This is a site for discussing roleplaying games. Have fun doing so, but there is one major rule: do not discuss political issues that aren't directly and uniquely related to the subject of the thread and about gaming. While this site is dedicated to free speech, the following will not be tolerated: devolving a thread into unrelated political discussion, sockpuppeting (using multiple and/or bogus accounts), disrupting topics without contributing to them, and posting images that could get someone fired in the workplace (an external link is OK, but clearly mark it as Not Safe For Work, or NSFW). If you receive a warning, please take it seriously and either move on to another topic or steer the discussion back to its original RPG-related theme.

Author Topic: What do you look for in a setting book?  (Read 510 times)

Hzilong

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 81
What do you look for in a setting book?
« on: August 06, 2022, 05:00:33 PM »
I’ve recently gotten interested in compiling my campaign setting into a more unified, coherent place. It could be that I just haven’t read enough, but I find there are not many settings that really explore Chinese mythology and mysticism. Most of the time when Asia is presented, it is Edo or Sengoku Japan with with the serial numbers filed off. Granted, the setting is not just faux-China, that was simply the starting point. If possible, I would love to eventually publish it in some form.

That said, what do you all look for when you want to try out a new setting?

I thought I remember someone posting something similar to this, but apparently my search-fu is lacking.
Resident lurking Chinaman

ForgottenF

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 123
Re: What do you look for in a setting book?
« Reply #1 on: August 06, 2022, 06:00:08 PM »
So as a collector I just look for how interesting the setting is and the prose and quality of presentation.

As a DM, though you have to have different criteria. In terms of the setting itself, I think there's two things that should be high priority:

Gameability: How conducive is the setting to adventure, and how well does it mesh with the system it's going to be run with.
Accessibility: In this context meaning how hard is it going to be for me to get my players immersed in the setting? How hard is it to describe the aesthetics (or is there plenty of art to bridge that gap)? Does it match a well-understood genre(/s)? Are there analogues in history or existing fiction I can reference? I find you can't really count on players to take much time to read up on a setting, and the most creative setting in the world is useless to me if my players won't be able to imagine it.

In terms of the book. I find it's most valuable to DMs if its feature-rich. You need a gazetteer of course, but if I'm going to use a book at my table, I put a lot of value on tables (random encounters, events, adventure seeds, prices, weather etc.), maps, setting-specific rules, profiles of important figures, bestiaries, etc.

Generally, its just important to remember that you're writing a game aid, and not just something for pleasure reading.

MeganovaStella

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 102
Re: What do you look for in a setting book?
« Reply #2 on: August 06, 2022, 06:22:16 PM »
Interesting lore.

Lists of influential NPCs, what they can do, how they act, and what they are.

Good looking maps.

High readability.

SHARK

  • The Great Shark Hope
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4000
Re: What do you look for in a setting book?
« Reply #3 on: August 06, 2022, 07:03:26 PM »
I’ve recently gotten interested in compiling my campaign setting into a more unified, coherent place. It could be that I just haven’t read enough, but I find there are not many settings that really explore Chinese mythology and mysticism. Most of the time when Asia is presented, it is Edo or Sengoku Japan with with the serial numbers filed off. Granted, the setting is not just faux-China, that was simply the starting point. If possible, I would love to eventually publish it in some form.

That said, what do you all look for when you want to try out a new setting?

I thought I remember someone posting something similar to this, but apparently my search-fu is lacking.

Greetings!

Hzilong! I think I may remember the site you are referring to. ;D As I recall, it was many years ago. The guy wasn't selling anything. He had this whole website devoted to his Asian-themed campaign world for D&D. He had colour hex maps, lists of cities, essays on culture, religion, mythology, market goods, all kinds of things. Truly, it was a thing of absolute dedication and beauty. It was very inspiring!

I think that a good game book would cover the basics; history, religion, mythology, economy, magic and mysticism. Of course, monsters and creatures. A decent primer on the popular deities, spirits, and some idea of how the people viewed religion, and how the particular religion influenced society. Values, major ideas, that kind of thing. Clothing, armour, weapon, wagons, boats, ships, and houses. Enough to get an idea of what an ancient/Medieval/Fantasy person would look like, dress like, both at work and leisure, and at war.

Applications of game specifics of course--classes, skills, feats, magic items, special items, resources, powers and such like. Treasures. What was or is valued, as well as how and why? Jade items, fine degrees or kinds of silk, different layers of softness and durability; not overly exhaustive, but a few details here and there, that describe why items of pottery from northern "X" are so cherished and valued, and so on.

