Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Mausritter and a Resource Management Link Retrospective

Last year, I wrote the first post of what I hoped would be a series, where I kept up with what other roleplaying bloggers are writing about resource management in their games. That initial post didn't have a planned theme, although most of the posts I looked at were talking about encumbrance, and thinking about how to assign encumbrance slots.

At the time, I made a few recommendations. I suggested that encumbrance rules should be kept as simple as possible because different kinds of complexity add up very quickly. I suggested that encumbrance should be fairly consistent from character to character - although tying carrying capacity to Strength is popular, I think that allowing it to vary from 3 to 18 is too much. I noted that using the Strength bonus instead of the Strength score is one compromise solution; another would just be to make carrying capacity the same for everybody.

I praised Goblin Punch's "triple X depletion" rule. The idea here is that if you're using a supply that gets used up over time, you track the rate of it getting used up by marking three Xs next to the item name, and the third X means you've run out. If you combine that with a rule that says small items come in bundles of 3, suddenly you've got a fairly simple, fairly consistent rule for tracking supplies.

At the time, I came down against "backpack" rules that let you trade 1 or 2 encumbrance slots for a "backpack" that has extra slots inside. My reasoning was that this trade doesn't really feel like a trade-off to me. If there's no downside and only benefit to carrying a backpack, why not assume that every character has one, and just increase the base carrying capacity by whatever amount the backpack was going to add?

I've thought about this a little since then, and I think there is a purpose that "pack" rules can serve. If you want to have a second type of encumbrance with a second and smaller carrying capacity, then envisioning this as a "pack" seems like as good a mental image as any (although maybe it would be better to think of the primary encumbrance as a "backpack" and the secondary encumbrance as a "side-bag"?) I've mentioned this idea before - Stars Without Number has special encumbrance slots for items you can access instantly in combat, Numenera has special slots for magic items, Shadows of Brimstone has special slots for single-use items, etc.

I wouldn't recommend that you try to use more than one of these systems at a time, but clearly, some rules systems see a benefit to having a second, more restrictive carrying capacity for a special class of important items. I have a few suggestions. First, if "side-bag" capacity can potentially increase, I say let it grow based on character level, rather making a better bag something you can just find or buy. A more experienced character becomes a better packer! Second, don't insist that characters "give up" any of their primary encumbrance slots in order to carry a "side-bag". Just assume that everyone has one, and set your numbers accordingly.

If you really want to create a trade-off, then say that wearing heavy armor means you can't carry a side-bag (and wearing extra-heavy armor means you can't carry a backpack or side-bag!) But otherwise, accept that you've created a system where everyone has two types of encumbrance, and don't add complication by pretending that the players have a meaningful choice to trade a couple of one type of slot for a handful of the other. The only reason to allow such a trade would be if certain character classes (like alchemists, maybe?) had a unique and special option to give up a regular slot or two in exchange for their class-specific ability to carry special materials. (Or, you know, just let them have their special class-defining feature without punishing them for it, whichever.)
On Discord, KingPenta of the Dice Blade blog asked me if I would consider looking back on my last post about this and reflecting on what I think works. My long answer to that question is above.

My short answer is just three words: Mausritter is lit.
Okay, so maybe there's also a long version of my short answer, but it's basically just me singing Mausritter's praises. If you were to take every good idea people in the OSR scene had about encumbrance, edited those down to their simplest and purest versions, and combined them into a single ruleset, you would have the resource management rules from Mausritter.

I think I've said before that I consider Into the Odd to be something like the Platonic ideal of simple Dungeons & Dragons. Both the rules and the writing have been distilled down to their very essence and presented in the tersest, most compact possible way, without sacrificing the elements that are most essential to play. I'm not saying that no one else can write something better than I2TO, but I am saying that you'd be hard pressed to write something shorter. Chris McDowell has seemingly cut out everything but the most necessary elements of D&D, and edited his own writing to be as terse as possible. Trying to compete on either of those fronts is likely to leave you with something that either no longer really feels like D&D or is no longer really legible.

