Roguelike Themes

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This article is based on a thread on roguelike
themes to which the following individuals contributed:

Aercum Dagsson [Arcum_Dagsson@another.c.o.m]
R. Dan Henry []
element []
Amy Vartdal [] []
Bret Jolly []
Ricky Bacon []
Olli Willkman []
Gerry Quinn []

Some posts have undergone minor alterations to aid reading outside the
original thread. Enjoy!

/Bj????rn Bergstr????m

A world where you run around with swords hacking at monsters mainly pulled from
D&D/Tolkien sources, with magic and cleric spell systems also mainly D&D based
set in either medieval times, or another world, with roughly medieval-level
technology and European-style fantasy.
-- Aercum Dagsson

The Arabian Nights would make for an interesting background. So might Mount
Olympus, with a full pantheon of Greek gods. Japan and China have a good spread
of legends to draw from, too. Japanese blood, flesh, and soul gakis would
definitely make interesting monsters. Or there's Norse mythology, English fables
and legends (Druids, or more contemporary). There are all sorts of places to
draw from, really, as long as you're willing to do a bit of research, either
through search engines, books of mythology, or both.

The magic style doesn't have to be cliched, either. For ideas for magic systems, 
browse around any new age books store, or the occult/new age section of a 
regular bookstore. But then, there have been a lot of discussions about magic 
systems here. Voodoo might be interesting, too...
-- Aercum Dagsson

And if one can find the materials to do the research, I think India has the most
undertapped mythology as far as "Western" fantasy/gaming goes. There are areas
which have received even less attention, but none with the long history of
literature and depth of cosmological invention found in India.
-- R Dan Henry

A magical wood where your heroic Red Squirrel Raider must bring back the Everful
Bag of Nuts to win the game, risking Big Hairy Spiders, Mean Faeries, Jay Birds,
Owls, and the World's Smallest Dragon
--R D Henry

Elves, muggers, magic, and highly illegal weaponry, all on the streets of
-- Aercum Dagsson

Much room for cybernetic implants etc..
-- element

To keep the focus of ranged weapon (at least in the start) I've made weapons
scarce. The start'll be set in a Mad Max like dessert environment. Weapons are
scarce and low-tech. Branches, iron bars, knifes, chains, etc will work as
close-up weapons. As time progresses the player will enter more populated and
higher tech areas, thus setting ranged weapons high on the list. Though things
like stun guns and the likes will still require being up-close.
-- Amy Vartdal

The rulers of the society might have the country in some sort of enforced feudal
state, with most sophisticated ranged weapons being highly illegal. The entire
game could be taking place in cyberspace, with its own rules, or virtual reality
(with the goal being to get back to reality). Or the technology might be so high
that most missile attacks are easily thwarted, and most fighting comes down to
hand to hand combat, possibly with large mecha.
-- Aercum Dagsson

I ended up deciding upon both Sci-Fi and Dark Future. IOW, imagine a cyberpunk
world in the year 2050 or so, and then _that_ world gets nuked to bits. Like a
post-WWIV universe. This way you have the neat cybernetic implants and cool
cybernetic hand-to-hand weapons, yet you don't have to come up with ridiculous
excuses for lack of ranged weapons. I figured, that if the nuclear war was bad
enough, it makes sense that ranged weapons are very rare and ammo is scarce,
sort of like mad max.

I don't think it needs to be heavy on the ranged weapons. Basically in this
world the common weapons would be very primitive, with rifles and such being
very rare. Or, maybe they are common but ammo is very rare, cause there are no
factories. Yet at the same time there can be little pockets of civilization
where hi-tech weapons can be found. But considering the rarity of such places,
it makes sense that people will prefer to buy fancy hand-to-hand weapons rather
than ranged weapons which require ammo that, when you run out of it, will be
hard to replace, without trekking all the way back to the "pocket of

In a tech-scarce world, cybernetic implants wouldn't prove more lasting than
firearms. M-16's might be out but by the time the AK-47's finally wear out, all
the cyberpunks will be dead unless they've got some sort of longevity treatment
that doesn't rely on now non-functional technological infrastructure. And if you
can do surgery to implant cybernetics, you can certainly make bullets. Even
lower tech settlements should be able to manage black powder muskets.

