Establishing Setting

edited November 2009 in Story Games
What are different ways to establish setting for an RPG?

Published Setting

Assume that players have either read the setting books or have skimmed enough to get an idea and flesh out the rest through play.


Based on Books

You play in the Star Wars universe or whatever it is, sticking to whatever canonical tomes the group deems appropriate. Probably important that people know the same setting or have a similar understanding of how it works.


Collaborative Creation

The players gather to create a setting and attach the setting to mechanics (Burning Wheel, Misspent Youth, Shock:, Diaspora and Mortal Coil come to mind on this one).


Embedded in the game

The game has a setting, the players flesh it out through chargen and it is fleshed out further through play ( Polaris and Dogs come to mind immediately here).


Published Setting

The game evokes a setting through mechanics and the setting is further fleshed out through play (Burning Empires and Mouse Guard come to mind...Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu too, methinks)

Expanding Map

You start with a basic map and expand. I am thinking of classic D&D and maybe 4e out of the box too. But this one's complicated. D&D has its own mythos. I dunno. Little Black Box Traveler before it became all setting-if-ied.

Spirit of the Century is a funky one, where there are setting elements in the book but most of it is done through the glorious chargen. Embedded in the game, mayhaps.

Other thoughts or expansions/corrections/hell-yeah's on the ones posted.

Comments

  • Use of the Real World

    The setting is the physical location, town, or city where player happen to be. LARPS and the WoD games I participated in did this a lot. If we were in Indianapolis, the game would be set in Indy.

    Is that different enough from the ones you listed, Judd?

    Peace,

    -Troy
  • Crafted By GM
    Where a single player labors to create a setting and story, and walk the group through it.
  • This might be the same as another on your list...

    Discovered Through Play
    Play starts without establishing the setting, or only establishing a few ground rules.
    The majority of the setting elements are discovered through play.

    Oracular
    The game relies on randomly drawing "setting elements" (Published Setting) and tying them together in an interesting way (Collaborative Creation).
  • edited November 2009
    Judd, you've played way more BW than me, but, from the first time I cracked open the Character Burner, I thought it was a total fib that BW has no setting. I must admit that I'm a bit, eh, nonplussed at the idea of attaching a setting to it as default.
  • Based on community canon

    You play in Lovecraft's 1920s or the World of Darkness, but the canon has been defined more by the gaming community than books or published materials.

    (Some of these ways of creating setting overlap, of course)

    Graham
  • Pictures
    Show some evocative pictures. Have them present at the table. Pass them around.
  • Embedded in the GM

    The GM/facilitator knows a ton about the setting and provides enough background to get everybody on the same page. From there it drifts into Discovered Through Play.
  • edited November 2009
    There's a fair bit of leeway with "collaborative creation" too. Like, sometimes the game's like "ok, create a setting; after that, here's what you do..." (i.e. Fudge) and sometimes it's like "here are some very specific guidelines for creating a setting that'll hit at the things that this game is about" (i.e. Shock:).
  • Posted By: GrahamBased on community canon
    Like gaming in the Amber universe, as an example?
    From my understanding, the books provide some setting, but it's been grown and expanded and deepened quite a bit by its gaming community.
  • Use of the real world, MODIFIED

    Supers and Horror and Urban fantasy all fall in this catagory. It's like the real world, mostly the same history, with a couple of notable differences...superheroes exist, magic exists or Horrors exist. And in the case of many superhero campaigns... all three, including aliens and interdimensional parallels.
  • Posted By: Marshall BurnsJudd, you've played way more BW than me, but, from the first time I cracked open the Character Burner, I thought it was a total fib that BW has no setting. I must admit that I'm a bit, eh,nonplussedat the idea of attaching a setting to it as default.
    I think you are totally right and I am totally wrong. When we get together for BW, we create situation. The lifepaths and traits are totally a setting.

    I dig and agree.

    But a setting without situation is a toothless thing, so injecting that situation into the mix is key. Thanks, Marshall, great post.
  • edited November 2009
    Posted By: StornUse of the real world, MODIFIED

    Supers and Horror and Urban fantasy all fall in this catagory. It's like the real world, mostly the same history, with a couple of notable differences...superheroes exist, magic exists or Horrors exist. And in the case of many superhero campaigns... all three, including aliens and interdimensional parallels.
    This also works very well even if genre conventions would normally say otherwise. I'm running a heavily film noir-influenced game of 3.X DnD. Rather than get people to respond to pretend cultural cues, pretend cues of dress and manner and class, I just re-skinned Monte Cook's Ptolus into 1930s film noir Paris. I then print out (black and white) pictures taken from noir films, mugshots, and other period sources for the NPCs. The players write relevant information on the photos, like a dossier, and pin then to the wall or spread them out on the table. Here's the picture of the first major antagonist, taken from the wonderful "Le Samorai."

    image

    Again, this would be printed in B&W. Sometimes I edit the picture to increase contrast and such to play up, for example, a feeling of harshness or starkness.

    The physical artifacts, real faces, real clothing, and so forth have successfully combined to create extremely strong setting buy-in and awareness. We've constructed a language through these pictures - people with criminal associations or records always are portrayed with a mug shot, for example - while other qualities have their own thematic qualities. The PCs have likewise selected character portraits in this fashion.
  • I love Houses of the Blooded's setting, but I wish it had less of this:
    Posted By: Judd

    Published Setting

    Assume that players have either read the setting books or have skimmed enough to get an idea and flesh out the rest through play.
    And more of this:
    Posted By: Judd
    Embedded in the game

    The game has a setting, the players flesh it out through chargen and it is fleshed out further through play (Polaris and Dogs come to mind immediately here).
    Myself and another player have read the book, but not everyone's gonna be that excited, you know? And it can create weird moments in play, where it feels like we're trying to adhere to some canon.
  • edited November 2009
    Historical

    The game is set in a historical time period that most players will automatically be familiar with. Examples might include WWII Europe, Victorian London, Antebellum Southern United States, Renaissance Italy, Vietnam War, etc. The game may or may not include descriptions of the Setting, maps, and points of interest. The key to this setting, though, is drawing on the players' prior knowledge to fill in large sections of the setting.
  • From the players lives/hopes

    Doesn't "Death's Door" use real things from the player's lives? I haven't read it, but I've heard things.
  • Posted By: jessecoombsDoesn't "Death's Door" use real things from the player's lives?
    Trespasses in Spione, too.
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