Monday, April 1, 2013
Medieval Naturalism and Science Fantasy
At the same time, I love science fantasy elements. I reprinted my Death Ray article in Dungeon Crawl #2 because I thought it was the kind of element worth sharing. This works together with the concept I discussed in February's series of posts on the planes as planets. Specifically, every plane has its own laws and reality works accordingly - for instance, on the science fantasy Mars, death rays can be manufactured, but on the alchemical / magical Earth, they couldn't be reproduced even if you landed the Martian factory in a space ship. The death ray itself works, but should have some chance to malfunction.
The biggest difference is that magic does not work well. There is a chance of spell failure, although items are less likely to malfunction than memorized spells. Characters simply cannot memorize as many spells and lose a certain degree of effectiveness. This is offset, for instance, by an increase in strength on Mars due to reduced gravity, but a sword +2 is as out of place on Mars as a ray gun is on Earth.
Adventure on the Martian plane or beneath the clouds of Venus, then, follows its own rules. In further realms, such as Jupiter or Yuggoth, the rules are stranger and more bizarre. After all, the great ordered storms of Jupiter are home to massive sky-dragons and megalithic cities floating above the storms. In Yuggoth the geometry is wrong, perhaps to the point that it would distort a human's perceptions like M.C. Escher's paintings.
One major conceit of Demon Haunted Lands is that this is also true of Hell and Faerie, the realms described in that supplement. In Faerie the world is extremely beautiful but also chaotic - there are a few places where it is anchored and prevented from going into the bland sameness that Moorcock warned would be the result of too much chaos. Hell, on the other hand, has a duality; on the one hand it is a vast and empty underworld, on the other it is a pit of fire and demons and lost souls.
I think this cosmic vision of "different plane=different rules" works much better than trying to establish an easy one-size-fits-all magic.