Thursday, May 20, 2010

Setting Up a Weird Fantasy Campaign

It is with regret that I admit that it has been quite a while since my last post. Real life has caught up with my, like it often does. But summer is almost here and a break from classes will provide me with additional gaming and blogging time.

Now, this post is not about Jame Raggi IV's upcoming release, but more along the lines of how to effective establish a weird fantasy campaign so that the players sit a little uneasy on their seats.

Weird fantasy is not the same as "swords and sorcery" or "swords and planets." The term weird fantasy describes a certain feel and atmosphere that is created by contrasting elements of nature and medieval culture (the norms) with the weird, the unexpected, and the knowable. What is the weird, that is for the referee to figure out. There is no precise definition for what is weird, for all individuals will certainly have three own ideas about what makes them just so slightly uneasy. The weird should also be something that contrasts itself with the norms of the setting.

To separate the weird from the normal, the normal must first be established. The easiest way to do this is to create a very stereotypical medieval world with little to no magic within it. As the campaign progresses, the situations become more and more ordinary and pass into the realm of the weird.

If you look at Lovecraft's work, it is easy to see how he uses this method in his stories. He first establishes and believable world with believable physics, character, and plot. But as the story progresses, Lovecraft begins to foreshadow and make indirect illusions to the upcoming encounters with the unknowable. When the unknowable presents itself, it is truly knowable only because the baseline of a normal world was established.

This is all very abstract, I know, but I hope it made sense to a few of you.


  1. I couldn't agree more. I have seen a huge trend where the writings of H.P. Lovecraft are being blended with fantasy roleplaying. To me this is an obvious and natural thing, as I am a huge Lovecraft fan as well as a fan of sword & sorcery fiction. Weird Fantasy is a good tag for this genre. I use the term Sword & Sanity. I think a lot of people forget that Lovecraft based his writings in the real world, establishing a very ordinary mundane existence and then through master storytelling introduced elements of the unknown into that world. The trend I have seen is to reverse this formula by presenting a very strange outré world (i.e. Carcosa) and then add a Lovecraftian horror or ten to make it even more strange. This doesn't really do it for me. And I feel it flies in the face of the advice Lovecraft gave for writing a weird tale...

  2. Great post, much appreciate the time you took to write this.