Origin Myth: The World of Relatus

This is the story that I learned from my grandfather, who, in turn, learned it from his grandfather, who also learned it from his grandfather, and so on a hundred such times, until our ancestor who heard it spoken from the Lady of Earth herself.

Before time began, there was chaos.  Pure and unbridled, the chaos was bound by no known laws of this world, something could emerge from nothing, and something could return to nothing without warning.  This chaos churned and roiled for eons, creating in one instant, and destroying in the next.  The chaos had no will of its own, but it would, on occasion create beings with wills from it.  Most lived short lives, brought into existence without reason or purpose, only to be extinguished by the same forces that created them.

Yet, the chaos would continue to churn, and wills would continue to be born.  It was, perhaps, inevitable that a chaos with no will and no rules would eventually create its own.  “I am!” One will said “And I will not be destroyed!”  and the chaos obeyed, but continued to spin and seethe.

“I am!” another will called out “I am!” a third chimed in, “I am!” cried a forth, and another, and another, as countless such wills were born from the ripples of the chaos.

The wills would speak and the chaos would obey, but all such wills were born from chaos, and no consensus could be reached.  Some sought to bring order to the chaos, while others desired nothing more than the destroy the creations of others.

Those that wished to create created and those that wished to destroy destroyed.  Again and again, the creators saw their designs undone by the destroyers.  Some of them gathered, seeking to combine their power to preserve what they wished to make.  “Come,” said one, the first will to declare “I am” to the chaos “Let us shape our own space in the chaos, so that none of the others may interfere!” and thus did the wills did begin to carve out their own universe in the chaos.

However, even the creators could not agree on what they desired.  Some desired perfect order, the opposite of the chaos from which they were born, others chaffed under the prospect of such rules, simply seeking a space where they could create to their whimsy.  Many simply left the universe to return to the chaos and create spaces of their own.  The First, however, would not.

“I am the First!” It declared “I conceived of this universe!  It is mine to do with as I please!” But the remaining wills would not consent, “It is ours!” They declared “All of us made it together, we will not be ruled by you!” Angered, the First betrayed the remaining creators, and allowed destroyers into the universe.  For the first time, the wills engaged in true battle, seeking not only to destroy the creations of others, but to destroy the other wills themselves.

The battle raged, shaking the universe to its core, and wills on both sides perished and returned to the chaos.  In the end, only four creators remained standing against the First.  The First knew that the Four would prevail, but refused to surrender the universe.  “We will unmake it.” The First offered “Return it to the chaos and go our separate ways.  The Four of you are strong enough to make a universe on your own, but I will not give you mine!”

The Four considered the First’s offer, but could not accept.  Even with the destruction their battle had left, there was still much in the universe they loved.  They engaged the First in a final battle, and barely managing to emerge victorious.

“I curse you!” The First spat “I curse your creation!  All you have made shall fall to ruin!  All shall come to an end!  All life you have made shall suffer!  They shall kill, hurt and maim each other!  They shall inflict evil on each other!  They will all experience misery and death!  I carve this curse into the fabric of the universe itself, and shall exist until you return it to the chaos with your own hands!”

Using every ounce of remaining power, the First melded with the universe, refusing to be denied it.  And thus, were the Four the only creators left, unrivaled in power within it, but unable to break the First’s curse.  They looked to destruction that was caused by their battle, and the suffering caused by the First’s Curse, and wept.

“Shall we destroy it after all?” The eldest, born not long after the First, asked “All that exists shall rot, and all that lives suffers.”  The Four sat in silence, until the youngest spoke:

“I shall give them a gift as the air, invisible, yet present.  The knowledge that though they may suffer, and though they may rot, it shall not always be so.” And thus she gave us the gift of Hope, and came to be called Aura, the Lady of Air.

“I shall give them a gift as the water.” The second youngest agreed “Much as Water takes on a new shape when placed in a new container, so too shall they be able to adapt to new situations to overcome their suffering.” And thus she gave us the gift of Knowledge, and came to be called Unda, the Lady of Water.

“I will give them a gift as the flame.” The second eldest spoke “Powerful, warm, but one that must be tempered lest they be consumed by it.  But it shall be a powerful blade that grants them the strength to cut through their suffering.” And thus she gave us the gift of Passion, and came to be called Ignia, the Lady of Fire.

