Players: Take Some Time To Read Up On The Setting

Posted: January 24, 2012 by pointyman2000 in Advice, Articles, Roleplaying Games
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There’s something deeply rewarding about being able to play in a game that has a complex and elaborate setting.  Legend of the Five Rings, Exalted, World of Darkness, Fading Suns, Shadowrun, Eclipse Phase… these are all games which have a fairly steep learning curve when it comes to understanding the nuances of their settings.  These games are ones that take a long time to teach new players.  The various intricacies of social mores, standards, laws and customs can be daunting to new players.

But for those who really sit down and try to learn and understand these settings, the rewards are enormous.

This is perhaps the reason why I highly encourage players to read the backstory and setting details of the game that they’re about to play.  Like in many other hobbies and activities, people can derive more enjoyment in an activity by putting more into it.  By taking that extra step of reading up on the details of a setting, the player arms himself with the information he needs to portray his character better.

The benefits of this is apparent even as early as character generation, as knowing a setting allows you a better understanding of what kind of character concepts work for a given game, as well as how certain kinds of characters may think of behave.  A player who has read the Dragonlance novels, for example, will know exactly how a Kender thinks and talks much better than someone who just rolled up the character based on stats alone.

Likewise, taking the time to read up on the campaign setting takes an enormous burden off the GM’s shoulders.  While most GMs don’t mind easing new players into a complex setting, showing some initiative by reading up on the setting first helps smooth out the play experience, by reducing the need for the GM to give random information dumps for the sake of players who didn’t bother reading the book.  The end result is seamless play that doesn’t slow down as much to explain something that would have been “obvious” to the characters, but obscure to the players who haven’t read the book.

Finally, players who have read up on the setting can make better decisions.  Sometimes knowing that little tidbit about the setting can be the difference between a clever move, and something that is “obviously” stupid from the point of view of a character living in the setting.  While the GM can (and perhaps, should) take time out to warn players if something is clearly a bad idea from any self-respecting and sane member of society in the setting, it would be much easier if the players knew about it beforehand.

A little bit of reading never hurt anyone, and in this case Players have everything to gain by taking some time to read up on the finer points of the setting.  Games with complex settings often turn out to be some of the most interesting and rewarding campaigns, but only if you’re willing to put in the time and effort to make it happen.


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