Paul at the Blog of Holding recently posted about an unpublished, unnamed campaign setting for 2nd Edition AD&D. My take on it is, the good guys lost some kind of apocalyptic war, the world is covered with clouds (which I’ll call ‘the Gloom’) and the last few survivors live on top of mountains that jut up out of the Gloom. In my mind, these are massive, vault-like cities which extend for miles below the surface (where most survivors live). The last few mountain-vaults stay in communication with one another via sky ships of some sort.
Now, it sounds like the original premise was going to be fairly straight-up fantasy (you know, flying wooden sailing ships and all that), but I think I’d go with a more steam-punk take on it. An early industrial setting with relatively low levels of magic, most of which are relics predating even the Gloom. The mountain vaults are maintained largely by massive steam machines and analytical engines (constantly in danger of failing, and thus in need of rare parts).
The few remaining sky ships are mithril-plated, steam-powered, probably with a few cannon to discourage sky raiders or flying monsters. The means to produce new sky ships is lost, so they are increasingly rare as they break down, are shot down or simply disappear into the Gloom, never to be seen again. Few captains are willing to risk flying their ships below the clouds, and then only for a really good reason.
The PCs are scavengers and salvagers (naturally) who venture down into the Gloom to find relics and salvage equipment not easily obtained in the vaults. Below the clouds they must contend with savage hordes of goblinoids and outcast river raiders, venture into lost cities ruled by the undead or explore lost vaults whose inhabitants have regressed to morlock barbarism.
Guns exist, lethal and rare; ammunition is scarce and quite expensive. Most of the denizens of the Gloom are savages so salvage teams can usually get by with bows, pikes and swords. You break out the guns for those ‘oh shit’ situations, when you’re really in trouble. If you’ve got a mad scientist on your team, he may be able to concoct some kind of rocket launcher (read: fireball) or lightning gun to help even the odds.
Of course, it’s hard to imagine how simple savages could defeat an established, industrial society (with some magic, no less). My first thought is some kind of contagion that decimates the world’s population. Maybe weaponized/aerosol green slime (the ‘Green Death’)? Though the idea of apocalyptic cities filled with undead is kind of appealing, too. So, maybe some kind of biological weapon that turned most people into ghouls? Maybe both. The Gloom followed in the contagion’s wake, the nail in civilization’s coffin, so to speak; it made living on the surface nearly impossible, especially with such a depleted population base. The mountain vaults were the only refuges left. The origin of the Gloom is a mystery for the player’s to discover (or not, as they desire).
As far as anyone knows, dragons (and most similar fantasy monsters) went extinct long ago. There’ll still be elves and dwarves and evil lizardmen, but they’re accompanied by half-ogres, mutants, morlocks and steambots controlled by insane analytical engines. Fighters, rogues and priests are joined by mad scientists and medics. Part of me really wants to incorporate Space-Age Sorcery as well, but the more I think about things, the more I’m de-emphasizing magic; some of it might be a little too over-the-top for this setting.
If you’ve got any ideas or suggestions, I’d love to hear them. Cheers!