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Setting for GMs only?

Fistful Of Dice

...and a poor attitude.
Validated User
This is why I tend to shake my head at game settings that give long distant past events anything more than a quick mention. Does it matter who was Queen 500 years ago in most settings? No. Then it shouldn't be part of the setting material that you give to players, because it's nothing that's going to affect their characters' lives.
Very few things turn me off of a setting more than a timeline that's more than maybe a page a half.

John Marron

Exoticising the other
Validated User
One thing I do like is a quick list of recent events in the setting. Stuff that may have happened in the PCs or their parents' lifetimes, so they can act as hooks or PC background details. But keep it brief. I'm also in the "any timeline is too much timeline" camp, and please, please, no long winded, page after page description of the cosmology and creation of the setting.

Really, as Fistful of Dice said, if it isn't going to come up in play at the table, I don't care. See Jack Shear's Krevborna book for an excellent example of this approach put into practice in a setting book.



Validated User
Very few things turn me off of a setting more than a timeline that's more than maybe a page a half.
Yeah pretty much any timeline is more than I want.
I actually kinda like literal timelines. Especially if they raise questions more than they answer them. So a lot of the history will be like:

922-925: The War of Three Crowns.
1071: Faerie portals discovered.

In a typical A4ish book, you can dedicate a vertical quarter or half of one page to a text box of stuff like that and have a huge pile of questions at the end. Especially if the intention is to allow gaming groups to jump into different periods of history.

Brad J. Murray

RPGnet Member
Validated User
The thing about recent events, especially those within the local context of a player character (their town, their family, even their country) is that a fully formed human has so much more information about the past than any book can enter that it seems absurd to attempt to enumerate it. And even if you could, no player is going to memorize it. So maybe one or two "big deals" but more than that is missing an opportunity: it might be better to emulate player character knowledge by just letting them make it up and call it true.


Registered User
Validated User
There's a difference between settings meant to be published and settings created solely to be used with the local gaming group. And among settings to be published, there' s a difference between settings that are part of system and settings that are completely intertwined with the system. Kaigaku is based on Black Hack which is based on D&D, right?

Running with that assumption, if there's nothing to tie it to the rules then there's some freedom. This is where things go crazy. I think you're right to avoid direct dates. Too often we end up with multi-millennia epics where nothing changes but the names of kings. There's this weird inflationary event where time is concerned with RPG settings and I don't know why.

That said, I know I appreciate a setting that at least sets down the basics. Nations, cities, major NPCs, etc. If there's too much it can be stifling, but if there's not enough it ends up with a "why am I not just using my own setting?"

Maybe this is why D&D has more published adventures than settings these days. It provides just enough info to keep things rolling. But if you're going sandbox, there actually has to be enough sand in the box to play with.

Mike McCall

Registered User
Validated User
For me, the best rule of thumb for setting info in a game book is
A) it needs to be presented in a way that relates to actual play. Not that it always has to be practical adventure seeds, but tell me how this could come up in the lives of adventurers. Maybe that's a source of character backgrounds, or an adventure seed or context for why a monster is common in the area.
B) Broad strokes are infinitely more useful than specific details. Not only are broad details more flexible as table tools, but they encourage people to connect with the background and make it their own by filling in the details.


Master of Folding Chair
Validated User
The main problem for settings is that, if done well - they unify the group in understanding what sort of characters, conflicts, and situations make sense for the game, and if done poorly, they splinter the group across the same lines. In the cases you're talking about, it's usually because you have a sprawling setting and multiple authors (which ends up being drastically different in tone sometimes).

I don't think having a GM's section is necessarily helpful, but here's something I have found is very useful - considering how much reading is required to get a solid grasp of the setting. The more reading, the more splintering across groups. I will usually take ANY game I plan on running for more than a one shot, and I'll write up a 1-4 page "quicksheet" that gives a good overview of the important setting and rules bits. (This is not to say all settings should fit on 4 pages. I do think that a lot MORE settings than most people imagine would fit on 20 or less pages, though.)

It's also helpful to be clear which things are set in stone for the game, which things are specific vs. broadly described, and which things are "up to the GM or the group to fill in".

- Chris


I used to be Ovid.
Validated User
For me, the WFRP1e book has the perfect amount of setting info (despite the timeline, which I also don't like). Unlike pretty much everyone in this thread, I want the deep history and not so much the recent stuff. Maybe it's because I trained as a historian and live in Europe, so am faced every day with, e.g., a street plan that makes zero modern sense because it was laid down 500+ years ago, but if I see how states, economies and cultures developed over the long term, then that inspires me to extrapolate to the 'current' one.

If the book prescribes current conflicts, however, than that directly limits what I can come up with on my own in the game.
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