Tuesday 20 February 2024

Does What Happens at the Table Matter?

My previous post generated considerable debate (chiefly about, of all things, Daddy Pig). But it raises wider, and more important, questions that I think it would be worth devoting a post to addressing.

There is a tendency I have often noticed among nerdish men of a certain age to get defensive about particular hobbies - video games, heavy metal, horror films, comics, D&D, and so on. Having been told that these pastimes are variously stupid, evil, corrupting, a waste of time, sinful, and so on in their youths, such men have adopted a position at the opposite extreme, which is that it does not matter what media one consumes. One can listen to as much Cannibal Corpse as one likes, watch Driller Killer five times a day, and spend the rest of one's time murdering disabled children and puppies on Call of Duty: Ed Gein Edition, and it has no effect on one's psyche at all. Nobody is corrupted by any of this; nobody in the real world is affected; one can consume whatever media one desires and still be perfectly well-adjusted.

It is understandable why some people think like this, but it is difficult to imagine a position which could be less accurate. To demonstrate its foolishness, one simply has to ask a couple of straightforward questions. First, do you think it would be appropriate for a six-year-old to be given unrestricted access to pornhub? Second, do you think it is impossible to be moved by a work of great art? And, third, do you think it is impossible for characters in fiction of any kind to be inspirational, or to reinforce a negative stereotype? Well, I'm afraid that if your answer to any of those questions was 'no', then that means that you concede that the media one consumes matters in respect of its impact on the psyche, soul, mind, or whatever word you prefer. All reasonable people can do is argue about the extent to which it matters, in what context, and to whom - and what to do about it.

(A closely related argument concerns the question of 'copycat' behaviour, as when that shy young man Jimmy McJimmy who kept himself to himself and was polite to his neighbours one day commits a vile murder and it is discovered that he had spent the last three days locked in his basement watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or whatever. Clearly, the chain of causation is not clear and nobody has ever been able to identify a situation in which a crazed killer has had his brain borked simply by watching a video nasty. But, equally clearly, it's pretty unlikely that watching such stuff has no effect at the margins. No media savvy person alive in the 21st century can possibly deny that young people in particular are prone to copy behaviours and attitudes which they pick up from watching YouTube, TikTok, etc.; is it really such a stretch to imagine that what one watches as entertainment has an accumulated effect on the way one thinks?)

In short, of course cultural products matter, and of course they influence how people think and therefore how they behave. How could they not? Acknowledging this doesn't, and shouldn't, mean that our culture needs policing or that anything in particular needs banning. It simply means that it is foolish to go through life thinking that what one consumes by way of culture has no effect on how one sees the world, or how one acts in it.

This raises the interesting question, to my eye, as to whether what goes on at a D&D table matters. And here I don't mean to suggest that when a bunch of D&D players imagine their PCs massacring a tribe or orcs that it is going to turn them all into genocidaires or desensitise them to violence. Rather, I mean to ask whether the choices which one makes when thinking as a PC - the decisions which one makes when 'role playing' broadly understood - can have an impact on how one approaches choice-making in real life. To boil the inquiry down to its essence, is it possible to use a PC in an RPG auto-didactically as a way to experiment with what it would mean to behave more honourably, more decisively, more compassionately, etc., and to then reflect on how that could be implemented in one's actual life?

Monday 12 February 2024

What's the Story? A Problem with Plot

Yesterday, I had the misfortune of attending the cinema to watch Peppa Pig's Cinema Party, consisting of 10 'never before seen' Peppa Pig episodes (question: Do Americans, Australians, etc., know about Peppa Pig?) interspersed with Who Framed Roger Rabbit?-style filler in which real-life children interact with cartoons of Peppa and her friends.

It was dreadful. But it was dreadful in an illustrative way. I have nothing against kids' entertainment, and I actually don't mind Peppa Pig as a general rule (although I hate the militant misandry of its depiction of the buffoonish Daddy Pig). But watching the Cinema Party, it rapidly became clear that the reason why these episodes had never been seen before was that they were rubbish. They didn't have stories. They were just a bunch of stuff that happens. Peppa learns to play tennis and has strawberries and cream afterwards. That's an episode. Peppa goes to a wedding and it rains and they all have fun playing in the mud. That's an episode. And so on. Not so much 'a show about nothing' as 'a show about pleasant events in the life of a four-year-old'. 

