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Temennigru
2015-09-04, 06:23 PM
I've played a few campaigns now and I've realized that in most campaigns the main plot always seems to involve some ancient (and for some reason, ancient means much stronger than what the present has to offer) force trying to take over the world.

Why is that so?
Are alternative campaign settings not as fun as cliché campaign settings because the story arcs get too constrained?
Can nobody think of anything else?
Is it the only plausible course that history in RPG games can take?

Surpriser
2015-09-04, 06:38 PM
There are some reasons why settings like this are so common.
Just think of this (warning: very broad generalizations ahead): Traditional dungeon-crawling always needs some dungeons to crawl through. This usually implies that someone put them there quite some time ago. Now necessarily there has to be something interesting (i.e. powerful) in there, otherwise noone would risk their lifes to do it - and suddenly you have got your powerful ancients again.

As for the "taking over the world" part, this is just a tried-and-true fantasy plot. Cliché or not, it works and there exist countless of variations on it.

So, to answer your question: A storyline like this is by no means necessary or the only plausible plot imaginable. It is simply one of many tropes that has turned out to be very useful.

Mechalich
2015-09-04, 06:42 PM
This sort of plot is also useful in campaign settings with extant high-level good (or even neutral) NPCs. Such beings are generally assumed to be on the look out for contemporary threats and maintaining the existing balance of power. However, they can't keep track of ancient threats that bubble up from the background, and that gives the PCs something to fight.

This is particularly common in part because most published campaign settings are written in a fairly static scenario in order to preserve player and GM choice. If you write a campaign setting as unstable, you're effectively railroading everyone into addressing certain problems with their campaign is they intend to use the world as written (ex. Exalted does this).

Tvtyrant
2015-09-04, 06:43 PM
Mist fantasy universes are built under the LotR assumption that old species left behind ruins before being wiped out. This makes for good campaigns because it leaves phat loot everywhere to collect without delving into issues of production. Most fantasy stories also deal with x-men levels of ability inequality, which calls into question governments and militaries.

LaserFace
2015-09-04, 06:48 PM
D&D specifically is centered around primarily exploring dungeons, and its settings typically include very long-lived races such as Elves, Dwarves and Dragons. Magic is a strong force in the world, and the gods themselves sometimes have a great impact on its inhabitants. This usually contributes to campaigns having a long history behind them, and this can include ancient places and factions to match this scope.

In my experience, it's seldom about an ancient force "conquering the world", unless we're talking deities. This sort of scale might be appropriate for high-level campaigns because you're naturally progressing to greater powers interacting with each other. I don't think it's always the best way to go, and I don't think all campaigns necessarily steer in this direction. I think it becomes common because it's often a reasonable step when PCs get very powerful, and it happens to be an easy way to build up the stakes.

Dienekes
2015-09-04, 06:48 PM
I honestly don't think I've ever used that in one of my games. Though, to be fair, all of my games tend to be more politically minded.

But, if I could hazard a guess. A lot of the trappings of D&D are Fantasy!Medieval Ages. Which is almost entirely unlike the actual Medieval Ages, but one thing that they have fairly right is that certain people knew that they were lesser than the Romans who came before them. The Romans had wonders that were beyond what could be done with the early medieval folk (in some ways, actually in plenty the medieval guys were more advanced but that tends to not get focused on).

The other major influence is Tolkien, who gave us the medieval stasis that D&D worlds generally live in, and definitely made the concept that magic is getting weaker and the old ages were greater and more powerful than any who came later.

As to taking over the world. That's just GMs trying to be epic, and not realizing that small scales can be just as intense if you can get the players to care about the participants.

Remedy
2015-09-04, 06:51 PM
I've played a few campaigns now and I've realized that in most campaigns the main plot always seems to involve some ancient (and for some reason, ancient means much stronger than what the present has to offer) force trying to take over the world.

