Recently several of us in the NSR Discord community started working through the Ray Otus’s very cool zine, The Gygax 75 Challenge. The challenge is based on an old article by Gary Gygax about how to create a setting and get it ready for actual play with your home group in roughly 5 steps.
This thread is for posting notebook photos and links to markdown, etc., documenting Week 1: The Concept phase. Our little informal accountability group started the process on Wednesday, June 1st, 2022, so this thread covers progress from roughly June 1 - June 8.
If you haven’t started yet, no need to worry – some of us started a little earlier, some a little later than others. The important part is to keep a steady pace without burning out or losing your initial spark of creativity!
I’ve already received some feedback on my Week 1, and the main part I agree with is that it looks a little too tidy :-D. Going forward, I’m going to embrace *imperfection a little more and do more handwritten notes and doodles.
Using Obsidian for this one just to be expedient. But also because I am still learning Obsidian and the practice will do me good.
[x] Create 4-7 Pitch Points
Into the Yellow Planet. A strange yellow star appeared in the sky some months ago and grew in size at an alarming rate. It is a rogue planet hurtling through space; who knows how close it will come or what strange effects it might cause. (Motivations: scientific curiosity, treasure hunting, fleeing the law or debt or …, get famous, save the world, publish a great story, look for ‘God’)
A Marvelous Invention. Professor Nittsworth has unearthed a gravity-repelling barge the size of a factory and plans to launch himself toward the rogue planet. Was the ship a device of the ancients or left behind by Starmen? He has gathered chemical lanterns, nutrition bricks (Rumgren’s Redcakes), oxygen generators, and other wondrous supplies. Will you go with him? (Low, High Tech: No real electricity, absolutely no circuits/chips.)
A Strange New World. Explore the yellow planet and its bizarre flora and fauna. Avoid the ire of Star Cultist saboteurs. Discover precious gems or resources and get rich. Make a name for yourself as the first human to step foot on another planet. Just be sure you make it back or it will all be for naught. Oh, and … don’t touch that! (Alien world sandbox. You know nothing!)
Protect the Ship! The barge is your home away from home, and it is your only link back to Earth. If something should happen to it or the resources you keep within it, it could mean a quick death or being stranded forever. (Spaceship as town.)
Sources of Inspiration
[x] Sources of Inspiration
Into the Odd (RPG, 2014?) by Chris McDowell. This is both the rules set I will use and a source of inspiration. It is a pre-electric (?) industrial setting akin to a Victorian England but with more strangeness. Call it a post-apocalyptic 1900 England, as if time has kind of traveled in a circle.
First Men in the Moon (book, 1901) (and others) by HG Wells. First Men was a surprisingly decent if somewhat unfocused story told from two viewpoints and featuring “normal,” flawed humans making a voyage to the Moon. There they continually face logistical problems as they encounter the wonders of the moon’s strange ecology.
Angry Red Planet (movie, 1959). Post-war (WWII) scientists go to Mars. Everything is red and weird and dangerous. Cool visuals including a giant spider-like bat (or bat-like spider?). NTS - make players wear colored lenses when outside the ship!!
The Invincible (book, 1964) (also Eden, Solaris, The Cyberiad) by Stanislaw Lem. Amazing first-hand experiences of totally alien worlds (and also a book about two robots who make other robots). Sometimes not great as “stories” but always really inventive and fascinating.
Last and First Men (book, 1930) by Olaf Stapledon. A work of unprecedented scale that describes the history of humanity from the present onwards across two billion years and eighteen distinct human species, of which our own is the first. See also planetary discovery voyages like Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis and Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation by Edwin Lester Arnold. Also, look at this cool trailer for an upcoming movie version of Last and First Men:Last and First Men - Official Teaser Trailer | IMDb
Dr. Who (TV) the early B&W stuff. Bizarre traps and aliens. A feeling of wonder.
Space 1999 (TV) Totally off-the-mark from a tech standpoint, but damn if this show didn’t have some crazy episodes!
