Previously in this column, Wallace outlined four “First Principles” for game world design, four things that many would-be world creators don’t get right when they think about how to create a setting for the Dungeons & Dragons game. This week, Wallace tackles the first of the principles in much greater depth and discusses the historical and cultural sources of the game.
1) If “D&D is not historically medieval or Western European,” then what is it?
D&D is a Classical Medieval Fairy Tale Western
I’ve already begun to answer this question in my initial discussion, but I want to take a step back and first explore why I, and why I imagine so many others, have assumed the medieval western European context for the game is so sacrosanct. It’s an easy mistake to make for a number of reasons, some of which I’ll try to enumerate here.
First off, the Middle Ages are really cool. I mean, I absolutely love the Middle Ages. I’ve spent a large portion of my professional life devoted to the study and then the teaching of medieval literature at the university level. I’ve written academic papers about the appeal of the Middle Ages in our culture, and one of my recurring arguments is that the medieval, and specifically the European medieval culture is the foundation of our current sense of who and what we are. There has been no massive civilizational disruption of culture in the wake of the medieval period as there was with the fall of Rome. Most of the languages, cultures, and nations that we readily identify (and often identify with) have their origins in the medieval period. It is our origin point and the farthest back historical point that we feel directly connected to.