I’m working up a role-playing setting using the open-license rules from The Shadow of Yesterday (Clinton Nixon, CRN Games), including some notions from the Solar System, itself an application of those rules from Arkenstone Publishing.
There’s some great art for it by Bentti Bisson: see Ghost Army, Social Difference, and Stealing an Identity at his DeviantArt page.
The current opening text
Elegiac fantasy is one of the most developed, beautiful, and powerful literary subgenres. Its central feature is that the world is losing its magic, exiting the realm of myth and fairy tale to become modern and mundane. Its famous texts include Lord Dunsany’s The King of Elfland’s Daughter, Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, and the ending chapters of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. More recent work relevant to role-playing is found in Greg Stafford’s King of Sartar.
However, this world’s circumstances are the reverse: the magic is growing, not receding. What used to be a modern setting has progressed pretty far into becoming more magical, to the extent that technology and contemporary life are almost gone, available only as landscape features and quirky details. This is not known to characters in the setting. People don’t remember the more technological past very well, not even the space ship from which some of them emerged only a few generations ago.
Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t technology and modern life converted to magic, but rather rubbed away by magic and a new framework for life. The process is nearly complete. People do not cast cell-phone spells, or anything like that. Although the setting borders on science fiction when you step back, when you get up close and inside, the whole experience is that of fantasy: low-tech, magical, stirring, violent.
Furthermore, it is not our modern-day which has become transformed. This is not Earth, and how far into our future, or on what planet or in light of exactly what sort of technology, are unknown. A lot of the creatures or plants have a uniform fluid-like or smooth-skinned look. Some of them reflect light in rainbow patterns and glimmers. Physically, the non-human life is visually reptilian, amphibian, and mollusc, as with a common draft or riding animal called a “manta,” which flies through the air on broad wings, and another commonly-used creature, the “dray,” which is basically a huge tame slug which is not ugly so much as weird.
I’m also shooting for the look of “beautiful fantasy:” everyone is drawn by Barry Windsor Smith. The style allows for and accentuates horrific splatter detail, especially since fighting and physical efforts are to be sweaty, tiring work, completely down to earth. This is not a wuxia fantasy; there are no flying-running duels. The magic adds surrealism to gritty violence, but not superheroics. Also, monsters are a big part of the situation, and they too should be gorgeous, in addition to savage, sinister, or horrific.
It’s a city of stone, with a certain Lankhmar and Nessus feel in that the city is huge and sprawling and old, and similarly to them, the immediate imagery and experiences are extremely low-tech and undeniably fantastic/magical. I think of Vance at his most ornate and most enthralling, with a strong Wolfe influence, in that the mystic/mythic experience as the audience sees it is normal as far as the characters see it. The general look is kind of like Jerusalem: stone buildings, winding streets, lots of hills, and a sense of age. There are spectacular ruins and older structures, many being lived in and used continually. Even to our eyes, one should only secondarily realize that some of the structures and street layouts are originally modern.
I’ve done a little bit of playtesting, described in An as-yet-unnamed Shadow of Yesterday hack.
So far it’s done all right, but it hasn’t seen enough play for me to generate a document that others might use. When it does, I’ll post it for general playtesting.