Well, in the same way, Mausritter, which is built off the bones of I2TO, feels like the Platonic idea of simple resource management for D&D. You might be able to write something better, but you probably can't write something simpler or shorter without making sacrifices that change the feel of the game so much that it becomes something else.
And part of how Isaac Williams does it is by taking advantage of an underutilized solution for resource management - illustrated inventories.
Paper Elemental giving some very good advice here

Mausritter putting theory into action

Almost the entirety of Mausritter's inventory rules fit on that two-page spread. ("Inventory" is also a MUCH better word than "encumbrance", which always feels like it should be accompanied by sad trombones.) You have exactly 10 slots of carrying capacity. Armor and heavy weapons take up two slots apiece, most other items take up only one. Every item has little boxes to mark off their "usage" - torches after an hour of burning, rations after eating, weapons and armor after combat, other items after they get used in a serious way. Most items have 3 boxes, fancy electric lanterns - and by implication, any other really expensive, high-quality goods - have 6. Spells are represented as sigils or runes that you carry. Conditions such as injury and exhaustion take up an inventory slot until you take care of them.

And ... that's pretty much it. Like I said, it's like every good idea for inventory management, everything Torchbearer tries to do in its own more-complex way, edited down to just about the simplest imaginable version of itself. The art both helps you recognize the item and communicates volumes about the setting. Because you can print off and cut out your own little inventory tokens, you can quite literally organize your inventory by moving them around, and you can write-on and erase the individual tokens until they need to be replaced, without wrecking your main character sheet.

The larger size of certain items creates simple but interesting packing dilemmas - for example, light armor needs a shield, which means you can't wield large weapons at the same time. The different situations for checking usage give each item a slightly different feel, and some add an element of unpredictable risk. Improvised weapons get used up a little each combat, but for the others, there's only a 50% chance it'll be depleted. The same is true of the spell runes. Pick how many charges you're willing to risk using up and roll that many GLOG-style Magic Dice; each charge has a 50% chance of being expended by casting the spell. Although the chances are the same, to me this feels like for weapons, you're checking to see if they are surprisingly damaged, while for spells, you're finding out if they're miraculously not used up (perhaps simply by comparison to other rule systems, where weapons are always fine, and spells are always expended in casting).
Having slightly gotten back into the swing of this, and realized I'll enjoy it more if I organize these posts thematically rather than chronologically, you can probably expect to see more posts like this in the future, hopefully at a faster rate than once per year.

I should also note, in looking at the Mausritter website to write this, I realized that it's getting a fancy boxed-set edition from Games Omnivorous next month. The same charming art as ever, now printed on very heavy paper.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Let's Read Barbarian Prince - part 3, Character, Followers, Encounters, and Combat

In part 1 of my review of the game Barbarian Prince, I looked at the map and the rules layout. In part 2, I looked at the main actions that the player can take. In this current part, I plan to look at who the player character - Cal Arath, the eponymous barbarian prince - at the various NPC followers and allies you collect, and at the rules encounters and combat. This will probably be the last part of my read-through. Next I'll write a play-along as experience the game in action, and then I'll suggest ways to change - and perhaps improve! - the rules if you wanted to write your own solo adventure game that somewhat resembled this one.
After my last post about this, I happened to find Hex Junkie's sandbox setting using the Barbarian Prince map by searching on the OSR Discord server. 
I've mentioned that I kept hearing rumors about a mobile phone app version of the game. Travis Miller pointed me toward Paul's Gameblog, where there's a link to one such app for Android devices, called Road of Kings. I should note that I haven't tried downloading the app, and I can't verify if it still works.

