Other Literary Campaign Worlds


Ok so we know that Mongoose is doing Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar, but what other cool works of fantasy literature would make for good campaign settings?

Here's a few of my fav's:

1) David Gemmel: Waylander and the Drenai series.

2) Robert Asprin: Thieve's World (been done as a RQ setting already but a reprint would be nice!).

3) Stephen Donaldson: Thomas Covenant Chronicles.

4) Roger Zelazney: Amber.
Arkat said:
Ok so we know that Mongoose is doing Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar, but what other cool works of fantasy literature would make for good campaign settings?

Here's a few of my fav's:

My favorites:

1) Anne McCaffrey's Pern

2) Bujold's Chalion series... it just SCREAMS RQ...

3) Anne McCaffery's one-off Black Horses for the King.

4) CS Lewis' Narnia

And while I can't stand the series, nor the author, my wife would like to see a well written Valdemar RPG.

Of course, I'd like Judge Dredd in d100 again... but I quite honestly like the old-school feel of the GW JD...
Thomas Hardy - His portrayal of 19C wessex

W B Yeats - A game developed from the atmosphere of his early
poems and plays.
I think Yeats is more Call of Cthulhu with his Golden Dawn connections - he might even be in the long out of print Golden Dawn book from Pagan Publishing.
Seriously..Thieves World. Excellent idea! They didn't follow it up with scenario and adventure releases. It managed to be distincive, low magic (For PCs) gritty and fun as a setting and also very adaptable generically. Heck just use it as a setting for 'generic' scenarios to give them some cohesion.
Not so po-faced...surely the poems of Lewis Carrol, Bring back Jabberwockys!
Unfortunately for an RQ reprint, Green Ronin has the Theives World's license and they've produced around 4, very cool, books for it. They're d20, but a modified version.

I'd also like to see a new (non-diceless) Amber RPG, plus one for Steve Erickson's Malazan series. There's another one I'd like to see, but we're actually in talks with the author and his agent about licensing it. :)

While I'd like to see a Thomas Covenant RPG, it would be difficult to pull off. There isn't much to do, and the Land is fairly empty as well, making it even harder to design an RPG. However, there is an unofficial d20 version floating around.

HyrumOWC said:
There isn't much to do, and the Land is fairly empty as well, making it even harder to design an RPG.

Why would The Land be any harder to do than Middle Earth? Life does, in fact, go on between visits by the Unbeliever. :)
klingsor wrote

I think Yeats is more Call of Cthulhu with his Golden Dawn connections

Ah yes if the game is based on his life then CoC or perhaps Nephilim....But I meant a game based on the scenes and atmospheres of his early works.....so dealing with characters haunted by visions of Faerie and searching for it until their lives are all spent.

I'd like to see a rpg set around the life of Shakyamuni Buddha. So the players play non-combatative monks. Do you think Runequest would be suitable? hehehe..
iamtim said:
HyrumOWC said:
There isn't much to do, and the Land is fairly empty as well, making it even harder to design an RPG.

Why would The Land be any harder to do than Middle Earth? Life does, in fact, go on between visits by the Unbeliever. :)

Yeah, but what do you do? Do a Stonedowner, Woodhelvennin, and Lord go out hunting Ur-Viles? :)

The problem is that Covenant really does do everything. (Unlike the Fellowship in LotR's) Plus there's just a huge sense that not much adventuring gets done.

I'm at work now but I'll post more on why I think the Convenant books make a lousy RPG later.

Now, just because I think it makes a lousy RPG doesn't mean I don't like the books. They're one of my favorite series ever. :)

HyrumOWC said:
Now, just because I think it makes a lousy RPG doesn't mean I don't like the books. They're one of my favorite series ever. :)

Oh, no, I'm not insinuating that. I'm really just curious, because I think it'd be a GREAT world to adventure in.
Ok, here's my post on why the Covenant books wouldn't make a great RPG. I'll be borrowing heavily from a post that a friend of mine made about the Culture novels by Ian M. Banks. I think I have more licensing experience than him in general, (my day job is all about licensing) but he has a ton of experience in licennsing RPG's, having been a designer for Last Unicorn Games (Star Trek and Dune), WotC (Dune, WoT), and Decipher (Trek and LotR's)

Without further ado, here I go. :)

Why is the Land not a good RPG setting? Rather, let's run down what makes a good RPG setting.

1) Lots of source material.

If you have to do a lot of work to "fill in the gaps" for your favorite setting, then why exactly are you paying for a license? Licenses aren't bought simply because you'll sell more copies of a licensed property than an original property, that's something which may or may not be true, depending on a number of factors, most of which you have little control over. They're also bought because at least some of the money you spend on the license is money saved because some of the work was done for you already. You save time and money on outlining, writing, development and most of all, art.

2) Popular.

Obviously you don't want a license no-one's every heard of. Preferably, you want a license with a presence in multiple categories. Books, movies, TV shows.

3) Many main characters.

