Saturday, November 29, 2014

Fantasy Settings: Cults and Religions

Happy belated Turkey Day, y'all.

Today, I'd like to post some musings on the nature of cults vs religions in fantasy settings. This is particularly flavored by D&D lore, so pardon me if this is old hat to some people out there.

In most high fantasy settings, religions follow the teachings of what are verified gods and tend to have a very visible presence in society; cults on the other hand, follow creatures that aren't really gods but are powerful (demon lords, elemental princes, really powerful dragons) and tend to be shunned and persecuted by society.

Going off of the above, it seems that religions=good and cults=evil but there are plenty of evil gods kicking around in most settings also, which makes cults seem redundant. There have also been good cults that worship archangels or their equivalent in some settings, which I'm not sure I like but serves to balance the moral position of culthood.

The question of the day is why someone would sacrifice social position and community ties by rejecting religions and joining cults. Being a hipster is one reason but I later thought of another: Power with no strings attached.

Religions have bureaucracies and gods have tenets that they demand that you follow; the powers that a cult worships give power without any fiddly doctrines up front, using foot-in-the-door salesmanship to slowly entice cultists into a deeper devotion.

This also complicates matters because while a worshiper of Killdeath, god of murder, will be very clearly murdering people to appease her god, a cultist might have signed his soul away for something as simple as a promotion at work. The spectrum of petty to serious evil runs a much broader gamut in evil cults than in evil religions, making disposal of a cult something that isn't as clear-cut as disposal of an evil religious cell.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Reflections on Ravenloft


Ravenloft  is an interesting story in the world of RPG settings: It started as a breakout adventure module that inserted horror tropes into D&D and introduced the nefarious Strahd von Zarovich, the game's first Vampire wizard.  It was followed up with another module called The House on Gryphon Hill that is widely panned but introduced a character that would become very important: The Lich Azalin.

From these humble beginnings, Ravenloft evolved into a full-fledged campaign setting although it was constructed using a weekend in hell design philosophy that empahsized easy one-shots.

At its core, Ravenloft is a setting about the Human struggle of good vs evil, sin, guilt, and hubris. In Ravenloft, those who have committed particularly horrendous crimes tend to become Darklords; these Darklords are awarded with new realms by the mysterious Dark Powers of Ravenloft but are also forever bound to them. The setting is also dripping with cruel irony. Strahd bargained with the Dark Powers for the power to kill his brother and claim his bride for himself; she committed suicide to escape him and reincarnates every few decades but always slips from the grasp of the now-immortal Strahd. Similarly, Azalin was a mighty Wizard-King who feared death and loved magical knowledge; the Dark Powers gave him the secrets to Lichdom but he cannot learn new spells. Azalin's domain also has a similar cruel twist in that the world he left was a civilization at its peak while his domain is (or was, if you take later AD&D products to heart) filled with the citizens of that same empire after centuries of collapse.

But there's on big problem with Ravenloft: It's a Dungeons & Dragons setting. There are Elves, Dwarves, hundreds of Liches and Vampires, Mind Flayers, Werebeasts of a dozen varieties, and a Fey kingdom. And many of the domains and Darklords are from canon D&D worlds like Forgotten Realms or Dark Sun. In worlds were Liches are a dime-a-dozen enemy then what makes Azalin so special? If Vampires are running around everywhere, then what sets Strahd apart? If Ravenloft scoops up all these terrible sinners then why aren't all of the Orc chieftains and Drow generals in it?

In my opinion, the best way to preserve the flavor and themes of Ravenloft is to cut out a lot of the D&Disms. Dwarves, Halflings, and Elves should be virtually non-existent. Azalin should be the only Lich, and Strahd should be perhaps be the only vampire or the progenitor of a certain strain of vampires. The Darklords should be almost entirely baseline Humans, perhaps with some monstrous ancestry to sweeten the taste; alternatively, they were Human but now can't truly be called that.
Some realms, like the ones from Dark Sun, Forgotten Realms, and Azalin's own will need to be trimmed or heavily altered. When thinking of the tone of Ravenloft in general, I think that approaching it as a strict historical fantasy then adding the horror and supernatural elements is the best way to go.

