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"Cool setting, bro. But what's the hook for the PCs?"


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Voadam

Legend
I've run sandbox games. But they typically take place in areas of no more than 300 miles by 300 miles - or less than 5 per cent of the Greyhawk map. I'd have oved it if TSR or WotC produced a sourcebook for an area of Greyhawk that size, with writeups of towns, castles, lairs, factions, adventure hooks, etc. Something the next step up from Hommlet when the PCs are levels 3-8. But for reasons that aren't clear to me, D&D publishers didn't like to create setting content at that scale.
Kingdom/nation/region level sourcebooks for Greyhawk? 2e is your go to.

The Marklands was a 96 page sourcebook mostly for the good nation of Furyondy.

WG12 Vale of the Mage deals with a smallish area.

WGR3 Rary the Traitor details the Bright Desert and Rary's newly carved empire.

WGR5 Iuz the Evil, although since Iuz conquered a bunch of lands to create a new empire, this may be bigger than you want.

Similarly The Scarlet Brotherhood covering Hepmonoland and the Amedio Peninsula may be bigger than you were wanting.

TSR also filled this niche with a bunch of Mystara Gazetteers and Forgotten Realms regional sourcebooks. Paizo and Kobold Press have also worked in these areas with their regional sourcebooks for Golarion and Midgard. Sword & Sorcery's Scarred Lands did too.
 
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Aldarc

Legend
One published setting that does that very well is Shadow of the Demon Lord.
I said earlier that SotDL has a basic premise that works well-enough for a hook: abate the encroaching influence of the BBEG through its "Shadow." The Shadow is fairly plug-in-play, but, in general, you know what your characters are trying to do. It's fairly Diablo-esque and Warhammer-esque in genre, tropes, and the like.

@Aldarc, that's a provocative OP. It prompts a number of thoughts in me. I'll post some of them!

What makes for a good setting premise as it relates to the PCs? I want a setting to provide genre and tropes.
This part of my initial question has not been addressed as much as I perhaps would have expected, as I think that it's an implicit part of the discussion. What makes a good setting premise that gives the PCs an idea of what they will be doing?

While I agree with other posters that campaign/adventure premises are separate from settings, I still think that settings also need hooks, premises, and tropes that establish play expectations for players. As someone said earlier, why should I play X sort of stories/campaigns in this setting over another setting?
 

nevin

Adventurer
I feel like we are talking different languages. If which kingdoms hate each other, which areas are overrun by monsters, where the legendary ruins of xxx, the mountains that the dragons live in, the trade routes up and down the coast, across the desert etc, that certain kingdoms are Aurthurian style nights, city x is ruled by a secret merchant cabal, that a secret order of necromancers is based in a country trying to conquer the world etc, etc , etc. Most campaign settings I've seen and used I see 25 or more plot hooks just reading them. My players usually came in telling me where in the campaign world they wanted to start . What does it take to to establish play expectations for your characters if stuff like that isn't enough?

If your complaint is campaign settings don't have a campaign of adventures laid out I'd say you've conflated the Campaign set which to me is simply the Backdrop and the Adventures which are the day to day stuff. one is Macro, one is Micro and while they interact they aren't the same thing. Getting the campaign set it like buying a house. It's got all the rooms and features you want to play with but you still have to furnish it, decorate it, put in curtains and stake it out as your Game.
 


IME/IMO as a DM, its not my job to develop the overall campaign arc/story line for the group, or tell the players what to play. I'm pretty sure they don't want me to either. As well I don't think it the author of a campaign setting to do so, except if it is a very niche setting. I have never read a campaign setting that doesn't have multiple plot hooks built in and reasons for the players to engage in the setting within their own goals. My approach is that I'll pick a setting, pitch a few ideas to the players and then we'll compromise until we reach a premise we are all comfortable with pursuing for the campaign. Afterward its my job to translate that premise into game sessions all while being of aware of what the players want to accomplish and give them realistic chances of doing so. The beauty of D&D to me is that I don't need the authors to tell me what my player and I need to do to get a game off the ground.
 

