Episode 13 – Campaign Settings

You walk into a room.  It has some walls and there are some figures in it.  What do you do?  Sound familiar?  If you’ve ever played a role-playing game, you’ve undoubtedly heard countless iterations of varying detail along those lines.  Some may have been incredibly memorable, while others as vague and unappealing as the one written above.  If  you suffer from lack of attention to detail, or symptoms of poorly descriptive writing,  just ask your favorite podcast Monkey if Episode 13 is the right prescription for you.

This week the podcast crew is talking about what (in our opinions) are some of the ins and outs of successful worldbuilding.  Everything from visual props to novel length world history, we look at some of the various aspects of world-building and campaign management that we think will help breathe some long-lasting life into your adventuring party’s world.  Strap on your ears, take some notes, and enjoy this week’s discussion on bringing a setting to life.

(00:44) – So, Jersey Shore came back this week and Ramses couldn’t be more excited.  However, he does have to work rather than get his guido on 24/7, so, when he’s stuck fighting the 7th circle of Hell that is Southern California traffic he entertains himself with what else, podcasts!  Comedy Bang! Bang! and The Pod F. Tompkast with Paul F. Tompkins have been added to his ever growing list of subscriptions.  We think Ramses is going for some sort of podcast listening record.

(04:55) – Sometimes, being an adult gets in the way of being a geek, which was the case for Matt this week.  Between his normal job and home remodeling projects, he’s been up to his substantial eyebrows in drywall dust and website reboots, but has had his faith in humanity restored.  Special thanks go out to Eric and the crew at GamersTable.com as well as Kommander K and the guys at The Ugly Couch Show for their support!  Oh, and Germany… please come back!

(07:42) – Despite our stubbornness, we all (and we mean Robert) eat crow, courtesy of Kommander K regarding the pronunciation of Conan (Koh-nin) the Barbarian, but we blame Marvel and Robert E. Howard.  We also have a historio-geographic debate over how far north Ireland is.

(10:00) – Robert, unlike Ramses, avoided drywall projects at Matt’s house and instead completed the xbox 360 version of The Incredible Hulk (2008).  Additionally, he’s been able to focus his media whoredom to a single task and catch up on AMC’s The Walking Dead.  Surprise, surprise!!  He has problems with it… Ass(pberger’s)…

(14:46) – Karen takes a page out of Robert’s playbook and goes and works proverbial “media corner” herself with a week full of movie viewing – Bridesmaids, Thor, Captain America, Suckerpunch, Battle: Los Angeles, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, and Super 8 all get a turn in Karen’s Blu-ray player (innuendo??) – and we find out about the likeability of the characters in Kevin Smith‘s Red State.  It’s right up there with Anson Mount‘s Bohannan in Hell on Wheels

(17:02) – Not only was she a-courtin’ all manner of movie, Karen also got around (get it?) to finishing off some books – The Green River Killer and the first book of The Hunger Games make their way off the nightstand and back onto the bookshelf.  In her media-whoring, Karen got beyond verklempt… It’s the word of the week, kids!

(19:40) – Topic time is here!  Matt reveals how Robert’s hate for the Western RPG genre submarined Matt’s Deadlands campaign before the book even arrived, despite his intention to use great modern westerns like Tombstone and 3:10 to Yuma and not the John Wayne classics, for inspiration. Consensus – The Duke can suck it while the Man With No Name is awesome.

(22:57) – Campaign world history IS important to creating a game, but when you have an INTJ historian like Matt world-building, things can get out of hand.  With Deadlands derailed, Matt has been all talk and no show for three years with his supernatural Victorian steampunk game that the group is waiting to play.  While he’s been putting in work, as seen here – The Society of Odin – everyone thinks it’s time for Matt to put his dice where his mouth is.  3 years, seriously??

(26:23) – Karen, the veteran GM that she is, has a far better handle on fleshing out her campaign world.  Bullet points and player input help to establish a more organic worldbuilding process for her and her players while Matt requires hard, fast structure to help make the world believable and functional for himself.  None of that matters though, because it’s all about the players, right Robert?

