Fantasy Wargaming, cover to cover (VII)

More chapter II! If you can’t tell, this is pretty much my favorite chapter of the book. But it’s also got a hall of a lot to digest. This should be the last post devoted to it though.

The next section is titled “Myth: the bard’s tale,” and it begins with a jab at “other games” that “copped out” and used pulp fiction to inspire its monsters. The wrongheadedness here makes me a little uncomfortable — after all, whether or not you want to use the gonzo approach of D&D and Tunnels & Trolls, you have to recognize the staggering importance of their innovations as the first RPGs. Of course these games were only a few years old when this was written so perhaps their significance was harder to see then. Anyway FW will use only “real” mythological creatures, but more on that in a later chapter.

The intent of FW is to recreate medieval epics, romances, & legends, and so this section attempts to explain the mythic spaces of the dark ages and high middle ages, in terms of the

  • landscape (geographic features)
  • magic (forms of enchantment common to the setting)
  • monsters
  • heroes
  • imagery (themes, images, & objects)
  • patterns of adventure (typical story lines etc.)

This makes the section very interesting from a world-building perspective, as these are the sorts of things that really important to a setting for gaming purposes.

The dark ages part covers the Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic worlds, each in a reasonable amount of depth but a DM should still do some more research, such as reading some of the literature of the periods. For the Anglo-Saxon period, Beowulf is the main reference; for the Norse, there are many, many sagas and romances; and for the Celtic era, there is also a relative wealth of Irish and Welsh sources. The authors admit that they had a lot of trouble fitting the bizarre and alien features of Celtic myth into their system, but they feel it is very doable and offer a lot of ideas. The “patterns of adventure” details for each period have some good ideas for plots and storylines you may want to explore.

The other period that FW attempts to simulate is the “High Middle Ages,” the period of about the 11th to 15th centuries. This section looks at the tropes of medieval romances, mentioning the three major bodies of literature surrounding Arthur, Alexander the Great*, and Charlemagne. Unfortunately, the authors cop out a bit here, deciding to ignore the Alexandrian romances (because they are set in the wrong time and place for FW) and the Carolingian romances (because Charlemagne and his paladins have too varied a literature to summarize!!!). Still, Arthurian lore is covered as three distinct settings, the historical, the Welsh, and the Chivalric legends.

Next Faery is covered in some more detail, emphasizing that it is a sort of no-man’s land in every sense. It is neither divine nor diabolic, not wholly of earth or ethereal plane, and most importantly not human. An important feature of Faery is the decline it undergoes across the whole period, including a diminution of fairies and elves themselves, from the Tolkien-sized Sidhe of Celtic lore to the puny fairies of the end of the High Middle Ages, to our “flower-sized” Victorian fairies. This is (very cleverly, IMO) to be understood in FW in terms of the “Unified field theory” — as belief in the realm of Faery wanes, so does its very existence. The smaller and smaller forms the residents take over time is explained in terms of the economy of mana — a small form costs less mana to maintain.

Lastly, Saints and miracles are discussed, because after all there is a quite a bit of fantasy in the hagiographies (saints’ biographies) of the middle ages. These too are explained in FW terms.

*Yeah, Alexander the Great. Although he was an ancient, a vast body of legends regarding his eastern adventures arose in the middle ages.

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Published in: on August 1, 2010 at 3:03 pm  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’m really enjoying this series of posts. It’s definitely the strange fantasy game that insists on a high level of historical accuracy. I wonder if Alexis ever played HLFW (no disrespect intended).

  2. I’m following with great interest, too. I always saw this book on shelves as a kid and was intrigued, but the cover was a killer for a kid from a religious family, geez, I had a hard enough time defending the DM’s guide.

    I think I’ll try to find a used copy.

    • It’s absolutely worth a read, even if you never play it. I have found the “big” sized printing from tein & Day to be a little fragile (it is perfect bound) and the book club edition to be somewhat more sturdily made, but I suspect the UK edition published by Patrick Stephens is a better piece of worksmanship, since they are a bigger publisher. You should be able to find a copy very cheaply used at Abe Books or Amazon. I got my book club ed. for $5 at Half Price books (the other one my brother & I bought new in 1984 or 1985! But it began falling apart immediately.)

      The cover is worth owning on its own merits. The wizard’s lab is very evocative of early 80s gaming art. I think Jeff Rients pointed out that this is the first and most likely only RPG with a picture of a penis on the cover (although it is abstract enough not to be immediately obvious, at least to me). I love that the devil on the cover even has “coagula” and “solve” on his forearms, just like the one in Eliphas Levi’s book.


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