Strange Sunday – highlighting the special

special rpg needs

Yesterday, my group and I played a one-shot-turned-into-a-two-shot of Dungeon World, using our Industrial Revolution Roman Empire with space dragons idea. Dungeon World is a pretty awesome game, and judging by the tweets I unleashed during play, I enjoyed it more than I can actually describe. However, on my way back home yesterday night, I thought about how this really special background we had made up didn’t feel all that special. Sure, the player characters had stumbled upon steam-powered mining operations in the Alps while serving a toga-wearing Roman named Maximus Gracchus, and they even fought a dragon, but it didn’t feel like anything but your standard fantasy world. Is that typical?

Well, I guess it is. You see, the disadvantage tabletop RPG’s have compared to movies and video games, is that it’s harder to drive the unique parts of a setting home through visual aid. Of course, if you’re artistic or can find enough source material somewhere, you could create handouts showing the world around them. In my case, being someone without any artistic skill, it was hard to find visual aids for a Roman Industrial Revolution. The world is shaped in the player’s mind, and you have to make sure to highlight the special things about them by telling the players over and over again…

…which can then lead to the problem of over-emphasizing how special and new your world is. Of course it’s cool that the Romans have steam power and some form of magitech, but if every Roman citizen walks around with a technical gizmo or you can find a steam-powered train station in every part of the world, is it all that special anymore? To me, it loses its sense of wonder then, and that’s also something I don’t want to happen.

In a way, you’re stuck between two extremes: turning the special features of a setting into nothing but side notes, or hammering them in, to the point that your players get annoyed by them. I guess that you have to stay somewhere in between these two ends of the scale, It sure ain’t easy, but it seems like the effort you have to make if you want to play in a rather special world.

How about you, dear readers? Have you ever decided to set your stage in a unique setting, and then noticed how it didn’t feel that special? Do you have any advice for me and other people when it comes to bringing our crazy ideas alive? Hit me up and the comments!

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