Color is identified by the Forge as one of the five main areas of Exploration. It is defined in the Provisional Glossary as, “Imagined details about any or all of System, Character, Setting, or Situation, added in such a way that does not change aspects of action or resolution in the imagined scene. One of the Components of Exploration.”
Okay….so what does that mean? Think of Color as synonymous with Detail. Any description or item that adds detail to the game’s SYSTEM, Characters, Setting, or Situation, is considered to be Color. How about some examples?
-SYSTEM with no Color:
The character kills the other character.
-SYSTEM with Color:
The Warrior uses his mighty great sword to lop off the head of King Moligant on the roll of a critical 20.
-Setting with no Color:
-Setting with Color:
1602 in the year of our Lord., near the village of Malbork, nestled among the Frozen Mountains outside the Enchanted Forest.
-Character with no Color:
-Character with Color:
Drakh the level 20 Barbarian from the southern wastes of Hallowfell.
-Situation with no Color
A village in crisis
-Situation with Color
The small hamlet of Esteria is suffering from a malignant plague brought on by undead agents under the command of a local demagogue who is advocating rebellion against the town council.
When I think about Color, I divide it into two categories: Essential and Casual. Essential Color is something that the players need to know in order to correctly use and understand the item being described. For instance, knowing that a cleric is a dwarf in DnD is Essential Color. That designation brings with it a lot of consequences. You certainly would expect different things from the character if he were an elven cleric, or a Halfling cleric, or a drow cleric. Essential Color is used as a cue to the players as to how they should react to or use the item in question.
Casual Color, on the other hand, is pure description for aesthetic purposes. For instance, saying that the same cleric is bald is unlikely to have any consequential effect on play. It could just as easily be ignored and play would continue on just fine. However, Casual Color is important because it adds detail to play and can help players immerse themselves in the world. Casual Color piques interest and gives players a chance to express their creativity while they play.
However, both kinds of Color can run amok if over used. When it comes to Essential Color, imagine if you put all the weapon tables for DnD together or compiled all the damage tables for Rolemaster that have ever been printed. It would be overwhelming! And what good would it do? Many of the weapons/tables are redundant and would just get in the way of players trying to have fun by increasing the handling time greatly. Likewise, Casual color (whether in a textual Setting description or description that comes from the mouth of a GM) can be overdone to the point where it wastes time rather than increases interest.
When designing your game, balancing the amount of Color you include won’t be all that tricky. Read what you have written for yourself. Do you get tired of reading about the same thing for three pages? If you do, chances are someone else will also. Similarly, when you read over your writing, is there something that jumps out at you that makes you wish you had written more about it? If so, then write more about it! However, the best test for the right mixture of Color is to have someone other than yourself read it. Get some outside feedback, and see what they find interesting, boring, or inconsequential. Use that as your guidepost.