The eldest paused, would such gifts be enough to overcome the curse of the First?  “I will give them a gift as the earth.” She finally said “Solid and strong, and slow to rot, this shall be the power to endure suffering when the other gifts fail.”  And thus she gave us the gift of Fortitude, and came to be called Terana, the Lady of Earth.

The Four then set out to repair the damage cause by the battle with the First, and then retired to their places of rest.  To this day, do the Four stand watch over us, protecting us from the intrusions of the destroyers and granting us their blessings.

 

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Building The Gulf of False Hope, Part 4: Adventurers

My Gulf holiday post is still coming along, slowly, but it is coming along (hopefully I can finish them before my players get to them), but it seems like there was another post to get out in the meantime!

I was thinking of something I told the group on our first session: “Adventurers are like lawyers, no one really likes them until they need some themselves.”  My Dad, although not a lawyer, does work in the legal profession, so I have a fair amount of respect for those who do, but I think the cliche got the point across.  Still, I was kicking it around and trying to further crystallize how the average Joe in the Gulf would feel about adventurers in general.

To some extent, the settlers of Pericolosa are more sympathetic than the people of Asila.  After all, either they or their parents or grandparents had to have some sort of adventurous spirit to leave the safety of their old life and start again from scratch in a land full of dangerous creatures.  On the other hand, when adventurers set out from Asila, they go far away, while in the Gulf, their going into ruins practically in your backyard.  There is also a sense among most people in the Gulf that the amount of risk they took is fine and reasonable, but much more than that is just crazy.

While each group has its own perspectives on adventurers, there are a few commonalities that go across cultures.  Adventurers, typically, are smelly, dirty homeless people.  They make their living through robbing the dead, stealing things from terrible monsters, or worse, turning to actual banditry.  They often have no (or minimal) ties to the community, and are liable to skip town at a moment’s notice.  When they pay at all, it’s almost always in strange ancient coins, or in barter for objects that are probably cursed, or the monster they stole it from wants it back.

Still, there is money to be made in dealing with them, and most adventurers are desperate enough that they just have to put up with some price gouging here and there, or carrying enough ancient treasure back with them that they don’t care.  As a result, most communities will put up with them as long as their coin holds out, but not much longer.  Still, in times of crisis, many communities are more than happy to leave the dangerous thing that needs doing in the hands of slightly deranged outsiders.  Expertly resolving these crises can sometimes lead to the individual adventurers involved being welcomed as an honorary member of the community, although they are just as often given a curt “Thanks” and sent on their way.

While, naturally, perspectives on Adventurers vary from individual to individual on the micro level, when looked at as a whole, there are some prevailing trends that generally hold true for most of the races of the Gulf:

Humans

When compared to the other, longer lived races, the idea of risking it all for the one big score is a very human mindset.  Every stock is capable of producing people foolish/desperate enough to take up the life, but humans seem to understand the mentality the best.  As a result, most adventurers are human.  Still, the fact that humans who don’t take up the life are likely to UNDERSTAND, doesn’t mean they LIKE adventurers.  At the very least most normal folks wish those smelly, dangerous hobos would go practice their “trade” somewhere else.

Even among humans that don’t have the temperament for adventuring, the propensity for risk-taking and expansion that is most common among the stock results in most villages on the edge and fringes of civilization being human.  Since adventures tend to operate just beyond those fringes, those human villages tend to be the same ones that bear the brunt of the damage when some reckless adventurers piss off, but don’t actually bother to kill a dangerous beast or tribe of goblins.  The fact that human villages actually interact with Adventurers the most, and thus see the most of their poor behavior (if such behavior is the exception or the rule can be debated), doesn’t help either.

Halflings

While Halflings communities can be found in most decent sized human towns (and visa-versa), Halfling culture can vary from Human culture in several ways.  The most relevant being that, unlike humans, most Halflings just don’t get it.  Going on adventures is just not something a respectable Halfling would do!  A Halfling that has fallen on hard times should have an extended family that can take them in until they get back on their feet.  Even if said Halfling is an orphan and somehow has no family friends that will take them in (a rare case among the general population, but not uncommon among adventurers), wealthy members of their home community would often take them on as a servant, even if they had little need of one.  Honest work like that would surely be more preferable to life on the Road in dark and dangerous places.

