Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween Horror

I think of Halloween as the holiday when I traditionally run a horror game.

This is wishful thinking, though. I don't know if I actually ever managed to do this as any kind of tradition in the past; I know I always wanted to, and I have run a horror game once or twice on Halloween for friends in the past, but it was a long time ago, and certainly never often enough to qualify as a "tradition".

When I was younger, I avoided the horror genre. I had a lot of nightmares growing up, and had no desire to be scared further by frightening images or unpleasant thoughts. I scorned horror movies and ignored horror novels. But this all changed the first time I played a horror RPG.

I can't recall, exactly, what the first horror RPG I played was, but the first one I can remember GMing was Call of Cthulhu. Beyond the Supernatural was another early one. Something about the use of atmospheric elements like the flickering light of candles, spooky music on a stereo, and the occasional assistance of nature herself, with howling wind or chilling fog setting in, made the horror game different. I found the ability to scare others while remaining in control of the situation - I knew the adventure plot, I knew what was coming and had some idea of how to deliver it in order to cause tension and apprehension in my player(s). And yet, I was not immune from that sense of fear, either, as I was to discover after walking back to my car alone in the pitch dark after a late horror game session... Through that experience, I came to understand that the horror genre is an art, requiring a certain skill to pull off well; I suddenly found that I could watch horror movies and scrutinize them. I could judge whether they were actually creating horror, or just relying upon gore or "startles" to creep out their audiences. I bought Ken Hite's must-have book Nightmares of Mine (and, later, his edition of GURPS Horror) and began to really take a close look at horror.

Now, here I am years later, with a desire to continue playing my copy of Silent Hill 3, but being a little apprehensive about turning the lights off and immersing myself in that world again.

I haven't been able to run or play a horror adventure in many years. In fact, I think it was just before the Slussers had children - or was it when Slusser got married? - that I ran a horror game. Since horror is so dependent upon building atmosphere, having any kind of distraction is a big problem, much moreso than with any other genre of RPG I can think of.

I miss it quite a bit. There's something that horror games give you that no other game can. And it's one of the very few RPG genres where it's okay if your character dies. In fact, it's almost expected.

Here's a quick look at the horror games I own (and would love to run tonight, if I could):

Call of Cthulhu - The granddaddy of cosmic horror, this game still appeals to me. I think it's more to do with its default historical setting of 1920s New England than its nihilistic cosmology, but I can't claim to be completely immune to its charms. I have long desired to run an entire campaign, beginning with the World War I scenario No Man's Land, and following those PCs (those that survive, anyway) through their subsequent brushes with the Cthulhu Mythos across the 1920s (I've got a few). I would love to do this someday. Maybe when I'm in the nursing home.

D20 Call of Cthulhu - I don't know how well this handles running CoC adventures; the D20 system can get cumbersome at times, and if you have to stop the game to look up rules, you may as well kiss that precious creepy atmosphere goodbye. Few systems seem to lend themselves to rules lawyers (and their pet arguments) as well as Dungeons & Dragons, and D20 carries on that tradition. Having said that, this book is amazingly well-written, offering not only a decent conversion of the game to D20, but also providing some priceless advice on running horror games - indeed, running games of any genre. This one is oriented on playing in the modern day, rather than CoC's other traditional settings of the Roaring 20s or the Victorian 1890s. Speaking of modern day Cthulhu...

Delta Green - Call of Cthulhu meets The X-Files. After the Innsmouth Raid of 1927, the American government begins to pick up on the fact that there's Something Going On... In DG, you play a government employee who becomes a member of an illegal government conspiracy group, the aforementioned Delta Green. Emphasis on the illegal: this involves not only horror, but also heavy doses of paranoia. This is notable for being one of the most well-written and researched campaign settings I've ever seen, and I'd love to run some of the scenarios presented in these books.

The (New) World of Darkness - White Wolf's game of generic horror. While you can use it as the basis for a world that includes Vampires, Werewolves, Mages, and all of the other White Wolf traditional game lines, nWoD is nice in that you don't have to. With this edition, you can run any kind of modern horror game. I think it's a perfect fit for Silent Hill, myself, and I have at least two adventures I'd like to run that take place in that quiet mountain town...