Prospective players need to understand how they, as a group, interface with the setting. If you've got one main character, instead of a cast of characters, then the group has an automatic disconnect. The canonical example is James Bond. It may sound keen, but you don't want the James Bond license. Because every single gamer who picks it up is going to think "Well, who gets to be 007?" They'll want to play, they'll hope you've got a good answer, and you may. But you're starting behind the rest of the pack, you've got a built in hurdle to overcome. But why go after the Bond license, when there's Mission Impossible? Same exact thing, but geared toward the gaming group. No-one's going to wonder how the group gets together, or what roles everyone takes. The answers to those questions come built in.

4) Iconic characters

It doesn't do a whole lot of good to have a large cast of main characters if none of them are iconic. Meaning "existing as a symbol for themselves." Han Solo, Ben Kenobi, Luke Sywalker are iconic characters. Han is the Scoundrel, Ben is the Wizard, Luke is the Hidden Monarch. These ideas sell themselves and the setting along with it. You don't have to explain what function Han Solo, or characters like him, fill in the setting, everyone already 'gets it.' Trek has this, LotR has this. Even Dune has this.

5) Problem solving.

The characters need to solve problems. Preferably in a pulp way. I think it's one of the reasons so many designers want to work on Pulp games. The plots are perfect for RPGs, even though most gamers don't know pulp. The Plot Coupon method of moving through the story is perfect for RPGs.

Let's look at Star Wars and the Fifth Element, both stories with a large cast of main characters who solve problems. Star Wars has the heroes solving one problem. Defeat the Empire. And the problem they solve radically alters the landscape of the setting, thereby undoing the work the author did in establishing everything.

The Fifth Element, on the other hand, has a group of characters saving the universe, but A: they do so by collecting plot coupons, so they're really solving many problems and B: they save the universe, but it doesn't alter the setting. More stories in the same vein could easily be told. This brings us to:

6) Setting independant of the characters.

The great thing about Trek, as an RPG setting, is that from the get go it was a setting independant of the main characters. There are lots of starships out there, they can all be doing amazing stuff. In fact, you could reasonably presume that there might be MORE interesting starship crews out there somewhere.

Dune, LotR, the Covenant Novels, and Star Wars, all have a problem in this department. The setting exists to serve the actions of the main characters and thus makes little sense independant of these characters.

7) IP Held by experienced licensors.

This may seem a strange point, but you'd be astonished to learn how much of a difference it makes when you're dealing with a person or company with experience with licensing, and when you're not. I've seen beautiful full color core rulebooks where virtually every picture and graphic element on every page was provided by the licensor. Book looks spectacular, with very little work on the creator's part. Likewise I've seen fantastic projects held up because the holder of the license was so inexperienced with licensing that they'd sold the same rights to multiple people.

Alright, so let's look at the Land.

1) Lots of Source Material.

Nope, not really. There are 7 novels and we'd need more books, a lot more, before we know enough about how everything works. We know the basics of how Stonedowners and Woodhelvennin interact, but who provides the food for the Lords? What do the Lords do when the Land isn't threatened? Otherwise, whoever does the RPG would have to do MORE work, a LOT more work than Donaldson himself has. You'd need to do art, which means inventing the look of the Land, as well as a million other things. Ideally, we'd like a movie to be done first, better yet, a TV show. TV shows are great for licenses because they automatically solve so many of these problems.

2) Popular.

Not popular enough. Amazon's got his newest book (The Runes of the Earth) ranked somewhere around 18,000th in sales. I'm not sure if his books hit the bestseller lists, but I don't think they do. Point is though, most gamers playing today need to know about it for it to be 'popular' and I don't think most gamers today have read Donaldson. This would have been different 15 or so years ago.

3) Many main characters.

No. One main character for 4 books, with two main characters for 3. Lots of sidekicks who come along to move the plot. People familiar with the books will say "But who do we play?" You might have a great answer (playing Lords is a great answer) but you'd rather not have your fan base, remember these are the guys who ALREADY know about the setting, are ALREADY sold on it, asking what the hell you DO in it as players in an RPG. If your core fans are puzzled, it's a sure sign you'll have problems attracting new fans.

4) Iconic Characters

Hell no. In fact, the opposite. Covenant is an asshole, the antithesis of what you're looking for in an RPG setting's main characters. I mean, even the World of Darkness which is one big iconoclast has dozens of factions for people to belong to and be part of. Even in the most iconoclastic setting, the main characters all identifyably belong to one clan or another.

Having your main characters defined by the ways they reject the setting you're selling is another example of working against the built in tropes of the setting.

5) Problem Solving

The plots are all BIG. The Land is in danger and Thomas Covenant is the only one who can face Lord Foul and win. Time and time again Covenant is told that he is the only one who can save the world, nothing anyone else does will change things. The Lords will fight, but they'll lose. Most gamers don't want to play losers. :)

6) Setting Independent of the Characters

Not really. For most of the books Covenant doesn't even believe the Land is real.

7) Experienced Licensor.

