Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Dark Eye: The World

After my introduction to The Dark Eye (TDE), which you can check out here, I am today covering the world in which it is set. I am not planning on giving you a detailled overview over countries and cultures because you can read all of that up yourself if you are interested (which I hope you are by the end of this series), but rather to give you a sense of how it all feels in the end. So, without further ado, let's take a look at the world of The Dark Eye. 
2) The World. You are here.
3) The Rules. 
4) The History (of the system)

Although there are several continents in the world of the Dark Eye that by now all have their supplementary source books, the one that takes precedence by far is Aventuria. The name already tells you that there are adventures to be had, and the whole design of the continent is built in such a way that it allows for the widest range of adventures possible, without much care for geological science and climate science and other stuff. The numerous problems with scientific knowledge about how landmasses form are explained away in a detailled manner in the history of the continent through numerous divine and magical interventions, in case you need this stuff, but here's what it boils down to: 

The world came into being by some primal god slaying the first creature he ever saw, a giant giant lady, but overcome with regret he combined himself with her to form the world and its seven spheres: time, elements, our own world, the limbus (a magical, empty region between that feels like space), the realm of the dead, the realm of the gods, and the outermost seventh sphere that is infinite and belongs to the demons. Travelling between these spheres is impossible in most circumstances and the attempt considered extremely unwise, to say the least. If you're not playing really high-level heroes, you are likely never to do so. The most likely affect an average Aventurian is to experience from the outer spheres are magic (from the second and fourth), divine intervention through priests (and the sixth) and demonic manifestations by the bad guys (from the seventh). So, that covers cosmology. There's also a really detailled history of the world, but I fear you are bored already. There are aeons belonging to different races, dragons, elves and dwarves having eclipsed their prime now making place for humans. There.
Aventuria itself is pretty small, only around 1500 miles in length and perhaps 300 to 500 in width, which makes it a lot smaller than Westeros, for example. However, the continent combines practically every climate you can conceive of. The north has endless ice wastes, then comes steppe and tundra plus a coastal region with some fjords so vikings can hang around. There's a middle european temperate zone, a cooler zone with harsh winters, a sunnier zone with vineyards and villas, a desert, a hot and dry zone, jungles of several variations and the accompanying seas and oceans you would expect. It looks like this

This wide range allows you to play whatever you desire. A viking, a musketeer, a knight and a samurai going on a quest to defeat some russian despot in league with a unit of desert mercenaries? I'm not saying it makes that much sense, but the world supports it. While it requires some suspension of disbelief if you think too hard, it's a great boon for players and gamemasters alike since it allows for a really wide range of things to play and things to do. While there is some apprehension between cultures (and even larger apprehension between races, especially considering orcs and goblins), the fact that Aventuria is in essence a good place allows for peaceful coexisting at the gaming table. In Aventuria, it's much more likely that the greatest extent to which one experiences racism is being treated like a walking stereotype ("Hide your valuables, the viking is in town!") instead of downright racist hostility and genocide. Of course, you can play it that way, but officially people are not likely to murder you just because of who you are. 

This is good for the players, as there is practically no combination of player characters that is outright impossible. While their home countries may be at war with another, there is a pretty strong rule of law governing most regions. This is also a characteristic of Aventuria: it's pretty modern. Not in the contemporary sense of the word, of course, but most fantasy RPG either don't model themselves on historical epochs at all or opt to use the early or high middle ages. Aventuria is set more in the Renaissance, just short of some inventions that really ruin swords and sorcery such as black powder or explosives. You don't want to put the mage out of a job, after all. Consequences of this relative modernity are a pretty widespread literacy, a stable monetary system, a continent-wide bank system and pretty strong bureaucratic strucures. In fact, as we will learn in the last part of the series, these modern aspects at one point brought a real stasis in the game because the guards were reliable and in earshot all the time, which made heroes superflous, so they destroyed those structures in an epic campaign with the result that there is now more need for brave heroes to right wrongs than ever. 

But the facts of geography and structure also help the gamemaster a great deal, because he can accomodate many different tastes without needing to take on secondary characters or even systems. You can do an adventure where the mage is in the center, uncovering conspiracies in the magic academy, while still get the other characters access to the same places and something to do because, again, the world is nice enough not to shut people out all the time, a persistent problem of many "darker" games. The next adventure, then, might send the group into the wilderness to find the nest of nasty creature and destroy it, where the group needs survival and raw fighting skills and the mage is relegated to the sidelines, and so on. The sheer scope of the continent and the short distances allow you to combine all these elements into a meaningful campaign without having to resort to too much travelogues ("After seven months of boring sea voyage, you arrive at your destination..."). Once the players are familiar with the world, they can also decide where to go next because nothing is too unreasonable as a destination. I have often found this to be a great boon when gamemastering. 

