Sunday, 24 January 2010

This is the north. We do what we like.

Durham, really ruled by priest-kings

Funny thing. I always intended the Wilds of Nagoh (the overland area around the Vaults) to be a dry and desolate region, such as you might see in spaghetti westerns or in cheesy 80s fantasy films like Conan the Barbarian, Beastmaster, etc. Despite my desired intent it seems to have gradually morphed into a fantasy version of the north of England; specifically the kind of stark, sunless terrain you might see in films like Dragonslayer or Eric the Viking. Oh well. Thur go the proud galleys, reeking temple cities, and dusty Ozymandian statues (at least for now).

Instead of scrub-covered SoCal hills, or the endless high plains and Monument Valleys of John Ford westerns, or even the bizarre fungus forests and amoebic seas of Carcosa, Athanor, Algol, or lost, lamented Thool, I seem to have ended up with a default scenery of wind-whipped moorlands, hills and bogs.

In my pointy little bullet head adventurers traverse a land of skies as grey as Grimnir's eye, rich with layered cloudscapes and long twilights; a land of dour locals tending hardy livestock in the shadow of smoke-blackened peel towers and lowering crag-top fortresses; a land of bright gold and ancient bones turned up by the harrow's iron bite. Brontë country, had the Brontës but followed a vocation as cold-eyed killers.

(note to self: herd of Brontësaurs half-seen in the mists, totally works)

Sure, there are places of breath-taking beauty and prodigious fertility; veritable edens abounding in all good things, and all the more keenly contested for it. But the general impression whenever I think of the Wilds of Nagoh seems to be of a place where the weather and terrain - let alone the inhabitants - will capriciously shift in mood and kill you as soon as look at you.

What can I say? Maybe it's my upbringing in the littoral areas of the North Sea, but I've always had an unconscious prejudice about exposure being a swifter and surer killer than lack of water. It appears that, for all the mythology of dehydration that runs through so much adventure literature, the widow-making nor'easter, the rain-borne blight, and the icy breath of the loping wolf have a stronger hold on my imagination than the fate of Cambyses lost army or the ill-fated Donner expedition.

That might be a suitable post for another day: a quick and simple death by exposure rule, perhaps in the style of James Raggi's embryonic (embyronic?) LotFP Wierd Fantasy RPG. Then again, I imagine adventurers in the wind-swept wilds have sense enough to pack warm clothes. No sense in getting bogged down in minutiae that doesn't advance the game... (Preferences Y/N re. this? Please comment.)

Apropos of nothing, here are some Wilds of Nagoh bullshots for you (please excuse the wonky formatting, blogger isn't playing nice for me):

High Force falls

Some big wall or other, I dunno.

Rocks, a traditional staple food of northerners

Bamburgh Castle

Smailholm Tower (an example of a Peel Tower)

Arkengarthdale, probably the most Tolkienian place name ever!

Write what you know, I suppose. At least I get to use all that juicy Danelaw/Border Reiver local colour. A land infused with the aroma of Mimir's brew, rather than Bacchus'. Pure Tolkien territory, or possibly Gemmell country. Yep. That smacks of high adventure to me.

PS: all this aside, my starting town of Adburg is still a mash-up of Deadwood, Lankhmar and diamond rush-era Kimberley.


  1. I can utterly sympathise. "Why is it always raining?" is a common refrain from players who I have had the pleasure of running lengthy campaigns for. Fantasy Western Europe = Fantasy North East England. "Oh wherefore art thou, Northumbria? In my imagination only do thy kings still tread the ancient ways... in the sodding rain!"

    As to minutia, yeah, I like to see them plan their supplies out meticulously. :D

  2. I half expect to see the cast of Last of the Summer Wine going downhill in a bathtub in that shot of Arkengarthdale...

    I too sympathise. I have half a novel set in a Steampunk Black Country entirely inspired by a burnt-out factory shell (since demolished) that was a few streets away from my Grandmother's house. My WFRP players always seemed to get dragged to canals and small factories in rural enclaves between urban squalor. You can't escape your soil, it sticks in the blood like heavy metals.

  3. Great post and a shift in focus I can identify with as well.

    (Images horded away for when my Pendragon campaign heads North--as all good Pendragon campaigns must.)

  4. I started my campaign as a sort of standard European Fantasy land and it has basically become my home state of Oregon. It just makes more sense that way.

  5. Our 80s Dragon Warriors campaign was influenced by living in deepest Northumbria - basically it was the B2:KOTB module where the Castellan was the Thane of Thumbria, PCs were desperate warriors back from a failed crusade, there was constant mizzle and ginger-haired Picts. Good times !

  6. I see your next project, a setting design for SBVD.


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