Allô Olivier, c'est super the te voir ici. Back to English, anyway. Let me address your questions.
"it looks you're aiming for an "exotic fantasy" setting which could go either in a "Jorune" direction or in a more pulpy direction"
You hit it right. My idea is to go in a more pulpy direction, but in a very wide sense of pulpy that includes most anything produced in the XIX century, from Sir Walter Scott to Jules Verne, from Haggard to Féval or Salgari, all writers that, IMO, are as much part of the pulp cannon as Fritz Leiber , Burroughs or Howard. I was raised on this diet and my game is a direct output of that diet.
"in your last mail you mentioned ER Burroughs but I also thought of Robert E. Howard's ALMURIC (which is BTW very Burroughsian)."
I read most Tarzan novels. The ones I enjoyed more were the ones about lost civilizations. From Howard I read Conan and, very much thanks for your encouragement, Kane. I never read Almuric, though.
"I love the idea of the multi-cultural yet enclosed setting, with war as the main "motor element" - I also think that it will allow you to solve the "so ? this is all very well but what are we supposed to do ?" problem often found in RPGs which have an "exotic" setting."
Actually this is a lesson I got from Conan... and from Mendes Pinto. The best way to start things is at the middle of the action, and the stronger the action the better. The setting can be used in many different terms, of course, but I thought the best way to enter it with the eye of the beast focuzed on you.
"You also seem to be willing to have a background that can be explained in a very concise way (a few pages ?), which is IMO also a great idea."
This has to do with my own concept on how to approach an rpg. I'm one of those that just can't stand games where you need to go through hundreds of pages before starting playing. Buh to Exalted and similar games. In rpg terms I was fed on RuneQues 2, a game where you got into action with only the smallest glimpse of the game world. That's also true about the fiction I mention above. From my point of view the players must be provided with a concise explanation of the setting and that explanation must be enough to play it faithfuly (in the sense that it's better to be approximately correct than certainly wrong, to use another ready-made idea). If a game requires the player to get a PhD on the game world before playing then there's something deeply wrong with the game.
"Your four people seem interesting - although perhaps a bit schematic."
Well, it was just a teaser. In fact the gameworld combines plenty of things I have in my mind, some of which have been there for long. Things that have crossed my columns for RPGnet from Mendes Pinto to Verne, from Donjonfeist to the proposed Ivanhoe.
I have a friend that is a tv and cinema director and not long ago he told me something that became very important for me when I think about rpgs.
What he said was about people that enter movie making. He said that some people have in their minds the very strong image of a scene, and nothing else. The problem with these people is that they have to learn that a scene does not a movie make. Now, that's exactly what happened to me the first time I roleplayed. I had a great scene in my mind... and nothing else. The players enjoyed that scene but the game almost stopped after it. In this game I want to move past the first scene.
He also told me that a lot of people have a whole concept in their minds but that a real movie usually does not accomodate everything we want to do. The director has to chose and drop things, no matter how great these may seem to him. Once more, that's something happening with Ridgeworld. I'm incorporating many ideas I had for other settings, and I'm dropping out a lot of things in the process.
This is to say that there is a whole lot of things behind Ridgeworld, things that are not - I hope - perceptible for the players. That's part of the fun, playing with things that are fairly known, combine them into something different, and see if the players are able to pick up the "hypertext". They don't need to know about it and if they enjoy the game despite not knowing it, then I've done it.
"Each race seems to be associated with one main archetype"
Not exactly, once more that's just the appetizer. I have very strong ideas about each race, each one has a full history explaining from where they come and how they got into where they are. At the present stage that's just in my mind. I plan to write it down, but this does not mean that I'll just post it upfront for everybody to know. I tend to think that it is more interesting for people not to know about it until they have enjoyed the game. Not that these explanations have no impact on the game. I don't like to have a "meta-game" that conditions play.
Let me give you an example that will make this better understood. Suppose I'm the original writer of Robinson Crusoe and want to publish it as a game world. I could say, "here you have this Englishman stranded in a Caraibean island until the day he meets the local Caribe natives." Or I could say, "here you have this man that looks like this and this and behaves like this and this, finding these other men that look like this and this and behaving like this and this, in a place that's like this and this", without giving names to them. In Ridgeworld I'm following the second approach. What do you think?
"If the game is all about conflict, then the sensible option would be to have all the player-characters coming from the same faction / folk - in which case the "single racial archetype" choice will be a problem. And if PC groups are supposed to be multi-cultural (ie one different race/archetype for each player), then how will /could such a group function in a war-dominated environment ? Please tell us more about this !"
Good question. The game deals exactly with things I love, with people at the fringes, the gray areas. All conflicts have plenty of these where people from all sides have to come together and sometimes work together. In fact, the black and white is usually what people tell to those that stay back home, when in the line of action things are a lot more blurred. As always my inspirations are very concrete and historical. Consider the France of the 100 Years War. Consider North Africa in the XVI century. Both sides present themselves involved in a no quarters given war at the ideological level, but on the ground things are a lot more fuzzy.
When I wrote about the wars in the Great Valley I didn't have the next comparision in mind which makes it all the better to explain what I have in mind: The Spanish in Central America, XVI century. How did they conquer the Aztecs in Mexico? By craftly playing the game of conflicts between the latter. When I write "Take your side and prepare for the fight" I don't necessarily mean "sides" as perceived by the rulers of the different powers. There are lesser rulers with their own agendas, and these may work against the objectives of their masters. Another example, Afeganistan and Iran in the course of the last half century. Just see how things changed while remaining the same!
As I said, I had to make choices. I could have taken the setting in very different directions. I would love to explore all those directions but it just is not possible. I'm sure that one day I'll say to myslef, "what I realy wanted to be playing is this and that, and I'm not doing it because I've followed this path", and next I'll add, "of course, if I had done that I would now be complaining for not being playing the War of the Zamrizz"...