Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Strangers in Strange Lands

So, it appears that the latest session report of my Dwimmermount campaign has caused something of a stir, judging from my comments and emails. A number of readers expressed some degree of concern/alarm that I had transgressed an unspoken "rule" of fantasy roleplaying games by making a connection between the world of Dwimmermount and our Earth. I must confess that I did anticipate this sort of reaction. A good many gamers like to "keep their chocolate out of their peanut butter," to speak and having a scientist from 20th century America appear as an NPC does just that. And while I did anticipate this reaction, I obviously don't share it.

But I do understand it. When I first entered the hobby, I tried to get into the various authors and stories the older guys said were "important" for me to read, like Burroughs, DeCamp, Pratt, and so forth. Try as I did, though, I can't deny that, back then, I found a lot of this stuff boring, especially when compared to the "modern" fantasy books that were all the rage back then, like Terry Brooks and David Eddings. And those books did not include modern day characters traveling to other worlds (or, to the future, in the case of Brooks) and interacting with all their fantasy creatures and situations. They were serious fantasy, after all.

Of course, had I bothered to look at Appendix N, I might have noticed the large number included in it who wrote stories that involved a 20th century man traveling into a fantasy world:
I could probably go on and cite many more examples, but my point is simply that Gary Gygax, when he had the opportunity to cite the books and authors who were most influential on him, included quite a few examples that involved cross-overs between 20th century Earth and a fantasy world. For that reason, I increasingly find it difficult to see anything "wrong" with doing the same in my D&D campaign.

Looking back, I think what has happened is that, as the fantasy genre has changed over the years, it's opted strongly for "self-contained" worlds that are separated from our own. Although there are exceptions -- Donaldson's Thomas Covenant books, for example -- they're mostly outliers. Instead, when people think of what a fantasy novel should be, they tend to think of The Lord of the Rings as a model (even though Tolkien intended Middle-earth to be the mythic past of this world) rather than something like A Princess of Mars or "The Roaring Trumpet." Somehow, what had been a mainstay of fantasy for the better part of this century has been reduced to a curiosity, particularly among gamers who aren't familiar with the pulp fantasy literature from which the early hobby took inspiration.

All of this is simply a long-winded way of saying that, far from seeing any problems with the introduction of a 20th century man into my OD&D campaign, I see his presence as every bit as natural as the presence of a spaceship in the World of Greyhawk. Of course, lots of gamers still have problems with that too, but at least I'm in good company.

74 comments:

  1. Nothing is forbidden; all is allowed when it comes to D&D. Dave Hargrave taught us that. And sometimes you've just got to say, "Why the Hell not?"

    Good on you, James. Have fun.

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  2. So odd... I had always assumed, from the way you wrote your session recaps, that sooner or later an "Earthman" would turn up in your game. It didn't surprise me in the slightest, and I think it totally fits in with the campaign you've created.

    Heck, even in Greyhawk, there was one "quasi-Deity" (whose name I'm too lazy to look up right now) who carried a pistol and wore an outfit reminiscent of a 19th Century Earth cowboy. I had always assumed that he'd travel to Earth at some point and then returned to Greyhawk.

    I'm still very interested in finding out more about how much you had planned ahead for the arrival of the scientist in your game. As I mentioned in my comments to your last Dwimmermount recap (which I posted long after you'd stopped commenting on that particular blog entry), I said:

    "For your style of "sandbox play" (which I find very intriguing but have never executed as a referee), can you give us a sense of how much of the information above you had "planned out" versus how much you made up based on the actions of your players? I know your players read the blog so I'm not looking for you to give anything away, but I'm also fascinated by comments you make that seem as though you make up really interesting campaign plot points "on the spot", but then toward the end of your summary above you mention "The additional details about Areon, as well as the Stranger from "Earth" were ideas I'd wanted to work into the campaign at some point", so clearly you had thought about those ahead of time. I'm just trying to understand your process a little more. I have definitely fallen into a pattern of preparing way too much background information for my games, most of which never gets used but which takes time away from me working on the actual things that my players are dealing with."

