Friday, May 3, 2013

Essential elements of Sword & Sorcery


The topic for this blog post was a special request from my friend, James Paese.  He is interested in creating a world for his roleplaying game of choice and wanted me to recommend a few essential elements of the sword-and-sorcery story, as it was designated back in 1961.  So, let's do it!

What are the essential elements of the sword & sorcery genre?  I'm listing them below; highly influenced by fantasy films from my youth, as well as, some classic S&S literature from the likes of Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and Roger Zelazny.  I've been meaning to bone up on more Appendix N material, but having two small kids leaves precious little time for reading.  Anyways, without further ado...


  • Some are born for better things!  I'm talking about destiny.  There should be a few individuals who are fated to make a difference, to shake things up.  Those predestined for greatness!  Conversely, there have to be those tragically predestined for horror.
  • Even if magic seems to be commonplace, it must remain esoteric!  Sorcery is not for everyone, and even if the DM wants a magic-rich world, those who explore the full extent of its power should be few and far between.
  • Magic is dangerous and weird!  There's a price for having that kind of power.  Sorcery is an unnatural pursuit.  Let the entire world reflect that.  Yet, it must also have a source... or many sources.  The DM needs to consider where magic-users get their spells, as well as, the energy to cast them.  Old Ones, Elder Things, Outer Gods, and Demon Lords are always useful in that regard.
  • Ambitious men are infinitely corruptible!  Most humans (or humanoids) can be good, decent, law abiding citizens of the realm; however, those at the top are almost always greedy, salacious, egotistical pricks.  If they haven't already made a Devil's bargain, they're on their way.  A great story requires a great villain!
  • It's not all bad!  All the darkness (and there should be A LOT of it) needs to be counter-balanced with extraordinary beauty and virtue and courage.  Just as the demonic forces are closing in on the realm, so should the DM populate his world with unicorns, crystal caverns, virginal princesses, honorable knights, and a few willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good.
  • Epic and bloody battles!  It's not all about the sorcery.  Many disputes are settled by sword.  Hacking through encounters, killing monsters, dueling human (or humanoid) antagonists, etc.  Not only are the stakes high - this is life and death we're talking about, after all - but our depraved voyeurism demands crimson spurts, the warm splash of dark red upon our face, and glistening gore decorating the marble corridors of Zenn.  
  • The unknown!  What's life without a little mystery?  The majority of players don't know it, but they crave a certain amount of strangeness.  What lurks within those shadowy ruins?  Why is there a tree growing up to the heavens?  Where is the mountain beyond the mountain?  How did that dilapidated Statue of Liberty get here?!? 
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If you want to suggest a topic for a future blog post, dear reader, please go right ahead.  


VS