RPG A Day 28: How much setting detail is appropriate?

OK.  I am going one of my own alternates again.  I am a blog and I have to come up with questions that are not closed one sentence answers.  My groups are all pretty original anyway.  There may be an odd quote stated in yoda style or Gandalf coming out every now and again.  Mainly though it is all original.  So I was reading an RPG last night in the view of reviewing it and I came to the setting material.  It starts with what is meant to be a series of letters from one person to another but reads like an essay.  Then it is interspersed with a newspaper report and then it expands out into big sections looking at each country.

When is there too much?

I can see with the above that the publisher is trying to give you a taste with the first two approaches.  Then they want to give you a big load of detail where you want to start your setting.  This is the core book and there is even a sidebar telling you which sourcebooks are going to even flesh this material out more!  This is too much information for me.  I love to be creative and build my own stuff.  Reading pages and pages of setting material makes me go to sleep.  The reason I love the cypher system but hate Numenera is the copious amounts of dry setting material that was shoved in that book.

Massive rule books filled with setting are a new(ish) trend

Most core books that come out for mainstream games are now 350 pages plus.  In nearly all of those books setting takes up a large amount of the space.  Why?  Most of the books that I bought in the 80’s and 90’s were less than this size and did not devote anywhere near as much material to source.  Admittedly the source books that came out following them would flesh a lot of the setting material out but you had the choice of buy in to that point.

setting
This is an awesome picture all about setting!

Setting Lawyers

There has even arisen in my game a new sort of player.  I am sure that we are all familiar with the rules lawyer?  Players that now argue about the setting are beginning to sit at the table.  They will hold out the book and point to a page of setting material and tell me that I am wrong about something I have designed.  I appreciate that some people are so invested in a particular setting that they can become upset by changes.  Fans of Star Wars and Star Trek always amuse me in this way.  It is largely why I steer away from any game that focuses on them.

Spirit, not setting

I like generic games a lot.  This is because they do not fill their rule books with masses of setting material.  It is also because they like to advocate spirit of a game as opposed to black and white hard facts.  Sure, every game has that proviso at the start of it saying do what you want with it.  Tell that to the twenty year old Star Trek fan who speaks in Klingon telling you that you are wrong about his home world.  To me the experience and feel of a game is much more appropriate.  It is why I play Traveller, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Super Squadron and FATE if I have a choice of game to play.  Even the Dungeons and Dragons crowd get uppity about things not being right in Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms.

I am not sure if it is a decline in imagination, or perhaps just time.  When I write posts like this I get comments telling me we are all older with more responsibility now.  We can’t spend time imagining things and implementing them.  Does that mean that the hobby is a dying one?  Are we not getting enough new blood in?  Or is it just that the new blood expects all this material on a big platter for them?  I am not sure what the answer is but this is my answer for day 28.  Not the question asked and not a question in the alternates – but answered it is!  Keep rolling.

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