Going Ape in Fantasy: More D&D/Pathfinder Monsters.

I previously talked about the notable fiendish apes of D&D, and now I'm going to summarize some the mortal(?) simian monsters of D&D (and some Pathfinder monsters too).

Ahuizotl
Based on Central American legends, the Ahuizotl is an ampihbious and very evil monkey-dog-thing with a claw on the end of its tail. Interestingly, the first D&D version of the Ahuizotl in the Maztica setting is more of an anthropomorphic crocodile.

Alaghi
Goat-horned temperate-environment cousins of the Yeti that look sinister as fuck. They are actually rather peaceful though.

Ba'atun
Evil bat-winged baboons rumored to be from an parallel icy parallel world. They are practically immune to cold. From an obscure UK module called Dark Clouds Gather.

Blood Apes
Despite their name, blood apes are actually peaceful sapient creatures: the name comes from their bright red fur. The alpha male of the a pack can use an "animal growth" ability on himself, perhaps the best phallic joke in all of D&D.

Charau-ka 
From Pathfinder. These guys are basically more upright and (barely) murderous versions of chimpanzees. They're advanced enough to make leather armor though.

Chemosit 
It seems that someone was a big fan of the Gorilla-bear below and basically ended up copying it while adding in a brain-eating ability. Bravo, game designers!

Cloaked Ape
Technically more like monkeys, these creatures have raccoon tails and leathery skin-flaps they use to glide/fly.

Dakon 
Law-abiding, common-speaking, sapient apes. Come on, 3rd party publishers, this is AD&D Fiend Folio-tier.
...
After the last sentence, I flipped through the AD&D Fiend Folio and the Dakon was in it. Get your shit together, 3rd party publishers.

Forestkith Goblins
Like regular Goblins but hairier and and better at climbing. They also tend to knuckle-walk.

Feylaar
From the post-apocalyptic world of the Dark Sun campaign setting, these evil four-armed psychic gorillas have exposed brains. Despite being evil they seem to have a rather loving and egalitarian family life.

Gambol
Big blue baboons with a spooky howl and lots of speed.

Gibberling
Furry hunched humanoids. They have no language but communicate via hoots and howls.

Girallon
Four-armed albino gorillas.

Girallon, Anghazani 
Smart four-armed albino gorillas with swords.

Gorilla-Bear 
"These monsters have the head, body and legs of a gorilla with the sharp teeth and powerful arms of a bear."

Hadozee
Often called "winged deck apes", these simian humanoids are often sailors and pirates.

Hengeyokai, Monkey
A D&D monster and a player character race in Pathfinder that can assume Human, monkey, and monkey-faced Human/hybrid forms.

Horrid Ape
Part of a broad class of Druid-created living weapons, this giant gorilla has red scales, lots of fangs, spikes, horns, and a tail. Their claws also secrete acid. Talk about overkill...

Howler Wasps
Baboons + wasps = horrifying

Hsing-sing
These white-furred apefolk have Human faces. Despite personifying "the principles of pacifism and harmony with nature", once every year they go apeshit* and murder a whole bunch of people.

*I had to say it :^)

Hulking Growler
A creature that's a cross between an ape and a caveman, from the licensed Kingdoms of Kalamar setting for D&D 3.5. They're gender egalitarians! Also, if you kill a Hulking Growler's mate then be prepared for relentless murderous revenge.

Julajimus
A gigantic freaky black-furred baboon with a rat's tail. It can shapeshift into rabbits, puppies, kitties, or other fuzzy wuzzy animals, an ability which it uses to eat children.

Kech
There are two types of Kech: One is from D&D and is monkey-like, the other is from Pathfinder and is ape-like. Both have weird leaf-like skin that functions as camouflage. D&D Kechs are predators that stick to jungles; PF Kechs are more likely to stray from their territory. PF Kechs also have a taboo against eating apes and monkeys.