Also, Kitchen Wolf shared a link to issue 47 of the magazine Space Gamer, where there's both a contemporaneous review of the game, and an interview with designer Arnold Hendrick about the design decisions he made while writing Barbarian Prince. For example, it seems that he was thinking about computer programming when writing the rules - and it was his intent for this format to make playing the game easier. The idea, apparently, is that you wouldn't have to memorize all the rules, because the reference codes would point you to them at the appropriate time, and because numbering the reference codes would mean you'd know exactly where to go look. Political maneuvering by seeking audiences at the temples and castles is intended to be the primary way to win the game. And something that I found baffling during my initial read (the multiple versions of surprise embedded in the combat rules) are intended to prevent the game from being overly predictable. It's a worthwhile read for anyone who's following along with this series of posts.
Barbarian Prince cover art by Frank Cirocco, copyright Reaper Miniatures
Player Character - In the game of Barbarian Prince, you play the character of Cal Arath, the crown prince and rightful ruler of the Northlands. Unfortunately, a usurper has killed your farther and taken your throne. You've been exiled to a foreign country to the south. You have 70 days to acquire 500 gold pieces to finance an army, or otherwise reassert your rule over the Northlands. Otherwise, the usurper will solidify his claim on the throne, and your quest will be lost.

Cal Arath is basically unmatched as a human physical specimen, although some monsters are stronger and more deadly. You have Combat Skill 8, Endurance 9, a named sword "Bonebiter" that doesn't count against your Carrying Capacity, and between 0 and 2 starting gold coins.

As a quick reminder, every character in this game has an initial Carrying Capacity of 10. It goes down by half each day you don't eat, falling to 5, 2, 1, then 0. One unit of Carrying Capacity can hold one meal, 100 gold coins, or an object you find as treasure.

You also have an attribute called Wits & Wiles, which is akin to the Skill rating in Troika, it's basically how good you are at all non-combat tasks. It's determined randomly at the start of the game, and so ranges from 1 to 6. (I've seen complaints that getting stuck with Skill 4 in Troika is punishingly bad - I can only imagine what Wits & Whiles 1 is like!) Notably, the non-combat tasks where your Wits & Wiles score matters include virtually all social interactions. One subset of my ideas for modifying the game are devoted to ways to make the growth of your Wits & Wiles rating either an in-game achievement or a reward for replaying, rather than simply randomizing it every time.
Barbarian Prince's treasure rules, copyright Reaper Miniatures
Followers and Allies - My biggest surprise when I started reading Barbarian Prince was the abundance of NPCs. It's a single player game, but not a single character game. You'll always control Cal Arath, but he won't always be alone. You can hire followers in town, and recruit allies as you encounter them on the road. There's a special type of follower called a Guide who can help with hunting and navigation, and I've noticed that among your potential allies, Priests and Magicians are often relevant. Depending on how you play, you might have a small adventuring party, a large company, or a veritable warband accompanying you.

Which I guess also goes to a larger point about how this game surprised me, because for that people talk up the game's sword & sorcery credentials, this isn't really a game of individual heroism as much as it is a game of politics and leadership. You might be a barbarian, but more importantly, you're a prince, a leader of men, and you'll probably win by acting like a prince and engaging in diplomacy, finding a foreign leader to form an alliance with or bankroll your mission. Remember, that 500 gold you're seeking isn't for you, it's to pay for an army to stage a counter-coup. That countryside you're exploring isn't wilderness, it's a country, somebody else's country, and it's plenty well explored already as far as the locals are concerned.

Even Cal Arath's barbarian-ness is situational. I think the gameplays up the idea that the Northlands must be a harsh land full of rough and rugged peoples to make it seem like you're Conan wandering around the Shire. The farmed areas at least are full of elves, dwarves, halflings, and yokel sheriffs eager to organize a torches-and-pitchforks brigade to round you up for hunting livestock like they're wild game - but there's a caveat that Cal Arath is only living off the land because he's fallen on hard times. He knows how to fight and hunt because that's what princes do. In his own country, he probably isn't stealing a lot of pies off of windowsills, or poaching on other peoples' land, and you have to think that if he happened upon a tower full of orcs on his own frontier, he'd come back later with an army rather than being forced to stage a daring commando raid with whatever handful peasants happened to be on-hand at the moment. He isn't sleeping rough, wading through swamps, and fighting off crypt-guarding skeletons because he's a foreigner, he's doing it because he's homeless, penniless, in exile, and desperate to raise a king's ransom quickly enough that he won't be forced to remain that way.

