The conversation continues. Discussion yesterday has me thinking a bit more about the role of setting in making a game friendly to a novice player.
When people talk about novice-friendly settings, they usually talk about familiarity. Something that the player already knows, something like Star Wars or some other licensed setting. The idea is that if the players ia already familiar witht he material, the it will be easier for them to settle into.
I think there’s some merit to this, but I think it’s only part of the equation. The familiar setting is absolutely a good thing for comfort, but it does not necessarily help direct things towards something suitable to play. Star Trek is a great example for this – it’s easy enough to imagine writing yourself into an episode of the show, with the cast you know, but it’s less easy to clearly envision your own adventures that are not just a knock off of the original adventures. It’s not impossible, but just saying “it’s Star Trek” is not particular helpful to that end.
With that in mind, I don’t think novelty is a drawback for a novice, provided it can be presented clearly. This means avoiding the temptation towards completeness, and zeroing in on the elements of the setting that will catch the player’s interest. The trick is that the pitch for the setting should also clearly suggest something to do, specifically something exciting.
This is pretty easy to do for a particular game at a particular table, but harder to do when designing a setting for play. But the interesting thing is that the part of a setting that can grab a player and interest them is often pretty brief: a page or two of material is usually more than enough. The very best published settings tend to be collections of these snippets all tied together, so that you can’t go more than a few pages while reading without thinking of a game you’d like to run or play.
It may be counterintuitive to think of a setting as a collection of pitches. We’re habituated to the idea that setting should be something out of a very bad history textbook, but if we can break away from the idea of creating something complete and focus more on something built to play, then we can go a long way towards making our games friendlier to newbies. Setting can carry a lot of weight, as much or more than setting if used the right way.
Then, once we’ve gotten titanically successful, we cna use the profits to fill the second book with all the useless details we could possibly want.
1- If you’re a huge fan, Star trek offers more options, but for the average fan, the appeal of the series is mostly the idea of interacting with the characters.
2- This is one of the real benefits of using the real world as a baseline, a fact well exploited by the World of Darkness. It even works at a bit of a remove – one of the benefits of post-apocalypse is the common touchpoints of the pre-apocalypse world.
3- Some recent-ish examples that I feel make this cut are Exalted’s creation and the original Eberron hardback.
4- Curiously, this mirrors something that’s been very successful in popular non-fiction. Where a large treatise tends to be impenetrable, a collection of anecdotes that all serve an end is much more readable and, more importantly, easy for people to talk about.