Standard Fantasy Setting
"There's something terribly weird about the standard fantasy setting, not least of which that 'Standard Fantasy Setting' can be uttered completely without irony. Look at us; we're a civilization so steeped in escapism that we've managed to find mundanity in something that doesn't exist and never will (no matter what your Otherkin friend might say). Why is it accepted fact that Elves fire bows and arrows and commune with trees? That was Tolkien's thing; without him, elves would just about be qualified to sell Rice Krispies. And he made Dwarves wear braided beards and wield battle-axes. Real dwarves don't do that, they get hired by Lucasfilm or take corporate office jobs because they're an equal-opportunity bonanza. Are we all but children, playing eternally on the same swingset while JRR is the grumpy dad watching from the park bench and trying not to get aroused?"The generic fantasy setting. High Fantasy, Heroic Fantasy, and Low Fantasy are usually set here, along with many Tabletop RPGs and Video Games; however, this is not required. This is Newer Than They Think. Trope Maker The Lord of the Rings, though written earlier, only developed a cult following in the 1960s. Dungeons & Dragons and The Sword of Shannara, the first novel by Terry Brooks, acted as the Trope Codifier in the late 1970s. (D&D had, however, originated a bit earlier.) Another Trope Maker is William Morris, who wrote many such works in the 1890s. Four were reprinted by Ballantine's Adult Fantasy Series from 1969-73. That series is another likely Trope Maker in itself. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones will tell you pretty much everything you would like to know about the place (minus a few dead horses and unicorns). If you can get your hands on a copy, Barbara Ninde Byfield's 1967 guide The Glass Harmonica (reprinted in 1973 and 1994 as The Book Of Weird) is informative and funny. See also Airport Novel. For the antithesis of Standard Fantasy Setting-style fantasy see Urban Fantasy, Magical Realism and Mundane Fantastic. Common ingredients:
- Post-Tolkien, this usually has at least three of the standard Five Races of heroic peoples:
- Dwarves (The Mighty Glacier)
- Elves (The Fragile Speedster)
- In addition, most settings also have a Fantasy Axis of Evil consisting of Evil Counterparts of the Five Races which the heroes have to fight or otherwise deal with.
- Fantastic Sapient Species Tropes in general.
- Our Monsters Are Different
- Functional Magic
- At least two of the following:
- Standard royal courts
- A (usually) European-style Pseudo-Medieval setting.
- Often one or more Fantasy Counterpart Culture
- Generally Medieval Stasis; the general dividing line is that any technology that Leonardo da Vinci wouldn't have drawn renders the setting non-compliant, unless said technology is a Relic Of The Past.
- Fantasy Gun Control: You'd better learn how to use a bow, Mack, 'cause that gun's just gonna click.
- The Sword And Sandal subgenre thrives in a Fantasy Counterpart Culture in the ancient world and — just to make life confusing — can cheerfully co-exist with other portions of the world having a pseudo-medieval setting.
- Similarly, technology is often all over the place, with Iron, Bronze, and Stone-age weapons existing alongside actual Middle Age- and early Renaissance-era weapons. Even if there are no guns, for example, you will often easily find rapiers, light blades that only came about in Real Life because guns began making armor less prevalent.
- Fantasy Character Classes, if the work in question is a Roleplaying Game of some kind, though this is not a necessary element. If it's not a game it may still feature some of the character archetypes that inspired the modern classes.
- Always Chaotic Evil: Oddly, both extremely idealistic and extremely cynical settings tend to remove this one. (In idealistic ones the orcs are redeemable, in cynical ones the orcs aren't much different from the humans.)
- White Magic: Associated with idealistic settings; cynical series use the Light Is Not Good option in their implementation.
- The Dung Ages: If the setting is cynical.
- Fate and Prophecy Tropes are expected, but Low Fantasy scenarios may remove all such tropes.
- Vancian Magic: Other varieties of magic are allowed
- Arcadia: Since it is mostly rural, it will be pleasant rural if allowed, not redneck rural.
