If “Fantasy geography is that of the American West,” then what should that setting look like?
Answer: It should have American Geography– and European History
Its rivers should be wide,
the mountains tall,
the forests deep,
and the plains vast.
Fantasy is, by nature, a genre of hyperbole, and this is reflected in the kinds of geography that we see in the game worlds we create. It is simply more fun to describe an inspiring geographical feature like a mighty chasm than it is to portray a simple, run of the mill ditch. No self respecting villain builds his lair on top of a hill. He puts it on top of a massive, craggy, storm-shrouded peak. If it also happens to be an active volcano, so much the better.
The critical word I would use to describe the geography in a fantasy world is “awe-inspiring.” That sense of awe, what a previous generation of aesthetics termed the sublime, is vital to the genre of fantasy itself. Few games revolve around pedestrian concerns; it is far more common for the fate of the world to be in the balance. While this overly epic quality can be a liability (some of the best games I’ve ever played in were much more low-key and focused on smaller goals, like saving a village or rescuing a minor noble), there is nothing inherently wrong with the grand mode. We like to fantasize about being important and significant, and if fantasy role playing can allow us to experience those feelings, so much the better. A big plot requires a big world, with grand features and interesting ones. [Read more…] about American Geography and European History – Game World Design – The Second (of Four) Principles