Sunday, December 19, 2010

Video Games as RPG Settings - Joust

I'm sure we have all done it before - taken a video game and worked it into an RPG or let it inspire us in our game play. For me one of these games is Joust.

Though Joust is just a side-view action game the graphic elements paint a rather vivid fantasy setting to build from. In the game you have floating islands of rock suspended above molten lava. Battling in this skyscape you have valiant knights mounted on flying ostriches which must be magical as ostriches are flightless birds. These knights fight evil knight mounted on giant vultures who have a form of reincarnation as they respawn from eggs that are cast off when they die.

Menacing this environment are a giant pterosaurs that swoops through, attacking those foolish enough to end up in its way. Add to this the lurking trolls that inhabit the molten lava below, ready to reach out and snatch those foolish enough to fly too low.

So, how does one create a setting for a game out of this? I'm sure the creators of the setting had some sort of vague back story to it all, but I'll be damned if I know what it is nor do I really care. This project is about developing a setting of my own inspired by the video game.

The aerial elements for this setting immediately conjure up for me an elemental concept. Perhaps the Joust RPG setting can exist in some sort of demi-plane suspended in and around the various elemental planes. In this realm, various elemental forces collide and meld to create the strange phenomenas such as floating rocks and flying ostriches. I shall call this realm, Haraz.

Haraz has existed as its own space for eons and is populated by a race of man-like beings who for all intents and purposes are humans. These men have no special abilities other than an affinity for the realm that they call home. They are reliant on their special mounts to traverse the multi-levelled regions of Haraz or other such things as flying ships and other magical conveyances which are easily engineered in this realm due to its close connection with the Elemental Plane of Air.

Kingdoms in Haraz are made up of collections of larger and smaller pieces of floating land where communities and strongholds are built. In some areas, these rocky air islands exist near enough to one another to be connected by bridges and causeways. This is how larger communities and cities are created. These communities are often surrounded by walls for both defense and the safety of their inhabitants. Poorer or smaller communities will often use wood or rope barriers instead.

Agriculture is maintained in areas where water trickles in, not through natural streams and aquifers but as incursions into this elemental melting pot by forces from the Elemental Plane of Water. Grains and fruits are grown in orchards and fields fed directly by these water sources or, in more developed regions, by magnificent aqueducts which also serve as causeways for grounded travel between islands. Herds of animals are almost unknown in Haraz as livestock bigger than a pig or goat requires too much space to maintain. Instead meat is acquired through the hunting of the various wild beasts that populate the skies of Haraz.

Flocks of birds, schools of strange skyfish and even pods of lumbering sky whales provide ample opportunity for hunting and skyfishing. Air boats and sky ships ply the skies harpooning, netting and otherwise catching these creatures. This can be dangerous work as the skies are also home to dangerous beasts such as the parapus and the great terrorsaurs.

Bellow all of this are the vast magma seas where Elemental Fire and Earth meet and meld into a bubbling, roiling flow of hot death. Known as The Flow, this inferno is home to its own creatures, most of which are avoided as certain death but with a few just valuable enough to temp Haraz's inhabitants down to attempt their capture or kill. Most notable among The Flow's inhabitants are the great lava trolls, humongous beasts which lay in wait to reach up and drag unsuspecting or foolish prey down to a fiery doom.

Defending the realm of Haraz are various orders of Sky Knights. These brave souls are part noble warrior part aerial daredevil and only they have the skill and spirit to ride the strange Aerstriches - strange ostriches possessing the power of flight.

Sky knights have several ranks through which they move as they grow in skill and notoriety. Errants are the most common and in some ways the most important of these ranks. They are young, brave and more numerous than more senior knights and tasked with venturing far and wide through the skies of Haraz where they serve the folk and seek adventure. In many ways these Sky Knights Errant are the only Sky Knights that the common denizens of Haraz will ever encounter and often serve as messengers from the larger communities and kingdoms as well as add-hock law officials.

Above the Errants are the Lancers who form units of cavalry housed at strongholds. These warriors are more militant, having mastered their mounts and worked out their wild  Errant spirit. They have begun to train in the arts of warfare and stand ready to defend the Realm of Haraz and their kingdoms. Lancers are often deployed to meet substantial threats within the borders of Haraz and often hold fealty to a particular realm withing the demi-plane.

The highest massed order of Sky Knights are the High Shields. These warriors have demonstrated their mastery in personal combat and warfare alike and have gained experience through decades of service in the realm. These warriors form an elite core, held in reserve at the courts of the various lords of Haraz's many kingdoms. They ride out only in defense of their kingdoms.

Game Mechanics: Sky Knights could easily be done as fighters or paladins in most game systems. Fighter types would be strictly militant warriors while Paladins might be tweaked to reflect a certain elemental flare as opposed to a traditional divine warrior. It might also work to have some sky knights built as Rangers, especially those who decide to maintain their careers as Errants and never enter the higher orders of knighthood.

Next time I'll look into the various creatures and threats to be found within Haraz as well as a sample realm or two.

I hope you have enjoyed the start of my interpretation of the Joust video game as an RPG setting.

Take care,



  1. The islands move about on the Flow, pushed along and about by convection currents in the magma. Where the Elemental Plane of Water intrudes, islands are formed from the molten Flow as water cools the magma. Over time, the islands are eroded away on their voyages, and collapse back into the Flow, with disasterous results for those dwelling on them. The lava trolls are believed to actively undermine the islands which encourages the inhabitants to patrol their shores.

  2. I once put together a dungeon delve based on Dragon's Lair.

  3. Thanks for this.

    I spent many, many quarters playing both Joust and Joust 2 at our local grocery store.

    You made my morning.

  4. Joust... aw, man... I played this a LOT when I was a kid. Just behind Galaga, which is the greatest freaking game ever.

  5. Intriguing idea Eli. I can't wait to hear more of the trolls.

  6. When I saw the title I doubted you could really make an interesting setting from Joust, but I really liked how you expanded this from the game. Good work!

  7. Fantastic idea... I've been working on ideas for an old-school campaign using OSRIC (or maybe the old Rules Cyclopedia I have somewhere) and I'll have to fit the lava islands somewhere. Keep up the cool ideas.


  8. I'd thought about doing a wargame based on Joust. Splintered Lights has some prehistoric birds that would be perfect for the Ostriches, Magister Millitum has some 15mm Pterodactyls and you just use some historical knights. I'm not sure about the vultures though.

    The big problem with wargaming Joust is that there's no endgame.

  9. I always thought that the Wings of War system would adapt well to Joust. In this context it is a pretty straight-forward duel game.


  10. I spent hours playing Joust as a kid! Great memories and a great idea.


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