When last I wrote, I talked about the importance of establishing an aesthetic for your dynamic hexcrawl. Since then (it was more than a week ago now; again, I've been slacking), I've had a few more thoughts about aesthetic and figured they'd be worth sharing. Well, at least I hope they're worth sharing.
Not Just One Aesthetic
|Here's a wizard I drew for Ripley|
Stonebrook's next issue of
Lair of Swords & Sorcery
Case in point, the Iron Coast campaign has its specific over-arching aesthetic, but underneath that umbrella, many other aesthetics butt heads. There are religously syncretic vikings over here and this what they are like. There are embattled colonialist merchants who've turned to voodoo over here and this is what they are like. There are brain-slave theocrats dying in their devotion to alien gods over here and this is what they are like. Beneath it all is the World Below, a mythic subterranean wonderland full of strange and nightmarish creatures and this is what it is like. Adjacent to the real world is the Dreaming Dimension, home of the elves and their fabled city of Alvlantesk, and this is what it is like, and this and this and this. There are as many different aesthetics in use in the Iron Coast as I need to answer the simple question "what is it like?" wherever the PCs are and whomever, whatever they're interacting with. That having been said, the core aesthetic -- what makes the Iron Coast the Iron Coast rather than any other campaign -- is the true guide and all of these sub-aesthetics have to fit within it.
The Aesthetic Justifies ItselfI've started writing this part several times, and I think I keep failing at it. Hopefully this time it won't suck as bad. Here goes.
|Another wizard for Lair. This one feels a little|
Where things get shaky is when we start building WORLDS, because somewhere between World of Greyhawk and the Forgotten Realms, we got all hoity-toity about "world building" and attaching some insane primacy to the creation of a series of facts that exist independent of being experienced by adventurers. In other words, shit that is not the game. Because, as I've said before, the game happens at the table. I know there are DMs out there who do all this prep -- like, insane amounts of prep, right +Donn Stroud? -- and who seem to enjoy this sort of shit more than actually gaming. That's cool, whatever, write your novel. It won't help you at the table. And the table is where the game is, nowhere else.
When I started talking about aesthetics underpinning everything within a dynamic hexcrawl, there are some folks who balked, and some folks who dug what I laid down, but then paraphrased it incorrectly. Establishing a central aesthetic for a game doesn't help you in the game, from a DM's standpoint, it is the game. Every decision you make as a DM stems from the aesthetic, stems from the decisions you made that things are like this. The aesthetic you establish is the primal reality of your game in a way that no list of pretend facts or random tables or dungeon keys ever can be. It is the wellspring from which all of the DM's art pours.
It's not just here to "set the mood" or "create immersion" or anything like that.
It is the game.