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RPG» Forums » General Discussion » RPG Design

Subject: The Dimensions of Setting in RPGs rss

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EDIT: I've rewritten this to reflect insights from the conversation below. In hindsight, I probably should have done it the other way (new material in reply below, original still here), but the deed is done. The original post in a comment below: Re: The Dimensions of Setting in RPGs

The purpose of this post is to outline some thoughts I have on categorizing settings. This is not categorization just for the sake of it. The point is to be able to talk about similar settings from the perspective of pitching, prepping for, running, and playing in campaigns set in those setting. I'm contemplating an article for the Behind the Screen series, and this post would be a bit of background.

When I talk about "setting" in this article, I'm talking about a fictional world in which a game takes place, and not genre. To take an example; steampunk is a genre, but each of Castle Falkenstein, The Kerberos Club and Space: 1889 have a different setting. Also, settings are by definition fictional in this article; playing games set fully in the real world is outside the scope.

I think that there are at least four important dimensions of settings in RPGs, which I will call them Depth, Integration, Investment, and Familiarity. These dimensions break down into two groups: player-independent and player-dependent. I will provide a few examples as I go along.

Player-Independent Dimensions

These are dimensions that can be considered without reference to who might be playing the game (e.g. by looking at the rulebooks, character sheets, etc.)

Depth
This is the amount and complexity of detail that has accumulated about the setting. This detail may come from the designers/writers, but it also can come from some underlying intellectual property (IP) and can build it up in other ways via fans and actual play. It may be layered as well, such as different editions of the same game providing different details of the same setting, or "reboots" of the underlying IP.

Depth can be measured, to some extent, simply by word count but also by things like the number and detail of maps and the number of named non-player characters. Another way to think about depth is as the amount of time a player needs to invest to understand the minimum set of facts their own character would know about the setting to play that character "competently" (by some definition).

Example: Any Marvel Comics universe game (e.g. Marvel Heroic Roleplaying has a very hgh depth setting; 50+ years of comic books, let alone movies and tv series. Compare this to Masks: A New Generation, where really the only setting is the name of a fictional setting and some potential villain and adult hero names.

Note that Depth is more complicated when considering settings that are more or less based on the "real world", either modern or historical. As the setting becomes more distant from the player in terms of time and geography, more and more "real world" information gets "incorporated" into the setting Depth, because these facts are just as obscure as any fantasy game setting facts would be. Therefore, I think Depth is player independent for wholly fictional settings, but for settings that incorporate real history and geography it is somewhat player dependent.

Integration
Integration is how much the rules mechanics of a particular game depend upon, are derived from, incorporate, and/or require an understanding of, the setting to be used. A game with high integration has many features that are distinct to that setting, while a game with low integration will be more generic, and conceivably usable for other settings, or even other genres.

Integration is not a dimension of setting on its own, it describes a setting/game pair. If a setting has only had one game this won't matter, but it matters when a setting has had multiple games. For example, The One Ring has a higher level of integration with Middle Earth than Middle-earth Role Playing (1st & 2nd Editions), because the first game was designed for use in Middle Earth while the 2nd game is derived from the more generic Rolemaster.

Also, integration can be tricky when considering genre versus setting. For example, how integrated is Dungeons & Dragons (5th Edition)? On one level, you can play it in lots of settings (e.g. Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, etc.). On another level, though, the very nature of its class system, its magic system, the spells themselves, imply a lot of setting details. D&D is such a common entry point into role-playing that it is easy to consider it "generic", but when you go outside the realm of "D&D fantasy" genre it is not generic at all. So is D&D 5E a low integration game in the D&D genre, or a high integration game in all D&D settings?

Another illustrative example is the supers genre. Supers games are usually highly integrated with respect to genre; its the whole point of playing a supers game! But beyond that are usually low integration with a particular setting. As an example, DC Adventures is almost identical to Mutants & Masterminds mechanically. In that sense, nearly all supers games are "generic" with respect to setting.


Setting Examples


High Depth, High Integration: Eclipse Phase, most games set in Glorantha (although the level of integration differs between games), Numenera.
High Depth, Low Integration: GURPS Discworld Roleplaying Game, GURPS Vampire: The Masquerade, really any GURPS book that deals with a specific deep setting.
Low Depth, High Integration: ΑΓΩΝ, Epyllion, Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game.
Low Depth, Low Integration: Hollow Earth Expedition, controversially Traveller (Classic).

Player-Dependent Dimensions
These are dimensions that can only be considered with respect to a particularly player/group of players.

Familiarity

This is how much an average player could be expected to easily comprehend or already be familiar with a setting. That is, a setting could be familiar because it matches the player's knowledge of the real world closely, or because it is a widely loved and consumed IP, or because it is easily grasped in terms of other games the person has played.

