Sunday, January 18, 2015

It Always Snows In Neverwinter

Fort Amsterdam Post Card

The last time I played D&D with my friend Boris, he was GMing AD&D 2e. A science lab on the Cornell campus was the scene for his medieval Russian campaign. (Back in the '90s, I also gamed quite a bit in classrooms at the University of Rochester. This was before our universities became as secure as prisons.)

But last night, Boris began a new 5e campaign for a mostly new group of players. One of the other guys had been in his medieval Russia campaign back in the day. Fun reuniting with a couple of folks for gaming some 20 years on!

The action started in the city of Neverwinter during winter. In fact, the action started with a snowstorm. When you read Neverwinter, think "New Amsterdam"; the place names in this campaign are going to have a very loose relationship to the geography of the Forgotten Realms.

The setting is similar to 17th C. North America. The racialization is humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, and halflings are immigrants and colonists. There was a bloody war with indigenous peoples, mainly orcs and goblins, though there are other races such as gnolls (in the nearby town of Claymore, there is a gnoll street sweeper with a reverse coat color pattern: black fur, yellow spots; he's a quite abject fellow). My character, the Half-Orc Enkidu, is the only character with indigenous heritage.

Of course, this kind of set-up already gets us into very dangerous territory with respect to race in gaming and D&D specifically; there's no doubt about that. But read on.

The fur trade is everything here. There is a trading Company that controls the fur trade, which of course relies on the indigenous people to do the trapping. I read William Cronin's Changes in the Land a number of years ago, and more recently read Mary Lethert Wingerd's North Country: The Making of Minnesota so I know this conceptual territory very well.

I grew up in Western New York, which was central to the early fur trade, and now live in what was originally the Fort Snelling Military Reserve in the Minnesota Territory: a frontier fort and surrounding land reserve set up to regulate the fur trade, and deter rapid immigration into the territory.

Think about how lucrative that trade must have been that the U.S. government set up a fort to slow down the theft of land from Indians.

It should be interesting to see where this goes.

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