So, switches I'm considering throwing during setting generation this time around / themes I would like to have:
- Crumbling Empire / Beastbarians at the Gates - a default assumption of ACKS is that there is a powerful lawful empire in decline. I like it.
- Rival Houses - makes good sense as constituent parts of the empire that is coming apart.
- The Craplands - A lot of settings have these under names like the Shadowlands, the Chaos Wastes, and Beyond The Wall. Places right-thinking folk don't tread. Wonderful places for an adventure. Also a very handy way for the DM to telegraph danger gradients to PCs, so they can make informed wilderness exploration decisions.
- Divine Elves - Per Micah Blackburn, because this is just an awesome idea. Very Tolkien, and very in keeping with the elves as either 'firstborn and favored children of the gods' or 'fey folk of the woods', depending on the subset of the divine spells you give them. Also makes 'seeking the wisdom and council of the elves' more sensible, since they get stuff like divination and augury. Dark elves also very easily differentiated by a variant spell list (and maybe addition of the Zaharan After the Flesh / Death is Bad ability / drawback pair).
- Chaos cults - I love 'em. There's something very pulpy about having 40 chanting cultists, a sorcerer leader, some summoned demons or giant snakes or other 'bruiser' baddies, and an innocent on the altar when suddenly, heroes! Plus you get to make up ridiculous demon names like 'the tentacled goat' and 'the spider with seven faces' for them to worship. A nice 'threat from within' for our crumbling empire.
- Man Has Always Been His Own Worst Enemy - no beastmen, just humans and demihumans as your 'standard-issue intelligent foe'. Baddies not marked for your convenience. Would make things a little more morally ambiguous, but would require more effort on my part to differentiate ethnicities of humans. Not something I think I really want to have to do, but it's something that's been on my radar ever since Iron Heroes.
- Cultural influences - not really sure about the time or place to set this in. The ACKS standard is classically Romanesque, but I'm also sort of tempted by the Holy Roman Empire further north (bonus: chaos vikings), a Rokugan clone, or a Midnight-like crumbling alliance of races. Mesoamerican influences also vaguely tempting; maybe the Craplands are the Crimson Jungles to the south, full of cannibals and worse. Currently leaning slightly toward Holy Roman, though, for a sort of dark ages "plagues and huns and vikings" feel. Also a good place to steal historical names from.