Example: Greyhawk is, in most groups, going to be high familiarity. The basic outlines of who characters are, the races, are going to be either well known or easily understood by most gamers. It is bog-standard D&D. Talislanta (1st and 2nd Edition) and its related editions is nearly the prototype of low familiarity for most gamers. This was nearly its whole reason for creation; to provide a truly weird fantasy setting that would be unfamiliar to players.

Investment

Investment is how much the players/group care about playing a game in that particular setting, versus the genre or just role-playing in general. High investment usually manifests as:

* Players will actively discuss setting elements that are not immediately relevant to play
* Players will want to "get it right" in character creation and during play, making sure their characters are clearly connected to the setting.
* Players will take time to go over setting materials, carefully "doing their homework".

Again, investment is about the emotional attachment to the setting itself, not genre. Two groups playing D&D in Forgotten Realms might look much the same to an outsider, but within the game one group is treating Waterdeep as "generic fantasy city" in order to get on with the stuff they really care about, while the other group cares about Waterdeep itself and exploring it.

Thoughts? Dimensions that seem important that are not covered? Questions about how a particular setting might be characterized?
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skalchemist wrote:
Low Depth, Low Relevance, Low Familiarity: Is this even a thing? I admit I cannot think of any examples.


This is Cousin Edd's D&D game that is, "Just like Greyhawk except..."

Quote:
Thoughts? Dimensions that seem important that are not covered? Questions about how a particular setting might be characterized?


I think you've got enough to go on and prep a good-length BtS article. Run with it. A lot of discussion will come out on the BtS about what you've inevitably missed, and that's half the fun of writing one.
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robbbbbb wrote:
skalchemist wrote:
Low Depth, Low Relevance, Low Familiarity: Is this even a thing? I admit I cannot think of any examples.


This is Cousin Edd's D&D game that is, "Just like Greyhawk except..."

Quote:
Thoughts? Dimensions that seem important that are not covered? Questions about how a particular setting might be characterized?


I think you've got enough to go on and prep a good-length BtS article. Run with it. A lot of discussion will come out on the BtS about what you've inevitably missed, and that's half the fun of writing one.
The article will focus on the High Depth, High Relevance, Low Familiarity setting category, at least the first one. I could write articles on other things as well.
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Heh, clearly I'm not the average RPGer, since my take on familiarity is quite different from how you rate some of the games!

Maid: The Role-Playing Game is highly familiar to anyone who has watched anime that includes maids... which is a pretty broad swath of anime (from characters in Angelic Layer, to the entire plot of Mahoromatic). I imagine the familiarity of this would vary depending on where in the world you live...

Meanwhile, I don't actually know Greyhawk at all...

Eclipse Phase (First Edition) is a mix of so much Sci-Fi! It's pretty familiar if you read a lot... so I'd grudgingly agree it is Low Familiarity for most people.
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adularia25 wrote:

Meanwhile, I don't actually know Greyhawk at all...

If you know the stock core rules tropes of D&D (excluding 4), you know grayhawk well enough to write adventures set in Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, or even Mystara.

The lore is deep, but is usually fluff, not substantially relevant to 1st or second tier play.
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My initial thoughts deal with relevance. Your examples all seem to do with character creation. However, in the description you mention plot and action. I would like to see these other two detailed out.

I am going to use Forgotten Realms as an example. You list it in the low relevance category. I admit that there is low relevance in terms of character creation, but I am not sure on the other points.

I was in a group before that played in Forgotten Realms. Admittedly, this was a horrible group for many reasons, but I can tell you for not having a lot of knowledge of the setting, I think it hurt other aspects of the game. I am not sure to what extent these would fall into plot/action.

Here are some of the things I recall:

1. There were a lot of pieces of information given that assumed a high degree of familiarity. Someone wore something, something was a color, some person did X, etc. Presumably my PC "knew" this information, but I did not. It made it difficult to interact in the world sometimes.

2. The plots often had to do with larger aspects of the world and/or 'famous" NPC.

3. Attempted actions on my PCs part were sometimes vetoed or deemed non sequiturs due to issues relating to 1&2.

Insofar as I can put it, if I knew everything about the world not only would I have been able to play better, but I would have picked a different class.

Additionally, I can imagine the game being played where no one knew anything about Forgotten Realms. In doing so, we would have missed tons of content and clues from that lack of information. It was ran along the assumption that everyone had a lot of knowledge.

Unlike in some generic D&D setting where people can know nothing about the setting and it plays fine.

I hope that makes sense. For the record, the DM was using published adventures for Forgotten Realms so I doubt it was just the horrible DM.