Using a google doc for mine, since I have dysgraphia which prevents me from writing physically for long periods.
The world is ending. Not immediately, but it is well known that this will most likely be the last generation of humanity. EVERYONE has a different theory. Some are in denial, others think they can save it. While everyone knows that the world is ending, no one can exactly say how.
We weren’t alone. The Reptilians once walked through Regolith, and enslaved the humans. However, one day, they disappeared. While human society is now largely built upon the Reptilians’ abandoned cities, only scholars and historians know of their former existence.
The world is rotting. Since the Reptilians left, the world has started to form into a husk of its former self, and is now mostly barren wastes. All but the deepest underground jungles are devoid of abundant life.
We are divided. To exercise control over humans, the Reptilians separated humans into castes based on their magical capabilities, and carefully selectively bred humans to only have magic. However, with humans now having free will, the castes have become muddled and magic is rarer. While some noble families still practice a form of selective breeding to maintain their power, most humans believe that it’s up to chance which one you are solely able to use. The types of magic are as follows:
Arcane magic comes from a largely successful experiment in which the Reptilians placed bio-engineered nanobots into the humans’ blood to give them magical powers. While it overtook any other magical capabilities of the human, it allowed them to practice a new form of magic, one which takes energy instead of another form of expenditure.
Psionic magic stems from the ability of Psionics to take apart objects to their base forms in their mind. While Psionics typically make good craftsman or alchemists due to this, those who focus on the more magical side can find themselves combining the base forms of objects with their OWN base forms to create powerful effects.
Divine magic is the least innate of the magics, as it comes from other creatures/figures. However, those gifted in Divine magic can tap into a connection between them and the creature, creating a temporary bond in which the magician can act as its disciple and utilize its powers.
The world is an egg. The Reptilians are galactic shepherds. Their livestock? Abeyants. Abeyants come in myriad forms, but most importantly are planted into a planet while they feed on the planet’s energy to become giant cosmic pseudo-gods.
Hey y’all. CapKudzu invited some of us from the Beggar’s Gate discord to share our Gygax 75 Challenge stuff.
• Magic is rare and dangerous with lasting consequences for the caster
• Monsters come out primarily at night and were created by the civilizations that came before
• Players are regular people caught up in something beyond their control
• The world has been through several highly advanced civilizations that fell to ruin
• Technology and magic are intertwined
• Cults seek the return of the old world
Inspirations and Sources:
• Warhammer Fantasy by Games Workshop. Specifically as presented in the RPG. Players are basically regular people and magic will definitely mess you up if it goes awry.
• Numenera by Monte Cook. The idea that several civilisations have risen and fallen. Also the specific blend of science fiction and fantasy.
• Acid Death Fantasy by Luke Gearing. Just the general aesthetic of a desert wasteland with all kinds of weird creatures.
• Wasteland/Fallout by Interplay. Specifically the Brotherhood of Steel and Guardians of the Old Order as presented as xenophobic tech cults inspired my cults of the ancients.
• Leviathan by Scott Westerfield. The weird chimeric monsters in this series inspired some of my ideas for things the prior civilizations might’ve developed.
Welcome Heretic! I look forward to learning more about the setting. Like why the old civ created monsters and why the cultists want to go back to a monster-infested world (if that’s what they want). It feels to me like there might some key or mystery there surrounding control of the monsters. Anyway, good start!
Thanks Ray! The basic idea I have right now is that the prior civilizations created these creatures for labor, hunting, and agriculture primarily but over the intervening hundreds or thousands of years some of them have malfunctioned. The tech-cults basically see the ancients as creator gods and want to claim that power for themselves/see the monsters as being “children of the gods” was kind of the direction my mind was going.
Excited to hop back on this challenge! I first did Gygax '75 about last month as a five day challenge to get an idea I’ve had for a Cairn adventure out of my head. (For extra encouragement, I scheduled the first in-person session of a TTRPG I’ve had since 2020 for “day 7” of the challenge, before I had even begun). I had the ability to work on it full time, but it was still a lot to get through the dungeon and town portions in a single day. I’m excited to see how the challenge differs when done “properly”.
