>Genre Spotlight: Dungeon Punk


Clarke’s third law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Niven’s Corollary: Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology. 

Start with a medieval fantasy setting. Slide the cynicism of the world up a few notches, and dial up the magic level to the point where magic is commonplace enough to start having a real impact on the lives of everyday people. 

Planes, airships, cars and advanced road systems, perhaps – depending on the nature of the setting – even weapons that serve as stand-ins for guns. All powered by ‘magic.’ Fullmetal Alchemist provides a decent example of a world like this on film – the world has progressed to a near WWII level of technology by using “alchemy” to shore up the gaps in their scientific understanding. World of Warcraft has been influenced by this – spend a few minutes in Azeroth and you might see motorcycles, helicopters, or any number of other such things. 

It is also the basis for the Eberron campaign setting of D&D. With Warforged as a playable race (a race of beings engineered through magical means and leftover from the last great war), and any number of other subtle touches, it has a lot going for it. I have yet to play in it myself, but conceptually I enjoy a lot of what I’ve seen. 

Also called “Fantasy Noir,” depending on who you ask, Dungeon Punk is in some ways the medieval equivalent to the Sci-fi sub-genre of Cyber Punk. In addition to the “magitech” elements, the genre features a lot of real-world issues modeled through fantasy; a world in which orcs are enslaved by another ruling class might explore racism and the exploitation of workers in the industrial revolution. For instance. 

Of course, the real reason I highlight it here is because I’ve always thought the idea of a Paladin of Murlynd sounded awesome. Murlynd was a minor deity in the Greyhawk campaign setting, the god of (among other things) magical technology, wore a long duster and a practical wide brimmed hat, and carried two wands that shot small, metallic projectiles at extremely high speeds. His holy symbol was a metal star with six points that had rounded tips. 

Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. 

So this mental picture springs into my head; a paladin – divine and holy crusader of his deity, protector of the innocent, servant of truth and justice, with a long coat and hat, and the symbol of his deity, worn over a hodge-podge of homemade armor, carrying the closest equivalent to guns in the setting (either “wands” or just … well, actual guns) along with a longsword, and riding a motorcycle. And naturally, he would also carry a length of rope suitable for a lasso. 


Kinda like this, only with magic
instead of space ships.
If someone had told me about that when I first heard about Living Greyhawk, I probably would have been a lot more enthusiastic about the setting. Granted, I doubt I could have gotten away with it at the time, but it would’ve been enough to get me to give the Paladin a second look. Now the concept just kind of lives in my head, waiting for the best time, method, and game system to express it. 

Ah, Murlynd. . . Some day, your time will come. 

Dungeon Punk has a lot of variations and flavors, like any major genre, but for me, it isn’t the plethora of fantasy races pressed together into major population centers, it isn’t the industrial revolutions or even the chance to play the magical version of robots. It’s everything. The sweet, glorious hodge-podge of ideas that says, “you know what, I’m just here for the fun; let’s be kids again for awhile.” Because when I was a kid, this, right here, was how my brain worked. Guns and magic existing in the same space? No problem. I could believe Star Wars, right? 

Don’t get me wrong, I love me my J.R.R. Tolkien and my Robert Howard (yes, I’ve actually read some Conan and plan to read more one of these days), but once in a very long while, I want to ditch the established forms of fantasy and cut loose with something crazy. It’s my dirty little secret, right there. 

Of course, I’m into comic books. Most of the time, that’s pretty much the same thing. 

Dungeon Punk captures a particular element of my imagination and gets it firing on all cylinders. It tells me that pretty much anything I can think of is possible, and that if I want a world where a gang of leather-clad orcs can ride into town on motorcycles and smash things up for a bit with their axes before our heroes show up and drive them off, old west style, I can have it. If I want a world where guns share space with crossbows and swords, I can have it. If I want a world where plate armor is still in use in spite of the existence of guns – possibly due to magic being around to bulletproof it – I can have it. Alternately, if I want a world where armor fell out of disuse due to the easily available magic weapons, I can have that, too. 

That said, it’s not the only flavor of fantasy (by any means!), nor even the one I prefer most often – it’s just the one I was thinking about tonight. I may highlight a few others in the future, but for now, enjoy. 

Future posts in the series: 

– Classic Fantasy
– Urban Fantasy
And More…  

2 responses to “>Genre Spotlight: Dungeon Punk

  • Tourq

    >I'm in an Eberron campaign right now (first one), and it's taken me a bit of getting used to. I'm reading some Eberron novels that are helping me with that, but I think that if I look at it from your point of view… yeah Dungeon Punk… I think I can totally get into it. I can dig it.

  • Jonathan

    >Hey, glad I can help. Eberron looks pretty cool to me up to a point – I can dig a lot of the core assumptions of the world, and Warforged are great (hey, they're not even that big of a leap from classic D&D – just a logical extension of the golum, after all), and Artificers are pretty fun – I keep meaning to try one out. The only beef I really have with it at all is the Drow, and that's only because I'm so locked into the drow of the Forgotten Realms… I like my drow in underground cities worshiping an evil spider-goddess, and the living in the scorpion angle confused me for awhile. On the other hand, airships + trains + swords + magic + dinosaurs + elves + dragons … it's at this point I start thinking that this sounds like something I would have invented when I was a kid – before I started inventing rules for what kind of things could go together in a world, or rigid definitions of genre – and I get completely lost in how awesome that is. šŸ˜€ Fantasy-wise, I grew up on the Forgotten Realms, the Hobbit, and the Chronicles of Narnia, so a lot of my default ideas of what fantasy "is" come from there. But in terms of role-playing, my first games were vast, multi-verse crossing affairs run without rule systems or dice, mostly one-on-one. When I remember some of what happened in those games, Eberron makes me feel almost nostalgic. Of course, so does what I've read about Gygax's original Greyhawk games!

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