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Curiosity: Demarcation between Personalizing and Homebrew

Grognerd

Villager
So I've been thinking about this for a little while now, and thought I'd throw it out there since I'm curious about how everyone on the board feels. Basically, I'm curious about where y'all draw the lines between a personalized setting and a homebrewed setting.

I would hope that everyone would personalize their settings. I mean, no two settings should be absolutely identical. That would be tragic! But at the same time, there has to be a line somewhere between a setting that has been personalized for a particular campaign and a setting that has deviated enough from the source material that it has essentially become a homebrew setting, with perhaps only the names or maps from the original source material remaining intact.

Now obviously, this is a spectrum. And equally obviously, we'll fall on different points of the spectrum. So this is more just for conversation. Please no one think this is about proving a point "right."

Hopefully you guys get what I'm saying, but just in case I've been unclear, I'll give a brief example. Namely, my own campaign.

The campaign I'm designing is based in the world of Greyhawk (drop dead Greenwood! :p). BUT - and this is a big but - it's set 100 years after the end of the Greyhawk Wars. Further, the Greyhawk Wars didn't end in the canonical way. There was no Treaty of Greyhawk. Rather, the large scale war so depleted the nations that it just kind of stopped via attrition of resources and soldiery. So while large scale warfare ceased, brush wars have continued on throughout the nations. This has led to the rise of a number of mud baronies and self-designated city-states. As a result of this, the larger nations of the Greyhawk world are intact, but there is ample room for a plethora of smaller kingdoms/states. Further, in the 100 years since the canonical end of the Greyhawk Wars, much of the leadership has changed and the Circle of Eight has pretty much ceased to exist.

I think it is safe to say that the setting is - despite using the Greyhawk maps and retaining a number of the countries - essentially a homebrew setting. Almost every major setting character is my own creation (though there are some of the old favorites intact. Iuz is still kicking around, and Rary has since become a lich.). The century disconnect from canon has led to a free range of creation, and I've ported in many of the parts of the Points of Light that I liked. But different people would have different perspectives on when exactly my campaign went from mere personalization to overt homebrew. Was it as soon as I changed the ending to the Wars? Or when I lichified Rary? When I added the first mud duchy? Different people would have different answers.

So, for you personally, at what point do changes to a setting go from "mere" personalization to hombrewing? Your response can include examples from your own setting, ideas based solely on theory, or whatever else. We're just chatting here!
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Well, the answer to this has nothing to do with whether the game is fun. So, I would like to make the general caveat that whatever you and your group do with a ruleset or setting, if you're having fun you playing it right.

Homebrew is just a more extreme form of personalization, but I get where you are going. If your personalization becomes so extreme that another fan of the setting wouldn't recognize it, that is more than adding some NPCs.

For rules, personalization is making decisions on optional/variant rules in the printed RAW. I would also say that editing fluff in the rules, that does not change how things work mechanically is more personalization than homebrew. Customization is repainting and adding/removing chrome. Homebrew is a chop shop turning a chevy impala into a lowrider.

For settings, I suppose anything that changes the events and descriptions in official canon is homebrew. Anything else is personalization. Of course, the True Keepers of Canon may take issue that your personalizations do not make sense in the setting or are jarringly out of place and be able to cite every obscure bit of lore in their argument's favor.

If I could thread hijack and reframe this a bit, perhaps a more practical way of looking at this is asking at what point would changes to a setting make it so that those who are expecting to play in that setting are disappointed that that setting is not what they were expecting?
 
For me, when it comes to where the characters are doing their adventuring, it is not homebrew if you did not create the world from scratch. Using a published world, no matter how much you change, is still just personalizing it to your tastes and preferences.
 
I run a world which I have designed from scratch - including Gods, mythology and history - I do however use modules from many other settings which I modify to fit the world I created, this I consider homebrew though not everything is my own invention.
 

