Although Nevermet Press has “officially closed” – that doesn’t mean I’ve shut off my own creative brain. Quite the contrary.
About three years ago I started working on my own RPG campaign setting. It was originally called “Loaerth & Feywyrd” – but has since privately become simply “Loaerth”. I had some early input from many of the contributors at Nevermet Press too. In 2009, in our private development forum it was pretty exciting to have a group of two dozen writers and artists kicking around ideas and brainstorming on Loaerth. I felt sure it would be developed, and it was going to be awesome.
I was wrong. Nevermet Press was side tracked by a ton of other projects—too many to be honest—and then Stories in the Ether came along. In short, I was overwhelmed. My own creative projects were overrun. And, as you know, eventually I closed my doors. I needed a hard reset.
So, after a brief break in blogging, editing, and writing—I revisited my notes and other materials on Loaerth. I found the old posts from our forums, my notebooks, and my half-baked google docs to be a mismash of ideas that didn’t work well together. Their were ideas that did work well, on their own, but when you brought them all together it just didn’t work. I didn’t (I don’t) want Loaerth to be a “kitchen sink” campaign setting.
After all, The Story is the Thing. And a good story is usually built on a setting that doesn’t get in the way or break your suspension of disbelief. There has to be a good “pseudo history” and a good “pseudo science” behind how the world developed, why it works the way it does. Questions like “why is there an Underdark in every fantasy RPG campaign?” or “why is every stock fantasy campaign setting a mishmash of a circus of gods and clerics, Vanacian magic, and big fantasy?” I’m exaggerating a bit here, but I hope you get my point. I want a setting where the reasons Things Are The Way They Are makes sense. It’s believable, even if fantastical. Just like our own world.
For me to translate the “The Story is the Thing” concept into a paradigm for RPG campaign setting design and world building, I have come think that System Matters. More specifically – when the focus is on world building, the game system you choose can influence how easily you can model the world in game terms. Moreover, the amount of “homebrewing” or rules-mod’ing you need to do is a function of how well the game system of choice is for the setting you are designing. So, if you are world building and finding there’s an endless list things that need to be modified, maybe the game you are using is the wrong tool for the job.
This is why I’ve gone from Savage Worlds to Pathfinder RPG and now, likely, back to Savage Worlds for Loaerth. The setting was originally designed for Savage Worlds, but I switched (privately – nothing publicly published on this blog) to Pathfinder a while ago. And then I noticed that, giving the rich story I’m developing, the Pathfinder RPG is requiring far too many game design retcons to be acceptable. Several (more insightful) people I on Twitter alluded to this early on, and I wrote about switching Loaerth development to Pathfinder last year (read: Game Design and Risk vs. Reward, or Why Game Balance Matters). Some small part of me now wishes I had taken their advice, but the setting has been mostly developed with a focus on the backstory, history, etc. thus far. It’s only been becuase I’ve dived into some crunchy parts more recently that I’ve really started running into design issues using Pathfinder.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the PFRPG system, but I now expect that Savage Worlds is going to be the system I’ll use as a base—with some additions—once again. Two things I hope to mod for Savage Worlds (aside from a miriade of setting specific details, new edges, creatures, etc) will be :
- A Rich(er) Character Advancement System. One thing the d20 system does well is provide the players with the opportunity for long campaigns with really deep (read:crunchy) character development. I’ll likely expand the standard SW experience system and model something a bit closer to the d20 system. More mid- to high-level edges will definitely be an important component.
- A Challenge Rating System. One thing that has always frustrated me about the SW system is the lack of clear “challenge ratings”. For experienced SW GM’s, designing challenging (but not overpowering) encounters and situations is usually not a problem. For new GM’s though, my (purely anecdotal) impression is that it can be hard. This may be simply grouping enemies monsters, and traps into the existing SW parlance of Novice, Seasoned, Veteran, etc.. I’m not sure at this point – but I’ll definitely give it a whirl.
Now… back to the design cave. See you next time…