Friday, January 28, 2011

Open Friday: Deviant Settings

Clearly, my personal preference is for homebrew settings over prepackaged ones, but not everyone shares that preference. What really interests me right now are campaigns based on an existing setting that deviated from the published version of it in some way. So, for all of you out there who have used a setting written or inspired by someone else, I'd love some concrete examples of how you changed the setting through play, especially if those changes made the setting quite different than the one on which it was based.


  1. I've been calling my current campaign "Gothic Greyhawk". I wanted to start with a fairly stock medieval setting and adjust it to feel more like the legendary Europe of "Three Hearts and Three Lions", with a healthy does of horror; it has the Law vs Chaos themes, the conflict of a monotheistic church vs the chaos of Faerie, as well as themes of gothic horror. The home kingdom, Sterich, has been recast as a misty land like the central Carpathians, a place where folks huddle by the hearth and things go bump in the night.

    Races of Greyhawk are being recast into roles that fit the themese (faux Celts, Saxons, Franks, etc) and the pantheon was the first thing to get chucked.

    Link to Gothic Greyhawk

    Seeing as 13,000 undead recently got released via Death Frost Doom, the home area has just become a zombie apocalypse and the setting could be sliding into survival horror.

  2. does Middle Earth in the 4th Age count? I did a nice little campaign with elven fascists trying to repopulate Linden.

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  4. I haven't done wholesale alterations of a published setting but have incorporated bits of published settings into my campaign world.

    Freeport, for example, exists in my campaign world (Gaile) with changes made to its gods, organizations and political alliances. I'm also thinking of using large chunks of Ptolus to represent one of my nations' capital cities.

  5. I had a version of Karameikos that strayed pretty far. The Duke was actually a "bad guy" with great PR. Black Baron was a sort of "lesser of two evils" kind of guy who used questionable means to oppose Stefan. The elvenguard was basically being blackmailed into supporting the Duke and the Church of Karameikos was running a low-profile Inquisition.

    On the surface, all the NPCs and stuff seemed just like in the GAZ, but a little scrutiny revealed contradictions and the like.

    Sadly, the campaign fizzled before most of this came to light. :-(

  6. I'm currently using 2nd Age Glorantha with T&T. No real changes to the setting, but the rules & atmosphere of T&T, which are less gritty and sombre than RuneQuest's, definitely make it a lighter game.

  7. We played a short 'darker and edgier' Dragonlance campaign in the 90s. The setting was predicated on the idea that Krynn as presented in DL canon was actually nothing but the 'crapsack world' ant farm of a bunch of ant-frying, attention-deficit demiurges who loved to play blame the victim.

    Yes, the DM had been reading far too much Shadowrun, Kult and early WoD material, but his take on things (quasi-Olympian gods, the Mages of High Sorcery as a mafia, heresy hunts by the secretive cults of the neglectful gods, etc.) could actually be textually supported by passages from the novels, modules and "Dragonlance Adventures" hardback.

    It... wasn't pleasant. But it did show even Dragonlance could be something other than Larry Elmore shiny heroes chuffing along plot railroads.

  8. Running a "homebrew" D20 Star Wars campaign set 12 years after Return of the Jedi - Leia is a Jedi assissting Luke in training new Jedi aboard a decommissioned Super Star Destroyer, Leia and Han are married but no kids, General Solo on long range mission trying to clean up hold out Imperial elements. Alderan being rebuilt as a massive space station (built upon the Death Star prototype abandoned at the MAW facility and dragged back to the Alderan system.) The newly reformed Republican Senate is hiring adventurers as "trouble shooters." That is waht the current group of players are...and they recently discovered that the "original" Sith race may be making a return to the Galaxy >;-)

  9. Unsurprisingly, I DM in Greyhawk, but I'm also an addicted settings designer, so my Greyhawk is closely-tied to a parallel Prime, which is my homebrew Mendenein setting. Several factions co-exist in both settings (like the Hierarchs, Circle of Eight, Iuz, various demon princes, etc.), and I've tended to alternate which setting PCs start in, in order to then spring the 2nd world and the revelations of the inter-planar dynamics on them.

