Page Of Myth

Funny, sometimes I struggle with what to write about.  Recently, I had several ideas, but my mind has kept moving on.

I’m a heroic high fantasy kind of guy.  I like epic.  I like dramatic scenes, pronouncements, etc.  I like the idea that heroes affect the world.  I even find epic levels of power interesting (see also interest in anime and superheroes).

I’m also someone who struggles incessantly with trying to figure out what sort of RPG campaign he wants to be in or run.  I both want and don’t want to world build.  If there was some world that I thought would work well for gaming, I wouldn’t feel as much desire to build my own, but I keep coming up with reasons why worlds, in particular fantasy worlds, just won’t cut it.

For instance, L5R would be easy to run but is not a world I actually care a lot for.  Young Kingdoms and other Moorcock worlds are interesting in that I think they can be highly appealing to read about but are actually missing enough detail in how they actually work that it would require making too much stuff up.  Wheel of Time, The Land (Thomas Covenant), Spellsinger’s world, etc. all either have limitations when it comes to gaming or require a bunch of work to develop for game play or both.

Of course, we have obvious high fantasy worlds to work with – historical mythology.  Not that this helps trying to make a decision since different mythologies have different appeals.

Greek Mythology

Pros:  Tons of material.  Heroes (demigods) are extremely important.  I own the  Hero supplement for it as well as GURPS Greece.  The world is open to adventure with a variety of challenges that can arise.  There’s an element of good and evil but also factionism, with each god/goddess being a faction.  Locations are often detailed.

Cons:  Lack of structure in what PCs should do.  In particular, there’s not a clear evil to oppose.  All of the deities seem to be equal parts beneficial and harmful.  Just because – one of my issues with BattleTech is that there are no clear good guys or bad guys, which is fine for a more gritty, realistic setting but ends up being less heroic than what I’m often looking for.  I’m not sure if the players will realize that being a demigod is not all mead and Helens.

Bottom Line:  I’m not really sure what my problem is with choosing this besides that I find it hard to imagine people I play with being into any high fantasy setting.  Probably just laziness on my part for how to structure a campaign.

Norse Mythology

Pros:  There’s a coolness to Norse.  I find the cosmology really interesting.  There are evocative monsters.  There’s a gravitas that comes with how much more serious Norse is then, say, Greek.  Valkyries are hot, and they would make a reasonable demigod level of hero.

Cons:  Probably just that I haven’t read enough, but I feel like so much of what happens is at the god level rather than the hero level, which is a problem for people who like to have their own characters.  Siegfried is a better PC concept than Thor, but I actually don’t have much idea of what other characters would fall into that level other than valkyries, even if names of other heroes show up on Wikipedia.  Even if you create your mortal heroes, what sort of adventures do mortals go on?  Thor, Loki, et al are messing with giants and the like.  Is that that plausible for mortals in a Norse world?  Admittedly, when playing Conan, we had adventures in essentially a Norse world and it worked well, if at a sword and sorcery rather than high fantasy level.

Bottom Line:  If I had a better idea what PCs would look like and what they would do that would capture the same elements of the adventures of the well known gods, then this would be more appealing.  A campaign of all valkyries would be hilarious (if played by guys) or awesome (if played by gals).

Egyptian Mythology

Pros:  Weird stuff going on.  A sophisticated culture, which contrasts with both Greek (pastoral) and Norse (barbaric).  Plenty of terrible things to deal with.  I can picture heroes below the god level.  Detailed locations.  Gary Gygax wrote some books where his protagonist was an Egyptian wizard who solved mysteries, who also happened to run across other mythologies.  While not the best written stuff ever, I really liked the concepts and enjoyed the adventures well enough.  I have the right supplement for it.

Cons:  Magic always struck me as complicated.  Maybe, it’s a boon that people have gone to so much effort to define how Egyptian magic works rather than a chore, but there’s just something offputting about the numerous parts of the soul and whatnot.  Maybe, it’s just a flavor thing that doesn’t appeal to me all that much.  Maybe my lack of interest in the science of magic rears its head.  Greece I can see being fun often.  Scandinavia has some buttkicking joy.  Egypt may not seem like that much of a joy to players.  I find the gods more appealing than the human world, which is a similar problem that the Norse world has.

Bottom Line:  I can see it.  It would require more work than Greek but would also have a more sophisticated tone.

Celtic Mythology

Pros:  There’s a lot of untapped heroic fantasy available.  I’ve even tapped some of it by making Ireland my land of adventure for my old Camelot campaign.  There’s an individualistic element, a la Greek.  As well, heroes are frequently at the fore.  The environs feel good, unlike maybe Norse or Egypt.

