Last time we decided what campaign we were going to run with; something short, sweet, and story-driven. Now that we know what we're doing, we ought to figure out where we're doing it. A campaign setting adds a level of personality and depth to the story you are trying to tell. The more rich and diverse the setting, the more you have to work with as far as your story is concerned.
But settings aren't just locations where you tale takes place. They're systems and genres that define the tone of the game both mechanically and thematically. While I won't be showing you how to create your own campaign setting here, you can take a look at my series "Let's Build A Campaign Setting" for some tips starting out. Instead, what I will be doing in this article is help you to narrow down what kind of setting best suits the kind of game you want to run and that your players want to play.
And hopefully, get my own campaign straightened out. Allons-y!
The genre is very important when deciding what kind of monster you have on your hands. A Horror game can be drastically different than a Comedy game. Sci-fi and Fantasy, while similar, have some pretty big distinctions. The kind of story you want to tell or the type of world you want to introduce to your players can be greatly enhanced or diminished depending on the genre you decide to go with.
If you are running a sandbox game, you could engage in a plethora of different genres depending on what adventure they are on at any given moment. If the characters are dealing with the political intrigue of warring noble houses, a thriller would work well in the context. If they are venturing through a haunted house, horror is a given. The advantage of the sandbox game is that you can submit your players to more variety. The downside, however, is that things can change so quickly that they might only get a taste of something they really dig and then find themselves left unfulfilled.
"Everybody hurts... sometimes."
For those running something more story-oriented, it is best to focus on one or two particular genres for the overall tone. Paizo's Pathfinder Adventure Paths are perfect examples of this. Strange Aeons looks to be a spine-tingling cosmic horror story with a few science fiction undertones that define the Strange Fiction genre. They're making one or two genres the central theme of the tale. The advantage to this is crafting an immersive environment for the characters to explore. The disadvantage is while you focus on one genre all the time, you miss out on providing others for your players to enjoy, and run the risk of denying them a chance to experience what else is out there.
Like all things, it is best to strike a balance. Communicate with your players, know the kind of game you want to run, and figure out what genres work well with it and which detract from what you are trying to do.
What Genre Am I Going With?
I am a big fantasy fan, but lately, I have had such a hankering to run a wild west-style game. Strangely enough, the two genres fit together surprisingly well, and so the campaign I will be writing along the way will be a Fantasy Western, if for no other reason than I love a challenge. This is what I get for listening to the Bastion soundtrack while writing this.
"Music. Makes the people. Come together. Yeah."
You know you genre, which comes in really handy when you are deciding on a system. It lets you eliminate some of the hundreds of choices that lay before you. You could literally spend the whole day just trying to figure out the best system to use for your game. This is one of the few times in which I could offer you a short cut, but really this comes down to Game Master and player preference. Talk to your players, ask them what their favorite system, and see if works for your campaign, or could work for your campaign with a few tweaks.
The goal is to find something that synergizes (yay buzzwords!) with your story and your players. If you can get that system-story-player trifecta figured out, you are golden. Don't be afraid to try new systems either. The best way to learn a new one is to play in it and run it. I am a hands-on kind of Game Master, so hammering it out at the table just makes sense for me. That being said, give the book at least a fleeting glance.
"Levels of commitment may vary."
If you are still trying to figure something out, here are a few suggestions from settings I have personally played in/run. Each of these systems could work in just about any genre, but these are the ones in which they are best associated with.
Fantasy: D&D, Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, Swords & Wizardry, Numenera, Palladium Fantasy RPG, and Dungeon Crawl Classics
Modern: d20 Modern, Cortex, Fate, White Wolf (old style), Palladium's Heroes Unlimited, Twilight 2099, and Savage Worlds.
Sci-Fi: Palladium's Rifts, Gamma World, Starfinder (when it's out), Star Wars (from Fantasy Flight), Cortex, Savage Worlds and Numenera.
