What's new, Monsters & Manuals? How's the world been treating you? You haven't changed a bit. Lovely as ever, I must admit.
Apologies for the hiatus. This has been the busiest summer for me ever - my PhD thesis is finished, I have a flash new job in a flash new city (well, Newcastle), and things are very much looking up, but it has been a time-sapping experience and I have done very little gaming and very little thinking about gaming. I've missed the blog, though, and it is good to be back.
Today, my topic for discussion is history. On a forum I frequent there was recently a little to-and-fro-ing about true population figures in medieval England, the number of manors and parishes in the Domesday Book, and so forth, and it made me think, with a strange clarity, what a bizarre pursuit historical research is when it comes to fantasy gaming. Why, as a DM creating a D&D setting, would you care what the population density of medieval England was as something relevant for your game, when medieval England did not have dragons, orcs, elves and magic in it? How can we possibly believe that the existence of such factors would not make a D&D world very, very different from medieval England in almost every respect?
The need for historical accuracy is one that I understand, but like almost everything else in gaming, it is an odd impulse when you think about it. If you are running a fantasy game, it actually makes more sense not to think about historical accuracy at all - the furniture of high fantasy requires a pseudo-medieval society which superficially resembles our own, but that resemblance must by necessity be entirely superficial. The moment you start thinking about accurate population figures and densities, trade routes and pricing, natural resources and so forth, you immediately have to consider: How would the existence of dragons affect this? What about magic? What about orcs? And suddenly you are not so much creating a fantasy setting as you are considering speculative, academic questions which lead to interesting pub or forum discussions but not much in the way of game-able content if you take it seriously.
To illustrate, think about what farms would look like if there were giant flying predators like dragons, griffins, hippogriffs and so on in the world. Nobody would keep cows or sheep, because they would be being eaten all the time. No cows or sheep means no leather or wool. Good luck trying to extrapolate a setting from that which you could base a game on. It's an interesting thing to think about while you're staring out of the window of the train on your daily commute, but it isn't something you could really play D&D with.
Fantasy gaming rests on a fiction: that you could have a society like England in 1200 AD which also has supernatural beings, magic, and active deities. That fiction, in turn, rests on the understanding that nobody thinks about it too hard.