Lhosk
A sapient tauric creature with the upper body of a gorilla and the lower body of a spider. Strangely, the Monster Manual III doesn't mention Driders (evil Elf-Spider creatures) in their description. Drider-Lhosk interactions could prove very interesting indeed.

Limbo Stalker
A beast from the plane of Limbo, it's described as an "anthropomorphic serpent" but is really just a gorilla with some scales and an ugly face.

Monkey Goblin 
Like regular Goblins but with more hair and monkey tails. They're also not spineless cowards, unlike their common cousins.

Monkey Spiders
1-inch tall monkeys. They are also sapient, Good-aligned, and their bites are poisonous.

Quaggoth
White-furred ape-men that dwell underground.  They also hate surface-dwelling Elves for some reason. 3rd edition made them look a little more like bear-people.

Saqualaminoi
These guys are "Yeti-kin". They're rather well-adjusted tribal carnivores who surprisingly don't eat humanoids. They're also immune to cold.

Sasquatch
A Pathfinder-only race as far as can tell, these creatures are based on pop culture Bigfoot with some skunk ape and weird hippie vibes thrown in.

Shadowperson
Supposedly resembling "thin, gangly apes", these guys look more like really hairy Orcs. They are also mildly psychic and can have ESP. Also, more skin-flaps for gliding.The can also create a friendly psychic ghost-monster called a Revered Ancient One that's an omega-level healbot.

Skindancer
Imagine a shaved gorilla with a lizard face and magic chitin armor. Wizards truly have no sense of right and wrong.

Snow Goblin
White-furred variants of the average Goblin that dwell in cold areas. Look like ugly tailless monkeys.

Spirit of the Air
Golden monkeys with freaky arm-wings that serve gods of air. They cast spells like Clerics and can transform into a whirlwind once per day.

Su-Monster
Big gray psychic monkeys.

Taer
Clan-based apefolk similar to cavemen. Dwell in cold mountain regions. Very low tech levels.

Tall Mouther
A creature that looks like a tusked gorilla head with six arms sprouting from it. It eats Halflings/Hobbits.

Umber Hulk
One of the "iconic" D&D, it's especially evident in older edition art that Umber Hulks are insectoid apes.

Vanara 
Extroverted monkeyfolk from Oriental Adventures. They get along with every except Evil beings.

Warforged Charger
Magic robot gorillas.

Wendigo
Not exactly simian, this creature is a fey/fairy equivalent of a werewolf. A terrible flying hunger spirit that flies through the air, instilling madness and paranoia into its prey.

Yeti 
White-furred ape-people of the cold mountains. They are invisible if even lightly covered in snow or ice and their fur drains the heat out of living creatures, making them a weird heat-vampire-ape. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Creating a quick fantasy setting using Magic: The Gathering

Tired of medieval fantasy in pseudo-Europe? Want to make a strange game setting but don't know where to start? I've got an idea for you to use. It involves seeing random Magic the Gathering cards and then creating a world based on those details.

Step 1: Go to http://magiccards.info/random.html (my preferred database) or http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Card/Details.aspx?action=random

Step 2: Note the first 5 non-Legendary creatures you find (including subtypes like Elf, Orc, Wizard, etc) and the first 3 lands (Mountain, Plains, Forest, etc.) and/or landscapes (Sunken City, Fog, etc.)

Step 3: Put it all together.

Let's make a quick world!



Creatures:
-Alphetto Alchemist, a Human Wizard according to errata. The Morph ability might also be an interesting twist.
-Myr Sire, a Myr (magic robot) that creates more Myrs.
-Brassclaw Orcs, hardy Orc tribes
-Sewer Rats, and lots of 'em!
-Diligent Farmhand, a Human Druid. It's looking like Druidism and Alchemy might be two competing philosophies in this world

Land(scape)s:
-Stomping Ground, ruins reclaimed by nature and beasts.
-Murmuring Bosk, a haunted or otherwise sinister woodland.
-Blood Moon, a magical red moon that alters the world.