I’m using this challenge primarily as a way to test out the adventure generation/GM prep tools in my upcoming game The Door Locks Behind You. Like last time, there will be some bits that are just not relevant for what I need, and I’m not really prepping a campaign setting as much as I’m outlining an adventure module.
Step 1: Get/create a notebook
This part was very easy, I already do all of my dev work in a notebook! I use a bullet journal for pretty much everything now, so I just started a new collection titled “NSR server June Gygax '75 Challenge” (real original title, I know). I’ve already picked out a color palette for the pens that I use in this journal, as it only contains dev work for TDLBY.
Step 2: Develop your pitch
Already going off script here - this was more brainstorming for me than it was a player-facing pitch, so I left a lot of information out that I already know about the greater world/campaign setting. I’ll add that back in for this write-up here.
500 years ago The Great Evil was sealed by the Goddesses in the Divine Realm. This broke the link between the people and their Goddesses, and cut off the flow of magic. Removed of their greatest tool and weapon, the people found a relative peace for the next few centuries. Recently, an occult sorcerer known as The Tyrant has released the Great Evil, fusing it with his own form, and raised a monstrous army. He overthrew the High King and corrupted the spiritual sites of the various peoples of the land. Now his monsters roam freely, terrorizing any they come in contact with.
The PCs are each Champions of their people, brought forth to fight the Tyrant as told in the old myths. They must free the ancestor spirits of each of the great tribes from their corrupted temples in order to seal away the Tyrant for good.
To the southeast lies the Five Brothers, an ancient somma volcano with five new cones growing out of it. Native to this region are the Rock Folk, a proud tribe of stout rock creatures who live in and around the active volcanoes. Living on and around the rim of the caldera are the Mountain Folk (kin to the High Kingdom’s people) who are the distant descendants of an ancient warrior tribe. This warrior tribe was once rival of the High Kingdom, but eventually destroyed itself in bloody civil war; now it’s ruins lay abandoned, thought to be cursed or haunted. The Rock Folk consider the Mountain Folk to be clan brothers, but are distrusting of outsiders. PCs are outsiders to this region, with the exception of one PC who is either Rock Folk or Mountain Folk.
The Tyrant’s corruption is causing terrible storms and lighting, as well as worrying earthquakes. Many fear that it will awaken one of the Five Brothers, but they don’t know which one. Overland travel in this region is difficult in good conditions, and the time of year the PCs choose to tackle this temple will have great impact on their obstacles.
The Legend of Zelda video game series by Shigeru Miyamoto, Eiji Aonuma, et al. Particularly Snowhead and Ikana Valley regions in Majora’s Mask, Eldin and Akkala regions in Breath of the Wild, and Death Mountain region in Ocarina of Time. Rock Folk are obviously a stand-in for Gorons. Referencing the various fire and snow dungeons throughout the series as well, but paying particular attention to the three games listed.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time manga by Akira Himekawa. The first series that Himekawa drew is the most “stock Zelda” of all their manga. The story is good reference, but the art in particular is what I’m here for. Also referencing the art in The Legend of the Hero by Kari Fry, and Hyrule Historia and Breath of the Wild: Creating a Champion from Dark Horse Publishing.
The Perilous Wilds by Jason Lutes. I’ll be using the prompts in The Door Locks Behind You primarily, but as that is still a work in progress if I need to fill in the gaps I’ll be reaching for this trusty tome.
The geography of Mt. Aso, Japan. The Five Brothers are based on an actual volcano in Japan that has shown up in games before (it’s the inspiration for Mt. Chimney in Hoenn region). I’ll be avoiding any actual cultural references to the Shinto religion, focusing instead on the geography of the area, and trying to source a good topographical map for the overworld. That said I am trying to make a Zelda-inspired adventure, so some semblance to Shinto might show through using the same cultural touchstones.
