13 October 2021

The Goldilocks of Stat Blocks

Character stat blocks can either instill or kill inspiration. If it's too short, there's too little to work with; if it's too long, one's eyes glaze over and the information is just as useless as if it weren't there. If it's just right, the player can embody the role without constantly referring to the character sheet and the GM can probably derive hooks without much effort.

Getting it just right is the difficulty. I don't wish to publicly mock the winners of the Most Tedious Character Creation Rules or the Most Boring Stat Blocks by name because I know even they have their devoted fans, some of whom are probably friends of mine, but I will say that some games get it right and some can be altered so that they, too, can get it right.

This is just an idle thought, but maybe all a character stat block needs is whatever is most pertinent to what the character will be doing in an adventure. Depending on what an adventure entails in a given role-playing game, the player ought to list only those things a character might reasonably be expected to do as well as anything else necessary to convincingly portray the character.

Some game designers, aware of this conundrum, limit the range of skills a character may have to just those that are relevant to a typical adventure. Zorro: The Roleplaying Game is an excellent example of a game perfectly pruned to the essentials. Few games are as well focused.

Another approach is to allow a player to assign some skills to a character at creation, but to reserve the option to assign others later. This way, the player and the GM have an idea of the character's capabilities from the beginning, but their knowledge of the character expands through play. I believe this idea was introduced in Fudge.

Either way, the key to the user-friendly and non-sleep-inducing character stat block is to avoid listing every conceivable skill a character might have. First, it's impossible. Can you list every single skill you have ever acquired? Of course not. And why should you list those skills that a majority of people in your society have anyways? Where does it end? Without digressing further, let me just say that the solution is to keep it short. List a few broad skills that you know your character will be using or is noted for, and reserve some points to purchase other skills later as needed. After all, when you are reading the stats of a PC or NPC, do you really need to know they are somewhat good at trivia games or driving or birdwatching?

As always, keep it simple, and fill in the gaps with imagination.

05 October 2021

Next Year Blogtober; This Year Blocktober

Some year, I would like to attempt a daily post for the month of October in the manner of my April Fools' random tables or the #RPGaDay prompts. It's too late for October 2021, but I'd like to have an idea for next year's Blogtober by the end of the month. So far, it's been Blocktober, as in writer's block, which is a shame considering how productive my gaming blogs were in September (especially Theoretical Swashbuckling and Savage Arts & Sciences). In all of my gaming blogs I am meeting or exceeding my goal of posting at least one article per month, so that's something worthy of subdued celebration. It would be nice to do something special for the Halloween season, though. This year, I might post some "How to Create a Horror Protagonist" articles similar to my How to Create a Swashbuckler series in Theoretical Swashbuckling. We shall see. Meanwhile, if I could recommend one spooky movie to gamers other than Ghostbusters, it would be The Raven, starring Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and a few others you might know. It is rich with gaming inspiration.

(Rest in) Peace!

21 September 2021

Cast at What Cost?

I was ruminating on the subject of Vancian magic and how it relates to Dungeons & Dragons* — spells are memorized; they are forgotten when cast; they may be transcribed from a scroll to one's spellbook or cast directly from a scroll, but vanish from the scroll when so used — when it struck me: in a world where a spell disappears if it is cast from the page instead of memorized, spells would become scarce quickly if they ever fell into the hands of those who had not been properly trained in the magical arts. A wise spellcaster would know never to cast a spell directly from a spellbook or a scroll if that spell were not already recorded elsewhere. Magic is the greatest treasure to a wizard, to be preserved at any cost, so there will be no casting from scrolls unless the wizard created the scroll for that purpose or found a scroll containing a redundant spell. The only ones foolish enough to cast spells directly from their source without a copy in safe storage would be disobedient apprentices and non-spellcasters. In D&D, that means thieves, although logically it would mean anyone. (The nonsense of thieves having a special affinity for magic owes more to crafting a Grey Mouser class than creating a credible thief class, but the implications remain the same regardless.) Just imagine the chaos of common rabble using spells indiscriminately, rejoicing in their fleeting power, unaware or unconcerned that this may be the last time a given spell is ever cast, for it may be the last written record of that spell. Perhaps this is the reason so much arcane knowledge has been lost (presuming there was an earlier era of higher magic). The written spell, evaporating from the page as it is incanted, disappearing forever from potentiality, living on only in tales. It is a melancholy fate for magic, like the loss of ancient literature or music. Every age is a post-apocalyptic age of one sort or another.

* OD&D, AD&D, and certain other editions/versions.

