Friday 31 May 2024

Reflections on a City

I had the pleasure of being spirited away on a business trip to spend much of the last week in and around the old town on the castle hill of Budapest. 

Hungary is a country that, to the European outsider, is encountered through a thin veil of fantasy. The Hungarians are Europeans, no doubt, but they retain a hint of the vast Eurasian steppe about them. Their language, and the aesthetic preferences rumoured in their art, crafts and architecture, speak of roots in an altogether different substrate to that of the peoples who surround them. 

The consequence is that Budapest, to the non-Hungarian, is a city that feels as though it ought to belong in a different plane of existence. It is a city with magic in the air - rumoured in the distance, or stowed away in secret attics, or hidden behind ornate doorways or at the end of high narrow alleyways. Never even really glimpsed except, if one is fortunate, at the extreme periphery of one's vision, like a flitting shadow. 

A feeling that there are things being said and done behind closed doors that one cannot dream of but suspects are filled with strange import and concealed meaning. A feeling that beyond upstairs windows are meetings and whisperings in rooms decorated with signs and symbols in gold leaf or etched in silver. Summonings and secrecy. Old books in old languages filled with old knowledge and paged by old fingers, read by ancient eyes. 

A feeling that one is on the border of something grand and mighty and distant - a shard of another reality that stabs into our own.

A feeling that it is a city of adventure - of cellars that lead to labyrinths and mazes, of wizards' studies, of collectors of rarities and obscurities, of pipe-smokers and calligraphers, of softly murmured rumour in coffee shops and over goulash or dishes of river fish, of antique shops selling merchandise of unknowable origin and vast heritage, of sidelong glances and whisperings in ears. A city defined by a public face which cannot fully conceal the private mind. 

Ultimately, the city-based campaign is one of great appeal. A city can contain worlds within it. Dungeons hidden beneath streets, of course, but also portals to other dimensions - not to mention conspiracies, plots, assassinations, subterfuge and secret war. What is especially noticeable about it is that it presumes that much of what passes for adventure is to a greater or lesser extent deliberately hidden. What goes on in terms of adventure must in some degree go on in a fashion concealed from polite or 'normal' society. A visit to Budapest was enough to kindle my appreciation for this kind of game, since as an outsider I was by definition required to approach the city in that vein - as a place whose real nature was partially disguised from me. I recommend a visit.

Friday 24 May 2024

Eddison-Tolkien-Zelazny: The Sweet Spot

I am currently engaged in something of a strange literary enterprise in that I am daily listening to an unabridged (and utterly fantastic, by the way) Audible audiobook of The Worm Ouroboros by ER Eddison on my way to and from work, but reading The Chronicles of Amber by Zelazny at night. (These are both re-reads after many years, although I don't know if I ever finished Ouroboros when I encountered it long ago.) 

It is hard to imagine two more stylistically different literary works, for all that they are in content oddly similar (both being, in the end, fun adolescent fantasy romps which unashamedly lionise an old fashioned, 'Boy's Own Adventure Story' aesthetic - and both, oddly enough, commencing with a short framing 'real world' narrative which has no bearing on the actual story). Ouroboros is written in a wonderfully self-conscious pastiche of early modern English in which there are absolutely no visible seams: the verisimilitude is total. Viz:

When the King was come into his high seat, with Corund and Corinius on his left and right in honour of their great deeds of arms, and La Fireez facing him in the high seat on the lower bench, the thralls made haste to set forth dishes of pickled grigs and oysters in the shell, and whilks, snails, and cockles fried in olive oil and swimming in red and white hippocras. And the feasters delayed not to fall to on these dainties, while the cupbearer bore round a mighty bowl of beaten gold filled with sparkling wine the hue of the yellow sapphire, and furnished with six golden ladles resting their handles in six half- moon shaped nicks in the rim of that great bowl. Each guest when the bowl was brought to him must brim his goblet with the ladle, and drink unto the glory of Witchland and the rulers thereof. 