Putting it all together:
The world is choked with forests that spread like a plague across the land, swallowing up cities. In the oldest forest strange sounds are heard; some say that spirits from another world are trying to enter into this one. A baleful red moon glares upon the land at night, and all blame it for the sudden surge in forest growth. Rats, once restricted to sewers, are now virtually everywhere; disease outbreaks are becoming more common. The Orcs still persevere amidst the unnatural woods thanks to a mixture of healthy superstition. The Humans of the world have polarized into two camps: The Alchemists, who want to use magic to reverse the "sylvan scourge" and the Druids, who want to use magic for the adaptation/evolution of their people. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Recommended comic reading: Hobgoblin limited series

We live an era when cape comics are oversaturated with Big Events. Most of the time these events are quite frankly utter shit like DC's Trinity War or Marvel's Original Sin. But sometimes, we get a legitimately entertaining event. Right now, Marvel's Axis is one such event. Despite a lackluster prelude and beginning, it's really entertaining so far. Due to a botched spell several heroes and villains have had personality inversions: they haven't quite gone 1005 good or evil but they exhibit either much nobler or ignobler behavior. One of the best things to come out of these inversions is the change in Roderick Kingsley, the Hobgoblin. Before the inversion he would franchise out old villain identities to upstart criminals, setting up their gangs and committing crimes disguised as them to give his customers instant street cred...and his only fee was a cool 40% of all their profits. Now, the Hobgoblin is training heroes and has become a motivational speaker. Deep down he's still a greedy bastard but he's noticed how profitable heroism is. Hopefully, this change will stay part of the post-Axis status quo.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Going Ape in Fantasy: Sinister Simian Spirits of Dungeons & Dragons

As the first major hit of the roleplaying game industry, Dungeons & Dragons has always been expanding through new editions and supplements (aka "splats"). Those expansions have introduced a number of primate monsters over the years. Most are mundane or mortal: A notable few are not. They are fiends, a broad classification in D&D that describes evil "outsiders" like demons, devils, demodands, and daemons. Curiously, all of these ape-like fiends are demons, beings of chaos and evil shaped by mortal evil according to some versions of D&D's fluff. So let's take a look at these abyssal apes:

The Big Kahuna


Demogorgon: Pictured above, Demogorgon is the self-styled "Prince of Demons" who keeps the title by sheer virtue (vice?) badassitude. He is one of the "Big Three" archfiends of D&D, joined by his fellow Eldritch Wizardry alumni Orcus and AD&D's Graz'zt. Despite his baboon/mandrill heads, his only worshipers in older editions (circa AD&D and earlier) were very rarely evil Humans and most commonly Ixitxachitl, sapient evil manta rays with occasional vampirism thrown in. During this time period he also had a strong vampiric theme (because of the Ixitxachitl) which was later dropped and he once changed sex for no discernible reason in the Immortals boxed set.  The 3rd edition of D&D added Lizardfolk and Yuan-ti (evil snake people) to his list of followers, then obliquely hinted that he has a jungle of apes and monkeys in his home realm but never actually bothered to talk about them or really detail any simian cults of Demogorgon. The only instance I could find was the Dungeon #120 adventure "The Lost Temple of Demogorgon" written by Sean K. Reynolds; in features several awakened (magically sapient) gorillas, giant gorillas, a baboon sorcerer, and a baboon priest. I'm utterly at a loss as to why D&D keeps focusing on his amphbious/reptilian qualities while ignoring his simian qualities...

One last note on Demogorgon is that his two heads have different personalities: Aameul (right) is suave and cunning while Hethradiah (left) is savage and simplistic. Both heads hate each other and are constantly scheming on how to separate/kill the other without dying in the process.

Smaller, but still rather Large, Kahunas

 

Angazhan: A huge, horned gorilla with a tail who rules over a horde of vicious demon apes in the Abyss while his cult thrives in the deep jungles of the mortal world. He's actually from Pathfinder,  but PF is just a D&D clone so it seems fitting to mention him. He also the king of the Baregara and several mortal ape-like races.

