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Introduction to Each Post in This Series
On Friday (July 23, 2021), I mentioned that I was relearning AD&D 1st Edition (“1e“) with the intention of running it. As I read through the Player’s Handbook (“PHB“), certain mechanics or text will strike me as odd or surprising, but in either case worthy of discussion. In fact, the most surprising thing I’m experiencing is that I’m finding a lot more great ideas in 1e that we’ve since abandoned. I find myself asking, “Why?” As a result, I’ll be writing several posts over the next few weeks. I’m sure everything I’m thinking has been discussed before — sometimes be me — so perhaps my questions have been answered, and my concerns resolved, years ago. My experience with RPGs is relatively limited in scope, having played a small number of games, so I’m sure a lot of what I’m going to say has been incorporated into games I’ve never even heard of. (Some have certainly been addressed by future editions of D&D themselves.) Nevertheless, bringing this directed conversation to the public is new to me, so here it goes.
Posts in this series: | My Playlist | Campaign Settings and Pantheons | Languages | Level | “Dead Levels” | Division of Labor, Distance, and Time | Initiative | Combat Subsystems | Armor Class Ratings | Alignment and Reputation | The Feel of a School of Magic | Boring Magic Items | Ability Score Bonuses and Skill Rolls | The Problem with Democracies | Hitting More Frequently | Encounter Balance and Shooting Yourselves in the Feet |
As with my prior post, this post was written yesterday (7/25). That makes it the eighth post I’ve written in the series. It’s out of order because Mondays are for mythology, and writing something relevant to both topics is easy. So, here comes session 0.5.
A friend (Vic) and I are designing an RPG system. Our design sessions are months apart, so don’t expect this system to ever see the commercial light of day. It’s a fun exercise, so if nothing ever comes of it, I won’t feel I’ve wasted my time. As I was doing my homework on the campaign setting, a memory came to mind. In the original 1e Deities & Demigods, the chief god of the Egyptian pantheon was Ra. By 3rd Edition, it was Re-Horakhty (f/k/a, Horus). This switch mirrors the real-world switch of ancient Egypt. What we call the Egyptian empire lasted almost 3,000 years, and during those 30 centuries different dynasties held control. These dynasties were devoted to different temples, so as the dynasties rose and fell, so did the influence of the temples. Thus, the god seen as chief among the pantheon changed.
A Controversial Opinion?
As broad a view as that is, let’s go even broader and tie this to campaign setting design. First, I want to say that I believe campaign settings should be system agnostic, and game systems should be campaign setting agnostic. That is, if I want to run a campaign in the Forgotten Realms using Dragon Age RPG‘s AGE system, there’s no reason I can’t do it. Maybe I need to do a little tweaking to run Legend of the Five Rings using the Savage Worlds system, but if I can’t, the fault is on the system. Systems can and should be flexible enough to accommodate whatever story elements are needed. GMs, or at least the game designers themselves, could write a patch that addresses the needs of another setting. 1e is open-ended enough that you might think it was suited to this task, but I’m not certain that’s true. In any event, this opinion may or may not be well-received by game designers, but that’s not the point of this post; it’s just stated to give you context for my point.
A Long, Long Time Ago . . . .
Going back to my design efforts, I thought, “What if players wanted to play my game in a low-magic setting? That would certainly work in a more primitive campaign setting.” If we were inclined to create such a setting, why start from scratch? Why not just take the high-magic setting and make it more primitive? For example, the gods of the moon, sun, and sky would be the same god in a simplified pantheon. Not only would this save us a lot of work, but one setting would represent the natural evolution of the previous one, as that hypothetical god would be split into three different gods as mortals became more civilized and sophisticated. Oddly enough, that sounds like science, which branches out into an ever-increasing number of specialties the more we learn.
But wait! There’s more! A gold mine in a “wild west” setting could uncover archeological sites tied to the fantasy setting that came before it. The same could be said of a World War II setting where an occult-obsessed dictator could be looking for artifacts of great power. Depending on what type of game a DM wants to run, those artifacts could be nothing more than trinkets, or they could actually hold some form of supernatural or scientifically advanced power. Also consider that even in a high-fantasy setting, traveling the “astral plane” can take a character to space. The same setting could be adapted for the far future for a campaign resembling either Star Wars or Star Trek, and similar connections could be made.
What I’m saying is that all the campaign settings could exist as part of the same planet and universe in general. In a sense, it’s an ambitious plan, but in another sense, future efforts would be made easier by taking advantage of the ones that came before them. A large gaming company could easily do that, even one like WotC that’s already established. I suspect many people assume Theros, Faerun, and other planets all exist in the same universe, and the gods just have different names from planet to planet. In fact, I once read (can’t currently prove) that the Olman people from Greyhawk weren’t “like Aztecs,” but rather were Aztecs. Earth and Oerth were linked for some time by an interdimensional portal, so they were the same people. This might have been a fan theory, but clearly these connections are easy to make.
In an ideal world in which Vic or I win the lottery, maybe we’d commit to our efforts full time. If we did, this is definitely an idea I’d want to pursue.
Have any game designers connected campaign settings in this way?
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Dungeons & Dragons and Forgotten Realms are trademarks of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)