The point is, I was originally expecting something akin to a boardgame version of the original Legend of Zelda, and this isn't that at all.

Anyway, the NPCs you meet also have Combat Ability and Endurance scores. They also all have "wealth codes" to determine how much treasure they own, but in my reading of the rules, you can only take possession of an NPC's treasure if they die. I think this means you get their treasure if they're killed in combat. I also think it means you can't force your followers to spend their own money on food - they'll either choose to stay with you while going hungry, or run off to go buy a meal, but apparently they'll be damned if they're going to pay out of their own pockets while you, the boss, are supposed to be covering their per diems.

Your ranks of followers can grow as you meet more people. There's also a couple ways they can shrink. First of all, you can dismiss any follower at any time for any reason (with the exception of your True Love, if you have one - there will be no divorce!) Hirelings with an agreed-upon wage will also defect if you can't or won't pay their daily wages.

Next, if you don't have enough food to feed your entire entourage, you risk them defecting from your group. I interpret that to mean that if can't feed everyone, you either have the choice to dismiss followers until you can feed everyone who's left, or you can share the available food equally, but then each follower gets to decide individually whether or not to defect. Depending on your Wits & Wiles score, you might actually lose more people by trying to keep everyone.

And finally, you might choose to leave some of your followers behind when you're making an escape. If you're running away from an enemy that's chasing you, you're much more likely to escape if everyone in your party is on horseback or, better still, flying. Which they can be, if you're willing to abandon everyone who used to be a member of your party who's not on horseback!

I suspect that the primary benefit of having a large party is the advantage they grant you in combat. I'll discuss combat more below, but what's important here is that every NPC and monster behaves the same way as Cal Arath. Each character can attack one opponent, so if your followers outnumber the enemy, you can gang up on specific targets while limiting losses on your own side.

Barbarian Prince doesn't come with any kind of character sheets, or party record sheets, or anything like that. If you start acquiring a lot of followers, or if the composition of your party keeps changing because you continue to add and dismiss people, I would imagine that it can get a little messy tracking the whole group on scratch paper. I don't know if this is actually a problem, per say, but it does seem like an area where improvement is possible. This is another area where I have a few different ideas for maybe modifying the rules, or maybe even just adding props, to make things run a little smoother.
a representative encounter from Barbarian Prince, copyright Reaper Miniatures

Encounters - When traveling each day, there's a chance of having an encounter. Many of those encounters are with intelligent NPCs where you have the option to talk, evade, or fight. (There are also monstrous encounters where the creature's behavior leaves you with no choice about how to approach them.)

When you encounter an NPC like this, you first choose your approach, then roll the dice. The best way to succeed is to roll well. (Although what counts as "well" can vary. Notice that for the Swordsman, rolling a 1 means you surprise your opponent if fighting ... or that you can only escape if you have horses. Rolling a 6 means they'll let you pass unbothered if you choose to evade ... or that they get the drop on you in a fight.)

Each type of intelligent NPC has their own combination of results, so each poses their own kind of risk. It's worth noting that many of the options to talk or evade can turn into combat if things don't go your way - such as if you don't have horses, or can't pay the 10 gold coin bribe the swordsman sometimes demands. In that case, you default to a generic table of random combat results; against some adversaries the generic table is probably more favorable than their specific fight options, against others I'm sure it's worse. The "converse" result from R341 is itself kind of a generic table of talking results, ranging from them trying to kill you instantly to them offering to join up with your party for free.

The unique combination of outcomes for each NPC means a couple of things. First, it means that some NPCs might be straight up "easier" or "harder" than others. Some people you encounter might be, across the board, easier both talk to, evade, and fight than others. It also means that for some NPCs, you'll do better by talking to them, others by fighting, others by trying to sneak or run away. 