All of this relates to something else - the literature burden. When you write a dissertation, especially in the humanities, you are becoming an expert on something. If you pick a topic that many people have written on, then you now have to be an expert on all of that material even when much of it may not directly relate to what you are writing. Hence, it is most effective to pick a topic that there is little written on so that you are not swamped by reading.

This relates to your discussion because I am thinking of Star Trek, Star Wars, and Forgotten Realms. Forgotten Realms has a huge literature burden. Star Trek, sort of has it, but it is different.

Star Wars has 6 films, 2 Di$ney fan fiction films, video games, and tons of books. However, most of that need not matter for game play. Just think about Episode IV - Luke knew very little. I can imagine a good Star Wars game where somehow the person knew little about Star Wars. I do not think it would take long for the player to catch up to events and be able to play.

Star Trek has 6 TV series, lots of movies including new ones in a different time line, video games, and books as well. I think you need to know more about Star Trek than Star Wars to play well. However, you do not need to know everything. For example, if you are playing in TNG era, you do not need to know anything about TOS. You might need to know that Kligon's used to be an enemy but are now allies. Knowing ranks and job functions on a ship are important to picking a class. However, you can probably get what you need for the rule book.

Forgotten Realms, on the other hand, I think requires a substantial burden of knowledge on the player to not be lost. For example, if you were playing Star Trek and you encounter a species, it is common for the TV show to tell you something about the species if the Federation had encountered them before. I can imagine that same occurring in a game session. But Forgotten Realm does not work like that.

Shadowrun has a lot of depth. I know many people who know the ins and outs of everything. Sometimes it matters to game play and sometimes it does not. However, it never seemed such an issue like it was in Forgotten Realms. I never felt like I needed to have homework in other games to be able to understand/enjoy a game session before.

Again, I am basing that off of a horrible group running published adventures.

Just something to think about when you are putting the final version of this together.
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aramis wrote:
adularia25 wrote:

Meanwhile, I don't actually know Greyhawk at all...

If you know the stock core rules tropes of D&D (excluding 4), you know grayhawk well enough to write adventures set in Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, or even Mystara.

The lore is deep, but is usually fluff, not substantially relevant to 1st or second tier play.

I know a lot about Forgotten Realms! That was my introduction to D&D, and I immersed myself in the lore. But if asked I couldn't say how Greyhawk was different from Forgotten Realms.
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adularia25 wrote:
aramis wrote:
adularia25 wrote:

Meanwhile, I don't actually know Greyhawk at all...

If you know the stock core rules tropes of D&D (excluding 4), you know grayhawk well enough to write adventures set in Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, or even Mystara.

The lore is deep, but is usually fluff, not substantially relevant to 1st or second tier play.

I know a lot about Forgotten Realms! That was my introduction to D&D, and I immersed myself in the lore. But if asked I couldn't say how Greyhawk was different from Forgotten Realms.

Pretty much, names of the gods, relative locations of the various cultures, and the iconic characters.

But, to be blunt, the histories being different, they're both kitchen sink settings.

The big difference is that FR has had "Big Big Story" events with new editions, to explain the rules differences. Greyhawk didn't. And wild magic in one or the other (I forget which).

But, unless you're trying to tie into the lore, an adventure for FR can be run in Greyhawk and vice versa.

It's not like Dragonlance/Krynn or Dark Sun/Athas, where the races and classes are different in mechanics, rather than just name, and the mechanics of magic are notably different. (Modified from core mechanics, rather than a whole new system, but still, sufficiently different as to alter the calculus of usefulness.)


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I'd agree that the Forgotten Realms needs quite a lot of knowledge to fully comprehend the setting. Up until the early 90s, I did know a lot, from modules, sourcebooks and fiction. If I tried to play in the current version, I'd be lost. I simply haven't got a clue as to what has changed, and there have been some seriously large changes. Some of which I think were retconned out of the setting - but I don't know for sure.
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adularia25 wrote:
Heh, clearly I'm not the average RPGer, since my take on familiarity is quite different from how you rate some of the games!

Maid: The Role-Playing Game is highly familiar to anyone who has watched anime that includes maids... which is a pretty broad swath of anime (from characters in Angelic Layer, to the entire plot of Mahoromatic). I imagine the familiarity of this would vary depending on where in the world you live...

Meanwhile, I don't actually know Greyhawk at all...

Eclipse Phase (First Edition) is a mix of so much Sci-Fi! It's pretty familiar if you read a lot... so I'd grudgingly agree it is Low Familiarity for most people.
Heh, this is why I said familiarity was group dependent, Caroline!

