ORCs Versus the Evil Wizards

A summary of this thing I've been angry about on fediverse all week/month, and how it affects my plans.

So, Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro had been working on their "One D&D"/6E playtest/previews, which has been previously held in only moderate contempt here. And then they decided to update the license.

Since 2000, we've had the Open Game License (OGL) 1.0a, which lets you reuse anything else put under it, like the System Reference Document (SRD) of D&D 3.0; I used that in my Stone Halls & Serpent Men game, mainly to copy spells & monsters. This has allowed a massive ecosystem of vaguely-D&D-ish games to flourish, as well as used for very not-D&D games like Legend and OpenQuest, and Cepheus Engine.

  • 2022-12-21, WotC announced a new OGL 1.1, with onerous financial terms on big earners, and no creative use outside books & ebooks. Nobody liked this, but we could keep using the 1.0a license, right? I started making plans to migrate off their SRD, but otherwise not super concerned. Future of OGL games is in some peril.

  • OGL 1.1 fiasco timeline

  • Saturday 2023-01-07, Basic Fantasy RPG started rewriting their books to get out from under the OGL, and go full CC-BY-SA. This is a pretty drastic solution, but legally the safest. It looks to me like BFRPG might be the new post-WotC "core OSR book".

  • Monday, the actual license was leaked, and it's a clusterfuck.
    Registering with WotC, revocation of 1.0a licenses, WotC gets to moral-police you and shut down anything they don't like; screwed if you like weird horror, sex, drugs, or violence in your games.

    Gizmodo report is pretty reasonable.

    The claim they can revoke the 1.0a license is the rough part. The original license was meant to be irrevokable, but that wasn't in the licenses it copied from (GPL, etc.), so it doesn't say that.

  • Tim Cask

    the money-grubbing pomposity of Hasbro and WotC trying to squeeze third-party produces to death — don't they make enough already? Could their insipid releases be the cause of their reduced revenues, or is it those nasty little third-party guys that have kept the hobby alive and growing? The new OGL 1.1.

    Tim Cask encourages WotC to fuck off

  • Matt Finch on how this affects Swords & Wizardry

  • Ryan Dancey, formerly of WotC and creator of the OGL, said:

    Yeah my public opinion is that Hasbro does not have the power to deauthorize a version of the OGL. If that had been a power that we wanted to reserve for Hasbro, we would have enumerated it in the license. I am on record numerous places in email and blogs and interviews saying that the license could never be revoked.

  • ArsTechnica RPG fans irate

  • Thursday, a leak from inside WotC circulated:

ogl leak

  • Then WotC cancelled their livestream, while an angry mob gathered on Roll for Combat's livestream. Yes, Dr Frankenstein, the villagers are coming for you and your monster.

  • At which time, Paizo announced their own Open RPG Creative License (ORC) … Paizo doesn't use a CDN, so their site's been down most of the day from being hugged to death, in the mean time quoted here.

Paizo does not believe that the OGL 1.0a can be “deauthorized,” ever. While we are prepared to argue that point in a court of law if need be, we don’t want to have to do that, and we know that many of our fellow publishers are not in a position to do so.
We have no interest whatsoever in Wizards’ new OGL. Instead, we have a plan that we believe will irrevocably and unquestionably keep alive the spirit of the Open Game License. …
In addition to Paizo, Kobold Press, Chaosium, Legendary Games, and a growing list of publishers have already agreed to participate in the Open RPG Creative License, and in the coming days we hope and expect to add substantially to this group. …
We’ll be there at your side. You can count on us not to go back on our word.

I'm slightly disappointed their promo image is their dumb Human Fighter "iconic" leading the charge, and not an Orc.

WELL THEN

So my retroclone is toast. I'd have to scrub a lot of monster & spell text to get rid of the SRD, and that's being done better by BFRPG. I can package some of what I wrote as a sourcebook for that. It's B/X-ish, not Holmes, but I'm adaptable, and I can fix some of the tone by making new species-as-class combinations and minor rules tweaks. Might be a good zine type thing.

My roguelike is based on my retroclone, but it's mostly naming issues, easily fixed. Fucking Hasbro claiming OGL doesn't cover videogames, I'll show them a pantomime.

I toyed with shifting to d100 and I can borrow more from OpenQuest than Legend and be legally safer, but I dunno if that's useful to anyone. Just play OpenQuest, delete all the divine & shaman nonsense, and throw 50% more zombies at everyone, and it's just like I'd done it!

My sword & planet game I'll keep working on, and either release as CC-BY-SA, or ORC, depending on how that looks.

UPDATE 50 MINUTES LATER

Oh, WotC's PR flacks sweated this all night:

However, it’s clear from the reaction that we rolled a 1.

[canned Big Bang Theory laff trak, meme face of Sheldon looking cross but robotic]

It has become clear that it is no longer possible to fully achieve all three goals while still staying true to our principles. So, here is what we are doing.

[paraphrasing]

  1. Removing our principles.
  2. Doubling down on extortion over non-book products and anything Pat Pulling would've objected to.
  3. Fuck over "major corporations" some other way.

#ogl

RPG Tilemap

I had a useful JavaScript utility hidden away in the source for my Stone Halls & Serpent Men game, so I extracted it into its own thing:

Especially with people doing the challenge, it may be helpful for quickly drawing a dungeon, roguelike style.

I'm pondering doing a full wilderness + dungeon adventure again sometime soon, and I'll likely use Tilemap for it, but I sure won't be doing a room a day or anything like that!

Game Project Status Report

OK, thinking about projects time, what I've done with my 3-year summer vacation (extended, 2022 edition).

  • Scheme for local problems, sysadmin tasks, just general dorking around on the computer: 💯, best decision I've made in some time. In case it's not clear, Chez Scheme and Thunderchez.

    Schemers in general are annoying but less annoying than LISPers, so if the LISP community pissed you off, Scheme's might be 50% less toxic. I still have to block some people in IRC because they won't STFU or tolerate anyone Doing Things in Unapproved Manner. You know what would be amazing? A language as technically awesome as Scheme, with Python's friendly community. Python the language is trash, tho.

  • Haunted Dungeon, Scheme roguelike. Needs at most weeks of work, and then I can take a day and grind out binaries for various platforms (UUUUuuuugh Windows & Linux suck so much to interact with; Mac does for different reasons), ship it. It ballooned past my original tiny roguelike design long ago, but it's still not that big.

  • Multiple small Scheme programs & games, once I do that ship day I may just make a bunch of binaries. None of these are amazing but some are nice. Don't ask a developer to praise their own software, you know?

