MoonHunter Sayeth 20180518


Game Guru-Thread Shepherd
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Glitches in Setting Building that Sets Me Off!

Setting building is an essential part of gaming (or any work of fiction for that matter). Even if your game has a canon setting, there will still be things to build - extra locations, npcs, plots, and so on. In an open science fiction or fantasy setting, setting building is the lifeblood of the story and the game. When there failures in continuity or consistency in a setting, it create glitches in the game that can distract players and derail the entire game... just like looking behind the figures and backdrops on a dark ride (with the lights on even). It makes the players realize that the world is nothing but set pieces between the rail road stops of encounters or piles of opposing points to overcome. So having a setting the players can engage in is important. It shows them they can have options and different actions to do.

There are some setting building glitches that truly bug me.

1) Monoblock 1: One species, one culture, one religion, one people
This is a simplistic, one brush, one color way of looking at things. Now for a very local/ limited area, this might be true. For larger setting, this is as realistic as a three cent US coBill. Simple changes in environment, resources, distances, neighbors, will all impact and change things. (Think about the various peoples in North America and regions in N. America: how "the same" are all of them?) Now an extension of this is that all of these people are pretty much the same, all stamped out of the same mold (even in a very local/ limited area). Again, as realistic as three dollar bill. Think about how diverse people are in your own and adjacent social circles... people should be that diverse in the game as well.

2) Monoblock 2: Creating monolithic social, political, cultural and religious groups.
Everybody in a particular ethnic group agrees about everything. Every member of the ruling class, or the lower class, agrees about everything. Every citizen of a particular nation/ state holds exactly the same set of opinions. There is one version of history that absolutely everybody agrees on. Every member of a religion interprets the tenets of that religion in exactly the same way.


While we often play "fantasy games", believing in this kind of social monoblock stretched the degree of fantasy too far. A completely unified front is rare, so much so as to be considered a fantasy of its own. Much like a three dollar bill. Assuming that all of these people are the same, stamped out of the same mold (even in a very local/ limited area), is unrealistic. This is not to say they do not share core values or ideals, but they will have different ways to express them (or might just ignore that one.) Again, think about how diverse people are in your own and adjacent social circles... people should be that diverse in the game as well.

3) Not thinking about basic infrastructure.
How do they eat? What do they eat? How do they get what they eat? Who takes away the garbage? Who deals with their bodily wastes? How do they get around? What do the majority of people do to survive?

These are Key Visceral Elements as found in the Chronicle Paket. These are concrete things about life in the world. Birth, Death, Clothing, Eating, Sleeping, Family/ Marriage, Worship (if needed), Common Buildings, and Work/ Leisure, are some of the most important key visceral elements. (Toss in weather)

You're not just constructing a society, you're creating an economy, the flow of resources. (Yes, this would be a good time to check out The 7Cs is they are not fresh in your mind.) Where do things come from, How do they get here, What is valuable or needed? and Where do things go?, are all important parts of the economy.

3b) Remember: Most beings don't oppress each other for fun. There are systems of hierarchy and oppression, usually based on economic components. The Powerful need food for themselves and trade, thus needing lots of peasants to work hard to grow that food. Maybe The System needs the brain processing and body heat of humans to run, so The System oppresses Humans into a Pod.

There's nothing worse than a fictional world where there are elaborate social structures, which seem completely separated from the realities of food, shelter and clothing.

4) The Impact of Powers
When you throw a stone in the pond, there are ripples that affect every part of the pond. The bigger the stone, the greater the ripples/ impact. Introducing some kind of real power is a big stone. A big power could be magics, hypertech, super powers, psionics, and so on. Depending on how prevalent the Power are determine how much change occurs because of it. Some points to think about....

So if the Power is not prevalent (like a handful of "people" with super powers), the existence of powers might not impact every day life. However, there will be just off stage that are impacted (like government agencies to deal with them, special anti-powers equipment in banks, IP holding companies for licensing rights, and so on). These won't impact most people on a regular basis.

If the powers are prevalent, (like Hyper Technology), then cities will be designed around anti-gravity cars, and hyper computers will be running things, and matter transport stations will be created. These will impact people on a regular basis. They will plan for it and have things in place to help them.

If the power is hugely powerful it will have an impact. Things like, why doesn't the mage who can level a city with a wave of his hand not rule the Kingdom? You need to have reasons that make sense to the players.

Now there might be little things that will impact everyone. People might have anti-magic talismans, if magic is present. Everyone might use some hypertech like a personal computer on their wrist or force field bracelets to protect them from all trauma. .

