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Penny Patton

Medieval vs. Ancient / Amazons vs. Tribal and other thoughts.

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Yes, I know I'm a nerd and I know I'm OCD about detail but I've been noticing certain trends in how roleplaying sims are being advertised and they bother my delicate sensibilities. I'm not thinking of any specific RP area as I type this. These are pretty much aggregate thoughts I've had over the past several years and I figured I'd share them. Also, this is just one issue relating to RP sims, it's not the one single issue upon which all RP sims rise or fall, it's just one issue that stood out to me over the years and right now I have the urge to share my thoughts.

First, I see a lot of people conflating medieval and ancient times. I know "ancient" has become a catch-all adjective for "old" but when you're talking about a roleplay setting, "ancient" and "
medieval" refer to two very distinct eras.

"Medieval" is the knights and ladies, castles and kings area you commonly think of in fantasy. King Arthur, dragons and wizards with robes and pointy hats all fit into this era of legend and fantasy. A "medieval fantasy" setting is typically where you find all Tolkien derived fantasy elements. Elves, orcs, evil princesses calling out to dark forces and captured wizards waiting for their Prince Charming to rescue them. All that stuff.

An "ancient" setting is much older than that. "Ancient" refers to Rome, the Greek nation states and all points going back to the earliest records of human history. "Ancient" fantasy settings have your Olympian Gods, the Minotaur, adventurers in togas and bronze chestplates fighting Medusa or building giant wooden horses that couldn't possibly be some Athenian trick.

So where do the pirates of the Caribbean, the Spanish Inquisition and all of that fit in? Well, neither. Those are a part of what's known as the "Modern" era. Yeah, Blackbeard and his crew are closer in time to Big Macs and Netflix than they are to King Arthur and definitely closer to us than they are to Ulysses or Jason and his argonauts.

Speaking of Ancient Greece, did you know that that is where our legends of the Amazons, the warrior women, come from? Amazons didn't live anywhere near a jungle. You're thinking of the river in South America, so named because, in the modern era, Spanish explorers saw tribes which included women warriors, and were reminded of the ancient Greek myths that were old to them! This confusion continued when Hollywood began putting out Tarzan movies with "Amazon warrior women". Yeah, they were bad at history, too. The Greek Amazons had different depictions. Sometimes they were depicted as only being women, no men. Taking men as slaves for breeding, giving away or killing the male babies and only keeping the girls. In other depictions Amazons included men, but the women were the dominant sex. The warriors and leaders. In some legends they're hostile to men, in others friendly. In one of the myths, Herakles/Hercules shows up to ask the queen for her belt as one of his trials. She agrees to give it to him as a gift, but one of the Greek goddesses instigates an all out battle because the Greek deities were jerks. In another version, Herakles just up and conquered the Amazons. Because he was also a jerk.

Then of course there's fantasy eras set in other worlds, separate from our own. The "Middle Earth" from Lord of the Rings. Conan's "Hyborian Age" The sci-fi/fantasy world of Gor. Of course, many of these fantasy settings are at least based on hsitory ,using the familiarty of the real world to create a more immersive and engaging world that people can relate to. 

Middle Earth very much resembles the medieval era. Knights and ladies. Kings in their castles. Wizards in their towers. Swords and plat armour.

The Hyborian Age more resembles the Ancient era of our world. Drawing on myths and settings of that time. Ancient gods, walled city states, togas and loin clothes.

Ok, so why does any of this matter? Fantasy is not reality, and it's certainly not history. Fantasy is all made up anyways so who cares if minotaurs are fighting knights on pirate ships (which admittedly sounds pretty awesome)?

Well, it matters because theming matters.

Yes, you can have a fantasy setting that blends all elements of fantasy together into one generic mush, but then what are you offering when every other "medieval" fantasy sim is doing the exact same thing? What sets you apart? Why should I go play in your sim as opposed to the dozen other sims offering the exact same mush of conflicting themes? You're setting yourself up to be the beige of roleplaying.

 Nobody particularly likes beige. It's only used so much because nobody particularly dislikes it either. You probably won't do badly with a generic mush of fantasy themes, after all anyone can be whatever they want, but you probably won't have a particularly strong draw either. When you have everything tossed in the pot like that, nothing stands out. The sim with the most active population will suck everyone else up until their users get bored and move on to the next shiny new sim.*

 So if you want to stand out from the crowd, you need to offer something unique. You need a strong theme. A distinct setting. Understanding the different eras and the origins of various legends and stories and mythologies can help you do that more effectively.

