Part 2 of 2, by Ferret Baudoin
God or Gods. First off I radically changed my game world’s religious landscape because I just couldn’t imagine the medieval world as I was discovering it without one of its core pillars – the Church. Previously, my games had almost a shopping mall of temples where you could find any of the hundred gods that were about. There was so many gods that it was hard to give more than a couple of them the TLC they merited. Had I seen the HBO miniseries Rome perhaps I would’ve given polytheism a more concerted go, but at the time I couldn’t see it or really grok it.
But more importantly faith is a matter of belief. If you know there’s a God(s), after-life, and that all clergy can perform miracles – then enter the alien society again. I made a rule in my game to never give any definitive evidence that the divine exists. That’s not to say there can’t be miracles – it’s just that God can’t come down and lecture people directly about the importance of dental hygiene. Not every priest should have an array of spells at his command, instead I modeled it after history. Those rare blessed souls that seemed to have a special connection to God. And their miracles were often subdued, and a skeptic could argue it was entirely bunk or outright lies. I wanted room in the game world for an atheist, and for him not to sound like a chump.
So miracles were incredibly rare, as was magic in general. But it’s all out there. And the PCs were going to see a heck of a lot more of it than almost anybody else – because that’s what heroes do. Explore past the boundaries of the civilized world and experience true adventure.
After all that (and more) I found that the world held together. That you could have noble intrigue living side-by-side with ancient ruins filled with mythological monsters. That farmers could till their fields and on the sly give sacraments of milk to the fae and there would still be room for the rare and powerful mages. It gave the world, from my perspective, an authenticity it was missing before. It was a labor of love and I’ve enjoyed continuing to refine and world-build ever since. I think the players appreciated it more, too, but you’d have to ask them to know that for sure.
If any of this is striking any chords there’s a wealth of information out there. Ars Magica and Vampire: The
Dark Ages and its related source material give a high level view of the time period in an adventuring context. Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame) is also quite knowledgeable about history and has hilarious shows about it like Medieval Lives and The Crusades. Daniel J. Boorstin has written a series of books which talk about the history of man’s knowledge and belief. The Discoverers especially really blew me away because it made me realize what medieval people knew – but also what they didn’t. Imagining a world where people did math with roman numerals, for example, and without the concept of a zero. Mind-blowing to me. Ask around in many forums and I have no doubt you’ll get other excellent leads.
And if suspending your disbelief isn’t a problem, I recommend savoring it. One day you may be a jaded old coot like me where disblief can agitate you like beach sand in your tennis shoe. Ultimately it’s about what’s fun – and for me as a GM I find it a lot more fun if I can close my eyes and the whole world is there and it makes sense. But your mileage may vary. 🙂
Ferret Baudoin is a lead designer at BioWare. He’s worked as a designer at Cyberlore, Black Isle, and Obsidian. His plan is not to take over the world. So don’t pay attention to the silently encroaching mustelid army.