What eurofantasy is about

thekernelinyellow, maybe there is a better term than eurofantasy. Let me clarify that it is not intended to represent how Europeans create fantasy material, although it may also do that. It is intended primarily to connote the fantasy worlds that anglophone writers, film-makers, and game designers have about Europe: reimagined pseudo-European worlds, which have a generic character. US-Americans are taught a limited amount of “medieval history” that situates European history as antecedent to the USA. Dave Arneson wanted a medieval fantasy wargame instead of Napoleonic fantasy. “Medieval” meant resorting to European sources, because it’s what he knew. It was not European, but a eurofantasy (fantasy drawing on European stuff). It was a strange blend of things available to young wargamers in the US Midwest around 1972. I suppose this is why OSR gamers have been excited about Gygax’s Appendix N–it shows what those guys were reading, the preexisting eurofantasy.

The eurofantasy was a default because in the USA then, it was scarcely possible to have a serious formal education about cultures outside of Europe (Asia, Africa) until the 1960s, and only in a university, unless one was a full-time specialist. I suspect that it took most European countries at least as long to create these curricula as non-specialist education. These curricula were created specifically to address the global rivalry between the USA and the Soviet Union (“the Cold War”). But Arneson and Gygax grew up in a time when learning history meant learning European history. They were taught that they were Western. Everything else was “exotic.” The term “orientalism” had not been coined. For their fantasy literary sources, it was much more so.

In line with what yochaigal pointed out, the first D&D gamers imagined a white European fantasy world. It unconsciously reflects the social experience of race in the USA at that time. In that experience, white is generic, blank, and uncharacterized. Now that US-American society has changed and is still changing, the fantasy itself, which is rooted in this culture, now shows a discrepancy with how US-American society actually looks and how history is taught in the USA. It’s hard to imagine, but D&D was invented only several years after laws forbidding racial segregation were enforced in the US, and the effects of segregation did not disappear; in 2020 things have changed and more change will come, and the last generation who grew up with segregation as normal is dying off, but still the vestiges of US racial segregation are real and violent. Those who say politics and games cannot be separated are saying the same thing as this from a different point of view.

In another direction: although the eurofantasy was not originally a European fantasy, I think it has been accepted and adopted in many parts of Europe. I have never paid much attention to The Witcher, but it looks to me like a Polish author has created something in a style of fantasy that had its formative development among English speakers, complete with elves and dwarves. I won’t argue with anybody who insists that “Czech fantasy [for example] is an entirely different entity and does not draw on European sources and focus almost entirely on people racialized as white,” because I don’t know about it. Though I’m skeptical. Europeans can correct me if I’m wrong and tell me that D&D in Europe is not about “white people” by default. My impression is that Hungarian gamers, for example, are not basing their fantasies on the Mayans or ancient India, but on medieval central Europe or generic D&D fantasy and Appendix N-derived stuff (generic fantasy), which I call eurofantasy.

When my daughter practices ballet, they use French terms. That’s just part of the history of ballet. D&D comes from the Great Lakes region of the USA among English-speakers who were 99% male at the start (this has been studied) and for whom “white” was both a social reality and was also blank, default, and generic, and for whom the past was a European past.

I also acknowledge that some of this may sound strange or incorrect to non-US-Americans. European populations have their own configurations of nation and race that have proven fractious and violent in different ways. Mine is just one perspective. I think, though, that these historical factors are involved in the politicization of the OSR.


is not generalizing an entire continent of different myths, legends and folklore into one term really that much to ask?

1 Like

Max, I agree. But that is how they did it when they made these fantasies: they used Greek and Nordic myth, Arthurian legend, medieval French history, and more. The term describes what they did; it doesn’t prescribe that one should do that.

1 Like

okay, i get what you meant now. it kinda started with the deites and demigods module, didnt it? because i remember 0-1 edition being 99% inspired by Tolkien’s works.


A lot of what eurofantasy is about comes from the anglo-saxon world and its myths. For example, the whole structure of fantasy nobility makes no sense in an Italian context (which had, up to the Renaissance, a completely distinct definition of nobility). Or most of the creatures which are classical fantasy tropes do not appear (if not completely different) in other countries’ myths. Even the weapons change a lot from England to the continent, to the point in which many non-English languages don’t have the words for some of the most common fantasy weapons: there is no Italian equivalent for “longsword”, for example, but a lot of different swords which might look like one (this is not a real problem unless you really dig the HEMA field, but shows how “eurofantasy” is not really European).

I made the example of The Witcher because the books (and, in lesser part, the games) are set in world that, while distinctly medieval, is not “anglo-saxon medieval”. The creatures are different, and so is the political structure (English kings were different from Polish kings).

1 Like

Max, I think you’re right that the first OD&D booklet about gods made the various European cultural sources explicit for the first time, but Arneson’s, and Gygax’s, and their friends’, idea about “the medieval” has many sources. For example, they had read about druids somewhere and had a vague idea of what they were. Jon Peterson in his book Playing at the World dwells on these matters, and it’s worth a close read (a huge book). He points to one specific medieval bestiary as a major source, among others. But then, super hero comic books were apparently also a big influence, too! :thinking:

While I understand that by “eurofantasy” you mean “the American vision of fantasy Europe”, I still believe that the term is ill-chosen because it sounds like it’s fantasy from Europe, but most settings created in Europe I see have a flavour greatly distinct from the American style (unless aiming specifically for that feel in the first place, which also happens).