    For some Greyhawk campaigns, I've also moved quite a distance away from the published versions: I've run an ice age Greyhawk, as well as a version of Greyhawk set in 175 CY, about 400 years before the 576 CY "start date" for AD&D Greyhawk; and, I've excised large swaths of Greyhawk canon from my campaigns (rewriting the 2e history of the Great Kingdom without animuses, for example).

    I've also leveraged large swaths of ICE's MERP books in my campaigns in the past, in particular Ardor and Angmar. Tolkien was as strong an influence on my gaming as Moorcock and Leiber and Farmer when I was younger, though I tended to leverage the wider tapestry of the Silmarillion moreso than The Hobbit or LOTR---the clear alignment to Greyhawk, with an active evil god as your foe---I'm sure didn't hurt :D In fact my first "homebrew" setting was a homebrew map that mashed-up placenames from Greyhawk and Beleriand.


  10. I like the published settings, if as a source for ideas if nothing else. However, for many years, I was afraid to do too much with them, for fear of messing with the metaplot. However, now most of them have moved on to 4th ed or just plan old defunct. I really enjoy Planescape, especially free of executive meddling.

  11. I once run a few sessions with 1930's pulp Forgotten Realms, in the Cormyrean republic facing Fascist Sembia and Stalinian Zenthil Keep...

  12. I played Greyhawk (using the old folio version) for many years as my first campaign. By the time it wound down, it was almost unrecognizable as compared to the published materials that came out later. The fact that the folio was pretty much the sole source of info (and a thin one at that) except for the occasional bit in Dragon Magazine allowed for this huge, character- and play-generated change. If the setting had been bombarded with splat books and filler material, the tendency would've been to incorporate them all, to the overall detriment of my campaign. A setting product is fine, as long as when you start playing it, you exclude or severely limit the amount of add-on materials, since you've now made the setting your own. Of course, that flies in the face of the business model and human nature.

  13. For years I DMed some campaigns in the World of Greyhawk setting in which I placed an India/Cambodia type subcontinent in western Oerik, and placed Kara-Tur from Oriental Adventures west of that (to make it the Far West). That was probably a pretty common alteration.

    I also made Ket one of the most cosmopolitan and open-minded nations in the Flanaess (as opposed to the somewhat belligerent version presented in the official setting), and described His Illustrious Glory, Zoltan, Beygraf of Ket, as a renaissance man and visionary (who, it turned out, became a patron of the player-characters).

  14. I run a Birthright campaign for almost six years, using D&D 3.5 as the basis but with a very low-magic mindset. The characters weren’t regents but regular adventurers (most of them weren’t even blooded). They started the campaign as a more or less anonymous adventuring group, and with the passing of the years went to become “larger than life heroes” known and respected all over Anuire. By the end of the campaign I had modified the setting a lot, with two major wars and some other world-shattering events. For instance, when the group was 9th level or so they failed to thwart the plans of the Warlock of the Stonecrowns (one of the main villains of the setting), who then captured and kept them prisoners in some kind of stasis chambers. When they were rescued at last (by the only PC in the group who hadn’t been caught), they discovered that seven years had passed, and the world “wasn’t Kansas anymore”. The Warlock was now a sort of Demigod who controlled almost all the lands of Anuire, and had created clones of the PCs to work for him as his minions and agents. I drastically changed the political map of Cerilia and inserted into the game a lot of rules and flavour from the Midnight setting, in order to give the rest of the campaign a “World War II resistance” feel. It was a lot of work, but I think it went pretty well, giving a refreshing change of pace to the rest of the campaign and allowing me to run some classic high-level modules (such as a modified version of Ravagers of Time, thanks to the clones subplot), which otherwise would have been difficult to use with such a low magic setting.

  15. I think my original Iron Kingdoms campaign probably counts.
    Privateer Press released a slim volume to describe their world, called "Lock and Load", which was intended as a primer for the upcoming release of the players' guide. It had just enough political, ethnic, and geographic information to fire the imagination, leaving vast swathes of the the included map unexplained.
    We played the heck out of that game in the year or two before the official campaign guide came out, and by that point the only similarities between my game and what was in that book were the names and some spare details conjured from that little primer book. As the years have gone by and others in my group have taken over the GM position, they've continued on in the world we created together for that first campaign, borrowing occasionally from the published material, but investing far more heavily in our own ideas.
    Perhaps it's not quite the same as the old school experience, IK being a fairly recent setting, but it definitely has produced some of the best campaign sessions I've ever experienced.

