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Fantasy Rising: Looking at fantasy roleplay

From the Ashes

Matt Snyder
March 7, 2001

I'm back. How appropriate that my column is called "Fantasy Rising." It's like a phoenix up from the ashes. I'm back from the dead -- or something like that.

Back to basics

This gives me the opportunity to talk about something I've wanted to discuss since the arrival of D&D 3E. There's been a lot of discussion of this game and the D20 license. A lot of ugly discussion mostly, the now-infamous Wick incident (on GamingOutpost) notwithstanding.

Whether or not D20 takes over the world of gaming, it does one thing that nobody seems to dispute. It does fantasy pretty darn well. By that, I mean elves and dragons and dwarves and orcs and magic swords and wizards and epic quests and .. . you get the point.

Now, in the many, many flamewars, rants, columns and posts I hear a recurrent argument against the latest iteration of D&D. It goes something like this: "Yeah, it does heroic fantasy well, but can it do modern horror or far-future SF?" I don't know. Maybe. We'll likely find out when all the dust settles, but that really isn't the problem, is it? Those rants against D20 miss the mark. They have already admitted the most important point -- it does fantasy well. What they haven't said is this: PEOPLE LIKE TRADITIONAL FANTASY. Lot's of 'em. That's why D&D sells more than all the other games combined. As a genre, there's something about fantasy RPGs that attracts people, so if the D20 system does it well, great!

Let's take my long-standing gaming group as an example. We've gamed together for years -- since high school and even before. In that time, we've played a couple of different games, but by and large we've played AD&D. I'm the "innovator" of the group -- always trying to get them to play Call of Cthulhu, Mage: the Ascension, Fading Suns, or Tribe 8. My efforts haven't been too successful over the years -- we still go back to playing D&D.

The thing is, it's not that my friends think those other games are crap or that they don't want to play them. The reason they play D&D is that they love traditional fantasy. They think SF is cool, and modern horror's interesting, but, damn it, they'd rather play a fantasy game, classes, levels and all! When it comes to gaming, there's fantasy, then there's "all that other stuff."

I love fantasy, too. It's why I write this column. Last year, when I pitched Sandy a fantasy column idea he said something like, "Geez, why the heck don't we have a fantasy column? It's only the most popular thing around. Do it!" I found my niche, and it's a quite a niche to fill. There's a lot of room for fantasy in gaming.

This is why I come out on the side of "Pro D20." I like it ... a lot. That's partly because it's allowed me to become a working part of the industry with Necromancer Gamers, but it's also partly because D&D3E has revitalized my group of aging gamers who actually take time from their busy lives to come together and play. What more could I want? That's what it's all about -- the books, the Web sites, the conventions. It all boils down to gaming -- having fun with a group of people.

Dream a little Dreamspire

For those of you who want nothing to do with the D20 license, D&D 3E or anyone named Dancey, I hear you loud and clear. I'm working on a new fantasy game called Dreamspire right now, new rules and all. "What?" you say. "Aren't you contradicting yourself, Snyder? You're either with us or against us. You can't have it both ways, you schmuck." Well, um ... yeah, I can. A guy can work on more than one thing at a time, can't he? I mean, how many campaigns are you involved in right now? One? Crap. Ok, how many campaigns have you left unfinished? Huh? Forty-seven? A-ha, gotcha!

What I'm getting at is that there's more to fantasy than D20. Yeah, it's good system, and I think it works great for fantasy. But, I'm not a fanatic. There's got to be room for experimentation and innovation, even in the fantasy genre itself.

Those of you who watched as Gareth Michael Skarka developed UnderWorld here on RPGnet know all about the value of a system that fits the game, rules that adds to the game's atmosphere. I can think of a few beautiful systems, or at least system components, that significantly add to the atmosphere of a game. Castle Falkenstein comes to mind, so does Everway, 7th Sea, Deadlands and a host of other notable games.

So I've been toiling away at an interesting rules set that compliments the setting of my newest project. Dreamspire is a dark fantasy set in the collective nightmare of its characters. Think of it as Gormenghast meets The Cell, with apologies to Mervyn Peake for putting him in the same league as Jennifer Lopez. Players take on the roles of characters trapped in a dreamland that takes the form of an immense, inescapable citadel that is governed by two royal families. The rules for Dreamspire are based on the metaphor of chess, and imagery of the classic game is part of the setting as well as the rulebook.

I'll be discussing some of the issues I tackle in Dreamspire here in Fantasy Rising. I'll explore fantasy themes and issues that hopefully will relate to you and your games and ideas, perhaps inspiring some dreams of your own.

Next month, I'll start with the exploration of symbolism and myth in fantasy gaming, with a few examples lifted from Dreamspire. Until then ...

Have a good one,
Matt Snyder TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

What do you think?

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All Fantasy Rising columns by Matt Snyder

  • Heroes real and imagined November 16, 2001
  • What a World, Part Two October 2, 2001
  • What a World July 20, 2001
  • Welcome to the Machine June 22, 2001
  • Back to basics March 7, 2001
  • Off to the races April 28, 2000
  • Fantasy is Not Dead March 16, 2000

    Other columns at RPGnet

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