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Ways to Approach Making a Setting 
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Post Ways to Approach Making a Setting
Also from my blog, last July.

Like "System", Setting is a word which is used all over the place when people talk about RPGs, but is very nebulous, and means different things to different people. How designers approach settings varies widely, but tends to fall in the following categories, or to combine points from a couple of these categories.

The Implied Setting

This setting is never discussed in the game book, but the way the system is set up, a fairly coherent idea of what the designers were thinking comes through. The most famous example of an Implied Setting, of course, is any form of (A)D&D.

The way an Implied Setting works is by tailoring parts of the system to produce ranges of values which only make sense when you assume a certain type of setting. Details of sych implied settings are sparse to non-existent, and need to be created by the group, either in prep or in play.

The Semi-Implied Setting

With this type of setting, an Implied Setting is given some detail or structure by the use of organizations. These organizations can be anything, but are usually semi- or fully-governmental in structure. An example of this is the original Classic Traveller setting, where the Military, Scout Service, and X-Boat system gave a greater coherence to the general run of group-made Traveller universes than is a more pure Implied Setting.

The Bare Bones Setting

A Bare Bones Setting uses some device such as a combination of maps and/or stats to give a further level of detail and uniformity to group-created settings. Perhaps, though not always, one location is given a higher level of detail as an example for the group to follow in detailing the locations given.


Setting By Fiction

Sometimes a strong sense of particular setting can be created using fiction to illustrate particular concepts and setting details, rather than using expository text. White Wolf games such as Vampire are famous for this.

The Expository Setting

This is a technique whereby the designer uses exposition to detail the setting, laying out whatever level of detail is wanted by writing text to cover that detail. Harn is a particularly detailed setting using exposition to deliver information.

Setting by Assumption

In an Assumptive Setting, the designer makes no effort to give any detail to the setting, because the setting is so well-known. Many modern and historical games such as Wild West or Espionage games assume the Real World is the setting, and anything the group can find out from widely available data and personal knowledge is true.

Setting by Exception

This technique takes the basic form of an Assumptive Setting, with a heavily detailed exception - The Wild West with zombies, or the present world with hidden magic. This is a step towards the Alt Historical Setting, but assumes the exception is singular or hidden, and doesn't actually change history.

The Alt Historical Setting

This is a form of historical or modern game where one well-defined change in the history of the game world renders it very different from our own. What if the X had happened instead of Y? How would the world we know now change? In this type of setting, only the changes in the world are detailed, the rest being Assumptive.

There are more, but these various types show the range of techniques a designer can use to create a setting.

-clash

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Thu May 12, 2011 12:38 pm
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Post Re: Ways to Approach Making a Setting
In my next book I'm going to do setting by smell. This will be achieved by soaking each copy of the game in gin that has been used as bong water and them leaving them in my attick in a box filled with old semen stained penthouse and heavy metal magazines* for a decade.











*loaned to me by Jim


Thu May 12, 2011 1:12 pm
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Post Re: Ways to Approach Making a Setting
Double post.


Thu May 12, 2011 1:13 pm
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Post Re: Ways to Approach Making a Setting
Aos wrote:
In my next book I'm going to do setting by smell. This will be achieved by soaking each copy of the game in gin that has been used as bong water and them leaving them in my attick in a box filled with old semen stained penthouse and heavy metal magazines* for a decade.











*loaned to me by Jim


You are a strange, strange little man, Aos! :D

-clash

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Last Release: IHW: Pigboats, Volant - Kingdoms of Air and Stone
I FLY BY NIGHT Blog: http://iflybynight.blogspot.com/


Thu May 12, 2011 1:18 pm
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Post Re: Ways to Approach Making a Setting
Clash,

This is an interesting post to me. I'm curious. Which style do you prefer to design with? Which one do you prefer to play in? If they're different, why?

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Thu May 12, 2011 1:22 pm
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Post Re: Ways to Approach Making a Setting
Seriously though, I tend to use gamables (critters and classes) and very light exposition. I also make it very clear that the latter is intentionally inaccurate, This is to say, the world is not exactly what you've been told it is.


Thu May 12, 2011 1:25 pm
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Post Re: Ways to Approach Making a Setting
I don't think this one was covered

Setting by Pre-Requirement
This is for Settings where a large part is customizable by group (during introductory session for instance). I'm thinking about Diaspora here, where it's assumed that a few elements are going to be true whatever a given group creates during the cluster generation:
  • worlds have been colonized by humans for a very long time, civilizations have undergone many cycles of rise/collapse.
  • technology allows advanced civilizations to travel from system to system following the guidelines exposed in the game rules
  • There might be others I'm forgetting

You could conceive this type of setting as a seed that takes a different shape every time you saw it. It's a bit like implied setting but here the customization process is front and center with rules and guidelines.


Thu May 12, 2011 1:30 pm
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Post Re: Ways to Approach Making a Setting
boulet wrote:
I don't think this one was covered

Setting by Pre-Requirement
This is for Settings where a large part is customizable by group (during introductory session for instance). I'm thinking about Diaspora here, where it's assumed that a few elements are going to be true whatever a given group creates during the cluster generation:
  • worlds have been colonized by humans for a very long time, civilizations have undergone many cycles of rise/collapse.
  • technology allows advanced civilizations to travel from system to system following the guidelines exposed in the game rules
  • There might be others I'm forgetting

You could conceive this type of setting as a seed that takes a different shape every time you saw it. It's a bit like implied setting but here the customization process is front and center with rules and guidelines.


Precisely! This is exactly the way I designed StarCluster 3 and In Harm's Way: StarCluster, thanks to Diaspora. I read Diaspora when I was just about to send IHW:SC out for playtest - in fact a couple of instances were sent out to trusted folks pre-playtest - and I had to stop, call a hold, and redesign it from the ground up, all because of Diaspora. A brilliant game. I thanked the VSCA guys in the credits to IHW:SC for their inspiration. I didn't mention it because in the flow on my blog, most folks would know about that, because I talked about it at the time. :D

-clash

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Flying Mice Games/Better Mousetrap Games: http://jalan.flyingmice.com/flyingmice.html
Designing: Lowell Was Right!
Last Release: IHW: Pigboats, Volant - Kingdoms of Air and Stone
I FLY BY NIGHT Blog: http://iflybynight.blogspot.com/


Thu May 12, 2011 2:03 pm
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Post Re: Ways to Approach Making a Setting
orklord wrote:
Clash,

This is an interesting post to me. I'm curious. Which style do you prefer to design with? Which one do you prefer to play in? If they're different, why?


Hi Rich!

I've used them all in various games. All of them can be awesome, but I probably prefer the Setting by Pre-Requirement mentioned by boulet. It gives me as a GM a chance to make the setting most anything I want, with a few set anchors, and since I Design for myself, that pleases me both ways.

-clash

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Flying Mice Games/Better Mousetrap Games: http://jalan.flyingmice.com/flyingmice.html
Designing: Lowell Was Right!
Last Release: IHW: Pigboats, Volant - Kingdoms of Air and Stone
I FLY BY NIGHT Blog: http://iflybynight.blogspot.com/


Thu May 12, 2011 2:07 pm
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Post Re: Ways to Approach Making a Setting
Good analysis, Clash.

I probably prefer Expositionary, but am not averse to the others. In practice, Implied probably gets too generic a lot of the time for my taste, but it doesn't need to.

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Thu May 12, 2011 2:47 pm
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