Why is that so?
Are alternative campaign settings not as fun as cliché campaign settings because the story arcs get too constrained?
Can nobody think of anything else?
Is it the only plausible course that history in RPG games can take?
Ancient mighty evils trying to take over the world offer three major advantages, congruent with each of their parts:

Ancient: They're from the distant past; this is very convenient, because it lets there be occasional legends and hidden scraps of knowledge for the heroes to unearth, providing substance and foreshadowing to your plot development as you work up through the other challenges leading to the climax. Modern threats generally have a tough time straddling that line, as they almost always have to be very well-known or not known at all due to being recent, so there's not much clue-mongering to do.

Mighty (stronger than anything today, in fact): Fairly self-explanatory, I should think. If something in the modern day is strong enough to beat it, said thing probably WILL beat it; if it's trying to take over or destroy the world, nothing on the world except maybe some crazy cultists is going to be okay with that. Plus, it needs to be strong enough that the main heroes have to work their way up to legendary heights in order to defeat, or else there wouldn't be a sense of heroism or satisfaction to the deed.

Take Over/Destroy the World!: Stakes and duration, mostly. A guy who's trying to get rich or assassinate an important guy or something to that effect will have a clear cause-and-effect, often be relatively easy to reason with, and will stop being a thing once the relative conflict is solved. Plus, even if the heroes fail, it's rarely a big deal; so a guy got rich and put some people even deeper in poverty than they were, wow that sucks, but the world goes as normal, sometimes bad things happen, y'know? As opposed to destruction or overtaking of the world, where there's very little middle ground between killing the destroyer and the world ending, and where the stakes are phenomenal and you can't rationalize it as the way the world works; I mean, if they succeed, the lives of everyone on the planet, including the PCs, are very personally violated and ended.

Plus, people like to extrapolate the whole "age grants wisdom" thing, so ancient beings that have seen civilizations rise and fall have an immediate justification for having vast stores of knowledge and incredible planning skills.

Strigon
2015-09-04, 07:41 PM
First off, for me at least, it gives a sense of awe and wonder I just can't find anywhere else.
It may be tired and cliched, but dang it if I don't find myself mystified whenever there's an ancient civilization with powerful technology/magic left behind. From any other source, I find it dull, but for me personally, I just love the trope.

Now, having said that, there are inherent values to having them be ancient.
The first was already mentioned; it allows you to seep in lore at your own pace. Scattered in tomes throughout libraries, hidden in local folklore; wherever you want to put information, it fits!

Secondly, it allows for people to find them. I.E; say there's an ancient sword of epicness hidden in some long-lost city somewhere in the jungle, and you need it. You can have a race to find the sword, or have it be a side quest, and you can make it take as long as you want.
If it's just that someone made a sword, then you're pretty much left with either buying it or stealing it. Lots of planning, not much adventure and discovery.

Third, they add depth and mystery. What happened to make such a powerful ancient race disappear? What else was left behind? Are any of the artifacts dangerous? Do some have hidden abilities?
Not to mention the doors it opens for bad things from that time coming back; see Mass Effect, Halo, Star Wars, Star Trek, LotR, and a whole host of other worlds.

Temennigru
2015-09-04, 08:52 PM
All very good arguments, put following a cookbook plot eventually gets boring and you realize that all the stories are the same.
I wish someone would come up with different forms of convenient plot hooks other than "ancient evil wants to destroy / take over the world".
Next time I GM I will try to experiment with other ideas, such as "two countries want to destroy each other and a war could rip the world apart", or maybe "PCs get transported to an uncivilized world and have to find a way to get back home", or perhaps "The planet is dying and the PCs have to find a way to restore it". Even a campaign focused around inventing new technologies could turn out to be fun

hiryuu
2015-09-04, 09:56 PM
Even a campaign focused around inventing new technologies could turn out to be fun

This is what I do. A lot.

Also, I run campaigns with a lot of hooding. It's something my players like to do so I build sandboxes around it. And I like building system-neutral sandboxes.

Legend of the Five Rings steps around in some really nice territory as well, with plots like "oh no, Doji Haruko is a better artist than me and she's wearing the kimono I was planning to wear tomorrow!"

valadil
2015-09-04, 09:57 PM
I'm not sure I'd agree that it's always ancient things. People taking over the world happens a lot, but just as often as not the bad guys and their source of power is contemporary.

It is a common trope though. Here's some speculation about why it works.

