Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Two New Campaign Setting Ideas: One Horror-Fantasy, One Post-Apocalyptic

Way back in April 1985, I was a Freshman in High School (technically I was at a brand new public middle school in my area that went 7th-9th grades, after having already gone to a completely different public middle school in the same town for 6th-8th grades, but that's another story...) and I was right in the thick of a fascination with D&D and role-playing games. I spent pretty much every spare minute of time creating characters and NPCs, reading rulebooks and modules, and starting the work on my first homebrew campaign setting.

That month, issue #96 of Dragon magazine came out, and it included one of my favorite articles from that time period, "Books to Games? Perhaps!" by Arn Ashleigh Parker. The premise of the article is pretty much summed up in the subtitle, "Using Literature as the Backdrop for Adventuring." In fewer than four pages, the article discusses adapting worlds from literary works of fiction, such as Tolkien's Middle Earth, Edgar Rice Burroughs' world of Barsoom, or Robert E. Howard's Hyboria. While most DMs I know usually just grab bits and pieces from fictional worlds to introduce to their campaigns, this article was about how to adapt D&D rules to accommodate the changes necessary to use the worlds presented in fantasy and science-fiction literature "as is." Specifically, the author gives three examples showing how to adapt the worlds of the Gor novels, Barsoom, and Middle Earth

While I've never adapted a fictional world whole cloth for my games, over the years I've referred back to this article and used some of the ideas to help incorporate pieces from fictional worlds of novels, movies, TV shows, and comics for my campaign world. If you search for the Inspirations label here on my blog, you'll see a bunch of those that influenced by World of Samoth campaign. 

One source of inspiration that I think often gets overlooked by RPG world builders is comics. I remember a few years ago reading a really interesting series called The Wake by writer Scott Snyder and artist Sean Murphy. I wrote a bit about it in this post, which included a section at the bottom about "ideas for your role-playing games." This is what I wrote: 

"This thing is chock full of Cthulhuesque undersea fish-men, crazy science research stations, futuristic post-apocalyptic alliances with new political entities that are built on the ruins of the past, future tech, shady government agents, and more. There's just so much cool world-building in this book that you can get plenty of stuff for more than one campaign out of here. If you can't find anything in here to use, then you're not trying." 
Shortly after finishing the series (it was a 10-issue limited series), I asked one of my friends if he'd read it, and he said no and that he had no interest, and I mentioned how much cool world-building was in the series, and he said, "If I want world-building, I'll just read a D&D campaign setting sourcebook."

That did get me to thinking about the interesting interconnections between sources of inspiration and where they come from. I actually liked that this comic series had a rich developed background and took time to explore different parts of the world in the story, but my friend's viewpoint was that he wasn't looking for that kind of thing in a comic book story. 

I've written before on using comics as inspirations for role-playing campaigns; just search the Comics label and with nearly every review, I include a section of how you can adapt ideas from that comic for your RPGs, whether it's a specific character, or ideas on how to role-playing NPCs, a monster, or ideas on how to thematically represent different genres like horror or pulp noir. 

With that (long) set-up, here are two recent comics I've read that have sparked my imagination for taking elements to incorporate in a role-playing campaign. 

First up is a horror-fantasy story, Last God by DC Comics Black Label line. The Black Label comics tend to be a bit larger in size than a typical comic, with thicker covers and more mature content. Last God is by writer Philip Kennedy John, artist Riccardo Federici, and colorists Sunny Gho and Dean White. Notably, cartographer Jared Blando, who has done a lot of work for Wizards of the Coast and other game publishers, does the maps for this comic; there's a new map at the end of each issue, and they look fantastic. Check out his map for the world of the Last God, Cain Anuun on his website here

The premise of Last God, as described on DC Comics' website, is: 

"... the story of two fellowships of heroes struggling with the same threat... 30 years apart. One group will doom their world, the other must save it. 