GURPS Horror - Duh. The third edition is written by Ken Hite, and is much different than the previous editions of the book. This one unfortunately cuts out the description of Victorian London, but in its place gives you one of the best in-depth examinations of horror tropes and themes to be found outside Nightmares of Mine. This book is gold for its explanations of where the tropes came from, and thus, how to best capitalize on them.

Chill - This was the classic go-to for horror with the Campaign folks, and after reading the gamebooks I can see what the draw is. The secret horror-fighting society SAVE is a simple and brilliant excuse to bring "average Joe" PCs together to face the supernatural on a semi-regular basis. I, however, prefer the notion of the Society as a beleaguered, scattered, cryptic and more-or-less impoverished organization than the centralized, well-funded group that the game book seems to describe. More Rosicrucians than CIA, thanks. If you're looking for this game, make sure to look up the Mayfair edition, as the original Pacesetter edition was more humor-oriented.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel RPGs - These are more recent purchases, and they utilize the excellent Cinematic Unisystem roleplaying game...uh...system. Written in a chatty, humorous, but not annoying (unless you don't like Joss Whedon-style dialog) style, these games not only capture the feel of the television shows perfectly, they also provide a rules framework for a wide variety of games. One could just as easily run a Hellboy campaign, a superhero game, or a straight-up modern action game with these rules. Check out what people are doing with it on Eden Studios' forums... I have eight seasons (no joke) of an Angel RPG campaign completely outlined. It's called Spooks (no, not this one); it begins in Buffy/Angelverse Los Angeles circa 1938 and follows the formation and early years of The Initiative, the shadowy organization that would show up as a semi-antagonist in "Buffy" Season Four. I'd love to run this, but I question whether I've got the chops to run such a long campaign set in the World War II era. I can handle fantasy games and Shadowrun for that long, perhaps, but would I be able to stay in the mood for film noir and pulp-horror adventure with a sense of humor but unexpected depth, darkness, and character development for such an extended period? Well, it's worth a try... C'mon, it's got Nazis! Who doesn't like beating up Nazis?

Hellboy - While GURPS Lite 3rd Edition is an okay fit for this one, I think that Angel's Cinematic Unisystem would do a better job. Nonetheless, this is the sourcebook on Hellboy, chock full of awesome Mignola illustrations. If you haven't read the comic... Well, here. Read it. The gist of this is that you work for a government agency that deals with the paranormal (and often part of someone's mythology, like Baba Yaga). Hellboy is one of their primary agents. He usually deals with said paranormal by beating it senseless while issuing longsuffering one-liners. Notable in that your agent could be a normal person, but it's also quite likely that your agent is something supernatural. Characters in Hellboy have included a fishman, a pyrokinetic, a homonculus, and an ectoplasmic spirit. One of Hellboy's primary villains is Rasputin. THE Rasputin. And, you know, Nazis. Dang, this would make for a fun campaign.

Dark*Matter - Going deeper into X-Files territory than the television show ever did, this is one of the best modern conspiracy-horror books I've ever seen. It presents data on a wide range of popular and obscure conspiracies, monsters, and paranormal topics that we hear about in the real world, and presents multiple options on how to run them in a campaign. It also presents a loose cosmological explanation for what's going on, and offers an organization for PCs to work for, the Hoffmann Institute. It's a little more potent an organization than I would normally like for such a game, but it can still work; in fact, watching "Fringe" gives me a pretty solid idea of how it could be an intriguing, mysterious, and paranoia-inducing employer for characters (imagine being an employee of Massive Dynamic...). All this in a nicely-illustrated hardbound book!

Ghostories - A generic engine for running horror adventures. I love simple rules systems. I love cheap, easily-affordable games. PIG's Ghostories gives me both of those things. When you're running a horror game, you really want to have a game system that doesn't interfere with the narrative or slow things down as people start looking up rules - that's an atmosphere-killer, and building atmosphere is absolutely crucial to running a horror game. It's also compatible with their other genre Diversion i games, meaning I can use it in conjunction with their western game Coyote Trail as my system conversion for Deadlands. Speaking of...

Deadlands: The Weird West - This Old West Horror game has a lot of potential, and I own most of the books published for this game, which is quite a few. Deadlands is all over the map - it incorporates not only horror, but also pulp action and steampunk; it describes itself as "Spaghetti Western with Meat". The result is a game that can be played in a variety of styles...but personally, I'd like to run it dark and atmospheric.

