I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

My four favorite (meta)settings

I've written a few settings, modified more than a few. When I start a new campaign, I ask my friends in what setting they want to plan, unless I have some specif idea in mind. These are the four options I usually give them; they include all my favorite settings and most settings I can think of (Forgotten Realms, Planescape, Dark Sun, Dragonlance, Yrth, Tékumel, etc). You'll see there is plenty of overlap, but I like to keep these four separate - it helps my keeping the tone consistent and might point you to the kinds of settings you want to read about in this blog.


Adryon - Vanilla twist fantasy

Adryon was my first effort at creating my own world, full of fantastic races, different languages, exotic kingdoms, weird magic, portals and lots of cliches. Only after writing 300 pages I realized there are other more famous and well developed kitchen-sink settings such as the Forgotten Realms and Golarion out there, and they are not even my favorite type of setting. But Adryon, like these settings, has some hidden gems, and became my go-to setting for "vanilla fantasy" with a twist.

One thing I avoid is firearms; I like to keep technology limited and prefer a sword and sorcery vibe over renaissance and faux medievalism (although knights and inquisitor can often be found) .

Characters: the usual suspects, maybe a bit twisted, plus cat-folk, lizard-folk, elephant-folk and some others.

Locations: distant realms, barbarian wastelands, villages, cities and castles.

Inspirations: classic D&D setting and appendix N stuff (specially Howard, Liber and Moorcock, but also Tolkien), Old World (WFRP), Golarion.

In this blog: the empire of the dead; tag Adryon.


Days of the Damned - Dark Videogame World

I love "gothic videogames" since I was a child. Their settings, monsters and traps are better fitted for RPG than gothic novels and most horror movies (although mangas such as Berserk an Claymore are also big influences). Dark Souls is the most important inspiration in recent years. The idea is to put the PCs heroes in dark, desolate worlds where every institution is unreliable, there is no central government to keep things stable (also, no law and no boundaries) and the monsters are bigger and nastier than anything you will find in other settings. The gods are absent or unreliable, non-humans are rare and usually evil (although monsters of all kinds - even Hammer horror - are everywhere), and magic is corrupting. Nights are long and days are foggy and gray.

My (unpublished) Days of the Damned RPG focuses on this genre (here is a comparison with D&D e 13th Age mechanics). Although there are some good RPGs with similar themes out there (Dragon Age, SotDL, WFRPG), my own writing focuses on human PCs and avoids playing for laughs or embracing nihilism. The overall feel is of decadence and chaos, instead of post-apocalyptic badassery and rebirth.

Characters: human (or near human) eager to fight terrible monsters with limited resources. Don't get attached.

Locations: giant ruins, near-empty villages, haunted forests.

Inspirations: Dark Souls, Castlevania, Ghouls 'n Ghosts, The Witcher (haven't read the books), Berserk, and to a minor extent Bloodborne, Dragon Age, Skyrim, Ravenloft, Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Also, if you're looking for gothic RPG stuff, you can find awesome ideas in Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque.

In this blog1000 Lawful Deities; tag: Days of the Damned.


Ecumenopolis - High fantasy Multiplane Teradungeon

Other type of setting I enjoy is the "super high fantasy", where heroes deal with multiple planes of existence, mega-cities with endless dungeons, and magic so powerful and advanced that it can become indistinguishable from high tech.

Society is very urbanized and as complex as our own; warring factions are bound by byzantine laws enforced by sorcery; and the (very strange) gods will often meddle in the affairs of the City. Civilization is booming; it could reach singularity or destroy itself any day, although it has lasted for hundreds of years. Magical creatures and items are commonplace, but "traditional" fantasy are almost verboten: no orcs, dwarves, or traditional elves. Ravnica is my main inspiration here, but I there is plenty of other stuff I can find no better place for, such as Planescape and China Miéville.

D&D 5e seems to be a perfect fit; characters become extremely powerful and might even shape reality but are still susceptible of being brought down by a powerful gang of thugs.

Characters: anything goes, except the usual stuff!

Locations: mazes, enormous buildings, endless cities, back alleys, courtrooms and arenas.

Inspirations: Ravnica, Talislanta, Ptolus, Star Wars, Planescape, China Miéville.

In this blog: my "Lost Mines of Ravnica" series; and Planet Asterion has a similar vibe in some (but definitely not all) aspects. tag: Ecumenopolis.


Beneath the Bloody Sun - Post-apoc Survival Savagery

My own version of Dark Sun, with lots of Tékumel, Clark Ashton Smith and french comic book artists. Mother Nature was made barren and the world itself hates life. Now, the post-apocalyptic wastelands are ruled by city-states inspired by ancient history. Life is cheap and every resource - metal, magic, water - is scarce. Instead of horses and lions, you get feathered dinosaurs, giant worms and insectoid-people. There is radiation, teleportation, and lasers from ancient times  - but even the simplest technologies are indistinguishable from magic to the people of this primitive planet.

Characters: mostly humans but also other mutant and alien types.

Locations: great cities surrounded by walls, ziggurats, endless wastes of scorching sun.

Inspirations: see the complete list here, plus Talislanta, GURPS Fantasy II, etc. Tags: bloody sun.

Other settings

These are not the only settings I like, but only my favorites. I seldom write about settings that use honor and reputation as central themes, but I certainly enjoy using them (Pendragon, Westeros, L5R, etc.). I always wanted to play a nautical campaign, going from one exotic island to another, but never managed to to it. These are all fantasy settings, obviously - there is plenty of other stuff to use for horror, sci-fi, and so on.

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