Fraz-Urb'luu/Var-Az-Hloo: Not technically an ape but "ape-like", Frazzy is the demon prince of deception, which for some reason means that he could summon other demon princes willy-nilly to his castle to humiliate them. Tired of his shit, several demon lords gave a crazy Human wizard some kinda magic sword and he whupped Frazzy's ass and sealed him in a bas-relief on a dungeon wall. He later escaped thanks to dumbass adventurers and now hates Humans. He's traditionally an enemy of Demogorgon.

Ilsidahur: A huge, horned gorilla with a tail who rules over a horde of vicious demon apes in the Abyss while his cult thrives in the deep jungles of the mortal world... In case you didn't notice, Pathfinder basically ripped off Ilshiadur to make Angazhan. They're even both lords of similar-sounding demon types (Bar-Lgura and Baregara). One thing that distinguishes him from Angazhan is that in his original Dungeon incarnation he also has necromantic powers that can only be used on apes. He also has a greedy streak and an eye for bronze.

Mandrillagon: Demogorgon's "brother" from Gary Gygax's Gord the Rogue novels is technically speaking not a D&D entity since TSR rendered Gygax's books non-canon when they fired him. He's basically a giant ape with a blue mandrill face. He really seems like a huge pansy despite his huge stature. HE'S UNABLE TO CONTROL HIS SPEECH VOLUME SO HE'S ALWAYS YELLING. He also secretly hates Demogorgon.

The Mooks:

 

Bar-lgura: Pronounced "Bar-le-goo-ra" because Gygax was whacky like that, these demons started out as six-fingered, sinister orangutans before turning into something closer to a musclebound gorilla with tusks. They are canonically the thralls of Ilshiadur but since he's a z-list demon lord Demogorgon tends to have more of them. The Barry-Gra are also telepathic.

Baregara: From Pathfinder, these giant horned gorilla-demons have an extra mouth on their chests for maximum rip n' tear potential. They are thralls of Angazhan. Seem like ideal shock troopers/scouts for a simian demon army.

Nalfenshnee: Giant ape-pig-demon things with tiny wings, the Nalfenshnee are the judges of the Abyss...don't ask me how beings of undiluted malevolent chaos can have a judicial system because I don't have an answer. Compared to the two BGRAs above, the Nalfs are a bit more magical even if they do pack a physical punch. They're also fat. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Going Ape in Fantasy: Egypt

Welcome to the first installment of a semi-regular feature on the blog! I really like the concept of intelligent apes in roleplaying games (and if you do too then I advise you to buy a copy of Terra Primate asap ;) ). In this feature I will detail some Ape/Monkey-related fluff or lore.

Egypt apparently had several Baboon gods, among them the (NSFW) Babi/Baba, Hapi, and Astennu. Thoth also apparently got in on the act every once in a while as well.

So, let's look at the pieces we've got: grayish noble/ruler baboons; normal(ish) baboons; dog-headed apes.

A question before going forward is how anthropomorphized the baboons should; I lean toward "moderately', that is about 4 feet tall and quite capable of standing upright in a hunched manner. Real baboons are pretty violent but wouldn't work with a faux-Egypt setting unless they just took over the ruins, so I'd tone down the overt violence. Brutal formal duels/brawls would be an interesting way of conveying a strict hierarchical society with big anger issues.

As for magic, using Egyptian-inspired sun/star magic doesn't seem to particularly "feel" right with these horrible Egyptian baboons. Earth and water magic, focusing on stability, life, and fertility seem much more flavorful.

As for the "dog-headed" apes, they could just be an animal or a barely sapient race. Used as beasts of burden in peaceful times and war-beasts in war times (Bet you didn't see that coming!)

If an equivalent to Arabia exists and this Baboonian Egypt is as well-known as the real Egypt then there's really no way to make this revelation surprising unless the general character of the world is an insular/xenophobic one and the players are trailblazers.

Creating a Superhero Setting part 4: Parallel universes, alternate timelines, and you

I just want to apologise for the huge wait between blog posts. Being a nerd in college isn't easy .__.

