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


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CandyLaser

Explorer
Earthdawn makes an effort to justify a lot of D&D tropes in-universe, with the setting's core premise being that it is a world that has come through a magical apocalypse called the Scourge which necessitated the building of, in effect, fallout shelters—enormous underground complexes which housed whole towns or cities during the years where the surface was unlivable. Now, it's a couple of generations after the Scourge, and the shelters (called kaers) mostly did their job, so the world isn't a post-apocalyptic hellscape. But there are still large cities that exist not too far from unexplored wildernesses, and there are dungeons full of monsters in the form of kaers that fell during the Scourge, etc. Even classes and levels exist in-universe; you could introduce yourself as an Elementalist of the Third Circle or whatever.
 


From the Shadowrun Wiki:

The Fourth World, also known as the Age of Legend, was the previous cycle of magic before the Sixth World. The game Earthdawn takes place in the Fourth World. When the Fourth World began is unknown, though the average length of a World is 5,200 years. The Fourth World ended when magic diminished, and the island of Thera, enshrined in myth as Atlantis, sank into the ocean on August 12, 3113 BC, beginning the Fifth World. Some immortal denizens of the Fourth World have lived to see the Sixth World.
 


With fantasy, I start by never using D&D. I stick the with the feudal system, which requires no explanations. Since I use low-power systems where magic is rare and complex, about the only difference is that large outbreaks of disease can be contained. If Dwarves exist, the wealthy will have access to Roman-era plumbing.

I never use thieves guilds; while it was entertaining for F & Mouser, its a stupid concept.

Given the effect of the arcane and various species, I have included the term 'bravos' which represents individuals who have, or at least claim, skills for the resolution of unusual problems; essentially a specialized mercenary band. There are no guilds or higher organizations of such, just a social niche, much like thief-takers or sell-swords.
 

LordBP

Explorer
With fantasy, I start by never using D&D. I stick the with the feudal system, which requires no explanations. Since I use low-power systems where magic is rare and complex, about the only difference is that large outbreaks of disease can be contained. If Dwarves exist, the wealthy will have access to Roman-era plumbing.

I never use thieves guilds; while it was entertaining for F & Mouser, its a stupid concept.

Given the effect of the arcane and various species, I have included the term 'bravos' which represents individuals who have, or at least claim, skills for the resolution of unusual problems; essentially a specialized mercenary band. There are no guilds or higher organizations of such, just a social niche, much like thief-takers or sell-swords.
Thieves guilds make more sense if you treat them more like the mafia.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
The Fourth World ended when magic diminished, and the island of Thera, enshrined in myth as Atlantis, sank into the ocean on August 12, 3113 BC, beginning the Fifth World.

When we are talking about being ahistorical...

Thera didn't "sink". It suffered a massive volcanic explosion, which didn't completely destroy the island - people still live on it today. But we can perhaps allow that as mythological poetic license.

But if they are going to nail it down to the year, that's not about mythology, but history. The Minoan Eruption happened about 3600 years before today, so around 1600 BCE, not 3113 BCE.

 

Celebrim

Legend
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.";

a) Social conventions vary widely across the campaign world. The greater prevalence of sexual equality in a modern sense compared to the historical real world is easily explained in setting by the fact that women are just as capable (and possibly even slightly more capable) spellcasters as men, and as such have obvious value outside of being mothers that they didn't have in a world where making war highly depended on upper body strength alone.
b) Sprawling metropolises existed outside of Northern Europe even in antiquity and are as such not ahistorical. Generally higher quality of life compared to the real world can be explained by magic and related higher levels of technology and information sharing compared to the real world (in a "magic is technology" paradigm).
c) The chemistry of the setting is vastly different than real world chemistry is it assumes "earth", "fire", "air" and "water" are actually elements and so something like "sodium" or "oxygen" are actually molecules made out of those elements. As such, chemical compounds can be expected to be wildly different from the real world. In the setting, there are no known explosives more powerful than gunpowder and more stable than warm nitroglycerin. Attempts to manufacture bombs and even guns have occurred historically, but have always resulted in the manufacturer blowing themselves up in the medium term as bombs rarely last more than 24 hours before self-detonating, and attempts to use guns resulted in chain reactions of explosives when soldier attempting to reload was subject to a spark that detonated his own stored powder, which in turned detonated the stored powder of those around him, devastating the entire army in a one sided defeat.
d) Casual acceptance of magic and holy miracles is not ahistorical. What might be different is how subtle and reliable these daily miracles are generally perceived to be. See "magic is technology".
e) Trade guilds for wizards are entirely reasonable if wizardry is perceived to be a trade.
f) Trade guilds for criminals are really just criminal organizations organized by the criminal according to prevailing cultural paradigms. They are fundamentally no different than criminal gangs, families, cartels or corporations - it's just the people in the culture are predisposed to refer to their organizations as a "Guild". Thus a "thieves guild" is really no different than the Colosimo mafia family, or the Sinaloa cartel, or Yamaguchi-gumi yakuza family, it's just guilds are the dominate cultural paradigm for corporate activities. Note that in the setting many of the guilds would also be properly described as cults, revolving around the veneration of one or more deities that patronize criminal activities for whatever reason. It's not unknown for the thieves' guild to achieve some sort of official status within the setting, that allows it to operate with some official protection, but it is rare. Usually when it happens it happens because the State recognizes the underlying cult and wants peaceful relations with the deity that it represents and may continue if it feels that the deity provides some significant aid. For example, if the current regime in the nation was established through civil war, and the cult aided the rebels, then the guild may enjoy some level of official or unofficial recognition. The resulting extortion racket can be rationalized by even those that resent being shaken down as a tax or tithe little different than their other religious duties. And so forth. Much more often though, organized crime is tolerated in an unofficial capacity because it has penetrated the upper ranks of the aristocracy and is bribing, blackmailing, or actually ruling the society in some fashion.
 

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