Over the Edge - Not exclusively a horror game, but certainly heavy on those elements. This is a rules-light, surrealism-heavy game reminiscent of "Twin Peaks", "Lost", Cat's Cradle, and Burroughs novels. It comes with a thoroughly detailed modern-day setting, the Mediterranean island of al-Amarja, and a catalog of all the weird stuff going on there. I have a campaign-starter in mind already - that of CIA agents investigating possible al-Qaeda cell activity - but this manages to be such a wide-open game that any type of character and any type of background could conceivably work. All you need is a reason to come to the obscure island. All the rest is done for you, really. This is an excellent example of the "sandbox" setting presented for a modern day game.

Ghostbusters - Old and out of print but still pretty brilliant, from a game rules standpoint (Fear not, though - click on that link and be reconnected with that spirit from the past). West End Games made this, arguably one of the best entry-level RPGs on the market. While the adventures I've seen for it are pretty goofy (a little more than I would like for what is admittedly a comedy game), this game is wonderful in that it parodies the structure and feel of Call of Cthulhu scenarios so well. Made by many of the same people who brought you Paranoia... As fun as the original system is, were I to run it today, I'd use the even easier-to-learn-and-run Risus system by S. John Ross...who admits that the Ghostbusters RPG was a major influence. Oh, and that's free, too.

Well, that's all I can think of at the moment, though I've got the nagging suspicion that I've forgotten something. Anyway, I look forward to the day when I can run a spooky game once more.

Happy Halloween!

EDIT: I did remember something. I don't actually own the Palladium game, and I wouldn't use the system, but I liked the idea, with some modification: Nightbane. The premise is that while you think you're a normal person, you are in actuality a monstrous, extra-dimensional being who just happens to be walking around in a human body most of the time. Or are you just its vessel? Are you going crazy, or is this what you really are?

I also just remembered Hunter: The Reckoning. You become endowed by the mysterious Messengers with mystic powers with which to fight the supernatural. I have rather a lot of adventure ideas for this one, too.

Okay, enough for now - I'm starving!

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Ancient Rome is one of my perennial favorites in terms of settings. I'm not entirely certain why I find it so fascinating, except perhaps because we seem to know so much about it. There are so many similarities between we postmodern Americans and the ancient Romans, and yet at the same time, there are differences that really make them seem quite alien at times.

Take, for example, the Roman virtues, which are nicely illustrated in the RPG FVLMINATA: Armed With Lightning. As an example of Duty and Respect, the book proposes a situation based on historical precedent: You find yourself in a civil war. Both sides suffer heavy losses. Your sister's fiancee fought for the other side and was slain. Your sister does not show up for your victory celebration, choosing instead to attend the funeral of her betrothed. As a good Roman, what do you do? Run her through with your gladius for being unpatriotic. One must remember that Christian virtues such as Love, Hope, and Forgiveness were unusual, and often ran counter to typical Roman thinking.

Anyway, I've accumulated a number of books on ancient Rome and find myself coming back to it constantly. I have a couple of maps of Rome (and one of Ostia, Rome's primary port), lots of illustrations, and at least three RPGs devoted to the setting. For quite some time, I've been wanting to convert the Green Ronin Freeport adventure trilogy to a Roman setting. I've also worked to some degree on a comic project in which the protagonist is a vigile, a night watchman. I often describe the project as "Law and Order" set in Ancient Rome. My research on that led me to do some general research on the topic of crime, the forms it takes, the kinds of organizations that profit from it, and so on.

Then an idea was sparked after I participated in a discussion thread on RPGnet. While talking about the notion of "sandbox settings", in which there is no metaplot to speak of, but the setting is created to enable Player Characters as much freedom over their activities as possible. There is sufficient detail in these settings (or the means are present to create sufficient detail off the cuff, on demand) that the Players can choose what they want their characters to do, where they want them to go, and basically follow their own personal goals without the GM trying to railroad them to following a preconceived plot. A good example of this is the "Grand Theft Auto" series of video games. There is an overarching plot, but players are not bound to follow it. Instead, you can spend as much time as you want driving through the city, committing various crimes (because, let's face it, if a game allows you to crash into things, drive like a maniac, and beat people senseless, most of us will do it at least once) as you like. MMORPGs sometimes have an element of this, too. But no video game (thus far, anyway) can really capture the freedom a Player can enjoy in a tabletop RPG designed with this purpose.

