+Mark Diaz Truman raised an excellent point with regards to the role of the setting for Circles of Power. The apprentice edition was very intentionally designed with a relatively bland, fill-in fantasy setting in the form of the Steel Throne. I wanted people to provide feedback on the broader structure (mechanical moves, communities, etc), rather than on how a specific setting is designed. That said, the role of setting is an important one and I want to figure out what approach is best for this specific game. There are two major approaches I have seen for settings for games powered by the apocalypse.
The Implied Setting: Many games, such as the Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, Monsterhearts, and The Warren, have a great deal of implied setting but very little hardcoded. Certain playbooks might identify particular NPCs which exist, or name certain factions, but these get interpreted at the table. Some of these have explicit settings which you can choose from, such as Polygon Wood for The Warren. These ones tend to avoid providing much in the way of history or proper nouns, assuming that people will come up with it at the table. The advantage of this approach is that you can have more buy-in at the table, and you get more of a sense of ownership of the explicit setting.
The Explicit Setting: There are a handful of new PBTA games which are more explicit about describing the settings for people. Masks has information about A.E.G.I.S., specific NPCs you can call on, and a fixed setting in Halcyon City. Epyllion describes specific events during the War of Shadows, and also introduces more of a fixed cast of NPCs. Sagas of the Icelanders is always set in Iceland, and you can never “plug in” an alternative setting option. The advantage of this approach is that you can be a lot more subtle with some of the metaphorical issues. By providing a robust fictional foundation, a lot of interesting stories can be provided in the book itself.
I would love to hear your respective thoughts on the two approaches, and which of these you personally believe would be more beneficial for this specific project. Shared publicly•View activity
I’m for implied setting or even no implied setting, with seeds for settings being supplied but not fleshed out, perhaps in examples to the text. This game could be modern with psionics instead of magic, or Egyptian, or Atlantean. I worry if you define the setting too much, it could limit the game. Granted, if you Kickstart it, settings could also be stretch goals, which would be wickedly enticing.
Mark Diaz Truman
I think all of the games you’ve listed under “implied” settings are much more stringent with their actual play than you’re implying. 😉
Take AW, for example:
– there is a psychic maelstrom
– everyone has trouble finding food/water
– there are very few people in the world
– the name lists and weapon lists
It’s subtle, but the setting is there. And if you try to play against that setting (i.e. it’s AW, but it’s set in 1970s Baltimore!)… the game will fail.
I think of this like a spectrum: Cartel/Sagas/Masks have a really specific setting because each game benefits from that setting. Epyllion sketches out some big stuff… but then leaves all the details up to the players. Urban Shadows is set in cities, but leaves the actual generation of those cities entirely to the players.
I think Circles of Power needs a really sharp “dominant” community, one that is internally consistent and not a cartoon. It’s hard to take oppression seriously when it’s not serious.
At the same time, I think it’s really easy to leave blanks. If you say that the foreign people are all “X,” say Qunari, the players still get to say a ton about their own people and how they behave. But you need to give them some touchstones on which to base their fiction!