Friday, March 23, 2007

When an author, game designer or beat poet sets about creating a fantasy setting or science fiction universe, he or she establishes the rules.
Currently, the most important initial concerns are (for fantasy) the ways the setting is different from Tolkien's Middle Earth and (for speculative fiction) how the setting is different from Star Wars or Star Trek.
There are immutable rules for both.
Neither magic nor technology are ever completely without cost to the user.
Government, currency, and technological levels should be established early on for both types.
My favorite rule (and the focus of this post) is that every setting needs "Orcs or Nazis".
"Orcs or Nazis" refers to a type of creature that can be killed by the hero with no angst or sense of regret.
All good settings have things that can be killed freely so that the heroes can gain skills and abilities without attending lectures and classes and webinars for the first third of the book/fifteen levels of game play/initial rhyming couplets.
In the classic D&D adventure Keep on the Borderlands by Gary Gygax (long may he reign), the first level characters were given free reign to slaughter whole tribes of kobolds, goblins and orcs (even the whelplings) with no consequences at all -- unless they left survivors to seek revenge later.
I'll confess. Even as a child (I first ran through Keep on the Borderlands at the age of nine) I (hulking barbarian warrior that I was) wasn't really too keen on the six experience points I would have gained slaying kobold pups who were too young to fight back.
I distinctly remember interrupting the entire flow of this early dungeon crawl to take the surviving young to be raised in a monastery on a neighboring mountain.
Someday, in a campaign I run, these kobolds will return as powerful martial artists seeking to return the balance to their former home caves.
Okay. So maybe Mr. Gygax failed a little in establishing "Orcs and Nazis" or maybe I was just a little too involved in the ecology of the setting, but the concept was there.
I don't remember much else about that early adventure, but I'm sure the geeks I played with remember the Dungeon Master resentfully inventing that monastery on the fly and finally letting his dice roll to a stop as well as I do.
Later on I got a +1 battle axe, I think.
And probably a helmet with horns on it.

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