Recently I’ve been reading the book America Moves West by Robert E. Riegel and Robert G. Athearn and I was struck by the following passage:
As it does today, when applied to such fields as science, industry, education, or religion, ‘frontier’ meant something new, relatively unknown, but always promising and exciting. To the pioneers the word inevitably suggested the West, but beyond that it had no specific geographic definition. One cannot pinpoint the frontier on a map. Unlike the European concept of the frontier as a national boundary, it was vague and ever-moving, a shadowy thing that combined physical characteristics with mental attitudes.”Riegel
This understanding of the frontier was fundamentally different from the one that the Europeans held. As the historian Frederick Jackson Turner noted:
“. . . the frontier is the outer edge of the wave – the meeting point between savagery and civilization . . . The American frontier is sharply distinguished from the European frontier – a fortified boundary line running through dense populations. The most significant thing about the American frontier is that it lies as the hither edge of free land . . .”Turner
Since I first started playing Dungeons and Dragons nearly sixteen years ago I’ve found myself often struggling with world building as I have attempted to rectify this internal understanding of the frontier that I have as an American with the formal understanding of the term that follows the European understanding. This struggle has often found me creating worlds that straddle the line between the American frontier and a pseudo-European world with the result being wholly unsatisfying for me.
These passages from Riegel and Turner have helped me realize that I need to make a decision on the sort of world that I want to go exploring with my players when I began creating my home games. I either need to fully embrace the idea of the European frontier or the American frontier and commit wholly to the idea.
As of the time of this writing the idea that the frontier is “the meeting point between savagery and civilization” appeals to me as the ideal way to build my worlds. It’s a less refined version of the worlds we explore, with less civilized protections, but with more opportunities for adventure.
It bares more thought.
Riegel, Robert E. and Robert G. Athearn. America Moves West. HOLT, RINEHART AND WINSTON, INC. USA, 1964.
Turner, Frederick Jackson. The Significance of the Frontier in American History. DIGITAL Accessed 4/22/2020