Monday, 8 December 2014

Sword and Sorcery versus Fantasy part 2

In the previous post we say the three main tenets of Fantasy Roleplaying

a: The dungeon
b: adventuring leads to an increase in power
c: You can be magically healed if injured or killed

So what happens if you try to directly import these 3 things into a sword and sorcery setting?

The Dungeon
There are many types of dungeons but lets look at the generic three.
2 of them have a "leader at the end" the other does not.

Dungoen 1: Stronghold
Whether it be a cavern complex full of orcs, an ancient dungeon overrun with kobolds, or an underground fortrees of men, these are all large areas full of beings who occasionally come out to lay waste to the countryside around them.

These fit best inot the Sword and Sorcery setting.
However an entire underground complex of creatures like orcs or kobolds does not work well. In Sword and Sorcery the hero may wander into a city in the desert full of snakemen, or wash up on a mysterious island full of savage tiger men, but these things are never a threat to the outside world. These things of the Other Side, the magical, are always hidden, spoken of in legend but not a threat to actual civiliszation.
An isolated village may mysteriously disappear overnight leading the heroes to investigate but once they have entered the "dungeon" they may not leave until the enemy has been dealt with, or if they escape, on a return to the place they will find it to be completely abandonded.
This means that the classic "dungeon crawl" with it's many repeated trips back to town to drop off loot, pick up henchmen and heal up is not really possible with these types of dungeons.

A stronghold of men works very well but again not a good candidate for "dungeon crawls". If the hereos goal is to infiltrate the stronghold and kill the leader, or rescue a prisoner, then they certainly won't be able to make multiple trips, killing off more and more guards every time till the leader is left alone.
IF they leave the stronghold, whatever way they used to get in will be fortified, guards will be doubled or tripled. If the heroes were working for a local lord the stronghold may also decide to outright attack the lord laying seige to his own stronghold, leading the villagers the heroes know and love being killed.

Dungeon 2: A wizard did it
Oh sure it may be a witch, or a necromancer, or a sorceror, or a liche, or a wizard.  But they will usually be evil.
They may be terrorizing the local populance, or raising an army, or be researching evil magics.
The end result though is that they have a castle/tower/underground cave that the heroes must enter to either kill the wizard or steal something from him.
If done well this is an excellent "dungeon" for sword and sorcery.
But like the stronghold the heroes will not get to come and go as they please. Especially if the wizard is extremely powerful.  After attempting to rob him they may find themselves the target of terrible magics soon after, and indeed this is the reason most lords ever allow them to lay in their strongholds for so long without molestation.
It is best to let a wizard who is not actively attacking you to his own devices rather than face his wrath.  Of course hiring some heroes to do the job is certainly a way to deal with them. These heroes annoyances may even amuse the wizard as they see them as useful test subjects fo their evil magics.

Dungeon 3: Abandoned tombs/underground cities/mines.
This is the bread and butter of the sword and sorcery "dungeon".
Not truly "Occupied", the heroes may encounter one group of inhabitants without neccessarily inciting the wrath of everyone in the complex.  Organization between groups of inhabitants may or may not exist .A sword and sorcery world is chock full of lost cities and tombs, abandoned shrines and temples.

Usually these places will be "lost" and the heroes will stumble across them when trying to get somewhere else. Or they may actively be chasing legends.  Either way the general population will not know the location or may be kept away from it by terrible legends or powerful natural defenses, like a difficult road, or fierce jungle animals.

If they are able to keep it a secret they may be able to leave and return several times but usually when they return they will find that either others have found it, or that what inhabitants there were have left with anything of value or interest. Also possible is that the entrance will be covered by a landslide or earthquake.

Essentially it's best to think of Sword and Sorcery as a short story instead of a Novel.
The heroes enter a lair for some reason, check it out, try to accomplish their mission and get out again never to return.

In part 3 we'll take a look at increasing the heroes power.

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