  • New Perilar CRPG, also Scheme. I have this at like 60% functionality, map generation's beautiful, and fuck-all for story, it's fine, same shipping problems, so much I need to think about if I get it to a playable state. Or it may be a learning experience.

  • Little Atari 8-bit game. Dungeon crawler with no purpose but it's cute, was meant to be a ZX SpecNext game but that's still not shipped after 2 years so… It's now at like 30% done, but I have some vision for it.

  • Open world action-adventure game I've got a bit of design for (in my paper sketchpad! Not even on the computer!), it could either be Scheme or Atari 8-bit or whatever. I don't actually know of anything like this design, tho original Zelda & Metroid are the parents (I clearly don't understand genetics) of all such games. Needs so much mapping & writing before I even start, but all the technical side is easy for me.

    Currently Atari stuff's in TurboBASIC-XL which is less bad than you'd think, but still really sucks compared to having a modern language; both Pascals and C's I have access to are less useful. I've been borderline to making a new language that compiles to 6502 ASM, but I know I'm lazy at tools-to-make-tools support.

    One nice part with Atari 8-bits is, shipping is easy. Put it in an ATR file, with an Atari emulator as seen on archive.org. One click, any browser shows it. Down side is, can't really charge money for this. Beg for patreon support; which I need to be better about giving you goodies in return for your cash, my fine patrons. Shall I write thee a sonnet?

  • Update & reupload my iPhone stuff. Should I even bother with Castles? I liked the underlying game but the UI is unbelievably shit, I had no idea what I was doing and limited by iPhone 1 screen/UI constraints. But Perilar, and some utility stuff, and maybe patch Brigand to be paid-up-front instead of IAP and say "this is what you could've had!". And I have my 3D game which never got shipped, just shown as demos. Worth spending some time on this and then never looking at it again.

  • Tabletop RPGs. Fuck this third goddamned plague year, which has made playing & playtesting RPGs just a nightmare. Every online group I try flakes out so fast they may be composed entirely of microscopic black holes. So I have my "original dungeon game" retroclone, and my much nicer sword & planet game, and a couple tiny gamelets. And with Hasbro's sabre-rattling at the OGL and "One D&D", I'm inclined to just ship only the sword & planet game, and turn the rest into world books for it. But I'd like to test it more than once with other Humans and also not get infected with plague. So. State of that world is uncertain.

Unearthed Experts

New Unearthed Arcana playtest document, see previously.

Characters who have levels in a Class are exceptional; most of the inhabitants of the multiverse aren’t members of a Class.

Hooray, 0-level NPCs are back. With no rules yet (how many HP?). This is good, in some ways, that a 1st-Level "hero" is useful for something, the town Blacksmith isn't necessarily a 15th-Level Expert who will stomp you into the ground. It's also awful, in that it leads right back to murderhoboing, squads of low- to mid-Level PCs literally being able to murder & loot hundreds of townsfolk before anyone can stop them.

There's a better balance somewhere above this. I tend to assume anywhere from 10-25% of a population are Level 1, and 10-25% of that number are higher. In tougher game areas, I make everyone at least 1st-Level, and up to 5th-Level in deadly areas; you simply don't live in northern Hyperborea if you can't wrassle a bear for breakfast.

WHAT’S AHEAD IN THE ONE D&D PLAYTEST?
Forty-eight Subclasses, including the Subclasses in this article

HOLY SHITBALLS. I'm a fan of simplifying down to 3 classes in my OD&D-based game (kind of 4), and no classes in my skill-based RPG (well, kind of 2, Magicians and Dilettantes). I didn't object to having a few more in Swords & Wizardry (equivalent to OD&D + supplements/Dragon magazine), but this is excessive. And they're in weird groupings:

Class Group OD&D Classes 5.5E Classes
Expert/Rogue Thief, Assassin, Bard Bard, Ranger, Rogue
Mage Magic-User, Illusionist Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard
Priest Cleric, Druid, Monk Cleric, Druid, Paladin
Warrior Fighter, Paladin, Ranger Barbarian, Fighter, Monk

A little history. In OD&D, the classic 3 classes were Fighter, Magic-User, Cleric.

  • Thieves were in Greyhawk (Supplement I), in some ways the first super-class, every "race" could be a Thief with unlimited Level! (which often didn't make sense, why is a woodsy Elf a better Thief than Fighter/Magic-User?!), ton of weird skills. But they were well-balanced by being weak, glass cannons in combat.
  • Paladins were in Greyhawk (Supplement I), as a special bonus for Lawful Fighters, not even a separate class at this time.
  • Monks were in Blackmoor (Supplement II) as a subclass of Cleric, even tho they're much more like Thieves being weak, non-magical, skill-based, and having most Thief skills! Everyone cheated to make a Monk at some point. My character Liu Shao (named after a one-season assassin Chinese emperor) had a lot of bad-guy monk adventures, got poisoned by a shitty player (I got some revenge later, but not enough).
  • Assassins were in Blackmoor (Supplement II) (long before religious nuts scared TSR into wussing out) as a Thief subclass, but their low Thief skills made them ineffective at their job. Everyone loves Assassins even if the class sucks, mostly due to Jhereg and Shadow of the Torturer.
  • Druids were in Eldritch Wizardry (Supplement III) as a subclass of Cleric. Despite a giant pile of powers, very few people played them, they were awkward to unusable in dungeons.
  • Rangers were in The Strategic Review (TSR) V1N2, as a subclass of Fighter; grossly overpowered, with an extra hit die (!), a very few spells from Cleric & Magic-User (WEIRD!) at 8th-Level, skills everyone needs outdoors, but then useless in a dungeon. Favored enemy initially was "Giant Class (Kobolds - Giants)", which is a bizarre range. Incredibly weirdly required to be Lawful like Paladins, when Neutral is the obvious alignment for Elf-friends. It's Strider from Tolkien, you know my distaste for that guy, Ranger should never have been added and the correct version is just a Fighter with a background of Hunter.
  • Illusionists were in TSR V1N4, as a subclass of Magic-User, great spell list with no real problems. My first character in 1978, Grecal the Grey Wizard, class-changed from Magic-User to Illusionist eventually (had a high DEX to start with).
  • Bards were in TSR V2N1, as an adaptation of the Celtic bards of history with limited skills: Charm & Lore at Level x 10%, Thief skills equal to 1/2 Level, M-U spells at about 1/2 M-U table (1 Fireball at 10th-Level), and some special magic instruments. A very solid, slow-developing class, that fit well with the classic classes. That wouldn't last long.
  • Barbarians were in Dragon #63 (1982), a subclass of Fighter based explicitly on Conan, so entirely about toughness, survival, and anti-magic, and actively destroy any magic they find, won't work with Magic-Users. They were basically unusable in a normal party, but fun as solo or with a sidekick Cleric, Thief, or normal Fighter, literally as seen in Robert E. Howard's stories.

