Wainscot Fantasy
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Basic Information

Wainscot fantasy is a setting trope in which fantasy elements are hidden just below the surface of an otherwise mundane world1. This is fairly typical for modern urban fantasy, and even more so for horror, but can equally well be applied to pre-modern and sci-fi settings as well.

In general, these settings require any fantastic elements to be subtle and discrete; whilst bland rationalisation and masquerade may help to some degree, the flashier elements of true fantasy tend to strain credibility to unacceptable levels.

The prevalence of fantasy elements isn't necessarily reduced by this trope - for those who can see them, there may be otherwordly beings on every street corner and a goblin market under every manhole … or supernatural beings may be extant but rare, their existence known only to a few fringe scholars and other esoterics. Access may also be an issue - you may need to be in the wrong place at the wrong time to slip through a gate to fairyland, or you may just need to walk into the wrong cellar bar. Of course, if the supernatural is common and easily accessed, you'll need to explain how it remains "behind the wainscot" and hasn't been mainstreamed.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • This is probably the easiest way to incorporate magical elements into a modern campaign.
  • A big part of this will be determining which side of the woodwork the characters are from - and if they're from the non-freaky side, getting them to actually roleplay that. This can be where Sanity or stress mechanics are a big deal - especially those that give the player the chance to "buy in", accepting a pile of built up weirdness in return for adjusting to life on the other side of the looking glass (and thus reduced penalties in future). Also, characters that are not "bought in" may have problems using magic and similar things … but equally may be able to "no sell" some supernatural effects as "clearly fake".
    • The GM can help - when the PCs encounter a zombie - for example - provide some genuine ambiguity as to whether this is a badly injured person, or one of the undead. Obviously, this only applies to the relatively fresh ones … those that are a bit more decayed are going to be easier to spot. And probably a lot harder on the SAN (after all, what's more damaging to your worldview - that the badly injured guy still had some fight in him and decided you needed it, or that dead people are getting up and wandering about. If the zombie was obviously long dead, you're stuck with the latter).
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