Horror: Call of Cthulu, Dread, Call of Cthulu, Savage Worlds, Call of Cthulu, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, and Palladium's Nightbane.
Or, you could be insidious and use this as an opportunity to test out a new system of your own devising upon your unsuspecting players.
What System Am I Going With?
Because this will be a narrative heavy game with a lot of emphasis on things that can't necessarily be quantified by simple game mechanics, I've decided to go with Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. It lends itself perfectly to the kind of story I want to tell. Also, I may or may not be having a steamy affair with D&D 5E. Shhh, don't tell Pathfinder. It gets so angry when I see other systems.
"Oh... wow. This is... exactly what it looks like."
You have a genre, you have a system, and the next thing you need is a setting. Settings are the world or universe in which your game will be set. You literally have an infinite number of worlds to choose from, but if there is anything I am good at, it's boiling things down into easy to access nuggets. Really, the only choice you have before you is whether you want to run the campaign in an already established setting, or throw caution to the wind and showcase a world of your own design.
Established Settings: These worlds are already built, published, and played through by thousands or millions of gamers. The setting is usually well known and comes with its own history, major NPCs, and flavor. Some of the more well-known ones are The Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Eberron, and Golarian.
Advantages: The world building is already done from the kingdoms and towns to the geographical features. All you need to do is get familiar with the setting. There are usually a fair number of books available to peruse that flesh out whole areas of these worlds. With the hard part already done by professionals, your prep time is reduced from creation to just getting caught up, leaving you free to focus on your villains, monsters, NPC, and story elements.
Disadvantages: You have very little wiggle room because the world is already so established. If you want something set in Waterdeep, but would rather have your game revolving around the Lake of Steam region, you are going to find that you have a lot of work ahead of you making things fit the way you want. You give up certain freedoms to achieve what you want.
Homebrew Settings: The world is at your fingertips. There are few things as satisfying than introducing your players to a world of your own devising. You
Advantages: You control every aspect of this world, from the geography to the nations, to the NPCs. This gives you an unlimited amount of freedom to shape and change the world around the characters. You can edit and cater things to better fit the story, and the best of all, you are the sole expert on the setting. After all, it was your brainchild.
Disadvantages: Creating your campaign setting is a lot of work. It is no small undertaking, and the prep work that goes into just the setting before you even sit down to Session 0 could take months. Sometimes even years.
Personally, I like to mix and match here and there, borrowing Gods from one setting, stealing cities and nations from another, and cobbling them together. It's a time-saver to be sure, and you still have tons of wiggle room to change things as you like.
What Setting Am I Using?
I could pick from any number of settings, but the strong desire to make this a western (thanks a bunch Bastions, you dick), I felt that it was best to use a homebrewed setting. And since I already have one in developments (shameless plug), I'll be going with that. Cliffnotes: The bad guys won, and the world isn't a sing-songy wonderland.
Also, for extra credit, I took the liberty of whipping up a map of the area that the story will be taking place in...
So there we are. Just to recap on the campaign, I am writing here; I am developing a short, story-driven fantasy western set in a homebrewed world where the bad guys are the authority. The game is expected to last about 15 sessions.
Next time I will show you how to construct the heart of your campaign. The driving force behind it that holds all the answers you will need to answer... The Campaign Bible.
Also, if you want to follow along, I will be hosting information on this new campaign on Scabard. If you would like to check it out, here is the home page.
Roll well, me friends,
+Ed The Bard
And thanks to my Epic-Adventurer Level Patrons
Would you like to support the bard in another way, and still get some pretty cool stuff out of it? Kick in the door to the Open Gaming Store. They have a mountain of affordable aids to help you be all the player or Game Master you can be. Just tell them Ed The Bard sent you.
Looking for an article? Just want to browse the archives? Wander over to my Master List, a directory of every article I've ever written, right here.
Like what you've read? Follow me on...
And coming soon to...