Rangers got toned down and up again in every edition, Illusionists were left alone until they got forgotten, Bards were mutilated badly by AD&D 1E, reverted sorta in 2E, turned into generic musician jack'O'trades in 3E and on, there's a reason everyone hates spoony Bards if all they know is 3E and 5E. Barbarians were turned into generic fighters with berserking in later editions, so you can have them with a normal party, totally discarding the only thing that made them fun.

When creating a party of adventurers, one way to form a well-rounded group is to include at least one member of each Class Group. That said, mix and match Classes to your heart’s content!

So in 5.5E there's 4 groups, 3 classes per group, 4 subclasses per class = 48 subclasses. Which lets you drill down a bit easier than just picking from 48 options, but it's still insane, they could trivially stop at the classes and have a 4x better game.

The 3 "Expert" classes are in this packet, and only one subclass for each.

In all classes, skills are listed as specific choices "or any X skills from this list". Spells are "you have these spells, or choose…", and a long list of exactly what spells are prepared at each Level, unless you change them. Equipment is a pre-chosen package, "or spend X GP". I like packages and pregens for pick-up games, so that's fine, but I don't like that it presents the package first, the actual range of options later.

  • Rogue: HP are d8, median for 5E, fine. Weapons are limited to "Simple Weapons, Martial Weapons that have the Finesse Property"; in OD&D Thieves had no weapon restrictions, but AD&D 2E has a similarly limited list. Armor is restricted to light, and looking at the glossary, that now just gives disadvantage on STR & DEX rolls, and can't cast spells, so a Thief in plate might be viable for stand-up fights.

Sneak Attack (for all Rogues) is mechanically simple to get: You need either advantage (which if you're not an idiot, you always have), or an ally adjacent, and gives +1d6 per 2 Levels(!).

The experience table gives you a specific class feature at each Level, tho many of them are "Feat", "Expertise", etc. where you pick from the lists. The Thief subclass gives you mostly the classic Thief features, the one weird part is you have to CHOOSE between Fast Hands (pickpocket) or Second-Story Work (climb walls).

  • Bard: HP are d8. Bardic Inspiration lets you magically rap, scratch, or twerk someone within 60' to boost a die or heal someone. This is beyond nonsense. Bard magic is now OP, 2 Fears at 5th-Level, double a classic Magic-User table, who knows what the actual Wizard will look like. They're limited at first to Divination, Enchantment, Illusion, Transmutation schools; but at 11th Level can take "Magical Secrets" and unlock all schools, or Divine or Primal, which is even wackier, and I would expect a "Learn one other school" Feat will be along pretty quick, so you can get Evocation and Fireballs.

At 2nd-Level and up, Bards get healing spells, only 1 use per day, but still utterly disconnected from the historical figures. Bards get no real special features, nothing to do with music or lore or prophecy here. I doubt anyone in WotC has ever read of Taliesin.

I Taliesin, chief of bards,
With a sapient Druid’s words,
Will set kind Elphin free
From haughty tyrant’s bonds.
—Mabinogion

The subclass given here is College of Lore, which at least puts a little knowledge-based skill in them, a whole proficiency bonus to a few generic skills woo. Mostly a combat-based "Cutting Words", tho, basically Sarcastro's power from The Tick. WTF does that have to do with a loremaster?

  • Ranger: HP are d10, but just one per Level. Favored Enemy is now just a free Hunter's Mark spell, usable on anyone, you don't hate Orcs or whatever else, as in Tolkien & Gygax's genocidal games. Spells start at 1st-Level, but are much slower than Bard, giving 2 Conjure Barrages at 9th-Level (they use the Primal spell list now). Some of the special abilities aren't bad, movement speed, extra attacks, temporary HP. Their 18th-Level power increases Hunter's Mark to d10 instead of d6, which is pathetic by itself, but possibly with Barrage it's a good upgrade?

Hunter subclass is OK, just extra damage and Barrage spells. Very boring and phoned-in. How about traps? Or some special tracking? An ambush bonus? Preparing extra meat from hunted game? Nope, dullness. Ranger will continue to be the most ignored class in 5.5E.

  • Feats: I'm going to ignore most of these for now. Feats were a bad idea in 2.5E, 3E, and 5E, and I'm sure they continue to be broken in 5.5E, let's just move on.

Epic Feats are new, all the class super-powers got moved down to 18th-Level, and you get an Epic Feat at 20th-Level. First, WTF kind of game is getting past 10th-Level anyway? In OD&D, my view was that you reach Lord at 9th-Level, maybe a bit higher as 10th- to 12th-Level, and that's about it. I'd rate Elric as an 8th-Level Fighter/12th-Level Magic-User (ignoring that as an Elf he's limited to 4/8), and Conan as a 10th-Level Barbarian at his heroic peak, prior to becoming fat old King Conan. B/X ended at 14th-Level, BECMI extended that to 36th and then Immortals, but that was extremely broken past 12th-Level, especially for non-Humans, AD&D simply didn't work above 10th-Level, and Gygax claimed nobody was above that in his games, except some NPCs/retired PCs. 3E routinely did push Levels higher, but then Epic 6 scaled that back down to a fun game at 1st- to 6th-Levels.

