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How Much is Too Much?

Dated: 06 Jun, 2020

Over the last few weeks I have been editing and improving the World Guide to Barnaynia.  This book is intended to complete the Dunromin, the Land of the Young and Barnaynia fantasy role playing world setting.  We have more publications planned but these will be adventures set on Barnaynia and some supplements adding more detail to small parts of the vast and varied world.  With this new book, due for release soon, ALL the Dungeon Master’s resources are ready to run with.

While doing this I have been reading and re-reading some of the World Building parts of the book and wondering if, just perhaps, there’s too much in there?

In my last Blog I put in an extract from the book about Thaumofunghi.  I publicised this on Facebook and quite a few people responded to it.  One poster responded “So it’s just magic then?” and it set me thinking.  He has a point.

Is all this extra detail really necessary?  There is, after all, a LOT of extra detail in here.  There is astronomical and astrological information; there is Biological and Ecological information, including a discussion of the classification of magical species and the ecology of the underground Darkworld; there are descriptions of the Magical, Gravitational and Magnetic fields about the planet, there is even a diagram of the Gravitational Field about the banana-shaped planet.  So, have I, perhaps, over-done it a bit?

Probably yes.

But I wanted to do it that way.

There’s some mad ideas in there and some of the difficult bits have forced me to resort to the “It’s Magic” get-out clause, but not often.  The idea of a banana-shaped world (well, shaped like a flattened banana really…), triggered by a one-off in-character argument and probably subconsciously inspired by Monty Python, is all very well as a mad idea for a one-off dismissal to get the game moving again.  But what happens if you use that as a start point to build a world from?

I have spent many hours thinking about and discussing the idea with friends, particularly Tony Pearce and Rob Hooley, since that fateful night.  More than thirty years in fact.  We have been trying to work out how such a weird place would really work, or even if it could, using what we know (we are all Physics graduates).  How does gravity work?  What happens at the edge?  What’s the weather like?  Does it orbit around a star like a normal planet?  (No!)  Does it have a Moon? (Oh yeah, it has a GREAT moon, and an asteroid belt)  What about tides?  Seasons?  Shooting Stars?  Asteroids?  Plate Tectonics?   All this has been addressed by Tony, Rob and I over the years, our addled minds lubricated with beer of course.

I think, at their core, this is what FRPGs are really all about.  Building a fantasy world where you can become someone else, something other; that much is a given.  But if you have watched/read Game of Thrones or the like, or played on-line RPGs you soon realise that you are not the world-changing hero destined to save the world.  There is no predictable destiny reached just before the end credits.  You are just another adventurer trying to survive to the end of the session, and maybe save the world in the process.

And the world and the people in it are a lot more complex than you thought.  These people have their own lives!  Their own motives!  Even the monsters have more on their mind than just trying to kill you.  THAT is where a properly built world comes in.  That’s where Barnaynia offers the Dungeon Master a helping hand.  When the PCs start asking big questions you have most of the answers ready for them, along with a load of other stuff about the places the PCs might find themselves in.  This is where the really cool, classic game settings we know and love really triumph, and where Barnaynia will as well.  The background is fluid and not set in stone.  There’s a lot going on around the players that they have no part of.  History carries on whether they interfere with it or not.

But having all that stuff about Gravity, climate and the Moon’s weird figure-of-eight orbit; is it all really necessary?

Well, you don’t HAVE to read all that if you don’t want to; it’s all a bit superfluous to the day to day experience of the players, which is exploring dungeons, interacting with NPCs and killing monsters.  Do they really care if the King is trying to initiate a war between two rival empires across the sea if they are marching in the opposite direction?  While the party are cleaning up the monsters left over from the last great war are they going to notice that the Deep Elves are engaged in their own civil war?  Will the PCs notice that having the Deep Elves getting distracted in this way is allowing some stuff from the lower Darkworld to come up to the higher levels, nearer the surface?  Probably not – more experience, more loot!  But those beasties and those wars are going to happen whether the players are there to stop them or not.

This is where the depth of the setting becomes important.  The lower level the PCs the more concentrated their minds are on the next ten feet of corridor, but that won't last long.  With a fully formed and complex world to move about in they will constantly be coming across new curiosities, side quests and other stuff that entertains them.  This isn’t an excuse for the extra bits, it’s a reason.  When you spend more than thirty years building a fantasy world there’s a lot of screw-ball stuff gets added in.  The REALLY silly stuff is gone but what is left is brilliant, even though I do say so myself.

And if this all still seems a bit much don’t worry, these rather esoteric babblings only take up the first couple of dozen of the nearly two hundred pages in the book.  After that there are extensive chapters on monster races, other civilisations and their social structures (and there are some pretty wild societies in there I can tell you!), full-colour large-scale maps of the whole world and hundreds of locations.  There’s also new monsters, magic items, key NPCs and groups, a load of new campaign ideas and shed-loads more.  It’s a complete World Guide after all; like the Times Atlas of the World but for Barnaynia.

Of course it was all fun to write and, judging by the reactions of the proof readers, pretty fun to read too.  It’s a bit tongue in cheek and designed as much as an inspirational and entertaining read as a World Guide, but it remains a thorough and useful FRPG resource nonetheless.  Well worth taking a look at.

So is it worth it?  I think so.

SM05 The World Guide to Barnaynia will be released in June 2020.