- Gorgeous Period Dress: if not The Dung Ages.
- Everything's Better with Princesses: Either a Rebellious Princess or a Princess Classic will do.
- Dragons: Dragons are, after all, central to both the Trope Maker (The Hobbit) and the Trope Codifier (Dungeons and Dragons)
- Left-Justified Fantasy Map
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Examples of settings conforming to this standard include:
- Sojourn which, being part of the multigenre of Sigilverse, deliberately invokes all fantasy tropes.
- The Lord of the Rings, the Trope Maker, shares a universe with The Silmarillion, History of Middle-earth, and the rest of Tolkien's Legendarium. It made and/or codified many of the associated tropes, including Left-Justified Fantasy Map, the Five Races, an Always Chaotic Evil enemy race that forms the backbone of The Horde (although Tolkien was never entirely comfortable with this one), Arcadia, and even some light Fantasy Counterpart Culture (with the Shire as a stand-in for rural pre-WWI England, and Gondor being compared to Byzantium by Word of God).
- Every fantasy series by David and Leigh Eddings (usually lack the traditional nonhuman races, but otherwise compliant).
- Discworld complies to the standard for its first few books, while parodying and deconstructing it at the same time. Over time the setting becomes increasingly distinct.
- It's clear that Discworld started as a parody of fantasy in general, by sending up "standard" (Tolkienesque) high fantasy, the grittier Fafhrd-and-Grey-Mouser type of fantasy, the thud-and-blunder story (Conan and that ilk), and even some more outre stuff like the DragonBooks by McCafferey on an equal opportunity basis. The series arguably gets much better when it stops being almost entirely a collection of Bizarro versions of other works (most people would say somewhere between books 3 and 5).
- The Sundering duology — notable for deliberately being almost exactly Tolkien's world, except told from the side of the Dark Lord.
- The Wheel of Time is set in one that also happens to be After the End of a previous civilization with a lot more Magitek, which in turn just happens to be After the End of our own world. While this is very relevant to the plot, it's not particularly relevant to the feel of the setting, which still manages to play this trope pretty straight, with swords and sorcery aplenty with extra Magic A Is Magic A, Fantasy Gun Control in effect (cannons are just barely beginning to be a thing; personal firearms are not even conceived of), and even a Left-Justified Fantasy Map. About the only real exception is an ongoing aversion of Medieval Stasis, as the world undergoes the beginnings of a technological renaissance.
- The Llandor series
- Memory, Sorrow and Thorn was inspired by Lord of the Rings per Word of God, and so pays homage to many of its themes including this one.
- Mithgar, which was originally intended to be a sequel to The Lord of the Rings.
- The Riyria Revelations, a deliberate throwback to classic fantasy.
- The Chronicles of Narnia is this with more Christian allegory than most, as well as a bit of Fantasy Kitchen Sink. Magic Lion Jesus pals around with our heroes, Narnia (the country) is a pretty clear example of Arcadia, the Standard Royal Court is often present although not often dwelt on, a somewhat-unfortunate Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Islam appears, the odd prophecy foretells the deeds of Our Heroes, and Medieval Stasis is in full effect.
- Dungeons & Dragons, the Trope Codifier.
- Magic: The Gathering is an interesting example. The original release of the game was an attempt to cram in as many possible familiar fantasy elements. After that, however, the game started to develop its own style, and the current creative team describes it as "Magepunk".
- Havok And Hijinks
- Except this one tends towards Affectionate Parody.
- The Elder Scrolls (Note that the Dwarves are not compliant with ANSI standard Dwarves, but this deviation is allowed by this standard.)
- Age of Wonders (although it has a lot more races than 5)
- Dragon Age adheres to most of the above-mentioned tropes, but gleefully takes a Deconstructor Fleet to them.
- Final Fantasy Tactics is limited to humans and averts Fantasy Gun Control, but all Magitek is Lost Technology and the world itself is a rather grim Medieval European Fantasy.
- Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion generally fits. You have The Empire of Estellion, The Kingdom in the form of the Commonwealth of Esotre, The Horde in the form of the Lyri warbands (although the Cardani also fit). There is no Alliance, although Estellion and Esotre have been allies for a long time (at least, until the sequel). As typical, humans make up the largest population group. Jackdaws are this setting's Hobbits. Dwarves are a minority (but they typically don't have beards). The game's take on Elves is fairly unique, though. Unlike Tolkien's tall, high-and-mighty elves, the Cardani Elves are short rat-like people whose culture is based around the idea of insatiable greed. Their homes are the treacherous Cardani Swamps. While every other power uses small units called Daggers that can be joined with like Daggers to form more formidable (but less maneuverable and vulnerable to flank attacks) Deuces and Trines (this also includes the wild Lyri), the Cardani fight in large Swarms that rely on speed and We Have Reserves tactics. Functional Magic isn't used much, although certain people are able to call on the elements. The Empire owes its foundation to wind magic, allowing La Résistance to fight off the Carsis nobles' flamesoul magic. Blood Magic is occasionally used by The Empire's assassins (all Heroic Bastards). Medieval Stasis is played straight for the Tellions but averted for the Sotrans, who live in much a harsher climate and need to innovate to survive. Thus, front-line Sotran troops are armed with muskets and bayonets, while Tellions rely on swordsmen, pikemen, and archers. Sotrans also have prototype inventions such as armored walkers and hovering artillery platforms.
A few particularly non-compliant fantasy settings include:
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- A few of the Magic: The Gathering settings, especially Rath, Mirrodin, and Ravnica. (Some are compliant, though.)
- However, the earliest core sets had a setting best described as this. (That plane, Dominaria, gradually changed over time and is now amid an After the End phase following the conclusion of the Time Spiral block.)
- Fables — The Homelands are a patchwork of technologies, cultures, and magics of all types, with literally every imaginable fantasy or mythical creature or race.
- With Strings Attached is an almost 100% noncompliant fantasy setting, to the point where the only trope that really applies is Medieval Stasis, and that only in one of the two cultures on C'hou; the other is a thriving quasi-Victorian land with guns, factories, etc. Also, there are elves, but Word of God says they're just a pointy-eared race of humans.
- Most fantasy written prior to the late 1970s.
- Virtually all fantasy prior to Lord of the Rings, including, of course, 19th century fantasy.
- Most stuff set in our day and age (even if most of the action takes place elsewhere).
- Earthsea Trilogy
- The Princess Bride, which makes no attempt to make the (fairly limited) magic "make sense".
- The Journey of the Catechist by Alan Dean Foster. No elves as such (although dwarves are mentioned in passing); while there are various monsters, they're decidedly different. There are, however, quite a few non-standard sapient races, including talking animals. And the kingdom and empire are both morally grey.
- Kingdoms of Light by Alan Dean Foster (It takes place inside a world inside a rainbow, where the main characters are all humans that were once animals.)
- Bas-Lag (China Miéville's main setting)
- The Seventh Tower
- The Edge Chronicles differs from the standard by relying more on Minovsky Physics than Functional Magic, emphasising goblins and trolls over elves (only get brief mentions) and dwarves (a type of goblin), and having really weird steampunk technology in the last book. (It's powered by crystallised lightning.)
- Black Company
- The Bartimaeus Trilogy.
- Clive Barker's fantasy works Imajica and Abarat.
- The Etched City by K.J. Bishop.
- The Starbridge books by Paul Park.
- Jo Clayton's Duel Of Sorcery and Dancer trilogies.
- The Ambergris Cycle
- Codex Alera
- Gormenghast is set in a sprawling city castle complex yet the timeless, routine, indolent nature in which the castle is maintained means it could be in any time period from High Medieval to Victorian. There is no apparent magic or magical races, yet once you get beyond the Earldom of Gormenghast, the world is fairly modern (or steampunk), complete with sky scrapers.
- The Empire Of The Petal Throne setting, used in both game and novels, is distinctly non-standard, with no elves, dwarves, trolls, or anything similar to European fantasy, by design.
