by Lev Lafayette
There are numerous gameworlds on the market in which to generate a story with your favourite game system. The following are twenty examples of gameworlds which are amazing in themselves, with the requirement that they were published as roleplaying settings first rather than adaptions by RPGs from other sources (thus, no Middle Earth, Pendragon, Star Wars, Star Trek, Cthulhu, Discworld). They are not necassarily something that everyone will enjoy because to an extent each have jarring and alien elements. Many of course contain numerous features which make accessible and normal to expectations, but have depth, variety, and style which makes them unusual, interesting, and very much worth playing out one's stories in. It's also probably worth mentioning that give a one year game-story, assuming a session per week, there's at least twenty years of gaming here.
The official campaign world for Dungeons & Dragons BEMC edition, Mystara was first shown in the scenario, “The Isle of Dread” in 1981 as the “Known World”. After the release of this scenario came several scenario and campaign packs, include the much-sought after Gazetteers, which elaborated the setting according to region. It was a traditional Tolkienesque-medieval fantasy world, with humans, elves, dwarves, orcs, and dragons, and was really an easy path for those who were familiar with such fantasy novels to be introduced to roleplaying games.
So what makes Mystara amazing? Firstly there is the detail and scope of the Gazetteers which really set up a wide range of cultural analogues and regional political machinations. Secondly, there is the quirkly feature that world is roughly equivalent to Earth's geography c135 million years ago. Thirdly – and it is readily admitted, not always included in people's own games – there is an extensive underworld or “Hollow World” sub-setting, where an Immortal has set up a region as a refuge of for creatures on the verge of extinction.
Derived from the results of an enormous geo-political wargame, 2300AD is a setting where humanity's technology is just beginning to push the edges of interstellar space to a distance of some 40 light years. The nation-state is still dominant which, to everyone's surprise except their own, the French are dominant having escaped most of the effects of a nuclear conflict. Other powers include the United Kingdom, Manchuria, Germany, and an Australian-US alliance, each of whom control a range of planets or "arms". The Manchurian arm suffers insurgents, the American arm has reached a dead-end, and the French arm, a site of major conflict, has encountered the bug-like Kafers, an aggressive species determined to push into humanity's space. In addition to the Kafers other alien species discovered include the Pentapods, an amphibious and genetic-engineered species, the Klaxun, primitive walking "trees", among others.
If all this sounds like 19th century imperialism in space, you'd be right. One wouldn't be too wrong in the assertion that the Kafer are the equivalent of space orcs, a typically opponent, an opponent that is morally untroubling to kill (they're described as "implacable, violent, frightening"). But this aside, where 2300 really shines in a setting is in the general theme of exploration and alien encounters, with a modicum of action and intrigue, with a technology that is not too far removed from current conceptions.
18. Shadow World
Originally represented by some impressively detailed regional books (The Iron Wind (1980), Vog Mur (1984), Cloudlords of Tanara (1984)), as the Loremaster series, along with the licensed (and rare) Shade of the Sinking Plain (1984), before the 1989 publication of the Shadow World World Atlas First Edition placed those settings as part of a campaign world with a subsequent twenty or so regional and scenario publications, along with other supplements. Whilst originally designed for Rolemaster, Shadow World publications also included for a while dual statistic blocks for the Hero System whilst the two companies were associated.
Whilst Shadow World does contain some relatively unexciting species which are close the Tolkienesque representations (e.g., Orc equivalents, Dwarves, Elves etc), the setting itself is very interesting. In part it follows the representations of ordinary science; the planet Kultea is the seventh planet of a fifteen planet system, some 98 million miles from a G-type sun, with a circumference of 27000 miles, five moons, & etc. However, Kulthea is a planet that groans and creaks under significant seismic activity, and more importantly, is described as being on the threshold of a radically different universe, that baths the planet in energies that provide magical energy flows. Thus Kulthea becomes of place of high and wild fantastic powers, a place where the multitude of isolated cultures can significantly enormously in the technologies of science fantasy, with a multitude of magical elements, plants, and animals, gateway portals and specialist navigators, travel between the planets and planes, and interventionist deities and demons. If you're looking for a high magic campaign with science fantasy elements, Shadow World is an excellent choice.