But stories aren't - cannot be - just series of pleasant events. Stories need conflict, and children's stories especially have to be characterised by a very basic structure in which something bad or undesirable happens and is ultimately resolved. This is true at even the most basic level; a great example that springs to mind is Emily Gravett's Where's Bear?, a book that can be enjoyed and understood by any 2 year-old. In it (spoiler alert) bear and hare are playing hide-and-seek together. They give it a couple of goes. It's too easy for hare to find bear, so hare has a go at hiding. Bear looks for him and can't find him, and ends up looking in the bed, where he falls asleep. Hare emerges, having become bored, and looks for bear, but now can't find him, and a moment of panic ensues - hare misses his friend and rushes about looking for him. Bear is wakened by the commotion, finds hare, and gives him a hug. The end.

Here we have an elementary lesson in what story is: a set-up, an emergent problem, a pleasing resolution. And it works because of the crucial moment of tension in the second act where the game goes awry. Without that moment of tension, all there is is fluff: two animals playing hide-and-seek with some diverting pictures. What's the point of that?

This I think, more than anything else, is at the root of the reason why I have always found narrative-style play, in which the players go through a pre-ordained 'plot' (however loosely sketched), so unsatisfying. The simple fact of the matter is that telling a good story relies on set of basically artificial devices to work, and while there is absolutely nothing wrong with that within the context of a good story, it is almost definitionally a straitjacket - it can't survive being exposed to the chaos of free-decisionmaking on the part of the participants. To do so disrupts the narrative structure. What narrativist games always in the end therefore devolve into, in my experience, is coercion or manipulation (railroading and/or quantum ogres) or a feeling that the PCs are merely jumping through a series of essentially consequence-free hoops, a la Peppa Pig learning to play tennis. The former might be tolerable if the DM was an acknowledged master storyteller like Stephen King; the latter never is. Either way, the likelihood of success is remote, and the most common experience is a blancmange of 'meh'. 

Friday 9 February 2024

Ancestries and Character Backgrounds in the Crocodilian Apocalyps

PCs in Behind Gently Smiling Jaws each have one of four ancestries, and a background which follows from whatever their ancestry is. Ancestries may be randomly determined, chosen, or assigned, as seems appropriate to the DM and player; backgrounds should generally be randomly determined. The exercise of selecting both should always be done after rolling stats and choosing a character class.

PCs may be Degenerate Humans, Somnic Humans, Young Naacals or High Naacals. There is a fifth type of ancestry, Old Naacal, which is for NPCs only.

Degenerate humans are descended from those humans who were living in the world at the time of the Infraction, and who organised themselves into whatever polities they could in its aftermath. Now, an eon later, they comprise a great patchwork of many different societal archetypes (nomadic or semi-nomadic; pastoralist or agriculturalist; urban or marine), levels of organisation (city-states, empires, petty-kingdoms, bands of hunter-gatherers), levels of technology (from stone-age to gunpowder) and character (theocracies, thalassocracies, republics, monarchies, kritarchies). Many of them are independent; others are under the sway of suchian entities, Somnic Humans, or Naacals.

Degenerate human PCs may have one of the following backgrounds, meaning their parentage; after determining the background, roll for broad geographical/cultural origin or choose as desired:

1. Tribesman or -woman (1 - Desert/arid, 2 - Forest, 3 - Marsh, 4 - Steppe/grassland, 5 - Mountains, 6 - Tundra) 
2. Farmer or pastoralist (1 - Piedmont, 2 - Grassland, 3 - Flood plain, 4 - Forest margins) 
3. Fisherman or -woman (1 - Lake, 2 - Sea, 3 - River) 
4. Merchant (1 - Rural, 2 - Urban, 3 - Seagoing) 
5. Soldier (1 - Piedmont, 2 - Grassland, 3 - Flood plain, 4 - Forest) 
6. Noble (1 - Rural, 2 - Urban)

Degenerate humans have no special abilities, but suffer no advancement penalty.