I haven't cross-referenced all the NPC tables to be sure, but my initial impression is that if a given NPC would likely be an ally in Lord of the Rings, you're probably wise to talk to them, and if they seem "scary" or dangerous, you're probably wise to evade. This seems like a nice design touch, because it means that knowledge of common genre tropes can substitute for system mastery. That is, when playing the game, ideally you won't be forced to either memorize the probabilities of all the outcomes of all the NPCs or just guess blindly about the best course of action. You'll be able to make informed choices by drawing on what you know about fantasy literature. 

It's also worth noting that most fight options create a possibility of a particular combat situation, rather than a guarantee. A result that says "surprise" for example, probably means you have the possibility of surprising your enemy, but only one of the four possible "surprise" results actually guarantees it - the others all ask you to roll the dice to find out. One of the two "attack" results offers the chance that your enemy will win the initiative, just as one of the two "attacked" results gives you the chance to strike first. In general, you'll do better on these rolls if you have a higher Wits & Wiles score. (Which means, I guess, that it's both Skill and Initiative.)

When I was first looking through rules, I was kind of shocked that a game that takes so many pains to save space and avoid repeating text had FOUR different versions of Cal Arath surprising his enemies. (I'm still surprised, honestly, that the reminder text about evading your enemies by flying away is reprinted on EVERY enemy entry, although it sure does make me want to find a flying horse when I play.) One version guarantees surprise, on grants you surprise if you roll under your Wits & Wiles score, one grants you surprise if you roll equal to or under your Wits & Wiles score, and one grants you surprise if you roll the dice and currently have fewer party members than that. Reading the interview with the designer kind of changed my mind, as did remembering that the game uses a d6, not a d20. In a d20 game, the 5% probability difference wouldn't be worth the extra text - and the risk of confusion from not having a consistent way of reading the dice might make the extra rule worse than worthless - but in Barbarian Prince, those two rules have a 17% difference in the chance of granting you surprise. I think you could still argue that that's still not a big enough difference to justify the additional rule, but it's not as bad as I originally thought.
illustration by Cynthia Sims Millan, copyright Reaper Miniatures
Barbarian Prince combat table, copyright Reaper Miniatures
Combat - Combat here is somewhat similar to D&D. Each round, all the characters on one side attack, then all the surviving characters on the other side hit back. If one side has surprise, they get one round without reprisal, and they get to go first in the subsequent rounds. Otherwise, who goes first is determined by the specific "fight" rule governing the combat. In general, you must match Cal Arath and his allies up one-on-one with the enemy, although if either side outnumbers the other, you get to decide how to distribute the extra characters, and each character only gets attack one opponent per round.

To attack, roll 2d6, add the attacker's Combat Skill, subtract the defender's Combat Skill, apply any situational modifiers, and then consult the Combat Table. Rolling higher is better here. This is seriously one of the worst written and most needlessly confusing rules in the entire game. First there's the issue of how it's actually written. Compare what I just said about the attacker and defender, and compare it to this from R220c: "To resolve a strike, take the combat skill of the striker, and subtract from it the combat skill of the target character." Mind you, that's subtract from it, not subtract it from, which has the opposite meaning.

Then there's the issue of the combat table itself. It's ... I mean just look at it. The basic logic is this - if you roll low, you will probably miss and deal no Wounds; if you roll high, you will probably hit and deal two or more Wounds. But beyond that general tendency, there's no logic to it, it's just a mess. 10 and 12 both deal two Wounds, but 11 only deals one? 16 and 18 deal five, but 17 only deals two? Why does -1 hit anything? Why does 15 miss entirely? Why does 14, and only 14, deal three Wounds? (With Cal Arath having Combat Ability 8, and with the most common roll of 2d6 being 7, this would almost be cool if there was a common enemy with Combat Ability 1 and Endurance 3 ... but there is no such enemy.)

