[Fantasy] Hard Fantasy

smascrns

New member
Banned
#22
Now, that's something that I really like. The Elven civilisations of not-Babylon, not-Egypt and not-Sumner never fell, and so they've been building all that time. Massive ziggurats, pyramids, towers, built through over-engineering and a very long time. Imagine a step-pyramid, but instead of it coming to a point, they built a massive tower on top of it..
Did you ever seen the graphic novel La Tour (The Tower) by Schuiten and Peters? If you like towers and strange cities you have to read their Obscure Cities series.
 

Rabid Southern Cross Fan

Anarcho-Capitalist
Validated User
#23
Well, people for some reason want to keep reinventing the wheel. For all intents and purposes, Tolkien's Middle-Earth could easily be called 'Hard Fantasy' and/or Low Fantasy (I've also heard it called Mythic History).

1.) All the Children of Eru are genetically hominids. This includes Elves, Men, Drughu, Orcs, Half-Orcs and Uruks. Hobbits are related to Men and Dwarves are Eru's Children by adoption (so are probably genetically hominids).

2.) Arda is Earth. Middle-Earth is supposed to be The Old World (aka Europe-Asia-Africa).

3.) There is no fantastic technology. A steel sword in Middle-Earth would be forged in the same manner as a steel sword in Medieval Europe. Even high technology (the Magic of the Aulendili) is based on real world principles.

4.) Tolkien based, loosely, the various peoples of Middle-Earth on similar groups in Earth's history: The Rohirrim are like Alexander's Companion Cavalry or even the Alammani/Alans/Scytho-Sarmatians; The Dunedain are like the Egyptians; Hobbits are based on 19th Century Rural English folk etc.
 

Tim Gray

Midi-thewed
Validated User
#24
I'm using the term as a short hand for a related hominid species. I hope you don't find it implausible that other, closely related members of the homo genus might have evolved, yes? And thus, if we were going for a hard sci-fi but for fantasy approach, they could be used as substitutes for the genre tropes of orcs and elves. Neanderthals have some of the physical characteristics attributed to the fictional orcs, so they can be used as a valid substitute; they held onto the north, and act as the barbarians, interspaced with other barbaric human tribes. Wood elves are traditionally forest dwelling creatures that live in harmony with nature; I'm subverting that by making them a species of non-sapient hominids that live in the forests of Europe, and eat people as they run around in the forest. Civilised elves, meanwhile, are represented by the homnids who developed civilisation independently of humanity and have been doing it longer.

I really don't see what's so objectionable about that.
The point is, if you call them orcs and elves you'll trigger the related stuff people have in their heads - I think that'll send them down a path different from the one you want.

Just stop mentioning those terms at all (which, after all, are only tropes for some types of fantasy) and you should be fine.


Sounds more like an alternative-world Science Fiction to me. When I saw the term "Hard Fantasy" I was thinking more of a world where the laws of physics are magical, for want of a better term, so spells & enchantments work, but the rules under which they operate are as well-defined as real-world physics are are universally and consistently applied.

Your premise looks like it's a world which has real-world credible explanations for fantasy tropes (e.g. Dragons are genetically engineered flying crocodiles created by a long-forgotten empire, the "battle zombies used by the Black Necromancers of Voord send into battle are slaves they've infected with a parasite that turns them into homicidally berserk lepers, who are controlled by some mind-altering drug, the Oracle the players approach is merely very intuitive and possessed of an extravagantly efficient spy network and is cunning enough to give you a cryptic enough answer that it can be interpreted as being prescient when considered after the fact), I'm not seeing where the Fantasy comes in, at least it doesn't seem any more fantastical than the "what if" of any regular SF story.
This makes me think of the Hawkmoon setting.


Well, people for some reason want to keep reinventing the wheel. For all intents and purposes, Tolkien's Middle-Earth could easily be called 'Hard Fantasy' and/or Low Fantasy (I've also heard it called Mythic History).

1.) All the Children of Eru are genetically hominids. This includes Elves, Men, Drughu, Orcs, Half-Orcs and Uruks. Hobbits are related to Men and Dwarves are Eru's Children by adoption (so are probably genetically hominids).

2.) Arda is Earth. Middle-Earth is supposed to be The Old World (aka Europe-Asia-Africa).

3.) There is no fantastic technology. A steel sword in Middle-Earth would be forged in the same manner as a steel sword in Medieval Europe. Even high technology (the Magic of the Aulendili) is based on real world principles.