SteamCraft wrote:
My initial thoughts deal with relevance. Your examples all seem to do with character creation. However, in the description you mention plot and action. I would like to see these other two detailed out.

I am going to use Forgotten Realms as an example. You list it in the low relevance category. I admit that there is low relevance in terms of character creation, but I am not sure on the other points.

BUNCH OF GREAT STUFF COMPARING FORGOTTEN REALMS TO STAR TREK AND OTHER SETTINGS
Jamie, I see exactly what you are talking about. This makes me think that Relevance is more group dependent than I stated originally. Some groups will be highly invested in the detail of the setting and therefore make them relevant to the game, other groups won't care nearly as much. In fact, this might be proven by the fact that you don't consider Star Trek to be nearly as high relevance as I do; on reflection this is because when I play Star Trek I treat it as highly relevant, but your example makes me realize this is an aesthetic choice on my part.

That being said, I do think your discussion of "literature burden" is crossing two of the dimensions. I think you are sort of making the same argument re: Star Trek/Star Wars as I would have made before reading your comments about Forgotten Realms. This just proves, I would say, the point above; relevance is much more group dependent than I gave it credit for. William's comment:

aramis wrote:
If you know the stock core rules tropes of D&D (excluding 4), you know grayhawk well enough to write adventures set in Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, or even Mystara.

The lore is deep, but is usually fluff, not substantially relevant to 1st or second tier play.
Makes this point even clearer, in that what William calls "fluff", Jamie's group considered scripture.
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SteamCraft wrote:
Shadowrun has a lot of depth. I know many people who know the ins and outs of everything. Sometimes it matters to game play and sometimes it does not. However, it never seemed such an issue like it was in Forgotten Realms. I never felt like I needed to have homework in other games to be able to understand/enjoy a game session before.
One very crappy measure of Depth might be the number of pages on the wikia wiki for that setting.

https://marvel.fandom.com/wiki/Marvel_Database 228,000+ pages
https://memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Portal:Main 48000+ pages
https://forgottenrealms.fandom.com/wiki/Main_Page 28000+ pages
https://buffy.fandom.com/wiki/Buffy_the_Vampire_Slayer_and_A... 6000+ pages
https://shadowrun.fandom.com/wiki/Main_Page 5000+ pages
https://lovecraft.fandom.com/wiki/The_Call_of_Cthulhu 700+ pages

Again, very crappy measure. Page count will be highly correlated with relevance and familiarity, because a setting has to have at least enough familiarity to even get a wiki in the first place, and enough relevance to have volunteers put the data in.

But as a rough measure, I think it could be used to think about scaling Depth. Like, I think any setting with more than 10000 pages in a wiki would have to count as high depth. Shadowrun and Buffyverse might be a good examples of medium depth, while Call of Cthulhu (at least using Lovecraft's work as the measure) would be lower Depth.

However, this measure gives special focus to settings that have some life outside of RPGs, which will always have more familiarity and relevance. For example, a game like Torg barely has a wiki, and that wiki seems to have only 6 pages, but I think in reality it is comparable to Shadowrun in terms of depth.
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skalchemist wrote:
Jamie, I see exactly what you are talking about. This makes me think that Relevance is more group dependent than I stated originally. Some groups will be highly invested in the detail of the setting and therefore make them relevant to the game, other groups won't care nearly as much. In fact, this might be proven by the fact that you don't consider Star Trek to be nearly as high relevance as I do; on reflection this is because when I play Star Trek I treat it as highly relevant, but your example makes me realize this is an aesthetic choice on my part.

That being said, I do think your discussion of "literature burden" is crossing two of the dimensions. I think you are sort of making the same argument re: Star Trek/Star Wars as I would have made before reading your comments about Forgotten Realms. This just proves, I would say, the point above; relevance is much more group dependent than I gave it credit for. William's comment:

aramis wrote:
If you know the stock core rules tropes of D&D (excluding 4), you know grayhawk well enough to write adventures set in Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, or even Mystara.

The lore is deep, but is usually fluff, not substantially relevant to 1st or second tier play.
Makes this point even clearer, in that what William calls "fluff", Jamie's group considered scripture.


I can see why it would be group dependent. I think it also depends on what aspect you are talking about. For example, I can see the same plot used in Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk for an adventure. While there is nothing really special or unique in the settings, how they are used can matter. In a sense, the fluff seems to matter for gameplay. No one would confuse Forgotten Realms with Star Wars even though in both cases you can have a plot to save the princess.

Insofar as I can make it all pull together, it seems that you might say that the depth combined with the group's interest in integrating that depth is what determines relevancy. The more depth there is, then the greater likely hood of it affecting relevancy.

