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Old 02-19-2018, 07:40 AM
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Campaign settings! Huh! What are they good for?

Iīve been wondering about how other people use campaign settings. The thing is, I don't want to seem confrontative or anything, but personally, I find them all less attractive than I would like, no offense meant.

In Wikipedia, it says that campaign settings are generally 'based on fictional universes from books, comics, video games, or films.' For fantasy games, that generally means the inspiration and material are coming from history and traditional legends, myths, and tales, and some more recent authors that have been highly influential like Tolkien for example. The way I see campaign settings, they are basically modifications on these older sources, with different emphasis on different aspects. I know there are even some D&D books that try to give an official adaptation of ancient mythologies with their pagan gods and goddesses. So why is there not more stuff like this that just goes back to the original sources of inspiration?

To clarify, Iīm sure there are really great campaign settings out there. I realize that they contribute important game and mechanical info. But when you look at what they contribute to the fantasy imaginary world, compared to authors like Tolkien, it's less than I would hope for in an ideal world.

I'm probably a bit of an outlier, (or maybe not) in that I actually enjoy ancient myths, legends and tales, and medieval and ancient history. I know there are also aspects of copyright and marketability involved as well.

I was wondering about other DMs and players on this site though. Iīm sure there are fans of specific campaign settings around here, and I was curious to know which ones and why?

Do you feel these actually contribute ideas for a GM that he canīt get from medieval history and traditional myths, legends and tales, like the legends of King Arthur, Merlin, and the Knights of the round table, or the Arabian Nights, or authors like Tolkien or Leguin?

Maybe an attractive aspect is the commodity of having everything in a single book with the mechanical rules for everything broken down?

Are there more people like me who just tend to grab ideas from these older sources freely and mix them up for their games?
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Old 02-19-2018, 10:33 PM
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This feels a bit like a humble brag post....

But I'll respond to it anyway. I can say I've honestly played in about 50/50 Homebrew Settings vs Campaign settings. All the games I DM are custom worlds that use the basic D&D rules for gods and magic.

There's plenty of both, and it's pretty obvious that people use them when they like the setting. Some elements really appeal to people. If I found of set of rules for the Malazan Books of the Fallen, I'd be tempted to use them.
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Old 02-20-2018, 03:48 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Toba View Post
This feels a bit like a humble brag post....

But I'll respond to it anyway. I can say I've honestly played in about 50/50 Homebrew Settings vs Campaign settings. All the games I DM are custom worlds that use the basic D&D rules for gods and magic.

There's plenty of both, and it's pretty obvious that people use them when they like the setting. Some elements really appeal to people. If I found of set of rules for the Malazan Books of the Fallen, I'd be tempted to use them.
Wait... does that mean I should be more humble or that I should brag more openly?

Thanks for the feedback. I actually am interested in what people here have to say, and not only in calling attention to myself.

I don't have much gaming experience compared to others here, and have never really played with an english speaking group in real life. I don't get to to talk about gaming at all now really except through this site, or fantasy stories except with my 2 and 4 year old kids, so that's why I'm especially interested in hearing other people's opinions on this site where there are so many good players and GMs.
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Old 02-20-2018, 04:14 AM
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Well, let's be fair. RPGs didn't come around until the 1970s. By that time, pretty much any campaign setting you could come up with could be accused of lifting elements from such venerable sources as Arthurian legend or the Tales of the Arabian Knights, etc. etc. The original D&D rules themselves are rife with such material and openly admit these influences--i.e., Gygax/TSR didn't insult your intelligence when they published this stuff. And really I haven't seen any campaign setting published that did not acknowledge its creative antecedents. Also, lets draw a line between your "older sources" -- 12th Century legends =/= 20th Century authors.

When you talk about Tolkien, he's one of the earliest fantasy world builders and in many ways, his world is incredibly rich. And in many ways it incredibly isn't. I feel like there are vast dead spaces in Middle Earth, not just geographically, but culturally and historically. Tolkien did a great job and he was a trailblazer, but Middle Earth (which also borrowed from the older sources you mention, btw) is far from perfect and I don't think would be suitable as an FRPG setting without major work (toning down the Mary Sue elves and giving clerics something to worship for starters). As for LeGuin, I personally saw nothing very compelling at all about Earthsea, though I was only only willing to subject myself to the first book. She might be the only fantasy author I've read who I haven't lifted something from as a DM.