4.) Tolkien based, loosely, the various peoples of Middle-Earth on similar groups in Earth's history: The Rohirrim are like Alexander's Companion Cavalry or even the Alammani/Alans/Scytho-Sarmatians; The Dunedain are like the Egyptians; Hobbits are based on 19th Century Rural English folk etc.
Really no. The style of storytelling is the main difference for me. But to do with specifics: it's a world with multiple intelligent species (and, I would suspect, no "genetics"); maybe the hidden backstory says it's Earth, but it doesn't say it is; fantastic technology is unnecessary for fantasy; and, again, the author's inspirations are irrelevant to the setting itself. Plus, magic is everywhere, but it's mostly low-key and ill-defined; and there are weird supernatural beasties lurking about.

It's probably diametrically opposite to 'Hard Fantasy'.
 

Eric Tolle

A product of SCIENCE!
#25
Well, people for some reason want to keep reinventing the wheel. For all intents and purposes, Tolkien's Middle-Earth could easily be called 'Hard Fantasy' and/or Low Fantasy (I've also heard it called Mythic History).
Ah, no. It may be low fantasy, but there's some elements that to my mind keep it from being even close to hard fantasy.

First of all, look at the geography of that world. What. The. Hell. Why are all those mountain ranges so screwed up?Are we supposed to actually believe the course of that river? Was this world designed by committee?

Let's meet the committee. The gods exist, created the earth, and we have embodied angels walking and flying among mankind.

Likewise, we have an immortal Force of Utter Evil, which is a disembodied spirit, who cannot be killed, and who has embodied his power in a ring that likewise, can only be destroyed on way.

This force of utter evil has no motivation, no goal, no personality except a drive to conquer an corrupt Middle Earth. Why? Because he's Eeeeeeevil.

This immortal Force of Utter Eeeeeeeevil, has created n army of creatures that are soulless warriors, that have no function except to pillage and destroy. Why? Because they are Eeeeeeeevil.

There's also a number of other spirits that pop up, ranging from a bad natured mountain, to angry trees, to an Eeeeeeeevil Balrog.

There's assorted prophecies running around, like "Will not be slain by mortal man"

Ad then of course there's Tom Bombadill. Tom Fucking Bombadil. Tom "I'm an alter ego for Pee Wee Herman" Bombadill. No story with Tom "tralalala" Bombadil can be remotely hard. We're talking Twee Fantasy, one step away from A. A. Milne.

And people keep breaking into song and poetry every five pages or so. Friend dies? Sing a song. Chasing orcs? Poetry. Ditching the land you've lived in for millenia because you've fucked things up so badly? Sing a tralala song. No way does that much poetry at inappropriate times make for a hard fantasy world.

2.) Arda is Earth. Middle-Earth is supposed to be The Old World (aka Europe-Asia-Africa).
Sorry, I've seen pictures of Europe, and I've seen maps of Middle Earth. This if anything, is an argument against the hardness of the setting, because to get from ME to Eu is going to take Magic Sufficiently Indistinguishable from Transhumanist Technology.
 
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ArcheiosAggelos

Active member
Validated User
#26
And people keep breaking into song and poetry every five pages or so. Friend dies? Sing a song. Chasing orcs? Poetry. Ditching the land you've lived in for millenia because you've fucked things up so badly? Sing a tralala song. No way does that much poetry at inappropriate times make for a hard fantasy world.
While I agree that calling Middle Earth hard-fantasy is ludicrous, you do know that most people, at most times, have used song and poetry to deal with various situations, don't you? Battle songs and laments for the dead are not in the least inappropriate.
 

smascrns

New member
Banned
#27
I'm with Eric here. And he didn't even mention the Hobbits. The Hobbits! That's the only connection with Europe I can think of. Only an European commitee could creat the hobbits. That or Microsoft. And the disguised anagram is just too obvious. Bob, you know what. Eyes roll. Even my 6 years old kid could come up with that.
 

mindstalk

Does the math.
Validated User
#28
'fantasy' as used here can mean grounding the old pseudo-Tolkien D&D tropes. 'fantasy' can also mean anything that gives a sense of the fantastic, of surprises of wonder, of a universe more alive and intelligent than we're used to. So, nothing wrong here.