There may be hero worship of those with the Powers or fear and mistrust (Darn Magic users all working with Demons!) . This will impact society and how the people with power respond to society.

Even if there are genre conceits (like Super Worlds are basically like the modern world, but with people with power), there should be impacts upon the world.

I can go on and on about this. This section is to make a setting designer think about the ramifications of The Power and make sure it is not just "tacked on".

6) Inventing a history that is totally logical
One would think that the best way to create a realistic seeming world would be to create a completely logical structure. That brings the quote of Mark Twain's to focus "The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense". The people in charge should stay in charge because of their armies and power. Yet things change. Decisions are made that change the course of things. History is full of odd quirks and happenstances. Just think about weird happenstances like Why is Washington DC the capital of the United States instead of Philadelphia (the largest and most prosperous city in NA)? or why do Canadians speak English and French? or Why the Spanish Fleet/Army did not crush The English? Powerful people often make huge miscalculations that wind up costing them dearly (Hitler and Cesar come to mind.) History is weird. And things that seem inevitable in retrospect usually seemed anything but at the time.

This does not mean it is all just random. The flow of things should make sense, at least when you see all the pieces in play. Everything that happens has a reason. The reason may be odd, if not practically Fortean, but there are strange reasons for it all. This brings us to the next glitch...

7) Not explaining why events are happening now.
Chances are your chronicle revolves around all "heck" breaking loose in the setting. Some people just accept the "weird principle" and let important odd things happen without any explanation. Everything has a reason. Some of them might not be immediate obvious or completely explained - in the beginning, but they should be determinable.

So why is The Dark Lord invading now, why not twenty years ago? What has changed that brought the Dark Lord into play? Was there something preventing him that has been removed? Are the stars in their once every 817 year alignment? Maybe someone created a magical dingus that the Dark Lord needs to finally succeed. Maybe because someone finally found the one ring.

Note: Every society has checks and balances. Even an absolute monarchy has invisible lines the monarch can't cross without inviting disasters. Even a Dark Lord is afraid to cross The Wizard of White. Sometimes you have to reach beyond "the official history" and "named people of power" and find that secret history of the people in the background that make things happen (or stops them) to find these checks and balances. And sometimes the PCs are that secret history.

8) Why is most of this about weapons, armor, and combat?
Setting packs that have a couple of lines about the world and The Bad Guy, and fifteen pages on the available weapons and armor based on your social standing and country of origin - both rolled up on a chart - (neither of which are explained in any detail in the setting pack) and their ilk sets me off. Now many chronicles are all about combat and violent resolution of the problem. Weapons, armor, and such should not be the sole focus of the setting or chronicle write up. The setting is there to give context and reasoning for any tactical events and to give role playing opportunities for the characters and players.

9) Setting Material that starts with The Beginning of Time... and none of that stuff has any application to the Chronicle
Some people think they need The History of their Universe... explaining the entire cosmos and divine forces. It may be nice to know or have in reserve, but if the chronicle is all about current political intrigue and has nothing to do with The Gods or the Gods before the Gods... why do they need to start with that?

Some people spend so much time on the ancient past that they never get to properly filling out "the now" in their setting... especially when the ancient past has no relevance. The GM might want to know this.. so they can feel comfortable with their setting...but nobody else needs to know it.

Such information that fills out the setting can be included in a more academic section of the Chronicle Packet . The players just need to know what is relevant to the chronicle.

10) Lots of material that, from the player's view, that has no application to the game at hand.
This is related to 9. GM's need to focus their work on what is actually needed for the chronicle. Now many GMs would throw a huge amount of time and effort at their setting, waiting for it to become perfect. They often break The Mona Lisa Rule .
The Mona Lisa Rule
Spend only as much time on a world, map, scenario, or NPC as the amount of play time and enjoyment it will allow. Two years for six hours of play is not a good investment. Invest a few hours into the environment for a few dozen hours of gaming fun.
Now you can spend your spare time making all this extra stuff - if you find that fun, but do all the game related material first.

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As anyone who has read this blog or seen my posts might of notice, I do tend to have strong opinions on things (which I try to back up most of the time). (Me? Ranty? Nahhh. Never.) There are things that people think "must be done" which really do not need to be done. Most of these things are related to Setting Creation, a subject I do tend to love. Many of these things are oversimplifications that have become "the expected" because of certain games or genres of play. If people can avoid these glitches in the process, they can make their setting fuller, richer, and produce it quicker - as they don't need to fill out less useful details that require time and effort and focus on what is needed.
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