Cutting to the chase, someone starting talking about "Grand Theft Auto" in various settings, and someone mentioned Ancient Rome (referring to the idea with the groan-inducing term 'Tiberpunk'). That started my gears turning. FVLMINATA does a nice job of breaking down Rome into its various neighborhoods, giving a fair description of the feel and typical content of each neighborhood in the city. This made it easier to figure out what kinds of crimes might occur where, and where ethnic and economic tensions might make things more interesting.

I thought of the various ethnic groups in Rome which would likely band together for protection, possibly forming gangs to that end. There might be something akin to terrorists, fighting to bring down the Roman government and re-establish their freedom (like the Egyptians or the Celts, perhaps). There would certainly be a black market of some sort, and cartels dealing in proscribed goods. Senators would likely have agents working on the streets toward various ends (especially since Senators were forbidden by law to make profits from business, which I'm certain they would try to skirt around), adding potential extra danger to interfering with any given criminal activity - you never know if you're disrupting a powerful Senator's income! There are the sports teams and their fans, which were such a potent political force in later Byzantium that they caused such riots as to threaten the Emperor's rule. You've also got the regular run of muggers and other petty crooks - Nero himself was supposed to have snuck out to roam the city at night, mugging people... And, of course, there would likely be vigilante groups dealing with all of the above chaos, trying to restore order to the viae in their own way.

Thus, the basis for CAPVT MVNDI. Caput Mundi was a nickname for the city of Rome, meaning "the head of the entire world." This game would be a sandbox setting, in which the PCs are free to roam and explore as they will. Player Characters could work for law enforcement, being police/detectives or lawyers, rooting out and fighting crime while dealing with a sometimes corrupt government; or they could be up-and-coming criminals trying to make a place for themselves in a wicked old city.

On a tangentially related note, I watched the pilot episode of the short-lived television show "Roar" on YouTube yesterday. Notable now, perhaps, for starring Heath Ledger as the show's protagonist, it was set in a Celtic Britain that is held (or being invaded by, as the episode's conclusion suggests) the Romans. I don't know exactly when it's supposed to take place, but given that Longinus shows up and mentions that he's 400 years old, I'm guessing it must be sometime around 365 AD (assuming he was about 35 when Jesus was crucified). This would mean that the Roman hold on Britain would only last about another 45 years before the Romans there declare their independence and are told by the Emperor to "look to their own safety." I just looked up some data on Rome at that time and it seems to jive with one or two other things I noticed in the show (for example, one of the Roman noble characters present seems to insist on a monotheistic faith; 365 would be post-Constantine). The show has a little bit of cheese - things that probably looked good on paper but came across as a little hokey in live action - and the Hero's Journey structure was pretty apparent to me, but it wasn't bad. The pilot episode is pretty self-contained, like a miniature movie, so while I think there could have been more open ends to entice the viewer to continue watching the series, I am kind of interested in seeing where next they went with it.

Watching the episode made me think, not for the first time, that a game in which players play Celts fighting Roman domination of their lands could make for an interesting campaign.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

D&D: Monster Hunters

When one thinks of Dungeons & Dragons, one of the primary concepts that comes to mind is that of slaying monsters and taking their treasure. The entire experience/level progression system has traditionally been based on this idea (though later editions of the game have expanded to include more non-violent means of progression, which I appreciate). One of the things that breaks up the monotony of this concept is the wide variety of monsters that one's character may face.

So why not base an entire campaign around this idea? You know it's going to happen anyway, so why not acknowledge it from the beginning?

The concept of the Monster Hunters campaign is simple: the PCs are a band of monster hunters. See? Simple. Now, while the idea of traveling around being more or less philanthropic, aiding villages with their monster problems, is certainly a worthwhile concept for a campaign, I'm thinking of something a little more focused.

I have a number of supplements and magazine articles - many of which date back to first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons - that examine D&D's concept of material components. Material components (known in some games as reagents) are physical items that are necessary for the casting of a spell, and often are consumed by magic in the casting. Many of these components are rather exotic - the eyelash of a cyclops, the blood of a wyvern, that sort of thing. So wizards - especially high-level ones, with all of their powerful spells - have a fairly constant need for the acquisition of these items. But frankly, when you become such a high-level wizard that you're in need of such items, you've got far more important things to do than grub around for components. World-saving things, plane-hopping things. That's where the PCs come in.

