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D&D > Off Topic > Tabletop RPGMay 9, 2022 4:00 pm CT

More settings we’d like to see D&D 5e revisit — or build from scratch

With the recent news of Spelljammer and Dragonlance both returning to D&D 5e, and our previous ruminations on both of these systems making an appearance in the modern game, it’s time to muse about settings we could see for the latest iteration of Dungeons and Dragons.

Before I get started, let me be explicit here — I will not mention Athas of the Dark Sun world, Mystara, or Oerth/Greyhawk here, because I’ve already done so in that previous post. There’s still a lot of possibilities for settings I’d like to see get incorporated into a modern 5e release, so let’s talk about that, shall we?

Gamma World, a post-apocalyptic setting

One of the first modules for D&D was Expedition to the Barrier Peaks — a 1980 module for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons that adapted a tournament module run in 1976 at the time TSR was introducing a science fiction game called Metamorphosis Alpha. This game, itself set on a malfunctioning generational ship called the Warden, was one of the first — if not the first — science fiction RPGs published, and it developed into and inspired the creation of another such game, Gamma World.

Gamma World was essentially the predecessor of games like the After the Bomb, RIFTS, or the Twilight 2000 RPGs — a game set on an Earth centuries after some kind of world-wide catastrophe wiped out the advanced previous civilizations and left behind a strange landscape of mutant creatures, ancient technology, and even more exotic and misunderstood things. Essentially, Gamma World is the pen and paper grandmother of Horizon Zero Dawn, or the Fallout series.

If any old TSR game deserves a 5e adaptation, it’s Gamma World. It’s had numerous editions, a whole slew of alternate backstories, and a plethora of weird and quirky setting details like mutated badger people named Badders, intelligent and powerfully psionic horses, metal melting lizard people and a whole lot more besides. Gamma World takes the bare bones of the idea that Gygax wrote in Expedition to the Barrier Peaks and runs headlong with it — what is it like to explore a world filled with hostile mutant life carrying untested technology you don’t understand? What about if you are a mutant too? Perhaps a mutated human, perhaps a member of another species or a genetically engineered chimera of several? What if the world ended and you didn’t even know it has once been different?

It’s a really fascinating concept that I think could work extremely well using 5e’s rules, especially the ones from Tasha‘s that let you design your heritage from scratch. Finally, you can play as a malfunctioning robot, a mutant plant spore colony driving a human body around, or even gasp a terrifyingly dangerous world destroying human being.

Blackmoor, perhaps the very first adventure, could be revived

Dave Arneson has never gotten the credit he deserved for basically doing all the work of inventing role playing games as a genre and Dungeons and Dragons in particular. Sure, Gary Gygax essentially made D&D what it was, but it was only after playing in Arneson’s Blackmoor game that he did so, and Arneson’s Blackmoor supplement — which included the first actual adventure ever released, Temple of the Frog — essentially creates D&D as we recognize it today.

We don’t really have time for an in-depth look at how TSR under Gygax screwed over Dave Arneson from his rightful due, but his Blackmoor setting was essentially the first ever D&D campaign, and it deserves recognition. Sadly, Dave himself passed away back in 2009, and he held the rights to Blackmoor (rightly so) and that means presumably his family holds those rights now. But Hasbro is a massive company and they could easily license the rights for a D&D 5e version of Blackmoor.

You may be wondering why I’m not talking much about the world of Blackmoor, and that’s because it’s a trip and a half. Arneson was relentlessly entertaining and have a very eclectic approach to things, and later collaborators added even more weirdness. Let me put it this way — Temple of the Frog was the least weird thing about Blackmoor. At various points Blackmoor has had time travel, flipped Arthurian myth on its head, involved alien spacecraft and a bizarre superbeing named the Egg of Coot — a not too subtle dig at E. Gary Gygax, that one — and much, much more. There was a version of the setting TSR put out for use with the D&D BECMI rules, also known as the Mentzer books or the box set rules, and Arneson released his own version of the setting for 3rd Edition D&D before he died in 2009.

Just like Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, there’s various science fictional things in Blackmoor, but it’s also a world with magic and fantasy galore — if anything, it sort of reminds me of Shadowrun in its fusion of the two ideas. But it’s set not in a modern world where magic is reintroduced but instead in a wildly fantastic setting where science is just another form of study for magic. It deserves a comeback.

Star Frontiers, a space-traveling adventure with the serial numbers barely filed off

We’re getting to see some of the races from the original Star Frontiers setting in Spelljammer, and that’s great, but that isn’t enough for me. Star Frontiers has the potential to be the key for D&D to become something it hasn’t managed since the end of the 3rd Edition days — namely, bigger than D&D. One of the things I loved about 3e was all the non-fantasy stuff you could get for it — D20 Modern, for example, was probably a significantly better and more balanced game than D&D itself was.

Since it’s not likely that Wizards of the Coast is going to get the rights back to Star Wars any time soon, Star Frontiers would be an excellent way to create a science fiction universe to introduce role players to a non-fantasy RPG. Cool aliens, spaceships, you could create game worlds that mirror DuneStar TrekThe Expanse, and more with the game’s Frontier Sector and its United Planetary Federation.

Yes, they really called it that. It wore its influences on its sleeve, guys.

Star Frontiers was very much a game that allowed you to play around with science fiction tropes and ideas, in a way Spelljammer just won’t be able to, because Spelljammer is at its heart space-fantasy, with magic and all the other tropes you usually find in D&D. It would be great to see the 5th Edition mechanics applied to more strictly science fictional worlds, and Star Frontiers would be an excellent foot in the door for that. And if it means that we get a new version of D20 Modern for 5e? I would absolutely be down for that.

So that’s three worlds TSR created that I’d like to see brought to 5th Edition D&D in one way or another — and I didn’t even mention Top Secret or Boot Hill or Alternity.

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