Out of the box, game worlds are balanced. Without a catalyst stirring things up, different nations will probably stay where they are and there won't be much power shifting around. Some non-trivial amount of power is needed to upset that.

What's the source of that power? If it's technology (which could be magic in a fantasy world that uses magic as technology), there's nothing to stop the players from using similar technology. If it's a divine gift, divine politics usually mean someone else will receive a similar divine gift in order to maintain balance (which incidentally has been the plot of a game I've played - the PCs were the people blessed with powers to stop the baddies).

But if the power is ancient and forgotten, by definition there's a limited supply. The BBEG has it and the players don't. That explains why he has a world conquering advantage and the players don't.

As for other plots, I like power voids. Kill off a ruler, nation, race, or god. See who moves in to take up their space. Get the PCs swept up as pawns and then let them move up and affect things. Creating the void can be part of the premise of the campaign, so you don't really need to justify how it happens. But you also don't need to make up ancient artifacts of doom. Just take someone away from power, and see who tries to seize it.

Xuc Xac
2015-09-05, 02:15 AM
For as long as people have been telling stories, they've been telling stories about how things were better in the old days. Roland was the greatest of Charlemagne's knights, but he was using an antique magic sword (Achilles' old sword stuffed with centuries old saint's bones). And Achilles was living in the shadow of Hercules. And Hercules was only half god, not like the previous generation. And the gods had to go up against the titans! Everything older was bigger and tougher.

Mark Hall
2015-09-05, 09:19 AM
I've played a few campaigns now and I've realized that in most campaigns the main plot always seems to involve some ancient (and for some reason, ancient means much stronger than what the present has to offer) force trying to take over the world.

Why is that so?
Are alternative campaign settings not as fun as cliché campaign settings because the story arcs get too constrained?
Can nobody think of anything else?
Is it the only plausible course that history in RPG games can take?

I'd argue the "most campaigns" thing; I've played politics, hidden-but-modern cults, gang wars, exploration, alien invasion, conspiracy... tons of games where ancient evils were non-existent or irrelevant. Unless you've been playing those few campaigns with lots of different groups, it may simply be sampling bias.

As to why the ancient evil?

Part of it is genre convention; drawing from Tolkien, Lovecraft, and tons of pulp authors, there's always the sense of the hidden and sleeping power that, when it awakes, will change the world. It also allows most of the work to be "done", and a somewhat instant level-up when you need it... you don't have to have an epic-level wizard inventing these world-altering things, you just need a level-appropriate challenge character (or group) who have an ancient and powerful thing they don't really understand.

Why does ancient mean powerful? Because if it's survived 30,000 years, it's got to be powerful enough to not die in all that time. Lots of things are 30,000 years old... most of those things are long since passed to dust.

Temennigru
2015-09-05, 11:50 AM
Part of it is genre convention; drawing from Tolkien, Lovecraft, and tons of pulp authors, there's always the sense of the hidden and sleeping power that, when it awakes, will change the world. It also allows most of the work to be "done", and a somewhat instant level-up when you need it... you don't have to have an epic-level wizard inventing these world-altering things, you just need a level-appropriate challenge character (or group) who have an ancient and powerful thing they don't really understand.

What I am saying is that I wish people could think outside the cliché and make up something that is changing the world but is not ancient. I enjoy new stories.



Why does ancient mean powerful? Because if it's survived 30,000 years, it's got to be powerful enough to not die in all that time. Lots of things are 30,000 years old... most of those things are long since passed to dust.

Not necessarily. There are plenty of ways for you to be ancient without having to "survive" (time travel, stasis, etc.). You could very well have an immortal villain that is a coward and survived through cunning.

NRSASD
2015-09-05, 12:18 PM
Not necessarily. There are plenty of ways for you to be ancient without having to "survive" (time travel, stasis, etc.). You could very well have an immortal villain that is a coward and survived through cunning.

Fairly sure Mark's point still stands. If he survived by running and hiding, after 30,000 years he's the best darn sneak thief ever (if he wasn't, he'd be dead). Even if Joe the mediocre accountant from the modern era time traveled back to the Roman Era, he would still be powerful. As the old adage goes, knowledge is power; Joe here would know of many, many things the Romans couldn't even conceive of.