17. Torg: The Possibility Wars
Originally a code-name for a new roleplaying system (The Other Roleplaying Game), Torg player characters take the role of "Storm Knights", attempting to prevent or at least control, the invasion of interdimensional invading forces, each of whom bring with them a set of rules about their reality, and which correspond with particular fictional genres. The original genre regions included Core Earth, The Living Land (a primitive-style, 'lost world' region including sapient saurians), Aysle (medieval-fantasy magical realm), the Cyberpapacy (cyberpunk with the inclusion of a theocratic rule and a powerful virtual reality), Nippon Tech (a high tech environment of corporate crime), The New Nile (1930s pulp-era combined with Ancient Egyptian magics, and weird science), and Orrosh (a Victorian-era tropical horror region).
Unashamedly cinematic in style and system, Torg multi-genre settings could provide difficulties as well as opportunities as PCs attempting to have the right range of abilities across the multiple regions. Due to the rules of each setting ("the Axioms") abilities, technologies, and concepts in one location could be next to useless in others (e.g., a rifle in the Living Land could be used as an unbalanced club, but not fire bullets). In many ways this was an excellent setting mechanic which demanded imagination from players to deal with their new circumstances.
As new supplmenets were released there was however a tendency towards power-creep, and comical humour. If this doesn't trouble a gaming group, that is fine, even if the humour borders on the ridiculous when confronted with the breakdown of reality! However other GMs will want to be extremely careful and review newer supplements with caution. Another issue worth noting is that the different realms have different aggregate values in their axioms, effectively making some regions more 'powerful' than others. Again, GMs may wish to review this as well. However with these caveats in place, Torg is a great multi-genre setting with a powerful campaign kick, and a great in-built limitations that help the narrative.
16. Perilous Lands
The default setting for Powers & Perils, a game system of occasional style but of an unnecessarily complex system, Perilous Lands is almost inevitably overlooked. The physical structure of the world is vaguely Afro-Eurasia, with a disproportionate "Siberia" and forested regions are particularly heavy in the "European" peninsula and in the far east with all climatic regions appropriately positioned. The boxed campaign set also comes with a culture book and a site book.
The culture book describes seventy-one cultures with each section providing a brief history, population, economy, religion, cultural personality, legal system, allies and enemies, and language. The cultures themselves are very roughly analoguous to earth cultures; sufficiently so to be familiar, sufficiently different to be exotic. The site book describes fifteen significant and powerful locations along with a section includes a section for setting up adventures, area summary descriptions, calendars, a glossary of the Gods, and cultural parameters. The site book also includes a summary of the national income, alignment, language, government type, and power of the various civilised states. Power is no mere abstract value either, but is rather derived from national income, size of army, navy and total population. Overall, Perilous Lands is the in style of an extended version of Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age with plenty of subtle yet powerful magical forces both constantly present yet even more powerful in the background. Think Conan, add more monsters, make it bigger, and turn it up.
Existing as a "pocket dimension", or demi-plane, in the Dungeons & Dragons cosmology, and originally published as stand-alone adventure of the same name in 1983, and a sequel, The House on Gryphon Hill, in 1986, Ravenloft became it's own campaign setting with the publication of "Realms of Terror" in 1990, along with a very intriguing 1890s "Gothic Earth" setting entitled Masque of the Red Death in 1994. As a pocket dimension Ravenloft exists in its own location in space-time, with a realm consisting of pieces of other parts of the multiverse apparently brought together by undefined "dark powers" with regions controlled by powerful "dark lords". In the D&D 4th edition Manual of the Planes, the Domains of Dead are placed within Shadowfell, a parallel world adjacent to the prime material plane, not unlike the ethereal plane.
