Lost Realms of Hope and Joy
If you play Dungeons & Dragons, you’ve almost certainly encountered the trope of the ancient, evil empire. The one which left vaults of convenient treasure, and also a couple of rather cursed items that still blight the land.
There are dramatic reasons for this (namely: the main drive of dungeon delving is to get stuff out the dungeon; if that dungeon is ruthlessly defended by evil-thus-killable entities, that’s great, but if the stuff you’re getting is cursed, that’s even better).
It’s an old trope, and it works. Decline and fall, up and down, hubris and nemesis: they’re all part of an effective dramatic pattern.
But there are many reasons for an empire to fall, beyond their moral corruption. Such a diagnosis of an ancient culture’s collapse feels rather like the moralising account that the Roman Empire fell because of its moral decadence, rather than economic explanations, migration patterns, or simply over-extending over 1,000 years to the point that its peripheries… more or less thought of themselves as part of the Roman Empire for several hundred years after the core of the Empire had collapsed.
[That’s an actual thing, and it’s fascinating seeing how it happens.]
That is to say, there is a notion that moral failure and sin are inevitable, and it’s rather baked into D&D.
But why not have a lost realm of hope and joy? Not one corrupted by delving too greedily and too deep, or hubris, or love of war or immortality. Simply one that, when you find it, was clearly devoted to trying to make the world a bit better?
One that, when you plunder its (admittedly defended, since hope and joy are not the same thing as foolish and naïve, and perhaps dangerous, since realms of hope and joy might develop arts beyond those known to us today that can be dangerous if used ill-advisedly) relics, you find ways to make the world and yourself a better place?
Why did it fall? Who knows. Perhaps they decided it was better to move away from their eternal monuments and live in the knowledge they’d die. Perhaps there was a terrible drought, and unfortunately all their wonderful waterworks ran dry. Or perhaps time simply did what it does, and the world evolved and dissipated beyond our lost realm of hope and joy.
It’s a slightly sideways step from much of the D&D worldbuilding I’ve encountered. But it might be fun.