Power isn't strictly defined as raw strength or magic, since wealth, cunning, charisma, and ideas are all tremendously effective if used in the right way.

NomGarret
2015-09-05, 12:50 PM
There was once a reason, wise and true, but that was ages ago and no one now living remembers.

Eisenheim
2015-09-05, 01:23 PM
Because it's the simplest way to have a lot of information about the world get discovered that is new to both characters and their players. If you want learning about the world to be major game focus, you either need to travel to new lands, or dig up the forgotten past, because if you stay in the here and now, there's no reason for the characters not to know the things the players need to discover.

Mark Hall
2015-09-05, 03:42 PM
What I am saying is that I wish people could think outside the cliché and make up something that is changing the world but is not ancient. I enjoy new stories.

And there's all sorts of ways that can happen. I've seen a lot that goes outside it... aliens, extraplanar, the rise of a new deity or political entity, or even new technologies.



Not necessarily. There are plenty of ways for you to be ancient without having to "survive" (time travel, stasis, etc.). You could very well have an immortal villain that is a coward and survived through cunning.

Sure, but if he's an immortal with 30,000 years of experience, that's still a fair amount of experience. If he time traveled under his own power, that's still a significant thing most modern people can't do. Sure, you can go other ways... you can have Encino Man or the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer... but then what is it beyond a weird background?

Shadowsend
2015-09-06, 01:55 AM
It's really difficult to do other main plots in games like this because sometimes character motivations are unknown or unclear to the players and/or the DM. Many times this would lead into a mismatch for a psychological game. Furthermore, some characters may not have valid reasons for seeking or utilizing the power they have attained, and often time is not given for the kind of character growth needed to understand it. Too often we assume that new power changes our circumstances for the better, when the opposite may be true. This is often why the world of many RPGs is filled with retired adventurers.

But many of the best ways to subvert this particular plot without derailing it have already been written into something else. One just has to know and utilize the pieces to form a new puzzle for players. Final Fantasy 6...evidence: Kefka Palazzo (http://finalfantasy.wikia.com/wiki/Kefka_Palazzo)

The bad guy starts out nuts, but ineffective, yet finds ways to stay alive and grow in power. He meets them again and again, committing more and more heinous atrocities, (he already created something called a slave crown which robs the wearer of all willpower, and tested it by ordering the bearer to kill 50 friendly soldiers), culminating in poisoning a water supply to kill an entire race of people. He beats the party to the magical maguffin, and uses it to destroy the world. HE WINS, for that moment. The heroes are scattered and forced to reunite to try to make the world inhabitable again.

Evangelion (Great way to have planar conflicts): The enemy within (http://adamworu.tumblr.com/post/94987695840/evangelion-angels-humans-and-subverted-roles)

The angels aren't the destroyers of earth, the humans running the shadow organizations are. They use the war with the angels to justify their own awful plans. The angels are misunderstood outsiders who are technically related to humans but have undergone changes.

kieza
2015-09-06, 02:49 AM
Because ancient threats are an excellent out-of-context problem, which is the sort of problem that makes for a good adventure.

If a threat is well-known and recognized, you can be sure that someone, somewhere, has planned out a way to fight it. It makes for a better story if there's no plan in place and the players get to be the movers and shakers--or if the plan fails and the players get to pick up the pieces. Plus, "and then the 5th artillery bombarded the demonic portal from a mile away until things stopped coming through" doesn't have the same ring to it as "And then a band of heroic adventurers fought their way to the portal and slew the demon lord in hand-to-hand combat."

That said, I prefer to use "ancient and unexpected threats, rather than "ancient and powerful." For example, modern alchemy is mostly based on altering the characteristics of mundane substances (alchemical iron is much tougher than mundane iron, alchemist's fire is oil with an unbelievably high energy density and low flash point, etc.). But the goblin alchemists from a few centuries ago also did work on biological alterations: they created strains of mutant goblins that had chameleon skin, or acidic blood, or that had no eyes and perceived the world through echolocation--and modern alchemists don't have the slightest idea how they did that. If someone took a couple hundred goblins from an urban slum, and turned them into eight-foot-tall goblins that farted fire and shot lightning out of their eyes (and yes, the ancient goblins had a recipe for that...) it would qualify as a threat just because nobody would know how to deal with it. Once the novelty wore off and people figured out how the trick worked (the transformation formula requires certain rare ingredients that can be easily restricted), it wouldn't be nearly as dangerous.