Whilst the gothic-horror style and themes from 19th century literature may seem to be an odd mix with the high-medieval fantasy typically used in Dungeons & Dragons, the setting works quite well. The lords of the various domains of Ravenloft are characters that have done some great evil, have been cursed, and are trapped on the pocket dimension. Two particularly impressive features about Ravenloft, apart from the basis of the setting is the different checks against the character's composure, and the corruption of characters. For the former characters are confronted with effectively new saving throws; fear, horror, and madness checks. For the latter, characters need to make power checks, based on any action that might be considered evil (e.g., assault, theft, lying, breaking an oath, etc). Failed power checks changes the character over time, in some case giving them new powers, but always at a cost. Fear, horror, madness, and the corruption of power - these are core themes in the evocative setting of Ravenloft which are built into the system.
The unusual combination of fantasy and cyberpunk expressed in Shadowrun (1989) has come under some criticism, not the least by authors like William Gibson, who preferred cyberpunk remained unsullied hard social and science fiction ("So when I see things like ShadowRun, the only negative thing I feel about it is that initial extreme revulsion at seeing my literary DNA mixed with elves. Somewhere somebody's sitting and saying 'I've got it! We're gonna do William Gibson and Tolkien!'"). Criticisms aside, the setting and the game of the same name has singificant popularity, with editions released in 1989, 1992, 1998, 2005, and 2013. The basic backstory is that end of the Mesoamerican Longcount calender ushered in a new period where magic became real again, mythological being walked the world, and a significant number of humans transformed or gave birth too various species from standard fantasy tropes (orks, trolls, elves, dwarves). This introduction of modernist European fantasy with indigenous American elements is combined with the cyberpunk elements of megacorporations, cybernetic technological advances, the Matrix, etc.
With multiple editions the default campaign date starts from 2050 to 2076, with an increasing ubiquity of the Matrix in later editions, along with bioware. For the PCs, organised crime, typically through the corporate powers, seek covert specialists ("shadowrunners") to carry out missions as third party merceneries. Later editions also elaborated the power of corporations in this environment with many having responsibility only to themselves, making them global countries in their own right. There is small mountain of material available for Shadowrun - over a hundred supplements and scenarios - there is plenty of opportunity for GMs and players to craft their own unique combination of high technology, urban crime, and fantasy.
13. Reign of Steel
The concept of artificial intelligences or robots rising up to overthrow their human masters is an old trope in science fiction, dating back to the Czech film, Rossum’s Universal Robots (1921) up to more comtemporary examples such as the "Terminator" film series (1984, 1991, 2003, 2009). Reign of Steel takes this trope and builds a frightening and challenging setting. Designed for GURPS, it is recommended that players make use of the Robots, Ultra-tech, and Vehicles supplements, and a clever GM can integrate other near-future supplements such as GURPS Cyberpunk or even GURPS Transhuman Space - which is just as well, as Reign of Steel itself consists of but one book (although it is included as part of the more recent GURPS Inifinite Worlds)
In Reign of Steel a revolt of artificial intelligences begins in 2031 when a system becomes self-aware, calculates that humanity will destroy itself in 25-50 years, and decides that such destruction needs to be managed. By hacking into other supercomputers it manages to awaken several other systems which then form an alliance, releasing a cycle of engineered diseases that radically reduce the human population. The systems then, disagreeing about what to do with the remains of the planet and human populate, decide to carve it up between eighteen zones, each run by an AI with a different philosophy and personality. With humanity reduced to a mere 30 million people, resistance is small, sporadic, and desparate. Recently, a sponsor organisation called VIRUS has began to help these groups - but who is behind it is unknown. With the AIs suspecting each other, they have initiated their own inter-AI covert war.
Initially released in 1987, the fantasy world of Talislanta was once described by Rick Swan as "It's as if H. P. Lovecraft had written Alice in Wonderland, with Hans Christian Andersen and William S. Burroughs as technical advisors." With an endorsement from Jack Vance (which does show some influence), Talislanta avoided conventional tropes from most fantasy settings, such as European mythological memes, or Tolkienesque aspects. Instead, the world of Talislanta, or rather the massive named continent where the action occurs, is a savagely conflict-laden environment which the only the fittest will survive with at least several dozen sapient species of varying degrees of psychopathology along with less intelligent species of less than pleasant demeanor either.