Somnic humans are those rare humans who were born and raised among the degenerate ones of their kind, but who due to happenstance or unusual sensitivity bear some of the somnic influence of one of the Seven. Recognised by their peers as larger-than-life, whether for good or ill, and imbued with an intensity of purpose, they take after whichever of the Seven is somnically dominant over them. Their backgrounds therefore derive from that respective member of the Seven:

1. Sese-Mahuru-Bau (passionate and strong-willed, +1 STR, +1 WIS; can pass without trace 1/day) 
2. Xu Fu (cerebral and domineering, +1 INT, +1 CHA; can command 1/day) 
3. Pape Jan (wily and determined, +1 INT, +1 WIS; can create a sanctuary 1/day) 
4. Anak Wungsu (resourceful and talented, +1 INT, +1 DEX; can create fool's gold 1/day) 
5. Jorge de Menezez (strong and ferocious, +1 STR, +1 CON; can remove/cause fear 1/day) 
6. Ebu Gogo (resilient and fecund, +1 CON, +1 CHA; can detect evil 1/day) 
7. Abu Yaqub Al-Sijistani (cunning and insightful, +1 WIS, +1 CHA; can identify 1/day) 
8. The PC is that very rare thing: a combination of somnic influences from two of the Seven; roll twice, but double the advancement penalty (see below)

Somnic humans suffer a 5% advancement penalty, meaning they must deduct 5% from all XP awards they receive. The player should also roll a sub-background, using the table for degenerate humans, to determine the PC’s origin.

Young Naacals are the descendants of the weak-blooded Naacals who returned to the world from the Unremembered City in the aftermath of the Infraction. Though described as ‘weak-blooded’, this refers to the strength of their somnic ability rather than physical weakness, and they are typically the more vigorous and active of their kind. They are the Naacals who have forged empires and kingdoms within the world, and who often hold sway over vast masses of degenerate human slaves; they are also the most likely to have strayed far from their cultural heritage, and to have engaged in practices unknown to the High or Old Naacals - such as marriage, parental child-rearing, commerce, war, and feasting.

Young Naacal religion is complex, and characterised by the worship of many different gods and spirits, but there are four sets of paired deities, each a brother and sister, who are held to be primordial or supreme. It is the ultimate veneration of one of these pairs which determines a Young Naacal PC’s background. These are:

1 - Nu and Naunet, the gods of fluidity or flow; of transience or the lack of a defined state (attuned to the fundamental interconnectedness of all things, +2 WIS, +1 DEX; can cast change self and hold portal 1/day) 
2 - Hehu and Hehut, the gods of unboundedness, or of the lack of limit - of air, and of the void (attuned to the infinite nature of existence, +2 INT, +1 STR; can cast enlarge and feather fall 1/day) 
3 - Kekui and Kekuit, the gods of darkness, and of obscurity - of the passing of day into night (attuned to the fact that all comes to an end, and that all will pass, +2 WIS, +1 CON; can cast light/dark and erase 1/day) 
4 - Qerh and Qerhut, the gods of repose, of inactivity, of halting and stopping (attuned to the qualities of stillness, and of attending without haste, +2 CHA, +1 CON; can cast hypnotism and sleep 1/day)

Young Naacals suffer a 10% advancement penalty, meaning they must deduct 10% from all XP awards they receive.

High Naacals are the pure-blooded, high caste Naacals who still inhabit the Unremembered City as it floats through the skies of the post-Infraction world. Aloof, arrogant, and strange, over time their somnic abilities have weakened and become attenuated and difficult to control. But they remain the only inhabitants of the world who able to summon and command suchian entities. How this is done is detailed in a separate post.

High Naacals suffer a 10% advancement penalty, meaning they must deduct 10% from all XP awards they receive.

Thursday 8 February 2024

Mike Mearls, Moral Philosopher

I recently came across this video on t'internet. In it, Mike Mearls does his best to look very serious and thoughtful while he talks about alignment. But what he has to say is not only devoid of anything resembling insight; it tells us a great deal about some particular problems that lie at the heart of modern D&D as I see it:


The crucial section of the video comes in at the 2:30 mark. In it, Mearls advances what we might call the Raistlin-from-Dragonlance Gambit. Here, I paraphrase slightly:

'In the vastness of the D&D cosmos there isn't one right answer...the way I like to think of it is this: what if Mount Celestia, the forces of law and good, just conquered the entire cosmos. Well, they're lawful and good, they'd expect everybody to be lawful and good. So the chaotic good people would be the last ones into the prison. That's kind of how I think of it. Any alignment that gets out of hand would start doing things that the other alignments would see as awful.'