Contrariwise

Villager
It may matter but quality of the product matters as well if you want money. If I were going to run a game in Forgotten Realms again, I'd chunk everything and go back to the 1st edition boxed set and some of the supplements. It has always been the best version of Realms.
As someone who thinks 3e Forgotten Realms is pretty much the best setting for DnD out there I'm interested to learn what things that were added over the editions you didn't like. To me the feel of the Realms stayed fairly consistent up until 4e, so I've never quite understood this stance.
 

Contrariwise

Villager
It may matter but quality of the product matters as well if you want money. If I were going to run a game in Forgotten Realms again, I'd chunk everything and go back to the 1st edition boxed set and some of the supplements. It has always been the best version of Realms.
As someone who thinks 3e Forgotten Realms is pretty much the best setting for DnD out there I'm interested to learn what things that were added over the editions you didn't like. To me the feel of the Realms stayed fairly consistent up until 4e, so I've never quite understood this stance.
 

MGibster

Legend
Most campaign settings I've seen and used I see 25 or more plot hooks just reading them. My players usually came in telling me where in the campaign world they wanted to start . What does it take to to establish play expectations for your characters if stuff like that isn't enough?

Aldarc is looking at this from a big picture perspective.

This part of my initial question has not been addressed as much as I perhaps would have expected, as I think that it's an implicit part of the discussion. What makes a good setting premise that gives the PCs an idea of what they will be doing?

The Blue Planet RPG has one of the best science fiction settings I've ever read and it's absolutely filled to the brim with adventure hooks. But if I were to invite you to make a character for a campaign you'd have no idea where to begin. The campaign could revolve around a wildcat Longjohn operation trying to compete against megacorporations, a criminal gang in New Kingston trying to make their mark, GEO Marshals enforcing the law on the frontiers of a new world, or just about anything else that might strike my fancy. Whereas if I were to invite you to play a game of Shadowrun you'd automatically have a general idea of what the PCs as a group would be doing.

It's more of a design choice than a flaw I think. Blue Planet is a wide open setting allowing you to run a variety of campaigns right out of the box. But the lack of focus has some disadvantages a well. Just trying to narrow down what the PCs do can be a chore.
 

nevin

Adventurer
As someone who thinks 3e Forgotten Realms is pretty much the best setting for DnD out there I'm interested to learn what things that were added over the editions you didn't like. To me the feel of the Realms stayed fairly consistent up until 4e, so I've never quite understood this stance.
It was detailed and the splat books they added covered good and bad organizations. The gods were in a great place they were greek style and could interfere or not as DM wished. I loved the feel of it. I've honestly never liked anything after 1e. I always hated the Cyric line,bringing in AO was just pointless , and I never liked anything after they blew it up into the Cataclysm.

I may be the only one but I loved Shaundakaul , Tyche, being the CN goddess of luck, I loved the gods only having to answer to consequences for actions. It was like the dumping ground for fantasy there was enough detail you could pick almost any kind of culture you wanted to run your game in and go. It was just a fun Glorius mess, though you could remove all mention of Elminster and i wouldn't object. All the other campaign settings I've ever tried I had multiple people not want to play because they didn't like it. Never had that problem with 1e FR.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Aldarc is looking at this from a big picture perspective.

The Blue Planet RPG has one of the best science fiction settings I've ever read and it's absolutely filled to the brim with adventure hooks. But if I were to invite you to make a character for a campaign you'd have no idea where to begin. The campaign could revolve around a wildcat Longjohn operation trying to compete against megacorporations, a criminal gang in New Kingston trying to make their mark, GEO Marshals enforcing the law on the frontiers of a new world, or just about anything else that might strike my fancy. Whereas if I were to invite you to play a game of Shadowrun you'd automatically have a general idea of what the PCs as a group would be doing.

It's more of a design choice than a flaw I think. Blue Planet is a wide open setting allowing you to run a variety of campaigns right out of the box. But the lack of focus has some disadvantages a well. Just trying to narrow down what the PCs do can be a chore.
Most definitely. Or Tekumél. It's an elaborately detailed setting, with its own conlang included, but in many of the TTRPG books it doesn't set out clearly what the PCs are actually doing in this world. Typical discussion of Tekumel often begins on MAR Barker backstory, talk about the non-Euro-American influences on the cultures, and the unique features of the alien world, but it hides what PCs may do in this setting or even how they would go about it.