So anyway, if you are playing superheroes in Forgettable Realms or whatever, and aren't cunning enough to go play Exalted which is much more suited to this. These are very boring, and most suck:

  • Epic Boon of Combat Prowess: Auto-hit melee 1x/round. Pretty good, but high-Level characters always hit anyway.
  • Epic Boon of Dimensional Travel: Dimension Door 1x/round. Tactically interesting, especially for a mage or archer keeping range. 100% of magic foes should have Dimensional Anchor to stop this nonsense.
  • Epic Boon of Energy Resistance: Ignore one element type. Pretty obnoxious if you can do Fire when going to Hell, etc.
  • Epic Boon of Fortitude: +40 HP. That's only half a max-level Fireball, so meh.
  • Epic Boon of Irresistible Offense: Ignore target's resistance. Might be broken, you could fistfight a Tarrasque.
  • Epic Boon of Luck: Free Bardic Inspiration shit.
  • Epic Boon of Night Spirit: Invisibility 1x/action. You can literally cloak, sneak attack, cloak, sneak attack.
  • Epic Boon of Peerless Aim: Auto-hit missiles 1x/round. Pretty good, but high-Level characters always hit anyway.
  • Epic Boon of Recovery: Heal 1/2 HP, 1x/long rest. Don't you have, like, potions and Clerics and shit?
  • Epic Boon of Skill Proficiency: Bonus to all skills. "Whoah, I know BASKET WEAVING!" Lamest of the lame.
  • Epic Boon of Speed: +30' move, which is like a single Ranger bonus but less than a potion of Haste.
  • Epic Boon of Undetectability: Shitty version of Invisibility.
  • Epic Boon of Unfettered: Can ungrapple as a bonus action. Given how OP and Level-breaking grappling is, this might be a good idea.

  • Spell Lists: Now with some School of Magic changes, woo.

  • Rules Glossary, which totally replaces the previous document's:

  • Ability Checks no longer say "automatic win/lose" for DC 5 or 30. "The default DC for a check is 15, and it is rarely worth calling for an Ability Check if the DC is as low as 5, unless the potential failure is narratively interesting." They've removed crit on 20, fumble on 1, except in combat.

  • Now rolling a 1 on any "d20 Test" gives "Heroic Inspiration", and you can also get one whenever the DM says so. I don't mind Luck/Benny/Fate points, especially in heroic genres where you can "succeed forward" — jumping from a plane onto a moving train and punching a Nazi is cool so you can pay some resource to succeed at that. But Inspiration in 5E is pretty limited, and you can only have 1 point of it, and getting it by fumbling is weird.

This is definitely some kind of improvement over the origins booklet, and walking back the most controversial mechanical changes, but the classes are so heavy, make completely meaningless non-lore-based distinctions, and just make the game worse the more are added.

Unearthed Like a Graverobber

A few more thoughts on Unearthed Arcana

WotC is doing "physical/digital bundles" for the Dragonlance stuff. Are they finally doing PDFs like every other game company?! Fuck no, it's a "D&D Beyond" gulag access code. Can't use your ebook without gigabit Internet access. That's how they get you. "One D&D" will just update your ebooks to the official standard forever. Print and ownership are dead.

Excuse me while I go hug this little GOZR book and PDF instead. I'll review GOZR soon, it's cool.

Humans:
Size: Medium (about 4–7 feet tall) or Small
(about 2–4 feet tall), chosen when you select
this Race

Dwarfs with Dwarfism? NO. Big Halflings or Gnomes? NO. Humans range from 2-7' tall, no change in stats (but then, Gnomes are as strong as Humans now). Warwick Davis approves, I'm sure.

Also, Orcs are now 6-7' tall. Back in the day, they were smaller than Humans, just heavier. Steroid abuse.

ROLLING A 20
A player character also gains Inspiration when rolling the 20, thanks to the remarkable success.
CRITICAL HITS
Weapons and Unarmed Strikes* have a special feature for player characters: Critical Hits.

Reddit's going crazy over this, but it doesn't say other attacks don't get crits, just these do. And every NPC is a player character to the DM. Ain't no problem if my favorite Goblin Chuck gets a crit and guts your Ardling Paladin open, screaming for his momma on the dungeon floor. Gotta teach the punks respect.

The DM determines whether a d20 Test is warranted in any given circumstance. To be warranted, a d20 Test must have a target number no less than 5 and no greater than 30.

Yes, this avoids the "5% chance to jump over the Moon" problem, but a hard rule prevents awesome bonus characters from doing great things, too. Very badly written/thought out rule.

UNARMED STRIKE
… On a hit, your Unarmed Strike causes one of the following effects of your choice:
Shove. You either push the target 5 feet away or knock the target Prone. This shove is possible only if the target is no more than one Size larger than you.

Great! You can just push an Ogre down, it has no resistance, it loses its action, buddies curb-stomp it while it gets up. Grapple is nearly as good, you can just move the target around anywhere. Every edition's unarmed rules are dumber than the last.

Nth Edition D&D

Was Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast bought by Microsoft? They're calling the next edition of D&D, 5.5 in any reasonable terms, "One D&D", just like Xbox One (third of that line).

To some extent I don't care, I don't do 5E, it's 1000 pages of rules to do what retro games do in 64 or less. But I keep up with the news!

I will note, I tried to sign in with Apple, and it failed on their end, untested crap code. So I signed in with Twitch, which makes no sense at all. That they can't manage their own sign-in and need oauth, eh, fine, but at least test every one!

"Unearthed Arcana" (the shittiest AD&D book, revived for 5E!), "by Jeremy Crawford, with Christopher Perkins and Ray Winninger". Well, Ray's a bright point, at least. But I'm guessing there won't be anything like Underground in this pablum.

Right now there's Character Origins up.

Superhero monster races, but now nothing mentions that your culture is mostly chaotic or evil. Human, Dwarf, Elf, Gnomes, Hobbits alflings, as usual. Dark Elves are only called Drow, and nothing mentioned of the ALL ARE EVIL except for unspoken reasons these jerks "shun":

Drow. Known for their white hair and dusky- gray skin tones, drow typically dwell in the Underdark. Noteworthy exceptions include DRIZZLE DOO-WAH-DIDDY and JAR-JAR BINKS [ed.], two drow adventurers of the Forgettable[ed.] Realms who shun their subterranean homeland.

I often forget just how Disney-level singing-and-dancing treacly sweet official TSR/WotC/FR stuff is, the "Halflings" are all happy farm workers, not the grubby, thieving, murderous, sawed-off, shoeless scum of Mary Gentle's Grunts or JD's Finieous Fingers. Oh, under "many worlds":

For every sequestered halfling shire tucked away in some unspoiled corner of the world, there’s a halfling crime syndicate like the Boromar Clan on the world of Eberron or a territorial [ed: cannibalistic] mob of halflings like those found on the world of Athas.

Ardling (animal-headed god-spawn):

An ardling gains a measure of magical power from their celestial legacy, as well as the ability to manifest spectral wings. An ardling’s moral and ethical outlook is self-determined, however, not fixed by ancestry.

Fucking Dragonborn. I hated DragonNewts in RuneQuest, clearly Stafford just powergaming and almost jerking off into the page over his immortal lizard-babies, and they're just the worst PCs or NPCs in any game that's picked them up since. Why don't people steal Ducks from RuneQuest?! Ducks are awesome, hilarious and petty and venal little shits, and not OP fan-wank. Anyway, I get distracted. Fuck Dragonborn (except scalies, quit fucking Dragonborn).