In any case, the character creation aspect of relevancy is what makes the most sense to me. However, Star Trek has common troupes as well. Red Shirt, Science officer, Doctor, Command, etc. I would like to see more information/examples of the other aspect of relevancy beyond character creation.
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robbbbbb wrote:
This is Cousin Edd's D&D game...

I'm not sure I agree. In "Cousin Edd's" game there may be no "Canon" like we normally think of Canon. But I'd still argue that the typical murder-hobo, pseudo-medieval, you-don't-gotta-know-nothin' campaign would fall along:

Depth: Extensive
Relevance: Extensive
Familiarity: Extensive

Because it's based on the shared, curious, modern pastiche/conception of the European medieval period of Arthurian chivalry, high Feudalism, and Norse/Greek mythology. The Canon we don't think of as being Canon. Stone castles, mounted, armored riders, Dukes, specific mythological beasts, etc. In other words, decades of public education and modern cinematic renderings, rolled into a group consensus of what a "standard fantasy campaign" looks and feels like, with all of the anachronisms that typically encumber it.

The very concept of "playing a Cleric" who dons chainmail, picks up a mace, and rides out to right wrongs is completely dependent upon a shared conceptualization of tropes that underpin every Cousin Edd's campaign. My guess is, you play a pick-up game with some African kids, or some Chinese kids, and they'd not have that default idea of what a Cleric was or does - you'd have to somehow transliterate that concept into their culture's equivalent for them to instantly "get it" in the way that North Americans/Europeans "get it" when you ask "Can I just play a Cleric or is there something special?" But then... it wouldn't be a Cleric.

I believe that's why I often read translations of Japanese roleplaying games and think along the lines of "Uh... ... ... but... ... ... huh?" I mean, I can grasp the rules of e.g. Kancolle but the setting is nearly incomprehensible to me - I lack any base of understanding it, so I tend to plop the pieces I read into my own idea of what a Mecha/WW2-ish setting should be sort of like. And it doesn't make much sense.

Even something like a Marvel Superhero setting is mostly derived from that same consensus of what "modern culture" is like, such that probably 99% of the actual campaign is just "the real world" - but we focus on that 1% that is distinguished primarily by being "not the real world".

So maybe another axis would be something like: Deviation - how distinctive are multiple campaign elements from what would be considered "typical" for the genre? My own experience is that players don't like very much deviation.
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ctimmins wrote:
robbbbbb wrote:
This is Cousin Edd's D&D game...

I'm not sure I agree. In "Cousin Edd's" game there may be no "Canon" like we normally think of Canon. But I'd still argue that the typical murder-hobo, pseudo-medieval, you-don't-gotta-know-nothin' campaign would fall along:

Depth: Extensive
Relevance: Extensive
Familiarity: Extensive
Clark, I think you are describing a real phenomenon in role-playing games. However, I think you are also talking about something I am not trying to categorize. I'm specifically talking about "named" (for lack of a better word) fictional settings.

I think what you are describing are sets of conventions for a specific genre. "D&D-ish fantasy" is definitely a genre, with piles of conventions (like "clerics are healers" and "kobolds are easy monsters to fight" and "10 foot poles are a thing") that are likely unrecognizable to people unfamiliar with the genre. But that would be outside the scope of the direct categorization of setting I'm talking about. This distinction is written into the fabric of RPGGeek as well, in the distinction between Genre and Setting. I'm only trying to catgorize setting.

That being said, I think it is indirectly related to both relevance and familiarity. I think that Japanese anime/manga are a great example of the interaction between genre and setting. Most series will have their own specific setting, but there will be a lot of conventions that are common across multiple series. Those conventions will be more or less recognizable to different people.

Also, I think that genre could probably be categorized along a similar set of dimensions. But what counts as a particular genre is much harder to define than what counts as a particular setting, so its harder to talk about.

All of that being said, I think your concept of "deviation" is a very important component of familiarity for exactly the reasons you describe.
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I guess that Attributes -> Skills works sort of like Genre -> Setting. Your example of Marvel and Masks is pretty instructive. I haven't played Masks, but my guess is that most Masks campaigns look and feel a whole lot like most Marvel campaigns, except that instead of Spider Man you end up with The Man Spider. Because when you don't have a default piece of a setting, you default to the genre. And the majority of any setting is not defined.

Let's take Masks. Probably most characters are human. Where does the action happen? Probably in urban areas. Where do people live? Must be mostly in apartments. Where do the bad guys come from? Probably street gangs through evil supers (not Juggernaut but maybe Smasher) to space invaders. Not Kree, but "a scientifically and technologically advanced militaristic alien race" called <whatever>. Heroes probably have secret identities with mundane (but flexible) jobs and obnoxious (but long-suffering) bosses.

