Unsung Settings & Themes

One of the main things I do with new RPGs is figure out how I’d use them to homebrew something… a setting, a theme, an adventure, etc.  I always have one-off ideas, but there are a few that have stuck with me for years, too.  And I’ve avoided investing too much time in them since going 3.5, thanks to the mountain of paperwork that those rules pile on top of the already-daunting task of world-building.

But, the many simpler OSR options make the prospect realistic again. So, I’ll probably be using some consistent themes as ways of focusing my perspective on OSR games, and you can expect to them come up quite a bit on this blog.

First, I’m a sucker for Gothic horror, so Ravenloft remains my favorite old-school D&D  setting, warts and all. So, look for lots of stuff in that vein. Beyond that, in no order of preference, you’ll also see:

1) Divebars & Dragons: The fantasy of being a rock star is probably more common than the fantasy of being an elf… but why choose, when you can do both?  Struggling rock & roll bands have a lot in common with adventuring parties, after all: both will go on fool’s errands and dubious quests to dark holes for the promise of gold and glory.  So, just set up a campaign that has the all the window dressing of a standard pseudo-medieval D&D setting, but where the party is a band of musicians touring the countryside hoping to hit the big time. Where magic-as-technology exists only for musical instruments (cordless “electric” instruments that can be just as loud as their real-world equivalents but have magical effects, for instance). And where the music industry is controlled by dragons…

2) Heroes & Hydras:  Greek mythology always appealed to me a lot more than Tolkien.  And I’ve always wanted to either run or play in a setting inspired by these myths. Island-hopping instead of dungeon-delving.  Human characters related by blood to one of the gods, instead of the default array of demihuman races. And those gods often directly meddle in the heroes’ lives…

3) Colonial America, Twice Removed: I also loved Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker series, but only because I already loved early American history anyway.  The fusion of fantasy gaming with this period has thus always intrigued me.  I once pitched the idea to a group as “the French & Indian War by way of Peter Jackson and Dan Brown.”  It didn’t take, but I still think it’s got a lot of potential.

4) Knights & Knaves: a chivalric setting full of jousting tournaments and questing knights in gleaming armor. Think Arthurian & Carolingian myths combined with Grimm’s Faerie Tales. All PCs are human, and all are warriors of some kind.  Magic is mysterious, menacing, and almost always beyond the PCs’ direct control.

5) Tooth & Claw:  from Aesop’s Fables to Kung Fu Panda, myth and fantasy are full of stories that feature wise, talking, and/or magical animals as either the heroes or the heroes’ allies.  Why not play these animals?  Thankfully, I’m actually running this campaign now, but it’s still in its infancy.  If it continues and grows, I’ll post more about it.

Now, I know that nearly all of these themes have been covered in some RPG somewhere.  But that doesn’t stop me from returning to these themes and thinking of ways to put my own twist on them.  So, that’s one of the things I’ll be doing with this blog, too.

Up next: Part 2 of my Labyrinth Lord review, this time covering the Advanced Edition Companion… and building a character with it.

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About thebobgoblin

It's true. Birds are dinosaurs.
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