This month’s RPG Blog Carnival is over at Dice Monkey, and takes on the topic of RPG play in established settings!
So what do we get out of established settings that make them appealing, or not!? Well the first answer is perhaps shared knowledge. All you DM’s out there know how hard it can be to get your players to be interested in the little details you’ve created for your world, over and above crushing the next monster and stealing its gold; so if there is a shared base of knowledge because the setting is widely known, this can help tremendously – the DM does not have to expend as much energy painting a picture of the dazzling attractions of the city at the end of the dangerous trail when that city is for example, Waterdeep of the Forgotten Realms. Chances are that at least one player has read some of the gazillions of novels, or played with other groups in that world. The Star Wars setting is perhaps the ultimate example of making use of this – taking place in a well-defined setting that almost every gamer (and most non-gamers) worth his salt knows well, thanks to the two generations of world-renowned films!
Another attraction of a shared setting is the possibility of interacting with a well-known story. Who wouldn’t want, as a player, to be part of the War of the Ring in Middle-Earth, or fight the Galactic Empire across the galaxy, or indulge in the politics and violence of the Game of Thrones? As a DM as well, settings based on fantasy literature or media provide the attraction of setting your own tales in amongst the famous stories that everyone knows and loves (!?). Some settings have been entirely and deliberately based on this premise, for example the Dragonlance series published by TSR in the 1980s was a grand Adventure Path that explored the world of Krynn alongside the story told in the best-selling novel series by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weiss. In this case, the intention was that players would even use the same characters as the novels. I remember DMing this series and enjoying it tremendously – I even think I banned my players from reading the novels so they wouldn’t obtain spoilers! Another time, I ran a series of adventures based around the original Icewind Dale novels, featuring Drizzt, Bruenor Battlehammer et al, some of the most famous cross-over RPG characters in history.
Other famous TSR (and now Wizards…) settings such as Greyhawk and the Forgotten Realms, and modern offerings such as Paizo’s Golarion and Kobold Press’ Midgard are intended as shared ‘sandbox’ settings, providing background material and adventures to help the DM, and possibly a common setting for organized play programmes, but with no expectation on the actual stories and adventures that a particular group will run. The wealth of material available here can become almost bewildering, and this leads to one of the problems associated with such settings: canon! For example, a setting such as the Forgotten Realms has now been published as a core setting in four versions of Dungeons and Dragons, along with countless novels, adventures and sourcebooks, let alone the years of organized play in the The Living Forgotten Realms! There can hardly be a D&D player alive that hasn’t heard of the setting and its most famous characters, and a significant percentage must have played in the world. What happens then when a DM’s own story, set within the Forgotten Realms, goes agains the perceived ‘real’ history of the world as per the published works. Is that allowed? How do players handle that?
So where does TolrendorDM stand on this subject? The truth is, I’m a sucker for settings! World-building, with all that entails, is the biggest source of enjoyment that I get out of the game. Up until my hiatus from the game in the early 1990s, I’d probably bought almost every setting published by TSR: Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Krynn, Dark Sun, Planescape, Lankhmar… the list goes on. Since coming back into the hobby with 4E, I’ve been more judicious. I still however, had to have the 4E Forgotten Realms sourcebook, and bought the Dark Sun books because I liked the way they were bringing out the specific flavour of that setting with 4E mechanics. Wolfgang Baur’s Midgard Campaign Setting also encompasses a number of projects I’ve been a backer on.
But in reality, I seldom actually play in these settings. The clue is partly in the name of this blog. Primarily, in all of my gaming, I’m the DM (and chief world-builder) of Tolrendor, my own personal setting, ‘established’ now for almost 30 years Over time, it has changed and morphed according to my gaming needs, and I borrow liberally from other settings to enrich my own ideas. Right now, my Heroic Tier 4E campaign for my kids is based in the Nentir Vale mini-setting, as it was a quick way to get started with a rich town and surrounding campaign area – but the region is fully integrated into the northern regions of my own world. This works best for me I think – I get the benefit of the published material, but I get to pull it apart and use the information I want to without feeling like I’m losing my creation
So, there’s my contribution to the Carnival – I look forward to digesting all the other great ideas out there on this topic!