    I also asked a question about how it was like gaming with your daughter and whether she was still part of your campaign, but that can wait until another time. :)

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  3. Martin,

    Answers are forthcoming on those questions, probably tomorrow.

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  4. I totally agree.. it can very often evoke an 'oy vey' response when modern or sci-fi elements are introduced into a DnD campaign, but it's been a supported element since the first days of the hobby.

    I think a lot of it is in how it's handled by the DM. As long as it's kept mysterious and in tune with the feel of the campaign, I think it can work out famously. For example, the HR Giger coating I put on the technology in my version of Blackmoor.

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  5. Or the classic Snarf's Quest comic that used to feature in Dragon magazine, while not exactly "serious" it did include an evil wizard who jumped over to modern earth and bringing back artifacts (at least until his assistant clumsily breaks the magical hourglass allowing him to travel between worlds).

    I also found the presence of a modern day earthman to fit in quite naturally with your campaign.

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  6. I remember the first time I had dealt w/ that crossover in a published module was the calcified mummy in Caverns of Tsojcanth. If you remember he had a pair of six guns and a sombrero...

    I LOVED it! I didn't expect it in the least as a player, but for some reason it made the module seem more "real" to me. It's hard to explain, but the addition of something from "real life" had the effect of focussing my imagination of the scene. If that makes any sense what-so-ever.

    And to boot, we used to do the crossover stuff that you'd find in the DMG; D&D to Boot Hill, D&D to Gamma World, etc. and go adventuring in all sorts of odd locales. Our DM had the habit of digging up old real world maps and setting an adventure there.

    We once had to rob Fort Knox. Oh the fond memories that elicits.

    I love reading your recaps by the way James. Fantastic seeds throughout.

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  7. Wasn't one of the conceits of the original Blackmoor campaign that the PCs were twentieth century normal folks transported to fantasy land?

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  8. Wasn't one of the conceits of the original Blackmoor campaign that the PCs were twentieth century normal folks transported to fantasy land?

    Yes, at least one of the early Blackmoor characters was in fact a 20th century person (namely Dave Wesely) transported to a fantasy world.

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  9. I have no problem with the real world seeping into fantasy. My most common source of theft, Terry Prachett, often uses lots of real world references, appropriately modified. I think if done right, it works. A bit of humor, a bit of mystery, and a bit of 'can't get back' works wonders.

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  10. While I don't agree with you a lot, I agree on this 100%. There's a small but significant niche genre of "modern earth man in a strange distant world" fiction out there, and I keep finding more all the time:

    - Roger More William's Zanthar of the Many Worlds.
    - Del Dowdell's Spearmen of Arn
    - Jeffrey Lord's Richard Blade Series

    the list goes on. And all of these books, regardless of literary merit, are ripe with gaming fodder.

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  11. Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser do the opposite, being fantasy characters who travel to our Earth, albeit in the past

    And the reverse occurs when, IIRC, a German time-traveler briefly shows up in Newhon, and has an extended discussion with Fafhrd and the Mouser.

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  12. Quag Keep (which you've reviewed here) had cross-world interaction. I still love Rosenberg's "Guardians of the Flame" series that had modern RPG players sent cross-world by a wizard out of the fantasy world's myths.

    I once had the PCs run into Christian orcs. Confused the heck out of them.

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  13. Really? No one has mentioned anything by CS Lewis yet?

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  14. I prefer not to mix my "chocolate and peanut butter" and avoid such modern connections in my fantasy. My preference is mainly because where does it lead? Once you introduce a modern element it tends to escalate until everyone has access to machine guns and automobiles. At least this has been my experience.

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  15. I confess this was long expected for me, too. I cannot possibly see what could be verbotten about it.

    Greyhawk had such gates to 20th century Earth (although Gygax's players balked at fully exploring New York in a blackout, IIRC), there were several transpositions between Greyhawk and the starship Warden (and back again). Hell, the DMG itself has rules to switch between AD&D and Gamma World and Boot Hill.

