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 ...


  1. Thanks for the shoutout! Several of the other campaign settings you also reference I'm familiar with but some I'm not, so I'm looking forward to digging into these!

    I actually am not sure if that picture is public domain and I did not include it in the book itself, only for the blog.

    I really appreciate your description both of the game and the background on Diyu. I had considered keeping the Courts of Hell in closer alignment with Chinese mythology, but I thought it would be more fun, more in the spirit of DIY / OSR, less constraining, etc., to make them Numberless. Also, Numberless Courts of Hell just has a ring to it, I think ;).

    While I am very inspired by Taoism, Buddhism, and how those ideas interplayed in Chinese culture with ideas of legalism and bureaucracy, and Karma, Samsara, Dharma, etc, I didn't want the setting to be too closely tied to Chinese mythology per se. Partially it's because I don't like to constrain myself that way, but also because I am not an expert on these topics, nor am I of Chinese descent or raised in a Buddhist community, so I wanted to be really careful about appropriation and cultural sensitivy.

    If you're a fan of the recent Doom Patrol or Umbrella Academy shows, the Persona videogames, or wonder what it would be like if you crossed Bojack Horseman with the Matrix, Maximum Recursion Depth may be of interest to you.

    1. I actually really like that your gameworld has numberless Hells that are somewhat inspired by, but also distinct from, the religious Diyu.

      It would be interesting to do something similar with Dante's Hell. Numberless circles, inspired by the ones he describes, but not exactly the same.

      Re the image - always safer to err on the side of caution if you're not sure!

    2. I don't see the Circles of Hell from Dante as necessarily being mutually exclusive with The Numberless Courts of Hell in MRD ;)

  2. I recognize the last image- it's definitely a Moebius.

    1. I thought so, but I'm not sure which comic specifically.

  3. Always an honor to appear in one of your posts Anne! More Arcanonauts stuff should be on the way!

    1. I'm happy to include it! I'll also add that the setting you started in your new post on the Storm Sailors of the Maelstrom looks super interesting, too!

  4. Great serpents of smoke! I quite missed this shout-out - for which, many thanks!

    Terrae Vertebrae is a sort of default setting for my work - most of my notes for that were posted in 2016-17, but I am working on compiling my (newer, deeper) Punth material into a package that could be plugged into other places.

    Other interplanetary materials occur with my work on the species in Malacandra:

    1. And yes, you are quite right about the Qryth. The sketch for Punth started as 'Babel meets Barsoon, on the sands of Arrakis'.

    2. You're doing some fascinating worldbuilding! Thanks for the Malacandra link. I should also note that I enjoy seeing your book reviews!