What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet. --William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II
Eldritch Realms is the roleplaying game of authentic Renaissance magic, currently in development.
That name started as a working title in the summer of 2016 and it has grown on us ever since. I realize that people who encounter it for the first time might jump to the wrong conclusion about what it means, so it seems to be worthwhile to take a moment to explain why we’ve come to like the name so much, and what it says about the game.
According to Merriam-Webster, eldritch means “weird” or “eerie.” That is definitely how I’d characterize the supernatural landscape of Elizabethan folklore. The most striking thing about the legends I’ve come across is how real and present sixteenth-century people thought the supernatural was. It was quite routine for a house or a family to be haunted by a ghost, or to meet an evil spirit in the shape of a black dog prowling the nighttime highways. You might think the crowded, cosmopolitan city of London would be far removed from ghost stories — and if you did, you’d be quite mistaken! Eldritch Britain, the historical-fantasy setting of our game, is indeed a weird and eerie place, where the supernatural is interwoven into even city life.
I’m aware that “Eldritch” has come to be used as a byword for H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, probably because that famous author was so fond of the word himself. Eldritch Realms has absolutely nothing to do with the Cthulhu Mythos. The weirdness and eeriness of our setting comes from the folklore of the British Isles. I’ve got nothing against the Cthulhu Mythos — I’m a big fan of Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu RPG myself — but I do object to the idea that if one community uses a word to mean a specific thing, everyone else has to stop using it in its original sense. “Eldritch” is too cool a word to pigeon-hole.
“Eldritch” is word with Anglo-Saxon roots. Quite a few words of Anglo-Saxon heritage have to do with the supernatural. Wizard. Weird. Dwimmer (or, as Gary Gygax used to spell it in First Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, “dweomer”). Witch. Eerie. These words are just charged with a sense of wonder — and more than hint of awe and dread. That’s the feeling we’re going for. If you thought Elizabethan folklore was like the sanitized, sunshine-and-daisies Victorian fairy tales we repeat to children today, you have another thought coming. Magic and fairies have an eerie edge!
The title of the game refers to more than one realm. The setting we are writing in the core book is Eldritch England, but of course England isn’t the only realm in the British Isles. Wales, Ireland, and Scotland are all right next door. We can’t let the project drag on forever so we probably won’t have time to do justice to those nearby realms in the core book. If the game is a success, I have every intention of addressing the rich folklore of each of those countries in a future supplement.
At the risk of getting ahead of myself, there are also potentially eldritch realms on the other side of the English Channel — or of the Eurasian continent. If we could get an author team with the right cultural knowledge, I think we could make a really exciting adventure setting in fifteenth- or sixteenth-century Arabia, Persia, India, or China. More likely, we will stick to Europe in the near term. I would really like to see Eastern Europe developed as a setting for adventure games. It has Transylvania! (Ars Magica did a great job with Transylvania in the supplement Against the Dark. I think there is room on many people’s bookshelves for another adventure setting about Romania — especially if the next one has Vlad Tepes!)
Suffice to say, I think there is a wealth of potential in the idea of historical fantasy based on authentic Renaissance folklore. Britain is the obvious first choice as a setting. For future supplements, the world is an open book!