Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Which is More Important, The Setting or The Rules?

It's almost like the the "chicken or the egg" question. What comes first, the setting or the rules?

I ask this after reviewing The Weird West RPG. It's a nice, tight, simple yet complete rule system. All in all, an amazing package for the small size. It's sole omission is a setting. I find myself hungry for the assumed, default setting.

So, what's more important to you - the setting or the rules? Fluff or crunch? How much default setting information do you want in the RPG rules you pick up? Does the genre change the amount of fluff you are looking for in the rules (standard fantasy less / horror more / etc)?


  1. It depends how great either of them are!

    For example I love RuneQuest, but would rather not GM Glorantha... or I love the setting of RIFTS, but the system feels kinda awkward.

  2. I will give my ideal answer. There needs to be something prior to the setting and the rules that allow the two to be mutually supporting, a set of assumptions (dare I say first principles?) or an ethos that is enshrined in image and prose in the setting and in the mechanics of the rules that allows them to develop in complement. If you ask what is most important in terms of purpose, it has to be the setting for me, but in terms of structure the rules are more important. Thus creating one of those annoying "Yes" answers to the classic either/or.

  3. Setting is the more important of the two. When you define the setting, you are also defining the game to be played. Only after you have identified the game to be played (the objectives), can you then identify the rules governing the actions of those playing the game.

  4. Both are important. If setting isn't embodied in the rules the rules aren't working.

    I hate the term fluff myself, to me it implies anything that's not "crunch" is yummy but unimportant.
    Without the setting the rules are virtually meaningless, why not play a game of "Scores and Modifiers" if the fluff isn't important.

    That said the setting information can however be implied by the rules and woven throughout, it need not be paragraph after paragraph of exposition and encyclopedic text.

    As example of what I mean: D&D and RQ are both sword and sorcery games but what magic is and how people relate to it is clearly different as expressed in the rules for each game alone.

  5. I'll vote for the rules. I think what makes D&D so popular is that the setting is implied by the rules, but not so strongly that people can't make it pretty much whatever they want to be, unlike RPGs where people can't imagine the setting without the rules and vice versa.

  6. Since I have wed myself so extensively to Dragonquest I would say the rules, however they work so closely in tandem with the setting that to chose one without thought of the other is usually unsatisfying. I tend to think that once you find a good rules template, you can make it work in any setting.

  7. Setting. My game-world of Zama has been played with RuneQuest, Dragon Warriors, Artesia (I always forget to include that one) and every single edition of D&D and AD&D. Build the setting right, and it only takes a few tweaks here and there to make it work with any genre-appropriate rule-system.

  8. The setting comes first, but rules may break the game.

  9. @JD: Agreed. I prefer "flavor" to "fluff." Crunch without flavor would be like eating plain rice cakes.

  10. Trying to write my own game I struggle with this questions. I would much rather have both. As a player, I lean slightly towards setting.

  11. Setting, I think. Although a great set of rules might inspire one to create a setting in which to explore them, I'd say that's more rare than a setting that demands to be played.

  12. I think that the reason that you're getting so many "both" answers is that your choices are too broad.

    When introducing a game, the key hooks of the setting are vitally important to get right. No mechanic, no matter how awesome, is enough to suck players in on its own.

    The core mechanic of the rules, though, is also vitally important, though a bit more flexible. You can play the same setting with a variety of core mechanics, with only minor tweaks. But, if the core mechanic doesn't work, or doesn't support the setting, the game isn't going to work.

    The details of the setting are almost totally unimportant. Honestly, no one cares about the noble lineages or awesome cosmology or linguistic tricks you've incorporated. It only matters that it holds together, and is inspiring.

    The fiddly bits of the rules are easily changed or discarded, as the endless parade of house rules amply demonstrates. And, yet, the very fact that we all feel compelled to create house rules is a strong indication that mechanics do have some inherent meaning.

  13. I don't think I know enough about gaming, but I'm still going to say setting.

  14. Ideally, the setting and the rules should be created more or less to serve one another. To my mind this can be implemented one of a three ways.

    The setting can be designed to fit the rules. For example, the rules allow for elvish characters; therefore there must be place for elves in the setting. The same can be said for thieves and fighters. If there is no one to fight and nothing to steal, one should perhaps consider changing the rules or the setting.

    The Rules can be designed from the outset to fit the setting (my own choice). If you decide that undead warriors are a viable PC choice, you need to include them as an option in the rules.

    The third choice is merely the sum of one of the first two, time, and houserules and is likely the way almost everyone actually approaches the problem, regardless of initial intent.

    However, it seems to me, that attempting to determine which one is more important is missing the point.

  15. The rules serve the setting. So i'd have to say that setting is more important.


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