... now with 35% more arrogance!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

RPG Design as Setting Design

On Ken Hite's LiveJournal blog, he argues that the game designer's primary responsibility is setting. I'd agree, since I've said before that I prefer RPG rules that make fictional stuff happen, as opposed to rules meant to create a balanced challenge or to give players theme control. He gives some examples of mechanics to get players involved in the setting, then he addresses how designers should assist GMs in creating involved settings:

Gary Gygax gave us the answer. And then he immediately hid it from us. The answer is the Random Encounter Table, or Wandering Monster Table, or Random Dungeon Generator, and all those other wondrous time-killers in the back of the DMG. By stocking those tables, paying some attention to the probabilities, and adding modifiers here and there, you create an immediate, accessible method for GMs to understand your setting in the most visceral way possible: by co-creating it with you. They only have to read the setting bits they've generated, and they have a story and an adventure. This is an almost insanely powerful technology for setting design and presentation, and we've unaccountably left it back in its rudimentary Bronze Age form, like the Antikythera Mechanism.
I wanted to highlight that bit because it's exactly what I'm interested in, why I'm hacking away at this dice map approach to random monster, magic, dungeon, kingdom, and detail generation, why I produce lists of randomly-created content like the chaotic enchantments and wandering monsters I post to my blog. I want an updated, flexible approach to create interesting seed ideas that the GM expands on and players flesh out through play.


  1. I agree with settings be a requirement. I rarely review generic fantasy games anymore - especially lite ones.

    As for generating a setting randomly, did you see Instant Game by Mike and Kyle Jones? It's a well organised random setting creator. Great for both making a setting or plundering for ideas.

  2. I remember reading that review, but don't think I checked out the game itself. I should go do that!