Alright, I took a little break for family holiday madness. It is time to resume my exploration of the many official settings of D&D. My previous posts (found here and here) listed the more traditional settings. Today I am going to write about the meta-settings.
I suppose I should talk about definitions first. Up until now, I wrote about “settings” which can be defined as a fictional world in which the action of the story or game occurs. “Sub-settings” are small, thematically encapsulated settings inside the larger one. Thematically they are different enough to feel like a separate setting, even if they are still inside it. A “meta-setting” is a setting which is, by its lore and design, is intended to be a cross-over between multiple settings. This means it may have its own lore and geography, but much of its content is about how it crosses with other settings.
Setting = Forgotten Realms
Sub-setting = Kara Tur
Meta-setting = Spelljammer
A meta-setting is a multiverse setting, where tales can stretch across multiple worlds. Their origins are almost always shrouded and obscure, but they have clear ties to other existing settings.
Alright, this is part two of my review of the official settings of D&D. The first one I covered Greyhawk, Mystara Forgotten Realms, and Dragonlance. The first three were developed as home campaign settings that were elaborated on to become settings. The fourth was made as adventures and was revealed over time. All of these were published when D&D was produced by TSR. Greyhawk was the only one directly influenced by Gygax and, arguably, could be his vision of what D&D settings should be. The rest were mostly developed by other people and sort of reflected range of what you could do with the game.
That said, all of the ones in the 70’s and 80’s at least started with certain commonalities. They all carried a flavor based on western European fantasy. You had Merlin-like wizards, knights, kings, peasents, elves, dwarves, halflings and all the other tropes one associates with western fantasy. While the sword and sorcery genre was what Gygax pointed to as his influences, it is hard to ignore how many of these tropes were influenced by the works of Tolkien. Any proper Tolkienian will tell you the elves and wizards in D&D don’t really resemble the Middle Earth versions. Their presence are elemental to the conception of the fantasy world. Simply put, Tolkien is the gold standard of world building up to that point, so anyone following him will have some similarities.
In the 90’s, and the post-Gygax era, TSR began to experiment more with their settings. They didn’t completely lose those elements and they continue today, but the willingness to experiment away from the classic western fantasy/Tolkien model is certainly there.
This idea started as a twitter thread. I started listing the various settings of D&D. That was both useful and a reminder of the limits of Twitter. What I ran into was the limited character count of twitter. This made me abbreviate the list in places where I shouldn’t have. I also failed to list a couple of major items. This post is part of my attempt to be more thorough.
In D&D, spells have names. This is based on some fiction and some legendary sources so it didn’t start with D&D. The notion of names having power is actually pretty old. The concept appears in ancient Egypt and Greece by various terms. By naming the spell, they describe its power.
Most of the spell names in D&D are relatively innocuous if descriptive of their effect. A Fireball spell creates a big ball of fire. Simple and easy. Then there are some spells that have little more story to them. They not only describe the effect, but carry the name of the wizard who created it.
This has been a part of D&D since the earliest days. It is evocative tells you something of the world. If you know that there is a Tenser’s Floating disk, then you know that Tenser is an important figure in the world your playing in. He made a spell that is important enough that you learned it without meeting him. You might have questions about this Tenser person? or Bigby? or Melf?
So, what do you do if your world has no Melf? No Bigby? Do you just leave them the same or do you change the names to reflect your world? This will depend on your world.
I have been thinking alot about Superhero RPG’s lately. I am a fan of them and I have been since the TSR Marvel Super Heroes Role Playing Game came out in the 80’s. I went on to run multiple games in multiple systems, but Champions certainly got most of my time.
I love comics…let me restate that…I LOVE COMICS!
I read a whole bunch of comics. I have been reading them pretty much since I learned how to read. Most of them were superhero stories, so enjoying superhero RPG;s ties into that. I fell off playing the superhero RPG’s about a decade ago. Over time as the design sensibilities of RPG’s moved on, but a lot of the superhero games did not follow those changes. There have been a couple of major games developed since I stopped running them, so maybe they caught up. I recently started watching Calisto6 rpg streams. It is a superhero game set in a cyberpunk future, using the Cypher system, and involving the players from the Star Trek RPG stream, Shields of Tomorrow. They are doing a good job with the games and it has refreshed my desire to make a good superhero RPG of my own.
With that in mind, here are some design guidelines I would use and look for in a superhero RPG.