What's the Difference?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

One question we've run into repeatedly as we introduce the new world in which both Pathfinder and the GameMastery Modules will be set is, "What makes your campaign setting different?" In order to answer that, we've asked each member of the editorial design team—collectively known as "The Pit"—what they think sets our world apart.

Erik Mona (Publisher)

"The GameMastery world will contain a wider mixture of influences that most available on the market, making it easier to find a home for the type of adventures you and your friends are interested in playing. The world doesn't come burdened with a single overarching plot or expectation of play style, but rather allows for a wide variety of campaigns. Do you feel like exploring a savage frontier? The Lands of the Linnorm Kings or the Hold of the Mammoth Lords provide perfect backdrops. Players who enjoy urban roleplaying and intrigue will be drawn to the political world of Absalom or the treacherous courts of devil-tainted Cheliax. Players interested in science fantasy will find plenty to like in the barbarian nation of Numeria, greatest of the River Kingdoms, where a powerful sovereign and his council of witches rule from the ancient ruins of a mighty vessel fallen from space. They might even get a chance to explore the green and red worlds in the heavens above. The code-phrase we've been using for development of the world beyond Varisia (and including it) is "Planet of Adventure," because it is a place meant to accommodate great campaigns. We're hoping one of them will be yours."

James Jacobs (Editor-in-Chief, Pathfinder)

"I think that the big thing for our campaign setting is the fact that, unlike most other settings, we aren't kicking things off with a line of setting books that detail regions, religions, cities, and histories of the world. We don't want to drown our readers in canon. Rather, we'll be developing our world primarily through adventures written by the best writers we can find. Each adventure in Pathfinder or the GameMastery line can serve double-duty, because once you've run the adventure, there'll remain parts in there that you can use to expand your own campaign world, be it details of a city, a new monster, a haunted forest, a new religion, or whatever. Sooner or later we'll certainly have enough material to cull from the adventures that we'll be able to produce a setting book or something like that, but it won't have been designed in a vacuum. Everything in our campaign world will evolve out of things that are already adventures, rather than evolve from ideas that then have to be turned into adventures.

"Oh, and demon lords and archdevils and celestial paragons and archangels can grant spells to their cultists. That's pretty cool too."

Jason Bulmahn (GameMastery Brand Manager)

"One of our primary goals is to give a campaign setting that uses all of the advantages of the modern rules set while still maintaining a sort of "classic" middle-fantasy feel. We want our world to be one that has a place for almost any sort of play style without flooding GMs and players with a bunch of assumed baselines that make some play-styles impossible or difficult to run. If you want to use our setting to run an Egyptian-styled adventure, you can certainly do that, but it doesn't preclude a swashbuckling game, a feudal knights adventure, a lich hunt, or an urban political game. The trick is balancing these themes and flavors that everyone is familiar with, while still giving it a fresh take that fires up the imagination and allows for GMs to give it their own personal flair. After all, we want this to be your campaign too.

"And, of course, we got ninjas."

James Sutter (Assistant Editor, Pathfinder)

"My biggest problem with most campaign settings is the canon. While as a writer I understand well the joy of having your ideas set in stone, of watching people take what you've written and hold it up as The Way It Is, with gaming I find that it's ultimately a decadent and self-indulgent pleasure, and a little goes a long, long way.

"When I first started working at Dungeon, canon and I went head-to-head on a daily basis. It seemed like every time I had an idea I thought was interesting, someone smiled sympathetically and said, "Yeah, but you can't do that because..." As a GM, who wants to be told "no" all the time?

"That's what makes our new setting so exciting to me. Sure, any new setting will have less baggage than one that's been around for years, but throughout the design process of this world, we've tried to always keep that "less is more" mentality in mind. This is our world, but it's also the players' world, and every time you tell a GM or player, "You can't do that," you've just killed a fun session. It's too easy for a setting to reach a point where, through years of development and source material, it's been detailed down to the last commoner, with no room left to invent, explore, and innovate. Either that, or the broad, sweeping changes you've made to distinguish your setting ("All elves in our setting are XXX!") end up alienating portions of your audience. The rallying cry at our development meetings has been, "Never say never." We've all put in a lot of work to make this setting as interesting as possible, and there will undoubtedly be official supplements someday to support the adventures which are the setting's driving force, but know that as we go along, we realize that this isn't just our sandbox—it's the sandbox of everyone who does us the honor of playing in it. And with that honor comes a certain responsibility."

Jeremy Walker (Assistant Editor, GameMastery)

"Often, a campaign setting is defined not so much by what elements it includes, but instead by what it precludes. Specific themes, elements, and quirks help players and GMs connect with the setting, but oftentimes the very things that first attract gamers become the things that drive them away, as, frustrated by the setting's inability to adapt, they move on to the next unique setting, only to repeat the process down the road when that setting's fresh ideas become stale.

"One might think, then, that the solution is to provide a setting as generic as possible, so that any story can be dropped in just about anywhere. And yet people are looking for more in a campaign setting than a blank sheet of canvas. They want a world in which to tell their own stories in their own way, but they also want a living world that seems real. In this way, a campaign setting is like a matte painting on a movie set. A richly detailed backdrop that, while it exists independently of the characters in the movie, gives their actions context and meaning beyond their individual stories. To create a purely generic world is like shooting a movie in front of a black and white painting—it is immediately, and obviously, unreal.

"So how to provide a rich and detailed world without running the risk of our conventions and ideas becoming stale? Our solution is to provide a campaign setting that includes many distinct areas, each containing their own themes, characters, stories, and ideas. Each area of our world is almost a mini-setting all to itself. Vibrant and lifelike, ready for any story you might wish to tell. And when you tire of a particular style of gaming, why there is always something new waiting over that mountain, up that river, or across that sea."

Mike McArtor (Associate Editor, GameMastery)

"1. Interaction: One of the things that sets Paizo apart is our willingness to listen to those who invest in our creation. Spend some time on the messageboards and I think you'll discover pretty quickly that we interact with our readers, and those interactions are never one-way. We're not going to create the setting through democracy, but when the masses speak, we tend to listen.

"2. Inclusiveness: The newest edition of The World's Most Popular Fantasy Roleplaying Game (TWMPFRPG for short) is all about showing you what you can do, not telling you what you can't. In that spirit, our setting is going to allow for whatever you want to include in your campaign. Everything does—or at least can—exist in our setting.

"3. Variety: It's the spice of life. It's also what happens when you put the seven of us in a room, add caffeine, and shake. Then open the floodgates to guys like Baur and Logue and man oh man, have you got something! If you like dinosaurs and Cthulhu, talk to Jacobs over there. If you like your games a little more whimsical, hey man, I've got your back. From the deepest pits of depravity to the most ludicrous non-sequiturs, you'll find it somewhere in this place.

"4. History: We have the advantage of looking back on three decades of what has come before to see what worked. (And of even greater importance: what didn't.) We're building off the initial groundwork of titans—Gygax, Kuntz, Greenwood, and Grubb, for starters. The seven of us are keenly aware of those who came before, and we want to ensure they (and more importantly, YOU) approve of our creation."

Wesley Schneider (Associate Editor, Pathfinder)

"We're only letting the coolest players and GMs use our world. Rabid, endlessly yodeling goblin warchanters will infest the homes of those found unworthy."

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