October 16, 2012

Players and DMs vs Settings

Not all game settings are created equal, this we all know. However, some bring an added level of complexity that goes beyond simple personal preference. Some settings require more from the players or more from the DM than your "typical" setting. I have a few examples of what I am talking about; to best illustrate we'll be looking at some of the 2E settings, specifically Birthright, Dark Sun, Ravenloft and Al Qadim. They all use the same core ruleset (2E D&D) but the settings themselves and their approaches are all different from each other.

Birthright
I view this setting as fairly "typical". If you've played any other sort of D&D this setting is easy to get into. It does not require much from a player or DM other than some different rules for the entire domain/blooded actions. It does not require the players to play any differently or the DM to run things in any different sort of manner. If they had played Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms before coming to Birthright they would not have to alter their play at all.

Dark Sun
This is very similar to Birthright. The players can play it and the DM can run it much the same as any "typical" setting. The only slight difference is the scale of character level and their abilities and the lethality of the setting that can take some getting used to. When the Dark Sun setting came out it changed the perceptions of character ability and danger, but ultimately it can easily be run as any other setting without diluting the setting. It is more about getting used to the setting as opposed to requiring anything special from the players or DM. 

Ravenloft
Here we start to diverge from the "typical" setting. Ravenloft is designed to be a "horror" setting. And this requires more from a DM than the "typical" setting. If a DM were to run Ravenloft as they would any other setting the goal of Ravenloft is lost. The setting requires more from a DM than other settings. For myself, I know I can not run Ravenloft effectively. I am not good at subtle hints of danger or a slow build up of fear and terror until it reaches an explosive climax. Therefore, I would be a terrible DM for a game in the Ravenloft setting. Ravenloft requires a DM that can bring these skills to the table. To do otherwise negates the goals of the setting. Ravenloft requires a skilled DM.

Al Qadim
This setting is all about a culture. It is probably the most intensive setting that D&D has ever produced when it comes to providing a cultural setting. It is full of grand and small mythology (as seen in the stories told throughout all its source material). It is full of cultural mores and ways of interacting with other beings. And it is these expansive cultural references that require the players to play "properly" in order to make effective use of the setting. As an example, the setting sets up bounds of how a person acts when confronted with a stranger at their home; in this case it is to provide aid and comfort to the stranger at their door. In a "typical" approach to such a situation the player characters will often simply kill the stranger and take their stuff. The culture puts restrictions upon the player characters that the players first need to know about and then embrace. To not do so negates what the setting is about and turns it into something else; at that point they might as well be playing another setting. Al Qadim requires skilled players.

Can you think of any other settings that require more from the players or DM then the "typical" setting?

3 comments:

Paul Thornton said...

Not just D&D, but any game that has the culture be so important that it's practically a player character can be a lot of work for the GM, and a bit more for the players too. I've lost track of how many times I've seen players - myself included - screw things up in games like L5R, where social conventions are drastically important and form such a huge part of the experience.

Matt Celis said...

Al Qadim looks cool as I prefer my fantasy settings to be more Sinbad than Gandalf...shame it's for D&D and not a standalone game with a good mechanic designed with the setting in mind. Still, if I ever see it cheap I might buy.

Callin said...

For Al Qadim there is a lot of good amterial there even if you dont run it with the D&D rule set. many small stories and cultural bits that are very evocative of the setting.