Somewhat greenly looked Corinius on the Prince, and whispering Heming, Corund's son, in the ear, who sat next him, he said, "True it is that La Fireez is the showiest of men in all that belongeth to gear and costly array. Mark with what ridiculous excess he affecteth Demonland in the great store of jewels he flaunteth, and with what an apish insolence he sitteth at the board. Yet this lobcock liveth only by our sufferance, and I see he hath not forgot to bring with him to Witchland the price of our hand withheld from twisting of his neck." 

Now were borne round dishes of carp, pilchards, and lobsters, and thereafter store enow of meats: a fat kid roasted whole and garnished with peas on a spacious silver charger, kid pasties, plates of neats' tongues and sweetbreads, sucking rabbits in jellies, hedgehogs baked in their skins, hogs' haslets, carbonadoes, chitterlings, and dormouse pies. These and other luscious meats were borne round continually by thralls who moved silent on bare feet; and merry waxed the talk as the edge of hunger became blunted a little, and the cockles of men's hearts were warmed with wine. 

"What news in Witchland?" asked La Fireez. 

"I have heard nought newer," said the King, "than the slaying of Gaslark." And the King recounted the battle in the night, setting forth as in a frank and open honesty every particular of numbers, times, and comings and goings; save that none might have guessed from his tale that any of Demonland had part or interest in that battle. 

La Fireez said, "Strange it is that he should so attack you. An enemy might smell some cause behind it." 

"Our greatness," said Corinius, looking haughtily at him, "is a lamp whereat other moths than he have been burnt. I count it no strange matter at all." 

Prezmyra said, "Strange indeed, were it any but Gaslark. But sure with him no wild sudden fancy were too light but it should chariot him like thistle-down to storm heaven itself."

This can be contrasted with Zelazny's hardboiled prose, in which no matter the occasion or context everybody sounds like they hail from the Midwestern USA circa 1971. Here we find the main character, Corwin, having a conversation with a camp follower in a pseudo-Arthurian setting:

'Let's have another glass of wine.'
'It'll go to my head.'
I poured them.
'We are all going to die,' she said.
'I mean here, soon, fighting this thing.'
'Why do you say that?'
'It's too strong.'
'Then why stick around?'
'I've no place else to go. That's why I asked you about Cabra.'
'And why you came here tonight?'
'No. I came to see what you were like.'
'I am an athlete who is breaking training. Were you born around here?'
'Yes. In the wood.'
'Why'd you pick up with these guys?'
'Why not? It's better than getting pig shit on my heels every day.'

Nobody can question Zelazny's storytelling power, his pacing, or his skill for deploying dialogue, but this, my friends, is the precise opposite of verisimilitude: demigods and medieval camp followers would not talk like they hail from the late 20th century USA - and certainly wouldn't sound as though they had just stepped out of an afternoon TV mystery movie, as these two do. Don't get me wrong: I love the Amber books, but Zelazny was very much a storyteller first and a worldbuilder a far distant second. His settings never strike the reader as plausible worlds in their own right, but as mere backdrops for the plot. 

We can think of Zelazny and Eddison as being two poles on a spectrum in fantasy literature - the former strongly emphasising the telling of a good story at the expense of detail, and the latter lovingly and almost obsessively painting a picture of a fully realised and inhabited world. I like both; I have a hard time accepting that Eddison's is not by far the greater achievement, but it is hard to find a more entertaining series in the fantasy canon than the first five Amber books. 

One of the reasons why I think Tolkien still stands supreme in the genre is that his work strikes almost the perfect middle between these two extremes. He is a thousand times more accessible than Eddison (one can hardly imagine a Peter Jackson blockbuster version of The Worm Ouroboros) but a thousand times weightier than Zelazny. Hence, for example:

'Begone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion! Leave the dead in peace!' 

A cold voice answered: 'Come not between the Nazgul and his prey! Or he will not slay thee in thy turn! He will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shrivelled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye.' 

A sword rang as it was drawn. 'Do what you will; but I will hinder it, if I may.' 

'Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!' 

Then Merry heard of all sounds in that hour the strangest. It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. 'But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Eowyn I am, Eomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.' The winged creature screamed at her, but the Ringwraith made no answer, and was silent, as if in sudden doubt.

Nobody could accuse these people as sounding like they are from 1970s Illinois, but at the same time the prose is perfectly digestible and understandable to a reasonably well-read adolescent - as most people reading this blog can probably attest. Tolkien presents with a totally coherent world, so real and so complete that it feels as though it exists, but in a way which still allows us to easily access it - there is no requirement, as there is with Eddison, to spend a while getting one's ear in before one can easily parse the ornate prose. 

What lessons lie here for the D&D DM? Only that every single RPG session I have ever been involved with has, more or less, followed the Zelaznyian mode in the way in which the participants have approached the subject of realism. I feel a sense of regret about this, while recognising the strong biases, incentives and preferences that lead things in that direction. I would love to one day be involved in a campaign in which people invested the time and energy in creating a setting and an experience of Eddisonian depth (if not of subject matter and substance) - but I would more than settle for a Tolkienian one. 

Monday 20 May 2024

Make Animal Fantasy Great Again

I am a qualified fan of animal fantasy - I confess it. My tastes lean more towads the quasi-realistic Watership Down/Duncton Wood end of the spectrum, wherein the animals basically act like animals except for having human-level intelligence and being able to 'speak' an actual language; while I adored the Redwall books in particular as a child, as an adult the inconsistencies in size dynamics between the different animal kinds and their surroundings makes the events depicted impossible to really visualise. But the basic concept appeals wherever on that spectrum it appears.

It's a source of some regret to me that there is no animal fantasy OSR game or campaign setting, at least that I know of,* which does what I think animal fantasy really needs to do in the sense of creating a plausible-seeming depiction of anthropomorphic animals such as they do not simply come across as 'furries' or as human beings in funny suits, but rather as actual sentient animal species. Join me then while I dream up a list of central characteristics that a proper animal fantasy OSR game needs to have in order to merit the description of being truly Great.

First, it should be embedded in a real-world ecology and geography. What I mean by this is that animal fantasy is going to be inherently more interesting if it is based on the anthropomorphisation of animals from a particular biome - a fantasy England in which there are harvest mouse-people, badger-people, hedgehog-people, robin-people etc.; a fantasy Japan in which there are crane-people, fox-people and deer-people; a fantasy Botswana in which there are secretary bird-people, cheetah-people and eland-people, and so on and so forth. Too much animal fantasy is based on the same bog standard set of cutesy species from basically Western European environments, and too much of it feels divorced from a specific region or locality. 

Second, it should follow through on doing justice to the goal of creating plausible sentient animal civilisations. In particular, it should think clearly about the type of civilisation a race of intelligent predators, or a race of intelligent birds, or a race of intelligent herbivores, would produce. Animals definitionally are not human, so the kinds of societies which such an RPG depicts should not seem like human societies as such - their core assumptions should be different, and flow from the type of animal species depicted.

Third, it should be founded in fantasy - it should involve magic, and weird gods, and the other trappings of fantasy, because that's what the audience is entitled to expect. Fantasy without magic feels wrong. (This is another major failing of Redwall.)

Fourth, it should acknowledge the founding sin of all animal fantasy, which is that it makes no sense which animal species get anthropomorphised and which don't. One has to simply accept that there are going to be mouse-people (or whatever) but they are mostly surrounded by ordinary animals - spiders, butterflies, beetles, and so on which are the 'proper' size in the sense of being about as big to a mouse-person as they are to a human. One could make an interesting animal fantasy setting in which everything is its 'proper' size, but this becomes hard to make work logistically if different animal species find themselves interacting. 

