For whom the setting tolls

One topic that we keep coming back to is RM’s setting. There is nothing inherently wrong with a generic fantasy set of rules but it does set any single game at a disadvantage in the gaming market place.

The reasons why generic is a disadvantage is twofold. Firstly, settings get people excited. Middle Earth = exciting and evocative, Game of Thrones = exciting and evocative, Generic = bland and boring.

Generic also equals work. If you have a setting you know and love, Middle Earth, Shadow World or the Forgotten Realms as examples you have to immediately do work to make the game rules fit the setting. I must have spent months recreating significant NPCs from D&D to RMC before starting my game. That is easy for me as I know RMC inside out but for a GM that has just bought a new game then it is a lot to ask.

Something that Terry does well is use vignettes at the head of a chapter to bring his setting material to life. Game mechanics on their own are actually pretty boring. The setting on the other hand can be compelling and surprising. In separating the rules from the setting you are not really helping anyone.

The counter argument is that RM is an advanced system that experienced GMs upgrade to and these are most likely to have their own home brew setting. So why spend all that time and effort creating a setting that no one is going to use?

I can sort of see the logic. Most of us are in our 40s and 50s and came to RM by upgrading from D&D. So if we all upgraded to RM then others are likely to as well.

The problem with that is, in my opinion, that the gaming world has changed a lot since the 1980s. You are no longer restricted to the games that your FLGS stocks. Sites like RPGnow and Drivethru have so many games that no one can every hope to play them all. The result of all that choice is that there is a game or set of rules out there that model whatever it is that you want to play almost perfectly, off the shelf and without the burden of bending a generic set of rules to fit.

Also, over the past 40 years all those traditional systems that we upgraded from have themselves updated and evolved. AD&D 1st edition was far from perfect, as Hurin said recently ‘Once you have seen 1d8 damage you have seen them all.’ but now critical systems are plentiful if you like your damage covered in blood.

Those systems we upgraded from have also mostly flourished and grown over the years and as a result every possible taste is catered for. Just look at the number of genre books available for GURPs as an example. GURPS is an example of a generic system that really identified the lack of setting as a weakness. To address that weakness they put the time and effort into fitting GURPS to each and every genre so the GM didn’t have to.

I am lucky enough to have been given some of the core Harn World books by the publisher. It is my task in the coming weeks to read through them. I will be blogging about them as well. Here we have a setting ready for any system. I know that Shadow World can be an acquired taste, the mix of fantasy and tech are not to everyone’s taste.

As we are not allowed to publish for Shadow World (thinking about our 50in50 adventure hooks) we could easily publish these and add in Harnic locations. These could be ‘box outs’ so the GM can use it or not at their discretion.

So how many of you have played RM or HARP in Harn? What did you think of the setting?