East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Fairy tales and mud

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Yesterday I chanced upon the ad copy for a new game. It came and went in a flash, so I actually do not know if it was a pen and paper RPG, or a computer game or a card game or what. What I know is that the copy promised a historical fantasy game that will help us live in the fairy-tale world of the Middle Ages.

And I was just … NO.

Now, the Middle Ages are complicated, if you go about them historically – and if you’re selling your game/novel/whatever as “historical fantasy” I expect you to go about them, at least a little bit, historically.
The Middle Ages are complicated because we are talking about a continent-wide, 1000-years long phenomenon. Add to that the filters of both the Renaissance and the Enlightment (not to mention the Victorians), that gave a skewed view of the period, and the whole thing becomes a mess.

The general public tends to perceive the Middle Ages – also known as the Dark Ages – via the filters of Hollywood movies, and this is not doing a lot of good. Especially in the last two decades, the Middle Ages are often represented as the Age of Mud: the countriside is bleak, and everybody has mud on their clothes, on their faces and on their armor.
Now, it’s been often pointed out that armor is both an expensive piece of quality equipment, and the piece of equipment that’s supposed to save your skin in combat: anyone not maintaining their armor in the best possible conditions, would probably not live long enough to regret it.

But I guess this works as an easy stenography for a quick-and-dirty (really) grimdark vibe:

This world is tough, look at the amount of mud we have on our faces and on our black biker leather duds and rivet-studded jackets!

The Middle Ages were more complicated than that, and if they were not a fairy-land filled with silk-haired ladies and bushy-bearded, perfectly manicured vikings, they were neither a continent-wide, post-apocalyptic cat litter.
And that, after all, is the fun part of setting stories and games there.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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