If you want to limit the use of firearms, make stealth very much worthwhile and
account for the noise of gunshots. Or someone can always take my suggestion for
a Barsoom-based roguelike where Martian chivalry allows the one who draws first
to limit the weapons allowed. Or strong gun control laws made firearms rare
before the big nasty happened, so there weren't many to salvage. This would mean
only black powder weapons (most of which aren't that great -- a good crossbow is
as effective and won't blow up in your face because you used too much powder and
a bow has a much higher rate of fire) or if you want a *good* gun you need to
take it off some soldier who doesn't want to give it up and probably has some
buddies who feel the same way.
-- R D Henry

Asia in general or maybe even anime, with classes like ninja, samurai or
-- element

Combine this with the high technology theme, and go for MegaTokyo, or something 
similar. Then throw in lots of martial arts with silly special attacks, and 
blend in a healthy blend of magic. Essentially go for a blend of your favorite 
animes. The proper way to research this one would involve several weekends 
watching assorted animes along the theme you want, reading manga, and taking 
-- Aercum Dagsson

We know the most about. Set it to cities, make trains to take you from one city
to another. Highlander spinoff anyone?
-- Amy Vartdal

Make your own universe where you can mix and match whatever you want. Neil
Gaiman has in his book Never Where a Underground system of people, who aren't
noticed by "real" people, all major cities have an underground and there
are rather eccentric people and lots of magical objects.
-- Amy Vartdal

Or you might have a space opera where different worlds in space are linked by
teleportation gates, through which only the select few adepts can pass, possibly
transforming the adept into a member of a race native to the target world. If
you want to keep the technological levels pure, maybe the gates only allow
naked adepts with no luggage to pass.
-- Bret

1500-1800 CENTURY
Though this might limit the number of monsters/weapons available.
-- element

I think it was the Ultima team that did a Jules Vernish game set on Mars.
Recently Arcanum did a pretty good job of with steampunk.  A setting that
incorporates science and magic gives you a lot of room to work, and makes for
interesting possibilities.  Ranged weapons are present, but they can have a
slew of problems associated with them.  By making guns rare, expensive,
cumbersome to load, etc. you can keep the gameplay from getting too
-- Ricky Bacon

Hunter-gatherer tribal setting, small early agricultural village, pastoral
village, or advanced cultures like Aztec, Maya, Inca.
-- R D Henry

Greek Mythological or Egyptian probably the easiest to find source material
-- R D Henry

-- R D Henry

You can have a lot of enemies use abandoned mines or caves as hideouts if you
want to include some traditional "dungeon" feel.
-- R D Henry

Add supernaturalities for flavour. Though that setting would have a bit too much
emphasis on guns. The point with the supernaturalities is that it's quite hard
to think of enough things to fight if you're limited only to criminals and
restless natives.
-- Olli Wilkman

I'd suggest three things for research if you go ahead with supernatural:
Native American folklore, Anglo-American folklore (especially "Western",
exploration, or new settlement related stories -- the axe George Washington used
on the cherry tree would be a cool artifact item), and the role-playing game
Deadlands, which is a "supernatural Western" style game. Of course, I'd say look
at Deadlands *after* you've whipped up some ideas of your own so you get in your
own brainstorming first, then compare notes.
-- R D Henry

Hunt down International Evil-Doers in their secret bases
-- R D Henry

A clerical error sends you to Hell: you must escape to Limbo to file for a
transfer to Heaven.
-- R D Henry

Add lots of angels, fallen angels, divine artifacts, sins etc
-- Bj????rn Bergstr????m

If you're familiar with the Paranoia role-playing game, I think that could be
translated into a roguelike pretty well, while calling for some unique features.
-- R D Henry

Rip-off Edgar Rice Burroughs and make a Barsoom roguelike. There's a world that
fits the "kill 'em by the barrel-full" roguelike atmosphere where Martian
chivalry allows the one who draws first to limit the weapons allowed.
-- R D Henry

Well, you could always go for a gothic/Lovecraftian/vampire horror theme. 
Depending on personal preference, it could involve tunnels under the city with 
ruins, ghouls, vampires, ghosts, werewolves, graveyards, non-euclidean realms, 
and such. Gothic horror novels, Edgar Allen Poe, H P Lovecraft, Ann Rice, and so 
on would be good reading for this theme.
-- Aercum Dagsson

"Gotta kill 'em all!".  Every monster you kill gives you a special 
ability that increases with the level (e.g. killing a fire ant gives you 
a fire missile spell, but the salamander gives you a fireball.  Other 
monsters may give you weapons and armour).  As you tool up you go down 
levels to fight stronger monsters.  The object is to kill the lord of 
every monster type.
-- Gerry Quinn

The results of this thread were further boiled down and elaborated by R. Dan Henry as an ordered list of Roguelike Themes.