But, as for the hominid biology. Neanderthal orcs, no problems, though I don't know who had more stamina. I think I've seen claims that they didn't use missile weapons as much, vs. spearing things up close; honestly, people like to go on about cursorial hunting, but I'm not sure that sees much use compared to "we're smart and coordinated enough to ambush you, and then we throw things at you from afar". Missile hunting is a big niche, and may need specific shoulders and brains for the accurate timing release.

Anyway. So they're covered. Wood elves as smarter and less hairy chimps or orangs (though if they're less sentient, would they be less hairy?) or hominids works. Humans already have pygmies, due to small size being adaptive for jungle (there's a different source of "wood elves"; African farmers already consider pygmies to be spirits and/or subhumans and/or edible) so dwarves living in things like the underground cities of the Cappadocian mountains isn't a huge stretch.

But the civilized elves? Another (sub)species of plains-dwelling gracile hominids? The niche competition is strong here, and the evolutionary history unclear. And are they longer-lived?

Another element: the possible Homo floriensis, or Indonesian "hobbits". I don't think it's been settled whether they were even another species, vs. deformed midget humans, or if they were intelligent, but it's probably good enough to play with now.


If you want deeper 'fantasy', I'd draw selectively from Lovecraft. No spells, but Deep Ones work great -- the deep sea is an excellent niche to hold an intelligent race that doesn't deform history too much. Something like the Mi-Go, coming to Earth for uranium mining, works too (Earth is plausibly the best source in the system for uranium, due to size and ore formation processes) though rockets probably hurt the setting feel and it's hard to get off planet without them. Mi-go space elevator -- excuse me, Yggdrasil/bridge of the gods?

If there's been past civilizations, human or not, you could have cursed lakes, very circular, but lifeless and causing people near them to die. Yes, nuclear craters. Toxic/radioactive waste dumps make other cursed areas, or cursed tombs. (Especially with a fusor trap that blasts neutrons at intruders. Or bury the dead with radioactive jewelry; people who steal it die horribly later.)

Something like Great Old Ones can be done: what do you need to live thousands or millions of years? A bigger brain. Which needs a bigger body. And if you're part of a galactic civilization, without FTL, you probably want to be good at sleeping for long journeys. Or for long prison sentences, or until the political climate changes. "Cthulhu sleeps underwater until the stars are right" might mean "I'm waiting for the statute of limitations to run out in 10 galactic turns or so [2 million years] and it's really hard for the cops to find me underwater."

If you invoke dark matter or "vibrational modes of matter" or inertia control you can get some more weird elements, but that makes the physics get a lot softer. Not *wrong*, just made up, which still leaves it ahead of most science fiction...


If you go with a posthuman Earth, you lose natural Neanderthal orcs (though they might be genetically resurrected, or a new construction), but can gain intelligently designed elves with proper longevity and fertility control. Why co-exist with humans? Most humans stuck with standard (though advanced) industrial tech; the elves were the paranoid survivalists + deep ecology types who tried making as much as tech as possible built-in or otherwise biological (self-replicating). Then civilization fell, the humans went "crap, how does farming work?" and the elves went "woo-hoo! our preparations paid off! Er, I mean, so sad, really." Transhuman future lets you have hydrogen blimp dragons and other weird stuff too, not constrained by the vagaries of evolution.


Going back to the apparent original theme of "seem fantastic, but naturally, without changing too much", New Zealand had a wacky ecosystem, based on birds and large insects, no mammals. Australia had its marsupials and large reptiles ; both are 'alien'. You could handwave that marsupials weren't as vulnerable to placental invasion as they turned out to be. Or shift Australia around to get more rainfall. Keep Central America from forming, and South America can be its own alien ecology of marsupials (giant sloths) and terror birds. Connect South America and Antarctica and you can have the latter be somewhat warmer (break the Humboldt current).with its own weirdness; even weirder if the planet is warmer, giving us the unknown "long dark winter but not freezing cold" niche.)
 

jsnead

Social Justice Dragon
Validated User
#29
The point is, if you call them orcs and elves you'll trigger the related stuff people have in their heads - I think that'll send them down a path different from the one you want.

Just stop mentioning those terms at all (which, after all, are only tropes for some types of fantasy) and you should be fine.
I completely agree. Also, for added fun, I strongly recommend looking at the Ringworld hominids in Ringworld RPG or (since that's long OOP) The Guide to Larry Niven's Ringworld for ideas.

Some of the hominids are sort of silly, but the City Builders, Grass Giants, Ghouls, Hanging People, Herders, and possibly the Sea People are all possible, and could make for a wonderful assortment of species for a fantasy world.
 
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