|All images from "Fantastical Worlds Floating in Space" by Nicole Gustafsson|
So something that I feel has been stifling some of my creative flow and function has been the fact that I have not really been working off of any sort of established world or setting. Skerples has Elderstone, Arnold has Centerra, Dan has Mother Stole Fire, Martin has Wizard City, Chris has Bastionland, FurtiveGoblin has The Ivory Tower etc. etc. They have a grounding world to be able to reference and work within. Currently, I kinda have my Lowcountry stuff and I have the Royalverse, but neither are anything one could really call a setting. One is just my home turned into a point crawl map and the other is a cosmology that is half joke. So, I've been thinking to myself, how do I take these random bits and make it into something that I can use, something that can provide some kind of ground so I'm just not being spastic all over the place.
Here are just some of my current random thoughts.
The Old World lays across a vast ocean. The Old World was a place of establishment, of modern sensibilities, of normality. The Old World was a place tamed by mankind, molded by mankind, and existed with the interests of mankind in place. Dragons were myth, fairies did housework for a saucer of milk, Knights were (mostly) chivalrous, and Kings actually possessed a divine mandate to rule. For, you see, the Old World long ago tamed their Gods, Spirits, and Nightmares, they hammered a world of chaos into a world of codified Law. The Kings, Princes, and Courtiers are akin to Kami or Loa or Fey, but with all of the capriciousness and most of the personality plucked away from them. They are anchors that bind the laws of reality into something that makes sense to Mankind, their existence and their duty is bound to making the world work with humanity in mind. There are, of course, the Fools, made up of what little there is left of chaos and raw reality, but their influence is limited and often stamped out by the Kings. The Old World is a place of stagnation, of restriction, of tedium.
The New World was discovered across a vast ocean. The New World is a place of opportunity, of changing ideals, of exotic dreams. The New World is an untamed place with but the barest passing thought of humanity. Creatures from dream and nightmare and from beyond our wildest imaginings inhabit the New World. Not only are our mores and norms from the Old World not applicable to the New World, but even the laws of science that we hold as concrete are tenuous. In the presence of raw creation, unbound by the human noosphere, things like physics and biology are just another type of vague magic. The Gods and Spirits here do not hold to humanity's ideals nor to their sensibilities. In the Old World, there was a King for every aspect of life, but in the New World, the spirits have no such restrictions. They define and redefine themselves as they see fit, just as they change and mold the world around them to fit their alien desires. The wilderness of the Old World were akin to hunting preserves and tended pastures, the wilderness of the New World is truly Wild.
The Colonies lay upon the shores of the New World. They are primarily inhabited by Old World peoples. In their minds, they brought with them their Kings and their Princes, they hacked back the wilderness and created a stable home. The Colonists are a varied bunch. Adventurers come to seek excitement. Seekers craving religious or social freedoms. Criminals and debtors banished from their Old World homes. Businessmen looking for a profit. Mostly it was people who wanted a few acres of land that they could call their own.
Fantastical resources and wealth flows from the New World to the Old while a steady stream of colonists, supplies, and military power came from the Old to the New. However something occurred. Exactly what is up to speculation by the Colonies, but one day the ships left the harbor and never returned. Any attempts to cross the ocean either vanished or returned with stories of vicious, impossible seas beyond the horizon. Without the constant influx of Old World support, the boundaries between the Colonies and the New World constricted. There came a need to adapt or to fight back, else the Colonies' tenuous grip would soon be lost.
Out there in the wild are native peoples. Some are human, or at least mostly human. They've learned to survive and adapt to their weird and changing world. The Gods do not work for them, so they negotiate, they bribe, they trap, they do what they can to make a little sphere of their world work for them. But they know well enough to keep moving, to not over stay their welcome. Out there in the depths of the New World there are places from other times, places where reality was anchored in place by Others. Though these places are stable, they are not always made with humanity in mind.
The role of the player in such a setting can, of course, be variable. But I feel this encourages the sort of exploration focused Man versus The Unknown type of play that seems prominent in the OSR. There is wealth and wonder and weirdness to find out in the New World. There are hirelings and buyers and carousing in the Colonies. There are Islands to explore and Pirates to avoid (or become.) I feel like this is something I could perhaps work with and better focus my efforts.
I am considering using Michael Bacon's method of unlocking classes. Players will start with limited options, things that might be found in the Colonies or imported from the Old World. Fighters, Thieves, Garden or Orthodox Wizards, bread and butter types. But as they experience this weird new world, they encounter and unlock weird new classes. They speak with natives and learn Hoodoo, they can become Root Doctors. They encounter an old Knight from the Old World are ordained into their order, unlocking Knights. They face a mutated mystic that defies nature, unlocking the Biomancer. And so on and so forth.
Let's see where this takes us, let's see if I can get play testers to explore this world with me. And let's hope the New World doesn't swallow us whole.