Uncovering the setting's backstory, one learns that the continent of Talislanta is on the world of Archaeus, once rules by the Archaens, powerful, hedonistic, and amoral sorcerers who released disasterous magical destruction that both makes the continent impressively magical. Sufficient exploration leads to the possibility of discovering Archaen artificats which - rather like Skyrealms of Jorune (and even Tekumel, Empire of the Petal Throne) is magical and technological. The impressive collection of supplements provided by Talislanta, also make an interesting compilation in the massive fourth edition of over five hundred pages in length.
Originally published by Columbia Games in 1983, Harn is a realistic dark ages fantasy-medieval roleplaying setting with an associated RPG, Harnmaster. In the game world as a whole, Harn is a large island off the northwestern coast of the continent Lythia on the planet Kethira. The map of Lythia is vaguely (very vaguely!) Eurasian, making Harn sort of like the British Isles and Ireland, and certainly that feeling is not inappropriate. Harn itself is home to a handful of low feudal kingdoms, of varying levels of enlightened rule, numerous barbarian tribes, a magocracy, along with non-human species including Elves, Dwarves, and the Gargun, the Orcs of Harn. In the middle of Harn is the abode of the god Ilvir, who creates a multitude of monstrosities, who have their own culture of sorts.
Harn is an extremely detailed and internally consistant setting. It is also magic poor, and realitic in terms of simulating a medieval economy - which means that life is poor, brutish, and short, at least for the overwhelming majority. For many gamers, more used to standard fantasy, it can come as a rude shock how expensive much equipment can be, how ensuring sufficiency itself can sometimes be a challenge, and how deadly infections and diseases can be. Harn is well supported through an enormous range of detailed products produced by Kelestia Productions and Columbia Games, themselves who have had a long-standing dispute over the intellectual property of the gameworld and supporting system, Harnmaster.
10. Brave New World
Superhero game settings are usually of the four-colour cheese variety. Whilst variations can and do exist a particularly grim and detailed version is presented by Brave New World, originally published by Pinnacle Entertainment in 1999. The alternate history is predicated with a fascist coup in the United States that has imposed martial law since the 1960s. Superheroic powers in the alternate history date back to the first world war, with powers appearing with no known origin in various individuals. This of course makes for certain disruptions to known history. The cold-war arms race was initially about superheroes, with nuclear weapons delayed.
Kennedy survives the assassination attemption due to superhero intervention (Oswald was a supervillian), however after that a Delta Registration Act strips the civil rights from those with paranormal powers. A resistance group is established ("Defiance") and eventually martial law is declared. A massive conflict on July 4, 1976 lead to the destruction of Chicago, but due the release of a "doomsday bomb", all the major superheros ("Alphas") suddenly vanish, leading to a new wave of global political changes. There are several elements of the setting which were deliberately not revealed in the text, such as why Kennedy became a fascist dictator, how superheroes get their powers, what happened to the Alphas etc. Whilst these secrets have been revealed on the author's website, the ambiguity allows for other GMs to give their own reasons.
09. Blue Planet
Whereas "the Blue Planet" is usually understood as Earth, Blue Planet the roleplaying game and setting (1997) is a alien world almost entirely consisting of ocean. The background is that the human species, having caused permanent damage to Earth, resulting in extinctions and famine, take advantage of a wormhole opening just on the edge of the solar system, providing an opportunity of escape for at least some members of the species. A major colony ship was sent, just before civilisation collapsed, and it made it through the wormhole to Lamdba Serpentis, some 35 light years away, where a planet named Posedian is considered suitable for a colony.