Temennigru
2015-09-06, 12:07 PM
Because ancient threats are an excellent out-of-context problem, which is the sort of problem that makes for a good adventure.

If a threat is well-known and recognized, you can be sure that someone, somewhere, has planned out a way to fight it. It makes for a better story if there's no plan in place and the players get to be the movers and shakers--or if the plan fails and the players get to pick up the pieces. Plus, "and then the 5th artillery bombarded the demonic portal from a mile away until things stopped coming through" doesn't have the same ring to it as "And then a band of heroic adventurers fought their way to the portal and slew the demon lord in hand-to-hand combat."


A threat could be hidden and not ancient, or it cold NOT be hidden and still be a thread that the players have to figure out how to fight (like a demon invasion, or a tyrannic organization that is in control of the world)

I guess what I'm saying is, there are options and people should use them.



That said, I prefer to use "ancient and unexpected threats, rather than "ancient and powerful." For example, modern alchemy is mostly based on altering the characteristics of mundane substances (alchemical iron is much tougher than mundane iron, alchemist's fire is oil with an unbelievably high energy density and low flash point, etc.). But the goblin alchemists from a few centuries ago also did work on biological alterations: they created strains of mutant goblins that had chameleon skin, or acidic blood, or that had no eyes and perceived the world through echolocation--and modern alchemists don't have the slightest idea how they did that. If someone took a couple hundred goblins from an urban slum, and turned them into eight-foot-tall goblins that farted fire and shot lightning out of their eyes (and yes, the ancient goblins had a recipe for that...) it would qualify as a threat just because nobody would know how to deal with it. Once the novelty wore off and people figured out how the trick worked (the transformation formula requires certain rare ingredients that can be easily restricted), it wouldn't be nearly as dangerous.

I just don't get why people assume that ancient technology is always better than current technology in RPGs

Darth Ultron
2015-09-06, 01:36 PM
I've played a few campaigns now and I've realized that in most campaigns the main plot always seems to involve some ancient (and for some reason, ancient means much stronger than what the present has to offer) force trying to take over the world.


This has a lot to do with the classic adventure of a dungeon and monsters. The ancient evil is just a spin on that. And it is a classic, and works great. The ancient evil has the advantage of being nice and simple. The evil guy is X, and to ''win'' you must defeat/kill them. Very straightforward and simple. And player can get behind the plot of ''me smash evil!'' And it does have the advantage of being politically correct. And works great for super heavy combat games like D&D. Even better is the ''defeat the ancient evil plot'' can be done in only a couple weeks real time(assuming the DM does the fictional thing of every amazing works out good for the players).

But every game does not ''have'' to be that. There are endless plots. But the problems are endless too.

Take a simple plot of ''make peace between the dwarves and elves and prevent the war''. All most half of any group of players ill find that ''boring''. And the solution is not easy and straightforward. And even more so as it will quickly get complicated with politics. And this brings in the awkward problem that you need to tip toe around with politics as not to offend anyone. And this type of plot is an awkward fit for combat heavy games like D&D. And a plot like this can take months, even as long as a year....

Tvtyrant
2015-09-06, 01:41 PM
I think the fundamental premise of this might be flawed. D&D was designed with this as the basic assumption, so most D&D campaigns are going to accept the basic tenet of the game. Many series are set in the present/near future (Shadowrun, Vampire the Masquerade) and others are in the future (Warhammer 40K, Eclipse Phase, etc). Unless what you are looking for is a coming of age civilization set in the middle ages/bronze age, which I don't think there are a lot of games for but I know Yora has made one.