Then, of course, some suitably detailed adventure seeds. Descriptions, advice, and guidance on what kind of adventures are often embarked upon. Yes, the same for everywhere else, naturally, but in the case of Asia-inspired campaign "X" are there any particular regional, geographical, or cultural highlights? For example, in a Pseudo-China campaign, dealing with pirates along the coasts can be a huge theme. Or traveling overland to the Corridor in the north-west, which was so important to the Jade Gate. Weather and geography there, and the dangers and wealth that may be encountered there. Huge, walled and fortified cities, teeming with enormous populations. So many possibilities! It's all great! Of course, not everything can be covered, but a straightforward, honest effort is definitely appreciated!

These are some of the elements that I look for in a good game book. ;D

Semper Fidelis,

SHARK
"It is the Marine Corps that will strip away the façade so easily confused with self. It is the Corps that will offer the pain needed to buy the truth. And at last, each will own the privilege of looking inside himself  to discover what truly resides there. Comfort is an illusion. A false security b

Svenhelgrim

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 310
Re: What do you look for in a setting book?
« Reply #4 on: August 06, 2022, 07:29:12 PM »
Here is what I look for in a setting. (Examples given in parenthesis)

An easy to read historical timeline. (Hârn, Greyhawk, Dark Albion, Sword & Caravan)

A map that is not cluttered with cheese, yet is detailed enough, and pretty enough to inspire my imagination.  (Hârn, Greyhawk, The Known World, Lionheart, Ultima Thule, Dark Albion, Red Tide)

A gazetteer that gives you just enough information to run an area with very little prep. (The Known World, Greyhawk, Dark Albion, Sword & Caravan, Any Traveller Supplement, Red Tide,

Plenty of seeds for adventures, and room to adapt the setting to your own needs (The Known World, Greyhawk, Sword & Caravan, Traveller 3rd Impirium, Red Tide, Dark Albion)

New monsters.

Hzilong

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 81
Re: What do you look for in a setting book?
« Reply #5 on: August 06, 2022, 09:46:40 PM »

Thanks for the suggestions!

Here is what I look for in a setting. (Examples given in parenthesis)

An easy to read historical timeline. (Hârn, Greyhawk, Dark Albion, Sword & Caravan)

A map that is not cluttered with cheese, yet is detailed enough, and pretty enough to inspire my imagination.  (Hârn, Greyhawk, The Known World, Lionheart, Ultima Thule, Dark Albion, Red Tide)

A gazetteer that gives you just enough information to run an area with very little prep. (The Known World, Greyhawk, Dark Albion, Sword & Caravan, Any Traveller Supplement, Red Tide,

Plenty of seeds for adventures, and room to adapt the setting to your own needs (The Known World, Greyhawk, Sword & Caravan, Traveller 3rd Impirium, Red Tide, Dark Albion)

New monsters.

Nice reading list, I’ll definitely have to look for some of these.
Resident lurking Chinaman

Iron_Rain

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • I
  • Posts: 146
Re: What do you look for in a setting book?
« Reply #6 on: August 06, 2022, 10:13:52 PM »
What I want is story ideas and seeds and potential campaigns. Second, is that the game system should support these. How this is done is up to you.

Rogue Trader is my favorite lore to read, it is dripping with potential story. The system is so-so and needs lots of House rules. The lore is so good I don't care.

weirdguy564

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 165
Re: What do you look for in a setting book?
« Reply #7 on: August 06, 2022, 10:27:38 PM »
I like these features. 

1.  Unusual cultures with norms that are new instead of borrowed from a real culture.  IE you visit an island, and nearly every mountain has been carved like Mount Rushmore or Crazy Horse.  And then it dawns on everyone we are dealing with fanatics.  Lots of them. 

Or little stuff like a Brandon Sanderson novel.  In Way of Kings there are frequent hurricane storms.  This means no grass grows there, instead all plants retract underground in less than a second to avoid being eaten, or wiped out in a storm.  The first time a merchant woman sails to another continent with normal weather and grass she feels awkward walking on it.  She keeps stomping the ground to try to get it to retract.

2.  Gear.  With stats.  I like new toys. 

3.   Mysteries.  Unexplained bits are where a GM can take over and make an adventure out of it.   The same goes for political feuds that are almost at their tipping point.  Give me factions at each other’s throat. 