The best approach structurally is I think to decide where in the world the setting is based (let's, despite my earlier comments, use the British Isles as a basic template) and then take somewhere between 5-10 'core' species that are going to get the anthropomorphism treatment: let's say rabbits, stoats and weasels, blackbirds, wrens, newts, badgers, and pheasants. And then one would need to sit down and think through carefully what type of societies, what type of religions, what type of magic systems, and so on, these creatures would create - whether in isolation from each other or in a more symbiotic form.

For instance, it seems to me that one could readily dream up a type of society in which the lower-classes are rabbits, living a relatively independent existence as subsistence farmers or serfs, but who owe a kind of fealty to an aristrocracy of stoats and weasels who get to periodically come and kill and eat sacrificial victims on the basis of being pseudo-protective demigods. (Something like this type of society was indeed depicted in The Sparrow, a book which does not get recommended enough in OSR circles.) Or you could dream up a society of blackbirds which forms a kind of dispersed empire of different pockets of forest scattered across a very wide territory - because, since birds can fly, they see no particular need to rule a contiguous physical space. Or a society of badgers who live underground in hugh cathedral-setts ruled over by 'dominant' sows. Or a society of pheasants who roam nomadically over vast ranges and place little to no value on each other's lives. Or a society of newts who create lake-cities and form together for orgiastic religious mating rituals and protect each other's spawn in underwater fortresses. And so on and so forth.

The greatest controversy of RPG animal-fantasy of the OSR stripe would probably be species-as-class. I can see the arguments on either side, but I suspect this may spark a culture war the likes of which we have not seen since the days of G+.

*There was long ago an attempt.

Monday 13 May 2024

Ungoliant's AI

But she had disowned her Master, desiring to be mistress of her own lust, taking all things to herself to feed her emptiness; and she fled to the south…Thence she had crept towards the light of the Blessed Realm; for she hungered for light and hated it. In a ravine she lived, and took shape as a spider of monstrous form, weaving her black webs in a cleft of the mountains. There she sucked up all light that she could find, and spun it forth again in dark nets of strangling gloom, until no light more could come to her abode; and she was famished. - JRR Tolkien, from The Silmarillion

We return, my friends, to a familiar theme: the Satanic nature of AI art (see also, for example, here).

Notice how Ungoliant is described by Tolkien: evil is only, and can ever only be, parasitic. It draws in and 'sucks up', and then 'spins' the results forth again 'in dark nets of strangling gloom' - it does not create. And in the end it becomes famished, precisely because nothing about it is nourishing (one can think of it, in fact, as the absence of nourishment). 

Hence, of course, Morgoth and Sauron (and Saruman, their pale imitator) cannot create either - they can repurpose and redesign and corrupt what already exists, but they cannot make afresh. They can at best deploy machines to extract what they can from the earth and forge it into materials they can use, but they add nothing to creation itself.

This is fundamentally what AI does - and, for the avoidance of doubt in case there are any literalists out there, I do not mean to suggest that AI is actually Satanic in the sense that the devil is behind it - in that it simply trawls through, and 'sucks up' what already exists, in order to spit it out into repurposed, repackaged chunks. The results are thin, vapid pastiche, interesting only inasmuch as it can fool the human eye into thinking it was produced by a real person, or insofar as it is fascinating trying to figure out what it will do next. It is not substantively art in the sense that it can move, or transcend, or communicate the sublime.

What it can also do is creep us out. In my previous writings on the subject, I have noted that there is something ineffably eerie about AI-produced images - there is a kind of deadness to them. Yet at the same time they also manage to communicate a sense of flat affect, particularly in the human visage - as though the people it depicts have seen great sadness, and horror, and that they have come to the conclusion that the only appropriate means of interacting with the world is to disengage from its pain and sorrow:

It struck me as almost too 'on the nose', then, when I came across this highly thought-provoking piece on the subject of how AI training sets are put together and curated. It begins with the findings that LAION-5B, one of the biggest and most important AI training sets, contains thousands of images of the sexual abuse of children (which in itself I think should probably give you pause if you are in the habit of using this new toy). But it goes from there in an interesting direction, showing to us that what we think of as 'AI' is very much human-directed, and reliant of human input, in this case assessments made by actual human beings to vet the quality of images. As the authors of the piece make clear, this means that while we might think of AI as applying a kind of neutral 'brute force' method of generating images, it is actually doing it on the basis of a set of preferences of real-world human beings, and these are human beings of a very particular kind:

