Friday, April 16, 2010
D&D and the Assumed Universe
I'm pondering, today, the "assumed universe" phenomenon of D&D. That is to say, when you sit down around a table for a session of D&D, there seems to be a communally assumed setting you are playing in, unless someone specifically tells you otherwise. Some of these assumptions include:
1. A pseudo-medieval, western-european-ish setting.
2. Magic is real, in varying degrees of commonality.
3. Religions are polytheistic, and gods take some degree of interest in the affairs of men.
4. Non-human races like elves and dwarves rub shoulders with humans.
5. Dwarves are grumpy and crafty, elves are aloof and inscrutable.
6. Dwarves live in the ground, elves live in trees.
7. People kill things with swords and maces and arrows.
8. Wizards always have ulterior motives.
9. Men defend themselves with castles, towers, and citadels.
10. Orcs, goblins, and ogres are out to kill you, kidnap your women, burn your village, and further the goals of the local Dark Lord.
I could go on like that for a while, but I'm sure you get the point.
So where does this assumed setting come from? Does someone completely new to the hobby make these assumptions? Or is it unique to long time players? Some likely suspects:
1. RPG manuals seem to detail a little of this, but usually it feels like they are building off the assumed setting rather than creating it.
2. Fantasy novels. I like this for the source of "assumed world", but its so seldom, in my experience, that everyone has read the same books, and very few books actually include all or even most of the assumptions gamers include in their default setting.
3. Fantasy art (RPG or fiction). Again, is this the chicken or the egg?
4. Simple evolution of expectations from long experience with RPGs?
5. All of the above?
Its an interesting subject, I think.
What are your thoughts?