How do you feel about worldbuilding and games made to explore settings?

MEGASONGER

Villager
This is something I'm curious about, but since I've never been part of a TRPG community before, I never got to ask.


I'm curious to see how people feel about games with settings baked into their package. As someone who's more or less only played D&D (and ran Ryuutama) I'm curious how others feel. My personal inclination is toward games where settings are more like... flavors of stories, I guess. Genres. Something more like an engine to run things toward a certain type of story.

But I've looked at a bunch of games lately, and have been researching to broaden my viewpoint on the subject. Games like Symbaroum are getting close to breaking through my reticence. Symbaroum is lush and feels very alive with its laser-focused setting, but I can't help but wonder if you took the setting out of it, how well it may run another adventure of its same flavor? (A sort of dark, murky fantasy, I suppose.)

Anyway, how do you all feel about them?
 

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I'd say it depends on what you want your game to look like and-or how broad-based you want it to be.

If you're looking to run a very focused game that doesn't depart much from its core theme and-or playstyle then having a baked-in setting could be useful - and immensely time-saving!

If you're looking to run a less-focused game and-or you're thinking of reusing the setting for a different game or campaign later, the you might want to look at either something generic (e.g. Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms if you're running D&D) or at designing your own and giving it that extra flexibility.

Another advantage to a big sprawling generic or homebrew setting is that if you want to use a part of it to "run things toward a certain type of story" you can just lob that part onto a blank bit of the setting's map and still have the rest of the setting to use at other times.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
I see it as the right tool for the right job.

A more tightly focused game (say Call of Cthulhu) is made to tell a certain type of story (Lovecraft-style horror) and will generally do it quite well. In theory you could tell a non-horror story using CoC, but there are arguably better systems to do that. You may end up fighting the system when trying to play that story (CoC couldn't emulate Die Hard well without significant modifications).

Less focused games (such as D&D) grant a greater freedom and flexibility, but at the cost of focus. While you can tell a lot of different fantasy type stories using D&D, ultimately you are telling a D&D fantasy story (which is basically a fantasy sub genre unto itself). Telling different stories requires modifications (just look at Adventures in Middle Earth, which is designed to modify 5e to enable stories in a style similar to Tolkien's works).

Then you have fairly generic systems like GURPS that are designed to allow you to play almost anything. Oftentimes, as is the case with GURPS, they require additional supplements to do a particular job (superheroes). Even when they do, they won't necessarily do that job as well as a game focused on primarily providing the experience of that genre.

In my opinion, it's not unlike the choice between a screwdriver and a swiss army knife. One is going to do a particular job well, while the other can accomplish a variety of jobs but not as well.

Games that are designed for a particular setting are generally focused on doing that experience well. You can remove the setting and substitute your own, but only if you take the time to understand what makes them work. If the default setting is grim dark and low magic, it probably won't be a good choice for running a high fantasy game, since it's not meant for that. However, there's a good chance that you could make it work for a different grim dark low magic setting with some effort, as long as the settings are reasonably similar conceptually.
 

I don't see how the two are not interconnected and locked. I have always felt that way. The game's setting should be intrinsically tied to the ruleset. Races are a great example, but there is sooooo much more: from gameplay style like heavy RP effecting who or how one rolls, to cinematic story which affects pacing (a huge one imho), to history and lore effecting skills, to magic use effecting spells and power, to rules like encumbrance that affect realism/gritty modes.

When these are not connected, you can still have a great game and fun (D&D is a great example), but the kitchen sink and fridge and cupboards are overflowing, and sometimes you just want a grill and a steak. ;)
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
But I've looked at a bunch of games lately, and have been researching to broaden my viewpoint on the subject. Games like Symbaroum are getting close to breaking through my reticence. Symbaroum is lush and feels very alive with its laser-focused setting, but I can't help but wonder if you took the setting out of it, how well it may run another adventure of its same flavor? (A sort of dark, murky fantasy, I suppose.)
I generally run player-focused games where setting is usually just a background element, but I have to say, some games like Symbaroum and Forbidden Lands have been really tempting to me lately.
 