Whether the campaign settings out there are to your taste or not, many people (most?) seem to like them. I have created my own campaign setting for D&D and used published settings that I liked. I enjoy Golarion from Pathfinder and the Forgotten Realms from D&D, both as a player and a DM. Campaign settings save a DM a great deal of time and they serve a purpose in that they give a setting for published modules. If you don't like them because they derive from earlier work and you'd prefer to lift from earlier work yourself, great. It's a matter of preference and the amount of work you want to do/time you have on your hands.

Finally: "I'm probably a bit of an outlier, in that I actually enjoy ancient myths, legends and tales, and medieval and ancient history." In this crowd, I doubt that makes you much of an outlier at all.

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Old 02-20-2018, 06:17 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ruffdove View Post
Well, let's be fair. I have created my own campaign setting for D&D and used published settings that I liked. I enjoy Golarion from Pathfinder and the Forgotten Realms from D&D, both as a player and a DM. Campaign settings save a DM a great deal of time and they serve a purpose in that they give a setting for published modules. If you don't like them because they derive from earlier work and you'd prefer to lift from earlier work yourself, great. It's a matter of preference and the amount of work you want to do/time you have on your hands.
Thanks for your comments. I hate to seem unfair but I did want to explain my perspective and opinions clearly enough. Maybe my tone wasnīt the best one to start off with. I donīt want to seem ungrateful or unappreciative but I do need some space to wiggle in what I am saying if I want to talk about this issue freely. I'm not sure exactly why honestly, but this is a topic that I think is interesting to talk about, and this seems the place to do it.

In a way, you seem to be saying that the published Campaign settings are useful. They save work and time for the DM, and fill in details about the world that the DM needs and that modern novel writers and older sources donīt fill in exhaustively, right? I get that, and I myself may use them for those reasons. Did I read you correctly, or are there creative fantasy ideas in the Golarion or Forgotten Realms settings that you use that can not be found elsewhere?

Quote:
The original D&D rules themselves are rife with such material and openly admit these influences--i.e., Gygax/TSR didn't insult your intelligence when they published this stuff. And really I haven't seen any campaign setting published that did not acknowledge its creative antecedents
I have to admit you do have a point there. I canīt blame the campaign setting writers for not acknowledging previous sources altogether really, even though it seems to me they probably could have drawn more attention to the previous sources occasionally. I did find this on Wikipedia for example:

Quote:
The presence of halflings, elves, dwarves, half-elves, orcs, rangers and the like often draw comparisons to the work of J. R. R. Tolkien. The resemblance was even closer before the threat of copyright action from Tolkien Enterprises prompted the name changes of hobbit to 'halfling', ent to 'treant', and balrog to 'balor'. Gygax maintained that he was influenced very little by The Lord of the Rings, stating that he included these elements as a marketing move to draw on the popularity of the work[7][8] However, in an interview in 2000, he acknowledged that Tolkien had a "strong impact".[9]
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Last edited by Alex1983; 03-24-2018 at 04:33 PM.
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Old 02-20-2018, 07:41 AM
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Personally I don't care what came first and what the family tree of a certain setting is. I consider it kind of a reverse chronological snobbism that is not worth my time. I like something or I don't, that should be enough. Sometimes I like old stuff, sometimes it's brand new - it's more about where I'm at currently and less about how much the author was self aware of what has preceded him. Hopefully the author wrote something that is exciting enough to stand on its own, but if he hasn't I may not be aware of it anyway, because none of us can know the whole of the worlds ancient literature.

If I use a setting I use it for specifics. Somebody took the time to describe a world in detail, so I can just say "we're playing in the forgotten realms today", and people will know - or can look up - which nations are in it, what the different races are like, how magic functions, which gods exist and so on and so forth. I have not yet done much at all and all the players have or can acquire a common ground of knowledge that they share with me and each other. They have also gained a sense of expectation about what this setting entails in terms of an average adventure, which I may satisfy or play with.

If I create my setting I have to conjure up expectation with some keywords about the general flavour of the world. Obviously those will be far from unique words, or they will create only confusion. But I personally believe that's what defines the setting, not the variations I throw on afterwards.

So it may sound a bit cynical, but I am simply not worried about uniqueness. I don't know if there can be truly never before seen themes and whether i need them anyway. To be honest mythology and fairytales aren't very unique. They vary the same things over and over, it is all a rebranding of basically the same story. It is much the same with medieval fiction, or what have you. The language may be beautiful, but what happens in Beowulf that I can find nowhere in Homer, which in turn has most of the things I can find in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Tiny variations are usually enough, a certain flavour of language, the kind of specifics I can get from a setting. And that's not to the detriment of any of those stories that I mentioned, they are still amazing - reflecting the time they were created in and the person who wrote them and so on and so forth. The elements are common, but how you put them together and describe them makes it great or not.

