I often find myself walking a fine line when it comes to the level of detail in a game. As both a Game Master and a player, I sometimes enjoy and sometimes hate the level of detail that a game setting provides. Sometimes I loathe being told the exact rights and duties of a particular cleric to a particular god and sometimes I love knowing how the rules for “Zliargo Darts” work, even if I never use them.
Details I Loathe
- Character attitude details. One line that always bugged me in D&D 3e was about Druid attitudes. “Druids, in keeping with nature’s ultimate indifference, must maintain at least some measure of dispassion.” Really? Why? I love the idea of a loud and boisterous happy-go-lucky druid who lives off of nature’s bounty. Nature is malleable and ever changing. Why must my druid be dispassionate?
- Weapon description details. Weapons are weapons. Broadswords and shotguns have to adhere to a certain form to be a broadsword or a shotgun. However, knowing the exact hilt style and jewel placement in “Baneslayer” annoys me, unless it is story relevant. My characters tend to be vain. If their red and black clothing meshes with the green sword, I might not take it. These are just the details I would rather have in my hands. My character might pick up baneslayer because it draws his eye and fits his idiom. He doesn’t want just a +2 sword. He wants one that is personal to him.
- Details about the attitudes of members of a faction. I’m looking at you Old School World Of Darkness. I truly love playing Old School WoD. I hate playing in the setting. Every clan, tribe, sept, or faction had a book devoted to the details about the faction. That was awesome. Not awesome was how many of those details were about the attitudes of the members of the faction. I fully realize that a group of individuals under the same banner is going to have a shared ideology. However, so many of these details seemed incredibly limiting. I always felt like I was breaking the rules, even though every WoD book says change whatever you want, by playing off-faction. This is due, in part, to the people I play with knowing the Old School WoD inside and out. It is also due to White Wolf filing in so much space within their factions as absolutes.
Details I Like
- Maps. Any time a map, even for something mundane like a train station, is placed in front of me I like it. Maps give me something to work off of and fill in details I may not think of on the fly. Even as a player I love to see maps in a book. It makes me want to go there and have an adventure.
- Travel Details. I love having times and distances mapped out for me in an established setting. If I can open a book and know that it is 850 miles from one area to the next, then I can calculate the time it takes to travel there. Even better is when they say it takes 8 days by coach, 15 by horse, and 20 by walking. Sure, these are things I tend to hand wave as a Game Master. They don’t generally add to the enjoyment. They are sometimes important, and when I feel they are I love to see the work already done for me.
- Mundane place details. One of the biggest things I love about Eberron is the inclusion of stupid details about places that the PCs might encounter. Knowing that Morgrave university sold packs with its logo, my character picked one up to adventure with. Seeing the picture of the lightning rail made my mind jump with thousands of small thoughts about how things work in Eberron. These are details I, as a Game Master or Player, can always include, or not.
The Distinction In Details
Looking over my lists, I find that I am sometimes very extreme in my opinions. I also find that details that dictate things about my character tend to bug me most. Pretty much any detail that dictates the form of my play experience, or is something that limits me, tends to bug me. Details for background items, or things that I can pick up or not, tend to draw my eye more.
So here is my big question, and the main crux of this article. I fully realize that opinions on detail level will vary. What are the details you like in your published game settings? What details do you think are important to include when you are writing your own settings? Do you pick up and play with details provided, or eschew them and make your own?