Thursday, January 10, 2013

Homebrew, Off the Shelf or Some Horrible Amalgamation?

I always have these thoughts hit me when I decide to start a new campaign:

Do I spends a few days writing one up and mapping it out?

Do I pick one of the myriad commercially produced settings off my shelf (virtual or real)?

or Do I pick a commercial setting and tweak it to make it something closer to what my vision is?

Invariably I choose the latter option these days.

The reason is simple. I no longer have the time to spend hours and days working on a setting, then even more time working on the adventures and yet more time actually running the sessions. Adult life seems to leave me with adult responsibilities these days. The nerve of it!

All this means is that I need to have most of the setting work done for me. Something like Forgotten Realms doesnt generally work too well from my perspective - there is too much cannon involved to allow it to tweak well, and there's too much history for me to even want to run it accurately (or have a snowballs chance in hell of accomplishing).

In my ACKS campaign I used Blackmarsh by Rob Conley, heavily tweaked but it worked fine (as an aside, ACKS has too much world setting built into it's character classes and too little world setting included to make those classes work properly, but I digress)

For the AD&D / Rappan Athuk campaign, I'm using the setting included in the RA book itself. It's not a huge area, but more than sufficient for now. The great thing is, the details are sparse enough that it's easy to tweak. Win Win! ;)

So, what it your preference?

Homebrewed setting, off the shelf or some mishmash of the two?


  1. When I run games, 90% of the time it's existing settings, namely Tekumel or Traveller. I write my own adventures most of the time, but occasionally find ones written by other suitable to my style, which is rather seat of the pants.

  2. I used to use published setting but now I think that making your own setting is an important part of what old school games are all about.

  3. Pure homebrew is my preference. It's one of the main appeals of the game to me, not only as a DM but as a player. It's wonderful to play in a game world that a DM has created and has emotional investment in. Being able to enter into someone's personal imaginary world is a very rare and beautiful privilege that only RPGs can permit. It's the pinnacle of the hobby.

  4. I prefer with a minimal homebrew as well. History is only outlined and the players can come with details of their PCs, that add to the setting. Whole towns and details are taken from published adventures. Eg., there is an Orlane and a Restenford in my campaign, complete with similar sorroundings. As the campaign grows, details add up to paint a more detailed picture. I'm working on a worldmap after ca. 90 sessions in and do not have to hurry it...

  5. I have one straight-up homebrew game, one "mish-mash" game, and two Greyhawk games. I love Greyhawk enough to pretty much let it be!

  6. I prefer homebrew myself, but in truth I find writing up my own setting less time consuming and easier than trying to read up on someone else's creation. Also, I have found that the familiarity for my own work makes for a more satisfying game, whereas those games that I've run in someone else's sandboxes feel less fulfilling or realized.

  7. I run both. I am confused about your comment on too much canon in the FR to tweak it though.

    If you are going to tweak it anyway, who cares about the canon?

  8. @Erik - I know players that can quote FR Lore in their sleep - it's basically untweakable for those reasons

  9. Ah. I guess I should feel lucky, when I play a pre-generated game world my players know up front that I am going to do to that world whatever the story takes us.

    I have had uncontrolled portals to the hells open, over-running Faerun with their nearly uncountable numbers. First line of defense were the 'Elminsters, Blackstaffs (Blackstaves? ha), and Drizzts...all died in valiant (and off-stage) ways.

    I have had asteroid strikes force the surface folk underground and adjust to life underground, with quick forays to the surface for "important" things left behind.

    And much more...

    The fun is that someone else has done the work, you just have to remove what makes the players feel they have the upper hand in knowledge. In the meantime, when you kill off people that they "know" to be major movers and shakers of the realm, it can strike the fear of the gods in their heart like nothing else can.

    I am not trying to sell a "I know better than you" thing here, I would just hate for someone to pass up the unique opportunity that a pre-gen world can bring.

    Of course, I have played the same homebrew for going on 10 years now so I am a bit removed, but I think it still applies.

    1. I think the FR are a bit unique in that they have so much baggage, not just game books but fiction, that there is often a certain expectation with how it should play out.

      Greyhawk wouldn't suffer the same, but that probably goes hand in hand with the relative sparseness of the setting compared to FR

    2. True. I have run nearly all of the pre-gen worlds, and Greyhawk does offer setting without a lot of "guidance" by the creators.

      I have also tried running in more obscure portions of known worlds as well. Reap the benefits of someone else's work without the hassle.

  10. Generally, I like to homebrew my own, but I am addicted to worldbuilding. If I use a predesigned product that presents a world, I can't have anything that is canon-heavy (like Forgotten Realms, or to a lesser extent Glorantha and Tekumel) unless I am allowed to strip out the majority of the canon by the players (or, like Greyhawk, I can simply say as a table rule that the canon doesn't exist after the initial product). Blackmarsh, Carcosa, Dwimmermount (when it finally comes out), the Land of One Thousand Towers of the Anomalous Subsurface Environment, the Judges' Guild "Portals" series, and the like are all acceptable to me. In fact, I will probably incorporate them into my current homebrew as alternate worlds that the players' characters might access - that makes parts of the setting design easier for me, actually, as I like alternate worlds, but hate all the work that is necessary to have so many. It also justifies buying all of these damned setting products.


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