Thursday, June 10, 2010

Special podcast bulletin

Tonight I'm going to be recording a "special" podcast with Scott about setting design. The reason I invited him specifically is because we once both designed a setting at about the same time around the exact same concept. We'll be talking in more general terms about setting design, but it's also my hope that some interesting compare and contrast about where our settings actually ended up will come out too.

Setting design is actually a topic very near and dear to my heart, because its one of the things that I love most about running games. I'd love to get another "special" podcast with Corey about the topic sometime, so he can talk about Barsoom and the DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND setting.

Anyway, I doubt I'll have time to edit it and stuff, so I don't know for sure when it'll go live, but we're recording it tonight. I'm excited already. Podcasting has been fun!

Here's the rough outline/agenda I threw together and sent to Scott just so we can have a little bit of organization and make sure we don't devolve into "let me tell you about my setting!" which would probably entertain the two of us well enough, but which would probably be really boring for most of the folks at home.
For discussion purposes, I'm going to talk about the setting design process in terms that I'm borrowing from the Wizards of the Coast setting search guidelines. I don't actually design settings in any way that's this organized, but it's a nice framework for discussion, at least, and I can put what I do do into these terms by comparing how much work and material I've generated.

1) One pager on the setting: a simple quick and dirty summary of what makes this setting different from every other setting. (nickname: 1-pager) This one pager includes:
a. A quick summary that's only two or three sentences long that differentiates the setting from every other setting, and tells in almost bumper sticker level synopsis what it's all about. (nickname: bumper sticker)
2) A ten page expansion of the 1-pager. Gives more detail, but is still light on detail. (nickname: 10-pager.)
3) 100 page expansion of the 10-pager. Although not written in the same format, this is the "setting bible" and contains as much detail as the published campaign setting will. (nickname: setting bible)
4) Beyond the setting search guidelines, published settings get more detailed sourcebooks too after they go into print that further expand on the setting bible. This would include stuff like Races of…, Magic of… and regional sourcebooks, city sourcebooks, etc. Lots of detail, but narrow focus. (nickname: splats)

I gave all those items nicknames so we can refer to them quickly in discussion without having clunky descriptions of what we're talking about all the time.

Here's some stuff I think would be interesting to talk about. Let me know if you think of anything else.

1) Set out the labels above so we can talk about them for the rest of the podcast without having to reexplain all the time.
2) Design your own vs. borrow a setting (advantages or disadvantages, time and effort involved with each, etc.) That leads naturally to:
3) How much do you really need to design in order to run a game? Can to get started with just a bumper sticker? With just a 1-pager or 10-pager? Do you really need to have the equivalent of a setting bible in order to run a game, etc. How much did we have developed really when our two settings diverged (I'd say a bit more than a bumper sticker, but less than a 1-pager. How much did you have when you started actually running the game? Looking back after the fact, how much would you say you actually have now that you're done? Etc.
4) How important is a strong bumper sticker? How important is it that a campaign have a strong "hook?" Vanilla vs. strongly flavored campaign settings – benefits of each.
5) How important is it to keep some kind of play goals in mind as you develop a setting? Is it even important at all? E.g., you designed Mist World to be an iconic 4e setting, to give the players their first shot at using 4e, and therefore wanted to keep PHB stuff front and center. I almost wanted to create the "anti-D&D… but with D&D rules" by leaving out really iconic D&D elements like elves, dwarves, wizards, clerics, etc. How much did decisions like that impact the setting design process?
6) How much did the act of actually playing the game impact the setting as it evolved in play? By that I mean, did what you think of the setting change because of the players and what they did, or due to anything else that happened in-game?
7) How portable do you think this setting is? Could you use it with Savage Worlds, for instance, or some other ruleset, or would that be too much work? i.e., did the rules and mechanics have a significant impact on the setting design, or was it a flavor-first style of design?
8) I dunno; anything else?

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