Monday, 13 January 2014

The Mythic Underworld and Mythic Otherworld

The working title for the new campaign setting is New Troy. This is purely because I've always liked the completely made-up notion from the Middle Ages that Britain was founded by refugees from the fall of Troy. This is a reality in which that, or something like it, happened. But it was long ago, and nobody really knows much about it at all - or what Troy is or was.

In New Troy, there are two other worlds, called Faerie and Muspel. (There is a third, called Elysium, but it remains inaccessible except to the dead.) Faerie is the realm of elves, changelings, and other beings that are by turns capricious, curious, benevolent or cruel. There, time moves more quickly than it does in New Troy, and nothing is ever quite what it seems.

Muspel is the underworld, the realm of evil spirits, giants, and devils. Sometimes it is like fire; other times like ice. There, time moves more slowly than it does in New Troy, and everything is what it seems: malevolent and depraved.

There are times, and places, where the boundaries between New Troy and the world of Faerie and the world of Muspel become blurred. For Faerie, these tend to be ever-shifting: a gate may exist on a certain hilltop for a hundred years before suddenly moving elsewhere or closing, while another may be found behind a waterfall for one day every decade. For Muspel, they tend to be fixed, eternal: caves, chasms, natural arches.

Faerie and Muspel are where adventure happens in New Troy. Muspel is the mythic underworld as described by Philotomy:

There is a school of thought on dungeons that says they should have been built with a distinct purpose, should "make sense" as far as the inhabitants and their ecology, and shouldn't necessarily be the centerpiece of the game (after all, the Mines of Moria were just a place to get through). None of that need be true for a megadungeon underworld. There might be a reason the dungeon exists, but there might not; it might simply be. It certainly can, and perhaps should, be the centerpiece of the game. As for ecology, a megadungeon should have a certain amount of verisimilitude and internal consistency, but it is an underworld: a place
where the normal laws of reality may not apply, and may be bent, warped, or broken. Not merely an underground site or a lair, not sane, the underworld gnaws on the physical world like some chaotic cancer.  
It is inimical to men; the dungeon, itself, opposes and obstructs the adventurers brave enough to explore it.

Faerie is the mythic otherworld, the wilderness equivalent to the megadungeon. A world of trees, hills, rivers and rain, but where the normal laws of reality do not apply, and are bent, warped or broken. It may even be more dangerous than Muspel, because it resembles the real world so closely that you may not even realise you are in it. But it is not the real world: There are other things there.

17 comments:

  1. I like the underworld/otherworld distinction.
    Philotomy is essential reading when the Underworld is discussed. Margaret St. Claire's "The Shadow People" explores this territory (bad pun) in a fictional sense with some success. At least, the non-hippy parts are good.

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    1. Philotomy's Musings are probably the best thing that has come out of the OSR.

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  2. Ever thought of taking your home town and making it into a D&D world?

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  3. Oooh, "otherworld". I like that. It pulls together a bunch of different ideas and inspirations into one single concept. Neil Gaiman does a great job incorporating the otherworld into his Sandman comics, Narnia was an otherworld, and The Monolith Beyond Space and Time is explicitly an otherworld RPG adventure (albeit horror-themed and game-breaking).

    Regarding the underworld, make sure to check out Patrick Stuart's new resources blog: http://osr-underdark.blogspot.co.uk/

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    1. Good point about Narnia... I need explicit rules regarding the otherworld and the underworld; watch this space for details.

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  4. Cool. Reminds me of Gene Wolf's The Knight, which I found nearly unreadable, but it sounds very gameable!

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    1. Yes, I am ripping things off extensively from that and Lyonesse.

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  5. Ron Edwards discusses the concept of "otherworlds" in his "Sorcerer" supplement "Sorcerer and Sword."

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    1. I have no concept of what "Sorcerer" is, really, other than that Ron Edwards wrote it. What does he say about otherworlds?

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    2. Sorcerer is his RPG about sorcerers (totally generic, it's not aimed at fantasy,) and Sorcerer & Sword is a supplement that deals with S&S tropes, and sorcery in particular. In the Sorcerer game, a sorcerer is someone who trades "something" for power. What that "something" is, and how power is defined, depends on the player and GM. The S&S supplement takes these ideas and transplants them to that genre. He also deals with otherworlds, as places which essentially distort and endanger Humanity (which is a stat in the game) and not necessarily in physical terms. The things are somewhat more convoluted, but that's the gist of it. Strongly recommended.

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  6. The general over world-underworld layout reminds me of a vaguely remembered alternate RPG from Avalon Hill known as Powers & Perils. (its all on line if you want to look and tell me "no nothing like that.") Most likely a hodge podge of Lyonese and Elric.

    It sounds like an interesting take, you might even go so far to sharply limit magic casting in the normal world vs. the other worlds. Perhaps use some sort of spell point system that needs to be replenished and dial magic items up and down.

    Oh and one word of warning when using multiple time streams, players will inevitably, unknowingly take this to whatever extreme is possible, destroying any carefully planned scenario by camping in the wrong spot.

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    1. Well, the solution to that is to avoid carefully planned scenarios. ;) I had a look at Powers & Perils. It might be a bit like that...I have to confess to being a bit put off by its claim to be the most complicated RPG ever written.

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    2. That was exactly the problem, it ended up on the dust heap with other &-games, pillaged for the occasional idea or odd table. D&D wins because you don't need to re-explain the rules as often.

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  7. Your strict division of adventure occurring in the underworlds reminders me strongly of the article "Believe it or not, Fantasy has reality" way back in The Dragon issue forty. It has a long section on home areas versus wyrd areas where the later is where adventure occurs.

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  8. That could be very elegent. Especially if the otherworld corresponds roughly to the normal one, so that taking a trip through allows you to get somewhere quicker than your opponent.

    And going adventuring in the underworld would allow you to combine "dungeon time" and "campaign time"; come back to your fortress and it's a week later.

    You could also have it that the underworld contains everything lost to the world, so you can go dungeon adventuring for dead characters, or for lost treasures.

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    1. YES. I really like that last idea.

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