The CG Milieu
What kind of world is the CG? Well, the CG is a "fantasy" world, of course.
But what's that mean? Skim a gamer's bookshelf and you'll see how widely "fantasy" worlds vary... and you'll see that the term "fantasy" alone isn't enough to describe a world. Even common terms like "high-" and "low-fantasy" aren't very helpful, since they try to embrace a host of attributes.
Instead, let us examine the ways in which one might differentiate one fantasy world from the next, and describe how the CG fits into that scheme. As points of comparison, let's use some worlds that will be familiar to most Quest players:
- Middle-Earth, as portrayed in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and Ring trilogy;
- the World of Greyhawk, the original world of AD&D and the world of D&D 3rd Edition;
- the world of Arthurian myth;
- and the world of classical Greek myth.
Magic is common, and mages are common.
Magic does not feature frequently in Greek myth; an encounter with a magician or an enchantment is a rare occurrence indeed. The same is true for the average inhabitant of Middle-Earth. Frodo and Bilbo are noteworthy for having encountered the amount of magic they have. Magicians in Middle-Earth are few and far between, and are much more powerful than the average person (Gandalf, Saruman).
In Arthur, spells come into play, and magical potions will put people under enchantments. But mages are rare indeed: only a few individuals (Merlin, Morgan, Nimuë), who are considered remarkable for having such powers.
In the CG, as in Greyhawk, magic is not uncommon. The average peasant may not deal with it on a regular basis, but neither does the presence of a mage or spell cause fear or awe. PCs, being exceptional types, can expect to encounter magic all the time. Also, it is much more common to encounter a novice mage than a great sorcerer ala Gandalf.
Magic items are fairly uncommon.
Towns might have an herbalist or two who can whip up some minor potions, but most people don't come into contact with magical items.
Many fantasy games and worlds, especially D&D and World of Warcraft, expect that as characters grow in power, much of that advancement will come through the acquisition of magical items. By contrast, characters in the CG grow mostly by the development of their own skills. They may also acquire some magical items, but those items are less important than the growth of the characters' own abilities.
The CG is political.
Middle-Earth features very little in the way of politics. If political issues exist, they become irrelevant as the plot unfolds and civilization's survival becomes all that matters.
In the CG, kingdoms go to war, and not because one king is a mad demon-lich bent on world domination. Kingdoms fight over the same things they do on Earth, or in Arthurian tales, or in Greek myth: money, inheritance, land, power.
The CG is national/cultural.
Middle-Earth does not emphasize many differences among human lands. Indeed, most of the human kingdoms are modeled on British cultures. Instead, cultural differences are strongest when the species are contrasted – humans vs. elves vs. dwarves.
Greyhawk similarly emphasizes species, not nationality. While the world does include ethnic differences among humans (Oeridian, Flan, etc.), these are largely irrelevant. There are "Arabs" in the northwest, "Scandinavians" in the northeast, and one country of "Slavs" in the north, but everything else is Generic Fantasy Culture. As with Middle-Earth, cultural differences are strongest between species, not nations.
The CG also features strong cultural differences between species. But as in Arthurian tales, where Saxon versus Briton is a vital distinction, human cultures feature prominently in the CG. Early on, we found that Quest players built character concepts around cultural lines: "I wanna play a Viking." "I wanna play a Frenchman." "I wanna play a Scotsman". The CG was designed to accommodate these roles, providing strongly-typed national cultures. Accordingly, nationality often plays a role in CG plots. (One of our longest-running storylines involves the land of Cadfaigh, and its rivalry between majority Cadfainn and minority Caelti.)
Wars are not epic.
In Middle-Earth's Ring trilogy, the "good" races and lands ally against a mammoth evil and his armies. The CG is more like Greyhawk: since it is an ongoing world, epic-scale wars and Armageddons are out of place.
Monsters are common.
In Greek myth, an encounter with a non-human sentient was a frightening and scary thing, an event about which legends would be told. There are even fewer monsters in Arthurian tales. In Middle-Earth, at least at the start of the story, the average human or hobbit has certainly heard of orcs whispered in tales, but can expect to live an entire life without once meeting a monster.
Not so for Greyhawk or the CG, where monsters are an active threat to those living outside the cities. Human and dwarven kingdoms and mahiri clans maintain their militaries largely to keep out dangers such as orcish raiding bands, and a corpse left unburied may yet haunt as an undead. The PCs, being adventurers, encounter monsters routinely, especially as they move away from the cities and towns.
Monsters are not often large-scale.
In Middle-Earth, the evil monsters of the world amass to destroy the "good" races. Greyhawk's monsters are not so grand, but they have conquered lands such as the Pomarj and Iuz, which they now rule.
For the most part, CG monsters do not follow suit. For certain, they are still a threat: within the last eight years, orcish raiding bands and a lich threatened the kingdom of Ragnorack, and the monstrous vorskyr tried to conquer Kjolnir. Non-human creatures routinely emerge from the wilderness areas (such as the Grendarr mountains, or the forests of every kingdom) to pose threats. But nowhere does a monstrous race reign supreme, as in Greyhawk's Iuz. The "civilized" races of humans, mahiri, and dwarves rule most everywhere that is not wilderness.
However, monsters are more prominent in the CG than in Arthurian legends or Greek myth, where they tend to be unique (e.g. in Greek myth there was one Minotaur and one Medusa) or peripheral (e.g. centaurs).