4.   Famous local NPC’s to deal with.  Many should have a problem or two that needs a player to get involved. 




Saying D&D is the best RPG is like saying Bud Lite is the best beer.  Maybe we shouldn't equate "popular" with "good"?

Heavy Josh

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • H
  • Posts: 164
Re: What do you look for in a setting book?
« Reply #8 on: August 06, 2022, 11:22:29 PM »
I can summarize it in one word:

Hooks.

I want plot hooks, setting hooks, adventure hooks, campaign hooks, character hooks, villain hooks, hooks to attach multiple genres to the setting, long term hooks, short term hooks, combat hooks, social hooks, hooks that hook onto other hooks to make a giant Voltron-Hook. (Fried hooks, fricasseed hooks, hook gumbo... you get the point)

The platonic ideal for me is this: every single sentence in a setting book needs to do its part in transmitting a hook that helps me, as a GM or player, run something in that setting.

If the sentence is not doing that job, then it had better have a very good reason for being there.

Setting books are not novels, not historical chronicles, nor are they geography texts. I find a lot of RPG settings are not really properly designed: the settings described therein do not give the GM sufficient hooks to run games in that setting. They're self-indulgent exercises in worldbuilding that GMs and players often bounce off of, instead of being hooked into. Worldbuilding is great, but if unless the hooks are front and center, woven into the text, as well as explicitly laid out in a "GMing in Setting X" chapter, it's near-useless.

When you find yourself on the side of the majority, you should pause and reflect. -- Mark Twain

Ruprecht

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 170
    • Ruprecht's RPG blog
Re: What do you look for in a setting book?
« Reply #9 on: August 07, 2022, 12:49:22 AM »
I want scenarios. Not just an overview of gods and politics but some nuts & bolts ideas. This could be a series of one-page style dungeons or just a list of adventure ideas like in the end of Warhammer 40K 1e. (my copy subtitles this Rogue Trader but I think there is a separate game with that name by this point so I thought I'd be exact).
Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing. ~Robert E. Howard

Visitor Q

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 206
Re: What do you look for in a setting book?
« Reply #10 on: August 07, 2022, 05:29:49 AM »
Essentially for a rpg setting sourcebook I want the author to remember it's not a novel or coffee table book being read for its own sake. It's ultimately going to be used to create a game.

Therefore what I am looking for is....

A through line into why the lore is important for the PCs. This doesn't necessarily need to be story hooks (although those are great) but if there are a few paragraphs about some ancient general in the setting then knowing why I need to know about him is helpful. Is the general very well known and revered by the population? Does insulting his memory lead to duels with the locals etc.

Similarly a bit of understanding of what lore and background is known by basically everyone in the setting and what would require checks. E.g in the real world 99% of people in the Western World wouldn't need to make a History Lore check to know roughly when WWII was, which countries were involved and who won.

A bit of clarity about what is ambiguous in the setting and what is objective. If the Emperor's Guard are known as being incorruptible is this something they have a reputation for but it's ultimately good PR, is it an outright lie or is it an objective truth because of the some magical McGuffin?

Something about the day to day lives of the ordinary folk of the setting and how they view adventurers or PC type characters. Are travelling bands of heroes fairly common and sought-after? Are they viewed with suspicion? Are they unknown?

On that point an Appendix with statistics for most NPCs mentioned is always nice though not absolutely essential.

A list of common names for characters in the setting is very helpful.

Locations I can have my players get to. If a Moon Palace of the Blue Wizard is described in detail with floor plans and a full inventory of the wizard's cutlery and staff then how can my PCs visit said Moon Palace? If it is effectively impossible then keep the description proportionately brief.







Steven Mitchell

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • S
  • Posts: 3080
Re: What do you look for in a setting book?
« Reply #12 on: August 07, 2022, 07:31:50 AM »
What Heavy Josh said, plus excellent organization.  Written in some coherent order, not with key bits about Thing X scattered all over the text as it is slowly revealed as you do the first read through.  Table of contents.  A useful, thoughtful index.  Of course, if you do what Heavy Josh said, all that organization is a lot easier to do, because there isn't a lot of junk in the text.  Ideally, of course, it is so well written that the various hooks, now easy to find, stick in your head.  Naming not only people but locations, towns, etc. well really helps here, with a tiny bit of description that rings.  Something to aspire to, so rarely hit.

But I wouldn't bother for someone like me, because chances are the subject matter won't interest me enough to use it, since my taste are apparently so out of line with most gamers.