Sword-and-Sorcery Campaigning

While I was wrestling with insomnia and/or lack of sleep over the last months, one of the things I was doing in my down time was leafing through reams of campaign settings and adventures.

If you’re a fantasy reader but not a gamer, you may not know just how much fun can be had paging through a good role-playing setting. The key word there is good. There aren’t THAT many, but there are now many more than there used to be, even keeping in mind that Sturgeon’s Revelation applies equally to gaming stuff. If part of the kick you get from reading fantasy is seeing fantastic and amazing places and the odd people and creatures that dwell within, then you might get a similar kick from a good campaign setting. For instance, I just reviewed an outstanding RuneQuest supplement, Monster Island, over at Black Gate. I don’t play RuneQuest (I don’t even own any of the game’s rulebooks) but the setting got the creative juices flowing. Similarly, I’ve recently picked up Fire in the Jungle, a short but glorious booklet for the generation of jungle adventure scenarios.

But that’s not all. I’ve also purchased Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea and Crypts & Things, each great takes on the sword & sorcery/Weird Tales vibe, a half dozen issues of NOD magazine, which has page after page of inventive ideas in various connected settings, Red Tide and its companion PDF, An Echo Resounding, and, of course, Barbarians of Lemuria and Legends of Steel. I’ve picked over other things as well, but these are far and away my favorite new settings.

Toss all of those in an idea blender with the Necromancer Games reprint of The Wilderlands of High Adventure and you suddenly have me dreaming of putting a wild sword-and-sorcery setting together. Why, I’m not sure. With all the truly inspired settings and locations within these products, shouldn’t I just use what I already have? Aren’t I busy enough?

Yes. Yet I keep thinking of a foggy, coastal land dominated by city-states ruled by sorcerers, with primeval jungle encroaching to the south and a cold and mountainous plateau to the northwest. All a weird, wonderful blend up of my favorite elements of sword-and-sorcery, presented in a hex crawl format. I might just put it together. Every now and then I make a few notes.

I’m just not sure I could do better than some of the great material in the booklets I already own. For instance, the weird monsters and wonderful encounter tables in Fire in the Jungle and Monster Island are so inspired I’d probably just use them for whatever setting I created myself. I shouldn’t feel guilty about that! But worrying about whether or not I should use something someone else created gets in the way of me thinking about designing the setting for play versus designing a setting for play that I might one day sell. Ah well. As it’s all a pipe dream, I can worry about those fine points later.