The dungeon crawl is dead, at least in my hobby. Good riddance.
The thing is, ever since we ditched playing D&D, I've been wondering how to revive the genre within my own gaming. This has mostly involved reflection upon the flop that was my recent Mykovnia campaign.
Here then, for your elucidation, are my conclusions thus far...
Fantasy roleplaying has always worked best for me when it has been dark fantasy.
When I first played roleplaying games we moved from Traveller and Star Frontiers to Middle-earth Roleplaying, and eventually to Rolemaster, very naturally. We sought increased complexity and detail. We also sought to explore Moria and other fell places. In time we discovered Warhammer Roleplay and the works of Michael Moorcock... and we never looked back.
My own fantasy realm, Mykovnia, was born from dark dreams had when I was in those teenage years of early gaming. It was a world of great heroes and powerful magick... but also raw and simple. No Orcs and Elves and Dwarves roamed these lands of the imagination. Instead, tribes of Men (with their womenfolk too) explored and strove to tame the wilds.
Getting back to this early, simpler fantasy has become my goal.
Plagued by Stereotypes
Stereotypes are useful in gaming. They help players to imagine the simple heroes that they wish to play with and, most of the time, propel the stories through the conventions of the genre. For Mykovnia, however, stereotypes have polluted the setting.
The use of a standard fantasy-based game system, with it's attendant temptations to use the pre-written materials included, led me down the path of allowing medieval-style fantasy tropes to infect my vision.
Whilst I have become fond of the realm of Askenor in many ways the truth, hard to admit though it is, was that the players were easily imagining the standard (and boring) stuff that makes fantasy gaming dull. Taverns, clerics, wizards, thieves, warriors, swords, Orcs and women in flowing dresses, walking the streets of cobbled stone towns. Meh.
Mykovnia was originally much more raw than that. It was fantasy, stripped.
Up on the snow-covered plains of the far regions of Mykovnia live the scattered tribes of humans who cling to the hunt for the sheer sake of survival. The enemies are the cold, the wild wolves and the madness that sometimes befalls those with a weak mind.
Mykovnian culture is connected to the land. In the crude huts that some have learned to make burns fire, the magic of heat and light that is so often lacking in such a darkened world. Men make spears and, in some places, fashion bronze or iron where they can find it. In other places the tribes still use sharp stone and bone to construct then tools for the hunt.
Women rule the tribes because they give birth to the hunters. They have the knowledge of life and death. And some women also have the knowledge of magick. Rituals danced in the dead of night, under the pale glow of the Mood Goddess, ensure that the spirits of the hunt are appeased. Men know that they must wear the sacred skins if they would wish to run with the speed of the deer or feel the strength of the wolf.
Communities are small and everyone depends on the whole group. Those who cannot obey the rules and rituals of the tribe are outcast, rarely to survive in alone in these harsh lands. The stories of the wild, of the daemons who stalk the forests and the wolves who hunt the weak, fill the heart with fear and excitement both.
All know that the earth and the sky, the river and the flame are the true allies of humanity. And no one dares to whisper of the Nyhi.
From this land arises a new breed of hero. Prophetic dreams tell of the coming of a great challenge which needs the sacrifice of only the strongest of the hunters. Shamans whisper of the Girl Who Will Follow and look for the signs of the coming of her companions.
And all the tribes await the coming of the Great Wolf...
That's enough for now... but it feels like my fantasy is coming back to life.