(29:28) – Does your (game) world lack substance?  Map it out and spice it up!  The group discusses the importance of gaming maps in helping to flesh out the visual game world and making the game world more “real” for the characters.  Equally important is flavor text when describing the setting.  Show the players, don’t tell them.  Details, details, details!!!

(32:28) – Running a game isn’t solely the realm of homebrewers.  Ramses points out that even when using a published campaign world, it is necessary to add your own twist.  We reflect on our experiences with the chain of The Laughing Ass Inn throughout The Forgotten Realms and Kioska, the DMV-style information NPC.  Also, Karen was “thinking with portals” before Portal.

(35:18) – The goal of gaming is to have fun, so why not add some levity?  No matter how dark and dreary a campaign world can be, having laughs with your friends is arguably the best part of the gaming experience. We also talk about the importance of familiarity between GMs and players and how Matt suffers from”Frustrated GM” syndrome.

(39:17) – Ramses broaches the topic of alternate universes, time travel, and different planes of existence and how they can all help to vary setting, but each pose their own set of unique challenges.  Robert has apprehensions over the effectiveness of time travel (gasp!) and use of the device drives Karen nuts.  Meanwhile, Matt vagues it up with his sentences within sentences within sentences much like the dream worlds of Inception.  If anyone can figure out what he’s talking about, please let us know and continuity is a bitch!

(44:05) – What good is a thoroughly crafted world without people to fill it?  PC’s are the life-blood of a campaign setting, but what happens when the world itself takes center stage?  We discuss the importance and pitfalls that exist with writing with passion and the fact that a game doesn’t exist until it’s played…

(47:10) – Ok, we’re pretty sure Matt gets the point that his game needs to get off the ground.  Let’s hope he doesn’t distract himself with more reference material like our next topic, gaming props!  Props give the players something tangible to interact with, plus they’re really cool!  We relive the good old days of non-combat LARPing and Karen’s awesome props and discuss Ramses’ pictograph note taking.  Hieroglyphics, FTW!

(52:55) – NPCs are as equally important to a campaign setting as the Player Characters and world itself.  We talk about the role they play and the archetypes they fill as well as some do’s and don’ts when interacting with high-level and well known figures.  Sure, your character can allude to biblical relations with the archmage’s mother, but don’t be surprised when you start rolling up another character 5 minutes later…

(58:22) – So, if you’re anything like Matt (and we feel sorry for you if you are), you’ve created a massive game world.  The question Ramses poses is, how are you going to use it?  We close the discussion with some thoughts on the layers of locales and utilizing different in-world settings.  Variety is the spice of life, and terrain modifiers can really screw with PC’s!

Intro Song – Monkey Wrench – written and performed by The Foo Fighters

Closing Song – Roll a D6 – written by Connor Anderson


15 thoughts on “Episode 13 – Campaign Settings

  1. Appreciate the link to the Western RPG page on my blog. Though it’s unfortunate Matt’s Western themed game was stillborn. Good luck in the Supernatural Victorian Steampunk game.

  2. No problem. That post of yours was really informative and while, yes, my Western themed game was gunned down in the street like a dirty cattle rustler, the game world I’ve created can still utilize the genre… I just have to give this game wings!! If you get a chance, listen to the podcast, we’d love your feedback.

  3. I had quite the chuckle when Karen was describing her campaign world. It sounded so much like Pokemon, I kept imaging Officer Jennings as the Kiosk lady and Nurse Joy as the inn keep.

    For me, I prep by having a map I doodle out with locations. I only draw a little of the map because that is what the players are going t0 know; their locale and a little bit of their surroundings. After that, I highlight those locations with a list of things that are important about that area and let the players tell me what is important to tell them in regards to the history of the world.

    I don’t literally mean they tell me what they want the history to be, I mean I only tell them things of importance (like some abandoned mansion was once owned by a land baron named blah,blah,blah).