This is not to say that my grievance is with an abundance of lore. My grievance is with settings without clear play goals or expectations for GMs or PCs.
 

MGibster

Legend
IME/IMO as a DM, its not my job to develop the overall campaign arc/story line for the group, or tell the players what to play.

I consider developing the overall campaign arc to be one of the most basic functions of a DM. I often change that arc based on the actions of the PCs, but it's still my job to manage the story line.
 

I consider developing the overall campaign arc to be one of the most basic functions of a DM. I often change that arc based on the actions of the PCs, but it's still my job to manage the story line.
Think were are basically on the same page as I said later in the post, "Afterward its my job to translate that premise into game sessions all while being of aware of what the players want to accomplish and give them realistic chances of doing so". But as far as coming to the table at session zero or session 1 with the campaign premise and arc planned out as the DM, Im not going to do that, manage it after the fact, absolutely, but thats mostly driven by the PCs actions and goals.
 

Contrariwise

Villager
It was detailed and the splat books they added covered good and bad organizations. The gods were in a great place they were greek style and could interfere or not as DM wished. I loved the feel of it. I've honestly never liked anything after 1e. I always hated the Cyric line,bringing in AO was just pointless , and I never liked anything after they blew it up into the Cataclysm.

I may be the only one but I loved Shaundakaul , Tyche, being the CN goddess of luck, I loved the gods only having to answer to consequences for actions. It was like the dumping ground for fantasy there was enough detail you could pick almost any kind of culture you wanted to run your game in and go. It was just a fun Glorius mess, though you could remove all mention of Elminster and i wouldn't object. All the other campaign settings I've ever tried I had multiple people not want to play because they didn't like it. Never had that problem with 1e FR.
I haven't had any mention of AO in any of the FR games I've run because the players have no reason to know of or be interested in AO. Though I understand the dislike for the Avatar series as a whole the gods role in the setting didn't change significantly. Ultimately I feel the setting is still one where you can pick any sort of culture/odd locale, use the countless hooks nearby and craft a campaign. IMO 2e and 3e add alot of solid lore to areas in southern and eastern FR so they just add to the natural strengths of the setting.
 

Zeromaru X

Arkhosian scholar and coffee lover
Preferring games that lean towards "no myth" settings, the details of MTttNV and Fallcrest in the DMG are more than enough detail for me. But if you're interested in a collection of all bits of lore from across the various 4E product line as they relate to the NV, you can do no better than @Zeromaru X's outstanding fan gazetteer: A Nentir Vale Gazetteer - The Piazza

Thanks for the free publicity ;)

I also think the Nentir Vale would have benefited from a full setting book. But the Vale has a ton of player's hooks at it is. They may be more local than those of the full settings, but they do exist, nonetheless.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I ran a 30-level 4e D&D campaign using the inside gatefold-cover map from the B/X module Night's Dark Terror. I haven't done a precise comparison but it's probably similar in size to the Nentir Vale.
I once worked out that it's about 400 x 250 miles.
And it ticks all the boxes.
Including having a bunch of built-in adventure sites should one choose to use them, though for some you'd have to fill in some details.

It's far easier to use as the core of (or, as you did, all of) a base setting than it is to insert into a pre-existing setting, which is what I've done with it twice now.
 

Campbell

Legend
Basically a fair number of RPGs are actually toys and not games. They do not provide an objective of play. Like Blades, Apocalypse World, Dogs in the Vineyard, and early D&D are games. You know just by reading what good play and bad play looks like. You know what you are supposed to be shooting for.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Basically a fair number of RPGs are actually toys and not games. They do not provide an objective of play. Like Blades, Apocalypse World, Dogs in the Vineyard, and early D&D are games. You know just by reading what good play and bad play looks like. You know what you are supposed to be shooting for.
You may have succinctly identified one of the the underlying rubs for me. This is not to say that there's anything wrong with playing with toys, but I think that I may prefer that my settings reflect game play rather than toy play.
 

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