I'm guessing Masks nor Marvel deviates too very much from DC Comics, et. al. Even with 50+ years of comics, Marvel still has politicians vying for control of Modern America, mutant hate, global politics, Christian religions, and everything else. Though it's not ever "developed" in the setting, it's inherited from the genre. I don't recall a single comic ever developing American style political party elections, but I recall many that were built on that trope.

So, isn't a developed setting very much like the campaign group's conception of a genre, but with the parts specified in the setting overlaid on the default genre? Like, a "skin"?

When Aramis says Forgotten Realms is much of a piece with Greyhawk, we can all say "Well, yeah, that's pretty true". But then again, they're nothing alike. Each has tens of thousands of pages of distinct content, history, geography, etc., and they are nothing alike - at all. Except, of course, that the vast majority of both of those settings isn't really the setting, it's the default pseudo-medieval genre they're skinning.
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ctimmins wrote:
So, isn't a developed setting very much like the campaign group's conception of a genre, but with the parts specified in the setting overlaid on the default genre? Like, a "skin"?

I think this goes to what Jamie was talking about earlier that prompted me to say that Relevance is group dependent. Because "skin" is, really, a synonym for "fluff", right? One person's skin on the bits that matter is another person's point of playing the game.

To take an example, I have some friends that are playing 13th Age Glorantha. (This group's situation is actually what prompted a lot of my thinking.). For one of the players, Glorantha is just a skin on top of what they really want to be doing while role-playing; fighting stuff in a fantasy environment. But for most of the other players, Glorantha is not the skin, its the reason for playing. They do not want generic fantasy that happens to be Glorantha, they want Glorantha! They want to explore the locations and details of that setting. This is causing them some problems (which I plan to talk about in a Behind the Screen article).

To take another example...

ctimmins wrote:
Let's take Masks. Probably most characters are human. Where does the action happen? Probably in urban areas. Where do people live? Must be mostly in apartments. Where do the bad guys come from? Probably street gangs through evil supers (not Juggernaut but maybe Smasher) to space invaders. Not Kree, but "a scientifically and technologically advanced militaristic alien race" called <whatever>. Heroes probably have secret identities with mundane (but flexible) jobs and obnoxious (but long-suffering) bosses.

I'm guessing Masks nor Marvel deviates too very much from DC Comics, et. al. Even with 50+ years of comics, Marvel still has politicians vying for control of Modern America, mutant hate, global politics, Christian religions, and everything else.

I can totally see how many people might play, say, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying as just another super-hero game. That is, they are focused on the genre, not the setting.

But when I run it (and in my own current Masks campaign set in the Marvel universe) I really do not want to have those people as my players. My reason to run a game in the Marvel Universe is to celebrate the specifics of the Marvel universe. I don't want "scientifically and technologically advanced militaristic alien race", I want the KREE! I don't want the Man-Spider, I want Spider-man! And I want players that are equally invested in the setting, if I can find them.

All of this just convinces me more that Relevance is highly group dependent. In fact, of all the three dimensions, only Depth can be considered in any way group independent.
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As a result of the conversation so far, I think there may be two aspects to Relevance that are distinct enough to be two different dimensions...

* Investment - how much the group is invested in that particular setting versus the genre, or even just the experience of playing.
* Integration - how much the game mechanics depend on and are derived from the specifics of the setting

The reasons I think these might be two different dimensions are two-fold:

* Investment is highly group dependent, but Integration is something that can be, at least to some extent, objectively considered.
* High Integration in a game with setting can be an active impediment to playing the game for people that are not highly invested, but the reverse can be true as well.

Examples of the 2nd bullet point:

* Eclipse Phase is a game with very high integration. The whole aspect of "sleeving" into new forms is thoroughly integrated into the rules and also suggested plots and action. This makes Eclipse Phase, to my mind, very difficult to use as a "generic hard sci-fi" game. This means people with low Investment might have a hard time playing it.
* From the other direction, one problem with generic systems is that they are...generic. By definition they have little or no Integration. This means that some generic products just seem very, very weird to me. Like, GURPS The Prisoner or GURPS Discworld Roleplaying Game. If I were going to play in those settings (The Village, Discworld) I would be VERY invested, but I would also want a very high level of integration, something that would be difficult with GURPS.
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Integration is very important. You earlier mentioned RuneQuest and Glorantha; to me, RuneQuest without Glorantha is fairly... pointless uninteresting? I always thought the whole Rune magic, cult thing was the basis of the game - what made it really good. I know some considered the mechanics to be superior (there was even Runes in Space) - but for me, a combat system isn't something interesting enough to support a whole game that's got nothing else going for it.
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skalchemist wrote:

SteamCraft wrote:
My initial thoughts deal with relevance. Your examples all seem to do with character creation. However, in the description you mention plot and action. I would like to see these other two detailed out.