Mearls has a look about him - one might even call it an aesthetic - that seems carefully cultivated: part hobbit, part nerd, part college professor, part scientist. And he speaks eloquently. If one were 14 years old, one might indeed take his ideas to be worthy of attention. But the vision of moral reality he here advances is, I hope it goes without saying, rather silly. It suggests that all of the different D&D alignments are just, in essence, differences of opinion. And therefore what matters is not one of them winning or losing the cosmic conflict, but that they are all kept in reasonable balance

We find this notion appealing in some sense, because, being inhabitants (largely) of democratic polities where it is recognised within reason that a plurality of viewpoints and ways of life need to co-exist peacefully, we feel as though indeed it would be bad if one viewpoint or way of life was forced upon literally everybody. And this idea has been bleeding into D&D for a long time: I think Planescape, with its factions and its eternal struggle between infinite planes defined by philosophy as much as geography, was probably the apogee of this strange conflation of real world politics and fantasy world cosmology.

But you just have to think about it for 10 seconds to realise how silly this idea is when transposed into a fantasy setting: real-world political differences arise because different people have different ideas about what is best - in other words, because everybody thinks themselves to be basically lawful and good. Our differences are therefore between competing conceptions of the lawful and the good. They aren't differences between people who are actually good and people who are actually evil (despite what much of modern political discourse, as shrill and perpetually outraged as it is, would have you believe). 

The alignments-as-differences-of-opinion model which Mearls advances, in other words, is not really an alignment system. It's a political system. Nothing wrong of course with a fantasy political system - designing such a thing is an interesting experiment of the imagination. But it's different to an alignment system, which is predicated on the actual existence of good, evil, law and chaos.

The Mearlsian way of thinking infects a lot of modern fantasy (Mearls keeps citing Game of Thrones as his exemplar, and he is right to do so). No doubt this is because modernity is increasingly defined by a rejection of the idea that there are such things as good and evil (let alone law and chaos), even if we unconsciously still hold quite closely to their existence (just witness the debate on both sides of any issue concerning deeply held convictions, such as abortion or euthenasia, if you need evidence of this). But it is not a remotely satisfying or inspiring way to concieve of an actual cosmic conflict. 

The inspiring way to imagine cosmic conflict is that it matters: that it is winner-takes-all. And the only way to sensibly understand that is on the basis that there is in fact such a thing as law and such a thing as chaos, and/or such a thing as good and such a thing as evil, and that they represent not differences of opinion but irreconcilable and antagonistic oppositions between competing approaches to reality. Chaos is the hatred of law and vice versa; evil is the hatred of good. And it matters deeply which side wins, because existence itself is at stake in that question. It is not that the final victory of lawful good would be that everybody has to be lawful good or be sent to prison. It is that without law and good, chaos and evil will triumph, and that will mean the complete destruction of anything and everything that is founded in law and goodness: love, family life, commerce, cooperation, friendship, and all the rest. That is what I think a truly inspiring descripion of cosmic alignment conflict would really require - not balance, but eternal, tooth-and-nail struggle. 

This is why in recent years I return again and again to the position that D&D somewhere took a deeply unattractive turn in its 'humanisation' of orcs. The result of this was the reduction of the distinction between alignments to what is basically now an aesthetic choice: my character is a bit zany and hippyish so he is chaotic good; mine is selfish so he is neutral evil; mine is sadistic and nasty so he's chaotic evil; mine is a pedant and a stickler for rules so he's lawful netural; and so on. This is a recipe for blandness (although since this. of course is what 5th edition seems to be all about, perhaps that is the point). A reality defined by the existence of actual cosmic conflict is a thousand times more interesting. But to describe and embrace it as the 'proper' way to think of alignment you would have to accept that the aesthetic choices of some players ('But I really want to be an orc!') would have to be overridden.

The only really sensible approach, I think, if you want a relativistic universe, is not to have an alignment system at all - a perfectly justifiable proposition, and far superior to the unsatisfactory half-way house that we have arrived at. Either make alignments matter, or don't - and if they don't, do away with them entirely.

Monday 5 February 2024

The Sunday Seven: 5th February 2024

Each Sunday (well, almost each Sunday), I share seven links to items of interest that have crossed my eye across the preceding week. Here are this week's:

Wednesday 31 January 2024

No More Drama

Have you noticed something about my blog, over the past few years? I have. Sit still for a moment and you will too. I want you to be very quiet. Quiet as a mouse. Still your breathing. Don't fidget. Concentrate  for just a moment or two on the sensation of your feet resting in their shoes against the floor. And now listen; listen carefully. Do you notice it? I notice it. It is a beautiful sound, isn't it? It is the sound of the absence of drama.

