If you pick up a Fantasy novel, watch a Fantasy movie or television show what do you see? Humans, humans everywhere. Even if the story is centered on other races, like the Hobbit, they end up in ‘human lands’ and having to defend human kingdoms. My question is, how did the humans get there?
With some exceptions the majority of fantasy fiction is centered on humans. And even in the cases where a story is centered on non-humans, the world is still mostly populated by humans. The big cities are populated by humans, and the nations are for the most part humans. Yes there are exceptions to this rule. There are places where there are dwarven nations, elven nations, etc. But even in those worlds humans dominate. That’s just the way it is. That is okay, no big deal, it makes the things accessible.
But I have questions, and it comes from my academic background, how did this happen? How did these humans come to dominate and control the world? I am talking beyond generic myth making. I am more interested in exploring the history and sociology behind humanities expansion.
That is why my game for the boys is instead based on a world where humans are just beginning to explore a part of the world. They have slowly ‘civilized’ and populated part of a continent. But the majority of the continent is still unknown. The land where the group starts is a frontier. The humans and halflings there are settlers. Just establishing farms and ranches.
There are ‘native’ races and tribes, non humans who are already settled on the land. And it is up to the group to be the first explorers of this land. They might be peaceful explorers, a la Lewis and Clark. Or will they be Conquistadors, there to establish human rule, bringing their Gods, and the natives need to just get out of the way.
But my vision is that this is not some dawn of human ‘civilization’ time. The Kingdom is closer to a late Middle Ages, early Renaissance type of culture as far as military practices. They are not just roving bands of primitive settlers coming into the land for the first time. They are serious new settlers on the level of explorers to the New World. Only instead of native, ‘primitive’ humans in the land there are instead strange non human races.
I know that this is a different approach. There are not as many humans in the land. And when the group explores they are encountering a new land, a land that is not settled in any way that they recognize. I am excited for this campaign. Because they never know if the next group they encounter will become enemies of the Kingdom, or allies.
Another reason for this approach is that there are 2 ways to GM a game. You can take existing settings (and the pre-written modules for those settings) and drop the players in there, and go from there. But to some extent this relies on the players knowing something about that world. If I run a game in the Forgotten Realms my players will want to go to Waterdeep, or the Vale or Cormyr, etc. Or at least that is the ideal.
The other approach is to create your own world, your own setting. That is usually more fun, but is far more work. And not just for the GM, but also for the players, because they have to buy into that world. But what makes that work is to start somewhere. I choose to start in a small town, and then move out from there on the frontier, exploring the new world. And it makes a lot more sense to me for the characters to be truly exploring, instead of being just another group of wanderers in the middle of a ‘civilized’ land.
And this way I don’t have to expect my players to know everything about this world, which countries are they at war with, which gods do they follow, what cities should they avoid. And without a lot more source material to fall back on, like in a published setting, it is hard to explain all of that to the players. So it is time and work saving to go with this approach. But it is more ‘realistic’ considering the players don’t know anything about the world, there is no consensus starting point like if we ran a Lord of the Rings game or Star Wars. They get to be explorers in a strange new land. And everything they run into, and eventually choose to build on is foreign.