More Thoughts on Campaign Book Format

(This is related to this post from a few years ago).

Before I wrote the latest version of the Mythosa PDF (well, version 1.0 at least), I was trying to determine a new format that was both useful and practical. Generally, campaign books follow a fairly standard design that we’re all pretty familiar with by now: some sort of summary introduction (sometimes with a bit of fiction that is usually terrible), then an extensive chapter on the world’s history that will mostly be ignored, a chapter that goes into way more detail than necessary on the political entities of the world, another one fleshing out the religions, and then others that vary but cover things like why these elves are different, and what the various organizations and factions are, possibly a bunch of new mechanical elements (for games like D&D or Pathfinder this would include new monsters, new magic items, new spells, new feats, etc.).

Now, let me make it clear that I’m a fan of campaign setttings; I love reading up on new fictional worlds. I have physical and electronic books for the Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, the Wilderlands of High Fantasy, Midgard, Primeval Thule, Hârn, Talislanta, Tékumel  and numerous others. But the biggest problem with all this material is that it often is presented with way more information than I have any use for. Whether a professionally published book from a major RPG company or a hobbyist's PDF download, it seems like everyone wants to be the next Tolkien. A fine goal, but it ain’t gonna happen. For the people that buy RPG material just to read (which is a lot), they may like that, but I’m not looking for novels - I’m looking for tools. I recently picked up a PDF of a campaign setting as part of one of those charity bundles, and the first 100 pages or so was just the history of the setting. The kingdom/country chapter had a wall of text for each entry that was more history, on top of the info dump for all the other unneeded information. I’m sorry to say, but nobody cares. The players aren’t going to read and absorb all that information, and it’s way more than a GM needs. Plus, that much detail is going to tie the GM’s hands and make it more difficult to make the world their own.

But there are two reasons why nobody cares. The first is that it’s usually the same tropes in different clothes - the world-changing cataclysm(s), the ancient and mysterious magical empires, the Greek or Egyptian or Norse gods under new names, etc. You read the background on one bog-standard fantasy setting, you’ve read them all (the irony being that if you want to try something completely different, you won’t have the interest because it’s too weird for most people - compare the popularity of something like Greyhawk versus a setting like Tékumel).

The second, more important reason, is investment. It isn’t reading a 100-page history because you want to become invested in a setting you know nothing about - it’s reading a 100-page history because you want to know more about a world you’ve come to know and love. People care about Middle-Earth because of the books, the movies, the years of lore. Same thing like Star Wars, Harry Potter, Star Trek, etc., or Greyhawk and the Forgotten Realms.

Build the interest and immersion first, then expand after that, not the other way around. Saves a lot of time and effort, and allows you to grow your setting organically.


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