I miss certain things about G+ and the OSR 'scene' (which I suppose moved to Discords and Twitter and other venues in the aftermath of G+'s demise). But what I don't miss are all the fevered egos who there congregated in order to taint our collective subconscious. You probably know who they are if you were active on G+ in those days too; there is by no means just one name on the list. Well, now I don't have to know who they are anymore, and I can live my life safe in the knowledge that their existence is a blissful irrelevance. And in this respect I am very glad that G+ died.

Some of you will have seen the latest resurfacing of Old G+ OSR Scene Drama round and about the internet. Some of you will not. If you do not know what I am talking about, be glad. If you do, be sorrowful, but rejoice in the fact that you are also 'out of the game' - that you are as a Burkean cow, contentedly chewing the cud, paying no heed to the 'little, shriveled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome insects of the hour'.

We have a poor philosophical understanding of the demoralising effect of having to know about, and to be confronted by, the psychodramas of people who live unsatisfactory lives and write incontinently about those dramas on the internet. But we all know about that effect at gut level. It gets you down. Life is a hundred times better without it. Let us all then take a moment to toast the passing of that era in the OSR's development, and look to the future with an air of greater optimism and calm.

Monday 29 January 2024

The Sunday Seven: 28th January 2024

Each Sunday (well, almost each Sunday), I share seven links to items of interest that have crossed my eye across the preceding week. Here are this week's:

  • You may be amused to learn of the existence of the D&D Lore Wiki, which catalogues 'official Dungeons & Dragons content of every edition, from 1974 to 2024: every monster, NPC, organization, race, character class, magic item, spell, dungeon and place which has ever appeared in an official D&D sourcebook, along with their real-world creators.' 
  • The MIT Press is putting out an academic edited collection on Fifty Years of Dungeons & Dragons, available to pre-order here. Will it be worth reading? I make no predictions. 
  • Speaking of that fiftieth anniversary, The Escapist goes over what Wizards of the Coast is planning for 2024 here. It turns out it involves selling more rules.
  • If you are hungry for oppressive orientalist filth of the Yoon-Suin variety, I recommend Ernest Bramah's Wallet of Kai Lung, available at Project Gutenberg here. I picked up a first edition at a secondhand bookshop about a year ago and finally got around to reading it; it's a fascinating piece, and will I think be the subject of a proper future post.
  • Investigating Censor grows in power and influence. Will this be baleful? Time will tell.
  • I have mentioned this before in the Sunday Seven but you have a few more days to enter Ben Gibson's adventure writing contest
  • Brian at The Silver Key has been blogging longer than I have, which is in itself an insanely long amount of time to be pumping words into the ether. His recent post on organising his bookshelf amused me. I do not organise mine at all - partly because I just enjoy looking at it while I try to find the book I want.

Friday 26 January 2024

Are You Sequel-Worthy?

When it comes to fantasy novels I am now old, jaded and cynical, like the Ron Perlman character in Enemy at the Gates. I like it to be brief and to the point. Unless Gene Wolfe, Jack Vance or JRR Tolkien has written it, 300 pages is too long; I also have a heuristic approach to what I read, which dictates that I will not buy anything written since the year 2000 unless it is by an author I already know and respect.

Ricardo Pinto's The Masters slipped through the net on a technicality; it is less than 300 pages long, and although it was published in 2020 it is a reformulation of a book that came out in 1999. So I gave it a try, and I was very impressed - I recommend it wholeheartedly as the most original fantasy setting I have come across since arriving late, a few years ago, in Urth. It is also genuinely chilling in places - if you thought the 40K universe was grimdark, wait until you've arrived in The Three Lands.

The Masters is, then, sequel-worthy: I think I will read the rest of the series, which is a very unusual decision for me. For the last ten years or more, I have tended to only read the first volume in a series, even if I have rather liked it, because there is always so much else to read, and continuing with a series can therefore often feel like something of a wasted opportunity to encounter something different. It doesn't help of course that a single volume in the typical fantasy series is so interminably long; in this regard Stone Dance of the Chameleon, of which The Masters is the first volume, may be almost unique - and I applaud Pinto's risky decision to produce seven short volumes rather than three big long ones (even though there is undoubtedly a financial rationale at work in that decision, too). 