Saelorn

Explorer
If you use the given name of the world, and change any other aspects of it, then that sounds to me like a personalized setting. If you have taken the step to come up with a new name for the world, then that says to me that you consider it to be an entirely homebrew setting, no matter what other elements you include.
 
For me, personalization carries from what everyone knows, or can read about in core and official materials, to the point where a concept, idea, and - especially - rules can no longer be construed as a continuation of, or insertion into, a given setting.

For example, and I use the Forgotten Realms,:
In the lands to the east of the Inner Sea lays a country called Thay ruled by Red Wizards. These wizards are usually bald, have tatooed heads ang wear red robes. They tend to be evil, and are ruled by a lich named Zzass Tam.
So far, on book.
In my campaign, the Red Wizards control every aspect of slave trade in the realms. There is not a slave bought, sold, punished or freed that is not recorded and overseen by a Red Wizard.

This is personalization. It's not by the book, but there are no rules or official products which prevent this from occuring.

One of my players is a chaotic good Owlbear monk who wears plate-mail armor and carries a +8 laser cannon which he only can use in Thay due to the magical canopy that covers that entire land. Also, Dynaris Stormborn and Harry Potter fell through interdimensional portals and got married and govern Waterdeep and Cormyr from their beech house in East haven.

That would be homebrew.

Oh, and if I ever actually run that campaign, have me committed.
 
For me, it's about where you start: if you start with a published setting and then change things, that's personalization; if you start with a blank sheet and add things, that's homebrew.

That would apply regardless of how much you change in the first case, or how much you import from other settings in the second case. (Which, yes, gives the strange case where you start with FR and end up changing everything being 'personalization', and the case where you start with a blank sheet and then import the entire FR and call it 'homebrew'. I don't claim it's perfect. :) )
 

aco175

Explorer
I think that the lines overlap between homebrew and personalizing. I play in the FR as well and take the played the Phandalin module for the first campaign. The 2nd campaign I took the town and modified of by a year and came up with the whole story using the backdrop of FR by way of gods, holidays, groups, etc.

I could develop the background stuff like gods and factions or evil groups like the Iron Throne or Red Wizards. A lot of that does not affect the PCs very much and only adds to my game in the background. I find my time is better spend making the adventure for the PCs and not developing the rest.

I also think that a lot of what people think they come up with is at least partially taken from another source. I can make a homebrew by taking the FR gods and changing the names, or would that just be personalizing for my flavor. Even if I want to take a complete homebrew approach and develop the gods themselves, I think most tend to 'borrow' from others. I might take some powers or unique spells or something that works and call it homebrew. It is a hard question to answer.
 

TwoSix

Lover of things you hate
I'd say if you can tell your players that they're making characters in a certain setting, and they can make those characters by reading some sourcebooks and doing some Googling, than it's a personalized setting.

If they can't make characters in that setting without you giving them some upfront information about what's different, it's a homebrew setting.
 

Mercule

Adventurer
If your personalization becomes so extreme that another fan of the setting wouldn't recognize it
I think this probably nails it. I used to use Greyhawk as "neutral ground" for one shots and the like. If you told me you were running a Greyhawk game, would most of my assumptions be applicable? If you can sum up all the meaningful changes in a paragraph or so, it's probably personalization. Probably. If it takes much more, or if my assumptions are a liability to playing (and not because I'm being a purist), it's home brew. It's definitely gray, though. I would imagine that, if you drew your own map, but pulled in Dragonmarks, kalashtar, warforged, distant gods, pulpy feel, etc., I'm probably just playing a personalized version of Eberron -- again, it depends on whether I could say "We're playing Eberron, with these tweaks" and have it be beneficial to a player new to my table, but familiar with Eberron, or if it would give them too many false assumptions. I definitely see that as being a lot less likely, but theoretically possible.

I think this is a really, really significant part of my issue with the Realms in 5E. We're heading in a general direction where I could invite a new player to my table for "D&D" and they assume that means they should select from the five factions, the SCAG is in use, etc. If I'm using Eberron or a home brew, those assumptions are going to be a liability to everyone's enjoyment of the game.