Previously I discussed teams and organizations, people and places on Earth, and space and other dimensions. Now we get to one of the most iconic parts of cape comic universe: Parallel universes!

The idea of parallel Earths with alternate versions of heroes seems to have debuted in "Wonder Woman's Invisible Twin" from Wonder Woman #59 (May 1953)  but it wasn't fully expounded upon until the classic "The Flash of Two Worlds" from Flash #123 (September 1961) with the concept of "parallel Earths occupying the same space but vibrating a different frequencies". Substitute the Earths with Universe and you've got a Multiverse. Crisis on Infinite Earths amended this even further by making the Multiverse a set of INFINITE parallel universe occupying the same space and vibrating at the same frequency, right before destroying all of them. Oh well.

There's a big difference in the way Marvel and DC approach multiverses, with Marvel favoring Divergent History and DC favoring Parallel Evolution. Divergent History is just that, it starts with an established real-life or comic book history and asks What If...? So we get a world where Captain America didn't wake until 1984 (What If Captain America Were Revived Today?) or where Sue Storm abandoned the Fantastic Four but Spider-man became a permanent member (What If Spider-man Joined The Fantastic Four?). The Divergent History method is a way to revisit old concepts and roads not taken. The Parallel Evolution method tends to change the setting and rework concepts and archetypes to conform to that setting. For example, a world where Kal-L of Krypton landed in USSR in the 1940s (Superman: Red Son) or one where Bruce Wayne is bound to the Demon Etrigan and lives in a steampunkish version of Camelot (Batman/Demon: A Tragedy). The Parallel Evolution method is a way to take a fresh look at concepts and inject a little weirdness into a multiverse.

You don't have to choose between the two methods and it's quite possible to mix and match between the two approaches (90s What If...? and some of the later Elseworlds did this).

The exact difference between a Multiverse and a Timestream is hard to decipher. Indeed, Crisis on Infinite Earths featured heroes going to the wild west, WWII, and the medieval era to destroy the Anti-monitor's evil tuning forks, seemingly conflating both Temporal and Universal travel. Marvel tends to treat pasts and futures as simply other worlds in the Multiverse; indeed, for a long time the rule was that an attempt to alter the past by time travel resulted in the creation of a new Universe while leaving the traveler's home Universe unaltered (This rule is being broken/bent in modern Marvel comics). After the destruction of the Multiverse, a few DC writers (Mark Waid is the one that most easily comes to my mind) proposed a time-equivalent of the Mulitverse called Hypertime. To paraphrase the above line about the Multiverse, Hypertime could be interpreted as "infinite parallel timelines occupying the same time but vibrating at different frequencies." So while the Multiverse and Hypertime are definitely not the same thing, they're close enough to be considered the same thing by most people.

There's a problem that I've been dancing around and that is the "infinite" part of the Mulitverse/Hypertime equation; namely, it makes all the heroes' and villains' actions meaningless. For every life saved in this world, there's another were one or more were lost. If all actions are a finite drop in an infinite bucket then it can quickly seem pointless from a character perspective. A good examination of this comes from Owlman in the animated DC feature Crisis on Two Earths (although Batman is very badly written in it). A way to combat this to make the Multiverse/Hypertime at least appear finite in a way similar to the "snowflake Multiverse" of Warren Ellis' Planetary or DC's post-Infinite Crisis Multiverse. So how do you present a somewhat satisfactory answer as to why the Multiverse/Hypertime is limited? I'd personally take a page from atomic structures: The strong nuclear force can only hold together a nucleus that has about 100 protons in it; go above 100 and it will start breaking apart via radioactive decay. But there are atoms with over 100 protons, the just violently disintegrate in very short times. So certain frequencies in the Multiverse/Hypertime are inherently stable and past a certain frequency there can be no stable Universes/Timelines.

Confused yet? It really confuses me too, although I still love it. I've probably rambled enough so let's get to the details already, yeesh. I use Universe and Timeline interchangeably below, so don't be afraid to make an alternate present where everyone's evil or an alternate Earth that's a sci-fi future.