The divine is mysterious, and divine powers are common.
The divine plays little part in the Ring trilogy. It also plays little part in Arthurian tales: while characters certainly are concerned with God and the Holy Grail, few people manifest divine powers or have direct contact with divine beings.
It plays a much bigger part in Greyhawk, where temples dot the land, and where the demigod Iuz rules the kingdom that bears his name. Other gods manifest directly in Greyhawk during exceptional circumstances. In Greek myth, the gods figure in prominently, interacting with (and sometimes even marrying) mortals. The gods have personalities with obvious flaws, and they behave in a very human way, prone to petulance and jealousy. But persons with divine powers, like the Delphic oracle, are few.
In the CG, the divine are certainly influential. PC clerics get their powers from the gods; saints provide intercession; luminaries help the troubled; celestials sometimes even descend from the heavens on important errands. But as in the Arthurian stories, direct manifestation of the divine is rare, and is a noteworthy event indeed. Even the appearance of a celestial or saint is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will cause much buzz for months or years to come.
Unlike Greek myth or Greyhawk, there is much about the CG divine that is unknown. There are certainly common beliefs about the gods' personalities or desires, but the gods still move in mysterious ways.
Religion is organized.
Religious myth shows up in the Silmarillion, but religion is absent from Tolkien's earlier works. It is prominent in Greyhawk, but Greyhawk is modeled on the polytheistic Greek world, where clergy were rarely organized beyond the level of an individual temple. The clergy of a given god did not often have any unifying structure from one temple to the next, and each temple had its own doctrines, stories, and dogmas.
The CG is more medieval. Many of the more popular deities have clergy organized like the medieval church, with bishops and parishes, and Hesket as a whole has the Collegium to hold its faiths together. And many clergy go by medieval titles such as "Bishop" and "Father" and "Sister". Such structure also provides Hesket with a more uniform set of beliefs. For sure, individual temples still may have local beliefs, but there is a general set of "standard" set of myths, stories and beliefs that is supported by the clerical organizations.
The CG is medieval.
Middle-Earth is certainly pre-modern, but much of what is actually "medieval" is absent. By contrast, the CG and Greyhawk follow a more medieval model, where urban craftsmen form guilds, armored knights are the most effective soldier, and nobles bear colorful coats of arms.
Politically, Middle-Earth features little in the way of hierarchy beyond king, sheriff, and the general populace. The CG more resembles Greyhawk, sharing with that world a medieval model of kings, nobles, knights, and other royal officials. Similarly, both the CG and Greyhawk have free peasants and serfs.
Class is also relevant to the CG ruling groups. While some areas of Greyhawk are ruled by non-royal individuals (e.g. the Valley of the Mage), Hesket's sovereigns (like those of Arthurian Britain) are all of noble blood, and Hesket follows European lines of inheritance (with one exception: in the CG, inheritance is gender-blind.)
While CG dwarves also have a detailed social hierarchy (more detailed than that of the humans, in fact), the mahiri are unlike Middle-Earth's elves and Greyhawk's high or sylvan elves in that they have no royalty and no nobility. Mahiri are closer to Greyhawk's wood elves.
The world has evolved historically.
The past is irrelevant to Greek myth.
Middle-Earth has a past, where the ancients left the protagonists their magic items and places like Moria. But there is little information on how those ancient cultures were different from the present.
Greyhawk's past has obvious differences from its present. The powerful empires of olden times spoke different languages and used different scripts than people today. The modern kingdoms of the Flanaess were founded by different migratory peoples who settled and intermingled to form the lands of today.
The CG, too, has great and powerful empires of the past, ancient tongues, and migratory peoples. But it follows a historical model even more closely than Greyhawk. The ancient empire, as with Europe, was essentially Roman; its most prominent ancient tongue is based on Latin. The peoples who migrated into this Roman-like world were Germanic and Arabic in character, mixing with the Latin and Celtic peoples to form similar mixes to those of Europe.
The CG does not emphasize other dimensions or other worlds.
Tolkien's trilogy features but one world: Middle-Earth itself. Most Arthurian tales have only one, since Avalon and the fairy-lands don't play a real part. Greek myth has a few worlds: the Earth, Olympus, Elysium, and the underworld. But Greyhawk is bursting to the seams with alternate planes and worlds. Greyhawk adventurers routinely wander planes that have little connection to the mortal world: visiting the Elemental Planes, fighting demons in the Abyss, wandering Limbo and the Happy Hunting Grounds, even journeying to the Alternate Prime (sic) Material Planes.
Worlds in the CG are closest to the Greek model. CG worlds are few in number, and they all relate to the physical world. Elysium and the Greek underworld are obviously interconnected with the souls who live on Earth; the CG's heavens and hells provide similar roles. The lands of the fae and of dream are also closely tied to the real world.
Travel to other worlds is rare. CG PCs have visited the lands of the fae and the lands of dream, but these are alien places with few points of access, and the PCs are unusual in knowing anything about these realms. And as in an Arthurian setting, no one knows what takes place in the heavens or hells. Souls who have visited there have no real memories, and at best vague sensations. Celestials and demons either cannot or will not speak about their native worlds.
Magic is common
Mages are common
World is political
Human cultural differences important
Species cultural differences important
Monsters are common
Monsters are large-scale
Divine is mysterious
Divine powers (e.g. Cleric skill) common
Religion is organized
Many alternate planes/worlds
* in modern-day common perception