The PCs work for a powerful wizard or alchemist. In Middle Earth, this might be someone like Radagast or Saruman; in the Forgotten Realms, it could be Elminster or Blackstaff. Their job is simple: the wizard tells them that he needs an item. He may or may not provide the PCs with information about where they can find it, descriptions of the beast or item in question, etc., depending upon the tastes of the DM and the needs of the adventure. The PCs may just be simple muscle, but frankly, I'd find it more interesting if part of the reason they were hired over garden-variety mercenaries was because of their supposed expertise in the area of monster lore.

Part of the adventures would likely involve doing research. This could mean anything from journeying to a large metropolis to find a scholar who catalogues beasts, to venturing into the trackless wastelands to find a hermit-sage who knows more of these creatures than anyone alive (or may be the only one who knows anything certain about them). It may mean going to settlements where the beast in question was spotted and asking around for witnesses to its appearance and behavior, or just plain trying to find the elusive creature and observing for themselves.

What gives this campaign variety, of course, is the monsters themselves. It might be helpful to bear in mind a model something like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", which operated mostly on a "Monster of the Week" structure for its episodes. Of course, in that case the monsters were the ones who came to town, whereas I'm imagining something where the PCs range out from a central location (the wizard's tower) to various locales in the countryside. In any case, the wide variety of exotic beasts in the many Monster Manuals and their ilk should provide ample fodder for adventures. The DM chooses a monster to focus on for this adventure, taking into account what makes it unique. Then the DM figures out what it is that the wizard needs from this particular monster. Sometimes it's going to be something really esoteric (such as the creature's dreams, or its laughter, or something), but most of the time it'll probably be a bit of its anatomy. Then it's up to the PCs to learn as much as they can about the monster - through research, interviews with witnesses, and/or trial and error - and slay it. Or capture it. Or do whatever is necessary to get that bit from the monster and survive the encounter.

Now, while it stands to reason that the PCs are working for a powerful wizard and thus they can rely upon his powers to save their bacon if things get too bad - after all, they're working in his interest - I wouldn't use this safety net. As I said before, this wizard has big, important things to do that take up his attentions. To him, the PCs are NPC Hirelings, not allies. If they get slain, that sucks for Elminster only because it means he has to take the time out of his busy day of drinking with Mordenkainen and seducing goddesses to ask Lhaeo to hire more monster hunters. Don't expect him to show up at the funeral, is what I'm saying. The PCs are largely on their own. Yet, for those DMs who worry about such things, it's at least conceivable that the wizard can pop in to save them if a deus ex machina is all that stands between the continuation of this campaign and a Total Party Kill.

To keep this campaign from getting stale, the DM can introduce subplots into the adventures. Perhaps a local villager feels protective of the monster. Maybe the monster is a shapeshifter and has replaced someone influential in the region. What if the monster has the ability to possess people, or to make them do its bidding? Perhaps a cult has arisen around the monster, providing it with tribute and sacrifices, informing it of local activities, making offerings in exchange for its protection? Maybe there's a local feud between families that makes any business in the village near the monster's lair difficult? You can have subplots that are completely unconnected to the monster hunt, but which nonetheless might draw the PCs into them...

Given how many monster compendiums are floating around out there, this seems like a campaign that you could run for years and years.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

One of Us, One of Them

One of the latest ideas I've had for a roleplaying campaign was inspired by the television show "Heroes." If you've been living under a rock (or are a Slusser), "Heroes" is essentially Marvel's X-Men in plainclothes (no, not that one). In it, there is a mysterious organization called simply "The Company", which appears to have the purpose of studying, tagging, and - when necessary - eliminating super-powered individuals. While they appeared in an antagonistic capacity in the show's first season, subsequent seasons have shown things to be a little more complicated than that.

The Company's standard operating procedure is summed up with a simple phrase: "One of us, one of them." This means that when the Company's agents are sent out to perform a mission, a "normal" agent is partnered with a super-powered individual. Recent episodes of the show have begun to illustrate why this may be a good philosophy.