Orcs. As previously mentioned. Heroical but not nice background somewhat implied, which is about as strong as WotC can be anymore:

Young orcs are often told about their ancestors’ ancient conflicts with elves in forests, dwarves under mountains, and invaders from evil planes of existence. Inspired by those tales, young orcs often wonder when Gruumsh will call on them to match the heroic deeds of their ancestors, and if they will prove worthy of the One-Eyed God’s grace.

Tieflings. Like the Ardlings:

This connection to the Lower Planes is, for better or worse, the tiefling’s fiendish legacy, which comes with the promise of power yet has no effect on the tiefling’s moral outlook.

While I don't like the monsters-only-party tone of this stuff, I have nothing against Ardling & Tiefling characters for high/stoner fantasy games, they're OP but they fit. We all liked Thundercats. The wussing out of Orcs & Drow is, sigh, sadly necessary, to quit giving shelter to actual fucking racists.

I just adamantly oppose making a monster race like Dragon-spawn into PCs. That's a KOS (Kill On Sight) monster, as in Dragonlance. OH! They're doing Dragonlance (Railroad Choo-Choo!) as next year's campaign setting. Awk…ward. Run a few Draconians ("DRAGONMEN" as DL1-Dragons of Despair called them) up against the party, see how they feel about hanging out with a scaly traitor. And KENDER! Oh, here's a nuclear hand grenade character to throw into parties of unsuspecting 5E noobs. Suddenly the railroad becomes more of a trainwreck, and I'm keen to watch it explode.

None of the "races" (which term they should abandon for "Species" as I do, or "Kindred" as Ken St. Andre does) have any stat mods, but most do give advantage on saves for 1-3 stats, which is like a +8 stat mod (giving a +4 bonus, equal to advantage) mechanically, so it's far far worse. Total fail on toning down the species superiority complex.

Backgrounds are careers, and give ability score bonuses, proficiency bonus to some skills & tools, feats, and equipment. They're like a whole second class. There's a weak version of these in the 5E rules, but much more powerful here. Who cares if you're a Human or an Orc, when Gladiator or Laborer makes you a tank; I will say at least they mostly paired one useful stat with a dump stat (WIS or CHA), but several add to two primary stats, and have a synergistic feat. Laborer's trivial, right? No, it gives +2 CON, +1 STR, Feat Tough (+2 HP per Level), for a total of at least +3 HP per Level. Cultist gives +2 INT, +1 CHA, Magical Initiate (+1 Arcane 1st level spell/day). Backgrounds just went from optional cute story thing, to more meta than race.

Feats are pretty standard, but several are extremely easy to abuse and get too much power from, at least on an OSR-scale. Against other 5E stuff, it's probably nerfed a bit, but getting a free Feat from background is the problem.

Spells are now merged into just 3 lists, Arcane (magic-users, spoony bards, etc), Divine (useless clerics & racist paladins), and Primal (hey nonny nonny dancin' skyclad in the woods rangers & druids). That's actually a good change, back to the simplicity of OSR. Of course, what's even simpler is deleting Clerics and having one spell list, but WotC's not ready for that yet. "Two D&D" in 2030, perhaps.

Call of Cthulhu, final edition

I went in on the Call of Cthulhu 2E kickstarter and they finally got the box to me.

What's in the Box, What's in the Box?

It is tightly packed.

The dice they include are kinda crap, sub-Chessex dark sparkly things, but that's expected. Instead get some good dice, GameScience or precision metal dice, OK?

The world map is fantastic, very thick paper, map of Arkham on the back. There's an all-new Keeper's Screen, which seems entirely useful, tho it's 3 landscape pages, not 3 portrait like my usual Wall of Fear and Ignorance. A new size comparison sheet, 4 pages across now, everything from Mi-Go to "Mighty Cthulhu". 4 old-style character sheets, hardly enough for the casualty rate you're really gonna have.

Main book (96 pp) and 1920s Sourcebook (36 pp) are stapled up like the originals. Treat gently, but it'll lay flat. Gene Day cover & interior art looks great, not the usual low-rez scans printed out badly. It looks as good or better than it did 40 years ago.

I suppose now I should've got the Deluxe box, I have those extra 5 supplements in some form but not in these nice reprints.

Over the days to come I'll read the books in detail again, and get to run it sometime, but I'm so happy just to have the right edition.

Cthulhu and Me

I've been playing & running this game since the early '80s, discovered H.P. Lovecraft almost simultaneously with the game. Over time, I came to appreciate Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and earlier writers, far more than the mid-century ripoffs and wannabes like August Derleth and Lin Carter, and only tolerate some later wannabes like Brian Lumley (and certainly Mike Mignola uses a lot of Mythos in Hellboy, but it's a very different thing). There are good later Mythos writers, but few and far between. Obviously Lovecraft's personal beliefs were pretty offensive early on, and while he got less awful later on (post-New York), he'd be an asshole in modern terms… but he wasn't modern, he's dead, and the books are the books.

There's a new 2-volume collection, The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, by Leslie Klinger. I highly recommend these. I don't have an equally good CAS or REH recommendation right now, but maybe in time.

Call of Cthulhu, for all that it has some flaws, does a remarkably good job of simulating the horror stories of a depressed New England lunatic who sees monsters in everything, and the monsters do not care that we exist.

So that's the good part.

CoC then and much more so now, has a lot of Derlethian nonsense in it, waving Elder Signs around like crosses at Dracula, Greek/Persian "elemental" magic and demons and gods interested in Humans, all that bullshit. There's been some attempts to remove that, and Chaosium has stolidly ignored them and added more crap. The last edition of CoC I liked at all was 5.5, and 7.0 is very different in some annoying ways. It's gone from a small game to a big game, bloated up like late-model Elvis. I just wanted that original, fairly svelte game back.

There's other issues. Sandy Petersen, game designer and devoted Lovecraft fan, shares some of Lovecraft's pre-New York personal beliefs, and adds all new bigotries of his own. So I'm ill-inclined to give him money for anything; this was almost a ransom. Now the thing I want is in my hands, I can wash my hands of him forever. The new Chaosium's lawyers and delusional "open (but not really) license" BRP, I want to stay as far away from as possible.

