Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Reclaiming 2e Settings: An Overview

In September, I wrote a series of posts about rediscovering the campaigns of the late TSR 2e-era. I tried to only talk about settings that I had experience with (and thus left out a few like Al-Qadim which many friends of mine seem to regard well), and spent about as much time talking about what I thought were missed opportunities in each setting as I did describing them. These little critiques begged a particular question: "If you're so smart, Adam, and have these tiny little problems with each of these settings, what would you have done with them?" I promised I'd give an answer back then, so it's about time I get down to it, isn't it? Here's how I plan on reclaiming those same settings.

Is De-Advancing Retreating? I'm Not Convinced

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: I do not like 2e. It's probably my least favorite of the editions. Yep. You read that right. I like 4e better. We won't go into my reasons right now, but let's just let it stand right there: I wouldn't run these "reclaimed" settings in the edition they were written for because that edition really just doesn't do it for me. I'd prefer a rule system with more consistency and simplicity, which for me means one of three things: OD&D (probably in the vein of Delving Deeper), BX-style D&D (or Labyrinth Lord) or Dungeon Crawl Classics (thanks to +Donn Stroud on that front; it may seem like a foregone conclusion for me, but it wasn't until he made the case to me). All in all, I think that BX would win in that particular arm-wrestling contest, if only because of the variety it offers. Want less crunch? Run BX straight. Want more? Use ACKS for its proficiency and domain management systems. Need more spells or weird classes? The blogosphere, FLAILSNAILS community and an awful lot of publishers have you covered. And monsters? Are you kidding me? It seems like we've found the correct rabbit hole to jump down. But hey, it's not like it would be hard to convert things to OD&D or DCC, and what's more DIY than converting things into BX then converting them to something else?

It's Midnight, Good And Evil

One problem that I kept coming up against in my rediscovery of the TSR settings is the lack of moral complexity and depth that comes along with the assignment of a universal "good" and "evil" typified in AD&D's ninefold alignment system. To my mind, the existence of an objective "good" or "evil" cheapens any implementation of morality in a game. Further, there's a definite value judgment that goes along with good and evil where we tend to equate "good" with "best" and "evil" with "worst." The "good" behaviors are the ones that PCs are expected to undertake, and players who want their PCs to act in what the game defines as "evil" are often viewed as problematic. Even worse is the "evil campaign" where everybody tries to outdo each other with ever-greater cartoonish villainy. Boring.

Contrast this buffoonery and pidgeon-hole-ry with the more robust breadth of philosophy that exists within a threefold alignment system. Here, alignment truly means "that with which the character is aligned" and not just "stuff toward which the character is predisposed." If we're not aligning characters with good or evil, then Law's recourse to behaviors is as robust as that of Chaos. Makes much more sense to me.

An Overview

One of the great missed opportunities of the 2e era, I believe, is the lack of integration between settings. I say "missed opportunity" because 2e gave us two different settings that could be used to connect the various settings. Spelljammer was cancelled before it had the chance to connect, say, Athas with Cerillia, but had previously connected the vanilla 1e settings, Dragonlance, Greyhawk and the Forgotten Realms. Planescape, on the other hand, deliberately avoided pushing the "multiverse model" too hard, but rather kept it as a background feature that could be used or ignored as the DM saw fit; the DM had plenty of planes to mess around with without even getting into "alternate realities" posited by different campaign settings, but you could totally do it if you wanted.

Thus, in reclaiming the 2e settings, I'm taking the opportunity that I feel TSR squandered and uniting all of the settings. Here are my "work-in-progress" names for the 2e-era settings that I'm planning on reclaiming:

  • Arrasoom, World of the Dying Sun
  • Divine Right, Blood of Gods, Blood of Kings
  • [Jakandor], the Last Continent (name still very much up in the air)
  • Planet Terror, World of Hungry Mists
  • Voidscape, Storms of Change on the Frontiers of Reality

Note that I don't include Mystara/the Known World/Red Steel/the Hollow World here. Largely, that's because I think that it/they/whatever you call so many linked settings needs very few changes to integrate in this new whole. Mystara, for me, is as close as a vanilla D&D setting can get to ideal, so I'm touching it as little as possible.