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Old 02-20-2018, 02:38 PM
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@Alex

Honestly, there are lots of things in Golarion and the FR that I haven't seen elsewhere, though I cannot say for absolute certain as I don't have a PhD in Mythology and Fantasy Literature, of course. Also, there's the degree you want to stretch to connect these settings to stuff that came before. For example, there's a part of Golarion called the World Wound, caused when a major god died and opening a huge chasm in the world through which demons invaded from the Abyss. Crusaders responded and contained the invasion with a series of ward stones that must be constantly defended. Now as far as I know that is a fairly original combination of various elements for a pretty unique feature to the setting. On the other hand, if I wanted to find fault I could just roll my eyes and say "Meh, demon invasions have been done before."

Does Golarion also have features lifted directly from history and mythology and fantasy literature? Of course. So does every published setting I ever saw. And also so does every homebrew setting I ever saw. The point I'm making is that the criticism "derivative" is more subjective than you might think. Back when the Arthurian legends were finding there genesis, I bet they incorporated story elements from earlier legends. At this point there's very little that you can imagine that won't bear some resemblance to something that's come before. That hardly means things can't still be creative and original.

As for Gygax, he never denied that he derived details from Tolkien, he just tried to de-emphasize the influence early on. I think it came down to the fact that Gygax personally didn't really like Tolkien's stuff. He preferred Howard's Conan and Fritz Leiber and others... and in a lot of ways the tone of the game was much closer to Conan the Barbarian than Aragorn son of Arathorn. But of course the elements from Tolkien are undeniable.
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Old 02-20-2018, 05:35 PM
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I would hate to seem snobbish. I have to point out though that traditional fantastic folklore is probably one of the least socially exclusive or upper-class things possible. Tales of the Arabian Nights and other such tales are typically known by the poorest people (and richer people too of course) in many parts of the world.

I have the same problem when I look for children's books for my kids. I find it's much easier to find modern twists on classic tales and legends than it is to find good quality adaptations of older tales and stories for young children. I don't have anything against modern children book authors, my kids enjoy a lot of those too. I just find it odd that the modern twists on old tales, which are often less memorable, tend to substitute the older tales that kids have enjoyed for generations, even if they are politically incorrect or morally ambiguous for example.

Hmmm, maybe I just need to give campaign settings another chance... and find a campaign setting that appeals to me. There are tons that have been published over the years... Or maybe if I read novels that take place in official campaign settings, Iīd find those more inspiring too...
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Old 02-20-2018, 09:11 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alex1983 View Post
Or maybe if I read novels that take place in official campaign settings, Iīd find those more inspiring too...
I find that this definitely increases my appreciation of and immersion into a campaign setting.

If you're having trouble finding older stories for your children, I suggest amazon.com, though I also understand the impulse to want to patronize brick and mortar book stores.
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Old 02-24-2018, 02:09 PM
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I have an intense love/hate relationship with campaign settings!

I too do not even consider 'uniqueness' as a relevant aspect of any setting. I realize that some do, but I don't give that any thought. It's how they'll merge in the specific game that matters, rather than where they came from. That's never been my quandary.
 
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Old 02-24-2018, 03:04 PM
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I'm curious... what do you mean by semi-sandboxing the setting? Do you mean peparing a semi-sandbox type game ?
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Old 02-24-2018, 06:35 PM
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Yea, one where the players have some input on the setting. Some things just can't be uncertain before a game begins.
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Old 03-24-2018, 04:42 PM
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I found this here about not using any setting that seemed to describe pretty well my approach actually, evidently it's common enough.

Quote:
To Setting or Not to Setting
Now, even though you don’t really have to work out any setting details just yet, it IS worth thinking a little bit about the setting. Specifically, you want to decide whether to use no setting, use a published setting, or build your own setting. We’ll talk more about these options when we discuss settings and setting building. But let’s run through the basics.

First, there’s the non-setting. Did you even realize this is an option? Well, it is. The non-setting is the setting IMPLIED in the core rulebook of whatever game you’re running. It’s the one that follows the descriptions of the races and classes in the book, makes use of whatever gods and magical rules are already laid out in the core, that kind of thing. Most people think of this as a specific setting. But it isn’t. Even if it has a name and even if it seems like a setting.

For example, in D&D 3.5, the default setting was based on the world of Greyhawk. And in Pathfinder, the default setting is based on the world of Glorantha. I think. But running in the non-setting IS NOT the same as running in Greyhawk or Glorantha. Those books don’t provide enough information to run in actual Glorantha or actual Greyhawk. They don’t substantially describe any specific locations, they don’t give you any real story threads, they don’t go into detail about any NPCs, and the information you get about things like gods is pretty sparse.