Aside from the fact that a non-powered Agent can benefit from having an edge against his (often empowered) opponents in the form of a Super, recent episodes have shown that super-powers tend to place certain psychological stresses on a person. Remember that all of the empowered (with the possible exception of Matt Parkman, an L.A. cop) are "normal people", not secret agents or soldiers or people who have specialized training. When normal folks develop powers, it can mess up their relationships. Accidents happen. People get hurt or killed. Sometimes, people start to think that they're superior to other human beings (the old Magneto/Brotherhood of Mutants/Teragen/etc. philosophy). Sometimes (like Gabriel/Sylar and Niki/Jessica), the power itself twists their minds, turning them into killers. Thus, the un-powered human Agent keeps them grounded and in touch with their humanity...and, if necessary, puts them down.

This simple concept (combined with the events of the last few episodes) made me think that this was an excellent basis for a Supers campaign. I'd probably choose to set the game in a different world than that of "Heroes", but I'd make it very similar. The world of "Project Phoenix", as presented in GURPS Psionics (for 3rd Edition), is a good choice (and, as it happens, I was just tinkering with that setting in my mind the other day). One player would play the Agent, and the other would play the Super. Together, they would have adventures that would be like a mix of "The X-Files" and "X-Men", hunting down dangerous mutants - er, supers. As they did so, there might be tension between them - will the Super get out of control? Can the Agent (and the Company they work for) be trusted? What happens if one of them decides to jump ship, or thinks that the work they're doing crosses too many moral lines?

But what system to use?

GURPS was the obvious answer, with its point-allocation character creation process (the Super puts character points into his power, while the Agent puts his points into attributes, skills, contacts, legal authority, etc.). Still, I'm still adjusting (very slowly) to 4th Edition, and I was curious as to what else would work. I looked at my go-to for superhero roleplaying, the old FASERIP system Marvel Super Heroes, but it's pretty skimpy on the skills side of things. I think it could still work, but I wanted a second opinion.

So I posted the question on RPGnet. One of the Old Jokes on RPGnet is that every week, a different person will ask the question, "What system should I use for a superhero game?" So I had to preface my question a little more specifically. To my delight, I immediately received a slew of thoughtful responses. Here are the results of my informal poll:

Wild Talents / NEMESIS 7
Primetime Adventures 6
Mutants & Masterminds (ideally with the Paragons supplement) 4
Cinematic Unisystem / Angel 3
GURPS 4e 3
Truth & Justice / PDQ 2
World of Darkness 1
Hero System 4e or 5e 1
Dogs in the Vineyard 1
Mutant City Blues 1
Over the Edge / WaRP 1

Discussion of how trust between the Agent and the Super were also discussed, and a few games were referred to as being notable for their trust mechanic: Panty Explosion (which sounds far smuttier a game than it actually is), Wraith, Cold City (which sounds like an awesome game anyway), and The Mountain Witch. Another person suggested that if you simply replace Fanmail in Primetime Adventures with "Trust", and rule that it couldn't be spent on the player character's own conflict, it would work well.

In any case, I own about a third of the games suggested, including Primetime Adventures. So, if I ever manage to get my group to sit down and play it, I guess that's the show I'll pitch to them. But PTA really requires the other players to not only agree to it, but be pretty interested and mentally invested in it. So maybe I'll catch them after watching a good superhero movie...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Freakin' Awesome

Watch this.

I won't be able to afford it for years, and I won't get into it until after all the cool kids have gotten tired of it, but I wouldn't mind playing.

Friday, October 10, 2008


Here's another concept for a fantasy setting. Illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi is the one to blame for this, with his consideration of such a setting and his Mouse Thief character sheet, which was so cool-looking that it made me start thinking about it. Go read that blog post before going on to this, because he states the concept better than I would.

The idea is a fantasy world inhabited by intelligent animals. Yeah, it's basically Ironclaw - furry fantasy - though I imagine it with the animals having more anatomically-correct physiques (digitigrade legs and so on) than just being humans with animal heads. I still picture them being on the same relative scale, though - elephants will be larger than mice, but on the order of Halflings v. Half-Orcs. D20 Modern has stat modifiers for "Moreaus", which are basically animals genetically modified to be human-like, so I've already got a simple go-to source for D&D game stats.