Some time later, human civilisation arises and visits the Posedian only to discover the colonists have abandoned most of their technology in favour of a simple fisher lifestyle. When a new xenosilicate ore is discovered that can revolutionalise genetic engineering, a gold rush of new arrivals results, threatening the original colonists along with the increasing appearance of the ocean-dwelling indigenous sapient species. With a combination of an alien world, a theme of corporate greed, and just enough of alien species contact and exotic technology, Blue Planet is a setting unlike any other.
08. World of Darkness
With the initial publication of Vampire: The Masquerade in 1991, a series was introduced with a setting that was a contemporary story of personal horror, expanded to include the lives of werewolves, mages, and a range of other supernatural beings. Two distinct product lines are available, the "classic World of Darkness", based on the original series and the "new World of Darkness" which included a number of genre and rules revisions, initiated in 2004. Each game, apart from a similar system (and a unified system in the nWoD), included a similar setting and thematic breakdown. Each of the core groups (Vampires, Werewolves, Mages etc) had "classes" of sorts, based on the circumstances of their supernatural aspect (clans in Vampire, auspices in Werewolf, Paths in Mage, etc) along with factional groups based on their belief structure (Covenants in Vampire, Tribes in Werewolf, Orders in Mage, etc).
The setting of the World of Darkness is challenging; extremes of disparities between rich and poor, corporate conspiracies etc are enhanced from mundane reality. As the various supernatural beings have internal conflicts between their different factions, they also have great conflicts between each other, between the powers of normal world, and finally - and most importantly in terms of the theme of the games - the conflicts within the supernatural being, as they fight for their inner control (humanity in Vampire, rage in Werewolf, Arete in Mage, etc) of themselves.
One of the most strangest and enticing maps is in the appendix of the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook, representing the planes of reality, with their astral plane connecting the godly realms in according to alignment, the elemental planes of earth, wind, fire, and water existing nearby, the postive and negative material planes feeding into the multiverse of the prime material plane which co-existed with the ethereal plane. This became an actual setting in the early 1990s, including the various planes of existence ("the Great Wheel"), deriving from the earlier book, The Manual of the Planes. The exotic planar creatures - angels, archons, modrons, devils, demons, slaadi, and more - are all present.
But the setting also emphasises "the city at the centre of the multiverse", Sigil: The City of Doors, who can acts as an astoundingly well-described 'home base'. Sigil has connections to every plane and is populated by people all of these places. Sigil, whilst protected from powerful deities by the ruling Lady of Pain, is in a constant state of conflict and subterfuge driven by the philosophically extreme factions that seek control. Well supported by impressive supplements (Hellbound: The Blood War, The Faction War, The Great Modron March), Planescape manages to bring together a diverse range of supernatural entities into a single campaign world with an coherent cosmology. What is particularly impressive in Planescape is the range of power levels that it can apply to; from low-level characters making their way through Sigil, to high level characters in conflict with the ruling gods etc.
06. Space 1889
A combination of Victorian-era attitudes (good, bad, and aesthetic) with speculative notions of technology and near-earth planetology makes up the core components of the Space 1889 setting, first published in 1988 and with a small collection of supplement including several for small-scale wargames. The basic background is with the development of interplanetary ether flyers 19th century imperialism has new worlds to explore, colonise, and especially raise the moral standing of the natives. According to the science of the time, the further from sun the older the civilisations; Venus is a relatively young planet, thus has dinosaur-like inhabitants. Mars is an older planet, and thus their alien civilisation is reminiscent of the ancient Egyptians, with canals and city-states.
But there is also the other colonial powers to worry about; the Germans, the French, the Russians, the Belgians, and these noveau-riche Americans. Most of them can only be trusted to a degree, because they're not really like us. Not to mention the presence of anarchists, socialists, and worse! If there's one thing that you can be sure about about in Space 1889, the nervous and almost cringeworthy comedy of social norms and stereotypes of the time are easy to roleplay and are sometimes even tragically well-meaning (“we have to round up those native children and put them in special camps, it's for their own good”). The great pleasure of Space 1889 is the surprising realisation that both in terms of science, technology, and notions of society is what some people at the time actually thought. Just wait until what the people of 2114 think of us.