    And don't forget that the Forgotten Realms were based from the earliest incarnations on the idea that there are (or were) numerous gates between there and our own Earth, giving rise to various legends here about creatures that exist there. I always found that a very compelling idea, somehow.

    What's the beef?

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  16. Well, as I'm sure you know, I think it's a great idea, and like you I've already made a character class for it: the Outsider

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  17. Well, glad we could spur another post, James...

    Anyway, I'm one of those who likes my chocolate and peanut butter separate...actually, I don't like peanut butter at all but that's a different topic altogether.

    I've always viewed the players themselves (not their characters) as the "modern character thrust into a fantasy world" and the sense of wonder, exploration and fun stem from that. Adding a character from our real world and time seems to break that down, and now there is someone else that represents the players (as they really exist) and they have to now play the dwarves and elves and whatnot around him. If that makes any sense.

    It's a philosophical difference I guess, and I won't say anyone is wrong (in public at least).

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  18. "The City Beyond The Gate" in Dragon #100 has adventurers travel to the modern world.

    Our own Weird West game is starting in the 'real' historical 1880s and adding increasing amounts of D&D elements which could see the characters eventually relocate to a fantasy world. Sort of like that Boot Hill to AD&D conversion section in the DMG. :)

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  19. I love this kind of stuff. My players found a mummy in a spacesuit a while back and they LOVED it. But then again I don't draw any lines at all between fantasy and sci-fi in my games.

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  20. I don't understand the problem with this. A good DM can handle this and it adds a new layer of depth and fun to the game. My last campaign, set on Barsoom, featured all Earthmen transported in a similarly mysterious fashion to how John Carter made it there. Over the course of the campaign guns and cars made appearances (in addition to the usual Radium Blasters and hoverships), but the problems of escalating technology never appeared, ammo and gas runs out, eventually. Anyways....
    James, since your campaign obviously borrows a lot from ERB, are there radium guns and hoverships in Dwimmermount?

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  21. I just bought my daughter (9 yo) her first roleplaying game (a Finnish elf rpg called Elhendi) and immediately she designed her second adventure: a science fantasy treasure hunt with betrayal as a plot twist. She drew a kind of a flowchart that had interplanetary travel in rockets, knife-wielding plants guarding giant gems and alien kings.

    Obviously she hasn't read pretty much any fantasy literature but has heard all the typical Arabian Nights stuff, fairy tales, Moomin stories and Hitchhiker's Guide to Galaxy. She hasn't yet formed an image what fantasy or roleplaying "ought to be" and it's great.

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  22. One of my favorite adventurers is from Draogn magazine #100, I believe the City Beyond the Gate, where the party goes to modern times to retrieve the famous Mace of St. Cuthbert. Great adventure and the mace was a nice touch for the cleric of... yup, St. Cuthbert.

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  23. My last D&D campaign was on Earth, went to Mars, had time travelers from both past and future, and there weren't gods. It is my default campaign setting that I ran RQ and D&D in for years, and I'll continue to use it.
    The last session report was awesome, IMO.

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  24. I was expecting you to do this eventually, so I was delighted when it finally happened. Given your love for the old Pulp stories and your desire to recreate the early days of gaming, it was only natural.

    And it's very appealing. One of the attractions for me of GW's Warhammer World (in its early incarnations) was its science-fantasy nature, which, sadly, was mostly scrubbed from the game.

    I'm looking forward to seeing how the Outsider's time in Dwimmermount progresses. :)

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  25. So I love campaigns that add the spice of the person DMing it. If you cant be passionate about your NPCs they're just mindless and boring. So why not include heroes who inspired you in life. There is so much info on real people, you can create quite a convincing NPC (read their biography, you have a crazy detailed back story).

    Keep doing what your doing man. Be yourself.

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  26. Not only is Terry Brooks Shannara a "future Earth", but his Landover series features a lawyer from our world traveling to the fantastical kingdom after purchasing it through a mail-order catalog.

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  27. You seemed prepared for this. How much of this story is for the pc's and how much is for you to illustrate a point for your readers? Also, is inspiration, however vague, cause for replication (in your Gygax reference)?

