Friday, February 5, 2010

Elric Explored - Part 4: Twilight Civilizations

An interesting aspect of the Elric saga is that it takes place late in the history of that Earth. Elric's line has ruled for 10,000 years. The story often speaks of those that came before - the Doomed Folk. The Doomed Folk had an advanced civilization that rivaled anything that came after it - it may even have rivaled the gods. Magic, technology, nothing could compare to those halceon days millenia ago.

This is a theme that is found in much of the literature that inspired D&D. One only has to look to Jack Vance's Dying Earth novels (from which D&D gets its distictive style of spell casting) to see Earth in its last days as the sun slowly burns itself out.

The world of the advevturer is then ripe for exploring. There is now reason for there to be ruins; reason for delving deep in the earth for treasures long thought lost. This twilight world presents a mystery that cries out to be discovered.

Now, I have no desire (let alone the time) to catalogue thousands of years of history and geneologies like the good Professor Tolkien. I'm more then content to sketch out a few key events and leave the rest a mystery even to me.

Leaving big blank holes gives me room to add details as play progresses. I can take cues from the players and provide detail as needed. What is important here is having a solid framework to build on.

The framework is made up of those key events in the past. These events are designed to spark ideas rather than dictate history. They're jumping off points. It is also important to keep it loose because I do intend for there to be ways to travel to other times. If I paint in too much detail I may paint myself into a corner and not have any room for the players to explore and interact with the setting.

Another reason for leaving blank spots is that it requires less of the players to get up and running. The last thing I want is to have required reading before players can get going. Players need enough details so that they can make intelligent choices during character creation and the rest they learn as they go. Again, the setting info should act as inspiration not dictation.

Elements that will definitely be included are: a lost and sunken birthplace of civilation, powerful magic and technology of the ancients, forgotten civilizations still thriving in hidden realms, buried cities of wonder, and layer upon layer of history. The acumulated history that is somewhat acurate only goes back a few hundred years. Beyond that it's legends and rumors. And legend and rumors are meat and drink of hearty adventurers.

Next time on Exploring Elric: Magic!

Follow Your Bliss,


  1. I don't recall where I read/see this, but it was in relation to Tolkien, and it's a fantastic little tool we can all use.

    When the characters of LotR walk the land, they come across features--say, Wathertop Hill, or those stone giants flanking the river/waterfall--and the reason these have any kind of weight is because instead of just cool backgrounds, they have the hint of a story. Now, Tolkien certainly went coo-coo writing backstory sometimes, but what you get as a reader is the hint.

    So for example, the ruins seen in the distance are not just some crumbling edifice, nor (insert 30 pages of history here), but rather, "the crumbling walls of that once magnificent temple, which gleamed in alabaster and gold, until the dark time when shadows arrived and overtook it, and then it shone no more." It's vague as hell, but there's potential there. If the players want to explore that, they/you can certainly start fleshing it out, but if not, it gives depth to the world, showing there is history that has gone on, but you don't have to worry about what that history was precisely because it doesn't concern your immediate story.

    Just be sure to copy down those vague hints to future reference.

  2. @Daniel, that is exactly the type of approach I was looking for. Those key touch-points in the past can help inspire the fleshing out as players explore what interests them. Thanks.

  3. I think those dreams of a golden past go back to Plato. And even Plato mentioned Atlantis. :)

  4. That's reason enought for me. Thanks :)