Any Halfling that is forced to take up the life must have something WRONG with them if they have no “honest” way to make a living and no one to take them in.  Any Halfling that CHOOSES the life of an adventurer must be even worse!  The other stocks are (to a Halfling) all kind of strange anyway, but Halflings tend to mistrust their own Adventurers even more.  Still, while none would admit it in polite company, many Halflings LOVE to hear stories of grand adventures, especially those that star their own kind.

Elves

To the Elves, there is nothing strange about leaving your home to wander the world for a few decades.   There really is nothing strange about “living in harmony with nature” (read: being homeless) while you do it either.  The issue arises with what adventurers DO while wandering.  Elves, with their long lifespan, are naturally one of the more risk averse stocks, and generally take the long view of things.  They tend to prefer the known, safe way of doing things than to take the risk to innovate.  To take the small, guaranteed, gain than to risk it all on a big score.   This is further compounded by the fact that, while a “big score” might last a human and their children a lifetime, money that will last 100 years is not enough for an elf to retire on.

Further, even among the civilized races, elves have a strong taboo against violating the sanctity of the dead.   Merely touching a corpse is only done by their mystics, with intense purification rituals before and after.  Not only is robbing the dead forbidden, but simply entering their spaces, the very same abandoned ruins that Adventurers often raid, a terrible sin.  To the Elves, this is not without good reason.  With their long memories they often know that there is, more often than not, a good reason that lost and abandoned places came to be that way.  They know that the world is much better off if things buried in many of those ruins stay buried.   Violating these places is not only a strain on the spirit of those who do so, but a danger to all involved.

The elven risk averse mentality is antithetical to the one that produces most adventurers, and their social taboos label such things immoral and dangerous.  As a result, few Elves take up the life, and those that do are typically even further removed from their community than Adventurers from other stocks.

Dwarves

The Dwarven word for “Adventurer” more is also their word for “Unemployed”, and both are held in a particularly low regard.   Adventurers don’t craft great works of beauty and they don’t contribute to the good of the hold or their Clan.   The only thing they seem to be good for is that sometimes they manage to bring back rare materials that real dwarves can use to enhance their works, but those times seem few and far between.  Dwarves who don’t contribute are only barely better than Oathbreakers and Cowards (if they aren’t those as well), and Adventuring is not seen as a a profession, let alone an honorable one.

There is a major exception to this in Dwarven culture, and that is the “Grand Venture”.  The actual process of a Grand Venture is not really that much different from what Adventurers do (go to a place, kill/sneak by/outwit the inhabitants, and then loot it), however the key difference is in the (official) justification.  A Grand Venture is one where a group of Dwarves seek out to avenge a great wrong.  This wrong must have been perpetuated against the entire hold or an entire clan, not a personal matter (unless a clever Dwarf can frame the personal matter as an insult to his entire clan), and it must be suitably grand in scope.  Claiming an ancestral hold, recovering a stolen clan masterpiece, even making war are typical examples.   Dwarf grudges being what they are though, what is seen as an honorable Grand Venture for one clan, can be seen as an unprovoked attack by those they perpetrate it against, and can spark feuds that last for generations.

In such cases when the Grand Venture is seen as justified to a Dwarven society, it is not only socially acceptable, but even honorable to abandon your work and strike out when the opportunity presents itself, although they are expected to return to it when their task is complete.  Dwarves on a Grand Venture typically avoid the semi-slur of the Adventurer title, typically taking on a term equivalent to  “Avenger” or something similar.  Some Dwarven adventurers often try to pass themselves off as being on a Grand Venture to avoid the social stigma, how successful this is depends on the Dwarf, and how good their story is.

Why does anyone do this?

In spite, or perhaps because of most seeing them as outsiders, Adventurers are arguably the most free of anyone who lives in the gulf.  Their livelihood is not tied to a specific location or community.   They are not bound by the roles and rule of the caste of their birth. The treasure found in lost ruins can make most wealthier than a lifetime of work in the professions of their parents.  They owe their allegiance to no one save their comrades and patron Saint-Hero (although some authority figures would disagree with that one).  They get to see and experience more than many in their lifetimes.