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  28. That looks pretty cool. I also like Earth crossover stories. At the moment, I'm designing my first D&D megadungeon and 'supporting city' and it's located where Washington D.C. was thousands of years ago. My 'City of the Gods' will be where ancient Manhattan was - yes, of course it will be surrounded by a Forbidden Zone and apemen. :D

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  30. It truly is odd that people would get upset that someone from earth has entered the campaign when its already been established that alien technology exists within Dimmermount. Go figure I guess...

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  31. I should make my next character a lost Earth man.

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  32. I always felt that the Paladin class was at least partly inspired by Holger Carlsen in Three Hearts and Three Lions.

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  33. This reminds me of a few more contemporary characters who end up in a fantasy world: Oscar "Scar" Gordon in Heinlein's Glory Road and a whole bunch of computer programmers in Cook's The Wizardry Compiled.

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  34. Barbara Hambly did it in the 80s with The Silent Tower and The Silicon Mage.

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  35. I grew up on Oz and Narnia. To this day, my favorite example of sci-fi/fantasy is "Farscape," which far and away surpasses all other "modern Earthman in a fantastic situation" stories (mostly because of its genre-savvy hero, who never fails to exploit the chance to crack wise with a reference to Earth pop culture, especially sci-fi).

    These sources were largely the whole body of inspiration for the work of fantasy fiction which eventually became the Gaia setting for E&E. And, to be sure, I've run many a game where the PCs have visited present-day Earth, or where one of the PCs is indeed an Earthling unceremoniously deposited into the fantasy world. Provided that it's played straight and handled maturely, it can make for nothing short of great role-playing.

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  36. I saw the bit, went "Oh, cool" to myself, and didn't think anything more of it. It didn't occur to me that there'd be people who object. Subject matter aside; it's your game, not theirs.

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  37. I know for a fact that no-one reads my session reports except my players (I hope). If I posted up two in a row and got lambasted first for "being tired" (you bastard!) and then for the content of the game, I think I'd probably stop posting them.

    Rude much?

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  38. James said: "Tolkien intended Middle-earth to be the mythic past of this world."

    Such a generalizing statement is misleading, though no doubt unintentionally so. Actually, Tolkien abandoned this idea as his legendarium evolved. It's true that he did think this way for a while.

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  39. @Pekka: Wow! The campaign described by your daughter sounds awesome. I think we could all learn more lessons from kids on how to use our imagination again.

    I think the problem some people have with a lot of such "cross-flavour" games is that they intentionally break the fourth wall (in that the player/audience knows stuff which the character/actors don't and can't). And doing so is not the easiest thing to do in any media, let alone role-playing games. After all, the players are presented with something they now know more about than their characters.

    [Either that, or the players are just jealous that they're not the adventurers in the fantasy world.]

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  40. You may not be surprised, but I sure am.

    I mean, people know this is a blog about the "old school", right? Crossovers to 20th Century Earth are about as surprising as orcs.

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  41. I do find it somewhat amusing that much of the OD&D crowd has a serious dislike of, or at least, apprehension for clerics and theives but are ok with lasers, spaceships and dropping Thurston Unger Jr. CPA of Spooner, Wisconsin into the middle of a dungeon. Not that anyone is right or wrong here, just an amusing observation.

    I think my dislike for introducing modern/recent historical characters into my game settings stems from the way it's penetrated so much of current fantasy and sci-fi (primarily films and tv) as an easy way to connect to the audience rather than creating relatable in-world characters or great stories.

    I'd commented on my hatred of the Pod-race announcer in the Phantom Menace, but the prequels are filled with this kind of intrusion. That was one of the biggest problems with the prequels vs the original series. In the original series, we (as kids) were meant to imagine ourselves as Luke or Han and put ourselves into that galaxy. The prequels tried to drop a modern, "relatable" kid and situations into the galaxy for everyone to connect to.