1 Like

“american eurofantasy” would be more clear i suppose


thekernelinyellow, You are quite right! But the “simulationist” side of people like Gygax did try to make up for the perceived shortcoming. AD&D moves from generic polearms to glaive-guisarme and bec-de-corbin and such more specific things. This was in response to gamers in the earliest days of D&D who said, “This isn’t realistic!” The main early response was Chivalry & Sorcery, now regarded generally as a failure.

In the end, the eurofantasy is not something from any specific place, but the Anglo-content accorded with their idea of the Medieval, which they generalized to “the West.” Gygax’s answer to this was, consistently, “It’s make-believe.” But that dodges the question of where generic fantasy comes from. One thing I’m sure about: it doesn’t come from Asia or Africa or Latin America. It does include exoticizing representations of fantasy versions of those regions.

I think that there are, however, plenty of non-Anglo-Saxon fantasies involved. I think of Moorcock and Robert E. Howard. These are fundamentally eurofantasies, though I am sure that some would debate it. Howard’s is especially a colonial eurofantasy. That’s not to condemn it, just to describe it.

I fully agree that what I call eurofantasy is not really European, in the sense that fantasy is not really anything. It’s based on misapprehensions of historical reality and wishful, dreamy thinking. This is part of the problem we face in dealing with it. One response is to say “Let’s make it authentic!” But that creates other problems, which I address somewhat in the blog entry to which I referred (on the split thread).

It would be enjoyable for the eurofantasy to be diversified with more fantastic content. This is happening now (we can point to The Witcher, perhaps, as a small example), but generic fantasy remains a eurofantasy. My own work as a historian does not focus on Europe, so I imagine that the fantasy worlds my players move in has a distinct flavor because my sources are different.

Maybe this is why I like the early D&D modules from the UK better than the rest. It’s that different flavor, hard to identify, but it’s there.

1 Like

Whidou and Max, you make good points.

I’m not attached to the term eurofantasy. If you think it’s misleading, you should not use it. But it is an attempt to describe something.

I still think that it is something distinct, that there are European versions of it, and, despite their differences, they appear distinctly “Western” (as people imagine it) as opposed to “non-Western.” It all depends on how closely you make the distinctions. If you look very closely, yes, you can find distinctions even between British fantasy games and US fantasy games, a slightly different flavor. Still more will you find them between US fantasy games and those of other European countries. But none of them is about Asia, or Africa, etc., by default. That is so unless it is specifically marked as such. This is going back to yochaigal’s original point, that these things are “default.” There is an enormous amount in common between American and European fantasies, and that will appear more clearly depending on how far back you stand. Players play D&D in Europe, use the same content, etc., no?

1 Like

True, but if I say “this is eurofantasy” here in France, it will confuse a lot of people. d&d is mostly perceived as a “Hollywood” take on fantasy, not something that is rooted in our culture, but rather a tourist’s point of view on it.

1 Like

I don’t think anyone here is contesting your point that the pseudo-european style of fantasy promoted by Games Workshop, Wizards of the Coast and countless fantasy novels, movies and such is the most represented among medieval fantasy settings.

I do however believe that the OSR has been pretty good so far at providing medieval fantasy settings inspired by other cultures too, such as Yoon-Suin, Red Tide, Chthonic Codex, The Nightmare Underneath, The Peridot


I am not sure I’d say Hollywood, though that is a factor. I agree in that Hollywood itself is itself a large factor in creating generic fantasy.

by “Hollywood” i mean when movies simplify or generalize things for the purpose of entrainment. Same happened with d&d.


Whidou, the OSR has been okay about it, I’d say about the same as the rest of the gaming industry. It’s a choice between generic, which is easy (and which is “white” by default) and non-generic, which is hard to enter, because it lacks the generic quality.

D&D has had “exotic” materials since the '70s and non-eurofantasy settings since the '80s.

I never read Yoon-Suin but I have gathered that one idea is that PCs typically enters the setting as a visitor from a generic (“eurofantasy”) setting.

Anyway, we can agree on what I mean (I hope!) and agree that the term eurofantasy is not required, as it may not translate well to other places. Still, what do you call it then? And how do you address the “default white” quality of fantasy that yochaigal raised?

Max, that makes perfect sense.

That’s the point. The term doesn’t make sense here in Europe because we know our brands of fantasy are different (with the exception of England, which is where the Anglo-fantasy started). Since it’s the most common brand of fantasy, there are lots of games and settings, even in Europe, which replicate the Anglo-fantasy tropes, but, as Max said, to most of us they look like a tourist’s version of myths and history.

I had to re-read this part twice, because, to me, most of what you call “eurofantasy” (like Howard’s) looks like “Old Wild West with swords” and that’s one of the reasons I really don’t feel it European. The point is that Europe still doesn’t have a unified culture and mythology you can draw upon and the more you go back, the worse it gets. There were cultural differences strong enough to warrant wars. There were ethnographical differences perceived as strongly as the current difference between whites and POCs in the USA (like Venetians and Slavic people).

I guess the term is meant to hit more on the “fantasy” side than the “euro” side, especially in terms of the “historical accuracy”. It’s a false idea that is meant to represent a Europe that never existed.

Spwack, that’s exactly it. You said it well.

Ty, just because something isn’t “real” doesn’t make it useless.

Also I can think of lots of terms that would be far worse than eurofantasy. European mythology, “Western” mythology, come to mind. Eurofantasy does mean something relatively specific and concrete, and there are plenty of things it doesn’t mean.