- Anything by Brandon Sanderson, Mistborn and The Stormlight Archive most notably.
- Chronicles Of Magic is set in a fantasy world, but lacks elves, dwarves, etc. and instead relies almost completely on human characters. The exception to this is Magic itself, which is an actual living being that imparts its power on others.
- The "Szerer cycle" written in the earli Nineties by the Polish author Feliks W. Kres. No fantasy races, but there are sapient cats and vultures, magic (for the most part) takes the form of learned mystics who can once-a-lifetime bend the world to their will or magical artifacts that can be loosely described as leftovers of creation, war with the local flavor of Orcs is a constant low-intensity conflict waged from frontier keeps, the whole world (which is a small continent) is ruled by a single empire loosely patterned on Rome. Fantasy Gun Control happens because the empire has no interest in developing technology that can make its military obsolete, but gunpowder cannons are common on ships and coastal defences. Most of the stories involve the fringes of society, such as criminals in outlying regions or frontier military men, all of them in decidedly unheroic roles.
- Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy IX, and Final Fantasy X.
- Fable — The first game is largely compliant, although it lacks most of the usual Five Races; it has mundane humans and High Men, but that's it for the "civilized" types. The second and third games deviate further from the formula by progressing through a renaissance and all the way to an industrial revolution, introducing firearms, factories, etc.
Examples of settings that are almost compliant with the standard include:
- Second Apocalypse (lacks Dwarves; otherwise compliant)
- The Death Gate Cycle started out as a post-apocalyptic flavor of this standard, but then the world ended again. The current setting is in some ways very close to the standard and wildly divergent in others. See the article for details.
- A Song of Ice and Fire nominally has all of the stock elements (assuming the (unseen) children of the forest and (barely seen) Others qualify as examples of the Fairy and Eldritch Five Races) except Functional Magic. But most of these elements are used only so that they can be deconstructed.
- The Garrett, P.I. series goes out of its way to subvert or deconstruct elements of this trope, both by giving them a Film Noir spin and by pumping up the snark quotient.
- The setting of Sword of Shadows resembles the standard, but is set in the subarctic regions of its world, is missing nonhuman races except for the Sull (a Proud Warrior Race of elf-equivalents) and the Unmade, and the focus is more heavily on the "barbarian" Clansmen than the "civilized" part of the world.
- The setting of Heralds of Valdemar began as one of these in the original Tarma and Kethry stories, but has since come to play with the tropes quite uniquely. Psychic Powers are far more common than magic in Valdemar proper, intelligent nonhumans are most often Bond Creatures, and Medieval Stasis is strongly averted, with a dawning industrial and scientific revolution in The Mage Storms.
- The Sword of Truth series shares some of the elements, but mainly uses them as a vehicle for its Author Filibuster, particularly when the latter begins to take precedence over the fantasy elements.
- The Age of Blood Chronicles does away with Medieval stasis, taking place in a renaissance time period, it goes past Medieval European Fantasy to include Fantasy Counterpart Cultures of such places as Africa, Tsarist Russia, and the Koreas, replaces the Standard Royal Court with a Deadly Decadent Court, and deconstructs most of the race tropes. It also has people who act realistically for their time period and most monsters are fairly mundane.
- The Dragon Crown War is a borderline example. The only common nonhuman races are elves (the most commonly-encountered ethnicity of whom, the Vorquelves, border on Enslaved Elves as downtrodden refugees from a destroyed homeland) and dragons; the setting's "dwarves", the urZrethi, are actually ancient matriarchal shapeshifters who were created by the Bigger Bad, though they abandoned that allegiance long ago; the Big Bad's armies are composed primarily of the Wookiee-like gibberkin rather than the more traditional orcs; finally, Medieval Stasis is averted as gunpowder and cannons are invented in the prequel and the technology becomes increasingly widespread over the course of the main trilogy.