On a more amusing note, I've got a player who has (I think) read every Realms book published in the last 20 years or more. He was somewhat disappointed that SCAG wasn't a "true" 5E FRCS book. I keep threatening him that I'm going to pick up the SCAG and that will be the only canonical source used. I'm going to drop an island off the west side of the map that's filled with kalashtar and dromites, the Harpers will be secretly controlled by a cabal of evil doppelgangers, etc. To your question, that's probably home brew, but could be considered personalized, depending on whether or not you take WotC's position of "all the material for older editions is still valid".
 
I call my games "Greyhawk games" if I'm using GH maps, and most of the proper names - for peoples, nations, cities, etc - come from the GH books. (I tend not to fuss too much about which era maps I use, as I don't follow any particular era for details/minutiae.)

I do so even when eg using the Wizards of High Sorcery with their three moons as an ancient Suel order of wizardry still current in the Great Kingdom (because I liked that bit of the DL world); or using a mash-up of GH gods, homemade gods and ancient Egyptian gods for my Suel pantheon; or ignoring the canon about GH vikings being descended from Suel migrants.

I don't think that satisfies [MENTION=205]TwoSix[/MENTION]'s test - eg you can't just look up some websites and build a WoHS for use in a GH campaign - but I generally don't use that sort of approach to PC building in my games in any event.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad day
I see those two terms as a bit of a Venn diagram, with a good amount of overlap.

Spitballing, let me throw out a few ideas that fit in the various circles and see if I can then generalize from there. I am going to talk about defining the setting before the impact of the players - every setting should change based on what the characters do during the campaign, that's the nature of play and outside the DM defining the setting.

Starting with an existing setting and filling in details that aren't there and don't change canon is the "far end" of personalization - as far from homebrew as you can get. The equivalent of homebrew would be creating a setting from scratch - as far from personalization as you can get.

Let's take a step closer on each side but still clearly one part or the other. Hmm, homebrew would be taking elements or inspiration from one or more settings as details, but for a vastly different outcome. Stealing the lightning rail - but nothing else - doesn't make something Eberron. Especially when you are mixing in the Towers of High Sorcery from Dragonlance but flavored as the magical school on Roke from Earthsea, adding Iuz and Vecna, and using Norse pantheon as the only gods. Personalization would be changing/ignoring canon details that have limited impact. Hey, I'm adding Tieflings into Dark Sun, and my Halflings aren't cannibals plus can only cast as preservers - they are incapable of defiling. And shifting around some of the history of Rajaat to make all of that fit.

Another step closer: Taking inspiration, geography and elements from a single setting (only). Say I reinterpret Eberron assuming a split back when the Silver Flame tried to eradicate shifters but instead was nearly defeated and forced into hiding. And the Last War never happened because of the changes in politics. We still have the houses but their political standings are much different. Warforged were never created, or were perhaps created but not as weapons whih would change the whole outlook. There is a new transnational coalition of weres and shifters that has martial and political clout, and they have non-traditional allies. Maybe there's been a concerted effort dealing with the Lords of Dust.

Is that homebrew? Yes. Is it personalization of a setting? I'd say yes, but ti's right on the far edge. A player told "we're going to be playing Eberon" would be mightily surprised, but a player told "we're going to be paying an alternate-history Eberron" would find a lot of familiar bits to anchor, and just need to know the differences. So I guess this would be within the overlap between the two.

So I guess personalization is primarily based on a single setting and a new player familiar with that setting would, with some description of the changes, be familiar enough to play without getting tripped up. It's recognizable. Homebrew need not start with any setting, and can be parts of one or more settings plus design by the DM. It will differ from any setting by enough that a new player told "we're playing in X" (assuming familiarity) without fairly detailed information about the changes would be surprised and tripped up by knowledge they have about the setting in that some may be correct but others would be misleading and wrong.
 

