Episode 210 – established settings
by Dan Repperger

* (0:28) Fear the Con 4 sign-up is now running.  You can find the forum area for ride and room sharing here.  If there was a race, Runester’s already won.

* (2:22) Separating a character from the player.   Why it’s natural — and sometimes correct — to draw your impressions about a person from the characters they play.

* (21:57) Playing in an established setting.  The balance of enjoying what’s already there versus making it your own.  How to deal with existing canon, particularly when it comes into conflict with the story or characters you want to use.

Hosts: Dan, Johann, Pat, Wayne

Comments (9)

FridrikOctober 29th, 2010 at 5:14 am


I love the show. It’s one of the things that keeps me sane at work.

But I do have to rant about episode 210. Please bear in mind that I’m a big fan of both the Dresden series and Evil Hat, so I’m not quite an impartial judge on the merits of the Dresden RPG. But I’m still right.

I often shout at my computer at work. But today was the first time I wanted to shout at it because of what you were, or in this case weren’t, talking about on your show.

Why, why, why, for the love of Vecna, did you not talk about how the Evil Hat Dresden Files game deals with the issue of playing in this established setting? Possibly the coolest thing in that game are the rules for creating the setting the groups plays in.

If you have not read that part of the game rules, here are the cliff notes.

The game designers do give you the Chicago setting to play with if you want. But then say “Do you want to play in the Dresden Setting, but not in Harry Dresdens back yard?” If yes, here is what you do.

Sit down as the group BEFORE creating characters.

Brain storm about what location in the world you want to play in.

Pick a city/country/place. (We’ll go with city for now)

As a group give that city a few themes that the groups wants to play with. In Dresden those themes are called aspects. I’ll use aspects from here on in this text.
(For example, London might have a the aspect “2000 years of history”)

Decide how the Dresden world power-groups interact with that location. What are the Vampires doing there? What are the Fay up to? And so forth.

As a group, create important location in the city and give them aspects.
Basically what cool real or made up locations does the group want to play in.

As a group, create NPC that represent those locations and give them aspects.
Again what cool real or made up people does the group want to interact with.

Now you have your own location in the world of The Dresden Files to play in.

Because you made it with the Dresden files rules, all the Dresden Files tropes should be there but it’s still your creation, filled with things you want to interact with.

Now the group can create the PCs, or even pick a cool NPC that the group created and play him as a PC. (This became a rule because their playtesters kept talking about how the NPC made with this method were cooler then the PC they came up with themselves)

Then Play.

Second point about the Dresden game, just because you talked about how established characters tend to be demigod level in RPGs. You can play someone equally powerful to Harry Dresden as he was at the start of the first book as a PC without breaking the power scale. This was one of their design goals for the game.

Actually while I’m doing the fan boy rant. You guys should interview Fred Hicks or someone else from Evil Hat about the game.

Thanks for a good show.

WayneOctober 29th, 2010 at 7:20 am

Thanks for your comments. Dresden Files was mentioned quite a few times in the course of the episode. Also if you check our back episodes we interviewed Fred Hicks in Interview 12. For the most part we try to keep our conversation generic and avoid discussion of any particular system. Also in the case of Dresden Files I’m the only one of the group that has read the rulebook for it.

FridrikOctober 29th, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Thank you for the reply Wayne.

As I said before I wanted to shout at my computer when you were discussing playing in established setting. Because I kept waiting for you to say “Well, the Dresden files deals with playing in an established setting in a really interesting way” and then go from there. But it never happened. I have never been so frustrated at not being able to participate in a podcast conversation before.

I do appreciate you guys not wanting to go on about specific systems. But in that case I felt it was directly relevant.

Thanks for a great show and keep up the good work.

DonOctober 30th, 2010 at 9:37 am

I didn’t think you looked at other established settings, something like Deadlands or Space: 1889 or heck, the various Warhammer RPGs. I guess I’m asking for other established settings that aren’t attached to another medium, like Dresden Files (novels) or Conan (book/film) or Star Wars (film) or something like that. Look at something like… Call of Cthulhu (which has a long history), Legend of the Five Rings or Shadowrun or your beloved BattleTech, you know, settings which have some fixed points and structure and are “vibrant” IPs but aren’t as rigidly established as Star wars or IPs of that magnitude? I guess I thought that established settings needed a bit more definition and that some of the more established RPG IP settings offer maybe different challenges and a little bit more wiggle room in running games.

DanOctober 30th, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Don, thanks for the post!

You’re absolutely right that we stuck mostly to settings that have TV or movie properties associated with them. I also agree that some settings do a better job of providing vibrance to more than just central events and characters than others. So something like Star Wars may present more of an extreme than L5R or Battletech, and that’s a difference we should have given attention to. I remember saying that I typically stick to the “fringes” of established settings, but I did so without mentioning that some settings provide much larger fringes than others.

However, I think the conceptual problems would carry over in at least a limited sense to any setting that has story associated with it. For example, when I run Battletech, there are still established characters, setting-changing events, and heavily described locales. I have to choose whether to introduce or avoid those, and someone that really knows the setting could lawyer that stuff to no end.

Ditto with Shadowrun, Forgotten Realms, Conan, Call of Cthulhu, and so forth. Just swap Han Solo out for Dunkelzahn, Phelan Kell, Conan the Cimmerian, etc, and we’re right back where we started. The main difference is that they’re easier to avoid because those IPs have said a lot more about the surrounding world than George Lucas did.

I think Star Wars became a favored conversation point because it so readily embodies the issue. But it could still pop up anywhere people or events have been well described.

WayneOctober 30th, 2010 at 5:38 pm

When I suggested the topic I wanted to discuss Properties that started outside of the RPG industry. I came at it from a tv/movie/books standpoint so if that was the focus it was because I was driving to that focus.

DragonhelmNovember 3rd, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Pat gets bonus kudos from me for playing Dragonlance.

I’ve got a few things to add to this. I may even have to do a blog post.

(See, I think Dan picks these topics just to get more content out of me.) ;)

LughDecember 7th, 2010 at 12:27 pm

I had to do a blog post to respond. It is at http://immagini-di-vita.com/2010/12/07/the-dreaded-licensed-setting/ if you care to read it.

The short version: Established settings only suck if the GM sucks. Railroading and GMPCs are just as prevalent in homebrew settings. Using an established setting brings major benefits in terms of shared vision. It does also bring an issue of steering around canon. It is up to you, as GM, to maximize the benefits while minimizing the issues. Just like it always is.

DonJuly 8th, 2012 at 8:49 pm

Are you guys ever going to revisit the importance of trivialities? I’m asking as I want to run a semi-canonical L5R game which casts the players as the “critical enablers” and I’m curious about you guys’ advice. I’ve talked this over with my players and they’re interested in seeing the meta-plot of the setting develop more/less as written, but being able to have a critical role in the setting. I guess I’m looking for advice in balancing that, especially for established setting s which have massive events like Shadowrun or L5R or Seventh Sea, but those massive events need work in adding a role for the characters.

Loved the episode, but every time this idea comes up, I think about L5R as one of those almost overly established settings (probably owing to its CCG heritage) which has these signature characters and the problems of established story.

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