Wenches and Swains That Never Were
Playing drove me to fill in some of the information gaps in my setting including some rather mundane ones. For instance I had to decide what one would call both women and men who serve drinks at a tavern. The Lands have a semblance of formal gender equality (for instance property and titles pass to eldest child). However it is also a world of cultural gender differentiation. In these enlightened times we tend to use one term for the practitioners of a skill – both men and women who act these days are “actors”. In the Lands however they tend to have distinct words for both, so I needed serving wenches and serving swains. I felt that “swain” was equivalent to “wench” in that both terms are now archaic, rustic, somewhat frivolous and slightly derisive. The thing to note here is that I was creating something fictitious while also giving it the flavour of something that seemed historical to modern players. Besides, words are fun to play with.
The Jagged Tooth That Stood Too Long
Fantasy is different from historical fiction even if it draws much of its look and feel from our perception of the recorded past. It is free from the restrictions of accuracy. If you can have magic in your setting then sure as heck you can make other changes. Nonetheless some research can be useful. Central to our adventure was exploration of an ancient ruined castle. I based my floor plan on the model of Norman castles (things predating those tended to be timber constructions and if they were of any size would be rambling rather than towering). And yet “The Jagged Tooth” ruin was over a thousand years old in what is nominally a medieval setting. A medieval world in which medieval castles have existed for millennia? This is okay as we were playing a fantasy and anything goes as long as you can get away with it. Mind you the fact the castle was standing at all did need a bit of justification, which was provided in this written postscript to the game which hinted at a magical explanation…
The group have departed the Dire Swamp and are now traversing the vales between the hills back to Muddy Gully. As they do York the Hawk decides to stretch his wings and take a proper flight. As he wheels majestically in the sky scanning for rodents and rabbits he glances back over the hills past the swamp towards the Jagged Tooth in the distance.
Suddenly he notices the entire structure of the ruined fortress crumbling in on itself and spilling a cascade of loose stones all over its hill. It is as if some force that was holding it together has left it. Suddenly the ruin is accosted by the returning ravages of time.
York is startled but is then distracted by a racing hare. By the time he is once more with the party he has forgotten this puzzling scene. Besides which even if he remembered he could never communicate what he had witnessed.
This bit of written storytelling only happened because I forgot to tell the players this in the game. The device of using a pet as a witness for something the adventurers never knew in some ways is cooler. Sometimes mistakes produce fun things in themselves.
Keeping track of everything you intend to do in a game is difficult and the more I got into narrating and refereeing the more I left my printed notes aside and improvised specifics. Ultimately this is more satisfying for all and over the three sessions I think we all became more limber and agile role-players. I also think I have cobbled together a good group who have a balance of both gaming experience (in some cases more in the form of acting than gaming) and freshness of perspective. They challenged my setting and story but in a playful and constructive way. In return I provided them with a few surprises to amuse or shock (apparently I’m adept at making ordinary things like Mistletoe creepy). The result of these interactions is a form of collaborative creativity.
However there is also solo creativity in this game for me between sessions and in different media. I've drawn some illustrations, summarised sessions in written prose, and even selected tracks for incidental music (emulating 80s fantasy movies with a mix of orchestral and pop music rather than making any attempt at “authenticity”). I hope this will continue for a while, as exploring and expanding my fantasy setting has been rollicking good fun.