01 September 2021

#RPGaDay 2021

RPG a Day 2021 image.

The year: 2021. The event: #RPGaDay. Here is the culmination of a month of tweets wrestling with daily prompts on the subject of... RPGs.

#RPGaDay2021 1. "Scenario": I think the best scenarios I have run are those that are half-written, half-improvised, whether I've written it myself (sometimes in the form of mere notes and drawings) or I've taken liberties with a published adventure.

First, make the scenario your own; then, make it your players'. It isn't an instruction manual. It's a guide to what might be out there and what might happen. The scenario is the starting point, not the finishing line.

When you don't have a scenario handy, let the PCs decide what to do. Let them engage in training, research, carousing, shopping, etc. Have a few NPCs on file just in case. Let the PCs get themselves in trouble. The scenario writes itself.

Players are often a reliable source of side quests, too. These can be brief interludes, or they can be woven into the tapestry of a greater adventure or even a campaign.

Unmodules, by the way, harken to the days when adventures were known as "modules." Modules are created for player characters to interact with. Unmodules are created by the player characters' interactions.

I explain the unmodule in greater detail here: A Very Happy Unmodule to You!.

#RPGaDay2021 2. "Map": Mapping per the old D&D standard, whereby one player is designated the mapper and tries to faithfully replicate on paper the DM's description of the player characters' surroundings, is a laborious process.

I recall one time in 1980-something being so frustrated with a mapper's inability to draw what I described that I took the map and drew it myself, not aware that the beauty of the process was its imperfection. Every inaccuracy has the potential for misadventure.

Instead of letting the players pay for their inaccuracy, I did the work for them. Soon, I was drawing the maps in front of them on Battlemats with wet-erase pens, and then on chalkboards.

I still resort to this method now and then, sometimes with a Noteboard (a portable dry-erase board), but often I just use verbal description and allow players to map if they wish by whatever means they find expedient.

What I really like to do (and don't do often enough) is give the players a hand-drawn map as a prop they can use. A good map can convey far more than the obvious for those who are clever.

#RPGaDay2021 3. "Tactic": If your go-to "tactic" is to send your henchmen into peril ahead of you to spring traps or act as decoys, find a different tactic. You can do better. Unless you are playing a comic book villain, in which case, treat those lackeys like cannon fodder.

#RPGaDay2021 4. "Weapon": Every magic weapon ought to be unique. Every magic weapon ought to have its own name, even if no one knows it (yet). Every magic weapon ought to have its own history, which could potentially be discovered. Some magic weapons might have a destiny.

#RPGaDay2021 5. "Gamble": I do not enjoy gambling as a recreation in real life, but I will gladly gamble as a character in a role-playing game. I played a gunslinging gambler in a game of Boot Hill back in 1980-something, and it was very enjoyable... even when I lost!

And if anyone accused my character of cheating (which he often did), there was always a nice gunfight to look forward to.

#RPGaDay2021 6. "Chase": How can I have role-played this long without experiencing a car chase? I think I was involved in a chariot chase once, but never a car chase.

#RPGaDay2021 7. "Small": Dear game publishers, please avoid using small fonts, overly ornate typefaces, and background images in the pages of your rule books and other publications. Never underestimate the importance of reading comfort. #RPG #TRPG #TTRPG #TTTRPG

#RPGaDay2021 8. "Stream": Timestream. Time Stream. In the 1980s, a system-neutral article about time travel appeared in a gaming magazine, and it inspired me to run an adventure based on the premise it presented. I used Chaosium's Basic Role-Playing as its base.

I can recall neither the author nor the title of the article, but I think the term "timestream" was prominent. I keep thinking the magazine might have been Sorcerer's Apprentice or Different Worlds, but a review of my copies has been inconclusive.

Issue 29 of Different Worlds has an article that seems similar to my memory of the Timestream article: "Godwar: How to Run a Multiverse Campaign" by Mike Sweeney. I even bookmarked it with a sheet containing the names of the players in my Timestream game and their characters.

Maybe "Godwar" was the article and "Timestream" was what I named the game. Maybe. 1983 was a long time ago. If anyone knows of another "Timestream" article from that era, please let me know.

Meanwhile, this is what was written on that sheet I had used as a bookmark (real names redacted):

  • Martika the Councillor
  • Lord Rodgers
  • D___: Magus Claudius
  • A_____: Dod Bodgers
  • M_____: Sir Thorremme
  • 11 3

Mysterious, eh? The "Godwar" article is useful and interesting even if it isn't the article I was looking for (and it might be). It's short, but it's worth reading if you can find it. #Timestream

#RPGaDay2021 9. "Role": I think everyone ought to spell it "rôle."

