Lore Isn't Important

pemerton

Legend
I am sort of torn on this one. On the one hand, lore is clearly important. If you take Ravenloft and rewrite the history of the setting, that is a radical alteration but it might also not be so bad if you want the players to experience it again for the first time.
I am not steeped in Ravenloft and its lore, but I've heard of it, read a few modules for it, and (a long time ago) interacted a bit with it in play.

To me Ravenloft seems more like a bundle of tropes - mists, curses and undeaths, weird prophecies, sinister spires, brooding and perhaps tortured evil masterminds - than maps and timelines LotR-style.

The same for Dark Sun. It's sand and city-states and evil sorcerer-kings and gladiators and psionics and ruthless templars; and once you're out into the desert, there are thri-keen and giants who stride across (and through) the dunes, and strange hermits at rare oases. Detailed lore doesn't seem necessary.
 
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pointofyou

Adventurer
Lore can be as important as the people at a given table want it to be. It can the soil from which all the story threads grow or it can be set-dressing. The fiction can be completely constrained by it or built on top of it.
 

I am not steeped in Ravenloft and its lore, but I've heard of it, read a few modules for it, and (a long time ago) interacted a bit with it in play.

To me Ravenloft seems more like a bundle of tropes - mists, curses and undeaths, weird prophecies, sinister spires, brooding and perhaps tortured evil masterminds - then maps and timelines LotR-style.

The same for Dark Sun. It's sand and city-states and evil sorcerer-kings and gladiators and psionics and ruthless templars; and once you're out into the desert, there are thri-keen and giants who stride across (and through) the dunes, and strange hermits at rare oases. Detailed lore doesn't seem necessary.

Ravenloft isn't as lore heavy as many other settings, in part because its history is very short and its a demiplane. It still had some significant meta plot development but I always felt you could ignore this since the setting was so GM facing (it wasn't the kind of setting where a player was expected to know the details or bring those details to the table, and by its nature, stuff could easily be changed). I do think the lore increased substantially with the Sword and Sorcery books. And I wasn't as into the tone of that lore personally. But I think the way Ravenloft works for most people is they sort of pick a cut off point where they want their lore to begin and end.

That said, if you read all the novels, modules and supplements, it does build up a kind of lore. It does have lots of major NPCs, important events, etc. And there was a metaplot (for instance two of my favorite domains, Dorvinia and Borca merged into one during the Grand Conjunction which greatly reshaped Ravenloft). There was a point in my life where I pretty much knew all the information every Ravenloft Novel, boxed set, Van Richten Guide, supplment and the black box, red box and domains of dread. I would never approach something like that now though. It wasn't Realms level lore, but there was a considerable amount by the end of the 90s.
 


pointofyou

Adventurer
@Bedrockgames

The sort of stuff you describe - metaplots, "world-shaking events", etc that are presented as material for incorporation into RPGing - is pretty much exactly the opposite of what I am interested in as a RPGer.
I mostly agree. They might be worthwhile as things that have happened in the history of a setting as part of why the setting is as it is. They are usually less interesting as things the PCs are supposed to interact with.
 

pemerton

Legend
I mostly agree. They might be worthwhile as things that have happened in the history of a setting as part of why the setting is as it is. They are usually less interesting as things the PCs are supposed to interact with.
I like the events the PCs (and thus their players) interact with to be things that emerge from our play, rather than the working through of stories already written by someone else.

Those things may be big or small - this depends on taste and on system. In my 4e game, the events have included sealing the Abyss, killing Lolth such that the Drow are freed and able to return to the surface world, and staving off the Dusk War. By default, 4e doesn't really do nuance.

In the Burning Wheel game where I'm a player, the events have included my PC arguing with his friend about whether or not she will repair his armour; and returning to my home to find my brother fallen low, and almost being brought low myself by my mother's appeal to stay at home with her - but a successful prayer for a miracle instead meant that the scales fell from her eyes and she agreed to join me in restoring our home to its former glory. I once described BW as not-quite-Vermeer-the-RPG.
 

pointofyou

Adventurer
I like the events the PCs (and thus their players) interact with to be things that emerge from our play, rather than the working through of stories already written by someone else.

Those things may be big or small - this depends on taste and on system. In my 4e game, the events have included sealing the Abyss, killing Lolth such that the Drow are freed and able to return to the surface world, and staving off the Dusk War. By default, 4e doesn't really do nuance.

In the Burning Wheel game where I'm a player, the events have included my PC arguing with his friend about whether or not she will repair his armour; and returning to my home to find my brother fallen low, and almost being brought low myself by my mother's appeal to stay at home with her - but a successful prayer for a miracle instead meant that the scales fell from her eyes and she agreed to join me in restoring our home to its former glory. I once described BW as not-quite-Vermeer-the-RPG.
I don't think we are disagreeing more than around the edges. I do not see much conflict between emergent story and pre-established setting facts. You may see more conflict or tension than I do here.
 


