Understanding the Setting

Today I GM’ed a one-shot session of Tales From The Loop.

I’ve never played or GMed it before, but as part of our previously-face-to-face group’s endeavour to run and play games we have never run or played before, it was this one.

These sessions are a great way to experience other systems and settings and decide what you do and don’t like. It’s also a great way of making those shelves filled with never-played RPGs feel less like a needless extravagance.

So far our tally of one-shots has been:

  • Coriolis The Third Horizon – which actually spawned quite a few sessions.
  • Mutant Year Zero
  • The End of the World: Zombie Apocalypse
  • Space: 1889
  • Fate
  • Tales From The Loop

Next session is Gangbusters B/X.

Now something quite interesting has been occurring after each game session where we chat about what we like/don’t like about the games.

Today, one player didn’t get the Tales From The Loop setting and found it a bit difficult to interpret, and also struggled to get into the idea of playing a kid. Why are there robots and huge levitating freighters when the other technology is relatively basic — like a Commodore 64? And whilst there are vague answers to this, the problem is that the player struggled to immerse in the setting because of the difficulty in comprehending the setting.

The week we played Space:1889 I struggled. As a player I really didn’t have any  references to the time period apart from some pictures in the rulebook. I don’t watch much TV and film stuff, so when the GM made references to films as a help to visualize, I was none-the-wiser. I struggled to enjoy that game because I not able to easily visualise in my mind what was happening in a way that was authentic to the setting.

Another player today said how he just didn’t understand the Arabian feel of Coriolis and that every time someone would hammer home an arabian-inspired reference it jarred with him as it didn’t seem tot fit the space aesthetic.

In fantasy D&D games, the tropes and visuals are pretty-easily recognizable by all players, but when you are playing an off-piste setting, players may not have access to the references to conjure the GM’s stylistic intentions.

As an example, we quickly made up a short piece about entering a fantasy village, pretty much like this:

“You walk in through the palisade gates. It’s a typical small medieval village with a hay cart just off the road to your right, and a blacksmith with black hair and a leather apron hammering away at a forge to your left.”

Now, in your mind, what did the blacksmith look like?

All the versions of the blacksmith we then described were very different, as the gaps are filled in with whatever the player’s brain fills in.

Therein lies the problem with settings that players do not fully understand and need to work to visualise, irrespective of the best GM descriptions. Anything you don’t say will get filled in with the player’s own visuals, and if they don’t have any references, how can they expect to enjoy the session?

Food for thought!

Stay safe and well everyone! Glynn

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