  16. I can't say I've ever changed a setting, per se, but that's because I tend to be an early adopter of settings I like -- in this case, Greyhawk and WFRP's Old World. In both cases, there was so little out that my interpretations went their own way, so, by the time lots of new "official" material came out, I could almost argue the were deviating from *me*. :)

  17. Wow - lots of really cool ideas here.

    does Middle Earth in the 4th Age count? I did a nice little campaign with elven fascists trying to repopulate Linden.

    I was going to ask if Middle Earth counted, too.

    We played a d20 version that took place in the 4th Age, 1000 years after the War of the Ring. It was basically the DM's way of answering all of the "unanswered questions" that occur in Tolkien:

    1) We were in the East, where Tolkien said the two "Blue Wizards" had wandered off to, but then never mentions again. In this campaign, each of the wizards had eventually started up their own kingdoms, which became rivals and they were constantly at war with one another. The PCs started out in a little neutral area between both of those countries.

    2) There is mention that Morgoth will remain chained up in the Void "as long as the Valar sit in Valinor." Something like that (I'm not by any means a Tolkien scholar). Anyway, so in this campaign, one of the last dragons in existence basically made himself more powerful by "sucking the power" of all of the few remaining dragons and then gave himself a "soul" using the soul-stealing sword from "The Witchfire Trilogy" to kill one of the two remaining blue wizards and steal his soul, so that he had a soul to enter Valinor. And then he killed the gods. That made it possible for Morgoth to be released form the Void.

    3) We met the brown wizard, Radaghast (who was basically like a high level Druid), who had basically been described by Tolkien as "wandering off into the wild."

    There's so much more... I can barely remember it all, as the campaign ran over the course of eight years, but it was probably the most creative role-playing campaign "setting" I've ever played in. What was really cool was that, since we were in the East in the beginning of the campaign, the DM never actually told us that we were in Middle Earth, and we played in the game for two years (two years of playing time, not "game time") before we actually realized that we were in Middle Earth. He was trying to keep it a secret from us just to see if we'd eventually figure it out.

  18. I have two PbP games currently going. One is an OD&D/Whitebox version of Greyhawk
    where the premise is: it's cy610, but history only contains the 'old guard' canon, and has proceeded on the course which Gary set for it in the early 80s.

    The other is a PbP Eberron game using Labyrinth Lord
    where warforged are only rarely sentient, anything reminiscent of Final Fantasy is rejected in favor of things reminiscent of Miyazaki, there is a deep undertone of Yog-Sothothery and gothic horror, and although magic is almost as ubiquitous as published, it's far from innocuous.

  19. My next campaign will be set in Middle-OErth :

    Martin said much interesting things for me.

  20. I'm in the middle of doing something like that with a Birthright campaign I am GMing. The players haven't done anything too dramatic to the setting yet, but I've made arcane magic very rare. There's only one college of sorcery and it's been around for less than 200 years. I changed the setting before we started so that arcane magic is actually derived from ancient draconic lore (since dragons are virtually extinct in Cerilia) and so this gives it both rarity and a higher value. For instance, at the start of the campaign only one NPC (a villain) has access to the fireball spell.

    Maybe I should start writing session reports for my game - I'll let you know if I get something like that started.

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  22. For two years I ran a rolemaster campaign (I know, I know) in Glen Cook's world of the Black Company. I based it on the first book with no Black Company in existence. The party began as soldiers in the army of the Limper (one of ten enslaved soceror generals who served a mysterious ruler/empress called the Lady). The party started out in a far away outpost in the mountains. At the time the Army had discovered ruins of an ancient oriental empire. After exploring/adventuring and leveling up the party moved south and became embroiled in the politics and war between the empire and rebellion. The flavor of the campaign was morally ambivalent with neither the empire or rebellion holding the high moral ground. The campaign began to become a bit Monty Hallish when the rebellion obtained the ability to split the atom (by a sorceror selling his soul). The rebellion began using it and denotated a nuclear device in one of the jeweled cities. Over the top I know, but it was good times.


