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Setting vs. game mechanics.


Registered User
Validated User
Hi fellow gamers,

I would like to know what is your point of view when playing RPG:s in terms of setting vs. game mechanics.
What´s your preference:

1. Setting is clearly more important.
2. Game mechanics are clearly more important.
3. Setting and game mechanics are about equal important.

Which option would you pick, and why?

As for myself, the setting is always more important than the game mechanics.

Best regards,


Freelancing Roleplayer

Registered User
Validated User
Oof tough question.

I'd say setting, but that's only partially true. It really depends what I'm looking for at the moment of choice.
Sometimes i'm looking for a new and fresh take on fantasy, or Cthulhu, or to spice up my game schedule with some high politics and sci-fi, then I look for settings. If the setting is brilliant, then crap mechanics won't stop me from playing it (wither with a different system, or gritting my teeth).
Other times I'm looking for interesting rule systems and inspired mechanics that do things uniquely. Then the same thing goes, brilliant mechanics trump crap/bland settings, as i'll just lift them for reflavoring.

When I'm leisurely browsing though, then I'd have to say Setting trumps mechanics, but only because the art and flavor texts are what jump immediately to the eye when I'm not reading in depth.


Registered User
Validated User
I'd say there isn't much of a difference between setting and mechanics. And they become better when you blur the distinction further. Say the text says:

Sharp Eyes: Elves have sharp eyes and take +2, when sight is involved.
It's both, setting and mechanics. But what about Polaris? On page 56 it tells you to start a session with the phrase: A long time ago, the people were dying at the end of the world. It also suggests lighting a candle. - Is that setting? Mechanics? Neither? Both? Or With Great Power. When you make a villain you give it a plan. The villain looses when their plan gets deastated. Is that mechanics? Sure. But it captures a typical structure from superhero stories. So setting?

We can go a step back and say: The rules of the game are important. The rules of the game tell us what we should or shouldn't do while playing it. That means both setting and mechanics are rules. Because, when you play in Eberron and the setting is two years after the Last War that is pretty big pointer that you should answer for your character what they did in the war. There might also be various other kinds of rules besides setting and mechanics and overlap between them.

Soylent Green

Polar Blues
Validated User
Settings first if I am just playing as I am way more interested in what my character is doing than how it gets done. That said if the rules are too complicated or fiddly I might pass.

If I am running the game then I need to be utterly comfortable with both to do a decent job.


Mostly simulationist
Validated User
In my opinion, the game mechanics should serve to express the nature of the setting. (With the understanding that genre is a factor in the setting as well.) It should both limit and empower player characters in a manner appropriate to its properties.

Reversed - setting being subservient to mechanics - is a legitimate way to play as well, but not a style I find as interesting. In another thread I called it the theme park mode of play, where the setting is just superfluous background flavour to the game rather than a central aspect of the experience.


Registered User
Validated User
When choosing a game to play, mechanics are more important than setting for me, because it's easier to change things about the setting or focus on the parts you enjoy (and there's a very good chance I'll make my own anyway.)

That said, I do agree that the ultimate purpose of mechanics is to describe the setting, and that setting and mechanics should therefore inform each other. But that still gives you a lot of options within most systems, and setting is the more malleable piece of the puzzle.


RPGnet Member
Validated User
Equally important, but mechanics are more equal than setting. ;)

I can have fun with A+ mechanics and a B or C setting. But if it's an A+ setting and B or C mechanics, I'd rather just use different mechanics for that setting. Also, it can be hard getting some of my friends to try a new system. The general process is that I find a new system, and if I fall in love with it I then have to pull some teeth to get everyone to try it. If they fall in love with it too, then it sticks, and it's easier to use it repeatedly for different settings than to try out a new system+setting combo every time.
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Registered User
Validated User
Setting always. To the extent that I'll fiddle around with mechanics till they fit the setting.


Social Justice Ninja
Validated User
I’d say option three. Setting can do a lot to inspire me and provide me with the meat to run a great game. But a tepid system can drag down a great setting, and converting a setting to a new system can be more effort than it’s worth.
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