I am going to use Forgotten Realms as an example. You list it in the low relevance category. I admit that there is low relevance in terms of character creation, but I am not sure on the other points.

BUNCH OF GREAT STUFF COMPARING FORGOTTEN REALMS TO STAR TREK AND OTHER SETTINGS
Jamie, I see exactly what you are talking about. This makes me think that Relevance is more group dependent than I stated originally. Some groups will be highly invested in the detail of the setting and therefore make them relevant to the game, other groups won't care nearly as much. In fact, this might be proven by the fact that you don't consider Star Trek to be nearly as high relevance as I do; on reflection this is because when I play Star Trek I treat it as highly relevant, but your example makes me realize this is an aesthetic choice on my part.

That being said, I do think your discussion of "literature burden" is crossing two of the dimensions. I think you are sort of making the same argument re: Star Trek/Star Wars as I would have made before reading your comments about Forgotten Realms. This just proves, I would say, the point above; relevance is much more group dependent than I gave it credit for. William's comment:

aramis wrote:
If you know the stock core rules tropes of D&D (excluding 4), you know grayhawk well enough to write adventures set in Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, or even Mystara.

The lore is deep, but is usually fluff, not substantially relevant to 1st or second tier play.
Makes this point even clearer, in that what William calls "fluff", Jamie's group considered scripture.


In this context, I'm using it to mean irrelevant setting material.

For example, it's irrelevant that the mad mage is a Red Mage of Thay unless the order thereof is part of why he's there.
If the Thayan order isn't part of the plot, then that element of the adventure works just fine in Greyhawk, just by removing the reference to Thay.

Most of the FR setting is irrelevant to most adventures. Likewise, about 70% of the season 1-3 AL modules can readily be ported into/out-of Grewhawk and "standard trope-set" homebrews simply by changing location references. Which makes the lore references therein fluff, rather than substance.
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Spamming my own thread, but..

On further thought, I think the whole scheme might be better broken down into two sets of four dimensions:

Objective Dimensions - can be thought of independently of the player/group

Depth - amount of detail and complexity of the setting itself

Integration - the complexity of the relationship between the setting and a particular game/system

Subjective Dimensions - can only be measured with respect to a particular player/group

Investment - how much a player/group cares about experiencing the particular setting versus simply the genre, or even just the fact of role-playing

Familiarity - how much a player/group knows about the setting, as well as how easy it is to grasp the setting quickly because of its similarity to other settings in the same genre.

Integration does bring in explictly the distinction between setting and game, which is useful. For example, Castle Falkenstein and GURPS Castle Falkenstein are both in the same setting, but the first is much more integrated than the 2nd.
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aramis wrote:
In this context, I'm using ["fluff"] to mean irrelevant setting material.

For example, it's irrelevant that the mad mage is a Red Mage of Thay unless the order thereof is part of why he's there.
If the Thayan order isn't part of the plot, then that element of the adventure works just fine in Greyhawk, just by removing the reference to Thay.

Most of the FR setting is irrelevant to most adventures. Likewise, about 70% of the season 1-3 AL modules can readily be ported into/out-of Grewhawk and "standard trope-set" homebrews simply by changing location references. Which makes the lore references therein fluff, rather than substance.

I see what you are getting at, William. However, I think what you are talking about may be outside the scope of what I am trying to do.

First, I'm dropping the word Relevance there, in favor of Investment as described above.

I think it is absolutely the case that only a fraction of a setting's Depth will be relevant at each moment along the way in actual play. Some details may never matter at all in the course of a campaign.

However:

* the Depth is the same regardless of what is immediately relevant or not in a particular group in a particular game. Games with more Depth have more potentially relevant details.

* there can be strong Investment in the setting even when the details of the setting are not immediately relevant, and this matters.

As an example of the 1st Bullet point, say a character wants to make up a mage who is a member of an order of mages who truck with demons and the like and who are politically well connected. In a setting with low depth, there is a good chance that the player can just make that stuff up without much further comment. But in Forgotten Realms, a GM is liable to ask "you mean like the Red Mages of Thay?" A high depth setting is always there, lurking about, reading to throw up relevant detail on matters that might seem unrelated to the actual play at hand.

As an example of the 2nd bullet point, you are suggesting that it is irrelevant that the mad mage is a Red Mage of Thay (I'm guessing this is in a particular adventure you are thinking about?) But to a person who is highly invested in the Forgotten Realms, this could be highly relevant. Because of their investment, the fact that the NPC is a Red Mage brings in all kinds of other elements to the story that otherwise would not be brought in. Even if those elements never directly come up in play for other players, they have come into play for THAT player, for both good and ill.