@Bedrockgames

The sort of stuff you describe - metaplots, "world-shaking events", etc that are presented as material for incorporation into RPGing - is pretty much exactly the opposite of what I am interested in as a RPGer.

This is one of the reasons when I run Ravenloft now I strictly use the black box (which is just the original bare bones overview of all the domains, nothing too fancy, plenty of space to fill in with your own material, stuff that emerges during play, etc). I don't hate meta plot but I think it got way overplayed in the 90s, and there wasn't enough restraint in its use. Also rather than be presented in a useful fashion (like I don't know a book filled with a bunch of events you could have happen over time to add a sense of 'current affairs' to the world as you wish) it was more like these big monumental events players were meant to be spectators to most of the time. I like a lot of the adventures leading up to the grand conduction, there was a whole series of modules where a line from an unfolding prophecy appeared in each one. But I absolutely hated the Grand Conjuction. It just made the core more uniform rather than strange and interesting. As an example, it took out all the domains that didn't feel as European or more standard fantasy. Many of the domains had an eastern European feel, which worked, but I don't think you needed everything to fit adjacent to that. So the strange barren and lightning blasted Illithid Domain of Bleutspur, the weird religious fanatic domain of G'henna, the really cool Nightmare Land domain inhabited by the Abber Nomads where the land can literally change shape out of the corner of your eye, those all got plucked out, along with the domain inspired by Island of Doctor Moreau (which got put into the sea so it could more closely resemble the source material). It just felt like a lot of the dreamlike weirdness was removed by the grand conjunction. Some of the domains they took out were challenging, were a little harder to understand for some GMs, maybe harder to use, but it removed really important contrast in my opinion. Plus you ended up with this huge chasm in the middle of Ravenloft whose sole purpose seemed to be to make travel between certain domains harder (which on the one hand isn't awful but it took away some interesting travel choices the players might make). Keep in mind, this is my own idiosyncratic view, I think most people liked the Grand Conjunction.
 

Reynard

Legend
For those of you that find lore important for your games, what do you do for players unfamiliar with the setting? Do you try and bring them up to speed? Do you give them homework? Do you expect them to get invested?
 

For those of you that find lore important for your games, what do you do for players unfamiliar with the setting? Do you try and bring them up to speed? Do you give them homework? Do you expect them to get invested?

My opinion is homework doesn't work well for that. Most players seem to resent it even if they say okay to reading stuff (I think even if they are initially excited it can just add too much to their day and became an issue later). If it is a small sheet of information that might be manageable. But when lore is a factor in play I'd rather just have them make low level bumpkins who know very little about the world beyond what I tell them at character creation, and have them learn through play about the setting. I think that is good because it can add to a sense of exploration, but also it means the game matures and starts to feel different the more they learn (and they can eventually start making characters that are more developed with stronger ties to elements of the setting as they come to understand it).
 

RivetGeekWil

Lead developer Tribes in the Dark
Lore is only important if it presented in a way that is actionable by the players. If it's not something that the players can see, go to, explore, destroy, build on, whatever it's just dead weight. Once the game starts, it also should be subject to change.
 

For those of you that find lore important for your games, what do you do for players unfamiliar with the setting? Do you try and bring them up to speed? Do you give them homework? Do you expect them to get invested?
I cry, mostly.

But jokes aside, in reality I just tell them a little about things on a need to know basis, nominally I do expect investment as a quality of a good player and a major component of my own enjoyment as a GM, but obviously some players are interested and some aren't as much, so that's just how it goes. It mostly comes up as its relevant to the game, so the only exposition is really when someone is considering a character and I have to step in to tell them what that would mean in terms of the existing lore of the setting-- like magic system stuff, culture stuff, and some 'it isn't quite what the book says in this world' stuff.

In the end I just push a bit to make sure the ones who don't care have to care the minimum amount to not ruin it for the rest of the table, which is in line with other areas of the game, e.g. roleplaying, combat etc. Honestly I'd like more players who get invested in lore because it matches my style better as a matter of group curation, players are a dime a dozen, but that can make them hard to sift through to find the right vibe.

Honestly, rather than invested/uninvested I have players who are mostly happy to learn a bit about the relevant parts of the world in session zero, and then more as it comes up during play, except one person who is super judgey about anything I do in a way that they wouldn't, they never really have problems with it at the table, but if they hear about it in the abstract it raises their hackles and they argue about it as if it was some kind of big obstacle or turn off.

I've kind of just learned to ignore it because they're just very, very opinionated about everything and listening to them too much would be detrimental to my own fun, so instead I just make sure the setting includes elements and concepts they do like, and continue trucking on, even though they would prefer every campaign just be a vague fantasyland they can pull whatever crossover elements into that they want to. He's a good player in other ways, but boy doesn't do compromise very well at all.
 