The creators of SAC are transparent about the shortcomings of the set, specifically the fact that the scores were submitted by users who were both WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) and developers of AI art, a demographic they describe as leaning toward "nerdy" and "esoteric." Furthermore, they admit that most of the ratings in the dataset were submitted by a "handful of users," whose "aesthetic preferences dominate the dataset."...The concepts of what is and isn't visually appealing can [therefore] be influenced in outsized ways by the tastes of a very small group of individuals, and the processes that are chosen by dataset creators to curate the datasets.

The point here of course is that the type of person who develops AI art and is therefore 'nerdy' and 'esoteric' is likely to be the kind of person who has been hardened by many years of prolonged internet usage against any sort of geniune feeling, and has come to adopt the highly-arch, sardonic, sarcastic and cynical perspective within which any long-term internet user invariably comes to marianade. It is the tastes and preferences of this kind of person - we all know this kind of person - which influence the composition of the datasets on which AI art is generated, and it is their emotional tone which therefore bleeds through most strongly in the AI art which we end up seeing. We don't really see this explicitly, but I think we (those of us who feel as I do, anyway) intuit something of it in the pervasive sense of unease and inchoate nastiness which pervades this stuff wherever it is encountered. It is I think the type of art that would be prized by Melniboneans, or Melkor - and there is actually a reason why it feels that way.

Thursday 9 May 2024

Pimp My Orc (and everything else)

One of the things that I aim to achieve with the World of TSRan project (see here, here and here) is to vastly expand the variation and range of existing 'standard' TSR D&D monsters based on geographical location and terrain/climate type. The reader should be able to identify a hex as, say, jungle or hot desert or tundra or whatever, and be able to populate it with terrain-appropriate variants on old standards.

To give a short applied example, here is what that would look like with respect to orcs inhabiting 'cold coast' terrain (meaning coastal regions in cold temperate and subarctic climates):

Orc Variants: Cold Coast

Wilderness encounter: 3d6 hunters or raiders, with a leader and 1d3 ‘big-men’ with maximum hp; all are armed with harpoons/spears and clubs, and half have darts, or short bows; all wear reinforced hide armour (AC 6)

Lair encounter: 30-300 warriors, with same number of females and infants; for every 100 warriors there is a 5 HD shaman (cleric) and a 4 HD witch doctor (magic-user), and a 2 HD sub-chief and 2d6 guards with maximum hp, and the entire lair has one 3 HD chief and 3d6 guards with maximum hp; a lair also has a 1 in 6 chance of having each of the following type of pets: 1d3 giant hermit crabs, 1d6 seals, 1d3 elephant seals, 1d2 cave bears, or 1d2 polar bears

Treasure variations: Cold coastal orcs have TT C, L, Qx10, S in lairs, and Ox2 and Px2 in wilderness encounters

Cold coastal orc tribe generator


Aesthetic variation


Other flavour



Semi-aquatic (have flipper feet and hands and fish scales; can swim at 120)

In huts made from porpoise or whale corpses

Daub themselves in whale blubber – vile stench means they never surprise opponents, but opponents must successfully save vs poison in order to make a first melee attack (subsequent attacks do not require a roll)

Have a tribe of rival orcs living nearby


Cormorant heads

Can explosively spray white fecal matter in a 6’ x 2’ cone, acting as a stinking cloud; this attack must be prepared a round in advance by disrobing

Live near a giant, dragon, etc. of appropriate type, to whom they make sacrifices


Fur seal heads

In cliff caves

Use skins as trophies; must spend 1d3 rounds skinning or scalping slain opponent if delivering the coup de grace