The life is hard, and many turn to it because they lack the opportunity to do anything else. The majority of adventurers don’t even make it to their first score.  Even those that do survive and make a living off of it, the grind eventually wears them down to the point where they are not physically and/or emotionally capable of continuing it any more.  Still, many wouldn’t trade the life for anything else.

Building The Gulf of False Hope, Part 3: The Saint’s Calendar

YOU CANNOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT.

– Gary Gygax, Dungeon Master’s Guide

Considering the nature of the type of game I want to run in The Gulf I feel that this line from Gygax rings true for this particular game, even if it might not hold for some more narrative type games. For this purpose, and because I think it is neat, I’d like to have a formal calendar that is used by the People of Asila, and, Therefore, the Settlers of the Gulf. While I will mess with the length of a year/months/weeks, I am going to keep an approximate 24 hour day, with normal earth like time-keeping, just to keep things simple. Continue reading

Building the Gulf of False Hope (Part 2)

The promised part two of setting information to the Gulf of False Hope is finally here. It’s taken a while, but the Gulf has never been far from my mind when daydreaming about roleplaying ideas or for my next game. It is definitely high up on the list of games I want to run, but I ended up starting up the one on one Burning Wheel games instead because my current schedule required something fixed and consistent. I’ll get to it, but it might not be as soon as I would like. I’ll keep posting my ideas as soon as I have enough that are both A) typed up and B) I am okay with my future players reading. This post concerns the major settlements in the Gulf as well as the dominant religion among the Settlers.

The Settlements of the Gulf

In the decades since the people of Asila began returning to Pericolosa, each new batch of settlers tends to either stick to the relatively safe coastal settlements, or strike out on their own and found their own new village out in the wilds. Even the largest towns of the gulf can hardly compare to Asila’s sprawling major cities, but they have been growing at a rather impressive rate. This collection of towns was inspired by the “Prepare Thyself” section of Torchbearer.

Ashford’s Folly: The largest and oldest of the new wave of settlements in the Gulf (although there are some isolated hold outs from previous attempts that are older), and is the major port for trade with Asila. It was named for Timothy Ashford, captain of the ship that brought the first batch of settlers (who is rather old, but alive when the game starts), and intended as an ironic jab at the naysayers of the time. Ashford’s Folly is a hub of imports and exports, of both people, goods and information. Any requests from patrons (or potential patrons) in The Salvatian League or newly rediscovered information/rumors about the gulf from Salvatian achieves come through Ashford’s Folly first.

Citadel of the Saints: Nestled high on coastal cliffs, the Citadel is an ancient building that has been claimed by a more orthodox sect of The Way (see below) as a base for their Pericolosan ministry. A prolonged renovation effort is being undertaken on the Citadel itself, both to restore the damage of time has done to it, and to strip any remaining remnants of objects of worship that predate the way. As a result, around the Citadel has developed a small boomtown full of artisans, builders, craftsmen, and the various support services that they require. All of this falls under the jurisdiction of the clergy, which do their best to maintain strict order. The Citadel is always in demand for rare building materials from brave souls willing to go find them. In addition, while the church does not officially buy artifacts, those that can retrieve lost relics of the Saint-Heroes and “donate” them to the church are frequently rewarded with “Gifts of Gratitude” which conveniently is often cash.

New Callumsville: A Trading town located at the crossroads of the route between Ashford’s Folly, the Citadel, and Dalmand. New Callumsville is the largest Halfling majority town in the region, and the second largest settlement overall. The majority of the buildings are uncomfortably small for Humans and Elves, although a Dwarf can make do just fine. The area around New Callumsville is often troubled by bandits, who think the small stature of the residents, combined with the wealth that flows through it, makes it a tempting target.

The Elda Spires: Unquestionably the oldest still active settlement in the Gulf, the Elda Spires is a hidden village of elves. Protected through obscurity and glamours, the Spires have lasted through many disasters that have otherwise wiped out the previous inhabitants of the Gulf. The way to the Spires is only known by the elves, and even then, only among the elves who were born there. As such, much about this town is surrounded in mystery. It is likely that the residents of the spires would know a great many secrets about the surrounding area.