Cons:  Name pronunciation – seriously, these sort of things can be annoying.  Establishing specifics with the myths – I was part of a team who gave a presentation in high school on Celtic mythology, we had very different explanations for what it was about.  Having enough scope, which might not be an issue if I’m too inclined to go for too broad of a scope for adventuring.  I actually started getting repetitive in my Camelot campaign, though I shouldn’t have – probably due to not feeling the world as strongly as I should have.

Bottom Line:  Kind of a cross between Greek and Norse in my mind, which seems a good thing.  I’ve already incorporated elements in a previous campaign.  So, why not?

Oriental Mythologies

Yeah, oriental seems a word on the outs these days, though I find it’s really useful for describing East Asia rather than having to specifically exclude Russia, India, et al when speaking of something being Asian.  Anyway, I mostly mean Chinese and Japanese, since I’m so much less familiar with other East Asian myths.

Pros:  So many things that can be mined.  So many opportunities to surprise people by correcting existing beliefs.  Should be able to do a wide variety of adventures.  Non-gods are important.

Cons:  Deciding what to use.  Names being hard to follow.  I’m just getting tired of oriental stuff with all of the L5R I’m involved in as it even taints my appreciation for Chinese fantasy.  I have supplements for oriental fantasy, but they don’t necessarily help with a mythological level of fantasy.

Bottom Line:  Just not the right time as I’m not inclined towards even more oriental fantasy.  Also, I think there are better options.

Indian Mythology

Pros:  Untapped.  Demigods matter.  Should be open to the style of adventures I’m looking for.

Cons:  How much work do I have to put in?  I was searching today to see if someone had done Indian mythology as a RPG supplement.  Apparently, not a lot out there.  Devastra, if it gets translated from French, might be what I’m looking for.  I’m not sure that players would find India as cool as other worlds.

Bottom Line:  Something I’m currently intrigued by as I don’t think I have given it enough thought in the past.  I also think there’s too much work for me to do until there’s more RPG supplements I can use to help define the world.

Native American Mythologies

By which I really mean North American mythologies.

Pros:  I like the spirituality.  I can totally see adapting concepts of Glory and Honor from L5R, so I could use a system I like.  There are rich mythologies that I don’t know enough about.  Heroes matter.  I feel like North America should get more use for adventuring.

Cons:  I don’t know nearly enough about the myths.  I don’t know how I would choose which tribe’s (or tribes’) myths to use.  Scope may be an issue, where I find it hard to keep coming up with different things to do.

Bottom Line:  I think I’ll never put the effort in to understand one set of Native American myths strongly enough to use.

Aztec & Incan Mythologies

Pros:  Material is readily available, especially for Aztec.

Cons:  Don’t know what sort of stories I would want to tell.  Just not feeling the draw of the worlds.

Bottom Line:  Aztec, I have used for Solomon Kane as antagonists and can continue to use.  That wasn’t high fantasy (well, I did wander into high fantasy at times), and I struggle to see what I’d want to do with a pure campaign of either.

Finnish Mythology

Pros:  Finnish mythology is awesome.  Heroes matter.  Untapped.

Cons:  I don’t know enough about it.  Names are challenging.

Bottom Line:  I want to know more about Finnish mythology.  I really need to own a good RPG supplement for it, so I can digest it in a partially mechanical form.


Did I leave important things out?  Russian mythology is interesting.  Various African could work well.  Pacific Island mythologies strike me as being Native American like, if much more water oriented.  I just don’t know enough to craft a coherent campaign.  Then, there are the mythologies I know so little about I couldn’t even think of them.  What of Spain and Portugal?  Etc.

I’m really not sure what my reluctance with Greek is.  Nor am I sure why Egyptian or Celtic wouldn’t be top choices.  Maybe, it’s having an interest in incorporating multiple mythologies, like Gygax did or Conan essentially does if as sword and sorcery rather than high fantasy, that distracts me from focusing on a single one.


4 Responses to Page Of Myth

  1. Brad says:

    Mesopotamean (babylonian,assyrian), worked out well in Conan (meadow shem), African, SE Asian (which you touched on), Roman, N. African/middle eastern/persian (pre-post Islamic). All these have potential. When running Conan, I had to do alot of research on each culture. There are souces available for most, if you are willing to spend the tome and effort.

  2. iclee says:

    I pretty much agree with you that the main inhibitor is not putting the effort in. But, to reduce the time and effort, I like material in an easy to digest form. Quite a bit of scholarly work is in a painfully tedious format. I have books on mythology I’ve never read because they are rough going. Also, it’s nice to have material in a RPG format because reading stories and building a world aren’t the same thing, even mechanics are useful to get a sense of relative strengths.

  3. Brad says:

    I guess it just depends on what you like to do. When prepping for Conan, i’d read not only RPG material on the culture, but the history and mythology as well. I’d pick up a cd of the music, watch a movie if available, check out the art in a museum and try to get a recipie or two to make for the session. Now I admit it was often alot of work, but I enjoyed it and was as much for my edification as it was to make the game better for the players.

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