Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Known World, Old World

The Known World was my first fantasy role-play setting. A little continent of archetypal fantasy settings in the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) Expert Rulebook (1983), with a short description of the setting in the accompanying module, The Isle of Dread, it was expanded in great detail throughout the 1980s, mainly by way of the superb Gazetteer series, until it became the world of Mystara. It is a high-fantasy setting with a light, humorous atmosphere. And it is a lot of fun if played that way.

The Old World is the world presented in the first edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (WFRP) (1986). A faux-Renaissance Europe dominated by the Empire, corrupted from within by petty human failings and the shadow of Chaos, it was a setting richly detailed in the superb The Enemy Within campaign. It is a low-fantasy setting with a dark, humorous atmosphere. And it is a lot of fun if played that way.

In two imaginary worlds, and their associated game systems, we have neat encapsulations of the gulf between American and British pop-culture. One the one hand you have the Justice League of America, on the other the Justice Department of Megacity One. The Known World of D&D is bright, clean, and [super-]heroic. The PCs survive (mostly), save the world, defeat the evil, and grow powerful and rich. The Old World of WFRP is dark, dirty, and a grim struggle. If the PCs survive (and there’s a good chance they won’t), they merely forestall the spread of chaos, before they are permanently disabled fighting a pickpocket in a filthy alley, grow sick, and die in poverty.

And for a GM, or player, these two worlds and systems have, between them, all the rules and well-presented colour to run fantasy campaigns of whatever flavour you want. I have recently returned to roleplaying after a long period away – getting a degree, becoming a husband, getting a PhD, becoming a father, and breaking my body on the rugby fields of Yorkshire and South Wales. Those 15-20 years have given me a different perspective on what I want from a roleplaying game. This blog is about the Known World and the Old World, the game systems that they were built around, and my thoughts on playing these classic roleplaying games.