I’ve been making impulsive RPG purchases over the past few weeks, burning through some Christmas gift cash. There are much more important things I need such as food, clothes and other essentials, but it wouldn’t be in the spirit of gift-giving if that tenner from my Auntie went towards a tank full of diesel for the car. Instead, I’ve been browsing through eBay looking to expand my RPG horizons.
I’ve been drawn towards a couple of games purely on their setting, as they both seem to offer an opportunity to explore imaginative corners of worlds that I find fascinating. I used to have the JUDGE DREDD RPG back in the day, but I’ve lost it along the way, I think we only played it once. What could be more appealing than to patrol Wincey Willis Plaza to apprehend a perp in Rusty Lee Block? Mega-City One is such a rich setting that the scenarios write themselves. I seem to remember being a bit po-faced about it when I was 15, but now I can see the humour would play well with our group.
I didn’t know anything about THE DYING EARTH RPG, produced by Pelgrane Press, until I spotted it on a shelfie. It was released in 2001, long after I’d stopped buying new games, and it’s one of those new-fangled story-based rules that sound interesting, but I can’t imagine actually playing them. The rules are very entertaining to read and worth it for the little quirky ideas and the additional detail around Vance’s Dying Earth.
This is the first of our One-D-Six lists. This is how it works – roll a d6 – 1 is a critical, while 6 is a fumble!
1 – CRITICAL HIT – The Young Kingdoms
The setting of the cyclical history of the Eternal Champion, which was conceived as an antithesis to the anodyne Middle Earth. The world of Elric is by turns exotic, nasty, inventive, diverse and fantastical and a natural setting for a role-playing system. The battle between chaos and law and the mastery of the elements and demons gives a very immersive and convincing magical system.
We were Moorcock fan-boys back in the day, so we would love the sense of being bit-players in the stories that we knew well by occasionally meeting characters from the books. Our Player Characters were Non-Player Characters in the stories of Elric.
Recently I’ve been rediscovering Jack Vance’s world set at the end of time, with the sun fading, a world where magic is freely available. Reading the yellowing pages of the paperbacks that I devoured as a teenage is a nostalgic trip, to a place and an author that I adored. It’s well documented that Gary Gygax took his inspiration for D&D magic from Vance, but other than ‘levels’ and the limits to memorising spells, the Dying Earth is far removed from the generic setting of GreyHawk. Foppish characters with razor-sharp wit, combined with elegant use of language make Dying Earth strange and wonderful.
Although we’ve never set any adventures in Vance’s world, after reading his books over the summer of 1986, my style of GMing was never the same, all of my Runequest Adventures were inflected through the prism of Vance. In 2005, when we had a brief dalliance with D&D, I created Azir Voon, a magician character inspired by the books of Vance. He studied at the Vermillion University and believed that that magic could be comprehended through the physiology of the eye. His motivation for delving through dungeons was to collect more specimens for his collection.
3 – Mega City One
Thanks to the recent publicity around the return of the Dark Judges and the Dredd Mega Collection, I’ve returned to Mega City One after a thirty year break. As a setting it’s sharply satirical, hyper-real and darkly humorous and the judges have a great Player Character motivation to stay ahead of the perps.
4 – Cthulhu (1920s)
Watch a season of BOARDWALK EMPIRE and you can appreciate why the roaring twenties is such a rich setting for role-playing. It has it all – gangsters, conspiracy, the rise of the KKK, republicanism in Ireland, and much, much more. This was a period of analogue globalisation, where it was possible to travel the world, but very slowly.
Cthulhu in the twenties works well because it was the age of exploration and plundering of ancient sites. It is possible to create world-spanning adventures yet create the experience of being isolated. Alone, with nothing but a brown derby… roll SAN.
5 – Glorantha
For much of the eighties, we were in a love/ hate relationship with our parallel existence on the plains of Prax. We loved the character of the place, the other worldly gods and creatures; we hated the fact it was so dense and that there were so many supplements that we couldn’t afford.
Now we are more relaxed and have a more laid-back attitude to the place, as we appreciate that OUR Glorantha can be very different from the published version. We have three versions in play at the moment: one in the corner of Prax, at the end of The River of Cradles in the employ of a Lunar noble; another campaign in the plains of Balazar, carving a living as a mercenary under the wary eye of the Lunars; and finally, a campaign set around Sartar, where barbarian clans are in open rebellion against the Lunar occupation.
6 – FUMBLE! – Gotham
I’ve never really been a fan of the ‘Supers’ genre of RPGs, preferring grit and jeopardy to sheer fire-power. If I had extending limbs, I don’t think I’d bother leaving the house.
If the recent TV series has told us anything, it that there is nothing intrinsically interesting about the Batman’s stomping ground – it’s New York with 40 watt bulbs – it’s the characters that give the place its colour. Specifically, it’s the bad guys that make the setting interesting, even the Batman is a bit boring. When’s the Penguin coming back on?