The Mine of Dalmand: The Mine of Dalmand is, by Dwarven standards, an outpost at best. By the standards of the Gulf, it is a fairly respectable town in its own right, and the largest concentration of Dwarves in the Gulf. Dug centuries ago by Dwarven miners, the Mine of Dalmand was an iron mine, a spin off of a lost Dwarven Hold much deeper inland. Recently, a new vein of ore has been discovered, and the Mine has become the Gulf’s primary source of iron and steel. Still, most of the Dwarves in Dalmand see it as only a staging area until they can rediscover and reclaim their lost hold. As such, brave explorers will be paid good coin for useful information about the location and state of said hold.

Tower of Vazadrax the Mad: Vazadrax’s Tower is a magical research facility that was set up in the Gulf shortly after the founding of Ashford’s Folly. Magical research is not exactly safe, and as such, Vazadrax’s patrons (which are rumored to be one or more of the dukes themselves) in the League preferred that he did it as far away as possible. Contrary to the image of the recluse wizard, Vazadrax’s work takes a number of apprentices, scholars, and laborers, and the Tower maintains a small attendant town for that purpose. Vazadrax and his apprentices are very interested in the dangerous specimens of the Gulf, and there is money to be made in delivering persevered bodies of such creatures, or even better, live specimens.

Outlying Villages: In addition to those listed above, there are several dozen smaller Salvatian settlements populated by brave souls willing to venture farther inland than most presently dare. These settlements range from log cabins of recluse hermits, to up and coming villages of around 200 people. Some of these villages were established this far out precisely because they wanted to be left alone, while others like nothing better than to see some of their fellow countrymen. Still, all these outlying settlements, even more than the major ones listed above, are at risk from the fell beasts and dangerous monsters of the gulf.

Monster Villages and Holdouts: Some of the more intelligent and social creatures of the Gulf form into communities not unlike the small villages the Salvati have formed. Depending of the temperament of the creatures (which can vary even among those of the same kind), they might be hostile, or they might be willing to attempt to communicate (although they are unlikely to speak Salvati, which would make such attempts difficult without specialized knowledge). If communication can be established, such groups may be willing to trade or providing lodging to traveling adventurers, however, such offers may also be a ruse with the intent to devour, replace, or otherwise take advantage of such travelers.
While their numbers are few and far between, there are also small surviving communities of previous attempts to settle the Gulf. They are slightly more likely to speak Salvati, but these people have spent many generations in a very dangerous environment, isolated from Asila. These holdout settlements have as more in common with the description of monster villages than they do with the newer Outlying Villages. If brave explorers can find trustworthy ones. both Monster and Holdout Villages might have plenty to teach about survival in the Gulf.

The Divine Way of the Saint-Heroes

The largest religion in Asila (and, therefore among the settlers of the Gulf) is the Divine Way of the Saint-Heroes. The Way practices a tradition of worshiping great holy men and heroes of ages past who they believe have ascended into Saints, either during their life or upon their death. They do not worship any gods, believing them to have long left the world, but through the history of The Way, many gods or other religions have been “reinterpreted” as Saint-Heroes in order to bring its practitioners into the fold.

The Way believes that the next world is a hierarchy, under the Saint-Heroes, with the rest being ordered by how closely they followed the Saint’s teachings in life. The orthodox teachings involve strict discipline, self-denial, and pursuit of perfection in your chosen profession or craft, in order to best emulate the suffering and the struggle the Saint-Heroes underwent in their lives. The actual lives of those that ascended to Sainthood are rather varied, and as such, there are a large number of heresies of The Way, that argue for a different (often more hedonistic) path. The orthodox and unorthodox sects are often in conflict, sometimes armed, and other times simply ideologically. The orthodox sects tend to be larger, and aligned with Law, while the Chaos aligned sects tend to be individually smaller, but are more numerous. The Saint-Heroes as a whole however, run the gambit of alignment, and there are plenty of local and itinerant preachers who preach The Way without regard for such things.


I think that’ll do it for now. I still want to make a calendar for this world, and I am work shopping dungeon seeds/ideas but those I’ll probably keep secret (at least until such a time that my players have cleared them out to such an extent that sharing them would no longer be a spoiler). I’ll post more when I got more that I think is post able!

