The Read ‘Em ‘Cause You Got ‘Em series charts my attempt to read all the books in my gaming library that crept in over the years and went overlooked for too long.
Adventures in the Mad Lands is a fitting subtitle for Robin Laws‘ bizarro campaign setting, published way back in the day. A Stone Age subsistence culture struggles to get by in the Mad Lands, which are also populated by a pantheon of lunatic gods who at best can’t control their divine abilities and at worst will either turn hapless folk into terrible monsters or just outright kill them. Add in a civilization of immortal sorcerers drowning in ennui, the various abominations touched by divinity and neighboring people who just don’t get the mindset of the Madlander culture and it makes an interesting read, going into a substantively different cultural mindset, built on certain assumptions and necessities.
One of the overarching themes of the setting is definitions of humanity. Madlanders define a monster as something lacking an element of humanity; thus, beings like the skinless and heightless are inhuman because they lack one or more of those characteristics that Madlanders, humans, possess. In contrast, the soulless, those immortal sorcerers, think of pretty much anything that isn’t one of their own to be an animal. It ties back to that idea of cultural preconceptions.
I really liked this world. I think it would be a hard sell for a lot of players — thus leading to the common remark that the Mad Lands are an ungameable setting — because the default setup is everyone plays members of a Madlander village, struggling to subsist and avoid the attention of the gods. The fact of possessing strange powers, often one of the attractions of playing in any RPG, moves that person away from the Madlander definition of human. It’s a huge sea change from the mindset implicit in many roleplaying games that having powers or unearthly abilities is a desirable state.
GURPS Fantasy II: Adventures in the Mad Lands is out of print, but it can be purchased in PDF form from Steve Jackson Games’ e23 site.