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How do you read a campaign setting book?

Hammel

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#1
I forgot if I had a separate thread on this awhile back.

When you get a new setting book or back when you went through setting boxed sets, how did you use them in your games? What prep work did you do with the setting material? Can you describe examples of what you did?

Is setting material you read front to back, then develop a campaign with? Or is it more like picking interesting bits and focusing primarily and those bits?
 

junglefowl26

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#2
Is setting material you read front to back, then develop a campaign with? Or is it more like picking interesting bits and focusing primarily and those bits?
Personally, I do towards the second. Trying to remember all the details of a given setting is frankly a bit too much work, and getting my players to learn it even more so - so I treat campaign books primarily as entertainment, and then liberally steal and adapt all the bits that really catch my interest and fit with whatever idea for a setting I am playing with at the moment.
 

Trireme

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#3
The odds of a campaign I run traveling through an entire campaign setting have always been pretty slim. I tend to take one medium-sized location and flesh it out as a starting area, then move on to do the same for other areas depending on where the campaign takes us as a group.

There are also always parts of new rules or aspects that settings introduce that won’t work for my table, and I read through the setting to see how different ways of dropping or changing them will impact the setting as a whole, then pick the one I think will work best.

These approaches have always been a natural part of using a campaign setting for me as a DM, ever since I first tried one on.

It’s why e.g. a bunch of high-level NPCs in different editions of Forgotten Realms have never been much of a problem for me. My first campaign in the Realms began in Beregost, and I started with a mystery with some overtones of horror. In the edition I was using, the area had a couple powerful NPCs in the official material. One was a high-level cleric of Lathander who was directly involved in local governance; that would have thrown a wrench into early adventures I’d planned, so he lost most of his levels in my version of the place. The other was a high-level, neutral-aligned wizard who might have good reason to be a loner, which made him an asset for later in the campaign that didn’t interfere with anything I wanted to do. He stayed as written. I don’t remember ever having to be told to do stuff like that... I just did it, and it worked.
 

baakyocalder

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#4
I forgot if I had a separate thread on this awhile back.

When you get a new setting book or back when you went through setting boxed sets, how did you use them in your games? What prep work did you do with the setting material? Can you describe examples of what you did?

Is setting material you read front to back, then develop a campaign with? Or is it more like picking interesting bits and focusing primarily and those bits?
I read by chapters. I like books such as the Kingdoms of Kalamar setting, where each region is its own chapter and I can digest the history and geography in manageable chunks.

I do end up reading the whole thing, because I like reading (and history degree so if it's all background I'm going to read it all) but I focus more attention on the sections that work well for my game.

Since I like to have the PCs be actively run, I come up with a few possible locations and ask the players about what playstyle they prefer and what they want to do or make a pitch and see if it takes (the latter when I know the players more).

I print lots of the regional maps and local detail maps for my player who likes hardcopy items. In practice, this means I focus on the interesting bits--I like tours of the setting that focus on the fun stuff or a focus on a major theme for a region like defeating the evil government.

Hence most of my Kingdoms of Kalamar campaigns have focused on eliminating Emperor Kabori of Kalamar and forcing Kalamar to make peace with the dwarves of Karasta. It's a story that I can go back to again and again.
 

Palaner

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#5
I first read for a general idea of what kind of structure the setting will best fit. Is it mainly overland travel like Forgotten Realms, or scene-by-scene encounters that whip across continents like Eberron? I'll note what kind of gameplay assumptions the writers are coming from before presenting it to a group for session 0.

Reading with an eye for "but then this happens" drama also helps me with generating some kind of hook for attracting new players, especially if they've played in the setting before. If the setting is particularly involved, I might use 5e for introducing players first.
 

FarmerJon

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#6
I tend to read the whole thing as if it were an atlas and history book. Page by page, chapter by chapter, in the order it is in the books. After reading it, I then decide whether I want to heavily develop one little part of it to make my own (Harn), do minimal development and tie existing adventures into a storyline (Greyhawk), or treat as an interesting piece of fiction that I'll probably never play in (Forgotten Realms). And I always see them as something in which I can create characters and stories, not as something in which to place a game. I find that I very quickly categorize a setting as either use with few changes, or steal just a few tidbits from, and it's rare for anything to fall in the middle.

So I have a huge amount of material for Harn, and it would be very easy for me to run a political / intrigue based campaign that is heavy on the role-playing and light on combat. My Greyhawk on the other hand, is all about using the 1e modules and fitting in some of the adventures I've writtten into the narrative. Heavy on combat, and almost no politics. My own stuff is usually somewhere in between. And it's never pull together stuff from 4 different settings, add 5 things I just came up with, and include 3 requirements from the players. It's here's what I got - take it or leave it. My creative juices run slow, and I have a limited repertoire that I can effectively GM, so if we want a game any time soon, it'll have to be something I've already put a lot of time into. In a year I may be able to create what they want, just not next month.
 
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