Ratskinner

Adventurer
Short Version: I generally feel that mechanics are much more important to address the type of story and/or table experience you want to have. Settings are generally just trappings on solid, flexible mechanics.

For example, Blades in the Dark is a game about running a crew of thieves (or assassins, or a variety of unsavory types). Its mechanics are centered around a cycle of "jobs" or schemes and building your crew's territory/power. The game comes with a fairly evocative setting in an industrial, post-apocalyptic, slightly magical city called Duskvol. However, the mechanics themselves aren't terribly tied to that, and if you replace the setting information with say...a space setting...you can get something like Scum and Villainy pretty easily. So, all the setting information is basically what I would call "Trappings" around the mechanical architecture. If you want to run something like Peaky Blinders, but in a different world/setting, use the Forged in the Dark system. You just need to create a new set of Trappings to go with it. I would not want to run the main Star Wars arc using the Blades in the Dark system, but I could certainly see running a game in the Star Wars setting using the system. It would just be more like Solo.

I actually feel like this is a common oversight/failing for many "universal" systems. For example, Savage Worlds. Yes, you can run Savage Worlds with whatever trappings you like. But the Savage Worlds engine serves a certain style of adventure-story or maybe table experience. If that's your bag storywise, you're golden. You can run it in whatever setting you like. So long as it features fast-moving combat with mostly human-scale participants, you're good to go. However, that doesn't mean it would be good for say, running a police procedural.

Some other systems/games and my thoughts:
Fate - pretty easily does the proactive and competent heroes save the thing thing, as it set out to do. Fairly easily modded or extended to other story-genres. Doesn't do gear-porn, spell-porn, any-kind-of-list-porn or super-specific tactics well (although that is sometimes argued). Story/character arcs wobble all over the place, if not carefully tended.
Gumshoe - mystery/investigation mechanics at their best. Can do "thinky" stories. Extendable to add more "action" and list-porn, but seems kinda clunky at it. Story arcs tight, character arcs, not so much.
PbtA - highly variable with implementation, but highly tweakable. Subtle but profound focus on character arcs in some implementations. Robust in the right GM/developer's hands, but tricky to implement.
GURPS, Hero, several other 20th century universals... - Trappingless, but somehow manage to lock in play pretty well anyway. Point costs seem to depend on a certain play-experience outlook and easily break when taken outside that. Story and character arcs must be hand-held, if present. List-porn lovers dream.
Cortex+ - Highly variable, depending on which mechanical subsets you choose. To the point where I'm not sure how much of a "system" it is, so much a kinda-nifty dice idea that can be applied in a lot of ways. Some implementations do relationship drama really well.
D&D, D20, most trad games - 2D sidescrollers brought to life in 2.5D in full color-ish descriptions. Fantastic for list-porn lovers. Variable for tacticians. Character arcs all bend up, up, up! Unless they come to an ignominious halt. Story arcs, totally optional, depend on GM implementation. Adventure arcs common.

Side notes:

On the design side, its pretty hard to create a list-porn system without "baking in" an exploration story-setting to some degree. That's kinda the point of lists.

Almost any system can be used to do any genre...if the GM and players bang on it hard enough. However, that doesn't mean you should use a hammer to put in screws.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
I think mechanics are at their best when they are trying to evoke some particular element of a setting. As such, I think that the more tightly these things are intertwined, the more specific the experience they deliver will be.

The setting may or may not be a specific one.....such as Doskvol for Blades in the Dark.....but the setting will have specific elements meant to be evoked by the mechanics. Horror and madness in Call of Cthulhu, Stress and Panic in the Alien RPG, Flashbacks in Blades in the Dark, the Fellowship Phase in Middle Earth.

These are all attempting to evoke a specific type of story, to deliver a specific kind of gaming experience.

Compared to more utilitarian mechanics such as Armor Class, they're more evocative and specific.
 

dragoner

solisrpg.com
I love world building, it is highly entertaining in itself; I struggle with mechanics I think, at least to keep them relevant.
 
