Croatoan Design Journal #1 (The Why)

For some years I have discussed with friends the Western, colonial narratives that underpin D&D.  A typical campaign features humanoid monsters the heroes can fight and steal from, and in many games as the heroes rise in power they conquer or reclaim territory.  Sometimes the idea of monster cultures is explored, but these are typically stereotyped as raider-cultures that resemble the late Roman conception of the Huns.

As a thought experiment, myself and some friends considered what a reversal of this narrative would look like.  (A lot of credit goes to Jesse Heinig, here; see his Livejournal in the links!)  Humans and elves and dwarves are the colonized, rather than the colonizers.  The monsters have an advanced civilization, and the PCs come from less-advanced tribal groups.

I want to take these ideas and crystallize them into a game setting.  Structurally this setting concept is not very different from settings where the heroes are pitted against a tyrannical, powerful, evil empire (for example, Star Wars or Dragonlance).  In terms of relative material poverty of the PCs it also resembles Dark Sun.  The differences lie in the details, and I hope to come up with something detailed and evocative that can be used for a novel take on D&D.

My motives are partly opportunistic; the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons has recently been published, and it has inspired me and other hobbyists to take a fresh look at the old man of RPG’s.  Now is an ideal time to reexamine how we play D&D, what parts we enjoy, what parts are meaningful to us… and recruit new players to the hobby!

The working title of this setting is “Croatoan,” after the word left as a marker of the mysterious disappearance of the Roanoke colony in 1590 America.  (For more details see here).  The name evokes the mutual destructiveness of colonialism, and is a cool word.

I am inexperienced in game design, but one idea of game design that I would like to explore is how mechanics and setting can influence the style of play.  Ideally the Croatoan setting will provide a venue for personal and communal triumphs, like most games of D&D, but also will provide a space to explore the nature of injustice and prejudice.

Several future posts will contain my notes on how I go about designing this setting.  Also, I am fortunate enough to have a D&D group willing to try out this idea, so I may share observations from actual play in other posts.  I hope they enjoy it.

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