Has anyone tried to explain the ahistorical features of the standard fantasy setting in-universe?

Blue Orange

Gone to Texas
I was looking through GURPS' Dungeon Fantasy (which is basically 'play D&D with GURPS rules'), and this bit struck me:

"Consequently, it has some unusual conventions, including a quasi-medieval setting full of modern social developments such as sexual equality, sprawling metropolises, and a cash economy; a technological mix whose only rules seem to be “preindustrial” and “no gunpowder”; casual acceptance of magic and holy miracles; trade guilds for thieves, wizards, and even assassins; and a culture that recognizes “adventurer” as a career choice."

Now of course you don't have to explain it; a lot of people just want to have fun playing, and you don't want to annoy or offend players! But has anyone with a flair for worldbuilding tried to come up with reasons for all this as part of the history of your world? The deities set it that way at the start? (Probably the easiest way.) Feminist movement 500 years ago that's long since triumphed and nobody holds stereotypes anymore?

As for the cities... Cure disease allows higher population densities? (A center of commerce like Waterdeep could easily have any ancestry, human or otherwise, a player wants to play.)

Guilds for wizards seem pretty logical if wizards are a thing, but how does the thieves' guild get along with the town guard? Tolerated because they keep worse thieves in line? Pay taxes so the watch turns a blind eye?

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Some settings work well for this, Oathbound has a world full of divine energy which narratively pushes things like rapid character development and animals and plants growing quickly which can support huge population centers. There are setting chained demigods who reach out into the multiverse to bring in populations in hopes of creating conflicts to develop powerful combat champions who can defeat them in combat as the one way for them to be freed from their curses, so you have setting reasons for diverse cantina races and cultures thrown together with constant conflict.

. . . how does the thieves' guild get along with the town guard? Tolerated because they keep worse thieves in line? Pay taxes so the watch turns a blind eye?
In the city where I run a campaign that's creating proper policing, as opposed to "guards" or "the watch", the thieves guild is actually the city's day-to-day government. It happened like this:

Predictable, organised magic is only about 150 years old. Before then magic was a matter of individual talent, and magicians were all very different. As modern magic and modern magic item enchantment developed, the previous government, which was basically a military dictatorship, became increasingly unable to control the activities of magicians and thieves with magic items. Eventually, the army that had been the government gave up and pulled out, seeking another city to dominate. The magicians, thieves and priests made a three-way deal:
  • The priests have influence over the mass of the population, and what they consider acceptable.
  • The magicians have the power to devastate the city, but aren't all that interested in ruling people on a day-to-day basis.
  • The thieves are interested in that, and collect taxes in place of stealing. They come down hard on outside or freelance thieves. They employ the police force.
This seems to work, and the city has become very prosperous. I'd like to point out that I'd developed this by 1983, before Terry Pratchett started publishing the Discworld series, which uses quite similar ideas.


Often no sexism can be handwaved justified in setting with RPG gaming stats having no difference between sexes so there is no inherent power differential on say a physical basis, this can be combined with a setting cultural history of no sexism. Usually I don't sweat an explanation too hard, I just want my fantasy roleplay to be without certain real world ugliness and I am fine with an idealized modern outlook basis for a lot of things.

Sexuality it should be noted is also very culturally specific as to whether its considered a big issue.

The past was a lot more sexually diverse then we give it credit for, even in cultures where deviations from a heteronorm were considered taboo.

This misconception is often born of academias long penchant for being the realm of almost exclusively a single and likely very sheltered demographic.


I often work fairly hard to avoid having D&D adventurer as a recognized profession in my games. I am fine with things like magical clerics and paladins as recognized setting things, but huge numbers of D&D adventurers as a regular guilded tradition rubs me the wrong way aesthetically.


Policing and a city watch is one I struggle with conceptually a bit as to what often feels natural for a fantasy context.

Policing can feel very modern and sometimes jarring in a medieval/renaissance/ancient world context unless you just want to do a modern police/crime type story with a fantasy backdrop.


One notion I quite like, I came across reading WarSpell: The Merge and it is the notion that levelling up and hit points are an interaction of souls in danger and the magic field. Basically, if one is in danger the soul will attempt to draw advantage from the ambient magic and if one survives some of that sticks.
So, everyone has some magic, but it matters little but given enough danger and one will subconsciously attempt to draw in the magic and overtime that leads to increased capacity to survive, to deflect blow and increased ability to attack.
It is separate from spell casting, but casters can benefit because it allows them to channel more power to their spells. This explains gender equality in combat because the Str 18 fighter is not Str 18 due to biology but due to their ability to boost themselves by tapping into the ambient magic.


A suffusion of yellow
gender inequality in medieval times was entirely down to Roman cultural mores, earlier celtic societies had far better opportunities for female leadership and participation as warriors and religious functionaries (Druids). So without Roman patriarchy there may well have been more equality between sexes than in medieval times.
Most of the other anarchronisms can be explained by industrial level magic resulting in greater abundance of food and other resources, increased communication and literacy and improved travel. Increased urban concentration makes sense for societies that need to regularly defend against monster attack and food abundance allows for greater orgnisation in guilds, including guilds to handle trade in illicit goods (ie thieves guilds).
I do think that such a society would also have more in the way of private policing by guilds, although some cities or lords might insist on appointing an official guard (one of my cities has ‘Low judges’ who work in the Markets and are charged with collecting taxes and ensuring fair trade). Such a society might also lead to the rise of mercenary teams who take commissions and bounties to hunt criminals and monsters or recover lost artifacts (ie adventurers).
Oh and in my setting banking is controlled by the Celestial Dragon Bishnagar who sleeps under the city of Bishnagar and collects gold and other valuables in exchange for Dragon marques. Dragon marques are tradeable bills of exchange across the civilized world (Bishnagar is also the worlds trade hub).
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