the Elder Things on Earth.

    Also, someone in an epic thread collected in this massive PDF suggested a campaign world pre-history where the dominant races are the aarakockra, the thri-kreen, and the lizardfolk, with humans, I imagine, just trying to survive in the margins.

  2. That would actually be pretty cool, to have the 'advanced' civilizations be all those in the MMs that are described as existing in prehistory.