I genuinely don't know why it's written like this. My only guess is that it must have been to ensure that you could never know the outcome of combat just by looking at the dice, you'd always have to do the math and then check the table. A low roll is probably a miss, a high roll probably a hit, but you can't know for sure without looking. A friend of mine has a theory that there are fewer car crashes in England than in the US because the roads there are so winding, narrow, and filled with roundabouts that you have to pay complete attention every second or you'll get in a wreck right away ... so you do. Maybe these rules are like that? They're so situational and specific that you know you have to check the table every time? As you might imagine, I also have some thoughts about how to modify the rules for combat.

There are a couple situational modifiers. If the attacker has any Wounds, they get -1. If the attacker has Wounds equal to half their Endurance, they get an additional -1 (so a total modifier of -2, although it's not written out like that.) There's no bonus for the defender having Wounds, but if the defender has Wounds equal to half their Endurance, the attacker gets +2. This would be easier, I think, if it were truly symmetric, and if you only kept the penalties and bonuses for when a fighter is "bloodied."

You can try to run away from combat. Unlike using the "evade" option before a fight starts, you have to take your entire party with you. To make an escape attempt, your entire party gives up their attacks, and you roll 1d6, hoping to get a 4 or higher. If the attempt fails, I believe you've still lost your attack for that round.

You can also try to make your enemies run away. Each time you kill an enemy NPC in combat, you have the option to roll 1d6, and on a 6, the surviving enemies will all run away. This is totally optional, so I guess if you think you can win the fight, you might not want to scare them off, since they'll take all their money with them. On the other hand, if you're outnumbered and might lose, frightening the rest with a bit of yelling and woad could really save the day. Enemies with Combat Ability 9 or Endurance 9 will never run away.

In Barbarian Prince, your Endurance score never changes, but you do gain wounds from combat, and heal them by spending time resting. If a character has one less Wound than their Endurance (what we'd call hp 1 in D&D), then they fall unconscious and become helpless. If an NPC falls unconscious, you get to decide what to do. If Cal Arath gets knocked out, roll 1d6. On a roll of 1-3, your followers all desert you and steal all of stuff as they go. On roll of 4-6, they'll stay with you, either making camp while you heal, or carrying you somewhere else if you want (although it takes up 20 Carrying Capacity just to haul you, to say nothing of your possessions, so moving won't always be feasible.) 

Presumably this means you can choose to just knock out your enemies instead of killing them, although the rules are not explicit on this point. I think if I were making changes, I'd make unconsciousness something that only happens to the prince.

If a character has Wounds equal to their Endurance (what we'd call hp 0 in D&D), then they're dead. If an NPC dies, whether they're your enemy or ally, you get to desecrate their grave inherit their belongings. (Despite being an outlander, you're everybody's next of kin!) If Cal Arath dies, the game's over and you lose. 
The daily actions provide a framework for exploring the south lands. The most common kind of random event that happens while you're exploring is an encounter with an intelligent south-lander, and the most complex outcome of an encounter is combat. If you understand those three sets of rules, then you understand enough to start playing. Next time, I'll play through a couple times, once trying to act like a barbarian, and again, trying to act like a prince. Then I think I'll be ready to offer some ideas for modifying the rules to make your own game of solo exploration.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Recent Campaign Settings - Underwater Exploration, Arconauts, Alternate Planets, Pangaea, Karmic Depth, Un-Forest

Recently I've noticed a few people announcing big, bold campaign ideas. They're in various stages of progress - some have been used in play, some have mechanics, some are still just ideas in progress. But they're new and exciting and they all possess a certain science-fictional sense of wonder.
Diver by Aleksandr Plikhta
A Distant Chime proposes an underwater campaign they're calling Point Nemo. Currently this exists as a set of rules and recommendations for playing underwater. The concept art, focus on resources, and commentary around the rules all suggests a campaign of deep sea dungeon crawling, perhaps something akin to the Maridia region in Super Metroid.

