Tuesday, September 10, 2019

It Doesn't Make Sense to Make Too Much Sense

So you'll often hear, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good," and it usually means that you shouldn't destroy a project trying to achieve perfection when all you really need is something that's better-than-serviceable. In other words, a good book that actually gets published is vastly superior to a "perfect" book that's never finished.

A pitfall like unto it is being overly clever. We've all seen the elegantly designed RPG that is a thing of beauty, with its perfectly symmetrical stats or elegantly designed resolution system that just doesn't work at the table. Well, that sort of thing isn't just for game designers; it can strike GMs too.

The fact is, the real world is full of wonky little things that make no sense. The highest and holiest of Christian holidays, Easter, is named after a pagan deity we know almost nothing about, but we're pretty sure all the rabbits and eggs point to Oester being some sort of fertility deity. Obviously what happened is that Christians piggy-backed on Oester's popularity and just co-opted one of her more popular holidays for their own. But the eggs and the rabbits persist, long after we've forgotten just about everything there was to know about Oester.

This is why it's a sure comedy hit every decade or so when some comedian will go onto college campuses to ask our "best and brightest" why Jesus wants us to hide eggs on Easter. If there's one thing college students learn, especially those of us who tackled the liberal arts, its how to create sense out of the jumbled nonsense of reality, especially if there's no sense their to be found.

Our days of the week are the same. Sunday through Friday, the names are Germanic/Norse, referencing gods like Tyr (Tuesday), Wotan (Wednesday), Thor (Thursday), and Frigga (Friday). And then, boom, Saturday, named after the Roman god Saturn. What's up with that? We really don't know. There's been lots of conjecture that the Norse were mapping their days of the week over the Roman ones and just didn't have a god they liked to replace Saturn. There's others that think Saturn was close enough to an Anglo-Saxon word "sætere" that means "seducer" or the like that they just kept it as-is. But the truth is, nobody really understands what happened there.

The point for you, my fine world-building friends, is that things that make too much sense, that are perfectly rational, are not terribly realistic. To make your world feel more real, make it less perfect. Throw in that one odd halfling drinking custom in your dwarvish culture. Create a perfectly rational solar calendar, but for one month a year that runs lunar and can swing between having as few as 20 days and as many as 36. And don't feel you must explain it (in fact, come up with three mutually exclusive explanations that scholars in your world feud over, just for that added hint of authenticity).

5 comments:

FrDave said...

The original name of Easter (still used by Eastern Orthodoxy) is actually Pascha, which is Greek for Passover. This is, of course, the name of the Jewish holiday Christ celebrated with His disciples at the Last Supper. It is a celebration of Death passing over all the Hebrew homes in Egypt. Now Death must pass over all of us since Christ has defeated death by death and we have been granted eternal life.

The Easter Egg comes from a story of St. Mary Magdalene. When brought before the Emperor of Rome, he reacted to the Gospel of the Risen Christ by declaring that it was as likely that an egg would turn red as a man would rise from the dead. Mary promptly asked for an egg, which turned red. To this day, we decorate eggs, not because of a bunny, but because of St. Mary Magdalene.

trollsmyth said...

FrDave: Thanks! I'd not heard the red egg story before.

The Angry Monk said...

That is a good point. Real life doesn't always make sense. Why should a pretend fantasy world? I love this. Inspirational.

Wormys_Queue said...

Well,of course that story about Mary Magdalene is pure fiction. In fact, it's just another tradition the christians stole from the Romans and greek people.

Stephen P said...

But case in point for including weird cultural assimilations for setting authenticity! :)