Henry

Autoexreginated
I think for me, the cutoff is geographical IP. If it involves a different landmass as the main setting, not using any other owned IP landmasses, then from that point, it's officially homebrew.

In truth, in keeping with the Theseus paradox, I recognize that there's always a range and there is no definitive dividing line, but if I had to choose, I'd choose there, just because when people usually say "homebrew" they're usually talking about whether they're using an existing campaign setting landmass or not. If they say "Dragonlance" or "Eberron" for instance, 9 times out of 10 they actually mean Krynn, or Khorvaire, etc. Even Matt Mercer's two streamed campaigns seem to follow suit, as he seems to call them his "Tal'dorei" campaign and his "Wildemount" Campaign, after the continents on which he set them.
 

Charlaquin

Explorer
It’s hard to draw a clear line between where personalizing a setting ends and homebrewing an alternate version of a setting begins. Especially because any given tweak probably wouldn’t be enough to push a setting over that line on its own; it’s more the cumulative effect of many small changes that have a net result of leaving the setting no longer recognizable as itself.

I feel like this is what’s happening with Mike Mearls’ interpretation of Nentir Vale. He started from the core assumptions of 4e’s implied setting and tweaked to his liking from there. Which to be fair, is exactly how Nentir Vale was intended to be used. But, after a while, his personal flourishes added up, to the point that, for me at least, the setting he occasionally tweets about is no longer recognizable to me as Nentir Vale. It’s a cool setting, to be sure, but to me it’s far enough removed from the source material that I would call it homebrewed.

Now, I think the “for me” part is important. For others, it might still look very much like Nentir Vale with a few small personalized touches. And I don’t think either of us would be wrong. It’s pretty subjective, how much alteration one can tolerate before viewing it as its own separate thing.
 

77IM

Explorer!!!
I'd say if you can tell your players that they're making characters in a certain setting, and they can make those characters by reading some sourcebooks and doing some Googling, than it's a personalized setting.

If they can't make characters in that setting without you giving them some upfront information about what's different, it's a homebrew setting.
^^ This. Measure against player expectations.

If you're using a published setting that no-one has ever heard of, then it might as well be a homebrew setting. So the notion of the "personalized" setting only exists in the context of shared expectations about that setting.
 

TerraDave

5ever
Your running Greyhawk. And your running it as it was meant to be run!

Sure, TSR did some metaplot for it in the 90s . Metaplot was big back then. But applying metaplot to a Greyhawk game just feels wrong, unless its needed for a particular adventure (at which point it is just plot).

So you are good.
 

TwoSix

Lover of things you hate
I do so even when eg using the Wizards of High Sorcery with their three moons as an ancient Suel order of wizardry still current in the Great Kingdom (because I liked that bit of the DL world); or using a mash-up of GH gods, homemade gods and ancient Egyptian gods for my Suel pantheon; or ignoring the canon about GH vikings being descended from Suel migrants.

I don't think that satisfies [MENTION=205]TwoSix[/MENTION]'s test - eg you can't just look up some websites and build a WoHS for use in a GH campaign - but I generally don't use that sort of approach to PC building in my games in any event.
My take is that I would still call adding WoHS to Greyhawk "personalization" as opposed to "homebrew" because you haven't invalidated any possible PC concepts, you've only added to them. Likewise, adding additional gods to the pantheon doesn't invalidate any PC divine class concept, it merely broadens their options.

Now, if a PC wizard was required to take a custom subclass that corresponds to one of the three moons, then that would be where I'd personally say that my game has some homebrew concepts that need to be communicated to the players.

Basically, my personal metric is "How much information do the players need so I don't have tell them their concept won't work in my game". If a player can't make a cyber-ninja in my Eberron game, that's simply enforcing genre conceits. If your player has to change his cleric's deity to Ares from Tempus because you've replaced the Faerun pantheon with Greek gods, that's personalization. If a player can't make a tempest cleric because the pantheon doesn't have a storm god anymore, then it's homebrew.
 

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