    Please, if you ever cover a loose topic like campaign setting again, don’t try to cover every aspect because you’ll be vague without really telling people anything. When you gave examples of what you were saying, it made it a lot clearer of what you were trying to convey. Keep doing that and explain how that example worked with what you are talking about. Much love, peace out.

  4. Hey, Alex! Nice to see you here at the site. It’s funny that you mention Pokemon because after the show Ramses and I were talking and he mentioned that he thought that Pokemon at a type of information kiosk!

    Your approach to prep and revealing important information to your players sounds very similar to mine… therefore it’s the most awesome approach ever!! Sorry, Matt. =P

    Also, thanks for the feedback and you’re right. Since the first half of the show is topical and the main focus of the show just gets 30 minutes we do try and cram a lot of info in there. This is something we will need to consider in the future! So glad you gave us another listen this week… maybe we’ll even see you next week. =)

  5. Pingback: New Year, New Game | Monkey In The Cage

  6. Hi, wanted to jump in and give some feedback as I’ve just now caught up on all thirteen episodes (burned through them this week) of the show.

    First of all, I was happy that in this episode you talked about tabletop RPGs for half the show. With the album and podcast art of a twenty-sided die, I found myself a bit sad that the overall focus for most episodes of Monkey in the Cage is on video games and TV rather than tabletop RPGs. Generally, I’ve felt a bit bait and switched as a listener.

    That said, I do think you guys talk about what is going on at the time and it doesn’t sound like you’re actively playing tabletop RPGs (unless I missed it). I hope you guys change that in 2012 and I can hear more talk like this episode.

  7. Hi Rich. Thanks for listening and thanks for the feedback. It is true that we are currently between active RPG games, but will be recrifying that shortly. The irony of it all is that we initially established a set weekly gaming session which resulted in the birth of the podcast. Now that we feel we are definitely going in the right direction with recording, table-top gaming (and the topics related to it) are the top of our priority list from this point forward. Stay tuned, as we all hope to seriously scratch that gaming itch, both for our listeners and ourselves as well. Thanks again!

  8. Thanks for the comment Rich. I’m sorry you feel like it was a bait and switch. It was always our intention to have table top games be one of our main go to topics, but as you noticed we are between games at the moment. After a couple failed starts on new campaigns and then the holidays we’ve lost our original plan of playing a table top game interspersed with board games. Sadly this meant less excitement for table top topics. Our plan for the new year is to get back to our original plan, so hopefully we will have more podcasts of interest to you, and maybe we will get an actual play podcast off the ground too.

  9. Thanks for the shout out, Monkeys! And thank you Karen for your comment on our own site, not to mention your fortitude in appreciating our Not Safe For Work ‘cast.

    Your classy and respectful response to my point on how Conan is pronounced highlights the eternal quandary of the Robert E Howard enthusiast: dealing with misconceptions by properties that actively promote and get Howard’s work Out There. While we have to deal with the furry loin cloth, ragged haircut, power lifter brute image, we also have to acknowledge that a HUGE number of fans wouldn’t even know about Conan without Marvel, the de Camp Lancers, and (Crom help us) the movies. And the movies aren’t even bad (especially Ahnuld’s, that is a great fantasy flick); they just aren’t Howard.

    You take what you can get. 🙂

    Karen, you wouldn’t mind if I steal Kioska for my DnD game, would you?

    Kommander K
    The Ugly Couch Show – we take the work out of Not Safe For Work.

  10. Kommander K, I would be honored to have Kioska find a home in your campaign! Just be sure that you include her sparkling personality! =)

  11. As the DM of Robert’s “other” D&D game, I would like to say thank you for mentioning it, and the party gets called Brak Ironskull’s Howling/Furious Commandoes. Brak Ironskull is the favorite son of the Dwarven people, and therefore gets credit for everything the party does, even though he hasn’t been a member of the party for months.

  12. That dwarf just won’t die! I seem to recall Brak Ironskull was an NPC that I created way back when we were teenagers… yeah, Matt stole him from me. =P

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