Providing Setting Information

Having stepped back from interventionist gods, and looking to maximise story potential, I find myself with an interesting quandry - how should information about the setting be provided to the players?

What I have done in previous settings is provide an "encyclopedia" document - a listing of major kingdoms, towns, gods, heroes, and other notables, so that players can read through and have the basic knowledge their characters would have. There's plenty that's not in there, but nothing written there is untrue - or if it is, pretty much everyone thinks it's true. "Moonshadow is a small town in West Starland, noted for its excellent whiskey", or "Huffer is a god of smoking ruins, much worshipped among the Oof tribes of South Vulcanic". Well, while Moonshadow may remain a small town, and nobody much is going to disagree on that, there are definite problems with presenting Huffer in this way for my new approach.

For a start, I don't want anyone, character or player, to actually know if Huffer is a real god or not. So, "Huffer is understood to be a god of..." - but that's a bit unwieldy. And then there's the 'of' - it's a definite that some people worship Huffer as a god of smoking ruins, but some might go for the related aspect of god of volcanoes. Or maybe they worship him as the demigod of wine, because wine grapes grow well in volcanic soils, but wine is only worth a demigod's attention, not a full god; that's reserved for whiskey. And it's very possible some people see him as being a demon, or at least a dark god, because, well, volcanoes. So... "Huffer is understood to be a god, demigod, or demon, concerned with volcanoes, smoking ruins, or wine." And then extend that to every deity and hero I want to document in the setting, plus a few side remarks on different cities. And then it varies over time, of course, because some cultures might start out viewing Huffer as a jolly sort of chap, who smote that neighbouring kingdom we were having problems with, and then when a volcano goes off under the High Panjandrum's Palace, opinion begins to shift.

So my current thinking is that I can do better with in-character documents, which would by their nature have a distinct point of view, a time and a place of publication. They could then state baldly that "Huffer is a demon who throws hot rocks down from the sky upon innocent people", or "Huffer is a merry demigod, concerned with the wine that grows in South Vulcania", or "Huffer is a righteous god, who smites our enemies in times of war, but ware his wrath lest you also be smote.". That all works well, and if picking through the subtleties to arrive at a working picture of Huffer is complicated, well, my players are used to that.

It does leave me wondering if there's any use for the encyclopedia document anymore, though. It might be useful as a reference document for myself, but those tend to be either shorter notes or kept entirely in my head. Perhaps it'll do for the starting document, as it were, from which everything else evolves.

Posted by Drew Shiel at July 11, 2013 1:33 PM

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