    Star Trek, especially the movies and the Next Generation Series were horribly guilty of this as well. People are always guaranteed to be collectors of 20th Century "antiques" or fans of 1940's pulp detective novels (so convenient for holodeck episodes), or even Shakespeare quoting Klingons. It all just seems out of place, and when poorly done, really shatters the illusions of worlds people try to create.

    Anyway, curious how many people here ever spent time with Spelljammer, or if anyone has tried to pare it back to an OD&D set of rules? It at least tried to capture some of that "sword and planet" kind of feel. Whether it succeeded or not is a different question.

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  42. I struggle not to have a degree of contempt for those who disparage "Stranger" characters. OK if you're running a purist Tolkien type campaign, but the idea of this as a 'rule', when historically crossovers have been more the rule than the exception in fantasy fiction, seems laughable to me.

    Of coure I never read Eddings or Brooks, the only arguably sub-Tolkien series I read was Thomas Covenant, with its 20th century protagonist. I was always a Leiber/Moorcock man, and it's their approach that defined fantasy for me as swords & sorcery that certainly could & should include crossovers.

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  43. I'm reminded of The Sword in the Stone film, and Merlin's jaunts to the modern world and back. Of course, I approve, as I generally like my fantasy to be broad and open.

    The stranger-in-a-strange-land concept seems to have survived longer in children's fantasy. Perhaps it's the influence of Narnia and Wonderland, but you still see things like Spirited Away arise, and it seems to be far more uncommon in "adult" fantasy.

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  44. The concept of a stranger-in-a-strange-land has been carried through from ancient myths to works of fiction from the late 19th century and early 20th, to D&D-inspired RPGs and on contemporary works such as the TV series Lost and the movie Inception. Its use as a plot-device is fair-game; the trick is to not draw much attention to it.

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  45. When I was younger, I hated the idea of mixing up sci-fi & fantasy. The two must never meet!

    Now that I'm older, I don't mind at all. I don't care about the literary roots, only about tossing in whatever seems to fit my mood at the time, as long as there is minimal justification for it being there. My current campaign is heavily inspired by Thundarr, the players are confused but interested and enjoying themselves at this point, and it's a lot fresher than the stale fantasy tropes that I've been playing D&D with for the past 30 years.

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  46. Kelvin said:
    The stranger-in-a-strange-land concept seems to have survived longer in children's fantasy. Perhaps it's the influence of Narnia and Wonderland, but you still see things like Spirited Away arise, and it seems to be far more uncommon in "adult" fantasy.

    I was thinking the same thing; the crossover motif still is really common in children's fantasy. I don't know why it fell out of fantasy meant for adults.

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  47. @ Coldstream.
    Thurston Spooner is a long way from Flash Gordon and as an example doesn't even really a merit a response.
    The problem with the pod racer and the trek stuff is that the characters engaged in anachronistic behavior are not from the past or another reality- they are from that setting's current period, and by acting in such a way (e.g. calling a pod race in a 20th century fashion) they are violating the premise and context of the setting. I don't like this stuff either, but it is not the same phenomenon as bringing in a character from another time or place. Flash Gordon crashing down on your planet in a rocketship hell bent on saving the Earth from Ming might seem conceptually goofy to some, but it is contextually sound.
    The issue of Thieves and Clerics is in no way the same, either. I wonder that you would make the comparison. I don't want thieves because they come with skills. I don't want skills in my game. Everyone can try to do anything; I might give one character a better chance to fly a space ship or pick a lock than another, but everyone is allowed to try. I don't have a problem with Clerics, so much, but they are exceedingly rare in my setting because all the gods are essentially dead or gone. I can understand however, why someone might. The presence of divine spellcasters implies the presence of the divine. Not everyone wants the existence of the gods to be certain in their game. I'm sure there are other good reasons too. Spaceman Jones does not imply the existence of gods, his arrival does, however, indicate that there are other worlds and/or times. If one is uncomfortable with this than one should not introduce such elements. It is actually quite similar to the case with clerics. You don't like gods- don't use them.
    I was looking through Spell Jammer last night. I'd rather roll my own really, I don't like the standard demi-human races. They bore me, and they seem pretty much hard wired into Spell jammer universe- as does the concept of crystal spheres, which I'm also not terribly crazy about. I've got nothing against magic sailing spaceships, though, but I want rockets and flying saucers too.
    And Bigfoot. With a blaster and a magic sword.

