It’s not so much that Zak is a deep thinker in RPG circles, if by “deep” one implies burrowing down through the layers of the games and their communities, synthesizing all towards some new insight into things we already know. That honor, I think, goes chiefly to Mr. Maliszewski.
What makes Zak such a blessing is how easily, effortlessly, he thinks outside the hobby.
His latest stab at the hobby’s sacred cows is a good case in point. Yes, I’m a writer. Yes, I love me some good, evocative prose. And yes, I’m a glutton for rich, cultural detail. But at the end of the day, even I have to admit, I’m not going to play your setting.
This is not good for traditional RPG companies, who live and die by the book. The reason RPG settings look the way they do is because it allows for the sale of big, glossy, coffee-table books chock-full o’ setting detail. Throw in gazetteers that drill in to provide more focused detail, and the shifting political and cultural landscape that comes from a galloping megaplot, and you have a recipe for a long string of expensive book sales.
But not a recipe for game-playing.
As Zak says, who has time to read all that? Way back when, I knew folks who’d read everything about the Forgotten Realms and knew the setting in intimate detail. I wasn’t among them, though the Realms did have a warm place in my heart. It wasn’t, however, based on the grey box or the novels or any of that. Instead, what I really cherished were the little snippets of detail gleaned from Mr. Greenwood’s articles in DRAGON magazine. Those literally changed the way I organized and played my own campaigns.
Ditto for Greyhawk, Middle Earth, the historical medieval Europe, the 1,001 Nights, and so on. And I took all that, made it mine, and played the heck out of it.
what makes your setting unique, I’d like a little cultural flavor, some solid maps, a few political outlines, a description of where the cultural fault-lines fall, and some good, inspirational art will go a long way towards getting my own imaginative juices flowing. But I think he’s right in saying we need to forget most of what we’ve learned about what a good setting book “should” look like, and learn to focus more on actual gameable content. And that’s not to say we should abolish “fluff.” It is to say, however, that stuff that gets used at the table, whether it’s NPC lists, or descriptions of the food to be found in the marid padisha’s pleasure dome, should be front-and-center in any setting offering.
Art by Edwin Lord Weeks and Sidney H. Sime.