Thirty years ago, a band of heroes traveled beyond the borders of creation and killed the last living god, saving the realm of Cain Anuun from an apocalyptic army of the undead. The legendy companions became the rules of their world and ushered in a new era of peace and prosperity. But it did not last. 

Now the foul legions of the Last God march once more, laying waste to all of Cain Anuun and revealing that the aging fellowship may not be the great heroes they claim to be. With the world burning down around them, a new group of unlikely champions must band together and accomplish what other other has done: kill the Last God once and for all."
The comic gets right to the point in the first issue to lay out what happened in the past (non-spoiler alert: the band of heroes from the past did not actually kill the Last God as they claimed; so the story is about the repercussions of that, and also why they didn't kill him). There are gladiator pits, major horror elements of creepy creatures and undead, the magical Guild Eldritch, elf and dwarf inspired races, and so much more. The creator, Johnson, mentioned that when developing the world, instead of starting with language like Tolkien did when developing Middle Earth, he instead started with music, and began writing folk songs, songs of worship, and epic poetry, and all of those led him to create more history and backstories, which then led to the creation of more maps and cultures. When reading the comic, you can tell there is a lot of information in the head of the creators about this world and that it almost seems real to them. 

I'm clearly not the only person who was intrigued by using this rich world building as the basis for a role-playing game - there's so much information developed by the creators that it was recently announced that a role-playing game supplement, Last God: Tales from the Book of Ages, which will be released on April 29th. The book is compatible with 5E and includes playable races, sub-classes, magic items, monsters, as well as the history of the people, locations, schools of magic, and various creatures of the world. 

Now, you could wait until the sourcebook comes out, but I highly recommend jumping in and reading the comic as well. You'll get a much better sense of the personality of the characters that live in the world, as well as amazing art and an engaging, compelling story. It's currently on the third issue, and if you can't find them at your local comic shop, you can grab digital copies off Comixology

Another comic I'm reading, and which has really intrigued me with adapting aspects of its world building to a post-apocalyptic role-playing game, is Undiscovered Country, by writers Charles Soule and Scott Snyder and artist Giuseppe Camucoli, published by Image comics. 

The premise of this comic, as described by Image, is: 

"Journey into the near future, and an unknown nation that was once the United States of America - a land that's become shrouded in mystery after walling itself off from the rest of the world without explanation over thirty years ago. When a team seeking a cure for a global pandemic breaches U.S. borders, they quickly find themselves in a struggle to survive this strange and deadly lost continent." 

It's tough to explain just why this title is so good without giving away too many spoilers, but the land of the U.S., inside the walled-off border, is definitely nothing like what you'd think it would be. The rest of the world has essentially divided into two massive super-power empires (continent-spanning alliances of Europe-Africa, and one of Asia), poverty and famine are rampant, and a deadly "Sky Virus" is threatening to wipe out humanity (which is the catalyst for the main characters to band together to try to infiltrate into the U.S. for a cure). The U.S. in this story has completely walled itself off both physically and digitally; there has been no communication whatsoever with anybody living inside the U.S. for the past 30 years, and nobody on the outside has any clue as to what's been going on inside. 

The main characters themselves read like an RPG adventuring team, with scientists, combat specialists, a historian (needed for information on pre-walled-off America), computer hackers, helicopter pilots, etc. Once they penetrate the border, what they find is unlike anything they, or I as the reader, expected, but it provides so much fodder for role-playing game world-building. 

The first issue, which came out last November, has gone through several re-printings. It's currently on the third issue, but again, if you can't find it at your local comics shop, you can pick up digital copies on Comixology

I highly recommend both titles, and would love to hear if you've read either (or both!) of these and what your thoughts were. 

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: I just had a Ferrari (half Fernet Branca, half Campari)


  1. The map link is
    There are lots of other maps there as well.
    Undiscovered country sounds really cool.

    1. Thanks so much! It's strange - even when I copy and paste your URL above, it goes to a "page not found," and that's the same link I had embedded in my post.

      Looks like the best way is to just go to the Cartography section of his site and then scroll through to find the map:

      Thanks again!


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