- The First Dwarf King seems to be a standard medieval fantasy at first, but before long, hints of something else begin to creep in. For starters, the characters use guns instead of bows and arrows. Eventually, it becomes apparent that the setting is a Science Fantasy with (admittedly heavy) High Fantasy elements.
- Eberron is similar, in that it is the logical conclusion of a High Fantasy standard: magic is an industry and the setting's atmosphere is similar to Inter-World War Europe. All races diverge, slightly to significantly from standard (among other things, its response to the Always Chaotic Evil trope is essentially LOLWUT?, so for example the ancient druidic culture that saved the world from Cosmic Horrors ten thousand years ago is actually the Orcs), and industrial magic yields a Steampunk tone without actually using any significant steam or clockwork.
- Actually, that would be 'Low Fantasy' (magic is a toolkit, society changes and grows), instead of 'High Fantasy' (magic is wondrous and can't be replicated, society is stuck in stasis).
- Exalted was created specifically to subvert this trope, focusing more on Bronze Age swords-and-sandals fantasy and Chinese mythology than on the Medieval European Tolkienque things. Nonetheless, some parts of it remain (partially because they're old enough or universal enough that they appear in those influences, too.)
- Warhammer Fantasy; the Empire and the Dwarves heavily utilize firearms and even have experimental Steam Punk technology, while the Skaven's Magitek gives them ratling guns, rat-portable flamethrowers, sniper rifles, energy cannons, mechanical lighting-spewing hamster-wheels, etc.
- Warhammer 40,000: Though it's diverged a lot, it's still clearly this (or Warhammer Fantasy) at the foundations, but darker, and on a galactic scale and darker - there are the elves (Eldar), dwarves (Squats, wiped out for not fitting the tone), orcs (Orks), the Forces of Darkness (Chaos) in an interstellar Mordor (The Eye of Terror) the Kingdom of Men (The Imperium of Man) with paladin knights (the Space Marines) and the absent True King (the God Emperor of Man, confined to the life-support of the Golden Throne).
- Arcanum is set in once-SFS, in which industrial revolution has happened; Steam Punk level technology, otherwise compliant. Some parts are more compliant than others, and the conflict between the Standard Fantasy Setting and the rise of steam and gunpowder is a major plot element.
- Warcraft — Removes the Medieval Stasis, and integrates modern, steampunk, and sci-fi technology with pre-modern armor and architecture. Both expansions thus far to World of Warcraft have introduced a lot of Magitek.
- The first two games however, fit the trope to a "T"
- Final Fantasy XII — 14th-century politics, 18th-century weapons, 22nd-century technology (although most people just take caravans everywhere.)
- Dwarf Fortress lacks any magics beyond Necromancy as of yet, but otherwise fits this trope very well.
- Rift is superficially similar to Warcraft, but cranks up the magitek and does more playing around with race tropes.
- Might and Magic and Heroes of Might and Magic (old verse) take place in what at first appears to follow the standard quite closely, and will keep that appearance if you only play the Heroes games and therefore miss the extensive Science Fantasy elements in the setting.
- Tales Of MU is set in a formerly compliant setting, but with the Medieval Stasis removed. The current time period is sort of like the modern age, in the same way that the Standard Fantasy Setting is kind of like the middle ages.
- The Once And Future Nerd is set in a mostly compliant setting, but with an elf with a southern American accent, no Monochrome Casting, and a lot of quirks here and there, including wizards who have the basics for an atomic theory going.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender. While there is The Empire and The Kingdom along with rebel fighters, Magic A Is Magic A , and a variety of other fantasy world tropes, there are several differences. Most prominently, instead of being in a European-esque world, the Avatarverse is a fantasy counterpart to East Asia (mostly China and Japan), with some Inuit culture thrown in for good measure. The only other races with human-level intelligence are spirits who all pretty much reside in a different world, and Medieval Stasis is completely subverted, with nascent Steam Punk in the original series (ironclad steamships, tanks, mega-drills, submarines, and zeppelins), which evolves into all-out Diesel Punk in the sequel (complete with radio, skyscrapers, automobiles, film, biplanes, and mecha-tanks).