The Evil Universe

A mainstay of fiction sometimes called a "Mirror Universe", this reality features evil counterparts of heroes and good counterparts of villains. In some cases, history may be altered or reversed, such as making England a colony of America that revolted and gained independence in 1776. For very brief adventures, just switching the moral leanings of your main reality's supers while keeping a realistic population should do well enough to convey differences; for extended looks at this type of universe, shades of gray can make the reality more engaging. For example, the counterparts of villains might be "good" but are still brutal or the counterparts of heroes are "evil" but have a certain code of honor.
Examples in comics: DC's Earth-3, the "shadow Earth" created by Warlock/Magus in Marvel's Infinity books

The Old Universe 

In this reality, all major heroes and villains debuted at a specific time decades ago, aged, and have children. This creates a much longer, stronger Superhuman culture in this reality. It's also not unreasonable to expect more teams than usual here to accommodate the much greater number of Supers. Although this type of universe shows up in comics, it's a bit harder to adapt to a roleplaying game.
Examples in comics: DC's Earth-2, some issues of What If...?

The Nazi Universe

A perennial favorite of "speculative fiction" is the alternate time/place wherein Nazis won WW2. In comics it generally manifests as turning most post-1940 supers into Nazis. Depending on the current year of this reality, there can be a lot of fundamental differences between this Earth and the "main" Earth of the setting.
Examples: DC's Earth-10, Marvel's Hauptmann Englande and Thunder Guard universes.

The Near Future Dark Age

40-100 years in the future, The Team is dead and so are most heroes. Megacorps/Terrorist organizations/Criminal syndicates rule the world (or maybe just the USA). The government is too weak or corrupt (or both) to put any pressure on the corporate juggernauts. The poverty gap is wider than ever. Cyberpunk elements become more pronounced. Heroes are more pragmatic in their methods and most villains are only in it for the money.
Examples in comics: Marvel's 2020 and 2099, DC's Booster Gold and Zoom futures 

The Apocalypse

Overlapping with the above, the Apocalypse reality is about 50-200 years in the future after some great disaster has ravaged the world. The great disaster can be any number of things, including but not limited to: Nuclear war; biochemical war; magic gone awry; alien invasions; science gone awry; demon invasions; zombie uprisings; robot uprisings; or pretty much anything else. Humanity is perilously close to extinction and very few supers are around in this reality.
Examples in comics: Marvel Zombies, DC's Kamandi

The Cosmic Future

500-1000 years from now, Earth and Humanity are part of the cosmic stage, colonizing and exploring the fringes of space. Aliens that had previously been enemies of Earth may have become allies or vice versa. In some cases, Aliens that hated each other have teamed up to fight Earth! The equivalent to The Team in this era is heavily inspired by the ancient legends from the Super or Heroic Era of Earth and tend to be almost dangerously idealistic.
Examples: Marvel's original Guardians of the Galaxy, DC's multiple incarnations of the Legion of Super Heroes

The Missing Hero Universe

In this reality, the most popular "big name" hero of the main reality (usually equivalent in influence to Superman or Captain America) (re-)appeared significantly later or didn't appear at all. Without this hero's influence the Super society is a bad state and the general public is fearful of supers. If the hero ever does appear he or she might cause some major shake-ups in society and culture.
Examples in Comics: Marvel's various What if Captain America was revived today? stories, DC's JLA: Nail

The Reverse-Sex Universe

Like the Nazi Universe, the Reverse-Sex Universe is a common cliche but it has even less world-building in place. In this reality, all Supers (or all beings) are the opposite sex...men become women, women become men, and I guess sexless entities become hermaphodites and vice versa (dare you enter that magical realm?). If you use one of these realities then please take the time to do a little world-building so that the world isn't just "the same as the regular one but Superman has boobs and a vagina!!!"
Examples in comics: Marvel probably has one that I can't find, DC's Earth-11 and a Pre-Crisis universe.