Live near a valuable source of guano which they mine


Gull heads

Worship a bestial shark, gull, kraken or orca god; must spend 1d3 rounds devouring body parts of slain opponent if delivering the coup de grace

Prey upon nearby human settlement for slaves (holding 3d6 at any given time)


Shark heads

On floating rafts, moored a short distance from shore

Worship a hungry shark, gull, kraken or orca god; will attempt to capture opponents reduced to 1-4 remaining hp for subsequent sacrifice

Lair near a gigantic glacier within which is a vast network of tunnels


Sea-bird feathered

Daub themselves in silt mud as camouflage; surprise opponents on a roll of 1-3 on surprise roll

Are engaged in summoning a demigod or demon from the deep



In huts made from rocks and seashells

One in every six individuals has a crab pincer for a hand and has an additional attack doing 1d4 hp damage and grabbing the victim on a successful hit, doing 1d4 hp damage automatically thereafter

Are the escaped slaves of a powerful tribe of ogres, merrow, sea trolls, etc.


Seaweed hair

Bleed brine – sprays out after a serious wound (doing 4+ hp damage) or at death, blinding melee opponent for next round on a failed save vs poison

Are split into two warring factions under rivals for power


Tuesday 7 May 2024

A Prismatic Spray Inside the Brain

I have been thinking for some time about the right metaphor to use to describe the phenomenology of reading an RPG book, and ultimately have decided that it is the phrase 'Prismatic Spray', which has the advantages of approximating what I mean, while also nodding to the right influences - Jack Vance, and true, dyed-in-the-wool D&D basic furniture (imagine a set of core D&D rules in which there was no prismatic spray spell).

So let's go with it: reading an RPG book is like a prismatic spray inside the brain. It produces an array of different trajectories of kaleidoscopic range, in a way in which no other artform can, and it is this which gives it its - I think genuinely unique - appeal. 

What do I mean by this?

Picture yourself reading a D&D module, setting book, bestiary, or splatbook of any quality. What happens as you are reading it? Are you simply imbibing information? No: if you have any sort of imagination at all, you are rather engaging in a different exercise entirely (one which I tried to describe here and which Joseph Manola once described here) - you are imagining what could be. Hence, as I once put it:

[T]he vast bulk of my memories associated with RPG books [from the time I was an adolescent] was paging through them on long car journeys or while on holiday and just, well, imagining what it would be like to use them. "Wouldn't it be great to be in a session where we encountered a morkoth?" I would think as I browsed through the Monstrous Manual. "Wouldn't it be great to have a PC find the Hand of Vecna?" I would think as I read the section of the 2nd edition DMG on 'artifacts'. "Wouldn't it be great to run an all-druid campaign?" I would think as I flicked through the Complete Druid's Handbook. "I'd love to run a campaign set in the Philippines," I would think as I sat reading the Cyberpunk 2020 Pacific Rim Sourcebook. My experience of actual gaming was a pale shadow of the kind of things that my adolescent brain could come up with left to its own devices. 

(Not incidentally, I had a similar relationship, thinking back, to Games Workshop books. My friends and I played a heck of a lot of Warhammer, Warhammer 40k, and Necromunda. But being impoverished 13 year olds, we could barely afford any models. We primarily resorted to using a huge mass of ancient lead figures bequeathed to one of us by an older brother or cousin, and we could only dream about the possibilities of actually being able to buy a Basilisk/Lehman Russ Battle Tank/Dark Angel Dreadnought/Orc Shaman Riding a Wyvern or whatever, while paging through 'Codex' books. With Games Workshop, though, the requirement to just sit around reading books and imagining was more or less a nakedly commercial phenomenon rather than anything else.)