"Oh, don't mind me! I'm off to play a rôle-playing game!"

(Apologies to the late Graham Chapman.)
#GrandPiano #MontyPythonsFlyingCircus

#RPGaDay2021 10. "Advantage": Please note well, it is to everyone's advantage to take notes during a game. #NotaBene

#RPGaDay2021 11. "Listen": I don't require players to roll to listen or see or use any of their senses. I want to describe their surroundings as vividly as I can, so why would I sabotage that with a stupid roll?

And if players are engaged enough in the game that they are actively using their senses in specific ways to try to learn more, what purpose does it serve to leave it to chance? Reward them with more information!

#RPGaDay2021 12. "Think": Non-player characters ought to think and not just react. They have their own motivations and ought to act accordingly. And since they think, they can also have a change of heart. At least, it's possible.

#RPGaDay2021 13. "Pool": In January 2013, I posted an article in Applied Phantasticality about mystical pools, which featured a table enabling one to generate a magical effect for these enigmas. Here is the link: Table: Mystical Pools.

The table is designed for use with D&D and early D&D-compatible retro-clones, but I think it might be useful to post alternate versions of tables like this for DCC RPG, Savage Worlds, and other systems. And/or I could just make system neutral versions.

This could be a good source of fodder for some of my other gaming blogs when I need a topic and my monthly deadline is drawing near. A reservoir — nay, a pool, if you will — of potential blogging material. Any reworked articles will, of course, include links to the source.

#RPGaDay2021 14. "Limits": I do not support level limits in RPGs that have character levels.
EXCEPT when there is a logical and consistent reason for them, e.g. Law and Chaos and Level Limits.
BUT I still prefer the absence of level limits.

AND, to be honest, I prefer it when role-playing games do not use character levels. They don't provide anything I need in a game.

#RPGaDay2021 15. "Supplement": My favorite RPG supplements (and I'm not including system neutral books here) are the Stormbringer Companion, the Ringworld Companion, the Cthulhu Companion, and the Judge Dredd Companion.

Cover of the Stormbringer Companion, published by Chaosium.
Cover of the Ringworld Companion, published by Chaosium.
Cover of the Cthulhu Companion, published by Chaosium.
Cover of the Judge Dredd Companion, published by Games Workshop.

I'm not including any D&D books here, because who is to say what's a core book and what's a supplement in that game? Besides, D&D gets more than enough attention. I'm far more interested in the great role-playing games that get overlooked.

Honorable Mention goes to Demon Magic: The Second Stormbringer Companion. Just look at that cover art.

Cover of Demon Magic: The Second Stormbringer Companion, published by Chaosium.

#RPGaDay2021 16. "Move": I'm not interested in any RPG combat system that reduces a fight to standing still and exchanging blows. I want to see combatants move: dodging, blocking, parrying, feinting, tumbling, rolling, leaping, swinging, running, crawling, tripping, grappling.

In other words, I have a preference for swashbuckling. I even have a blog on the subject: Theoretical Swashbuckling.

#RPGaDay2021 17. "Trap": A good trap has someone with a motive behind it, the potential to be detected before triggering it, and a consistent mechanical or magical logic. You can interact with it. You can learn from it.

A bad trap is the sort common to solitaire adventures and certain "killer dungeons." You have a choice: Open the door or move on. If you open it, you die. No chance to detect it, deactivate it, or dodge it. You picked Door Number One, and your reward is insta-death.

The method of insta-death may vary — it could be an arrow, a spear, a spiked pit, a death ray, a 16-ton weight, etc. — but the result is the same and cannot be appealed.

Only two kinds of adventurers survive the bad trap: the kind who force henchmen to take all the risks (highly implausible), and the kind who refuse to adventure. Don't include bad traps in your adventure. Be better than that. I know you can.

#RPGaDay2021 18. "Write": Back in 1980-something, I wrote to an RPG publisher to ask for their submission guidelines. Sometime later, I received the guidelines, but there was a note attached.

In this note, I was thanked for writing to them, I was told how much they enjoyed our conversation at Gen Con, and I was asked if I would be interested in writing a Narnia RPG for them.

This sounded like a wonderful opportunity, but I had no recollection of the conversation, and I was convinced the publisher had me confused with someone else. I had many conversations with publishers at the previous Gen Con, but surely none remembered me.

