The “Known World” D&D Setting: A Secret History

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I’ve read a lot of retrospectives of designers, but this line captures D&D, the Known World, and everything that came after, so very well:

We were both nuts about Clark Ashton Smith, Tom was a Michael Moorcock and Philip José Farmer fanatic, while I could quote chapter and verse from the works of Jack Vance and Fritz Leiber. So we knew what we wanted to create: a single world setting that would enable us to simulate the fictional realities of these, our favorite authors.

To read those authors is to create the D&D experience.

Which is probably why it is draining on me, because I don’t think most of those works aged well. The concepts are part of stories, and are often harmful when adapted, mutated, and sent to the masses.

Most fictional fantasy worlds, of course, are based on aspects of our own world and its history.

For example, all the states in Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian setting are based on real-world cultures, simplified and boiled down to their easily-recognized essences — clichés, in other words, but in tropes that were instantly familiar to Howard’s readers. We decided we could do the same thing, adapting from historical sources, so our first task was to make a list of world cultures that would be useful templates for fantasy gaming.

Yeah… no. Those are the worst aspects of those books! Don’t turn cultures into cliches, or cliches will be celebrated as culture!