I posted about this in the thread on the NSR discord, but I don’t find moodboards particularly useful or worth the effort of assembling. I like to work off of screens, so keeping a social media platform open on the side is distracting, and printing out a bunch of pictures seems wasteful. Part of my inspirational sources includes a number of artbooks that already fill this role. So for the rest of week 1 I’ll be working on a Spark Table to use in the rest of the challenge.
Here’s an actual candid photo of my messy battlestation setup while I work. I usually listen to GameChops on YouTube when I work and they just published a lo-fi Ocarina of Time album.
Awesome to see some love for Last and First Men! What an insane book. I need to re-read it…Starmaker is possibly even more mindbending.
I’ve actually quietly did Gygax75 last month in a non-public capacity without telling anyone! So I don’t know if I’ll have the energy to contribute to this one, but I’m excited to see what everyone comes up with.
Haven’t gotten around to giving the Cauldron a try before, but I’ll gladly use this little challenge to give it a go.
Here’s my spread for influences and the original pitch:
The nice thing about this excerise is that it makes you think a lot about the other stuff I might want in there.
For example, the solar punk angle makes me think of self sufficiency, so I am wondering how the town can get certain resources, like iron, in sustainable ways with a fantasy/weird world angle (for example, trees that shed iron ore bark flakes as long as the soil is iron rich, requiring folks to regularly find a way to put iron back in the ground)
The moodboard ended up being very inspirational as well, as I found this cool artist who’s vibe I think matches what I had in mind for the crypts beneath the surface. So now the content of that art is informing my ideas about what to put in the world.
Alright, fellow late-comers. I’m giving it my shot.
NOTE: I will be editing and focusing this over time, so consider this a living document.
A hundred Armageddons buried the ancients, but we have broken the cycle, and we have built Haven on their bones: A cocktail of the universe’s finest spirits, we stand lush and defiant against the cruelties of the Stars.
20th century techno-fantasy: Shotguns and witchcraft, shapeshifters, electric jank, ancient AIs, ghouls and hive-minds. Whether you are from the city, the underworld or from beyond the stars, anything goes. Play that character that you’ve always wanted to play.
The Mythos: We know that the sun is gone, the city bites into what seems like an infinitely deep underworld, and the Glitch-Saint speaks to those willing to listen, as her thread is tangled into every living thing. What we discover to be true as we play, stays true.
Every session is an experiment. I tend to run a rules-light, ever-changing system for this setting generally, and players are welcome to suggest their own additions or alterations to the mechanics. Most of my players are new to RPGs and they leave with a good impression of them. Some stick around.
The Societies: From small crews and bands to omnipresent factions, folks band together. The studious scientist-mages of the Ziggurat, the hedonistic denizens of Red-Town, and the Nekromekaniks to name a few. The Favour of any factions or individuals is worth more than coin in Haven.
The Hyper-real: Living things are linked, and some of the stuff of thought and intelligence is woven into everything. New species become enlightened, hive-minds proliferate, and magic of mind and space is some of the most powerful.
End of the End: Finally free from a cycle of destruction and rebirth, the world is ripe for exploration. To the East, vast, moonlit, unchartable deserts. Below, an underworld haunted by the remains of previous civilisations in techno-ruins, strange life-forms and psionic currents. Above, black sky lit in irregular patterns and always with a different number of moons.
Electric Bastionland. So much flavour and attitude packed and illustrated expertly by a true artist. I struggle to focus this setting, the tone, and even the mechanics. I return to EB for guidance every time. And the Spark Tables just work for me way too well.
Transistor by Supergiant (and their other works). Emotional, powerful worldbuilding that leaves a lot of gaps and is all the better for it. A world that stands on the knife’s edge between real and simulated.
Dishonored. The atmosphere, the genre, and yet again the worldbuilding. The “crisp black tea” of the ingredients I’m stirring in this pot. I return to Dishonored for when things get too fluffy and fantasy-like. I like it magical and hilarious, but I try to keep it bloody, menacing and full of secrets too.