The important thing to emphasise about this, though, is that you are not just imagining one thing in response to what you are reading. You are imagining a whole array of different scenarios that are to a greater or lesser extent inchoate. Reading the description of a room in a dungeon, you are imagining a range of different possible scenarios that might unfold. Reading a description of a monster, a dozen or so different ways in which the monster could appear, or be encountered, are racing through your mind in a jumble. Reading a description of a character class, you are conjuring an array of different potential PCs. And so on and so forth - each little chunk of information (a monster, a room, a hex, an NPC, etc.) is like a concentrated bundle of potential energy which suddenly erupts in a spray of possibile outcomes once it makes contact with the brain. Your mind at first must fight to make sense of all of this, and at times you almost feel like a cat experiencing sensory overload through its whiskers, and have to tune out while your subconscious rediscovers its composure. Importantly, there is never a conclusion - it is not like reading a novel, wherein a narrative gradually coheres and finally you are led to an ending. Instead there is only yet more to imagine, more to create, more to envisage. 

Nothing else in life is really like this (the closest analogy I can think of is the experience of being a sport fan and eagerly anticipating the range of possible outcomes from this weekend's fixtures) and there is something delicious about it. In fact perhaps food and drink is the best metaphor of all: reading a good RPG book and experiencing the prismatic spray of unrealised potential burst through your imagination is something like the first sip of a fine wine or spirit or the first mouthful of a truly great dish - a sudden eruption of many different sensations which, at first, you struggle to process, and must spend time carefully reflecting on as they wash over your palate and recede. Even better, you don't get fat or turn into an alcoholic while reading them - although you might, I suppose, find yourself experiencing an excess of neck hair growth.

Wednesday 1 May 2024

Why the dearth of 'other world' campaigns?

JRR Tolkien was a crucial 'break' between two conceptions of the fantasy genre. Before him, most (though not all) fantastical tales either involved people in the real world, 'our' world, travelling to other realities, or situations in which the real world was merged with such other realities. After him, fantasy worlds took on independent existences: they were largely complete, enclosed creations - worlds in their own right, with no necessary connection to our own.

This was the major influence exerted by JRR Tolkien over D&D, and most subsequent fantasy role playing games. D&D does not involve adventurers from our world straying into others. Its campaign settings - whether official ones or the amateur creations of DMs - are discrete, and the PCs are 'native' to them. And this is true even of multiworld or multiplanar settings like Spelljammer or Planescape; the PCs in such settings are from the broad canvas setting as such, rather than our own.

When I was young, I much preferred this state of affairs - I thought fantasy fiction in which an 'ordinary boy' (or whatever) from 29 Acacia Avenue accidentally wanders into Dragonland were the absolute pits. As I've got older, I've come to understand the appeal. And it has come to mystify me as to why nobody has ever really successfully 'OSRized' a particular concept which makes complete sense when you think about the history of fantasy fiction - a campaign archetype in which people from the real world go adventuring in a realm of fantasy and thereby gain improvements and advantages which they can deploy when they come back. No doubt such games have existed in the history of RPGs, but I have not heard of one that has sounded remotely interesting - and certainly not in recent years. 

The Chronicles of Narnia are the obvious model for this: the PCs are ordinary children who gain access to portals to another world where they have adventures, and as a result of having these adventures, their real lives become powerfully enriched when they return. Another example would be Stephen Lawhead's Song of Albion series, an (excellent, by the way) series in which an American academic accidentally strays into a mythologised bronze age Britain and comes back transformed into a muscle-bound nobleman irresistible to women - wish fulfilment, of course, but charming wish fulfilment for all that. Slightly different is the Chronicles of Amber, wherein an ostensibly 'normal' man discovers he is actually a demigod and that there is an infinite other reality out there for him to explore. And then, of course, there's Mythago Wood and its sequels, in which Big Important Things happen to people in the wood, and they come out forever changed.

The archetypal iteration of such a campaign would I suppose be the one in which real world people discover a portal to another realm (the Abyss, Valinor, Middle Earth, whatever), amass treasure and magic, and bring it back to sell and gain power. Kind of like what I was planning with There is Therefore a Strange Land, come to think of it... With the right kind of systematisation for gaining XP and level advancement, and a compelling setting - I think it is important for such a campaign setting to succeed that the PCs are part of a secret subculture - this could be an important addition to the OSR canon.