|AI Art by @nightcafestudio|
One thing the Cypher experiment with Road War (my homebrew Mad Max-style game) has taught me, which should be obvious, is how great my imagination is. If I turn my attention to fantasy worlds, I look back and see how horrible most of them are, especially the theme park worlds.
I know people love the convenience of these, as you can "play in the same world" with the same system and have your characters experience a lot of different themes. But I get the "brash American tourist" vibe with these worlds, like these cultures are in these worlds to "entertain us" and never really be taken seriously.
Do you want to show them respect and take them seriously? Give them their own worlds. The players must immerse themselves in the culture and be a part of it instead of being planar outsiders "just here to visit and solve the local problems the people here can't."
The outsider-savior complex is high in these theme park worlds.
It is funny since I used to like theme-park worlds, but now I see them as a lower-quality buffet or fast food. They end up being like mall food courts, with an Egyptian-like area here, a Ravenloft area, a Norse area up there, and so on. They exist together because theme park magic keeps them culturally isolated or something. I see this in both Mystara and Golarion, and there are parallels in the Greyhawk, Eberron, and the Forgotten Realms worlds.
And what the designers are in danger of saying is the "adventurer class" outsiders are superior to the locals. In my Road War game, everyone starts with a job in the world - they are the locals. I am not doing any "lone wanderer" or "strange outsider" backgrounds since I feel they are done to death, and they are this strange "default character background assumption" in a lot of modern fantasy games. I liked Level Up 5E because they placed characters in a world and raised the stakes.
Ironically, Dark Sun was one of the better thematically unified game worlds that TSR put out. Still, toy companies can't put out anything remotely challenging to our psyches, so it is dead, along with all other TSR settings. I am not reminiscing over them anymore or revisiting them. Keeping the original spirits of these settings alive is a waste of time and energy better spent on making my own, and I found that out with Road War. For the longest time, I felt I had to do a Mad Max concept like this in the Car Wars world, and that setting held me back far more than it enabled my creativity.
It failed every time I tried to reboot Car Wars with another rues system. I had great ideas for a Mad Max-style game, but the Car Wars tropes kept getting in the way every time I tried. The vehicle designs, auto duel culture, or the game's history and structure kept popping up, telling me "my ideas sucked" and "use these instead."
The problem wasn't my ideas; it was the ones I was trying to fit them into.
Easy solution, dump that world and make my own.
I love Car Wars, but I don't want to play that game, and it doesn't fit the idea of what the world I am imagining should be like.
If I want a "Norse world," I will just create a Norse world and play in that. Why do I want 99 other things I won't use? Or worse, serve to break immersion and remove characters from involving themselves in factions and storylines? I'm an android! In the Norse world? Says I can be one in the rules! If I want an Egypt-style world, I will make my own and use a few history books to seed my ideas.
This is what Cypher is teaching me. Throw out the settings and games you try to "convert in" and do your own thing. But I need Car Wars to do a mad Max-style game! Turns out, I didn't. The Cypher rules handled vehicle combat just fine and better in a narrative-cinematic format. I am actually liking the Cypher vehicle combat better than Car Wars, even though they are incredibly simplified.
But I need the Forgotten Realms or Golarion to do a fantasy world! I will likely find out shortly that I don't, and by forcing myself to use them, I am setting myself up to fail again. This isn't to say they are bad settings, but they aren't the ones that inspire me to tell the stories in my head.
If I spend most of my time searching through a setting to find a spot for my excellent idea, that wastes a lot of time and forces compromise that weakens my creation.
If I were to create a world or even a mini-sandbox to start? One based on my idea?
No time is wasted, and I have exactly what I want with zero distractions or competing ideas.