Neo-Fantasy: Outside the Beaten Path

Posted: August 1, 2011 by pointyman2000 in Articles, Campaign Design, Roleplaying Games

I’ve never really run a full fantasy campaign with any real success.  The last fantasy campaign I ran was the Legend of the Five Rings Phoenix Clan Civil War campaign I ran a few months back, and that didn’t really finish or continue beyond the first story arc.

And so I find myself looking towards trying another fantasy campaign after the pulp game that I’m running right now.  The question however, as always… is what the heck do I run?

Lately my thoughts have been drifting towards more non-standard fantasy stories.  Lately, there’s been a new wave of successful, interesting and fresh takes on the fantasy genre.  Among them is the runaway hit: Avatar: the Last Airbender, and its upcoming sequel, The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra.  In France, the remarkably amusing Wakfu animation has come out with new and interesting takes on a fantasy setting that draws inspiration from both anime with that signature “eurotrash” vibe.

What appeals to me for these two would be the fact that they’re not your standard Tolkien-ish fantasy, but they never feel like they’re trying too hard.  This is the sort of thing that I’d like to pull off.  To that end, I’ve been thinking about just what exactly is it about these series that I’ve found to be so compelling:

  • Culture – There’s a distinct flavor to these series that shines through in everything.  Avatar for example, has an entirely new continent that pays homage to real world cultures, while retaining enough of that sense of wonder that makes it so entertaining to explore.
  • Conflict – Both series have a world that is a joy to explore, and that is contrasted sharply by threats that pretty much put all of that joy at risk.  The Fire Nation in Avatar, for example is hell bent on destroying the other cultures, while the primary villain of Wakfu’s first season is someone with enough power to really destroy the world as the protagonists know it, if he is allowed to achieve his goals.
  • Character – Despite all the breathtaking sights, wondrous vistas and compelling conflicts, both series never lose sight of Character Development.  I’ve seen players scoff at the term, stating that character development in roleplaying games is a lie, but that’s for a different post. 😀  Stories are remarkable only because the characters are easy to relate to, and because you see them change and adapt to new conditions and situations and make the important decisions that shape who they are.

Given these, I’ll be looking at what might constitute my campaign, what systems are in the running, what elements I plan to use and perhaps if I’m lucky, a setting that I can work with and develop into something bigger.

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Comments
  1. Hikkikomori says:

    Fantasy w/ Character Development

    I think the difficult hurdle to get past this kind of genre & goal combination is that the GM an Players are too overwhelmed with the possibilities that they could explore in the world, that they lose sight of their personal growth (aside from Level and Equipment).

    GMs and Players like to come up with all kinds of zany ideas in a fantasy setting because it is all possible. Why constrain yourself to overcoming personal demons and past tragedies when you know out there there’s a magical sword or legendary beast that you can take or slay in order to solve all your problems.

    Its the contrast of Introspection and Extrospection.
    In a fantasy setting, a setting with no boundaries, no limits, and in a world where there is a fabled solution to any and all problems, there is no need to sit around and try to learn from experience. Fantasy is all about overcoming the next big obstacle. Whereas in a non-fantasy setting, where protagonists must work with what they have, make themselves stronger with what they’ve learned – because there is no magic sword.

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