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.
As a slight change of pace, I decided to review some books I have read recently. I do read things beyond game books. I know it comes as a surprise. I felt like I had things to say about these books and recommendations to make. I enjoyed these 4 books and thought I would share my thoughts on them with you. I am unlikely to waste time on books I didn’t enjoy, after all. Continue reading
Let me tell you about my love for Persons of Interest. The show was on the air between 2011 and 2016 and dealt with a range of complex notions in the framework of the shows premise, which is described in the opening narration.
You are being watched. The government has a secret system: a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know because I built it. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything. Violent crimes involving ordinary people, people like you. Crimes the government considered irrelevant. They wouldn’t act, so I decided I would. But I needed a partner, someone with the skills to intervene. Hunted by the authorities, we work in secret. You’ll never find us, but victim or perpetrator, if your number’s up…we’ll find you.
I am going to stray away from game design for a moment. I should start with, I am big fan of audiobooks. I have listened to hundreds of them, over the years, maybe a 1000 or more. I like them as a thing to have in my ear as I do other things. I listen to them while I do housework, walks, exercise in general, and long drives. Anytime there is empty time when I am doing something more or less mindless, I have my headphones in. This may make me anti social but between podcasts and audiobooks, I take in a lot of stories and information all the time.
So a friend shared the Boing Boing post about Googles new DRM free audiobook options. Cory Doctorow has banged the drum for a DRM free option on audiobooks for a while. In general, I tend to agree with him. Audible keeping the DRM format in place on the audiobooks is galling. There is no real argument for keeping it that make sense. The people who want to pirate can with little effort. It is only inconvenient to legal purchasers. They absolutely should have removed it years ago. So, we have reached the DRM free utopia with Google Play store. Huzzah!
Well….not so much.
I decided to try the Google audiobook offerings and see how they operate. I have had an Audible subscription for a very long time now and I have something to compare it to. Google offering a discount on your first audio-book is also a fine inducement. Let compare.
I am writing this for use in the Midgard setting, but I should state upfront that this can be used for just about any setting. A grappling style Monk would fit in just about any setting that allows monks. I recently wrote a blog post about the weird misconceptions held about martial arts and how they shape their presentation in D&D. One of the reasons I wrote that was because I could see some specific archetypes for Monks in Midgard I wanted to make.
Along with Jeff Greiner and Tracy Hurly, the usual hosts, I am also on with fellow guests Rabbit Stoddard, and Quinn Murphy. We talked about the Midgard Heroes Handbook. This wass one of the books from the Midgard kickstarter. This was the one with all the player options.
In this one we are again working with Tracy and Jeff. I am also joining Louis Brenton, a good guy I used to appear on Appendix N with. We discussed the Warlock patreon backed Midgard 5e zine.
I also produce a show for the Tome Show feed called the Monstrous Ecologist. In that, I am reviewing real world inspirations for monsters and their iterations through the editions of D&D. I have been a bit slack of late but I will give you a preview. The next one is a first part in a discussion of Liches.