This is a good topic for discussion. It has been offhandedly addressed many times in the past, but not in depth. Opinions will vary on what constitutes a good pastiche.
My opinion on pastiche is that it is not a bad thing, as long as it is implemented consistently. I also prefer that it lean more toward the hodg-podge than the blatant. Later Greyhawk material errs on the side of being too literally a pastiche of the real world in certain key areas, both of which GVD has pointed out.
First we have the Olman. With them, little effort has been made to do anything with them other than to change where they are located from South America to Hepmonaland. After that is done, a little bit more information is added to them with regards to what they have done in and around Hepmonaland. I find the initial information on the Olman rather uncreative, basically because it is cut n’ pasted from an encyclopedia. This is uncreative, as nothing was created. No imagination goes into the core; it was already written by somebody else. Fortunately the information is open source, otherwise it would be plagiarism. So we have the Aztecs (Olmecs)…er, Olman…in Greyhawk. What now? This is where the creative part comes in- making something not specifically created for the campaign world fit in. Here the square peg will, to some degree, be pounded through that nice round hole. Sure, that square peg will get bashed to crap getting pounded in, and even our pristine round hole may get roughed up on the edges in the process, but that square peg...finally…gets pounded in. It looks really messy, but it fits now. But does it? Perhaps it would have been better just to make a nice new round peg that fits perfectly in the round hole in the first place, but that would require some initial creativity. Carl had a blank slate and didn’t take advantage of the opportunity it presented, instead going full steam way beyond Tamoachan. Too bad, as I like most of what Carl has written, but not this.
Then we have the newer Baklunish material, which as GVD pointed out is pretty much a copy of the Sunni-Shiite religious division in Islam. Adding in thinly veiled real world religious parallels is not the best of ideas in my opinion. Irregardless of that, putting this material in has the direct effect of shunting off to the side the already established Baklunish religion, as little fleshed out as it is. And this isn’t just a side effect of the new material. It takes a newly ascended god and makes him the primary faith of a good portion of the Baklunish states. “While I find the article well written and interesting, I agree it has a high degree of "wtf" in it.” sums this up best for me, and I’ll thank GVD for the quote. For what it is worth, I do think that the material is well written (i.e. the author knows how to write); I just don’t care for the material. Fred writes well, but from my point of view he must have been referencing a book of Islamic religious history and smoking the hashish atop Assassin Mountain dreaming about a land flowing with milk and honey, and especially those 72 virgins, while doing so.
There is one major difference between Robert E. Howard’s world of Conan, and even Moorcock’s world of Hawkmoon, and what Gygax wrote. The main factor contributing to these differences is world communication, or knowledge of the world. In Howard’s time, phones were neato newfangled things, and talkies were all the rage. People would even go to these new talking pictures to see “fantastical” footage of foreign countries. Everything was exotic. Skip ahead a bit to the Road Film era. There is still that same sense of the exotic(just look at the movie titles!). T.E. Lawrence is an easily romanticized figure, and he becomes literally legendary for his exploits in the exotic Middle East. So, at the time of Howard, a blatant pastiche of exotic foreign lands actually has an impact on any story. Even still, Howard didn’t write much of anything as blatant as the Olman or the later Baklunish material in any Conan stories.
Then we skip ahead a few decades to Moorcock’s world of Hawkmoon, which is very much Earth at some skewed time in history, or how it would be if history progressed in certain ways(and if there was sorcery in the world). This is a similar type of set-up as in Howard’s world of Conan, so we can point to Howard as one of the earliest authors, if not the author, who set the example for what is a classic sword and sorcery world. Though Hawkmoon’s world is very much an alternate Earth, it is also very much different. Moorcock accomplishes this by really emphasizing the magical technology of the world, as well as drastic cultural differences, which serves to set it apart from being too blatant a pastiche or just another ho-hum alternate Earth. Moorcock is best known for the Elric series however, which is hardly a pastiche of anything. It is a very creative work, and relies on little or nothing from real world history or cultures. Having seen a good amount of pastiches in both novels and game worlds, I can say that I am very appreciative of something that is really unique. It his hard to do, and gets harder the more material that is published. It is not too difficult to draw a parallel between anything written these days.
All this goes to what Gygax did. Unlike what has been done with Olman or with the newer Baklunish material, Gygax created something which doesn’t fit very exactingly with anything in the real world. Are there parallels? Certainly, but not much of it is as obviously blatant as the Olman or the neo-Baklunish. Of course, part of the reason for that may be because Greyhawk was not to receive much additional detailing in print from Gygax. Greyhawk is not like the worlds of Conan or Hawkmoon, but is more like the world of Elric as it leans much more towards the unique. Greyhawk is very much a classic sword and sorcery world, and is notable for its lack of blatant pastiches. The main problem with some of the newer material is that it does not follow the Greyhawk model as it was set down, which noticeably differentiates it from the original material. That, to me, is a problem, and I don’t like it. It takes away from the original atmosphere of Greyhawk for me, and so I tend to discount it, or better still, alter it to more prorperly fit into the World of Greyhawk model. _________________ - Moderator/Admin (in some areas)/Member -
Last edited by Cebrion on Mon Jun 18, 2007 3:41 pm; edited 3 times in total
GVD is baaaack. Good article, a refreshing read.
