The Dungeon is Dead: Long Live The Dungeon

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A billion things to tell stories about and I can’t seem to get over knights, magic, swords, spells, and elves. I Don’t know why that is. I am in deeply love with fantasy conceptually and aesthetically and yet I’d be hard pressed to point out more than five works in the genre that I don’t find massively disappointing.
Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time, and A Song of Ice and fire are not sacred texts and I can’t remember anything particularly interesting happening in the forgotten realms. I am constantly haunted by the feeling that fantasy could be doing better. I’d like to do better or at least give it a try.
Altaeon is not the setting of a novel or a film, and I have kept this in mid throughout its continuing creation. I believe in the power of table top roleplaying games. I believe that the stories generated through play can be just as powerful as those in any other medium.

In creating the world of Altaeon I’ve set for my myself some guidelines:

1. Everyone has a place in Altaeon:
I am resistant to the idea of drawing maps of the world for any reason other than to help my players understand where they are. It is important to me that every new player is able to bring a character to the table, tell me where they’re from, tell me what they believe in, and have me incorporate it into the ever expanding universe. Of course, I love to make stuff for Altaeon. I love inventing places and cultures most of all. However, I believe it is essential that a GMs worldbuilding not be required reading for their players. Everything your players need to know about your setting should fit on a single sheet of paper or ideally a 3x5 notecard.
Altaeon is a setting that acknowledges and celebrates the diversity of people. Any kind of person can be found anywhere in the world. No player should feel like they are required to contextualize the existence of their character because of their character’s race, gender, or sexuality. Are you a black elf living in a fantasy analogue of some european country? Cool- and theres bound to be plenty of other people like you if you want to seek out that community! I’d encourage dissenters to research just how multicultural the real world was in the past. Turns out people are really good at moving around the planet. You can see Spain from Africa. It’s right there.

2. Realism exists to serve an aesthetic:
Altaeon is not a realistic medieval / renaissance era setting. In fact, one could argue that it is in fact a modern world wearing a mildly convincing fantasy setting costume. I image the world as visceral- tactile- but not “gritty”. This is not a place where peasants in the gray countryside squat in the mud eating barley and washing their clothes in piss. In my experience, players are usually less interested in the imagined dirt and grime of the fictional past than their GMs anticipate. For every bit of historical accuracy in your setting, I promise there are plenty of things you’re overlooking. If what you want is a setting that feels realistic, that’s awesome- but it’s important to acknowledge that it is not inherently more righteous to want this. Injecting realism into fantasy can be cool! Personally, I love to imagine that the armor and weapons in Altaeon look realistic because I am interested in historical arms and armor and find beauty in their functionality. I also like the idea of a woman with a purple mohawk wearing that armor and swinging those weapons, so…
Anyway, in Altaeon, you’ll find that many modern conveniences are available. Magic allows people to take showers, eat pizza, and dye their hair bright colors. In fact, magic can do pretty much anything. It is the cost of that magic and the trouble it causes that I find interesting.

3. Altaeon is about adventurers:
I conceptualize adventurers as analogues for creatives struggling to exist in the gig economy. They are self-expressive people with loads of baggage fostering supportive communities in the interest of surviving a world that needs them more than it will ever admit. In a world with many of the same barriers to success as our own, adventuring presents an opportunity to make it. Not everyone does. The adventuring life consumes you. Whether its the fame, the money, or the people you meet, there is something about it that won’t let you go so easily.

David Manderville