  23. Well, I'm constantly tinkering with Traveller's Third Imperium. See example here:

    I generally avoid pre-packaged settings. Real history is rich and filled with great details, people, and bizarre states and places to steal. The setting I'm currently working on is a variant Europe where Charlemagne didn't divide his empire between his brothers, but instead handed the throne to his eldest heir. 200 years later, the Kingdom of the Franks is the power in Western Europe, facing off against the Byzantine Empire. Oh, since the historical Carolingian line had died out, I have the Capetian dynasty just starting out, with sorcerous Merovingian holdovers lurking in the shadows...

    Being a historian makes world building and modifying a joy.

  24. My Glorantha campaign started deviating from the official campaign from almost day one. Mainly because I liked the cult write-up of Kyger Litor in the 2nd ed rules and wanted to play a human Kyger Litor cultist. [And incidentally they see using the Darkness element since it is an actual element, whereas Light is the property of the Fire element that overcomes Darkness.] Then the general technology level of the Third Age always struck me as more early (or in some cases late) iron age than bronze age. So bronze became iron and iron became steel. Uz and Aldrayami still had iron allergies, which was a major reason their cultures were in retreat.

    Of course Glorantha changed massively over that period of time, as Greg Gregged himself repeatedly and revised the original elements. Which accelerated with the introduction of Hero Wars and Heroquest (a game system whose philosophy I detest immensely). I continued to use these new elements but integrated them into the established campaign.

    I really liked the original Ironclaw rules, and wanted to use them. They worked really well with the new elements being put out by Moon Design but kept a much more simulationist feel.* So I adapted my Glorantha game to them. At this point, to remind players that it was no longer generic Glorantha I changed the name of the Orlanthi gods (eg "Huma Grim" instead of "Humakt") and reset it in "The Dragon Isles" instead of "Dragon Pass" (not too great a change since they hadn't travelled very far in some 20 years of game).

    I can still use the official campaign material, but the difference is both subtle and profound, and hearkens back to 2nd edition (for example, players go on "Rune Quests" to gain knowledge of the runes).

    [* The new MRQII has actually done a wonderful job capturing the essence of the old Chaosium second edition rules, but with modern Gloranthan sensibilities (albiet in the Second Age). Highly reccomended. Pavis Rising heakens back to the old Praxian boxed adventures for quality.]

  25. I ran an extended Privateers & Gentlemen campaign (with more than a touch of Flashing Blades thrown in. Even used Heart of Oak as the naval combat rules.

    The only problem was it was set in the 24th Century, and in space. The Core Worlds were Europe. England became Earth (the Moon was Portsmouth). France was Alpha Centauri (settled by slowship centuries previously). Spain was Sigma Draconis; they invented the hyperdrive and thus were the first to establish colonies beyond the Frontier (the Americas et al).

    It was fun. Especially since I could use the actual historical timeline and none of my players twigged until we got to the American Civil War. [It was a time when history was very badly taught over here.]

  26. In Pendragon I allow female knights (although it is considered a perverted French custom). Because some of my players were girls who wanted to play female knights. Apart from that, Pendragon is probably the campaign that is most resistant to change (because everyone has a very good idea of what it means to be an Arthurian Knight).

    My Mechwarrior campaign used power-armour battlesuits instead of 'mechs. Turned into a cross between Living Steel, Battletech, and Fading Suns.

    I can't help fiddling with stuff.

    Even if I adore a setting I will generally do massive rewrites to ensure a consistency of setting before I run the game. If I can't visualise the world in my mind's eye it's not good enough for me to run. And most published settings fail that consistency test.

    I'll also readily swap out rule systems if I prefer another game system to the one that comes with the setting. I generally go with cleaner and simpler than more mechanically complicated. [Underworld was an example of a wonderful setting with a hopeless rule system. Wonderland is another (although I have yet to decide what rules system I will use for that).]

    And even then, the actual campaign setting is almost always developed during play from the actions of the players and will soon mutate away from the "official" setting. It's inevitable. I want to here the player's stories, not perform a story of my own.

