Monday, February 27, 2012


Perhaps curiously, for a guy who created a blog mostly to ramble on about my fantasy setting (and book reviews) I think settings aren't really all that.  This comes out of a discussion I was having online earlier with a guy who didn't understand why he had a hard time interesting potential players in his great idea of mixing every d20 game ever made under the sun.  d20 vampire jedi, Cthulhu Sanity, cyborg World of Darkness d20 mages, and an elven gunslinger in a post-apocalyptic world, attacking tanks with katanas, etc.  All in the same game.  Why isn't anyone interested in anything that's obviously so awesome, he wondered.

The discussion eventually wandered to, "well what in the world is that game about?  How can anyone make a character when they have no idea what a coherent character concept is, and how to work it out with the other players, and what else was going on, etc.?

In other words, players care about their characters and what they can reasonably expect to do.  Basking in setting is a GM activity that notoriously bores players fairly quickly.  A little bit of it goes a long way.

Perdido Street Station
Not just GMs, of course.  I read Perdido Street Station before starting this blog, so I never posted my review of it here.  My biggest complaint is that Mieville just can't get around to having a plot, to writing interesting characters, or creating interesting conflicts for the better part of 200 pages because he's too in love with his own setting and wants to just explore it pointlessly.

Even after the plot eventually starts, it still struggles to stay focused, because he wanders into pointless asides that exist for no reason other than to show off how imaginative he thinks his setting is.

And, to be fair, it is pretty imaginative.  However, it doesn't really matter.  Without interesting characters and an interesting plot, the setting simply cannot support the weight of a 650 or so page novel, and it can't do it for a roleplaying game either.  It's nice to have a great setting.  But that can't be the only thing your game brings to the table.  Setting details can be dribbled out slowly here and there when relevant and appropriate, and the setting can become an element that the players (or readers) really love and appreciate.  I think fantasy fans in particular appreciate setting more readily than do fans of other genres.  But they still don't appreciate it so much that they'll give up plot or characters for it.

1 comment:

garrisonjames said...

Interesting take on this book. Even more interesting are your points regarding Setting, Plot and Character. You very succinctly point out a path forwards for creators of settings that I am going to print out your post and pin to my wall next to the monitor.