Lately, I have been working on a manuscript to support Kobold Press’ upcoming 5E Midgard release. If you’ve never read the original campaign setting (Pathfinder rules only), you’re missing out on some seriously rich world-building. At one point in an email exchange with KP, I called Midgard a “buffet of plot and lore hooks”. Granted this was near Christmas, so all my analogies were food-related, but the book is a great read. I would go so far as to say that it is worth reading even if you are not a table-top gamer.
One enjoyable part of writing inside Midgard is researching the legends and icons that populate it. The book is stocked full of figures from folklore, fairy tales, and history. The way the stories surrounding these figures are woven together is nothing short of mythmaking. You can sense the tremendous amount of research that went into the book, as each sentence blends folkloric elements seamlessly.
It’s a tricky thing, translating cultural stories from the real world into gaming rules; the path to walk between disrespectful appropriation and meaningless generica is a thin goat trail. I maintain that the only way to do it well is to do your research, work from a place of respect, and learn what things to avoid pinching. At the time I am writing this, there is a very worthwhile discussion taking place in Canada about who can speak for our Indigenous peoples; the appropriation of Indigenous culture for the sake of fiction (or in my case fantasy), and the legitimacy of authorial voice is a very important conversation. Currently, it’s a conversation I am listening to - since my hot-take is not nearly as interesting (or required) as other voices.
Pulp fantasy doesn’t have a great record of respecting its source material. Too often, we end up with a messy collage. This is why the Midgard campaign book hooked me. There aren’t any shortcuts taken, the material is handled carefully and with respect.
For my part, I’m working on material for the world’s Rothenian Plain - an eastern swathe of land featuring centaur, nomads, and a massing Khanate. Legendary figures such as Baba Yaga, and Koschei the Deathless rule the wild steppes of this place. As I write, and bring these legends to life as citizens of Midgard, I pay close attention to the stories that have already been told. If I present Koschei the Deathless as a 5E foe (example only), how are his traits and actions related to his real-world history? How can I ensure that my Koschei is authentic and at the same time unique and novel? I have a family connection to the part of the world that the Rothenian Plain is pulled from. My ancestors farmed in that area before revolution saw them lose their land, lives, and other unnamable things.
RPG writers and designers face the same problems as any other writer. One unique characteristic is this: I have to write for presumed interaction. The content I create (if done well) ends up being used in a very complex and worthwhile social event: a night of D&D. Writing legends is part of the gig - but learning to do it well...that takes practice.
As a gamer and reader, I am very excited about the upcoming Midgard campaign setting book. As a writer, it’s a rich and rewarding place to spend some time.
Be kind, game on!