* e.g. the player may have a more rich experience knowing that this particular mage is part of that order, and it may affect their role-playing with that NPC

* e.g. the player may note discrepencies in the depiction of the mage knowing that they are a Red Mage that cause them to be unhappy, or maybe even try to "correct" the GM/other players.

Another way to put this would be that it is the player/groups Investment that determines which details of the setting are relevant and when. A highly invested group will find details to be relevant that a low investment group would not remotely care about.
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ctimmins wrote:
Integration is very important. You earlier mentioned RuneQuest and Glorantha; to me, RuneQuest without Glorantha is fairly... pointless? I always thought the whole Rune magic, cult thing was the basis of the game - what made it really good. I know some considered the mechanics to be superior (there was even Runes in Space) - but for me, a combat system isn't something interesting enough to support a whole game that's got nothing else going for it.


While I've run RQ (3rd ed), I've never used RQ for Glorantha. Rune Magic wasn't readily apparent in the core. Spirit Magic and Sorcery were readily apparent.

The engine is more than just the combat system. The other magic types (spirit magic and sorcery), the general percentile system... RQ mechanically is FAR more than just a combat system.

You're exhibiting an uncharacteristic lack of charity toward differences in mechanics...
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aramis wrote:
You're exhibiting an uncharacteristic lack of charity toward differences in mechanics...
Clark is just stating an aesthetic preference William, not being uncharitable. You perceive a lot more to Runequest than he does, which is fine, you are welcome to explain to him why there is more there than he sees. But please, avoid statements like the one quoted above in this thread.

EDIT: I suspect you are reacting to Clark's use of the word "pointless" in describing a game system you personally enjoy a lot. Which is fine, I get that. Maybe Clark should not have used the word "pointless".

In other words, please, lets focus on the games themselves and not overinterpret others motives and emotions.
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ctimmins wrote:
The very concept of "playing a Cleric" who dons chainmail, picks up a mace, and rides out to right wrongs is completely dependent upon a shared conceptualization of tropes that underpin every Cousin Edd's campaign. My guess is, you play a pick-up game with some African kids, or some Chinese kids, and they'd not have that default idea of what a Cleric was or does - you'd have to somehow transliterate that concept into their culture's equivalent for them to instantly "get it" in the way that North Americans/Europeans "get it" when you ask "Can I just play a Cleric or is there something special?" But then... it wouldn't be a Cleric.

To illustrate the point of how that is a shared trope...

It is based on a very specific bit of history, where Odo the bastard half-brother to William the Conquerer was a Cleric who eventually became the Bishop. He is depicted as holding a club in the Bayeux Tapestry, (which he commissioned) and supposedly claimed he didn't shed blood in battle - which other historians took to mean clerics couldn't use bladed weapons to "shed blood" in combat... but that was Odo basically building up his own reputation as a holy man. Other Clerics of the time did use bladed weapons! And yet, Odo's depiction as a warrior cleric in the Bayeux Tapestry has filtered down through historians and into RPGs.

ctimmins wrote:
I believe that's why I often read translations of Japanese roleplaying games and think along the lines of "Uh... ... ... but... ... ... huh?" I mean, I can grasp the rules of e.g. Kancolle but the setting is nearly incomprehensible to me - I lack any base of understanding it, so I tend to plop the pieces I read into my own idea of what a Mecha/WW2-ish setting should be sort of like. And it doesn't make much sense.

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skalchemist wrote:
aramis wrote:
You're exhibiting an uncharacteristic lack of charity toward differences in mechanics...
Clark is just stating an aesthetic preference William, not being uncharitable. You perceive a lot more to Runequest than he does, which is fine, you are welcome to explain to him why there is more there than he sees. But please, avoid statements like the one quoted above in this thread.

EDIT: I suspect you are reacting to Clark's use of the word "pointless" in describing a game system you personally enjoy a lot. Which is fine, I get that. Maybe Clark should not have used the word "pointless".

In other words, please, lets focus on the games themselves and not overinterpret others motives and emotions.


to be honest, I don't enjoy RQ... But I've had players who preferred it, and I don't mind it. The way he stated his preference is the uncharitable element. His reason stated also is in the troll-bait range...

The important thing is that his aesthetic is neither universal, nor, as expressed, rational, since combat is a discouraged portion of play both in RQ as a generality (because it's deadly, and even when not killing you, can result in crippled-into-unplayable characters) and in Glorantha in specific (because it makes the locals hostile, if they weren't already).
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