What are the other sequel-worthy beginnings to a fantasy series? The Fellowship of the Ring, yes, clearly; The Shadow of the Torturer, The Knight and Soldier of the Mist; Nine Princes in Amber for sure, Lyonesse/Suldrun's Garden and I think most of Vance's series if we are counting the SF ones (though probably not the Durdane books, which I read out of a sense of completeness, really); Out of the Silent Planet, and, let's face it, A Game of Thrones too. I have a hard time thinking of other examples of first volumes of series that have really grabbed me and refused to let go. What are yours?

Monday 22 January 2024

On Writing a Fantasy Gamebook

I don't have time to do all of the many things I have to, let alone want to. So it is probably a bad idea to embark on the project of writing a choose your own adventure book. But I have never let that stop me before.

Here is the first entry in the book that I am writing:

1.

Your first memory, perfectly preserved because you touch it so rarely and handle it with the utmost delicacy when you do, is the sight of your father being borne by his household knights across the Laund in the rain, with the people watching in silence from the trees.

Your second memory is of your uncle, Usth, crouching before you in a dark room criss-crossed by sunbeams in which dust motes swim. His hazel eyes hold yours, and he says, softly, ‘Your goal is revenge. From here until it is achieved. This is your fate.’

You third memory is being carried across a wet beach gleaming with the light of the dusk or the dawn - you cannot remember which - towards a vessel being borne gently up and down on the grey waves as it waits for your arrival. You now know this memory to be that of the day of your exile, when you were taken away across the cold sea to the warm place in which you now live, but will never call home.

In the fifteen years since then you have trained to achieve the goal your uncle set for you in that long-ago shadowy room. You have strengthened your body such that you feel as though you are made from iron and stone; you have learned competence in all manner of weapons; you have tested your will against your own weaknesses and indolence and found it triumphant. You are now ready to travel back across the sea to slay those who killed your father and stole from your family everything which it rightfully held.

Your training was comprehensive, but it was evident from a young age that you were endowed with physical gifts, upon which your teaching built. If you were naturally powerful, turn to 87. If you were naturally dextrous, turn to 352. If you were naturally tough, turn to 101.


Friday 19 January 2024

The Importance of the Moon as an Underused Location for Pen and Paper Roleplaying Games


The moon has played an exceptionally important role in the development of the human imagination. The sun gives life; we know this intuitively, and we have long worshipped it as a result. But the moon is different. It stands there in the heavens and seems to suggest to us that our world, the human world, and the sun that gives it warmth and light, are not all that exists in creation. It calls for an explanation. It seems to have its own, cold and pale, source of light. It presents us with mysteries, at times concealing its face and at times revealing it, and sometimes looming larger or even changing its colour. Looking at it carefully, one can discern features on it, which to some cultures resembles a face, to others a rabbit, to others a woman carrying sticks. It is trite to call it 'otherworldly', but that is how even the ancients seem to have thought of it. Is it possible to imagine that human beings would have come up with science fiction if the moon did not exist?

To the hardened SF enthusiast, the moon is old hat; we have even been there. But in a fantasy, or apocalyptic, or 'dying earth' setting, the moon can be anything. Anything can live there; any rules of physics can apply; its pale white surface could conceal any kind of structure or environment one would wish. I have long had the idea of a megadungeon setting called The Mountain to the Moon, but other broad options suggest themselves:

1 - The Alternate History Moon Invasion campaign setting, in which one picks a time period and location (the Thirty Years' War; pre-colonial Australia; Viking Greenland; Great Zimbabwe) and imagines that the inhabitants of the moon (who might be strange humans, aliens, monsters, slumbering gods, whatever) have recently made their appearance on Earth. 

2 - The Voyage to the Moon campaign setting, in which one imagines a journey to the moon taking place at a much earlier point in history than it did in reality, perhaps through discovery of the phlogiston or suchlike; perhaps the voyagers are early moderns, or ancient Greeks, or Incas. 

3 - The Dying Earth, Living Moon campaign setting, in which life on Earth itself has become exhausted and civilisation frayed, and in which the moon has been chosen by the wealthy and powerful as a place to hide from the coming apocalypse.

4 - The Dying Earth, Dying Moon campaign setting (into which category the Mountain to the Moon falls), wherein an ancient civilisation found a way to colonise the moon from Earth, but then fell into irreversible decline and ruin - and now the comparatively degenerate inhabitants of Earth can attempt to ascend to the moon to explore those ruins, recover treasures, and so on.

Suggest your own variations on these themes, or your own themes, in the comments. Let us return the moon to its rightful place at the centre of the human imagination!