Furthermore, I had not at that time read any of the Narnia novels. I think at most I had seen the animated version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It certainly didn't qualify me to write an RPG based on it.

Nonplussed, I never replied and gave up the idea of writing for that company. The thought of having to write a cover letter explaining that I was not who they thought I was, but here's a submission anyway killed my motivation.

So be it. I was disappointed with the Chronicles of Narnia once I finished reading them and would not have enjoyed adapting it. Nor can I imagine deriving much joy role-playing in such a setting.

Sometimes I wonder, though, what would have happened if I had played along and said, "Why yes, I am interested in designing your Narnia role-playing game for you!"

I also wonder who they thought I was...

#RPGaDay2021 19. "Style": I admit I usually prefer minimalism in my rule books. I want clarity and simplicity in both the rules themselves and their visual presentation.

If a rule book looks cluttered and disorganized or even hyper-organized, I begin to wonder whether it's worth the trouble to read. Usually it isn't. Sometimes it is, but I'll complain about it and harbor a certain amount of resentment.

#RPGaDay2021 20. "Foundation": The foundation of a good role-playing experience is mutual respect and trust between participants. Nothing in the game is as important as this.

#RPGaDay2021 21. "Simplicity": Simplicity of game design enables ease of use by every criterion. Ease of: learning, teaching, playing, GMing, adventure-writing, house-ruling, improvising. It saves time and allows one to concentrate on what makes role-playing fun.

I know there are those who prize complexity for whatever reasons. I prefer to save the complexity for the role-playing rather than the rules. I'd rather actively play the game than waste my precious gaming time consulting rule books at the table.

Simplicity enables one to internalize the rules more quickly, and that is a hallmark of superior game design.

#RPGaDay2021 22. "Substitute": A game of #TeenagersFromOuterSpace in which the players play substitute teachers instead of students would take it to another level of challenge and comedy. #SubstitutesFromOuterSpace for the win!

Naturally, the substitutes needn't all be from outer space. Faculty as well as students can be a mix of Earthlings and extra-terrestrials.

#RPGaDay2021 23. "Innovation": There is constant innovation in RPG design. The role-playing game itself is an example of astounding innovation.

Sometimes, though, RPG enthusiasts are unaware that a thing they think is a new innovation is really a rediscovery of something introduced decades ago.

Many were introduced in such games as Tunnels & Trolls, Bunnies & Burrows, Ghostbusters, Call of Cthulhu, James Bond 007, Prince Valiant, and others.

There is value in studying history, even the history of a hobby. A toast: To the innovators, past, present, and future.

#RPGaDay2021 24. "Share": One of my favorite ways that RPG enthusiasts share their love of the hobby is through starting blogs, regularly posting to them, and linking to other blogs they find interesting. So much can be shared with a blog: knowledge, creativity, inspiration, news.

Sometimes it seems as if the art of blogging is waning, but it endures. Blogs and home pages preserved our hobby at a time when it seemed as if it might disappear, and I believe blogs (and zines and podcasts) are the hobby's ultimate lifeline.

Whatever happens to the industry, blogs, zines, and podcasts will keep the hobby alive by keeping us connected. The more we share, the richer we all become.

How can you share? Start a blog, zine, and/or podcast. Share links to the ones you like. And leave comments. Engagement is the easiest way to ensure their continuation. People like to know their work is appreciated. It's a powerful motivator.

#RPGaDay2021 25. "Box": The best example of a box for an RPG boxed set is the bookcase or bookshelf game. Designed to stand vertically, they are easier to store, less prone to damage than the flimsier traditional boxes, and roomier.
#LordsOfCreation #HeroesOfOlympus

Two bookcase games: Heroes of Olympus and Lords of Creation.

#RPGaDay2021 26. "Renew": For years I've been thinking I need to run a Logan's Run RPG based primarily on the 1976 film and, to a lesser extent, some of the elements from the television show.
#LogansRun #Renew

The Carousel scene from the movie Logan's Run.

I would probably create my own system for it, or convert one that doesn't use levels such as The D6 System, Fudge, or Basic Role-Playing. I think it has possibilities.

#RPGaDay2021 27. "Practice": Playing or GMing a role-playing game becomes easier and more enjoyable with practice (like most activities). Please don't be discouraged by mistakes, and don't take it too seriously. It's a game to be played, not a bomb to be defused.

#RPGaDay2021 28. "Solo": A solo RPG adventure involves one player and one GM. A solitaire adventure involves one player and no GM. The two are often confused by members of both the hobby and the industry, but the distinction is clear.