Megaduck
2015-09-06, 01:52 PM
A threat could be hidden and not ancient, or it cold NOT be hidden and still be a thread that the players have to figure out how to fight (like a demon invasion, or a tyrannic organization that is in control of the world)

I guess what I'm saying is, there are options and people should use them.



I just don't get why people assume that ancient technology is always better than current technology in RPGs

Temennigru, you've had a couple examples in this thread that there are other options and people use them. Ancient civilizations and ruins are one way to run RPGs but not the only way. Nobilis, WoD, Exalted, Shadowrun, Serenity, heck, Blue Rose and Bunny & Burrows don't use it.

If you are just looking at D&D, Ravenloft, Planescape, Spell Jammer, and Eberron, don't use this trope.

Cluedrew
2015-09-06, 02:21 PM
I would like to add a qualifier to your statement. Most fantasy campaigns involve ancient things. Fantasy usually meaning your typical medieval Europe with monster, wizards and dwarves thrown in, the standard.

The reason is that it is very reflective of that time period. The Roman Empire was one of the greatest civilizations in history and after it fell there was a general period of... waiting for us to catch up two where we (or the Europeans) were. Once that happens the Renascence beginnings and we start getting into Steampunk settings. The Middle Ages was literally the age in the middle between Rome and the Renascence.

Of course during the Middle Ages they didn't know about the Renascence, so they could only look back to the Roman glory, when all of the cool stuff happened. And they actually did lose important technology during the Middle Ages, although less so the secret to making +1 swords.

Most settings tied to other historical periods don't have this connection and use the "ancient thing" explanation less often, instead using the latest and most dangerous breakthrough in the currant world. The strongest exceptions, in my experience, being in "New World" settings tied to the coloinial period or the west and sci-fi where many stories are set after the fall of space Rome.

And all the reasons other people have mentioned, but this is why I think it is tied to fantasy so strongly.

Shadowsend
2015-09-06, 05:42 PM
Given that much of what was lost was because the Romans were no longer there to press-gang the other nationalities into supporting and maintaining the improvements, it would turn into ancient ruins rather quickly.

Nifft
2015-09-06, 05:56 PM
Ancient Evils have a lot going for them as plot devices.

The Ancient Evil used to be known, so the PCs can research it. This is a HUGE advantage over an unknown adversary, which would require actual research and experimentation, and at worst might require logging experimental results, player insight, or (worst of all) genuine creativity, before the players learn anything useful about the threat.

The Ancient Evil was defeated once before. This is super important, because the threat must be one which the PCs can defeat (rather than something like a snowstorm or an economic recession), and again, this saves your players from the horror and pain of insight or creativity. They can look up the right answer, and you can tell it to them, and then later they can tell it back to you and be right.

The Ancient Evil is clearly not justified. There's not much chance the players will hear the backstory behind Orcus or Pandorym and say, "You know, that guy has a point. Maybe we shouldn't intervene here." The Ancient Evil is clearly labeled as Evil, and so universally destructive that even the most edgy or anti-social or mildly tipsy players will be unlikely to throw in with or otherwise support the Ancient Evil.

The Ancient Evil is clearly worse than the status quo. This is a slightly more subtle point, but it's basically that Heroic Fantasy is inherently conservative, and things that disrupt the status quo are generally evil. If you like playing that trope straight, then the Ancient Evil wants to disrupt the status quo. If you want to invert that trope, then the Ancient Evil wants to restore an older status quo, and the heroic fantasy supports the progress and innovation of the current status quo. In the latter case, you get to feel like you're making progress by preventing change (which is much more narratively easy than actually changing anything in the setting).

Lvl 2 Expert
2015-09-06, 06:49 PM
That whole backwards Middle Ages thing has some truth in it, but it's not nearly as black and white as people like to make it out to be. There are many examples of lost technology, but there were a lot of advances in that period over what the romans used as well. The early modern era or renaissance meanwhile had its own flaws, like the infamous "medieval" witch hunts and their fascination with and fanboyism about the Greek and Roman classical era, which they figured was so much better than anything that had been around recently. Because they could print books and the medieval folks couldn't it's their tainted version of events that made it into basic history.