  27. I worked on a 4th Age Middle Earth using 4th Edition rules, but I've not actually did much with it.
    My current campaing is Greyhawk centered, with Cerilia(BirthRight) as a continent, DarkSun elements in the Sea of Dust, Al Qadim elements in the Baklunish West. The design of my cosmology is borrowed from 4th Edition, but with redesigned planes. I've borrowed from the Song of Ice and Fire for a pseudo-Christian church, and Stephen Brust's novels for a more stylized Great Kingdom. I've mined the wikipedia page for Hellboy for more than I care to admit, and I'm still stealing, sifting, and grafting into my sandbox.

    First time I've freed myself to alter the published campaign and some of the best games I've ever ran.

  28. My Big-Ass 3/3.5E campaign started in mostly-Greyhawk, then added a Planescape Great Wheel, and then grew D&Dish Central New Jersey (Lambertville, in the Barony of Hunterdon, is the center of the current action).

  29. I've been developing a "dreamland" setting in my world that the PC's may venture from time to time. Its' heavily inspired by HPL's own, but I've included ideas from Alice in Wonderland, OZ, DC Comic's Bizzaroland, surreal artists and photographers such as Dali and Joel Peter Witkins, a bit of William S. Burroughs infamous book "Naked Lunch", Disneyland, and even my own dreams.

  30. I think you mean "derived settings." As a journalism major, I know that "deviant" usually has to do with morals. Perhaps "The Book of Vile Darkness" would qualify as a "deviant settings."

  31. My 4th Age Middle Earth campaign was also run in d20 (like Martin's). I worked on the assumption that some elves (the fascist ones) stayed behind in Middle Earth to rebuild a new Elven era.

    I've always thought elves were dodgy. The least believable part of Tolkien (well, besides that insufferable Bombadil chap) is that they would ever give up claims to greatness.

  32. I ran a version of Greyhawk wherein Oerth was cut off from the outer planes, apart from some permanent gates. The result was that churches lost their power, diseases broke out in cities, and the rich fled into the rural areas (where druids became the new religious power). A few wealthy temples were able to construct spelljamming vessels (a gift from Celestian to those like-minded faiths) to allow their clergy periodic access to their gods while in "heaven". Genies (efreeti, dao, marid, etc.) assumed a greater presence in the affairs of man as they were summoned instead of demons, devils, ki-rin, etc., and as such, Al-Qadim cultural elements began to appear in the more Euro-centric regions.

  33. I don't tend to use pre-packaged settings either unless, as I've noted, they represent some well known license like Star Trek or Ghostbusters. In those cases I stay pretty tightly to canon.

    The only exception would be DC Comics. I've run numerous different alternate Earth settings and rarely play strictly to canon, since canon changes constently in comics anyway.

  34. Does Judges Guild Wilderlands / City-State count? I mean, it was awfully sketchy to start with, and the DM was expected to write the details anyway, so maybe it's not at all unexpected that any two DMs' worlds would differ significantly.

    I sat with an overall map of the whole thing, divided it up into regions, then came up with races, cultures and so on that were pretty much my own. As the players moved around, I developed towns and so forth. Major cities I usually lifted from another product. For instance, I used Chaosium's Sanctuary down southwest of Viridistan. I used a town from Dragon Magazine for someplace north of the Invincible Overlord. I stuck the Elves and Dwarves books from Mayfair off to the west. I put the First Fantasy Campaign where Judges Guild suggested, then decided Middle Earth was on the opposite side of the planet. Mystara was in the future.

  35. Well its not really a full setting but I ran the Keep on the Borderlands with a party of evil characters and had them start in the Chaotic Temple, they were given a quest to destroy the Keep in 4 months gametime, they could either massacre the cave tribes or enslave them. it was a great time, I've never had my players cooperate so well in game before.

  36. We're playing through King Arthur Pendragon's GPC right now. We're not using the default setting; but, two counties over. The game has become very political, with strong religious and fey undercurrents - all the while being as deadly as Pendragon can be.

    The Player Knights' actions have ended up destroying a Saxon kingdom that, in the canon, ended up dominating the region for years. This, in turn, has totally disrupted the inter-county feuds that erupted after King Uther's death. This is very different from canon. Since all the differences from canon are the direct result of player actions, it makes for a deeper story.

