Some REALLY atypical RPG settings

A post over at Topless Robot listed some good “atypical” RPG settings. You know, like Paranoia, Toon, and . . . Traveller? Pendragon? Wait, those are supposed to be weird?

Weak sauce, gentlemen. Weak sauce.

Traveller is a bog-standard hard science fiction with the addition of FTL travel. Pendragon is about Arthurian Britain, one of the longest-lived settings of adventure in our whole freakin’ culture. You want some unusual RPG settings? How about . . .

1. Bunnies and Burrows

You’re rabbits. Not magic, super-powered rabbits, just rabbits going through their everyday lagomorph lives. One of the yummiest things in God’s creation, cursed to a life of frantic fucking HOPING that enough of your kids survive red-tailed hawks to continue your family line. My college gaming buddies and I had a running joke for RPG nights when time was running short: Bunnies and Burrows vs. Cthulhu in the Old West.
GM: Uh, OK, you see an elder god.
PCs (in chorus): We wiggle our widdle noses at it!
GM: OK, you’re dead. There’s no medicine to heal you. 2 pts. for your next character.

2. GURPS Fantasy 2: Mad Lands

What were they smoking? Steve Jackson Games marketed this as their next big fantasy line. You kinda have to applaud them for such a gutsy move, but this game is all edgy and weird and Burroughs-esque without being much fun. The Mad Lands are home to a band of primitives subject to the whims of mad, chaotic gods. “Lobsters hung from her ear lobes; her body was covered with armor made of live, writhing sea urchins.” That’s a DIRECT quote from a story in Roleplayer. Tell me that doesn’t sound like a line from The Naked Lunch.

3. Broncosaurus Rex

The U.S. Civil War continues hundreds of years in the future. With dinosaurs. The Confederacy freed their slaves ages ago, so there’s no worrying about petty morality when your character flies the Stars and Bars. From the back of a triceratops. On another planet.

4. Little Fears

Children face down monsters in the closet. SCARY ones. The kind who want to slice your parents up for Sunday dinner or lock kids down in Uncle Touchy’s Naked Puzzle Basement. The book is beautifully done and there’s actually a good, albeit inconsistent, game in here. Fair warning—only very mature roleplayers should play this game.

5. Over the Edge

An absurdist conspiracy game on a fictional Mediterranean island. There’s lots of corruption, violence, drug use, and gambling. The whole shebang’s run by Monique, an aging President-for-Life who used to bang Mussolini. The one time we played Over the Edge the players got obsessed with the pizza delivery drivers who could travel through time. Lots of fun, with light and adaptable rules.

6. GURPS Goblins

Greedy, despicable, disgusting characters in Georgian London. At least they have an excuse: they’re goblins. This is an RPG within a Hogarth cartoon where greed, lechery, and base ambition make for a darkly comic, one of a kind experience.

7. Singing Cowboys (All Flesh Must Be Eaten)

RIghteous, root-beer drinking, God-fearing singing cowboys fighting zombies. I seriously have to wonder if anyone’s ever played this. I love All Flesh Must Be Eaten, a survival horror RPG with an elegant, versatile rules set that’s right in my sweet spot. But the Fistful o’ Zombies supplement was designed to integrate zombies with Western films, and someone noticed that a lot of old Westerns were low-budget flicks about singing cowboys. Even in-game the zombies are deliberately tacked on—the premise here is that a B-movie director is shoehorning monsters into his failing films, and the PCs are the clueless characters in the serials. The other settings in the book Fistful o’ Zombies are actually quite good; Singing Cowboys just comes off as pointless and odd.

8. Psychosis: Ship of Fools

PCs have to unravel multiple layers of reality with a tarot deck. I think the authors were going for an Illuminatus meets Dark City feel that doesn’t pan out. I never played this one, but I have read the book. You’ve gotta be a crackerjack writer to pull off a premise that ambitious and, well . . . that didn’t happen. It’s just overly twisty and boring, like talking to a hippie while the two of you are on different highs.

9. Human-Occupied Landfill (H.o.L.)

The grand champion of bizzarro roleplaying games.  The PCs live as prisoners on a giant landfill planet at the ass end of the galaxy. There’s bug-eyed aliens and orcs and toxic mutants and a sodomite biker gang. The whole damn book was handwritten for press. The game feels like being trapped in the gross-out drawings of an angry, disturbed, skilled 13-year-old.

The Dilemma of Supplements

There is a dilemma in which I find myself trapped again and again when it comes to new role-playing games. A new game comes out whose premise I dig, so I pick it up. It turns out I like the game and then I look forward to picking future supplements expanding on that game. Only . . . the supplements get trapped in the pipeline or they don’t cover topics of interest to me.

In the first case, I’m a fan of WitchCraft and Conspiracy X, two games published by Eden Studios. Both have had chronic issues with Eden getting supplements through development and into the market. As I’ve seen it related on web forums, they need an infusion of cash to pay the printer for a run of a supplement, so they knock out an All Flesh Must Be Eaten book to generate that sum. But somehow that doesn’t work out due to time and energy concerns, so books like The Book of Geburah and Grace & Guidance linger in development hell.

In the second case, consider The Day After Ragnarok, published by Atomic Overmind Press. I love the primary setting book. It’s awesome stuff. The published supplementary materials available so far which I . . . don’t really care about. Sten guns? Monster Island? Not for me.

The quandary for me in both situations is this: I want more books to do with the game in question. I understand I need to vote with my dollars to make that happen. But buying the things available seemingly sends the wrong message. In the case of WitchCraft and Conspiracy X, there is nothing to buy; supporting them would mean buying All Flesh Must Be Eaten books; and an uptick in sales for that line isn’t going to help its beleaguered siblings. Similarly for The Day After Ragnarok, if I buy the existing supplements, it tells Atomic Overmind two things: I am interested in those topics — when really I am not — and I buy PDFs — when really I do so only under duress. Additionally, my luxury cash is not so plentiful that I can buy books willy-nilly without having any interest in the content.

So it’s a bit of a bind. Buy stuff I don’t particularly want in the hopes that the rising effect somehow affects the products I’m really interested in — or could be, if they existed — or buy nothing but the books I want and watch the line quietly taper into “Sure do wish they’d published some more books that . . . what was it called again?”

(There are the other options of buying extra copies of the core books, which leads back to needless waste of limited cash, and running the game to get other people into buying the books. Grassroots promotion is probably the best route, but it’s so time intensive compared to buying a book, you know? Really though, that’s probably the way to go, so long as the books are actually still available for purchase.)