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  48. From my reading, visitors from Earth and talking animals are probably the two elements where role-playing games diverge most from fantasy.

    You might say that fantasy no longer regularly has visitors from Earth, but that's only true of fantasy in the narrow "Terry Brooks and David Eddings" sense: books written by and for members of a subculture, and largely based on D&D.

    Planet of the Apes, Lost, Buffy, Avatar, Harry Potter and Twilight are all examples of fantasy where the main characters are supposed to come from the real world, and which were or are widely popular.

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  49. @Aos

    Really what I'm trying to get at is it seems fairly arbitrary where we draw the line when it comes to what is acceptable and what isn't. Some of us, myself included, tend to run closed-systems with little to no time/dimensional/interplanetary travel for our D&D games...call it high-fantasy or whatever. Some commentors have disparaged that idea, even suggesting contempt, stating that anything can go in D&D.

    At the same time, there seems to be a clear line that Strangers have to be some sort of immortal John Carteresque ubermensch or polo-playing, Ivy-leaguer Flash Gordons who always become the superior native (we even see that in Avatar today). You found the CPA example ridiculous, and it really was meant to be...but in my opinion not much moreso than the QB of the New York Jets or some PhD in physics (not a group stereotypically known for their martial prowess)ending up in a magical world contending with vaguely Chinese tyrants or displacer beasts and whatnot. Why is one ridiculous and the other not?

    I know the point to the Stranger class and its trappings are to try to capture the feel of the old pulp Sword and Planet fiction of the past and that's fine. It works for some gamers and not others, which is really the point to creating one's own gaming world.

    I guess what I'm getting at here is that some tend to disparage one group for preferring to limit worlds and games to self-contained settings as being some sort of slave to high-fantasy, but at the same time seem to limit their own worlds and games to the standards set in ERB inspired pulp fantasy...which is what makes an accountant ridiculous but a physicist or psychologist not.

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  50. An accountant is not so much ridiculous as it is boring- which in the context of a FRPG makes it ridiculous. The closed system High Fantasy equivalent would be to play the cooper or the shoe maker. Why would anyone want to play such a character? None of these are real worlds, playing an elf is no more or less sensible than playing a robot. Playing a car salesman or the guy who makes horseshoes are the same thing too, but who cares?

    I don't have an issue with keeping the game world closed or whatever you want, and I certainly don't have contempt for it. However, your posts have not seemed to defend that point (which in truth requires no defense); they have been attacks on doing it the other way.
    I notice you fail to address my points in regards to your comparisons with ST and SW. Instead you shift the goal posts over to the whole point behind the Stranger.
    Obviously I was a little confused about the nature of the conversation.
    If someone says they have contempt for the way you are doing things, perhaps you should address them directly instead of conflating contextually sound planetary romance with postmodern disasters like "Phantom Menace." Such a comparison is in and of itself an expression of contempt if ever there was one.
    All done now.

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  51. And the reverse occurs when, IIRC, a German time-traveler briefly shows up in Newhon, and has an extended discussion with Fafhrd and the Mouser.

    I don't believe I remember this story. Is it in one of the later Nehwon collections?

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  52. Well, as I'm sure you know, I think it's a great idea, and like you I've already made a character class for it: the Outsider

    Oh, I like that one!

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  53. James, since your campaign obviously borrows a lot from ERB, are there radium guns and hoverships in Dwimmermount?

    Not yet, although the Eld do use strange "wands" that are, more or less, radium guns.

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  54. She hasn't yet formed an image what fantasy or roleplaying "ought to be" and it's great.

    My children are much the same way and I sometimes envy them.

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  55. You seemed prepared for this. How much of this story is for the pc's and how much is for you to illustrate a point for your readers? Also, is inspiration, however vague, cause for replication (in your Gygax reference)?

    I have no idea what you're asking here. Care to elaborate?