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atanakar

Hero
Depends of the game.

I completely bought into Coriolis the Third Horizon. How the system supports the setting and vice versa. It's currently my go-to sci-fi game. The setting oozes with evocative details.

Forbidden Lands. I love the setting, some of the legends and character rules but I don't think I would like playing as is. Strangely enough it is very similar to Coriolis' system. I will probably end up raiding the setting to be used with another system.
 

Games with a baked-in setting live and die by that setting. Shadowrun and Warhammer Fantasy come to mind. Both are amazing settings, but the rules (depending on the edition) haven't always been as sharp as they could be. And as I get older, no matter how great the setting, I just don't have the tolerance for complicated, messy, or legacy rules systems.

An example of a game with the rules and world perfectly meshed for me would be The Spire. The world is fascinating, and the rules are easy to learn and help bring the world to life even more.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
Games with a baked-in setting live and die by that setting. Shadowrun and Warhammer Fantasy come to mind. Both are amazing settings, but the rules (depending on the edition) haven't always been as sharp as they could be. And as I get older, no matter how great the setting, I just don't have the tolerance for complicated, messy, or legacy rules systems.

An example of a game with the rules and world perfectly meshed for me would be The Spire. The world is fascinating, and the rules are easy to learn and help bring the world to life even more.

The Spire is a great example. As presented, playing a game must take place in the default setting. The classes/playbooks are all specific to that setting and everything revolves around the core expectation of revolution.

Yes, you could hack the game and make it take place in another setting or whatever, but it’d take some work to make it deliver any other kind of experience.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I'm curious to see how people feel about games with settings baked into their package.

Anyway, how do you all feel about them?

I like having a mix of them.

Shadowrun, and Classic Deadlands, for example, are games where the setting is as much or more of the draw than the mechanics. These aren't just games with a setting baked in. They are, to a large extent, games built for the express purpose of supporting play within these really awesome settings, mechanics specifically designed to support the feeling of their genres.

When you take the Deadlands setting away from the classic rule set, you realize a bunch of it really isn't called for, and a lot of its baroque elements are really good in their setting of origin, but they get in the way elsewhere. And so you start tossing stuff out... and you end up with Savage Worlds. Literally.

This, however, has nothing to do with exploration of the setting as a goal of play.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I'm going to conflate setting and a hyper-specific genre for a moment so that I can pull out one of the old sayings:

Good mechanics allows you to play all of the archetypes of a genre.
Great mechanics encourages you to do so.

In other words, if a campaign is around something, the setting and the mechanics support that something. And the setting at the very least needs to make sense in the mechanics (unlike, say, medevial castles in worlds with magic and flying creatures). But when you end up wanting to play the archetypes that make up the setting because the mechanics not just support but encourage them, then you have a good blend.

So D&D is a fairly big tent. But think about rules changes for original DarkSun. It carved that down, added on uniqueness, and really encouraged the feel and themes of the setting.

So I'm fine with a game system that has rules and setting that work in tandem to provide the experience the designers want.

I am also fine with more general games, like D&D. Or very general games, like FATE.

Different tools for different campaigns.
 

aramis erak

Legend
This is something I'm curious about, but since I've never been part of a TRPG community before, I never got to ask.

I'm curious to see how people feel about games with settings baked into their package. [snip]

Anyway, how do you all feel about them?
I personally much prefer the system to be tweaked to the setting. I've used 6 or 7 different universal engines over the years (Hero 3e/4e/5e, GURPS 1e-3e, CORPS, EABA 1e, Simply Roleplaying (aka Plainlable), Theatrix, Masterbook), and several different games each of adapted core approaches (Palladium pre-Rifts, Hero up to 3E, BRP before 1990, GDW House Engine, RTG's Interlock, RTG's Fuzion, Fate, Cortex Plus, Cortex Classic)...

I've always had more fun running adapted cores over universals. And bespoke over adapted core.
 

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