I'm a great fan of the early modern era, but they didn't need to reinvent the wheel and flint axe.

nedz
2015-09-06, 06:50 PM
I don't think I've ever done this, however.

It is useful to have hidden knowledge because half the fun of these games is exploration and that doesn't just have to be geographical in context. There is also the sense of mystery leading into this.

It is also useful to have layers of history because back-stories make the mileaux richer.

Knaight
2015-09-06, 07:10 PM
The medieval inspiration and the shadow of Rome have been mentioned a few times, but it's also worth noting that the inspiration isn't a modern understanding of medieval history. It's an understanding of genre fantasy from the 1930's-1970's, which is itself based on what the writers were taught in the 1890's-1960's, most of which was almost certainly lagging behind on current research, to the tune of something like the 1860's-1940's, usually with a distinct anglophone bias. The lay understanding of the medieval world now is bad enough, then it was absolutely atrocious. The term "dark age" was thrown around with abandon, Victorian nonsense about the past created as what was basically propaganda for that period was abundant, and the very real developments in a bunch of fields during the middle ages were tossed out in favor of a mythologized homogenous understanding of a bunch of peasants in mud huts, ruled over by knights who had to be hauled onto their horses with cranes so they could hit each other with sharpened clubs, all under the influence of higher nobles who obviously were so stupid they thought the world was flat, while there was also a church working in the background that held a bunch of quant traditions and never did anything of note.

Obviously just about all of this is some degree of wrong, and huge amounts of things have to be completely omitted. The small scale industrial revolution in the high and late middle ages that corresponded to a rapid increase in watermills? Gone. The incredible advances in architecture that cropped up all over the place, from grand cathedrals to castles to city buildings? The occasional castle or cathedral gets mentioned, and usually with the architecture undersold. The dramatically enhanced agricultural technology that came with the three field system, better horse harnesses, and better plows? Nope, just dirt farmers. The hotbed of trade that was the Mediterranean sea? That's not England or France, so let's just ignore it entirely. The various free cities? Ignore those. Sophisticated manufacturing systems which often had a fair amount of machinery, lots of specialization, and plenty of people working together? Ignore that too.

So, within the specific context of D&D faux-medieval stuff, the prevalence of ancient things that are more powerful makes a lot of sense. The dominance of D&D then makes it prevalent throughout the hobby in general, even though outside of the D&D niche it's distinctly less common.

LudicSavant
2015-09-06, 08:00 PM
I don't know about "most campaigns." But as to why it's a common trope, well... lost cultures and lost technology are a thing that really happens, and exploration and mystery are fun. The trope is a tried and true launching point for both.

kieza
2015-09-07, 01:18 AM
A threat could be hidden and not ancient, or it cold NOT be hidden and still be a thread that the players have to figure out how to fight (like a demon invasion, or a tyrannic organization that is in control of the world)

I guess what I'm saying is, there are options and people should use them.

Yeah, and people do use those options. Honestly, it sounds like the campaigns you've played in just didn't have a lot of variety. There are other kinds of campaign out there! Really!

But, now that I think about it, ancient threats are really simple to use as the antagonist for a basic, dungeon crawl game.

"It's an ancient evil! We thought it was dealt with, but now it's back! Here's everything we know about it!"
"It's an ancient evil! We know exactly where we sealed it away, so you can head straight out there and seal it back up!"
"It's an ancient evil? Preposterous! Don't expect us to help, because it can't possibly be back! You're on your own!"
"It's an ancient evil! They've got weapons that we don't know how to make anymore--that's why everything you loot from them is better than what you have already!"

Basically, ancient evils are a perfect match for a campaign that involves 4-6 powerful individuals traveling to exotic locales, killing the evil inhabitants, and taking their stuff--and that's all that a lot of gamers are looking for. If you want something more nuanced...great! Tell your DM that.

Lvl 2 Expert
2015-09-07, 02:47 AM
You are an ancient evil. The five of you have escaped from your prison beyond the edges of this dimension with the help of the demon king, who has sent you on a mission to break down the wall for the rest of the forces.

I would so play that game. ;)

goto124
2015-09-07, 03:49 AM
Looks like 'simplicity' is the major reason for the popular plot.