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  56. Actually, Tolkien abandoned this idea as his legendarium evolved. It's true that he did think this way for a while.

    He did? Well, that's news to me then, but I'm no Tolkien scholar. Where does he talk about this? You have piqued my interest.

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  57. Sorry if any of my comments have come across as contempt or attacks of adding a contemporary character into a game. I didn't mean it as such, just that I wouldn't choose to do so and tried to give some reasons why. If everyone agreed with everything around here, we could farm out postings and comment streams to one person and save everyone time.

    I agree with what you're saying when it comes to Trek and Wars and how it's anachronistic within the context of Star War. In Trek it's at least an acknowledgement of the past within the world, but I still find it boring...a whole universe to explore with planets, races, untold numbers of wonders and let's have stories dealing with 1940's American gangsters. Have there been no other interesting events in-world over the last 300 years? But that's probably more of a criticism of lazy writers of the series.

    Sure an accountant is boring in our world (no offense to CPA's out there) unless you're running a great game of Papers and Paychecks. I guess though I don't see how much different it is dropping an accountant in the middle of Castle Greyhawk than it would be a random scientist. Both are number crunchers, both jobs would probably bore the average person to tears, both would be complete fish-out-water. But the scientist is seen as a great option, but an accountant ridiculous in a FRPG.

    It stems from what we choose to use to limit our games. Some like high-fantasy, others look for inspiration in ERB-styled games, and some have no real limits...and then we end up with RIFTS and we're all screwed.

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  58. You might say that fantasy no longer regularly has visitors from Earth, but that's only true of fantasy in the narrow "Terry Brooks and David Eddings" sense: books written by and for members of a subculture, and largely based on D&D.

    True enough. It's interesting too that, though D&D was, to varying degrees inspired by "man out of time" fantasy stories, it in turn has probably contributed to the downplaying of that approach within the types of fantasy literature it has inspired.

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  59. Tolkien never ceased to treat Middle-earth as a “fictional time” rather than a “fictional place.” This should be clear from the ending of The Lord of the Rings (the Age of Men arrives, magic and elves fade), or the beginning of The Hobbit (Hobbits are around, you just don’t see them because you are loud and clumsy).

    It is true that his earliest writings dealt more with Ælfwine the Mariner who learns the ancient Elvish Tales and goes on to father Hengest and Horsa, legendary Anglo-Saxons who brought their people to Britain. I don’t think you can prove that he ever “abandoned” this concept in general. Indeed, while he never rewrote these stories, he continued to refer to Ælfwine even in his last writings. —Falconer

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  60. I don't believe I remember this story. Is it in one of the later Nehwon collections?

    The time-traveler Karl Treuherz shows up briefly in chapter 3 of "The Swords of Lankhmar." He also got the cover shot on some of the older printings of TSOL:

    http://scrollsoflankhmar.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/swords-of-lankhmar-jeff-jones-cover.jpg

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  62. @ Coldstream;
    Understood, I'm sorry if i seem a little combative.
    Now, if we were talking about using the accountant in real life, it probably would not be any more or less sensible than the random scientists, but, well, we're not. We're talking a about a fantasy game. Fighters tend to be badasses regardless of their background. The common idea is that in a traditional style game they are right off the farm or something- not really any more or less ready for adventure than the random accountant or physicist. However, not all such travelers are warriors. Dorothy, for instance, is just a modern age farmgirl and she does alright for herself, same thing withe Narnia kids.
    Personally, though, my favorite example of this sort of thing is Richard Corben's Den, he's a scrawny high school age nerd before he makes the transit to Neverwhere- it's the crazy psychedelic transition itself that turns him into a over endowed badass.
    Anyway, I don't see any of these choices (High Fantasy, S&S, Planetary Romance) as limitations, really, or as mutually exclusive options

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  63. Tolkien never ceased to treat Middle-earth as a “fictional time” rather than a “fictional place.” This should be clear from the ending of The Lord of the Rings (the Age of Men arrives, magic and elves fade), or the beginning of The Hobbit (Hobbits are around, you just don’t see them because you are loud and clumsy).

