Monday, November 8, 2010

Setting the Scene: The Votes are IN!

Here are the results to the completely unscientific poll I conducted last week regarding how DMs convey setting to their players. The results aren't too surprising given the audience of this blog is heavily weighted towards those who like homebrewing their own campaigns. (If I'm off base, please speak up!). I'm quite surprised though at a few things.

First things first, here are the results (click to enlarge):

Before we go further, it's worth noting that I let people check "all that apply" so there's not a nice round statistic here, but I think that's okay, because I'm really looking for gut reaction.

Imagery Vs. Text
From the looks of it, imagery (10) is the winner over flavor text (8), when taking both original and borrowed sources. Not surprising since imagery has such an immediate effect and is relatively easy to procure.

However, I was surprised that so many people draw/illustrate their own setting. Since I didn't specify (and likely should have) I'm guessing a few people are actually talking about sketching out maps--which is a completely fair assumption. That is, after all, the setting from a spatial perspective.

Were I to ask again, I suspect that there would be greater separation between those who draw their own maps and those who actually draw up characters, monsters, landscapes, etc.

One thing that's not surprising is the number of people who use their own flavor text. I attribute the number of people who bought/borrow text from those who might take to borrowing ideas from comics, pulp stories, and other gaming material. Again, an unscientific assumption, but then it's my unscientific poll and I'm free to misinterpret!

Video and Music
Anyway, at least one person used a movie or video--that's quite brave I'd say since it lends itself to being something so concrete in the mind's eye, but perhaps that was the intended effect. Music also made the chart, I'm guessing that given it's subjectivity, it's likely for atmosphere rather than direct, lyrical reference (but who knows).

Jumping to Conclusions
So apart from painting with broad strokes of big bucket categories, one of the things that got me curious about this question about methods is I think a question about style.

The more I thought on it, the more I wondered how GMs/refs/DMs are able to communicate their imaginings directly to their players. Since RPG games are an exercise in shared imagining, it's fascinating to me how that process takes place. I get that it's part theater, part game, etc. in a very improvisational way, but how much of the referee's imagination is understood. Phrases like "she's holding a ysalamiri so you can't do that" only work if I tell the players what a ysalamiri is or how it effects the players and/or environ. (And yes, that's a hokey example, but you get the idea.)

Sci-fi More High Maintenance?
I'm also willing to venture that sci-fi settings likely need a little more explanation since fantasy (not always, but often) has that whole mythological collective consciousness going for it, which means most people who paid attention in grade school readings are going to get the references. Science fiction can entail everything from how a tiny planet has small gravity, to try to explain how a tidally locked world might effect the local wildlife.

I'm guessing it's not too wild to guess that this is why play reports are many times dullsville. Unless all the readers have been following along, a recap post can come off as complete malarkey. A gap in understanding can lead to a deficit in interest--and hopefully, not also attention in players.

Thoughts? Rude gestures? "No duhs"?

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