I have run solo adventures using Tunnels & Trolls, Marvel Super Heroes (TSR), and Doctor Who (FASA). I've also played solitaire adventures using T&T. I haven't tried Fighting Fantasy yet, but the books are on my wish list.

#RPGaDay2021 29. "System": The best systems are those that can be easily memorized and taught. That's all I have to say about this topic at the moment.

#RPGaDay2021 30. "Mention": This topic is too vague. I refuse to mention it. A better topic would be Baron Munchausen.

#RPGaDay2021 31. “Thank”: Thank Crom I made it to the end of this year’s #RPGaDay.

15 August 2021

Perceive It

Perception rolls are fine in certain circumstances, but I find it's best to use them rarely.* When player characters are actively using their senses, describe it. If they say they are searching the north wall and there is a secret door, describe the secret door (although they might not recognize it as such). If they say they are listening at the door and someone is talking in the room on the other side of it, tell them what they hear. If they are casually walking through a room, describe the room generally. If they take a closer look at anything in the room, describe it in greater detail. If the party includes a being with especially keen senses, describe things beyond the normal human capacity. In fact, nearly the only occasion I call for any kind of perception roll is when player characters are not actively using their senses. As I see it, perception rolls are a last chance to spot a clue, not a first resort. If you tell me you are scanning the floor, I'll tell you if you notice something suspicious like a tripwire. If you just stride across it without any precautions, I'll give you a chance to notice it with a perception roll (possibly made in secret by me).

So, will I give that perception roll to spot a secret door to anyone who casually walks by it? I will if the player character has a special ability to detect secret doors (like elves in D&D) or if clues are present, but otherwise no.

Description is one of the key elements of a role-playing game. It enables us to imagine everything in the game, and it gives us our tools for making decisions in fictional worlds and situations. Don't withhold opportunities for player characters to interact with their imaginary environment. Tell them more, not less. Let perception rolls be another chance for interaction, not an obstacle to it.

* A perception roll, in this context, refers to any skill, ability check, or other rule that governs a player character's ability to perceive something in any role-playing game.

01 August 2021

#RPGaDay 2021 Begins

RPG a Day 2021 image.

This year, I am participating in #RPGaDay2021 in the same manner as the previous two years, i.e. tweeting my daily responses throughout the month of August and publishing them here as a single article on 1 September. If you wish to follow my progress on Twitter, my handle is @Cuparius. To follow the conversation at large (or to participate in it), use #RPGaDay2021 for this year's topics. Visit the RPG a Day Facebook page for more information.

04 July 2021

First Place: Fleeting Luck

It may sound like the name of a racehorse, but fleeting Luck is a rule from DCC Lankhmar that is so good I shall be using it with all future games of DCC RPG and MCC RPG I run. I was never fully satisfied with the Luck rules in DCC RPG, but fleeting Luck solves the problem I had.

What problem? The problem is threefold.

  1. For the price of 1 Luck point, all you get is a +1 modifier to one roll.
  2. For non-thieves and non-halflings, regaining Luck occurs rarely.
  3. Luck is capped at character generation. If you are awarded Luck, but you are at your maximum, you get nothing.

If the judge awards Luck sparingly, the cost of using Luck is too great to justify unless you are a thief or a halfling. If the judge awards Luck generously, then only those who spend Luck will ever benefit from it, and those whose starting Luck is low will not be easily persuaded to spend what little they have when Luck may be all that saves them when it comes to "rolling the body."

I think the problem could have been avoided by separating Luck from other ability scores in the first place. Luck isn't an "ability." It's just something you have. It ought to be fluid, with no upper limit, and it ought to be spent freely to a point. But that issue is moot. Luck is entrenched as an ability.

Luckily... DCC Lankhmar introduces the concept of fleeting Luck, which is a compromise between Luck as a mostly static ability and Luck as a fluid resource. To summarize, player characters have the traditional Luck ability, but they also start with 1 point of fleeting Luck. Fleeting Luck is gained far more easily and often, but if anyone in the party rolls a 1 during an attack, spell check, or ability check, then everyone in the party loses all of their fleeting Luck, which must be gained anew. Every player character starts each new adventure with 1 point of fleeting Luck as it cannot be saved.

This makes Luck far more interesting to use. It still carries risk, but it also makes it worth the risk. It also enables the player characters cursed with low Luck scores to take riskier actions when necessary without hobbling them for the rest of their adventuring careers.

