Friday, June 18, 2010

Away Team: Second Mission

Yes, I have another short reprieve, and so here I am, sharing it with you, whoever you are. I thought that, since this is a temporary reprieve, I'd try and share some more of my personal memories and thoughts on various games, rather than more characters; I can always pick that up again later.

I have a lot of gaming memories, though the most vivid ones are most often of particular settings. My earliest favorite setting was Dark Sun; after a couple years of reading Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun was a breath of fresh air. It was a bleak world, where even finding things that would be the most basic items on other worlds was a great find. People made do with wood, obsidian, and bone, where on other worlds they would use metal. Water was rare, and life was cheap; evil had, for the most part, won. Characters started out as hardened people; in a game where virtually everyone started at 1st level in other settings, Dark Sun characters started at 3rd level, and everyone had some sort of minor psionic talent, some greater than others. Some races that were common player races in other settings were gone - wiped out in terrible wars of genocide, the commanders of which now ruled the great city-states of the setting, as beings of terrible power. Even in the terrible wasteland that was the world, though, there was still some hope, and it was hard-won and worth every minute. I played for a long time in Dark Sun, playing as a mul (half-dwarf, half-human) former gladiator, with a number of companions played by good friends.

Then there was Planescape. Planescape was D&D's big mindtrip. In other settings, the planes were strange places, rarely seen or spoken of and visits there were rarer still. They were places made up of concepts, of pure elements, of good and evil, law and chaos, and the material world had little in common with them. And Planescape was right in the middle of it all. Sigil, the City of Doors, was a strange multiversal city that had residents and visitors from everywhere, every place, every material world, and was ruled by nobody except a single being, the Lady, whose sole concerns seemed to be the keeping of the city from the hands of interfering gods and keeping Sigil residents from worshiping her and getting too rowdy. Sigil was called the City of Doors because somewhere in the city, there was a door or portal to everywhere - if you had the right key. You could go anywhere, do just about anything, meet almost anybody - from the worst demon to the highest god, from the embodiment of fire to the living center of Law. It was unique and special, and the writing for the setting, along with the art, gave birth to a setting like no other since. The Planescape: Torment computer game, based in the setting, has been widely regarded as one of the best computer RPGs of all time. Sadly, it died an ignoble death with the end of 2nd Edition AD&D, though a loyal fanbase has kept it alive in one form or another ever since.

Then came Eberron. When 3rd Edition came out for D&D, they announced a setting search, open to all who cared to submit - and thousands of submissions came in. Wizards of the Coast winnowed the submissions down to a final few, and of those, it chose Eberron, which breathed new life into the stagnant setting morass that was official D&D at the time. Eberron was pulp fantasy at its finest; magically created, mass-produced golems soldiered with dinosaur-riding halfling tribes, lightning-driven trains flew over magical rails. The undead fought alongside living soldiers against former countrymen; elves worshiped their mystical dead; strange beings from a dreamworld pushed to take control of the dream-state of the whole world. It was to 3rd Edition what Dark Sun and Planescape were to 2nd Edition, and I bought up every book, read every novel. Unlike Dark Sun, I got little chance to play in Eberron, but it has given me any number of new ideas; for characters, for games, for places to go and things to do. It was chosen as a setting for 4th Edition as well, right after Forgotten Realms, and luckily for me, Dark Sun will be revived next, in a matter of months.

Now, for those of you who know me, you know I have a taste for the mythological. Some of my favorite books are things like Beowulf, the Iliad, and the Odyssey. So of course, when a small, independent gaming company called Khepera Publishing publishing a game called Hellas came out, a game that promised to let you tell the epic stories of Greek myth, but in space, I jumped for it. Sure enough, it does; Spartans are now from a world named Sparta, and Athenians from the Athens system; they fight and love and laugh and travel with such alien races as the Amazorans, (an entirely female subspecies of the larger Zoran race), the Kyklopes (aliens who blind themselves to see through a mystical third eye), the Goregons (primitive serpent-people, angry at the Atlanteans), the Myrmidons (hive-mind collectives that choose to shape themselves as Hellenes because they look up to them), and more. They still follow the gods, though by slightly different names, and travel the cosmos, spear and shield ready - with a blast rifle slung over one shoulder, of course, and traveling in a much snazzier chariot. In this sort of game, the Argonauts would not simply travel the Mediterranean, but entire galaxies. The siege of Troy would be a conflict so great it would make the final battles of Star Wars - any of them - look small by comparison. Perhaps in another galaxy lie Aegyptians, brought there by their own gods. It is epic Greek fantasy writ on a scale so large I have trouble seeing it, and so I have fallen in love with it - to the point of pledging over $100 to the Kickstarter for the first supplement, Princes of the Universe, and right now I am praying that it will make its goal by the deadline so I can have another beautiful full-color book to flesh out the setting more. I may not have the ideas to bring to life something like this, but I can certainly contribute to the success of something that may inspire me to do more with my thoughts. I hope to play Hellas one day - hopefully one day soon - but right now, the setting alone can keep me fascinated for hours or days, and that is good enough for me.

These are a few of the games and settings that set my mind on fire, that keep me up at night thinking of new games, new characters, new adventures. There are many more, because my collection is large; not all of them have the same visceral effect, but I remember them fondly, and try to keep them in my head. If you have any similar memories or thoughts on gaming, please feel free to share. Maybe we can help each other out.


  1. Iron Kingdoms is my favourite DnD setting. It did the magical steam punk thing so well that I actually found Eberron a touch anemic by comparison. Definitely worth checking out.

  2. I enjoy Iron Kingdoms too, though it seems to be far more popular as the setting for the Warmachine miniatures game than as an RPG setting; it is definitely more steampunk, but I think Eberron was really aiming more for a pulp fantasy, magical Indiana Jones kind of feel. Iron Kingdoms is more technology augmented by magic, or vice versa; Eberron is technology made by magic.