Building the Gulf of False Hope (Part 1)

I’m still kicking around the idea of that West Marches game I mentioned a few weeks back. I haven’t really got the ball rolling because I am not really sure if I have the time to commit to running it on top of my non-gaming obligations, which are kind of up in the air at this point. We’ll see where things settle, and worst case I will just have to wait until my schedule clears up to actually try to get anything off the ground.

Still, I have spent some time thinking about the region itself, both in terms of some cultural elements, physical geography, and other background information. This is more of a brain dump for my own benefit than anything I expect my future players to read, but if they (or you) are interested in this random world building stuff, feel free to read on.

Basics

As I briefly mentioned in the previously linked post, the setting is the “Gulf of False Hope”, a large natural bay across the sea from the civilized world. The Gulf appears a natural landing site for would be colonists attempting to tame the continent, and there have been several attempts to do so in the past. While some of these attempts lasted longer than others, all eventually met their end, which is how the Gulf earned its name.

Still, in every age there are those that are willing to risk it all for a chance to start over or improve their lot, and the Gulf has once again begun to see an influx of migrants believing that they will succeed where those that came before failed.

The game will start about 40 years after the first of the newest wave of settlers arrive on the Gulf. Humans, Halflings, and even young Dwarves will be young could easily have been born in the Gulf area. Elves, meanwhile have almost all been born overseas, but it is said that there is a hidden village of Elves that has survived since the last previous attempt. The coastal areas have mostly been cleared, and quite a few towns and villages have been established since then, but further inland remains wild and mostly unexplored. The previous attempts at taming the Gulf will have left lots of ruins, tombs, and other remnants of a bygone age that makes for classic dungeon crawling.

East and West

In the classic West Marches game, the adventure was, as the name implied, to the west, and civilization was back east. The Gulf of False Hope, however, is on the West Coast of its continent, meaning adventure is out east, and civilization to the west. There is no particular reason for this reversal, just that my very rough sketch of the Gulf placed it on the west coast.

The western (civilized) continent is called Asila, while the Gulf is on the continent of Pericolosa (not exactly subtle but still makes a cool name). In West Marches tradition, Asila is not a place for adventure, at least in terms of old-school dungeon crawling. No monstrous beasts, no unexplored ruins, no unmapped and unexplored sections of wilderness. Pericolosa, however, is the opposite. Outside of the (relatively) safe coastal areas, there are beasts and wild men, ruins and lost places, even dungeons and dragons.

Travel between Pericolosa and Asila takes about 4 to 8 weeks, depending on the winds and other factors. The Trade Winds along the latitude of the gulf tend eastward, so the return trip generally takes longer. It is not an impossible trip, but it is also not one that is made lightly, and, in the context of this game, if a PC gets on a boat to Asila, that is likely signaling that PC’s retirement.

The Salvatian League & The Gulf Colonies

I could probably spend a great deal of time going into the politics of Asila, but my efforts are best directed in keeping it to what is relevant for the game.
Most of the major sea powers of Asila have an interest in gaining the resources of Pericolosa, and over the last few decades, have been racing to claim their share of the pie. The region around the gulf is primarily occupied by the Salvatian League.

The Salvatian League is a loose federation of eight duchies. The federal government is an elective monarchy, with the eight dukes being both the sole electors and candidates. The Dukes generally see Pericolosa as a chance to not only expand the League’s power, but also their own power within the League, in hopes of leveraging that into becoming the next King or Queen.

The Salvatian League is a predominately human nation, with a noticeable Halfling minority. A few Dwarven Holds and Elven Forests exist as enclaves within its boarders, but aside from the traders, mostly keep to themselves. Salvati refers to the people, and the language (which replaces the common tongue given to all PCs), Salvatia is the name of the region, while goods and animals originating from there are Salvatian. Ethnic Salvati (of all 4 races), fall in line with the default rules in the rulebook, it’s boring, but it makes things easier.

Culturally, Salvati are a conservative society, and generally distrustful of outsiders or new ideas, although these traits are less pronounced in those that chose to start a new life in the Gulf, they are generally still present. They value self-reliance although not so much minding your own business. Both men and women Salvati are notorious gossips and rumor mongers; it is said that a Salvati would rather believe a well told tall tale than a boring truth.