It's always been my lackluster opinion that RPG's using pastiches are unfortunately necessary to cater to the audience, who may not understand a cultural concept if it isn't put into terms they are already familiar with even in a stereotypical way. Everyone who plays D&D understands medieval culture so designers can take more liberties in changing/adding new concepts. And thus we see the tendency to cheat more in certain areas that aren't commonly studied by the RPG masses (like central american myth) and middle eastern culture (true in the 80's-90's maybe but certainly not in today's 24 hour news environment). Cebrion uses Moorcock's Elric as an example of a more unique fictional world. I like Elric but how many people play the Elric RPG? (I own a copy won at a convention) It's a fascinating topic, worthy of more discussion.
Certainly it is unreasonable to expect a game world to not draw on the real world for inspiration. After all, what else are you going to draw on and how are you going to convey the information to the players?
Its the "these are the renamed Aztecs/Arabs/Japanese/Quendi/whatever" type of so called inspiration that I find annoying. Mesoamericanish Olman are fine, but some effort could have been made to it seem like they are organic to Oerth and not ported over from Mexico. If you want to do a world like that, just do a world like that. There are plenty of decent settings that function on that premise (Mythic Europe, the GURPS Fantasy setting, lots more).
I just noticed this topic. I used to argue about this on boards long ago.
I have to say that generally I prefer a pastiche for the simple reason that, if it is well done, it seems more real than worlds that attempt to create everything whole cloth.
Exactly. It took mother-nature about four and a half billion years plus all of humanity for ten thousand years to make the real world as rich and detailed as it is today. You can attempt to come up with an entirely original world, but you’ll never have the kind of detail you would if you borrow from the real world.
Consider the game play benefits: This forum is more or less a community of Greyhawk experts (at least compared with the general population). Even if you know all about the Flanness, and its people, culture, politics, geography, religions, calendar, holidays, economics, mysteries, etc., most players don’t. In my own Greyhawk campaign (which has been ongoing for nearly 20 years, so it’s not like the players are complete novices to the world of Greyhawk), if I told the players that the PCs have encountered some Olman, several would have no idea what I’m talking about. If I told them “They’re kind of like Aztecs,” I’d get instant recognition, and the players would have a mental picture, even if vague, of what they look like and their culture.
I used to be very against pastiche – I understand how it offends that desire for originality that many people have. But I simply found the richness, detail, and completeness that borrowing from the real world offers far outweighs the negative association.
I will say, though, that it has to be done well – it has to fit, it has to not contradict established features of the world, it has to be consistent, logical, and it should be altered and subtly concealed so that borrowed elements are “Aztec-like,” not “Aztecs”. The best implemented pastiche (as it applies to fantasy worlds) will give players a subconscious mental image of the real world inspiration without having to specifically tell them what it is.
It's okay to say there is a nation acros the mountain range that, culturally, is very like ancient China. What would be too blatant would be to say, "it is guarded by a mighty wall, a thousand miles long". Too obvious, and lacking creativity.
I agree that the Baklunish nations of the Flanaess are in danger of being developed to the point of becoming inseparable from the real Islamic nations. We really don't want to go down the road of Jihad and crusades when we already have the more subtle variant of the Knights of the Watch and their hatred for all things Baklunish. It works because that idea is Greyhawkian; a meshing of various real world ideas combined to create something new, and not (at least as far as I'm aware) a direct steal.
I'm of two minds on this issue. When Gygax used Arabic/Persian/Turkish titles for the Baklunish (padishah, sultan, emir, etc.) it's fairly obvious that these were what he was thinking of when he conjured them up. Similarly, different cultures will be derived from different real-life equivalents.
That said, keep in mind that our human cultures in the real world never had to deal with other sentient races during their development. Spreading demihumans and humanoids all over the world, as I do, by its very nature forces the various human cultures to adapt and means that htey won't be identical to their real-world counterparts.
We've seen how a pseudo-medieval Europe looks when its humans have to cope with dwarves, elves and orcs...so now let's see how dwarves get along with the Aztecs! Let's see how halflings get along with the Zulus! Orcs with the Ottomans! Ogres with the Mongols! Gnomes with the Indians! Elves with the Japanese!
Obviously, most swords and sorcery is intertwined with medieval Europe. But Europe isn't the only part of the world-now let's see what the rest of the world looks like with dwarves, elves and orcs living side by side with them!
And before anyone asks, I consider it out of the question that demihumans and humanoids live only in the Flanaess. To me, unless there are demihumans and humanoids living everywhere that humans do, it's just not D&D...and more importantly, it's just not Greyhawk.
Thinking about how the various non-European cultures will, by necessity, be changed by the presence of magic, other sentient races, and everything else in D&D is simply repeating what we've done with the European cultures. It's plainly obvious that the Flanaess is mostly derived from Europe-and also North America, if you want to compare the First Nations to the Flan-and so its cultures are based off the European model.
Now let's see how the rest of the world adapts itself.
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