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MGibster

Legend
For those of you that find lore important for your games, what do you do for players unfamiliar with the setting? Do you try and bring them up to speed? Do you give them homework? Do you expect them to get invested?
Seth Skorkowsky has a great bit on his YouTube channel of an interaction between the PCs and a farmer. They ask the farmer a simple question, and the farmer's reply includes a genaological account of people who lived thousands of years ago along with a history of the area and the players didn't take long to tune him out. So in game exposition dumps are probably not the way to go. But here's how I've done it in recent years:

  1. If there are YouTube lore videos, I point those out. I had a few players new to Vampire, and at least one of them really, really loved the lore videos I suggested they look at.
  2. Unless they're really into the setting, I realize most of my players are absolutely not going to read anything, nor will they bother watching videos, so I set my expectations low. I'll give them a broad overview of the setting and feed them tidbits during the game as needed.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Seth Skorkowsky has a great bit on his YouTube channel of an interaction between the PCs and a farmer. They ask the farmer a simple question, and the farmer's reply includes a genaological account of people who lived thousands of years ago along with a history of the area and the players didn't take long to tune him out. So in game exposition dumps are probably not the way to go. But here's how I've done it in recent years:

  1. If there are YouTube lore videos, I point those out. I had a few players new to Vampire, and at least one of them really, really loved the lore videos I suggested they look at.
  2. Unless they're really into the setting, I realize most of my players are absolutely not going to read anything, nor will they bother watching videos, so I set my expectations low. I'll give them a broad overview of the setting and feed them tidbits during the game as needed.
I find 1-2 page primers work well enough. I appreciate how Eberron has its "X things you need to know about Eberron" list. That also works.

I ran a game of Black Hack that I set in a pseudo-Hellenistic Underworld. I gave the players a 1-page letter written from the perspective of an in-universe NPC informing them that the characters that they were dead and catching them up on where they were, major powers, and goals. The NPC then instructed them about character creation on page 2 and then gave them the boot. There was also an optional glossary. The players enjoyed that.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Lore is only important if it presented in a way that is actionable by the players. If it's not something that the players can see, go to, explore, destroy, build on, whatever it's just dead weight. Once the game starts, it also should be subject to change.
For me, I would just change the word "players" to "participants" and I am with you. Perhaps with a caveat over preserving truths established at the table.
 

aramis erak

Legend
For those of you that find lore important for your games, what do you do for players unfamiliar with the setting? Do you try and bring them up to speed? Do you give them homework? Do you expect them to get invested?
I feed lore as I can, I let players browse lore before game.
 

Xamnam

Loves Your Favorite Game
I'm usually the player most invested in this, regardless of which side of the table I'm on. When I'm the DM, I do my best to make it seamless in play, mentioning to the players as they encounter things what is normal that seems weird and what is weird that seems normal as briefly as I can. My world introduction was only three paragraphs, and I feel like I did a decent job of highlighting the most centrally important aspects. Given that I threw them into a once every hundred years major festival, and none of them seemed lost, I'll take that as a win. That said, their current motivating impetus is an ancient mystery that none of them have any reason to know about, so they're actively seeking out history to make sense of it.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
For those of you that find lore important for your games, what do you do for players unfamiliar with the setting? Do you try and bring them up to speed? Do you give them homework? Do you expect them to get invested?

I don't expect them to get invested all at once. I think my job is to help portray the world in such a way that they become invested. I think you can spark their interest in a setting by rattling off some details, but I think actual investment only comes from play... once the players have created characters and then started interacting with the setting in the fiction. I think players are typically going to be more concerned with their characters than with the setting. So if you want them invested, you have to connect those two things.

In the campaign of Spire that I wrapped up a couple of months ago, the lore was central to play. However, most of it was determined through play. We started off with the very basics of the setting... the players are all drow revolutionaries living in a city that has been taken over by the high elves. That's the core premise, and so we started with that and then created characters. As we created the characters, we fleshed out a lot of the lore based on the choices they made. One player chose the Knight class, and so we established how his knightly order worked and a few of the other members. These decisions resulted in allies for him, and also enemies and other implications, and influenced the rest of the campaign. This was similar for the other two players.

The characters in Spire are meant to be denizens of the city itself, so they're not strangers wandering a strange land. So very often during play, I'd ask the players for answers to questions that came up. Certain class abilities they have also allows them to declare truths about the setting. So the players are actively contributing to the lore and to the setting on a constant basis. The character creation and the player contributions to setting really connect the characters to the setting in tangible ways, and that really invests the players in what's going on.

Taking that game into consideration, I think there are two ways to look at it. There's the lore at the high level... like the elevator pitch type lore. It's a good idea for the players to know this stuff ahead of time. It's the kind of stuff that's central to play, and they'll want to be aware of to even decide if they are interested in the game. Then there's the lore that comes up in play. For that, I think it's best to hold on loosely to any ideas you have as GM ahead of time, and see how play goes, and then work it in as needed, with the players contributing liberally.
 

Committed Hero

Explorer
A GM who has taken time to familiarize herself with the setting lore (whether by creating it or absorbing it) can smooth over the edges of where the lore runs out. An example might be creating a new mercenary company on the fly in the Battletech universe: having seen enough of them, she can make up a new one based on her knowledge of how the others are.
 

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