Some years ago I started working on how to convert the MMO Guild Wars: Nightfall into a rich and complete Dungeons and Dragons campaign setting. While I never got very far, other than mapping out the primary story missions, many side quests or opportunities, and the mood and feel of the world, I think there are some important lessons learned from the attempt.
From my experience, most of the RPGs that gain traction in the West are either inspired by English fantasy authors (JRR Tolkein), English horror authors (Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley), or English sci-fi authors (Douglas Adams, William Gibson, Arthur C. Clarke). While there are many games influenced by American or other European authors, by and large as the hobby has developed it has retained it’s Euro-centric scope and scale.
Something that made Nightfall a very interesting setting to me was that it was very clearly based around a mythological African world. Far from a Western story that just happens to take place in a new environment, everything from the art, the music, the politics, and the spiritual nature of the society was presented in a way that was both respectful and interesting, leading players to want to explore more. Rather than the standard sword-and-shield heroic adventure tale that is so common in Dungeons and Dragons, I wanted to encourage players to see something different, a world and setting unlike their day to day experience.
Nightfall has several distinct chapters, leading characters from a revolt against a potentially corrupted military commander, through the political machinations of various states, and finally into a long-buried prophecy about a dark god returning to the world. There is action, intrigue, expansive history, and a very rich, vibrant culture that was internally consistent. The campaign would have been much more than just “D&D in a Desert!,” it would have been a much more engrossing experience for the players as they learn about and explore this foreign world.
I think there are fantastic stories and settings that can come from all over the world, all throughout history, and that game designers often do a disservice to the rest of the world by focusing solely on what they’re familiar with instead of reaching out, researching, and trying to explore new perspectives and ideas.
As deeply flawed as the table-top game RIFTS is, even unabashedly so, one of the very neat things it did was truly focus on different regions of the world and allow players to explore very different themes and avenues for storytelling in those places. A game set in the “New West” (take the ‘Old West’ and add lasers) was wholly separate from one taking place in Russia, India, or Africa. Heck, Africa had a meaty sourcebook all its own, with very unique and compelling meta-plot that I would have loved to explore at some point.
Some day I may return to the idea of converting Nightfall to Dungeons and Dragons, but I hope that, when I have the time and inclination, I take my own advice and stretch myself farther, looking for other perspectives and regional stories that I can help portray in an interesting and respectful manner. As I’ve often said, for me gaming is all about the story, and the ability to connect with people and places far removed from our every-day.