This is starting to get a bit long, so I’ll leave other stuff for a future post. I still want to write on time/calendar, religion, locations within the gulf itself, and a handful of rumors/quest hooks for what is out there in the wilds, so those will likely be covered in a part 2.

Settings – Less is More

I don’t really care too much about the Forgotten Realms, or Eberron, or Mystara. I think they have some neat ideas but I don’t really care about the settings as a whole. I kind of like Dark Sun, but I don’t really care about who’s the sorcerer-king in charge of Gulg (google tells me her name is Lalali-Puy). I have a favorite clan in Legend of the Five Rings (Dragon), but I really don’t care what happened in year XY of the What’s-his-name dynasty. I enjoy some Shadowrun, but I honestly can’t tell you a single one of the major megacorps off the top of my head, let alone who their CEOs are (although I know one of them is a dragon).  In the Blades in the Dark game we just started, there is this huge list of factions in the book.  When we made our crew, we picked a handful of them that like us and dislike us.  I care about that handful, but it just as easily could have been a number of factions we made up, and the others on that list? I don’t really care about.

Here’s the stuff I DO care about.  Dark Sun is a world that was almost destroyed by a magical disaster, those who survive do so in a barely habitable desert.  Magic drains the land further, metal is rare, and the major cities are ruled by powerful and mysterious sorcerer kings. In L5R, I love the value of face and honor, the role each clan plays in the empire (and the power struggles between them), and the threat of the shadowlands.  Also I just like the Dragon clan in general and think the Kitsuki being the ONLY ones in the empire who go “Hey, maybe we should investigate crimes with forensics, guys!” hilarious.  In Shadowrun, I care that the megacorps EXIST. I care about the meta-humans and the racial tensions between them.  I care about the highly stratified society, the gaps between the haves and the have-nots.  I do care about dragons and that they can run businesses, just not which dragon and which business in particular.

The settings above that I said I didn’t really care about? They have some cool stuff in them.  I think Warforged and the Lightning Rail are super neat. There are a lot of really cool classic modules and adventures in Mystara. I honestly don’t think I would be the gamer I am today without the Baldur’s Gate series, which really benefited from all FR lore that was included in the game. They’re not bad settings, and I would happily sit down and play a game in any of them. They have some cool details and neat locations, but no strong themes or conflicts that gets me super excited about them.

I want to know the big picture of the setting.  I want to know what’s going down (or about to go down if no one stops it)!  I want to know the themes that this setting is trying to express.  I want some details, not the whole 10,000 year history of the setting, but just enough to get me interested.  Tell me the cool stuff that’ll give me an idea of how different this setting is compared to our real life (and the other stuff on the market)!  Tell me why I want to play or run game in your setting!

I don’t need any more information beyond that, if anything, all the extra stuff is just going to get in my way.  If I got the flavor of the setting down, my gears are already working.  I’m already coming up with my own situation, as well as some NPCs and situation to highlight that situation.  Maybe I’ll find a neat location or NPC that I want to include amid the established setting materials, but ultimately all the details of the setting only exist as far as they serve the game.  If the situation requires that the Crane and the Phoenix be next to each other cause shit is about to go down between them, I don’t care what the map in the book says, they are (An aside: I do really like maps, but they need to serve the needs of the game, not the other way around). It’s only once we’ve been gaming for a while in the same world that I start caring about established facts, and even then only what has been declared in our game.

There’s nothing wrong with a setting having lore, facts, and details in it. I know for some other people, that is WHY they like published settings, so they don’t have to come up with that stuff themselves. Heck, I can even find those details fun to read, and I appreciate the care that went into crafting it. It is just that kind of stuff doesn’t excite me to PLAY in the setting. Worse, sometimes it makes me feel like I actually have to memorize and know all this to run the setting ‘properly’. When the setting is painted in the broadest strokes, with just enough for me to grok what this thing is about. Show me just enough to get my imagination going and starting to fill in the rest. Show me just a few details, the things the authors thought was just way too cool to leave out!

Show me this:
2216719429_8b8fa6e1d2_b

Not This:
egypt-demo

The bottom chart maybe more useful information, but the picture above is what makes me think it would be cool to go there!

Picture Sources:

Pyramid Picture: Dennis Jarvis, taken from Flickr
Demographics Chart: Screenshot from Wikipedia on 11/16