Nations are mostly divided up by species, though there are some more progressive lands (trade capitals, I imagine) where they mingle more freely. Some might include a large mix of species, somewhat like how Britain contained a mixture of peoples after being invaded by so many of them (Celts, Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, etc.), while others are more homogeneous and perhaps xenophobic. With the exception of those isolationist or hostile nations who think they should be Top Dog, I wouldn't want to be too harsh on this segregation, as my experience with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RPG series informed me that players like having the opportunity to choose from a wide range of species.

I also want some big racial enemies, to provide a Doom that looms on the distant horizon. My first thought - influenced by one of my current real-life conflicts - was that of Cockroach Barbarians. An evil, ravenous, implacable horde of scavengers who sweep across the countryside with lightning speed, destroying all in their path, producing little of any worth. If you see one, there's probably ten you don't see. They multiply incredibly quickly, and once they get into a region, they're nearly impossible to displace. I guess Locusts would work just as well, but I think Cockroaches are more evocative of "icky" feelings and thus make more viscerally interesting foes (I guess they could always ride giant locusts...yeah, that's the ticket!). The fact that they're a different Class (Insecta) from the other races makes them more alien to those who must defend against them. In other words, they're Orcs.

Another enemy came to mind as I considered these guys, inspired by my relatively recent sale purchase of Vigil Watch: Warrens of the Ratmen from the Scarred Lands D&D setting. I've liked Rat-men ever since Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay introduced the Skaven; the Ratmen (or Slitheren) of the Scarred Lands are Skaven with the serial numbers filed off. So this world definitely needs to have a Vast Underground (literally!) Conspiracy of Domination-Driven Chaos Rats to threaten our bright-eyed, fluffy protagonists.

As I began to consider this world, thoughts of their religions, genesis, and overall cosmology began to suggest themselves. Going with the basic conceit of the animal RPG eco, the peoples of Fauna believe that they were once of a lesser form (dumb animals, that is) until they were endowed with intelligence and more capable bodies by a divine being. They're uplifted, but with a mystic rather than sci-fi basis. Given their humble origins, I began to consider the possibility that perhaps this is a world that once was inhabited by humans, but they experienced something akin to a rapture/judgment End Times deal, and are thought by the bestial natives of this world to have either Ascended to a higher state of being, or were Damned to a lesser state. In either case, they're long gone, leaving behind only ancient taboo-shrouded ruins to be explored by the bold and the irreverent. This, of course, suggests a body of eschatology in their religion warning that they're in for the same fate someday, an ultimate judgment of their character by the God(s).

While the pre-existence of humans in this world allows for the possibility of human-like or human-based creatures (like Centaurs, Lammasu, Lamia, etc.) to exist, I think it gives the world more of a unique flavor if one strikes all creatures from the Monster Manuals that have these distinctly human parts. I don't mean to get rid of anything anthropomorphic (though, now that I think of it, that's not a bad idea), but I just don't want any creatures running around with a human face.

The concept of animals-as-people always introduces an uncomfortable question: what do they eat? What fills the role of animals in a world populated by anthropomorphic animals? I didn't want to have the strange co-existence of Goofy and Pluto. Fortunately, other people have tackled this problem. I took Stan Sakai's idea from Usagi Yojimbo and filled some of this niche with lizard-type creatures. In fact, I thought, why not fill the niche with dinosaurs? They could range in all sizes, most of them miniature, but some of them large enough to serve as beasts of burden, war mounts, and so on. As for their diets, it might retain a sort of cultural/racial flavor for species to remain herbivorous, carnivorous, or omnivorous. Rabbits still eat only vegetables, while Cats eat meat.

This setting is by no means unique, of course; as this bounced around in my brain I began to mentally list other settings that influenced the idea: eco, the surprisingly engaging (to me, anyway) RPG by Morrigan Press where you play normal animals who have been endowed with heightened intelligence a la "The Secret of Nimh"; Skyrealms of Jorune, which includes the genetically uplifted Children of Iscin; Mutants in Avalon for the After the Bomb setting supplement for the Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Weirdness RPG, the Justifiers RPG and the comic and RPG Albedo Anthropomorphics. Also influencing this were, obviously, Brian Jacques's Redwall series of novels and David Petersen's Mouse Guard graphic novels, although the latter casts the protagonists as being "actual scale", the size and anatomical build of real mice rather than human-sized anthropomorphizations. Also influential was the "Dimension X" story arc of Ninja High School (which featured Napoleonic Rats fighting Cockroach Barbarians).