Thursday, January 7, 2010

D&D Default Setting

I've been thinking about D&D settings, and the many things that many people have written.  One of the ones that keeps coming back to my mind is that a setting more akin to ancient Greece is more in keeping with what D&D tries to do better than medieval Europe. 

Darrin Drader over at "Writing, Game Design, World Domination" sums it up pretty well.
"The reasons I think the Greek civilization is a better model for the fantasy genre is because it was polytheistic, it consisted mainly of independent city states, and because the monsters of its mythology are so commonly associated with the fantasy genre."
I stumbled upon his post completely by accident when I clicked on "Next Blog" but it tied in to what I'd been thinking about for a while now.  Playing in a realm of city states allows you to do some things, like war and travel between different cultures with a greater ease than you can get with a more medieval setting.  It brings things down to a more manageable scale, especially at lower levels.  Plus the geography of the Aegean Sea just cries out to be used in a game.
Look at all that hilly and mountainous terrain, the string of islands, and of course the great cities of Istanbul and Athens!  Plus it really is the cross roads of the ancient world, and when your players are ready for a change of pace there are lots of options!  Sail to the south and you hit desert.  South-East, and you hit Egypt.  East and you hit Persia, North/NE and you come to the Slavic lands.  West brings you further into the Mediterranean where you might encounter vikings, Romans, and/or Spaniards.  Of course you can switch that up just to keep player from using their real world knowledge.

Could using this idea lead to a Hercules/Xena type game, full of silly and completely incorrect historical mash-ups?  Absolutely!  And if everyone at the table is having a good time, then who's to complain? 


  1. I think you (and he) are on to something here with the exception of the polytheism aspect. Europe in the Early and Late Medieval was quite polytheistic from a certain point of view.

    Even if you play during the predominantly Christian periods, you still have different brands of Christianity, leftover pagans, cults, foreign religions and the like.

  2. Most published game worlds are nothing like medieval Europe. The cultures, countries, and social scene are much more like Roman or Greek ones (or at least the popular/movie view of those cultures).

    For example, Outside of Harn I've never seen anything that's little more than a caricature of the feudal manor system.

  3. Great ideas presented here.
    And that map would be perfect for Mazes & Minotaurs

  4. @Eli - While there was (and still is) a vast difference in the interpretation of the church, during the vast majority of the middle ages the Pope held great earthly power, and within each region the various bishops and cardinals held a pretty strong reign.

    @Norman - Well, yes, most published setting do a piss-poor job of actually being like a feudal medieval setting, it does tend to be the default theme of the settings, even if in implementation it looks more like a city state. That has always been my experience with D&D, both when I play it and when I DMed it. What I'm trying to suggest is that the whole medieval concept get tossed to the side, and an out and out acceptance that a more classically Greek style setting should be the default.

    @ancientvaults - Thanks! As for the map, I'd probably flip and reverse it if I were ever to use it, if only to help disguise where I got it.

  5. I was speaking more to potential for a gaming setting. The differences and relative power of the church could be varried in a game world that may not be representative of actual history.

    Let's face it gaming settings are designed to be gameable and vast, sweeping social and political norms can make a world stagnate pretty easy. Thus gaming worlds are usually built with far greater diversity per square mile than historical lands might have had.

    I remember one of the cool things about Greyhawk was that even though nations may have varied you still had distinct human ethnic groups.


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