Dungeoning & Dragoning and My New Rules, No Clerics Allowed

So I have, uh, three tabletop RPGs in development right now. One's a little corporate sabotage game, inspired by Severance, Brazil, Paranoia… One of my mini horror games with poor long-term survivability, but neat premise, should be fun.

Second is my sword & planet RPG, still needs a lot of work for space & time & dimension mechanics; it works great for fantasy swordfighting but that's not the whole point. I considered using variant Traveller/Cepheus Engine for this, but the tone is not "grizzled vets play Elite", so I'm off in my own direction here.

Third is yet another in a long series of D&D house rules that become their own OGL game, and that's what I'm on about today. In replacement for my overly-variant and overly-3.x-mechanics Stone Halls & Serpent Men, or handwritten Olde House Rules. Name to be decided later.

I've been reading a lot of the very oldest games & magazines, and really getting in the space of "what does this game need instead of what Gary published?"

  • New rules, basically OGL, spells & monsters are mostly stock from Swords & Wizardry White Box SRD, but some have partial to total rewrites. A handful of entirely new monsters, or takes on mythical/literary monsters. All new encounter table! I'm only using d20, d6 dice, and things you can do with those.
  • Stats change Wisdom to Willpower (WIL). Stat bonuses are B/X-ish, -3 to +3, which works with a d20-based mechanic. Saves & skill rolls are all based on stats.
  • HP start a little higher, Classed types get their CON score as base, but only d6 +/- 1 HD per Level. Somewhat like Arduin Grimoire. With limited healing, you need a bit more buffer between alive/dead. If you hit 0, you make death saves at penalty and probably die soon, but it's possible to be knocked out & captured like John Carter et al. do in every book.
  • Species are Human, Dwarf, Wood Elf, Beastfolk. As previously noted in The Thing About Orcs, I don't do kill-on-sight intelligent beings. You can have wars against hostile tribes, but the Badger Beastfolk who runs the bakery is not at war with you. High Elves are, as usual for me, The Big Bad (as well as Serpent Men, because I'm a Kull fanboy). No "dark elves", "half-demon goth chick", "dragon scalyfucker", "hobbit", etc. species. As I noted in Orcs, Humans-only doesn't work well without cultural markers that are harder to explain.
  • Classes are Fighter, Thief, Magician, and Spellsword (mediocre warriors with mediocre magic). No multi-class, no Clerics. Not doing anything fancy with career paths. Other than a few more experience options, and "Orgies, Inc" style pay-for-EP, it's a normal experience system! Who knew I could do that?! Should be interesting at least for this game.
  • Magic has a number of hard limits, which will make you invest in traditional fantasy accoutrements like flying mounts and magic potions instead of being superheroes with pointy hats. It is Vancian, in the sense that I've actually read Jack Vance so it works like that. Minimized spell/item creation rules, but there is some support for stuck-in-a-tower research campaigns.
  • Adventuring rules are simplified quite a bit, down to what I actually do in play; the more complex mechanics in SHSM rarely got used, the simple stuff does.
  • I may just pull the Inspirational Media (aka "Appendix N") chapter from SHSM and post it as a page. That media list is what I mean by "pulp fantasy".
  • Currently it's about 32 pages, not too densely packed, might be a bit more if I include more setting detail; certainly not above 48 pages, which seems a fine oldest-school size. Not bothering with art except the cover? I don't think so. Literature doesn't need interior art, use your imagination.

No Clerics Allowed

The lack of Clerics is contentious, but Delta's DND and Binder Full of Notes share my arguments.

I don't see heroic Clerics in any of the pulp swords & sorcery I like. There's Priest-Magicians in Moorcock's Elric stories or Thieves World, and they're the baddies. New campaign world is more like Fritz Leiber's Nehwon, where at best the few priests seen are charlatans, at worst cultists. The only historical place they come from is Archbishop Turpin from La Chanson de Roland; even Le Morte d'Arthur has only knights who praise their god, not magic Clerics. The only fantasy Cleric I can think of that I like is Duncan from Deryni Rising, and he's a secretly-apostate priest who uses black magic to save his people from Christian Human genocide!

They don't appear in Chainmail (Heroes & Wizards), or Dave Arneson's games (Adventures in Fantasy has skill-based fighters, who develop faerry[sic] magic skills later). The only reason they were ever in the game was Gary had an annoying vampire PC, and rather than do anything OOC (unaware that Rousseau had published The Social Contract in 1762), he made a grudge class for someone else.

Getting rid of Clerics makes Undead terrifying, and I love the Undead but don't love turning the undead. You don't have a living body shield who can just turn Undead all day; a Magician's Protection, Area spell lasts a few turns and only delays your murder or waiting for sunrise. Healing becomes slow (high-Level Magicians can cast 1 healing spell per day) or expensive (potions and scrolls), which encourages you to creatively avoid combat, not wade in and heal later, unless you have superior power. No raise dead, resurrection, or restoration (tho "level drain" has a different meaning in my game).

The super weird part of Clerics in D&D is they're based very heavily on Medieval Catholic priests; they carry crosses (not "holy symbols") in OD&D, they use "blessed holy water", their miracles are all based on Jesus stories, their hierarchy is based on the Medieval Catholic Church (with some weird level titles). But then they do nothing related to the Church! Because they're just Van Helsing minus the science.

The thing that stands out to me most is they have no interaction with Faerie or other gods. Historically and in myth, The Church ordered Christians to mass murder any Pagans who wouldn't convert, and fought endlessly to genocide/unexist the Little People, the Fair Folk, the People Under the Hill, Trolls, whatever you call them; their worship barely survived at all in Iceland, Finland, Norway, they're just "fairy tales" now. The worlds of Law (Christianity) & Chaos (Faerie) are openly at war in Poul Anderson's Three Hearts & Three Lions. Clerics should be all carrying iron staves and fighting against the Fey. They do in Ars Magica. But it's never come up in D&D?

Blackmoor/Eldritch Wizardry/AD&D added Druids (historically, more Sage political leaders than lightning-throwing Poison Ivy/Captain Planet superheroes), who should literally be at bloody war all the time with Christian Clerics, but everyone's copacetic, it's an ecumenical matter. Church and Holly Grove are next door in the tiny village of Hommlett. They have Clay Golems, explicitly based on the Golem of Prague, made by Clerics instead of Jewish Rabbis (again, Sages, not magic Clerics except in some Torah stories). What. I do use Golems, I love "programmed clay/flesh/iron machine goes crazy" stories; but the religious issue is impossible to resolve.

