Monday, February 5, 2018

Something Wicked This Way...

So what comes next? 

Sometimes it takes a swift kick to my backside to make projects actually happen.

Where I live, in semi-rural Vermont, the OSR isn’t exactly a prime mover in gaming circles. A lot of folks came to RPGs during the 1990s, and, so it seems, a whole slew came into gaming after (or very recently). There isn’t a great deal of remembrance for 1e AD&D and, dare I say, absolutely nothing for the 1974 rules or Holmes’ original basic revisioning. The one other gamer that I know who gamed during the 80s is a transplant, like myself. It just isn’t part of the collective RPG consciousness. 

Through the peril fraught lands of social media, I have committed myself to exposing other gamers to at least one of the torchbearers of the old school, Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Just naming the system that I would pursue has made a number of obstacles easier, as I’ve wavered on just what direction I would take.

I’ve poked at finishing a home-brew setting that initially started due to my armchair historian interests. What began as a mytho-historical setting loosely based on concepts of Celtic afterlife and otherworld, slowly became a bit more horror oriented and post-Medieval in its thematics. At various points, it touched a bit too closely on territory that Ravenloft had tread. At other times, this world threatened to implode into a convoluted essay on topics that probably interested me and no one else. I put the wagon before the horse and piled burdens that had little bearing on what the adventures would contain.

In world building, there are two dominant philosophies - top down and bottom up development. I had tenuously held onto the broad strokes of developing a world with grand schemes, myriad cultures, and extensive maps. It successfully spooked me again and again - it was just too much information to tackle in a meaningful way, at least for me. The concepts I had developed required consistency - so every time I tried to approach where to start, it rippled outward into the same swamp of navel gazing and obscure details. 

Like any well read gamer, I have influences that resonate with creations of my own doing. I had resisted tying any of these together, as I was completely focused on doing something original. After 30 years of gaming, I think I can safely say that this wasn’t an approach that yielded me much.

All the successful campaigns I have run have not been entirely my own - including a decade of working within Kenzer’s Tellene (Kingdoms of Kalamar). The adventures through those ten years were a pastiche of classic adventures, re-purposed and rewritten with a darker focus. I began calling those projects ‘retrohacks’, and they dominated my table whilst I swore I was finishing “The World of Many Names” (how many times do gamers change their setting names?). 

In gaming it turns out, much to my chagrin, I am a thief. I love to borrow maps, settings, ideas - my table has been filled with stuff I corrupted. I felt a lot of this was just me being lazy, which it probably is, but I also love to pay homage to those things that inspire me. 

In the spirit of this, I began to wander away from actually finishing what I started. Over the last few moons, I started to consider taking what I had actually sketched and melding it to someone else’s setting(s). When the dust had settled from reading reams of OSR material, I was looking straight at three creations that resonated with me much deeper than the others.

Jack Shear (Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque) authored what many consider to be a setting that corrects much of Ravenloft’s muddled beauty. The Domains of Dread were pretty much the entire reason that I followed 2e much at all during the 1990s - but I found myself often disappointed in its flawed execution, repeatedly. It wasn’t until Arthaus/White Wolf took over the property that I think it hit its stride as was proper - graduating “Weekend in Hell” into a proper campaign setting. However, it still wasn’t what I really wanted - and I found my own slow developments on my terminally unfinished world drifting closer. Shear, with the World Between, gave me a setting that overlapped with a lot of my notes - and I fought this for years, with the blog moving on towards 5e and related, but separate, notes on his own campaign. In January, I broke and started uniting the work - starting with Ulverland. I’m changing as much as I’m keeping, but I doubt I’ll cease being in debt to the professor of the Gothic. 

Gavin Norman and Greg Gorgonmilk crafted something truly beautiful and haunting in the setting of Dolmenwood, encapsulated in the delightfully fungal Wormskin OSR zine. When I set out to design the last few incarnations of Arborea (the current name of the setting), I envisioned pockets of civilization surrounded by vast wilderness, creating an isolated world of humankind trapped by superstitions and well warranted fear. Dolmenwood will surely find itself nestled into my revisioning of Ulverland, which gives the whole fractured Pagan and Church feeling a bit more depth. 

Last, but certainly not least, is the immense work of jim pinto's campaign setting, King For A Day. System neutral and sprawling, drawing upon the bleakness of medieval existence away from the increasingly urban centers of trade. Put into the far north of Ulverland, these pockets inspired by Anglo-Saxon culture (and the immense Harn setting) give me a place to explore the bleaker side of low dark fantasy. It may seem at odds, but it allows me to provide a contrasting element to the previous two. 

Together with my world of scattered forested islands, this makes the goal I was reaching for much closer. Sure, I’ll still probably disrespect myself for not taking the whole project on without the shoulders of giants - but it will be on the table, being played. Bit by bit, I’m writing the ties between, creating something larger than any of its parts. Two islands will become a dozen, and three stolen campaigns will be undoubtedly joined by others. 

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