The point is, when you choose to run in the non-setting, what you’re really doing is choosing a blank slate. You can conjure up cities, towns, kingdoms, NPCs, backstories, story hooks, and anything else you need as you need them. The non-setting is a sort of template. It spells out a hazy world that you can detail as you need. And there’s enough spelled out that you really don’t have to do any work beforehand. The races, the classes, their roles in the world, the gods, all that crap that players need to know is already spelled out.

As far as a homebrew game goes, the non-setting is the easiest, lowest effort startup you can get. And there is ZERO shame in it. My-go to campaign setting, which I have dubbed the Angryverse, actually started as the D&D 4th Edition non-setting.

Believe it or not, using a published setting – like the Forgotten Realms – is actually MORE work than using the non-setting. The non-setting requires nothing on your part or on the part of your players to use. Just use the details from the book and add whatever other details you need. Published settings include a lot of details in addition to those already in the rules. Lots of extra gods, locations, NPCs, storylines, and lots of history. And published settings almost always include extra character generation options and extra layers of detail for character generation. All of that adds complexity to the game. And it also adds to the cost. After all, all those setting books have to be paid for.
Update:
Ruffdove said:
Quote:
If you're having trouble finding older stories for your children, I suggest amazon.com, though I also understand the impulse to want to patronize brick and mortar book stores.
Youīd be surprised how difficult it is to find good picture books, even on amazon, for children aged 2 to 5, with pictures on every page and not too much text at once, so to keep the really young kids visually interested and able to follow along, with the old traditional stories and folktales (for example the Grimm or Anderson stories) other than the twenty most famous stories like little red riding hood and the other really well-known ones. I guess there just isn't much demand for it? Maybe they arenīt considered appropriate until you are older than 5 or 6? My wife didnīt believe me either but Iīve spent more than a couple of hours searching online and in bookstores.
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Last edited by Alex1983; 03-24-2018 at 05:41 PM.
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Old 03-25-2018, 04:57 PM
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https://www.amazon.com/Classic-Fairy...n+picture+book

I don't know how you define "too much text at once" - I mean you want the whole story don't you? I found this one almost immediately. If you click the "look inside" icon you can see that every page is illustrated. But "too much text" is subjective so maybe this doesn't meet your criteria.

Little Golden Books also has several collections of classic folktales and those are aimed at the age group you suggest. My kids were able to hang with them at 2-3 years and they're on Amazon too.

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Old 03-26-2018, 09:55 AM
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As some one who is very interested in world-building and (typically) has a fair amount of patience for exploring/developing/thinking too much about campaign settings, I've found this thread interesting.

I think one of the reasons that campaign settings are popular/valuable is that the source material (even Tolkien) is not particularly well suited to playing an adventure beyond whatever is articulated in the original text. You mentioned Gilgamesh before. Imagine trying to field a party of 4 to 6 players in that setting with unique but complimentary skills and abilities and filled with enough RP and encounters to warrant playing the game. You'd need a LOT more rules that can be sussed out from the text of the story. To me, that's all a campaign setting really is.

History is also pretty great for inspiration. Ask George RR Martin about his feelings on the War of the Roses and he'll write you a book about how it would have been better with ice zombies and dragons (although you wouldn't get the response until after your kids are out of college). Despite and inclusive of that, history (or even the Seven Kingdoms) is a pretty poor campaign setting. There's a certain amount of crunch that is needed to run an actual game (and not just a group retelling of the existing story) that campaign settings provide.

Now, I'm not versed enough in the various settings (let alone across the many systems) to comment as to whether or not any campaign setting documents brings the sort of uniqueness that Martin or Sanderson or Brett bring to the body of fantasy fiction, but I guess I consider them having a different focus. From what I can tell, people seem to regard the Dragonlance novels pretty fondly, but I don't often hear people waxing philosophic about the modules that they are based on (or vis versa) unless they are about to play them. They serve two different (although related) purposes.

That last point also suggests one more thing I'd like to ramble about. Given any random campaign setting document, I think it will always come across as less engaging than might be hoped for because compared to a Tolkien novel, it just will never be as compelling. As much as I like setting and unique magic systems and strange alternate histories, if the characters in a book are dull, I won't feel all that great about the book. A campaign setting document is exactly that, all setting, no characters. It is your PCs that end up having to bridge that gap for you. It is the joy and curse of being a DM.
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