So, fleeting Luck will be standard in my games from now on, but I do have another alternative, which I may or may not use, but I'll save it for a future article.

03 July 2021

DCC Dying Earth on Kickstarter

Jack Vance's Dying Earth stories, adapted as a setting with expanded rules for Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, is currently in progress as a Kickstarter project. This new boxed set promises to be as glorious as the Lankhmar boxed set, and has already surpassed it in pledges. For more details, see the DCC Dying Earth Kickstarter project.

26 June 2021

Fly, You Fools!

The wisdom of knowing when to fight and when to flee in a role-playing game is of paramount importance in those games that eschew the concept of "balanced" encounters, and of this matter I am in complete agreement. It is an elementary aspect of strategy that is as true in a game as it is in fiction or life. Why, I must ask, do those very same games then punish player characters for availing themselves of this legitimate tactic? Let us examine their ways. First, the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide (p. 70) has this to say:

At such time as any creature decides, it can break off the engagement and flee the mêlée. To do so, however, allows the opponent a free attack or attack routine. This attack is calculated as if it were a rear attack upon a stunned opponent. When this attack is completed, the retiring/fleeing party may move away at full movement rate, and unless the opponent pursues and is able to move at a higher rate of speed, the melee is ended and the situation becomes one of encounter avoidance.

From the 1980 Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (p. B25), we are given this version:

RETREAT: Any movement backwards at more than 1/2 the normal movement rate is a retreat. If a creature tries to retreat, the opponent may add +2 to all "to hit" rolls, and the defender is not allowed to make a return attack. In addition to the bonus on "to hit" rolls, the attacks are further adjusted by using the defender's Armor Class without a shield. (Any attacks from behind are adjusted in the same manner.)

From the 5th printing of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG (p. 95), we are given this version:

Once a character is engaged in mêlée, he cannot back away without opening himself to attack. If a character or monster withdraws from an active melee — whether to retreat, move to a new position, or attempt some action — his opponents immediately receive a single free attack.

Granted, there is a distinction to be made between retreating from combat versus choosing not to engage in it in the first place, but I would suggest that breaking off from a fight ought to have only two possible negative consequences: either the opponent will pursue or the opponent will attack with a ranged weapon (and the character in flight will have no ability to dodge, parry, or block such an attack). No special rules are needed. Combatant A chooses to retreat. Combatant B, when her turn comes up, may choose to give chase and make a mêlée attack if and when she is close enough, or make a ranged attack where she stands. It's a natural result that requires no intervention.

What is served by ignoring the rules above? Besides not having to commit them to memory, it preserves a viable tactic that one can see in fiction and reality. Sometimes combatants retreat. Not every fight is to the death. The rules as written would have you believe otherwise, however, as combatants are forced to consider opening themselves to attack in order to avoid attacks.

And how exactly does one achieve this seemingly magical "free attack" when an opponent is literally moving out of range of close combat? All it does is enforce static — and therefore unrealistic and boring — fights. And none of us wants that.

So, in summary, my house rule on free attacks against retreating combatants is that there are no free attacks against retreating combatants. Follow the normal flow of action.

03 June 2021

Setting Nomenclature II, or, More Dumb Names for Campaign Worlds

Previously, I mentioned the name change of one of my more recent settings (wherein The Sundered Land became Some Dread Land). Now I would like to describe the folly of my earliest campaign worlds.

Murdundia (q.v.) was, I believe, my first original setting for Dungeons & Dragons. Unlike most role-playing fantasy settings, it reflected a monotheistic culture to make better use of paladins, clerics, demons, and devils. I think the name itself might have been inspired by "Mundania," the nonmagical land in the Xanth novels by Piers Anthony, but there the similiarity ended. "It's the world of... uh... Murdundia."

Cyclica was a setting dominated by a vast, circular megalopolis reminiscent of Constantinople and Lankhmar, but far more orderly. It was the only significant city in the known world, and the rest of civilization was feudal. I created the world of Cyclica as a setting for the adventures of a player character who was a saint, which was a class that appeared in DRAGON Magazine and was strictly intended for non-player characters. (Ludicrous, I know. We were junior high school students at the time, so that's our excuse.) "Cyclica" was meant to evoke the idea of a circular structure expanding gradually, but it always sounded contrived.

The World of Chickenhawk was my most detailed setting, a parody of a certain popular campaign world complete with sophomoric puns. I even ran an adventure at Gen Con set in Chickenhawk when I was a high school student. And I still have the world map and the adventure and the pregens! Chickenhawk is just, well, silly.