This is, I guess, the right moment to give you a short overview over what regions you find and what they provide. I use very shorthand descriptions that of course defy the real complexity and richness of the source material, but as I said, I don't want this to get too boring. So here we are, from north to south: 
1) The ice wastes, like the Arctic, in which you can set survival, exploration and demonic adventures very well. 
2) The Fountlands, essentially backwards tyrannical country like medieval Russia, with a thriving hub for trade in the model of the Hanseatic League. Also home to many goblins.
3) The steppe regions, where a people of mongol-like ethnicity live, but they're very peaceful
4) The Orcland, go figure. 
5) Thorwal, essentially home to the vikings. 
6) The Middenrealms. The largest entity, modelled after central europe and Britan in the middle ages. It's subdivided into several regions with different cultural emphasis, encompassing the most of Europe ca. the High Middle Ages. 
7) Horasia. France in the time of the Musketeers, minus black powder. If you want to swing a rapier, this is your part of town. 
8) Almada. Part of the Middenrealms, but essentially Spain. If you want to go Zorro all over the enemy's arse. 
9) Tulamidia. Like the Middenrealms it's subdivided into several regions, but it's Arabia, in your good version. 1001 Nights, not Taliban and slaves and stuff. 
10) Desert Khom. Here you get your beduine warriors, in case you want them. 
11) Al'Anfa. Spain again, but this time, it's the colonial version of the exploration age, subduing black-skinned natives. The most naturally "evil" country that is still considered to be on the good side of things. Slaves=bad, but they don't worship demons, so you can deal with them.
12) Jungle. Here live said black-skinned people. 
13) Maraskan. Stylistically Japan, but with jungles and many poisoned beasts and a culture that speaks more of the Balkans. No Japanese cultural elements, only the style. In case you want a katana.
14) The Black Lands. The part of Aventuria conquered by the demon worshippers in recent events. Subdivived into several regions, it serves as a challenge for stronger heroes and provides horror scenarios of all kinds. 
And that's it. There are three other continents as well: Myranor (high-fantasy, D&D style), Tharun (also high-fantasy but with an emphasis on high-level-threats) and Uthuria (I have no clue). I have never played them and can't tell you more beside what you find in the brackets. 

The last thing I want to touch in this chapter is something that you may find off-putting. I know I did, which is why we ignored some of it from the beginning. I will go more into the subject in the last installment of the series, because the characteristics I will describe have been muted tremendously over the past 15 years, but they belong to TDE as well. So, after this caveat, at it. 

Aventuria is incredibly progressive. With the exception of two of the fourteen regions, men and women are regarded as equals. There are virtually no differences in culture or professions made between the sexes; in one society (Tulamidia) they even reverted the usual stereotypes. There you find female smiths, warriors and guards and male waiters, whores and artisans. In the other regions, men and women can take on the same professions. Female knight? No problem. Male love priest? No problem. If you're into a feeling of historical correctness, you might want to change this particular background detail. 

Another thing where the continent is almost ridiculously progressive is sex. Sex for pleasure is considered the most normal thing there is and even encouraged in many cultures and believes. While adultery is a crime in the eyes of at least some gods, for unmarried couples there is a pretty high leeway. Fans of George R. R. Martin may also be surprised that bastards carry almost no stigma. Generally, you will find a bit of sex in the background stuff, but as I said, this has been toned down drastically. If you read the stuff from the 90s - it was overflowing with graphic descriptions of sex. On the other hand, TDE held always back on the violence. This is typically German, by the way. Depicitions of sex are usually ok, while depictions of violence get the censors all over your ass. 

The last area where Aventuria is really progressives is where it concerns the LGBT community. As men and women are equal, so are gays and heteros. Being gay is totally normal in Aventuria (again, with two exceptions out of fourteen). While there are no more gays than in our world, they can live out their sexual orientation normally without anyway doing so much as raising an eyebrow. 

I think this progressiveness, together with the small size/high diversity dichotomy are the features that set TDE most apart from other roleplaying systems in terms of the world and its feeling. They are also the ones that our group has always adapted the least. Liking the gritty realism of Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" saga, we have toned Aventuria quite a bit darker than it's official version, which is really something you can do without too much effort as it requires you only to ignore certain information and, if you use official adventures, change a sex here and there. Well, that concludes this segment. Next time, it's rules time.