Numenera and Caves of Qud: My favourite “the world has ended, now let’s have a blast in it” settings. Masterclasses in mixing a ton of ingredients together while still staying cohesive. How the hell do they do it.
Amsterdam. My favourite place on Earth. Love ripping it off and using it to ground the setting. To an extent, overgrown Chernobyl too.
Welcome to Nightvale. Weird but evocative. If some of that dream-logic could be harnessed by an RPG, especially a large one, I’d love to. I’ve always wanted to play with more nonsensical or abstract themes in RPGs.
My actual dreams often inspire some part of Haven. I’m fascinated by the way dreams make internal sense, and I often describe a good RPG session as a sort of shared dream.
Hyper Light Drifter. Oldtech, neon stuff, you know the drill.
Ultraviolet Grasslands. I just don’t know enough about it but oh man does its creator seem absolutely confident when they write about this purposefully-undefined world.
Shadowrun. It just does *punk so well.
I struggle with, and would happily receive feedback on
Focus, I think. Since my sessions are built around what the players want, it’s hard for me to define anything, and even harder to define what isn’t there, or what the main thing is. Like Dishonored has its whales for oil and runes. Electric Bastionland with its debt and oddities, and well-defined entities and places while still being as flexible as it can get. (seriously how does EB do it?)
Impact and confidence. What my setting is “about”. I struggle to envision Haven as strongly as I can envision EB, Dishonored or even Numenera. I’m not sure why. I would like to be able to, but I don’t know why I can’t.
Concretely putting material down on paper. Since anything goes and anything is possible, when and how do I define what IS actually there. How could I possibly make a random encounter table or map when I might come up with something better later?
EDIT: cut “anticanon”. I think I misunderstood that concept. Also redefined the main theme.
Alright, I’m here for Round 2: July! This is going to be a continuation of last month’s world, plotting out the next region in the area. I completed this week concurrently with Week 5 of last month, and this time I used the work-in-progress update from @rayotus’s website.
Week 1: The Pitch
Like I said earlier in the thread during last month’s challenge, I already do all of my development work by hand in a notebook. I’ve begun typing up these regions for my own use, so I’ll spare everyone from trying to decipher my chickenscratch.
(Placeholder region name)
Unlike last month, I’m going to be creating a region from scratch instead of tracing over extant geography.
The Door Locks Behind You by… me.
This is the system I’m currently designing.
Last month I had a lot of progress on fine tuning the adventure creation procedures by doing this challenge. I intend to keep that momentum this month as well.
A Thousand Thousand Islands by Munkao and Zedeck Siew
Tone and atmosphere of this mythical Southeast Asia
Some of the monsters/cultures presented, such as Crocodile Overlords and Monkey-folk
The Legend of Zelda series by Miyamoto, Aonuma, et. al
Zonai Tribe and Zonai ruins in Breath of the Wild
Geography of Faron, West Necluda, and Lanayru Wetlands Regions (BotW), Swamp Region (MM)
Architecture of Deku Kingdom (MM), Ikana Kingdom (MM), and Lurelin Village (BotW)
Natural Geography in South China, SEA, and Madagascar
Stone Forest (Shilin) in SE China, Tsingy de Bemaraha and Ankarana in Madagascar
Chocolate Hills in Philippines (same geologic feature, just millions of years younger!)
The rivers and waterways of SEA archipelagos
The Southern Air Temple from Avatar: The Last Airbender
Towers on top of tall spire-like mountains
Gliders, flying creatures, above the clouds
I’d tell my players about the above inspirations, but the following two I would keep close to the chest, to preserve some of the mystery of the world.
Gogyo (Wuxing) and Godai philosophy as referenced in The Legend of Zelda series
How are these underlying themes presented and/or baked-in to the fundamental concepts of the Legend of Zelda series’ worldbuilding?
I’m not going to be using these directly, as much as I’m going to try to understand more of what the developers were drawing on as their (distinctly Japanese) cultural touchstones when creating the various “themed temples” of Ocarina of Time.