The Light Fantastic by Josh Kirby
Sheep & Sorcery proposes Arconauts!, a campaign of Space Wizards exploring the Void. Players take on the role of apprentice wizards on the asteroid of Merlin's Rock, preparing to depart on the first-ever multi-person space mission launched by the College of Wizardry and Void Exploration. The wizards get a shared starship, and magic that works like the suite of abilities we expect from a well-equipped scifi character. The tone here seems to be lighthearted fun, somewhere between gonzo and silly. The idea of conducting playful, cartoony wizard science reminds me of Scott Anderson's short story "The Study of Anglophysics".  

(If you need additional stopping points for this campaign, you might consider checking From the Sorcerer's Skull's random planet generator, and I Don't Remember That Move's recent list of unusual planets.)

Alien Landscape by Jason Coates
Worldbuilding & Woolgathering's whole blog is devoted to the world of Terrae Vertebrae, and most of that is focused on the region of Punth. But what really caught my eye was a post about the alternate planets that surround this world, and their correspondences to alternate metals, both inspired by Latin, but also allowed to become their own fictional things. The Qryth are clearly inspired by the Green Martians of Barsoom, so perhaps there'll be more interplanetary content in the future.
(The rules for this campaign are based on Roles, Rules, & Rolls' 52 Pages rules.) 
Sol by Luka Rejec
Stuff by Solaris 242 offers a third interplanetary setting. The Mappae Solis is an setting that spans the entire solar system. The posts in this series are all descriptions of planets and their primary fantastical inhabitants. The writing mixes scientific terminology and the style of technical writing with a bit of ironic detachment and literary prose. This time it was Pangaea, with its continental desert and kingdom of Archaea, that caught my eye.
(Both the alternate planets and Mappae Solis remind me a little of From the Sorcerer's Skull's delightful Baroque Space campaign setting.)

Chamber of Mirrors of Retribution
Weird & Wonderful Worlds has developed an entire game called Maximum Recursion Depth around their new campaign setting. The players are Recursers, people who able to consciously draw upon the supernatural powers of their own Poltergeist Forms, who search for lost Poltergeists wandering the Earth and return them to the appropriate Court of Hell. The player characters are also all deeply flawed people, and players have a goal of trying to fix their own characters' Karma as much as solving problems out in the world. One quick warning, the game takes place in a setting where reincarnation is both real an automatic, and where it's a viable strategy for a character to commit suicide in order to reincarnate.

(Incidentally, the image above is one that maxcan7 selected. It looks old enough to be in the public domain, but I don't know the artist. It depicts a layer of the Diyu, the realm of the dead in traditional Chinese belief. Diyu is ruled by 10 different kings, each with their own courts, and it's divided into 18 layers - or 18 Hells - and while that number stays consistent, there appear to be at least three different versions taken from different literary sources. Imagine if Dante's Inferno had two major competitors with their own variant Circles of Hell! Wikipedia's description also makes Diyu sound like a place that might interest gamers: "Diyu is typically depicted as a subterranean maze with various levels and chambers."

timelapse from Plant Earth II - episode 3 "Jungles"

Profane Ape has a conceptually dense setting idea. In a world filled with different types of magical fire, one type, Un-Wildfire, burns in reverse, creating hideous forests of Un-Trees grow backwards in time, assembling out of ash and smoke. The campaign is set on a plateau dominated by an Un-Forest, full of poisonous lichens, giant feral hairless cats, friendly giants who enjoy caber-tossing, and an evil wizard with an army of servitors that are like living statues made of lead. Phew! I'm especially curious to see how this one develops.

The Vaults of Vaarn blog header, art prooobably by Moebius?
Bonus, the entirety of the Vaults of Vaarn blog as it exists currently is devoted to a single campaign setting, which I would describe as "graphic novel mash-up of Jack Vance's Dying Earth stories and Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun as illustrated by Moebius". Excitingly, there appears to be a zine coming out in the very near future. Update: the zine is out!
There's some other interesting worldbuilding going on with bloggers trying their hands at megadungeon building and the Gygax 75 challenge, but I'll talk about those another time ...