No. Working with Donaldson might be great, he might be really easy to deal with, but he doesn’t have a CD Style Guide with hundreds of images, logos, signage, costumes, etc… From what I know, he’s really smart and savvy. But he’d still probably be learning most of what he knows about licensing from dealing with you. That’s a resonsabiliy I’d be comfortable with, because I know a lot about it. . .but I’d feel bad for the guy if he was dealing with a less experienced licensee.

What this is all about, in the end, is fighting against perceptions, or working with them. With the Land, you’d have to fight against what people know about the setting in order to orient them toward the game. If you’re sitting there thinking that the books would make a great RPG setting, you’ve already jumped past those hurdles and probably didn’t notice it. It’s not obvious to you why other people would have a disconnnect. But every time you say ‘All you’d need to do is…’ you’re saying “this is not a good RPG setting.” You’re identifying those areas where YOU’D have to do the work to make it an RPG.

My final conclusion: the Thomas Covenant: The Unbeliever series is a high candidate for filing off the serial numbers and making your own version of. (Which is something Monte Cook did with Arcana Unearthed.) Being recognizably like something else is a high selling point, while being your own thing means you’re building your own IP. And let me tell you, if you put out a good game that looked great (think the Dune RPG or LotR's), you’d be on your way to possably getting a TV series or a comic book series done. Because your game, by virtue of BEING a game, would look a lot more like a TV series than the actual Covenant novels. If you’re going to have to do most of the work anyway, why not make it work on your own thing?

I think most GMs, myself included, approach this from the wrong way. They think about what setting would be cool, be it Glorantha or Middle Earth or a homebrew. What they should be thinking about, and what is frequently lacking, is what stories can be set up in such a setting.

For example, I think Oz would make a cool setting for an RPG, but what would the PC's do there? The problem is not insolvable, and if I spent the energy, I could probably come up with something. Perhaps Ozma gives them a commission to explore an uncharted region of Oz. Perhaps they have to deliver a message, and in Oz that is a challenge.

It's late, although perhaps later I'll come up with a list of places I'd like to run an adventure. Middle Earth would be on the list, of course. So would Oz. Most of the other worlds that have inspired me have been science fiction worlds, such as Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica. However, it would be cool to run an archaic campaign set on a world we know from science fiction, before they became technologically advanced.
Hyrum's points are why I want to see a Pern setting.

There has been an option for a Pern movie... announced on Todd and Anne's sites.

There is plenty of source material officially approved and endorsed (about 20 novels, 3 excellent add-on "resource books" DLGtP, Atlas, and People of Pern, and a couple of non-RPG games.)

The parallel stories in the novels make it clear that while the main characters "Save the world" and "Change the world" they don't do so individually, and that there are lots of points for heroes to publicly and privately save the world from various civilization shattering threats.

Minor characters have effects on the major characters. In Pern, minor characters actions do have impacts upon the majors... and sometimes become major characters in their own right. Heck, at least three parallel threads of major character arcs in "present pass" and 2 in "first pass"

Loads of undefined history: We've got three periods detailed Present Pass, Moreta's Pass, and First Pass. We've got little outside those, but subtle hints. We know that Next Pass or the one after that will be another long interval, and will be final pass... unless something changes that. These allow places for further development.

Iconic Characters: Loads of them. Robinton, F'lar, Lessa, Kylara, Menolly, F'nor, Mirrim, Mnemmenth, Canth, Prideth, Lytol, Fax, Gemma, Piemur, Oldive, Talmor, Sebell, Assengar... and of course, Jaxom. And Kitti Ping, Tillek, Benden, etc. Let's not forget Nerilka and Moreta. Every one of these changed the world. Every one of these characters is both important and individual. Each makes a difference on many levels. And none is the sole hero/villain of the setting.

Further proof of suitability is the play-by-post popularity of Pern in free form. So much so that Anne has had to limit it to licensed weyrs in order to protect the IP. (My wife is on one such weyr's board. She's been on another's board as well.)

Narnia is less readily adaptable. The iconic characters are the focus of the setting at the time of the stories. But the owner of the closet... what were HIS adventures?
Dear All,

Actually there were shed loads of material done on converting Oz to a RPG setting - all the way to the eleventh Oz book ('Lost Princess of Oz'). All the major (and many minor) characters & races stated up, with items etc...

It was just sadly produced for d20.

Unfortunately, most (if not all) was lost when WOTC's boards went down (one of several occasions). For myself, I luckily downloaded all of it prior to that.

Dear All,

Of course, 'Hawkmoon' fulfils all the mentioned points (if the rights to use some of the French 'Hawkmoon NE' material are available)....

AKAramis said:
Hyrum's points are why I want to see a Pern setting.


Pern would make a great RPG. The only drawback would be balancing (if you even need to) Dragonriders with non-Dragonriders.

It's the same problem you have with Star Wars and players wanting to be Jedi. Although SW does have an in-game background of Jedi and non-Jedi adventuring together.