Idle Essay RE: Generic Settings

Every game has details. Role playing games have details. It is easy to overwhelm players with information. Even people who have played the game for years do not necessarily have the patience to pour through the volumes of information on the Forgotten Realms. Even new settings, like Golarion, have several tomes that detail the economy of the author's fantasy world. It is all interesting, but it is a lot to ask of people in order to play a game.

A lot of game masters that run a game create a large portion of their world before it starts, and help their players into the world; they usually refer to their setting as being home-brewed. A home-brewed setting can make for a very rich game if the game master put a lot of thought into it and the players are interested and respectful of the game master's work. It could also become a time for the game master to give lectures on make believe anthropology and history, with players begrudgingly stacking dice between "epic" encounters.

When 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons game came out, the Dungeon Master's Guide described a setting it called "Points of Light". This was a setting wherein the world was assumed to be a dangerous, unexplored vast wilderness, which was darkness, punctuated with small pockets of civilization, which were the points of light. Player's characters were the brave, desperate, and adventurous men and women who carried the torch into the night. This "Points of Light" setting was a description of some of the oldest Dungeons & Dragons game's settings.

This concept of a few disparate, disconnected pockets of safety in the vastness of ruins and dungeons creates a lot of opportunity for ad hoc session planning. Right now, in "When the Trees are Teeth", the player's characters are in the town of Drafton. I have town detailed, and the surrounding wilderness, and a large dungeon nearby to explore. I have my next handful of sessions planned, but I do not have any grand agenda as to where the party will end up.

I can make assumptions about the game's setting by drawing on archetypes in the fantasy genre. For example, I know there is a wizard's college somewhere, a thieves guild, a king, foppish nobles, a bard school, and dragons. When I am idle and bored, I may think about who the king is, and how he gets along with the bard's college, but it is not relevant to the game right now. In role playing games, a thing does not exist until that thing becomes relevant to the game.

More interesting about the ad hoc setting is that it provides freedom to give creative license to the players. If a player wants to suggest that he comes from a land similar to the mythic far east, then it fits! An ad hoc setting creates a rich world by player consensus.

How Pathfinder relates to D&D (a brief primer for new players)

According to geek lore, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson got the idea for Dungeons & Dragons from war games. The story is very interesting, and actually filled with a lot of intrigue, duplicity, drama, and arguments about property rights. It is one of those arcane things that is not really clear to anyone who does not dedicate a significant portion of their free time thinking about it, but the entire franchise is an interesting web of politics and copy-write infringement.

There have been quite a few variations of D&D in the last 38 years. The list to the left is not even complete! Gygax and Arneson formed a company called TSR, and eventually had creative license of their property wrested from their hands, though when exactly is contested.

In 1997, Wizards of the Coast, a subsidiary of Hasbro, bought the Dungeons & Dragons license from TSR. They hired game designers to develop a new set of rules, commissioned artists and published a "Third Edition".

The stroke of genius behind Third Edition was the Open Gaming License. It was a public copyright license that made it legal for anyone to use, copy, modify or talk about the rules of their game, which they called "d20". That meant that anyone who wanted to make a game or book for Dungeons & Dragons could do so, with few exceptions. Hundreds of books were published to support Third Edition. High caliber licensed works like The Wheel of Time RPG the pet projects of game design super stars, creative settings like Nyambe, and horrible unlicensed slash-fiction games based on  Naruto or My Little Pony. The market was saturated in these "d20" products "for use with the worlds most famous Role Playing Game".

Thankfully Shadowrun never converted to d20
It was an interesting time to be a fan, but it also made the already anemic market fairly flat. The glut of d20 games overwhelmed other games. White Wolf released a new set of rules for their well known Vampire/Werewolf/Mage series of games, and still have a following today, but games like Feng Shui or Rifts became rare. Dozens of other game companies folded up and got out of the game or switched over to producing shitty d20 supplements.

A biproduct of the market being saturated in quickly produced, shitty supplements was that D&D's parent company felt its share of the shit-pie was being whittled away by the legal-produced knock-offs. Their solution was to release a new edition, this time without a OGL, and begin anew with a whole new set of rules. They hired game designers, commissioned artists, and published their new game.

Problem with their new game was that a lot of their old fans did not like it because it was not Third Edition. They had spent years with Third Edition and the various d20 supplements! Then came Paizo riding in.

Paizo was the company that produced and published the official Dungeons & Dragon's magazine until Wizards of the Coast announced they would be discontinuing the magazine in favor of more "online support" of the new 4th Edition. Paizo's response was to take all their contacts they had developed when dealing with the Wizards of the Coast Dungeons and Dragons design and production team and make a new book.

That new book was Pathfinder. They tapped a huge community of fans, tweaked some rules, and adopted the Third Edition d20 ruleset as their own. The book is better designed than the original Third Edition Dungeon and Dragons Rulebooks, with clearer rules and more consistent art. Paizo still releases small supplements for Pathfinder and the d20 rule sets, but at a slower pace.

That is it.

New Campaign "When the Trees are Teeth"

I want this to be a game where all the tropes of the genre find a place to live. Treasure chests filled with jewels, undead monstrosities rising from sarcophagi, trapped thrones, sleeping dragons, bound demons, clockwork machinery, and heroes coming back to town with piles of gold tied to the mules. What one person may consider cliché, I consider archetypical. The characters that are appropriate to this campaign are just as archetypal. I want the warrior standing before an approaching horde, his faith in blade and ally. The spell-caster will be wresting the secrets of the gods and the universe from hidden artifacts and moldering tomes. There should be a clever survivor, living day by day on wit, guile, and luck. This campaign needs characters that hearken to the traditions that made D&D.

We will begin at Drafton, a small mountain-town of about 600 people. Most of the residents are self-sufficient trappers, farmers, and goat-herdsmen. There was a road that connected Drafton to the region’s most populace city, King’s Reach, but it was used so rarely that nature reclaimed it. Technically a fief, Drafton is under the vassalage of Sir Ruchard Brines, who has neither visited Drafton nor demanded taxes. The tiny region is simply beneath his attention. The people have carried on in Drafton as they have for decades, uninterrupted by the outside world save for the slow trickle of adventurers who wish to try their luck in the ruins of Yggaril.

Yggaril is an ancient ruin dug into the side of the mountain by a clan of dwarves. The mountainside is pocked with entrances to this dungeon, and horrible creatures are known to crawl out from these hidden places. The most innocuous of these creatures are small, yipping creatures that make frequent excursions into the goat herds. These creatures are little more than pests to the people of Drafton, but everyone knows that more heinous creatures stalk the woods.