If I cared one whit for religious ceremony and all that, well, you can still have religions without Clerics, as seen in our world. They can be non-Classed, Thieves (most appropriately), or Fighters, or even Magicians if you don't mind the cognitive dissonance. But the only old-timey-religions that have ever been in my games are demon-summoning cultists Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!, or fascist Templar priests, who are more political than religious.

So, the gameplay is better without Clerics. The world is much better (more like the pulp S&S I want) without Clerics. Even in a historical setting (which I very much do not do), Clerics shouldn't have superpowers.

Why Not 5E?

Because I don't need 1000 pages of corporate rules to tell me how to move down a corridor, check for traps, fight or flight. I really hate the superheroic power level. It's nearly impossible to disentangle the healing rules from it.

Mornin'. Nice day for fishin', ain't it? Hu ha!

  • Epic NPC Man: Playlist of 182 (and more all the time) little skits from "The World of Sky-craft" aka "Aze-Rim". Some nail exactly what the MMO experience is like, frustrating and amusing at once, some are less so. But I watched most of these in the last 2 days, totally worth it. My brain has melted.
  • Baelin's Route: Movie of the silly fisherman with one line of dialogue, dragged off to adventure. The actor does a LOT with that one line and a fishing rod (that turns into a staff with a knob on the end during fights). If he earns a tiny bit of XP every time he fishes, and he's been fishing nonstop for 20 years since launch, he's probably the most powerful being in Azerim. I don't like the inevitable plot twist 2/3 thru, but fucking Witcher did it, why wouldn't these guys?
  • NPC Dungeons & Dragons: Playlist of the nerds playing D&D (5E, not at all my favorite edition and I dislike the kind of story-driven modules they're been funneled thru, but the play's the thing)

Makes heavy use of New Zealand's fantasy aesthetic and loudly plays celtic music like a certain set of movies set there. Their costumes, props, and film editing "magic" are simpler, but better than those movies. They do OK at getting diverse casting, it's not all honkies.

Fantasy Inspirations of My Youth

This is a good "why are you like this" challenge:

If I'd been called on to run a D&D campaign at age 10 or 12,
these are the images and plots I would have drawn on to
provide the inspiration for my game. […] What were your earliest
childhood fantasy inspirations? What did your fantasy world
look like back then?
DIY and Dragons

I think these are roughly in order of age of discovery, publication date's often very different. I was… the word schools liked was "precocious", which just means I was years and years ahead of the curriculum designed for morons and they had no idea how to educate me, any more than an ape could educate a mere Human. The Tarzan problem. So I read and watched whatever I liked, and grew up weird. Giving me D&D and then Gamma World was just giving a junkie an endless needle.

  • Godzilla (1954): This is what dragons are like. Any kind of giant, dinosaur, or kaiju is a catastrophe you run from, not a "monster" you fight from horseback, those are just wyverns. I saw basically every monster movie and some sentai on KSTW-11, which only had budget for old movies and reruns.

  • Star Wars (1977), Splinter of the Mind's Eye, by Alan Dean Foster (1978), Empire Strikes Back (1980): High-tech but just fantasy activity; as I learned later, Star Wars is The Hidden Fortress with spaceships, many scenes are shot-for-shot remakes.

    I'm trying to think what I learned from this, and I think it's that every alignment can be cool. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Leia are Chaos, and they're cool, tho if Leia wins she'll establish a tyrannical monarchy again which is no good. Han Solo is Neutral, and he's cooler than cool, and shoots first. Darth Vader is Order, choking out all dissension, and he's THE COOLEST. Luke and Grand Moff Tarkin suck, but you can't have everyone be cool or nobody is.

    Figure out your antagonists' motives, take their affectations and crank them up to 11, and you have an EPIC hero or villain. Pity they never made any more Star Wars movies, I might've liked to see Revenge of the Jedi. I will take no email or comments to the contrary.

  • Bullfinch's Mythology: While now it's "oh that old thing", Bullfinch did a fantastic job of covering Greek/Roman (more Greek, but with Roman names; Roman syncretism mapped names to their gods but their practices were different), Norse, and Arthurian mythos, including a lot of the poetry and literature that referenced them in the 2000 years since. Academic mythology books are too concerned with period beliefs and not how those ideas are used in later works, so they're less gameable. The art in Bullfinch's is also fantastic.

  • Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Carter of Mars, Tarzan of the Apes, Pellucidar: You know why everyone in fantasy worlds speaks Common? Because the Barsoomians have a common language by way of telepathy; Carter's telepathy's a little stronger than usual, so he can project it, but they all have it. The ruined cities, falling civilization, a hero trying to bring back glories, toppling false religions, it had it all. Tarzan's ruined cities and ancient civilizations hidden in the jungle were awesome, literally set much of my campaign style. Pellucidar was so weird and dream-like, I barely understood it, but a plausible way for dinosaurs, Humans, and evil Mahars to coexist was amazing, too. It's not a coincidence Eric J. Holmes, editor of Dungeons & Dragons Basic set, wrote a Pellucidar novel.

  • National Geographic: I had access to a big stack of old NatGeo from '40s to '70s. In particular, I devoured anything about Ancient Rome, Egypt, Greece, Mayans, & Aztecs. NatGeo of the time was astoundingly West-oriented and racist; I would've loved to know more about China, Japan, Korea, & India, but they were barely touched on. Africa was only ever presented as wilderness or savages, zero mention of modern cities. I have an eternal love of giant detailed maps from this time.

  • ElfQuest (1978): Very pretty, cutesy comics about cuddly little Wood Elves and their Wolf pets… Ha ha no, I lie, they're vicious, backstabbing, eternally horny/drunk little bastards, the Trolls (more like Dwarfs) are venal scumbags, Preservers (Fairies) are insane pests, High Elves are supernatural psychopath villains, and Humans are the dumbest, meanest animals on 2 legs. Here's how to throw all your dumb Tolkien racist shit out and have murderous Keebler Elves.

  • Michael Moorcock: The silver Elric books and bronze Count Brass books, I grabbed as soon as each new one came out, devoured them. Elric's world is full of weird mystical secrets you can grab hold of, bargain with, steal, and use. Horrible monsters and demons are summoned up by fool wizards for lust or revenge, and spread Chaos in the world. Hooray, Chaos! We see in the decayed post-apocalypse of Count Brass that Order is just as poisonous, and can't be recovered from. I didn't encounter Moorcock's weirder stuff like Jerry Cornelius until much later, presumably the local hillbilly bookstores didn't order them.

