🗺️ A Sword & Sorcery World
I've recently been watching the 1983 Ralph Bakshi animated film Fire and Ice, a dark fantasy animation that has a pretty obvious and unsurprising storyline but I found it watchable and some of the world-building in it pretty interesting. Combine that with thinking about the ERB John Carter stories and the film version of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind , it's got me thinking--in addition to what I want for a system for my future Swords & Sorcery--about what I want from a world building standpoint.
I've also been reading the Carcosa supplement for Lamentations of the Flame Princess and trying to mine that for some of it's weirdness.
🕺The Races of Man
One of the things that really stuck out for me in the Carcosa supplement was that the setting is pretty much humanocentric but that there are a vast number of easily differentiated strains of humanity portrayed in the book; these different strains each created by a much older race for their nefarious purposes.
The book offers the following races of man:
|Black Men||Orange Men|
|Blue Men||Purple Men|
|Bone Men||Red Men|
|Brown Men||Ulfire Men|
|Dolm Men||White Men|
|Green Men||Yellow Men|
These races have nothing to do with modern day humanity as we know it but rather were bred to have certain properties inherent in them, that would make them useful as unwilling components in various dark rituals. Dolm, Jale and Ulfire are three colours that don't exist in the real-world, but for the others the races of men have skin colour that is pronounced and vivd, with Bone Men having transparent skin and organs.
Black, Brown and White Men have dark brown to black hair and eyes. Bone Men have transparent hair and eyes. The other nine races of Men have black hair and eyes, with tints in direct light of the same colour as their skin.
👽 Back to the Martians
This immediately put me in mind of the various strains of Martians present in ERB's stories (as discussed in a previous post), I really like the idea of having a humanocentric game but with notably different human cultures. Whilst I wouldn't normally go as a big as having each culture physically different, I feel that it works in Swords & Sorcery where everything seems to be exaggerated and writ-large, heroes are massively muscled warriors, thieves are cunning con-men and villains are diabolical sorcerors with evil plans and plots a plenty.
💀 What about Orcs and Goblins?
Greenskins--as I will collectively refer to them--are one of my favourite villainous races in fantasy RPGs, and they neatly fill the slot of, disposable bad-guys working for the main villain who can be dealt with by the PCs without too many morale dilemnas; this was reflected in Fire & Ice by the subhumans who served the evil villain Necron and who were clearly based on the more popular depictions of orcs, ogres and goblins. However, races of villainous non-humans, tend to be pretty thin on the ground in my experience of the Swords & Sorcery genre, with monsters being more like individual great beasts to be bested.
Whilst I don't really want to have a "villainous race of Men" so to speak, there are clearly some creatures that are man-adjacent (for want of a better term) in the inspirational materials I have been looking at, whether that be the shunned Bone Men in Carcosa, the Green Martians or the four-armed Albino Apes of the Warriors of the Red Planet supplement. I think some of these could potentially fill the niche of villainous henchmen and the like, without losing the humanocentric setting that I think is very important to Swords & Sorcery.
🌎 A Clearly Divided up Setting
One of the things that I also noticed in the various Swords & Sorcery media that I have been attempting to absorb is that the different areas of a setting are often clearly defined and reflect the dominant rulers in some way. This put me in mind of the Lunar Empire from Glorantha ruled over by the Red Emperor.
Despite this I did notice that--somewhat ironically--even the most clearly divided Swords & Sorcery world seemed to focus on the few more "cosmopolitan" areas where the different cultures mingled, no doubt due to the increased potential for conflict and adventure. I think this is probably the reason a number of S&S stories take place in port towns and cities.
❓ So what do I want for my Sword & Sorcery world?
After musing on it a while, I've currently jotted down the following rough ideas for my S&S world (although it'll be a while until I run the game and this may change):
- Different cultures and strains of humanity.
- Clearly defined geographical areas ruled over by certain strains of humanity.
- A large human empire of some sort, probably based loosely on the Red Martians of ERB stories.
- I envision these "Red Martians" as the predominant race.
- They have also managed to hold onto some earlier, more advanced technology.
- Certain strains are seen as being more villainous or are shunned by others, whether or not this is actually the case would be for the PCs to find out in-game.