The one currently in my head
... is not a useful answer, but I can't pick one I unreservedly like.
I agree with Gary's choices: Zorcerer of Zo, Conan, Pendragon, and (to an extent) Ars Magica. There are certain aspects of Glorantha (RuneQuest) and Yrth (GURPS Banestorm) I like, and something tells me I should get around to reading Mythic Russia soon.
At the risk of repeating stuff I've written on other threads, here are my current criteria for an interesting game world:
- The world should resemble to actual myths, legends, fairy tales, or pre-D&D fantasy literature. All the worlds above follow this pattern to a certain extent. Glorantha invents its own multilayered myths and legends; Yrth assumes that medieval humans dropped into a fantasy world, bringing their own cultures and beliefs with them.
- Players should have more to do than clearing out unexplained ruins; the world should provide a variety of plausible cultures, well-defined political and social entities, and ongoing conflicts. Conan and Glorantha have that in spades, and the European-based ones leverage historical cultures in conflict: Celts vs. Saxons, Christians vs. Muslims, nobles vs. other nobles ...
- Magic should be a mysterious and ill-defined force, not a technology. As a corollary, magic-users should be rare, and usually NPCs ... unless all the PCs have magical or superhuman powers as in fairy tales and myths. (Ars Magica sort of fails this test, but at least it acknowledges that people who can command the forces of nature are way more powerful than even the strongest/fastest/smartest people who cannot.)
- Religions should resemble to some extent the religions of our world, and magic (if it exists) should be tied somehow into the gods or a religious cosmology. I particularly like Pendragon, Yrth and Mythic Europe because, if you're going to have medieval Europeans, you have to have the Church in some form or another.
- Non-humans should really be not human, and not humans with pointy ears and a few stereotyped personality traits. Glorantha's Aldryami, Mostali, Uz, and Dragonewts have particularly inhuman physiology and alien mindsets. The Faerie of Mythic Europe and Pendragon rely on Celtic and European folklore, not Tolkien. Counterexample: the people of Zo really *are* humans in animal suits, but somehow it works.
Last edited by fmitchell; 10-25-2007 at 08:33 PM.
"On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."
- Charles Babbage (1791 - 1871)