Choose Your Words Wisely

When one sits down to work on a setting, there are two main directions to go. For the purpose of today’s discussion, we’ll call them the Master Plan and the Microcosm.

The Master Plan is a setting often painted in broad strokes, granting the GM plenty of space to characterize the world as he best sees fit. This is not to say it is without detail. RunePunk, for example, is a sandbox setting with a lot of detail, but there are plenty of open spaces for the GM to customize the world to suit his particular tastes and those of his players. In fact, most of the material we develop falls into this category. We provide the box, the sand, and throw some fun toys into the mix, and let people go wild. There is a lot to recommend this style. Working on this scale does not mean sacrifice care or quality of material. In fact, you need to particularly pay attention to items you omit as well as those you leave out. You need to include touchstone characters, places, and provide a framework otherwise you are not giving the GM enough material to work with. The goal of such a setting book is to make certain you include the materials in such a way as to promote the style(s) of play you, as designer, deem most important to play. For example, RunePunk provides lots of detail on how varying districts and barrens interact, rules on Demon summoning, and an emphasis is placed upon the “Punk” side of things–the only chance someone has to get ahead in this dystopian, Kafkaesque nightmare is to become a jobber–someone who knows full well they are doing work often dangerous and dirty in the hopes of someday getting ahead or at least to avoid the boredom of a more traditional lifestyle. In other words, there is a lot of play room in such a design structure, but it is an understood social imperative that to get ahead, you’ve got to risk a lot. The characters have a built-in reason for adventuring beyond fame and glory. These characters are often selfish and a little less than pristine hero types. Through the adventure generators, this structure is emphasized. The heroes will be heroes, but they still (typically) expect a paycheck at the end of the day. If they get caught up in political corruption or end up being pawns in a grander scheme, so be it. The principal movers and shakers, organizations, and motivations of same are there for the GM to exploit and explore, just as there are ancient ruins and decaying under cities to plunder for those wishing a more traditional fantasy flair to their steampunk.

The Microcosm is a setting with a more narrow focus. Lots of information is stipulated and detailed out. There is less play room for the GM in regards to the narrative, and the players are expected to follow a more detailed structure. This is the domain of many adventure paths (which we’ve discussed in previous reports), but there is worth to be found within this structure. The designer, knowing the characters shall follow a narrow focus, has the opportunity to expand on particular facts he could not address in a sandbox, as such detail may never be noticed. This approach can be lavish in its approach to places, characters, and adventure hooks which could go unnoticed in a larger work. In practice, this style of setting is often a subset of the Master Plan, and the two can exist in peace and harmony with the Petri dish amplifying elements of the main setting book. By providing additional details, campaigns can take on whole new meanings with new themes being introduced or at least the introduction of new geography and new players. Using RunePunk, again, as an example, DarkSummer Nights is an example of a microcosm. In it, one particular borough of a city district is the focus of the work. This allowed us craft the precise elements of this area and add a tremendous amount of detail. The big project I’m currently working on, Echo of Dead Leaves, is a microcosm. It focuses on events in and around Charleston and does not want for detail. It’s about taking a big idea and integrating it into the fabric of a smaller space than most such stories are told. Microcosms serve multiple purposes–they are useful for immediate play, to stimulate the imagination of the GM, and to exemplify the designer’s perspective of how to detail out the areas. This last point is of particular worth to any GM. They can see how to delineate out the world, and craft other areas of their own, using this as an example. Modules from TSR gave us hours of fun, but taught a whole generation how to craft an adventure for D&D. The world was revealed in bits and pieces. In fact, by combining multiple microcosms, a world can be formed. This is the natural growth path of many a campaign. Its organic nature can cause some interesting questions to arise for the GM, and he should consider having a Master Plan at some point or another or things can get a bit confusing.

Choose Your Words Wisely: From a developer’s perspective, choices need to be made on what the focus should be earlier on, as such choices shape the work. What’s left in and what’s left out both inform the work, and careful considerations must be made to each. In Blood Loss, for example, if there is a dozen pages on vehicular combat, the reader is going to see an emphasis by the designer on said combat, and this may well shape adventures created by GM’s once the book is out there. As a developer (or GM), the more words you lend to something, the greater the perceived import of the reader (or player).  If I’m starting up a campaign and give a five minute discourse on the importance of lancers and dragons, you can bet your sweet bippy these elements are going to factor into play.

Now, I must return to my writing, and bid you, dear reader adieu!

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