  • Mervyn Peake, Titus Groan (1946), Gormenghast (1950): Literally my model of the megadungeon. The structure seems to go on forever, up and down, buried into the Earth. Strange structures poke out everywhere, mapping beyond the known halls is impossible. The inhabitants are mad. There's little/no magic or monsters in the books, but they feel like there's magic & monsters everywhere. Don't read past the 2nd book, I didn't as a yout' and much later I didn't like Titus Alone.

  • Katherine Kurtz, Deryni Rising (1970): Low fantasy proto-England with swordfights, witchcraft & ritual magic, treachery. The ongoing fetishization of monarchy and religion, and an "actual miracle", finally soured me on the series, but the early books made it clear these are Human (or Deryni) fabrications. The consistent, low-powered but useful "magic" (or psionics, or mutant powers) are a good way to model magic in games. The Deryni are High Elves who don't suck.

  • Gamma World (1978): The game that defined how I see role-playing games. Harsh, brutal, shockingly beautiful at times, erratic, full of impossible, anachronistic references. It's fun, it's not reality. Unspeakably deadly in most places, but two medieval dipshits having at each other with swords will take half an hour to whittle their HP down to nothing, and then the survivor will take months to heal; so you learn to cheat, to use poisons, artifacts, traps, tame monsters as pets, risk getting more mutations, so you can survive.

  • Robert Asprin & Lynn Abbey, Thieves World (1978): Absolutely should never have been given to an impressionable young Mark. Cruelty, treachery, black magic, and of course thievery in a corrupt hellhole end-of-the-Empire city called Sanctuary. Pretty much all my fantasy cities are a bit of Sanctuary.

    A very similar influence I encountered later was Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser. But I didn't read those until late '80s.

  • Thundarr the Barbarian (1980): The most formative thing possible. Every frame of even the opening title is inspirational. Jack Kirby designed this, and it shows. A mix of Gamma World, magic, Burroughs-type ruins, superhuman heroes.

    "In the year 1994, from outer space comes a runaway planet,
    hurtling between the Earth and the Moon, unleashing cosmic
    destruction! Man's civilization is cast in ruins! 2000 years
    later, Earth is reborn, a strange new world rises from the
    old, a world of savagery, super-science, and sorcery! But one
    man bursts his bonds to fight for justice! With his companions
    Ookla the Mok, and Princess Ariel, he pits his strength, his
    courage, and his fabulous Sun Sword against the forces of evil!"

  • Clash of the Titans (1981): Ray Harryhausen's masterpiece. The monsters are amazing, the gods are meddling jerks but not the center of attention, more amazing monsters, the dumb-ass hero and chick yada yada another amazing monster! The myths I'd read so much about were filmed. Pity that Perseus & Andromeda are so much more wooden than the monsters. The gods do indeed play games with the lives of mortals.

  • Heavy Metal (1981): I'd seen maybe one issue of the magazine at this time, it was definitely not sold to minors. But somehow I got into the movie, and when it came out on tape I got it and rewatched endlessly. The Lock-Nar itself is irrelevant, the framing story is silly. But "Den of Neverwhere", "Taarna", and to some extent "Captain Stern" and "So Beautiful So Dangerous" ("wanna do some nyborg?") are all peak young Mark. "Harry Canyon" (ha) is great but I don't really do urban SF. I've never found any real use for "B-17".

  • Neil Hancock, Greyfax Grimwald (1982): What looks like a cute talking-animals and Dwarf book becomes something much deeper, as it turns into a sort of Buddhist Journey to the West-ish fantasy adventure. Collides fairy-world with real-world and actually made me think about what these worlds are. Not as gonzo as everything else here, probably the only thing with any philosophical merit.

  • Steve Jackson & Ian Livingstone, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (1982): Surreal, dream-like, horrifying imagery, a true Mythic Underworld dungeon, a crazy Warlock, a nigh-invincible Dragon. And then there's the game system, which was a perfect little marvel of design, Skill, Stamina, Luck, 2d6, that's all you need (for fighter/rogues in a dungeon crawl), one of the biggest influences on how I make my own games.

  • The Day After (1983): … 14 years later, there's a scene in The Fifth Element where Leeloo types "WAR" into the encyclopedia, and just breaks down screaming & crying on seeing what Humans do to each other. That was me.

    "WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU ALL?!" I asked, and keep asking, and they had no answers. And this is, like, an unreasonably optimistic scenario of nuclear war, because anyone gets to live long enough to wrap their dead family in plastic bags and worry about cancer, or looters eating fallout-poisoned food. So, growing up I had zero expectation that I'd live to see 2000, let alone another score of years after. Maybe we didn't, and this is a final dream.

If I'd known about Ralph Baksi's Wizards, it would fit right in, but I didn't see that until mid-to-late '80s.

I was already reading H. Beam Piper's books by '82, but I definitely didn't read Space Viking or Empire until late '80s, which are the ones that fit my ethos.

Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith (discovered thru X2 Castle Amber) were late '80s for sure. I know precisely that I read "At the Mountains of Madness" in 1986.

Raaka'tu, Zork, Ultima, Wizardry, and more computer games certainly influenced how I do videogames, but they didn't teach me much world-building.

The D&D and GW games I ran early on were very formulaic retreads of B1 In Search of the Unknown, B4 Lost City, or GW1 Legion of Gold modules. Later I learned to make more creative worlds, but they're still much the same framework & generated world madness.

I've probably never run a game which wasn't: A) Post-apocalypse, often centuries, millennia later; or B) Just pre-apocalypse, and there's nothing you can do about it but your actions are probably futile. Vast military horrors lurking on the edge of your vision.

I've rarely run anything with legitimate authorities above town headman who aren't dead, completely corrupted, or too distant to care. Instead the adventurers, usually venal thieves and bastards, are the only force strong enough to fight the worse guy "villains". I suppose some Call of Cthulhu, but I usually outfit the group for an expedition into weird lands, or they're trapped in some Old One or Fungi from Yuggoth laboratory or whatever. I had a "king" and court in a Dungeons & Zombies game, but the entire power structure was like 20 knights including our new recruit PCs, and the necromancers and alien gods raising millions of ravenous dead, and the chittering spidery goblins in the dark, had other ideas.

Usually my games start out looking like medieval, ancient, stone age, or sorta spacey fantasy, and you rapidly learn the world was once very different from that. You get into other lands, or old bases full of artifacts from the time before. You go into space, sometimes, and find the colony worlds have their own problems. But you still keep looting tombs/bases and building power, because you live in the world you've been left, not the peaceful one you want.