Sunday, December 21, 2014

DF Felltower: Anachronisms

When it comes to fantasy gaming, I like a good dose of reality in it. That includes historical reality. But not too much.

I run my GURPS DF game with the "usual" Tech Level (TL) range: 0-4. That's stone age to Renaissance, minus the firearms and gunpowder.* But within that range are some things that require some later mechanical, social, or scientific advances.

Some of the things that allows me to do this are:

Dwarves & Gnomes. Racially, these guys are a good excuse for advanced tech of all kinds. They're long lived and obsessed with perfect demonstrations of skill. They have time to get good, higher levels in the relative skills in the first place, and a strong social drive to make tech things happen.

Magic. Distilling is easy with spells that can concentrate alcohol by removing water, and it's no stretch to say a mechanically advanced magic-using race that lives a long time and needs strong booze to get them tipsy might really see the value in making hard liquor.

Quick Gadgeteer. Artificers, too, are a good excuse for one-off functioning devices of all kinds and the occasional breakthrough that doesn't have sufficient social/mechanical/scientific scaffolding to support its widespread use. The latter especially allows for crazy traps, one-off mechanical contrivances, and strange results you couldn't make happen without something of that sort.

Here are some of the anachronisms in my DF Felltower game:

Cut Gemstones - Anything, up to and including diamonds, can be cut (even magically shaped, with sufficient magic and skill) as well as smoothed and polished. Races that prize technological advances, crafter skill, and magic (gnomes, dwarves) and races that prize beauty (elves) mean that even if humans haven't gotten up to the whole cut-and-facet level of fine gem working, other races have.

Precise Time & Measurement - Lots of magic and precision measurement via magic allows for precise timekeeping, where necessary. It's not necessary for most folks, and it's not like you can go buy a watch, but it's possible to link things to precise times simply by access to knowledge magic. If adventurers didn't waste their lives on get-rich-quick schemes like dungeon raiding and learning Explosive Fireball spells, they could get a solid job using magic for timing and measuring just like their mom told them they should. But noooooo, they had to run off with that barbarian friend of theirs and that no-good thief of a neighbor and raid the lich's tomb. Sorry, where was I?

Distilling - Booze, for one, and advanced chemicals of a wide variety of sorts. Since Alchemy works - you can mix elixirs that do truly wonderful things advanced science and medicine can't touch ("Rub this on, your missing hand will regrow perfectly" and "Drink this, you'll be able to fly"). So it's no stretch at all to have hard liquor.

Social Equality - No sexism, racism, etc. unless you go ahead and take a Social Stigma, in which case you do suffer some effects. This isn't even a modern problem we've solved, but in Felltower? It's all fine.

Felltower lacks a few things I usually include:

Banking - I tend to have fairly advanced banking instruments in my gaming. Bearer bonds, notes, deeds, stock, etc. and a lot of investment and banking options. Felltower? All that has is the First Bank of Honus, which pretty much is because no one robs a barbarian wearing an owlbear hide cape he made with his bare hands (plus a knife and some teeth).

Advanced Shipping - Players tend to be more familiar with pirate ships than cogs, carracks, and naos, so I tend to go for more advanced shipping, regardless of the actual tech level we're at. No ships yet in Felltower, so this hasn't come up.

* Of course, GURPS has rules for them, and DF has the Demolisher and Musketeer. And I have minis aplenty with guns thanks to all of the Warhammer, Mordheim, pirate, and weird fantasy minis I purchased. But still, for my game, no guns.


  1. I was going to write that the only anachronism that would make me upset in DF is if TL7 is if groups of modern day NPCs started showing up, but even that in the right campaign could work for me.

    I hate feudalism lite (which many fantasy setting use) though. I find a world where there is ubiquitious magic, healing and killing machine PCs (or NPCs) yet the world chooses to organise itself as 13th century europe less coherent than one with magic item factories, adventurer guilds, pirate republics, clockwork golem armies etc

    1. I am basically using feudalism light, though. A king, poorly policed borderlands held in fief, an autonomous town with a militia sponsored by individuals, guilds, and churches, etc. I tend to make the world a little more politically nuanced and socially modern with a bigger game, but for a dungeon-centered game, this will do.

    2. Id go with China Mieville's definition of Feudalism Lite, though I understand that our own respective definitions might be narrower or wider.

      '...feudalism lite: the idea, for example, that if there's a problem with the ruler of the kingdom it's because he's a bad king, as opposed to a king. If the peasants are visible, they're likely to be good simple folk rather than downtrodden wretches (except if it's a bad kingdom...). Strong men protect curvaceous women. Superheroic protagonists stamp their will on history like characters in Nietzschean wet dreams, but at the same time things are determined by fate rather than social agency. Social threats are pathological, invading from outside rather than being born from within. Morality is absolute, with characters--and often whole races--lining up to fall into pigeonholes with 'good' and 'evil' written on them.'

      I suppose to some extent that is DF, perhaps if your pcs went around righting wrongs instead of looting I would hate it. As it is the scope is so narrow (looting a Dungeon) I can imagine or ignore anything else. Perhaps your kingdom is a small 'boring' anomoly of a more interesting world that exports its pcs to the rest of the world where the really interesting stuff is happening

  2. A neat list, with several things on it I haven't seen come up in similar discussions. Something I thought of that might arise as a consequence - my understanding is that the development of longitude (or possibly latitude, I get them mixed up) was hampered by the lack of accurate timekeeping - so if you have that, you have much more accurate mapping - on the continental rather than the dungeon-scale, of course.

    1. Yes, very much so - world navigation should be much easier with scrying, accurate time keeping, magical mapping, etc. I figure the only things that hold that back are interest and cost. So it's not like you can casually buy an accurate map of the world, but they are out there for the major power players and rich (who are one and the same.)

  3. Why do you consider distillation and gemstone faceting to be anachronistic? Quick search of Encyclopedia Britannica and a few other non-Wikipedia authorities show that faceting for worn jewelry began in Europe in the late 1300s and was easily reproducible in the late 1400s with the invention of the lateral cutting wheel. For distillation of course everything seems to be about distilled spirits, but that mentions (primitive) distillation was practiced by the Romans, Persians, Chinese, and Greeks. Perhaps you mean to imply a particular competency of distillation requiring understanding of science that was not recognized as existing until a later period. I do find your discussion thought provoking as I recognize certain common anachronisms as conceits to enable easy and fun play by people of our era where such things are considered too slap-my-forehead obvious to not allow.

    My gaming typically has seafaring in galleys and longships (more appropriate for 11th-14th centuries) and banking consists of "I'll keep your wealth safe and I'll even give it back later...for a price." Although I've never researched gem cutting before so I've had a slightly anachronistic common ease of getting gems cut more in line with 1500 AD. But dwarves do make the perfect excuse to justify it.

    1. Basically because the assumption isn't early faceting or primitive distillation, but rather high-end easy faceting of all stones and distillation of a wide variety of modern alcohols and other distilled substances. It's the level of it - I call out advanced distillation and diamond cutting for a reason!


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