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June 4, 2010, 12:24 pm

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A Less Friendly World

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A re-evaluation of the basic concept of Man vs. Nature

The Tradition of Man vs. Nature

Literature has a rich tradition of man versus nature, The Call of the Wild, Hatchet, and dozens more titles of survival in the face of a hostile wilderness. These stories revolve around personal resolve, knowledge of how to survive in the wilderness and many incorporate communion with nature and spiritual themes. Standing alone in a pristine wild place can easily engender this sense of wonder and awe with everything that is nature. The theme of man versus nature is also very much alive in popular media with shows like :shudder: Survivor, Man vs. Wild with Bear Grylls, Ice Road Truckers, Ax Men, and so on.

But the common theme of nature today is protection and conservation in the face of our destruction and exploitation. It would be easy to project this onto a basic fantasy setting, elves oppose the woodcutters in a replay of loggers and tree conservationists, druids protecting wild animals from poachers and hunters. This does a two disservices to the genre. The first is that it brings 'serious business' into what is supposed to be a venue of entertainment. This isn't uncommon, many adventures and encounters are based on often Aesopian moralism. Why else would there exist monsters that look like treasure chests, and monsters that exist solely to destroy specific things. Dont get greedy, or the treasure monster will try to eat you, and so on. The second reason is that in the fantasy genre the forces of nature are much more dangerous, intelligent and certainly competent.

Of the Trees

Call it an ent, treefolk, treeking, treant, it is a walking talking tree. A tree is a large object, its harder to cut up and harder to burn than most people will give credit to. Forest fires are more an issue of poor land management than trees being made of explodium, and cutting trees is dangerous today with industrial machinery and chainsaws. Being in a fight with a sixty foot oak tree is going to be an epic encounter. This being said, the treefolk have a vested interest in protecting the forests, along with things like dryads, forest spirits, and denizens of the forest who are responsive to said powers. A treefolk leader could call together allies and put an end to a small or medium sized incursion into a forest and turn a major incursion into an open war with the forest.

Of the Druids

In a similar vein druids represent a semi-religious semi-militant faction with a vested interest in maintaining the protecting wild lands from almost any sort of development. Druids can range from peaceful conservationists who teach responsible coexistance with the land, favoring horticulture over expansive agriculuture, to the militant terrorist who leads hosts of animals and monsters to attack settlements and projects that they deem offensive.

Red of Tooth and Claw

Another common theme is protecting animals from mankind. In the fantasy setting there are animals that are much more dangerous than mundane beasts. Hippos, pandas, black bears, and other seemingly non-threatening animals regularly kill people. Before the advent of firearms, harpoons, and massive ships, hunting for animals was rarely done for sport as it was inherently dangerous. Without our technology of the last two centuries the playing field between man and beast is much more level, and even factoring in magic and magic weapons this is easily balanced by animals having their own innate abilities and powers.

The Elemental Factor

In my personal setting, elementals exist as the technicians, mechanics, and janitors of the ecosystem. Many of the conflicts between elementals come from conflicts of interest between their charges. What has priority? A swamp or a clean draining river, or the forest on the edge of the area? Most elemental duties go unseen, managing air currents, oceanic currents and balancing the forces of earth and fire against each other deep in the earth. Should a human endeavor reach deep enough to draw the notice of the elemental courts, the humans in question could and would certainly draw the attention and possible ire of the elementals themselves. A deep enough strip mine in a fantasy setting would bring earth elementals up to the surface to stop the destruction, while enough waste dumped into a river is going to really cheese off the spirit of the river.



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Comments ( 8 )
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Scrasamax
July 15, 2012, 6:27
0xp
Update: It's cleaning day! Get out!
Voted Cheka Man
July 15, 2012, 16:16
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Very interesting.
Voted Dossta
July 17, 2012, 16:11
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I'm unsure what the point of this article is, actually. You claim that using themes of protection and conservation from human exploitation does a "disservice" to the game, yet your whole section on Druids takes this trope and runs with it. I'm not seeing a central set of ideas that I can really latch onto here. Perhaps I'm just not smart enough to get it?
Scrasamax
July 17, 2012, 18:39
0xp
I was working on creating a foil between our modem world where conservation and endangered species are the norm and the fantasy realm where nature is in the advantageous position, between elementals, walking trees, animals with innate spell powers really turn the tables in favor of the animals. I did this in one sitting and never came back to it
Voted Chaosmark
July 18, 2012, 11:56
0xp
I agree with Dossta about the Druids. The rest of the article, while brief, does introduce and briefly expound upon your core idea of subverting the classic environmental tropes, but that section seems completely out of place.

Other than that, however, the core idea is rather sound, and unless you have a campaign specifically-oriented towards it (and the players knew what they were getting into), the players probably won't find much enjoyment in more than one or two tales of "protect nature from the ravages of humanity".

Sitting behind our computer screens, we're pretty protected from the fears and terrors that come from being in the Untamed Wild; nature is a pretty scary place once you leave the protection of civilization.
Scrasamax
July 18, 2012, 12:26
1xp
I was kind of going in the other direction. Today we have forest conservation and funds and charities to protect wildlife. If dragons existed today they would be an endangered species, orcs would have lobby groups for orc rights, and elementals would by sheer power have representation in our governments. I wanted to take a tack away from conservation and basically make nature the enemy, and make civilization the weak fragile thing that the PCs have to sacrifice to protect
Chaosmark
July 20, 2012, 0:11
0xp
Mayhaps my comment was unclear, but that's exactly what I understood your intent to be. "Nature doesn't need our protection; we need protection from Nature."
Voted valadaar
April 9, 2014, 10:49
0xp
I like these ideas - the theme of Mother Nature being one cold bitch is one that I use in my quasi-setting. Nature is certainly something to be feared, and I'm not a fan of projecting modern PC/environmentalism into the game world.



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