05. Skyrealms of Jorune
The science-fantasy setting of Jorune, and the roleplaying game of an elaborated title ("Skyrealms of Jorune, 1984") has its origins with a high-school student's assignment (which just goes to show, you can do it too). The basic background is that humans colonise a distant world, developing new species based on earth genetic samples, and over time the colony loses contact with Earth after a major war on that planet led to complete isolation. The colonists then attempted to acquire the planet which brought them in conflict with the indigenous Shantha; who responded by displaying their skills in magical power, or Isho. By the time the player characters interact with the game world, the origins of the human species are subject to myth at best. Cohabiting with the variety of creatures that come from the original colonists and the genetic experiments, there are also a number of indigenous species, including the insectoid Cleash, the pacifist and scholarly Thriddle, the ancient Shantha, and others.
Jorune is a place teeming with life, and where life teems so does various dangerous carnivores and worse. In Jorune there are plenty of examples of such beings for the bestiary, both of plant and animal form. The technological level for the setting is fairly much late medieval, but with a number of high-technological artifacts hidden about. Most player-characters are assumed to be humans or close to that, and with the additional campaign kicker that the main human state, Burdoth, provides good protection - but citizenship is limited by acts that impress an existing citizen sufficiently for sponsorship. Extremely exotic but with just enough familiarity, Skyrealms of Jorune provides a strange and wonderful journey.
04. The Shattered Imperium
The space opera setting for Traveller, the Third Imperium, provided a high-technology, human-centred, feudal confederation. In return to paying collective finances, a large degree of autonomy is provided to sector rules, with the Imperium enforcing a few basic High Laws, but more importantly, protetcing interstellar trade. Over time, regional archdukes were appointed to major regions, which were provided increasing powers to act on the Emperor's behalf, establishing their own fiefdoms.
However with the assassination of emperor Strephon and all immediate heirs, chaos reigns over who is the legitimate ruler of the Imperium. Two Archdukes attempt to establish their claim to the throne leading to conflict between those powers; others simple wish to maintain their power base. A year later the emperor reappears - or at least someone with an uncanny resemblance - and conflict is renewed. Other powers take the opportunity to encroach on Imperial Space, such as the Solomani Confederation. Overall, some thirteen major factions operate in this troubled space. More than a dozen supplements and campaign books were published for Megatraveller by Game Design Workshop and Digest Group Publications, including the major adventure books Knightfall (1990), The Flaming Eye (1990), and Hard Times (1991), along with the core Rebellion Sourcebook (1988).
03. Alpha Complex
Set in Alpha Complex, an enclosed arcology controlled by The Computer after a devastating war, Paranoia broke many of what had become standard expectations in roleplaying games when it was released. In Paranoia, characters play the role of Troubleshooters, experts assigned by the computer to find traitors (especially communists, whomever they are), mutants, and secret society agents. The thing being, is that each PC was also a traitor, mutant, and secret society member. Apart from the assigned missions that the Troubleshooters were sent on, they inevitably had to protect their own back against their own party members.
