(For those who came in late: having completed the initial sketch of a new fantasy world, I’m now reflecting on how it went.)
In the last post, I mentioned that I wasn’t quite comfortable with the Hawkfolk, since generally I prefer to keep the central civilized areas of the world “low fantasy” – and yet here we have a bunch of winged people right in the heart of the most civilized areas of the map. What to do about this?
A few options:
- I could ditch them and try something else.
- I could accept them as written, and therefore accept that the world is going to have a different, more “high fantasy” feel than I was expecting.
- I could keep them, but change them in some way, so as to preserve the more “low fantasy” feel I was going for there.
The first option really amounts to saying “No thanks; I want to stick with my pre-existing idea of what’s fun!” The second option really amounts to saying “Ah, ok, the random roll is telling me that I need to radically revise my idea of what’s fun – so I’ll do that”.
When you put it that way, then neither of these sound like the right way to go!
Let’s go with option three, which allows us to say “Great – the system has thrown up something kind of challenging; let’s rise to the challenge and go in search of a new kind of fun, while hanging on to our old kind of fun, too!” This accords with my lifelong principle of fun-maximization.
So how to change the Hawfolk?
How can we make the Hawkfolk compatible with a”low fantasy” atmosphere?
I think perhaps the solution here is to declare that, though Valiroth is ruled by Hawkfolk, the actual people of Valiroth are ordinary humans. On the whole, Valirothians are as unfamiliar with (and suspicious of) the supernatural as anyone else – they just happen to have a ruling caste of winged overlords. This seems odd, but there’s no real contradiction: real medieval societies did have a vast chasm separating the rulers from the ruled; and what applied to one group need not apply to the other. So in a sense, the Hawkfolk are simply like the nobility of other lands – a caste utterly apart form the normal run of people.
In fact, let’s go even further and say that the Hawkfolk are an even more rarified class: they’re like royalty. Our new, improved Valiroth is fundamentally a human realm – the common people are human, and the nobility are human, too.
But above them all sits a tiny “elite” group of Hawkfolk, all related by blood, almost completely insulated from the real lives of ordinary people. Just as ordinary medieval people no doubt had a very complex range of feelings about their distant royal rulers, ordinary Valirothains have a range of feelings about the Hawkfolk; but the never actually get to meet them in person – and if they ever even see them, it is almost certainly from a great distance. (Probably up in the sky over the capital!)
Given Valiroth’s “Militaristic” theme the Hawkfolk ruling caste don’t behave like the stereotypical royalty: they’re not pampered and conniving. No, they’re more like the fantasies people sometimes have about historical Spartans: they’re a tough, aggressive, disciplined, and very violent bunch – every one of them trained from birth to be a leader on the battlefield. They have the violence and cruelty of birds of prey; but they aren’t loners, like real hawks are; rather, they’re a strongly unified ruling caste.
The deeply militaristic culture of the Hawkfolk ruling caste has all sorts of effects on Valirothain society more broadly. Valirothian society is militaristic and sort of fantasy-Spartan-like even down at the level of the common folk. Valirothians pride themselves on their military prowess, and tend to obey and even celebrate their hawkfolk leaders, even as they hold no truck with the supernatural more generally.
What just happened?
Right! That’s enough coloring in for now, since it’s easily enough to point us in the right direction. I think that solves the problem nicely. Valiroth is now a fairly gritty low fantasy realm – and it’s ruled by Hawkfolk – and there’s no strong contradiction. The Hawfolk seem much more fun to me now!
A Hawkfolk PC could be fun; a (human) Valirothian soldier, raised to fight, could also be a really fun PC. And even if Valiroth is just a place the PCs visit, it now has its own distinctive atmosphere.
I’m really glad now that I didn’t just throw the Hawkfolk out and roll again, since overcoming the obstacle has made things even better. Plus I really like that “Angel descending” style photo above – it captures the “Winged People amidst gritty common folk” feel really nicely.
In the next post, I’ll offer a proper Gazetteer-style entry for Valiroth, to keep coloring this picture in.