    That was my recollection as well, but, as I said, I'm not really up on the latest Tolkien scholarship, so I can believe there are nuances I've missed or misunderstood.

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  64. The time-traveler Karl Treuherz shows up briefly in chapter 3 of "The Swords of Lankhmar."

    I must confess I missed this story. My collection of Lankhmar stories ends with Swords Against Wizardry, so my reading of the stories after that point is spotty at best. I guess I must correct this.

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  65. I've enjoyed reading your blog for a while now and would love to be lucky enough to have you for a referee. My earlier post referred to whether your blogging and gaming have become so intertwined so as your game planning (sandbox discussion aside) is affected by your efforts at Grognardia.

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  66. My earlier post referred to whether your blogging and gaming have become so intertwined so as your game planning (sandbox discussion aside) is affected by your efforts at Grognardia.

    Oh, I see now.

    To a great extent, the two have always been intertwined. I began the campaign largely as an experiment, to see if I enjoyed playing OD&D as much as I enjoyed reading and talking about it. Necessarily, a lot of things that go on in the campaign are the result of thoughts I've posted here or discussions I've had via the comments to them. However, the campaign has very much taken on a life of its own and it's not merely an extension of the blog. I doubt it would have lasted as long as it has if that's all that it were.

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  67. I must confess I missed this story.

    Oh, you really need to read TSOL. Besides the scope being a bit larger than some of the other stories (TSOL being the only full-length novel concerning Fafhrd and the Mouser), the sequence where a magically-shrunken Mouser infiltrates the Rat Kingdom below the streets of Lankhmar is alone worth the price of admission.

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  68. I think D&D can certainly handle closed worlds and open worlds. You see both in the source material.

    Pure Tolkienesque high fantasy arguably requires a closed world, though you can do similar good vs evil themes in an open world - compare Middle Earth to Narnia. The Narnia books have a good deal of inter-dimensional travel, most notably in The Wizard's Nephew.

    Doing Conan with the themes inherent in REH's original (modernist low fantasy) requires a closed world, albeit allowing references to eg the Cthulu Mythos. But Marvel uses Conan for open-world power fantasy, with time travel et al.

    Since 2008 I've been running a closed-world high-ish fantasy D&D campaign set in a kind of dark ages SW Europe; the themes from CS Lewis and The Song of Roland work better in a closed world.

    By contrast I'm also running a very open-world Wilderlands D&D campaign; Wilderlands is brilliant for planetary romance and there are several Stranger PCs and NPCs, mostly physicists from an alternate Earth where CHER (a CERN-type project) went horribly wrong.

    I think 4e D&D is the first edition I've seen where the themes and tropes explicitly promote a closed-world approach; but of course the rules still work fine for an open-world setting.

    Neither approach is badwrongfun; both have their uses and are appropriate for different settings and campaigns.

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  69. Thinking about it, a modern accountant or other 'normal man' type would be much bigger and stronger than the people in an ancient or medieval technology world, and would probably look better; for example they'd probably have all their teeth. They'd also have useful knowledge like knowing about germs and good nutrition. However this contradicts the way we usually think about these worlds.

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  70. I think that, for some people, such explicit contact between the real world and the fantasy world wakes up some subconscious, nitpicky questions that they could otherwise ignore. I suspect that’s part of what makes them uneasy about it.

    Personally, I found the transitions of John Carter and Holger Carlson to their respective unconventional worlds awfully lame. ^_^

    The word “arbitrary” has come up again. I think it is perfectly OK if the lines we draw for our games are arbitrary. More likely, though, I think the key word in “seem fairly arbitrary” is “seem”. More often than not, I’ve learned that what seemed arbitrary to me actually wasn’t.

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  71. Maybe this is just the difference between growing up with Myst and Narnia instead of Dragon Prophecy of Doom or whatever, but worlds that don't give some sort of hint to their relationship with our world, be they other places, other times, other dimensions or some nebulous dream-state feel a little weird to me.

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  72. Don't forget "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" ;-)

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