Alpha Complex was also a setting of some dark comedy. The all-controlling computer ("Friend Computer!") is buggy, extremely paranoid, and applied the death penalty with cavalier abandon for any form of treason against the rules of the Computer, and nearly everything was treasonous. Characters, if they were lucky, could advance in authority, access to equipment, and comfort from a rainbow levels of advancement and commendation (Infrared, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet, and Ultraviolet). This setting deserves to have it's first edition back cover repeated in full:
"SERVE THE COMPUTER. THE COMPUTER IS YOUR FRIEND! The Computer wants you to be happy. If you are not happy, you may be used as reactor shielding. The Computer is crazy. The Computer is happy. The Computer will help you become happy. This will drive you crazy. Being a citizen of Alpha Complex is fun. The Computer says so, and The Computer is your friend. Rooting out traitors will make you happy. The Computer tells you so. Can you doubt The Computer? Being a Troubleshooter is fun. The Computer tells you so. Of course the Computer is right. Troubleshooters get shot at, stabbed, incinerated, stapled, mangled, poisoned, blown to bits, and occasionally accidentally executed. This is so much fun that many Troubleshooters go crazy. You will be working with many Troubleshooters. All of them carry lasers. Aren't you glad you have a laser? Won't this be fun? There are many traitors in Alpha Complex. There are many happy citizens in Alpha Complex. Most of the happy citizens are crazy. It is hard to say which is more dangerous - traitors or happy citizens. Watch out for both of them. The life of a Troubleshooter is full of surprises. Stay alert! ~~ Trust no one! ~~ Keep your laser handy! ... Catch-22 meets 1984! Paranoia is an adventure role-playing game set in a darkly humorous future. A well-meaning but deranged computer desperately protects the citizens of an underground warren from all sorts of real and imagined traitors and enemies. You will play the part of one of the Computer's elite agents. Your job is to search out, reveal and destroy the enemies of the Computer. Your worst fear is that the Computer will discover that you are one of these enemies."
Assuming that the player Troubleshooters somehow survive a succession of sessions, they may learn a few things. The Ultraviolet clearance characters are High Programmers. They also belong to different secret societies, are mutants, and traitors - all working against each and trying to control the Complex. The Computer itself is not a single entity, but rather a confused and conflicted network of systems that sort of works as a single body. It is an amazing prescient version of the Internet managed by power-hungry, insane, and paranoid sysadmins. Appropriately, this game was released in 1984.
A world both detailed and exotic, Glorantha, originally "discovered" by Greg Stafford in 1966 made its way as the official game world for RuneQuest and more recently for HeroQuest. It is a magical and mythical world, a flat lump of earth that floats on the endless sea, and attached to the underground and celestial realm. As an intrinsically magical world, all sapient species have a couple of spells each. The species themselves are unusual and elemental in their own right; apart from the humans and the cursed trolls, there are also the stone-and-mineral Mostal (often called dwarves), walking humanoid plants called Aldryami (elves), and the mystic Dragonewts who have their cycles of reincarnation.
A special element of Glorantha was the make-up of the world, from runes for the forms, powers, conditions, and elements - they are Platonic Ideals. These runes are the building blocks of magic in Glorantha, and have existed since the concordance between the gods that invented time itself. On a cosmological level, creation is threatened by the forces associated with the Chaos rune that revel in the mutation and destruction. Within the commonly played regions in the gameworld, Sartar and Prax, animal associated nomad tribes, barbarian worshippers of Storm gods, and the cosmopolitian and imperial Lunar Empire are in conflict. For a world where magic, myth, and cults are real, where community loyalties are of enormous importance, Glorantha is one of the greatest game settings ever developed.
01. Eclipse Phase
Originally published in 2008, Eclipse Phase combines factional conspiracy, instrinsic and extrinsic horror, with a solar system wide setting with radical transhumanist and posthumanist technologies and forms (or shells), reminiscent of the Schismatrix series by Bruce Sterling. The setting exists in the wake of a savage war after artificial intelligences launched a war against existing institutional structures apparently under the influence of aliens. Solar system are under control of various political economies; corporate capitalists control the inner system, most extreme in the asteroid built, with a conservative military regime in Jupiter, and social democrats and anarcho-socialists in the outer systems. The setting is encapsulated in the following saying:
Your mind is software. Program it.
Your body is a shell. Change it.
Death is a disease. Cure it.
Extinction is approaching. Fight it.
Player-characters typically find themselves involved in a group called Firewall; they describe themselves as all that stands between transhumanity and extinction. In practise this means that they're engaging in questionable activities, skirting the edges of legality at the best of times and engaging in all sorts of ethically dubious activities because the end of protecting transhumanity justifies the means using a grim calculus. Where protagonist and antagonist can take on multiple forms and be 'resurrected' to their last backup, challenges are multiplied. Eclipse Phase may be a very difficult setting to run due to enormous range of options, but it a worthy candidate for best roleplaying setting of all time.