Starting to work on a new RPG Campaign for a small group, I am left considering my options. Not only do I need to choose an RPG system but I need to design the setting. Do I want to go standard fantasy or maybe a modern urban adventure? It’s hard to say what’s best, but I have thought about the different components of setting design.
Eras of Play
Initially, consider when the setting takes place. We’ve had tens of thousands of years of cultural evolution and (hopefully) even more in the future. Are you looking at a period for your world that has an equivalent, or sometime that does not have a close facsimile to our world? Here’s my cheat sheet.
|○||Primitive/Pre-History||Sentient races are just learning the fundamentals behind technology and organized culture.||Nyambe|
|○||Historical||Writing has been invented and people are organized into subgroups to differentiate their status in society.||Deadlands|
|○||Modern||The world is as we see it now with only minor differences noticeable to passive observers.||World of Darkness|
|○||Future||Technology has evolved past what we know of it today, either to the benefit or detriment of the world.||Eclipse Phase|
|○||Fantasy||Magic is the key to your world and technology is either nearly non-existent or heavily dependent on magic.||Dungeon World|
Genres of Play
You must also decide the flavor your campaign will have. You CAN run a standard historical game, but is that going to be compelling? Probably not. It would be better if you introduce something a little more exciting, and here’s what I will typically choose from.
|○||Horror||Keeping your sanity and not being eaten are major motivators in a campaign like this.||Call of Cthulhu|
|○||Superheroes||Good and evil battle on massive scale that can barely be comprehended by normal people||Mutants & Masterminds|
|○||Pulp||Science meets Romance meets Punching Hyper-Intelligent Fascist Gorillas in the face!||Spirit of the Century|
|○||Science Fiction||Technology borders on the magical, as the boundaries between reality and what we can only dream of fall.||The Strange RPG|
|○||Apocalyptic||The world as we know it has ended due to catastrophe, and survival becomes the major motivator.||Outbreak: Undead|
Putting it All Together
Looking at these tables, I can see a lot of choices that would be fun to try out. Even looking at some of the premade settings I have, I can translate these into what I have here and make it more compelling of a setting for my players by GMing to those themes.
Having multiple Genres or Eras in your setting can also add to your players’ enjoyment. You could have a Primitive society in your Future setting, where a young race of people surrounds a hyper-advanced city a few miles away (i.e. Atlantis). Or add multiple genres, such as twisted demons who battle for control of a magic scarred solar system (i.e. Mutant Chronicles).
These are mainly guidelines to help you in building the background for your setting or translating what you read into simpler story seeds and plots. Your setting, from birth to play, is built on a foundation like this, and having a good foundation is the first step to an incredible campaign.