how long should a setting back story be?

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Leoff
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how long should a setting back story be?

Postby Leoff » Wed Jan 22, 2020 1:41 pm

How much historical background do you want or need for a setting to work?
When I'm planning a game as a GM, I like to prepare for wherever the players take it. So I want to know who and what is in their immediate surroundings, but also what they'll find if they go eighty days journey in any direction. That leads me to want to know what the history of the region is and how it got that way.
As a player, most of the time I don't give it much thought -- unless we run into inconsistencies and total non sequiturs.

How far back do you want a setting to go? Do you measure it by centuries, years, eras, times of migration? How much background is too much?

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Re: how long should a setting back story be?

Postby Azhrei Vep » Wed Jan 22, 2020 1:43 pm

Want? Eh, a generation or so.

Need? Ten minutes ago.

Too much? When you spend so much time working on setting backstory that you never get around to actually running a game.
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Re: how long should a setting back story be?

Postby Lord Foul » Wed Jan 22, 2020 1:55 pm

Azhrei Vep wrote:Too much? When you spend so much time working on setting backstory that you never get around to actually running a game.

True dat. :thumbup:

Beyond that, as much as you feel is actually going to be useful in making the game feel real and interesting and have some kind of purpose. I dislike games that are generic to the point of... well, no point. I like there to be some history that has led to the current situation, whatever that might be, so that it has texture and colour and personalities and motives and events and grudges and relationships that the players can interact with.

So, I guess quite a lot really. :shifty:
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Re: how long should a setting back story be?

Postby Ikoma » Wed Jan 22, 2020 4:20 pm

I used to be in a camp that wanted a lot and settled for a little. Recent events have shifted me a bit. Now I want a little and will settle for nothing. Take all of this with a grain of salt as it might well only apply to me and where I am right now.

Here's the thing, _some_ time spent prepping is wasted. Always. If you spend time prepping what is south of where the current party is, and they go north, you wasted time. Not completely wasted, of course. They might someday go south. And who knows, some detail of what's going on down south might inform what's going on in other places. But some of that work is wasted. This applies on the micro and the macro levels. This applies to geography as well as chronology. Your PCs will change. So time spent planning an encounter that 'should' happen in six months times will be (to one degree or another) wasted. Perhaps your druid has died and re-rolled a warlock. Or multi-classed. Or a new player joined your group. I don't know what the change will be. But change is the only constant. Plus, my focus wanders. I've spent months creating a campaign setting... that I never run. Most of that work is fun, so I don't regret it. But it was ultimately wasted.

So... don't get too far afield. Don't go too far in the past... or too far in the future. Keep your planning to what might happen in the next session... or two.

DO constantly be loading the GM w/ inspiration. Read, watch, play all kinds of things in the genres you want to run so that when you have to improvise, you can. Easy peasy.
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Re: how long should a setting back story be?

Postby tombombodil » Wed Jan 22, 2020 4:25 pm

I think there's a difference between writing a ton of backstory, and writing a ton of backstory and then forcing it down the player's throats.

If you like writing about the world your game takes place in, do so. My "what's really going on" document for Call of Cthulhu games is usually way bigger than it needs to be, but it does give me a nice robust framework and well of ideas to draw on if the party goes off the rails or just explores some aspect of the world I didn't expect.

I would say write as much as you want, use as much as you need each session, and then if you do write more than you need you can tap it for flavor if your party asks for more info or detail about some area or character etc.
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Re: how long should a setting back story be?

Postby clintmemo » Wed Jan 22, 2020 5:34 pm

You either need to prepare more than you will ever need or be able to make it up on the spot and remember it later.
I like to prepare in a broad fashion and then make up details right before I need them.

At the beginning of the campaign, players might learn that: 50 years ago West NeverGoingThere had a war with East NeverGoingThere.
If either place is likely to come up later, I'll make up a reason why: The two kings had a feud.
If they decided to go there, I'll make up a more details: The king of East NeverGoingThere sent a present to the king of West NeverGoingThere - a bird of prey that ate his favorite pet rat when it arrived.
If they get caught up int politics, I'll add in some secret that they learn: The bird of prey had poison claws and was trained to kill the King's favorite nephew in a hunting accident. The King found out and went to war.
Later on: The King was deceived. It turns out that the King's favorite nephew arranged the whole thing but to have it kill the King instead, place the nephew on the throne and then start a war of revenge.
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Re: how long should a setting back story be?

Postby tombombodil » Wed Jan 22, 2020 6:08 pm

clintmemo wrote:You either need to prepare more than you will ever need or be able to make it up on the spot and remember it later.
I like to prepare in a broad fashion and then make up details right before I need them.

At the beginning of the campaign, players might learn that: 50 years ago West NeverGoingThere had a war with East NeverGoingThere.
If either place is likely to come up later, I'll make up a reason why: The two kings had a feud.
If they decided to go there, I'll make up a more details: The king of East NeverGoingThere sent a present to the king of West NeverGoingThere - a bird of prey that ate his favorite pet rat when it arrived.
If they get caught up int politics, I'll add in some secret that they learn: The bird of prey had poison claws and was trained to kill the King's favorite nephew in a hunting accident. The King found out and went to war.
Later on: The King was deceived. It turns out that the King's favorite nephew arranged the whole thing but to have it kill the King instead, place the nephew on the throne and then start a war of revenge.


For more specific details I'm a fan of "plug and play" flavor flash cards, with names, personalities, room or building descriptions, etc in a big box, and if a party goes to a town I don't expect, and walks into a shop I didn't plan, at the end of a street I never thought of, I just pull a couple cards out and that plus a bit of improv can really give the impression that this was #AllPlanned
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Re: how long should a setting back story be?

Postby Leoff » Thu Jan 23, 2020 8:56 am

Thanks.
I guess what I really need to know is, how much do players want? As a GM I always have a long and sometimes complex history of the wider region, just so I don't get caught out. I like doing it, and it comes easily. Same with the geographical features: I like planning for the four corners of the compass, knowing full well they might never go there. It's never wasted, because any reuseable features I just have on flash cards to pull out as needed.
So I'm always curious how much a group of players wants at a time.
I'll never give them the whole history. Some things are best left as mysteries.
So it gets down to, how much does your PC need to know?

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Re: how long should a setting back story be?

Postby Azhrei Vep » Thu Jan 23, 2020 9:26 am

Leoff wrote:Thanks.
I guess what I really need to know is, how much do players want? As a GM I always have a long and sometimes complex history of the wider region, just so I don't get caught out. I like doing it, and it comes easily. Same with the geographical features: I like planning for the four corners of the compass, knowing full well they might never go there. It's never wasted, because any reuseable features I just have on flash cards to pull out as needed.
So I'm always curious how much a group of players wants at a time.
I'll never give them the whole history. Some things are best left as mysteries.
So it gets down to, how much does your PC need to know?

Enough to answer my questions without holding up the game to think about it.
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Re: how long should a setting back story be?

Postby Ikoma » Thu Jan 23, 2020 10:14 am

Azhrei Vep wrote:
Leoff wrote:Thanks.
I guess what I really need to know is, how much do players want? As a GM I always have a long and sometimes complex history of the wider region, just so I don't get caught out. I like doing it, and it comes easily. Same with the geographical features: I like planning for the four corners of the compass, knowing full well they might never go there. It's never wasted, because any reuseable features I just have on flash cards to pull out as needed.
So I'm always curious how much a group of players wants at a time.
I'll never give them the whole history. Some things are best left as mysteries.
So it gets down to, how much does your PC need to know?

Enough to answer my questions without holding up the game to think about it.


:agree: As a player, that is 100% my answer!
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