That doesn't necessarily mean sticking to a set, established historical or mythological setting, you can definitely play with different themes. I saw a sim the other day with a theme of a group of islands with Caribbean style pirates and jungle style tribal Amazons. That's a nifty, unique premise. Not historically or mythologically accurate, but that's not the point.They came up with a unique setting with some strong, iconic imagery.

Gor, love it or hate it, has it's strong sense of setting and theme. The world is based on the books the setting comes from. You can't be a dragon or a neko in a Gor sim because those don't exist in that world. Allowing nekos, orcs, minotaurs and all that in would weaken the theme, push it more towards that generic "anything goes, nothing stands out" mush.

The Pirates and Amazons sim I mentioned early also manages to keep a strong theme by sticking with those two basic elements. Pirates, with their tall, wooden boats and black powder guns and cannons, eyepatches and peg legs, versus the tribal, jungle amazons with their pelts, spears and jungle traps.

Learning a bit more about the individual elements you decide to use in your RP sim will let you use those elements more effectively. Using the pirates and Amazons example again, you could incorporate pirate lore into the sim, with ghost ships, buried treasure, and Goonies style One Eyed Willie caves. You could go different directions with the Amazons, too. Either a Wonder Woman style ancient Greek city kept hidden and unchanged to the modern age, or Tarzan style jungle Amazons, or go all out on the Jungle tribes theme and incorporate elements from the Spanish exploration of South America, like the lost city of Gold. All this gives your sim a grounding and lore players can dive into, as well as its unique flavour.

Anyway, that's all I had to say right now. How about you? Have you felt the same way about generic fantasy sims, but been unable to put your finger on why you felt that way? Do you think my ideas are stupid and "anything goes" is the only way to go?

Have at it!

*All else being equal of course. Again, there's definitely other factors that contribute to the success or demise of an RP sim.

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It's generally seemed to me that most 'roleplayers' are lazy and ignorant, and dont give a rats behind about stupid things like 'history stuff' and 'science stuff' and 'facts stuff' because  those are not part of scifi/fantasy/whatever (delete as applicable) and because as one RP-Trash once said to me "the answers will be found in rp".

 

Little details like a gorean warrior rp person describing their charachter as having "a bastard sword in one hand a hand -and-a-half sword in the other and a claymorfe across their back", and then getting all upset when it's pointed out to them that all 3 terms refer to exatly the same type of weapon, the only noticable difference being in the angle of the crossguards on the claymore...

Idiots who think that 'platemail' is a real term and that it must be heavier then 'chainmail' because its sheet metal not a collection of holes, that japanese swords are made of some magical metal that can cut through a machine gun barrel without chipping, because "they heard on a web forum that some guy did that".

Then there's the godmodding powergamerz (tm) school of RP.

I ran across a case of a games mod team, which consisted of 1 active modder, 1 trainee model maker, and 18 talentless RP-Trash who had been assigned as Lore Writers, one of these wrote a piece of "Lore" for the mod that basically said that HIS planned game character was the supreme grand admiral of faction x navy, in personal command of the USS Asskicker, which was an indestructible super mega capital ship with the biggest gun in space, AND he was supreme leader of a secret organisation of heroic freedom fighters because he applied by email just before they all got wiped out by the bad guys, so he never got a rejection reply, AND had a girlfriend, who was a hot ninja babe who could kill anyone with poison (in RP).

No I didnt make that up he really did write that as 'Lore' for a proposed  "Enforced RP" game server mod... Needless to say here we are many years later and the mod in question has still not been made

 

Busty tanned blond Amazons in leopard print bikinis, sure because  some easten european lady shotputter type with a moustache in a scale corslet, on a scruffy looking pony, galloping about on the shores of the black sea, isn't as attractive.

 

Don't expect 'roleplayers' to stick strictly to a theme unless you police them with a heavy hand, only yhe most fanatical types will willingly limit their options, take God for example, theres a whole splinter sect, the New Gor Evolved thing, which breaks down to guys who like the 'gorean lifestyle' but who won't wear a tunic because

"...it looks like a skirt dude, i aint wearing that, i catch teh gay..."

So instead they wear biker jeans, and gang colours, no bows, they carry AK74's, but still wear the 'broadswords' and expect a naked slave girl on the pillion seat of their Harley.

 

Don't expect any kind of logic or historical accuracy from most roleplayers, most wouldn't know historical if you wrapped it around a 200lb rock, loaded it into a trebuchet, and dropped it on their warriors hut...
 

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