Friday, December 08, 2006

What is Setting? part 3


Alright! We’re on to part three of my examination of Setting (here are One and Two). In this article I am mainly talking to RPG designers, however I can see how players who create Setting during play could also benefit from what is below. As always, I am very open to feedback and constructive criticism. What follows is what I call a “Setting Design Jumpstart”

The Setting Design Jumpstart is not the be-all end-all of Setting design. Far from it. It is just a first step (among many others) in creating a Setting for your game. What follows below is the list of Setting Aspects from my two previous articles along with guiding questions that support the creation of each in your game. Each aspect has 3-5 questions listed. These questions get you **started** on creating your Setting. They don’t get you to the finished product. That takes a whole lot of work and determination on your own.

The Setting Design Jumpstart:

Lesser Aspects:

1. What were the key watershed events in the past of your Setting’s fictional history?
2. Why were they significant?
3. How do theses past events directly affect the Present of your Setting and its people? How do they affect the Future?

1. What are the significant land features or man-made structures of your Setting?
2. How do or how can these features be used by the players during the game to help them play?
3. How do these structures or features affect the Inhabitants and Dynamic Forces of your Setting?

1. What/Where are the seats of power in your Setting?
2. How is that power used, delegated, and organized by the people of your Setting?
3. How does authority (those with power) affect the average person?
4. What threats exist to that authority?

-Social Situation
1. What is the plight of the common Inhabitant in your Setting?
2. How do those with Authority relate to those without it?
3. What are the significant needs and dangers the Inhabitants face?
4. Is society trying to achieve a particular goal? If so, what is it?
5. How can players and their characters use and be affected by the Social Situation during play?

1. Do the Inhabitants have a creation belief? If so, what is it? If not, why not?
2. To what extent are Faith or Belief in the supernatural a part of the average life in your Setting? What about the PCs’ lives?
3. How active are Supernatural Forces or divine powers in your Setting?
4. How have myth and religion affected History?

1. Describe the technological advancement society has made in your Setting?
2. Is there magic/psionics/super powers in your Setting? If so, are they a tool to be used, a force to be feared, or something else entirely?
3. How have technology and mystical powers affected History?
4. How do they affect daily life for a common person in your Setting?

1. What parts of your Setting might be confusing or too abstract for a reader?
2. What types of graphic organizers (maps, charts, cards, graphs, illustrations, diagrams, etc) can you add to help give the reader/player a better understanding of the Setting you created?
3. Where can the items mentioned above be used to add color, interest, and emphasis in your Setting?

Greater Aspects:

1. What are the main groups of peoples (or other living things) exist in your Setting (including the supernatural/divine)?
2. How do all these different groups interact with each other?
3. How did those groups get to be the way they are in your Setting?
4. What makes each group special or interesting?
5. What sorts of beliefs, customs, resources, and powers should the players know about with respect to each group? Which parts about their culture can you leave out?

-Where the PCs Fit In
1. Are the PCs part of any group covered in the Inhabitants Aspect? Is so, which ones? Ifnot, why?
2. How do people outside the PC’s group view people like the PCs? How do people in the PC’s group view themselves?
3. What have people like the PC’s achieved in the past? What might they achieve in the future?
4. How do the PCs relate to the Social Situation?

-Dynamic Forces
1. From all the other Aspects of Setting, what/which might directly oppose the PCs? Which might directly aid them?
2. From all the other Aspects of Setting, what/which might indirectly oppose the PCs? Which might indirectly aid them?
3. How do the common people (or other) of your Setting view these Dynamic Forces?
4. How have these Dynamic Forces affected History (or other Aspects)?
5. What tools do you give the PCs to help them use these Dynamic Forces during play?

1. What can the PCs permanently change in your Setting? Why?
2. What can they not permanently change in your Setting? Why?
3. Is there something you want them to focus on changing? What and why?
4. How will any change made by the PCs affect the Setting as a whole?

Hurray, you made it to the end. Now before moving on to use this, remember what I said in Part 2. Sometimes, various Aspects of Setting will be totally irrelevant to your game. That’s fine. Whole sections of this article may be totally useful to your current project. It’s okay to cross them out or come back to them later once you’ve playtested a little more. What I’ve suggested is a thorough design of Setting. Your goal for your game may be to not be so thorough. This is only one way of creating a Setting. There many others, some even used by professional authors. If the Setting Design Jumpstart is not for you, I encourage you to research others until you do find one that suits your style and needs.




vbwyrde said...

Hi Troy,

Thanks for the great list. As far as I'm concerned this is a very useful list of things to think about as a Gamesmaster creating a world or campaign setting. It's certain a good leap in the right direction!

J. Andrew said...

Troy, I don't know if you've ever seen ARIA: Canticle of the Monomyth, but in the back of the Worlds book was 20+ pages of setting-building sim goodness. In depth worldbuilding, from culture, society, magic, resources, etc. It's incredible stuff.

Until you look further into it, and realize that it's all pretty meaningless. It's creating a setting without any meaningful reference back to the activity of gaming.

What you've done here, in this beginning, is nothing short of take the sentiment behind ARIA: Worlds and made it usable. You fixed it. You took the ephemeral and tied it to the Engine Block of Using It In Play.



Troy_Costisick said...


Thanks for the tip, J. I haven're read ARIA, but I'll have to see if I can dig up some info on it. One thing I have read that sounds somewhat similar is the World Builders Guide Book" from AD&D2e. Basically, it took you through several steps of making really cool worlds that you could never play in. The DM has to do all this work, but never factor in the PCs. I wanted this to be different.

I hope I was able to tie into play enough in several key areas so as to make it a useful design tool. What would be really cool is if someone else made up a quick and dirty setting using the Jumpstart and reflected on that experience.



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A lot of people in our industry haven't had very diverse experiences. So they don't have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one's understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.
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