Sunday, March 11, 2012

My Appendix N, as a Random Table (ooh meta)

Early on in the development of Wampus Country, I tried to refer to it as 'Daniel Boone versus Baba Yaga'.  That's a fair enough shorthand, but like all such instant-explanations, it falls short.  The other day Jez of Giblet Blizzard asked if Wampus Country was essentially "True Grit plus trolls", and that's true enough as well, albeit only one facet.

Sometimes it's easy to put into words all those influences on a campaign or setting; other times it's more difficult. I don't know that I could summon up a complete (or accurate) 'Appendix N' for Wampus Country in the sense of a bibliography, but there are distinct influences and choices made as I go about the pretentious business of thinking about recurring themes, imagery, and tone of the setting.  Rather than go for a list of books or films, I've put my influences in a random table format, for no particular reason other than I found it amusing to do so and have convinced myself (only half-jokingly) that weighting the thing properly will allow me to use it as a design tool when drawing a blank.

APPENDIX N for WAMPUS COUNTRY (a d12 random table of influences and directions)

1-3  EARLY AMERICANA and WESTERN EXPANSION.  The wide-open frontier.  Colonial period.  Oregon Trail, prairie schooners. Fur trappers and buffalo hunters.  Manifest Destiny.  Louisiana Purchase, Louis & Clark.  Daniel Boone.  Coonskin caps.  Negotiating with natives.  Bold missionaries.  You're on your own.  Individual initiative and self-reliance.  Majestic expanse of unconquerable Nature.

4-5  FAIRY TALES.  Talking animals.  Witches.  Benevolent and malevolent fairies.  Transformed people.   Evil queen in an enchanted castle on a mountain-top.  Dark forests.  Booger-eating trolls.  Implied morality-tales.  Tricksters.  Cleverness as the ultimate virtue, foolishness as the ultimate sin.

6-7  HORRORS & VIOLENCE.  Death as a perceived immediate certainty.  Blood on the snow.  Hatchet to the face.  'Horror' more common than 'Terror'.  Starvation.  Freezing to death.   Dessicated cadavers in the desert.  Violence as an easy and legitimate option.   Blood/death common enough to be de rigeur; the accompanying jaded nonchalance.

8  LOST WORLDS, PULP, WEIRD.  Hidden valley of dinosaurs.  Abandoned mound cities and catacombs beneath.  Hollowed-out mountains full of strange people.  Inexplicable Roman Legion; people from different places and times thrown together.  Implied Ancients.  Time-slippage.  Ancient astronauts.  Evil spiders from space.  Tentacles.

9  DUNSANY & BORGES.  Genteel orientalism.  A nostalgia and a fatalism.  Infinity in a small space.  Confusion or duplication of identity.  The labyrinth.

10  BAUM & SEUSS.  The American Fairy Tale - classic patterns + new symbols.  Child or child-like protagonists.  Marvels hidden in plain sight.  Everything is alive.  An innocence.  The ubiquity of whimsy.

11  TALL TALES.  Bold men doing the impossible.  Ridiculous scale.  Embellishment, the art of the lie.  Storybook logic.  Pecos Bill mounted on a tornado.  A giant eats a mountain.

12  AMERICAN VIRTUES, EXAGGERATED?  American entrepreneurship/consumerism as virtue.  Snake-oil.  Catalogs.  Panning for gold.  Advertising icons reinterpreted as legendary beasts.  Roadside kitsch Americana, giant plaster Paul Bunyan, Route 66, geographic mobility.  Nothing's impossible.  Egalitarianism, melting-pot, color-blind, secular.

I think scanning through that it might become apparent to folks that Wampus Country is in many ways supposed to be a 'fantasy America'.  Whereas D&D often relies on 'fantasy Europe mishmash' (covering multiple centuries and jamming them together), Wampus Country is intended to be a comparable mishmash for fantasy America (squishing together the 17th-19th centuries in a fantasy setting).  There's also a conscious choice to examine qualities which are said to be part and parcel of the 'American character' - rugged individualism, love of personal liberty, egalitarianism, social mobility, entrepreneurial spirit and consumerism, dedication to exploration, and a willingness to use violence.  Some folks might use a faux-America in a fantasy campaign as a means of critique -- some money-grubbing imperial power, wasteful with natural resources, paying only lip service to high ideals.  Perhaps you've seen GMs (or writers) do that pastiche.  But I'm not interested in that.  Wampus Country is not my critique of 'America', but my love letter to it.  "...and to my faults, a little blind."   I fully expect to get comments on this last bit.

Looking at it all spread out, there's definitely some Romanticism going on here.  And as long as we're getting literary, I'll go ahead and say that the central American story from its early history - and some would say, to this day - is a combination of picaresque and bildungsroman.  The young, upstart nation, making its way, forging forward, breaking the old rules along the way.  America is a D&D character.  D&D, although enjoyed globally, has an essentially American nature to it when played in old-school ways.  And, if we acknowledge that, why not construct an 'American' setting?  That's Wampus Country.