What constitutes a Sand Castle World?
In the comments to yesterday's Sand Castle Worlds post, a well respected reader, Dwayanu, put together a very poignant response. Dwayanu pointed out some important details which I had failed to spell out in that post. I feel the concept of a Sand Castle World does need further elucidation, and thankfully someone else with a slightly different view has been kind enough to share his thoughts and experiences.
First I'd like to define Homebrew. Like the word Campaign, Homebrew has evolved into a catchall phrase that often needs further definition. It can mean tinkering with the rules, making house rules, or creating new material for the game in the way of monsters, items, spells and classes. It is also used to describe a personalized campaign setting. People often say such things as “in my Campaign” when they want to tell you about some small bits of tinkering, house rules or creations they have Homebrewed. When they say “in my Homebrew” it means something else to me. It means they are referring to their campaign setting which is specifically a personally crafted world, not one based on a published setting at all.
The roots of these terms are of great interest to me. Campaign was clearly intended to describe a series of adventures. Settings grew from the adventures, and thus the term describing these collected adventures was also used to label these settings, as in Gary's campaign, or Dave's campaign, aka Greyhawk and Blackmoor respectively. This is an important detail in this post, that the Settings grew from a series of adventures, or Campaigns.
I not certain of the origins of Homebrew, but it is clearly NOT a term used in the original concept of the game. Why? The very act of making things up was assumed. Part of playing D&D involved a referee who made things up. The rise of the term Homebrew is a reflection of the evolution of the game itself. This harkens back to my observations on the origin of the term Megadungeon. In the original game, the description of an underworld dungeon was nearly synonymous with our modern definition of Megadungeon. It wasn't until decades later that the community felt the need to coin this term to describe something which was assumed in OD&D.
Perhaps that is why I feel there is a need to use the phrase Sand Castle World. These are not simply Settings, Campaigns or Homebrews. They are Homebrewed Campaign Settings with some other important characteristics.
Dwayanu made some excellent observations on Settings. First off that there is an implied Setting, even with OD&D. It is essentially a medieval Setting of fantasy and mythology. A few tidbits here and there hint at expanding the scope of the game, and Robots are even mentioned, but the fact is that most players assumed they were in for a generic medieval fantasy game.
D&D continued on this path for years, primarily using Gygax's Greyhawk as the assumed milieu. Not necessarily the prescribed Campaign Setting, but the assumed medieval fantasy theme for D&D in it's entirety.
With the proliferation of alternate milieus heralding the 2E era, such Settings as Planescape, Al-Qadim, Red Steel, Ravenloft, Dark Sun and Hollow World showed once more how D&D need not be driven down such a narrow path. Dwayanu states that this is possibly when the actual term Setting was coined. Before then, the Setting was medieval fantasy. Again, I'd mention that in some small way, this was the community redefining the history of the game. In OD&D, even though there was an implied Setting, there was still no published example of such. It was wide open at that time. AD&D and Greyhawk created a narrow focus, and the plethora of alternate Settings reminded everyone that it was not the only way to play.
OD&D was a concept. We are told in the original books that it “need not be restricted to the medieval”. Like many things explained, or open to interpretation in the 1974 unveiling of the game, this notion was forgotten for a time, only to be rediscovered later.
There is though a salient point in regard to the original notion of the game versus the modern way of thinking. We are shown quite clearly in The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures how to begin a game of D&D. Make a Dungeon, make a Town near the Dungeon, create a basic overland map of the Wilderness area immediately around the Dungeon. The seeds of adventure for those referees who wish to dive right in. It was the other visionaries who paid particular attention to the mention of scope, restrictions, guidelines, and robots that took things in a different direction entirely. Nevertheless, the basic format was:
Dungeon, Town and Wilderness.
Sounds like a Sandbox game to me. Sandbox is another term coined in the same manner as Homebrew, Megadungeon and Campaign. Sandbox play has always been in the original rules. The term arose from the need to differentiate that style of play from the plot-driven, adventure hook, story book style which became popular later.
Enter MAR Barker. Tekumel was not a new idea. MAR Barker had been writing about his fantasy world for decades before the notion of D&D was even formed. When the two ideas collided, the result was a Sand Castle World published in 1975 as The Empire of the Petal Throne. Clearly it was not an organically grown Setting built through extensive Sandbox play. It was a collection of ideas, stories and notes which were crafted into game form using the D&D concept.
MAR Barker took D&D into his creative sandbox and began from the granular level. The foundations of the game were molded to suit his vision. The rules were changed to such a point that, unfortunately, the game was not called D&D. It should have been called Dungeons & Dragons in The Empire of the Petal Throne. I think the hobby would have been better served. For whatever reason, it was not marketed as such, and I think it suffered due to this fact.
Shortly thereafter organically grown Settings, those which actually claimed the meager Dungeon, Town, Wilderness beginnings, began to reach published format. Many of them were also not considered D&D. In reality, they were the same concept unveiled in the original 1974 booklets with foundational rules changes, the primary difference being that they were not published by TSR. But I digress. I want to focus on D&D specifically.
When I read OD&D, it seems quite clear to me that I am being told to take creative license and craft my own rules, theme and setting. It's still D&D even if I veer away from the implied milieu. At least, in 1974, and in the mind of the authors at that time, it was still D&D. It is easy to see simply by considering the terms Campaign, Homebrew, Megadungeon, Sandbox and Setting, that D&D does mean something much more specific now.
As Dwayanu mentioned, he understands what is implied when his players say “normal D&D”. I'd contend that it is something different than using the term “normal OD&D”. There was no normal OD&D. There was an implied milieu, though. To me, “normal OD&D” would mean starting with Dungeon, Town and Wilderness in a medieval Setting.
Sand Castle Worlds therefore are not quite “normal OD&D”. These begin with Settings which might veer away from the implied milieu. Like Tekumel and others, Sand Castle Worlds also build with the notion that D&D is not limited in scope. The notion that OD&D is a concept and not a set of rules is embraced by the authors of Sand Castle Worlds. As intended by Gygax & Arneson, the message has always been that the rules are a guideline, to be altered and added to.
Whether these individual worlds are created, like Tekumel, or grown organically, like Arduin, they are clearly not quite the same as what has become known now as a Campaign, or a Homebrew. They feel and play quite differently than “normal D&D”.
Are they D&D? I think in many cases that Sand Castle Worlds are the purest form of D&D. The purest form meaning, to me, the D&D concept itself. D&D means something more specific now, so to many, they are something else.
I see this type of talk quite often in the OD&D circles. Referees speak of house rules, alternative race treatments, personal interpretations, homebrewed Thief classes, unique milieus, settings based on Howard, Burroughs, Lovecraft or any number of other authors, movies or even cartoons (Masters of the Universe!). I've even entertained the idea of a Sand Castle World based on Black Sabbath's album, Paranoid. This type of banter is welcome in OD&D circles. OD&D almost requires such foundational work. It's quite simple to take a small step back from that original edition, knock down the rudimentary foundations therein, and find oneself starting from the granular level.
Look no further than Carcosa, Xothique and World of Thool to get an idea of this type of creativity. Sand Castle Worlds need not be as narrowly focused as Tekumel, Harn or any of the above examples. They can be a kitchen sink of ideas like Arduin as well.
There are currently a vast number of Sand Castle Worlds in the works, being run, or gathering dust in someone's attic. Unfortunately there are not very many in print for us to appreciate.
~Sham, Quixotic Referee