  37. faustusnotes said: I worked on the assumption that some elves (the fascist ones) stayed behind in Middle Earth to rebuild a new Elven era.

    That was another part of the campaign in which I played. We visited a country called "Chey Sart" where some of the remaining elves had basically "taken over" and instituted themselves at the top of an aristocratic hierarchy, as sort of like "god/priests." Below them came human warriors, and after them, human workers and artists, and then a group that fell outside of the system, the "undesirables." The country was roughly where modern-day India would be...

    Another favorite little touch I really enjoyed was visiting a city made of white stone that, when viewed from above, would have been in the shape of a five-fingered hand. The city was called "Samar's Hand." Apparently a thousand years earlier it had been founded by the wizard Saruman, and had used to be called "Saruman's Hand" but the name had been corrupted and shortened over time. It was located roughly where Uzbekistan would be in modern-day, around the site of a city we know as "Samarkand."

  38. We played in a very standard Oerth but we made "erroneous" assumptions about the Baklunis.

    Since we thought they worshipped only Neutral Goddesses of Balance like Istus, Geshtai and Xan Yae, our Baklunis became a kind of "gynocratic" culture (with female astrologers, fatalistic Seers and Oracles, Fantasy Eastern Amazons).

    We were disappointed when we discovered the Official Baklunis followed a male Prophet and a God of Law named Al'Akbar (how unoriginal) and we tacitly agreed that the Canon was wrong and misrepresented the Baklunis. :)

  39. I never ran, but designed, a lot of these kinds of campaigns for myself (and I hope I get to run some of them someday).

    --My D20 Conan games get a lot of Call of Cthulhu thrown in.

    --Eberron campaign set during the first settlements of humans in Khorvaire. Technology level would be synonymous to the dark ages, and the human characters would be kind of like Saxons, Franks, or even Vikings among the vast ruins of oriental-style humanoid kingdoms.

    --Lord of the Rings game using Decipher's rules set during the mid-3rd Age, when the last King of Arthedain, Arvedui, was facing the Witch-King of Angmar.

    --Every time I run the Forgotten Realms, I heavily tinker with the mood and setting. I make Cormyr far, far less feudal and more Renaissance French, for example. The Elves and Dwarves I make extremely rare and reclusive and more Tolkien-esque. I make the setting far more low-level, magic rarer, people less cosmopolitan and more suspicious/superstitious.

    --My college Dark Sun game gave me the opportunity to take elements of the Prism Pentad novels but throw the canon storyline out the window, by-and-large. And the Jagged Cliffs region got an enormous overhaul.

    --I only consider Episodes IV, V, and VI to be STAR WARS canon, along with KoToR. Otherwise, everything from Episodes I-III, the novels, and the comic books gets tossed whenever I run STAR WARS.

  40. Like Gordo, I also tweaked Iron Kingdoms quite a bit. Not just adding airships (*ducks flame from every IK canon supporter*) but tweaking the entire world to give it more of a campy, Victorian-adventurer, H.R. Haggard kind of feel. Threw out all the campaign plotlines and made it about exploration.

  41. We play Mystara for two years now. In our early adventures started to change some little things and try to be more "historical". For example: Thyatis is very similar to the Roman Empire, and in our campaign some barbarian peoples invade it. Karamikos is very similar to the Middle Ages, and we play with the fight between State an Church, etc.

  42. We were disappointed when we discovered the Official Baklunis followed a male Prophet and a God of Law named Al'Akbar (how unoriginal) and we tacitly agreed that the Canon was wrong and misrepresented the Baklunis. :)

    If it's any consolation, that version of the Baklunish isn't present in Gygax's own writings on the subject, having been added later. Granted, it's pretty clear that they were intended as a fantasy Arabian culture of some sort, but details were scarce enough and the fact that most of their major deities were female made it quite possible to come up with an alternate interpretation of them.

  43. In my version of Thunder Rift, there have been three major groups of settlers:

    1. Greeks (survivors of Troy and others who got lost sailing back to Greece).

    2. Mazticans from Forgotten Realms.

    3. A mixed batch of Thyatians and Traladarans from Karameikos (from Mystara).

    Religion and language in the Rift is based strongly on these three groups.

    I also have multiplied all town populations by 10 and the size of the Rift by 10.