Light vs. Dark in The Legend of Zelda
The creation myth of the series states that the Triforce has the power for Good or Evil, based on who holds it. In the games, this is only ever represented as Evil (Power) via Ganon, Good (Wisdom) via Zelda, and Good (Courage) via Link.
I’d like to explore a Zelda world where each of the six cultures embodies one of the 6 aspects of the Triforce. Last month was Power (Creation), this month will be Power (Destruction).
What does a Zelda culture that manifests/reveres the “bad” side of a triangle of the Triforce look like?
I’m not drawing on any Taoist thought directly, but this could be seen as a very broad-level yin and yang interpretation of the Triforce.
The Tyrant has overthrown the Central Kingdom which protected the Divine Gate between this world and the next. His seat of power rests in the raised castle, floating on a chunk of land high above its now vacant moat. From here he issues forth his monsters to corrupt the land, try to break into the divine realm, and imprison the 6 Ancestor Spirits that hold the key to his defeat.
PCs are a group of Champions sent forth by the People as told in the ancient prophecies. Their task is to release the Ancestor Spirits from the Temples they are trapped in. These temples have been corrupted into puzzling labyrinths by the Tyrant’s magic.
To the East lies a region largely avoided by the Kingdom. Towering stone pillars of limestone shoot up out of the jungle canopy, like the grey talons of an ancient dragon, now slain lying on its back.
The simian River Nomads live here on their houseboats, floating up and down the serpentine rivers that flow around and from the pillars.
The avian Rito roost in the canopy and some pillars, one of the few peoples willing to venture to their peaks.
The peaks of the pillars are hidden in a perpetual misty cloud layer that hangs just above the canopy. They are thought to be haunted by the spirits of the forsaken, damned to live their eternal afterlife in solitude amongst the lonely peaks.
Living on and amongst the pillars are remnants of the Forgotten Tribe.
Human sky pirates and poachers who use air gliders to steal from the Rito and River Nomads.
Like their cousins to the South, they are allied with the Tyrant, but were not the cause of his return.
The Tyrant’s corruption has poisoned the waterways, threatening the livelihood of the River Nomads. Any plant that drinks the poisoned water is transformed into a monster.
This blight is slowly spreading inland, like a creeping rot.
This is a river crawl. Travel through the jungle floor is difficult and dangerous. Most people here swing amongst the canopies, fly over the jungle, or ride the riverways.
High Level Overview of Weeks 2, 3, and 4:
“Haunted Mesas” ← regional prompt from The Perilous Wilds
Starts in the south as gentle, conical, grassy limestone hills, like the Chocolate Hills in the Philippines
The further North you travel, the steeper and more jagged the hills become, until they are sharp spikes jutting up through the canopy.
Anything above the cloud layer is considered haunted - the resting place of forsaken spirits.
There are a myriad of rivers that snake through these pillars, and lush humid jungle growing on their rich banks.
Here’s my original prompt from the current procedure in The Door Locks Behind You
Built amongst the towering karst pillars, the ancestors of the Forgotten Tribe used these platforms to launch their air gliders.
Over time, they became the hideout and base of operations of sky pirates, who’d hide their treasures inside the tower’s twisting caves.
Towers officially abandoned following a war with the Rito, started after the sky pirates kidnapped the heir-apparent to the Rito Throne and held her for ransom.
Now the Tyrant’s corruption is poisoning the water that flows from these towers, threatening the livelihood of the River Nomads and the Rito alike, turning the once bountiful jungle’s flora and fauna against them.
The simian River Nomads live on houseboats in loose tribal flotillas along the riverways here. Normally they subsist on fish and fruits from the trees along the river banks. They do not often see outsiders but they are open to trade for practical goods.
The Rito live in traditional tree houses built into the jungle canopy. One tribe lives on an abandoned air glider pillar that they have won from the Sky Pirates
The Rito and the River Nomads have an amicable relationship, often naturally staying out of each other’s way.