View Full Version : Blurring Lines Between Setting and Campaign

Soft Serve
05-28-2014, 03:54 PM
I've come across a question, maybe not an important or interesting one, but something I've been bothered by lately as I find myself writing down ideas for games.

At what point does a Campaign become a Setting? And is it possible to reverse them? Turning a Setting into a Campaign?

I'm not an expert or anything, and the literal definitions may be different but for the sake of the discussion I'm hoping to start I'll "define" the difference between a Setting and a Campaign as I perceive it, and assume most people agree with or accept this perception.

Settings are worlds. A mapped out and finite place for the characters to wreck their particular brand of havoc upon. It would have established histories, NPCs, gods, economy, towns, cities, villages, political entities, and so on and so forth. Eberron, Forgotten Realms, these are examples of Settings.

Campaigns are one-shot games for characters. They similarly have their own NPCs, gods, towns, and so on, but only in so far as to what is necessary to completing an established goal. Beating a bad guy, filling a prophecy or omen, or so on. Ultimately the difference is a setting does not have an end game, a goal in mind. Where the Setting is a playground, the Campaign is a mission.

Now that this is done and out of the way, I'll move on to the story behind the question.

As I write down ideas that would be fun for players to experience, I've come to realize that some are only one-shot stories. Once the story is completed there's not much left for the PCs to do. There was no world establishment beyond the confines of one town and a few outside areas. And I consider it one of the best things I've ever written, I'm incredibly proud of it despite it not really being my style, which is commonly writing an interesting world and letting the PCs run around in it. In other words I generally write a Setting, where in this case I had written a Campaign.

I hadn't thought about it much after writing the Campaign (Ferrara I've called it), I'll figure something out to do with it. Best to cross that bridge when I get to it and move on to the next project "The Breed", which is a world where "Adventurers" are a brand of slaves. Bred and sold to sponsors to arm them and send them into dungeons lined with scrying spells so the sponsors can watch their investments run through these spectators dungeons.

But is this a world? Or a campaign? Is the whole world in this "Hunger Games" state? Or is it just a town? Could I run my characters through the Ferrara campaign and then later to this one and say it's in the same world? What a strange world that would be to have a seemingly normal town on one end and one like this on the other...

I pondered it over a few days before moving on to the next one called "Wicked Garden" (named for and inspired by the Stone Temple Pilots song). A plane completely covered in overgrowth and forest. Ruins of dead cities covered in vines and trees would be a godsend to the players as they search for supplies while running from a terrifying and incredibly powerful creature that hunts them. There are no cities, no markets or merchants. There's no Gold Pieces or currency here as the world is entirely in shambles. The pockets of civilization that would be found are small groves of only around 10 to 30 people at best. No Questgivers, no definitive goals, no endgame. this is clearly a Setting. But is it a good one? Or would it be better to scale it down to a single area and call it a Campaign?

"The players must investigate the Wicked Garden, a hidden underground nation once attempted to create a self-sustaining and massive garden to feed the poor of the world, but over time their plants evolved darkly, and the harmless beasts once intended to cultivate have become wicked hunters protecting their perverted lands."

Too far? Too big or too small? A world with seemingly normal towns, a sick kingdom what breeds adventurer slaves, and a massive twisted underground garden? It'd make for an interesting world, but an unbelievable and it seems really off balance to me.

I realize now I have a wall of text and no definitive question. And I don't really think there is one here, just a series of thoughts to try and provoke some discussion I guess. Thoughts? Opinions? Similar problems or experiences? Advice? Musings?

06-02-2014, 02:47 PM
Softie, I love that you've asked this question.

I'll accept your definitions - but you are leaving out a third term that intertwines the two: Campaign World.

A setting is like the Earth, in all of her real-life glory.... KIND OF. It's more like the setting in the movie The Truman Show with Jim Carrey (if you haven't seen it - rent or stream it ASAP!!). A setting is like a doll house, a living, breathing world whenever you are playing in/with it. When you aren't, it is a static photograph of that world, with actors ready on their marks to start the next show.

A campaign is when you pull the doll house off the shelf and everyone gets to do their stuff. Some last an hour... some last for years.

A CAMPAIGN WORLD is EXACTLY like the real world. The world is the setting that NEVER shuts off, and keeps playing all around you, whether you are playing or not. You can make a mark in this world and it will be remembered according to its actual impact.

Clear as mud, yet?

Imagine a campaign in a campaign world like going to college. It's a set time, a measurable goal, and ends when completed or abandoned. The world will continue whether you accomplish the campaign goals or not - it's totally up to you. Once completed (or abandoned), it may lead to spin-off campaigns that may turn into an arc (Doctor Softserve, I presume?). The "setting" _IS_ the campaign world, but it is ever changing and fluid. A true "sand-box" world.

You lament about "one shot" scenarios... kinda like $100 in your pocket and a night at a local bar, isn't it? Kinda like trying to find your neighbor's dog when the gate broke. Kinda like trying to get your friend elected to the student senate in college. Once it's over, it's over. Sure, it may repeat next year (DANG that friend!!), or it may never be seen again. Don't worry about it!! That's called "life."

And I think that's where you are with world creation. You are on the cusp, riding the wave between a "computer game" styled world, that's the same every time you log on, and a real, live, campaign world where Old Lady McGillicut that runs the bodega down the street just may die of old age between today's session and next week's session. I remember the first time that happened in my campaign world - the players were aghast that someone could just... die of natural causes.

A "campaign world" may be a single house (if you are skilled enough - e.g. Castle Ravenloft) - or it may be the universe (Spelljammer). Most new GM's start with a town or a village because they are simpler to manage. They (we) also staff them with people we know: Roy Smithy, the gentle, blond giant of a man with striking blue eyes and a skill for sharpening blades, was based on my Uncle... who's middle name is Roy. "Mama" Mary that runs the general store (and fences small items on the side) was based on Mrs Cunningham (Marion Ross) from Happy Days. Why do we do this? Because we "know" how those characters will react when PC's confront them with adventure stuff. How would your Aunt Edna react if the group's wizard was cut down by orcs? The first time you do this, your group will begin to realize that your world is alive.

Wicked Garden is SO much more than a setting!! And there ARE questgivers and goals - and the endgame is just like real life - SURVIVAL and leaving whatever legacy we can for those that follow. Okay, the party gets to tiny enclave "A" - who was just raided by tiny enclave "B" from 5-miles away. They stole food and three young girls who will be taken as wives/mates for enclave B. Insta-questgiver!! Is the icky beast like a Terrasque/Godzilla that just rampages, or is it after the group for some reason? What happens if the party tells enclave A that they are heading for Enclave C - then changes their minds and goes to enclave G? What will they do when they hear that A was destroyed by the beast - and two weeks later, enclave C was likewise destroyed? Again - insta-questgiver!!

They can have butt-loads of goals - scenarios - that can be as simple as tracking down an angry bull to bring back so their few remaining cows can be bred!

You have a GREAT idea, and are about to breathe life into your golem for the first time to bring it to life. Game on, man. Game on!!!

Soft Serve
06-02-2014, 05:29 PM
I'm not sure anymore what Campaign or Setting mean. XD

Campaign World being a living breathing world is probably how I've always done everything and partly why it's hard for me to define things. I have always had characters come and go as they have lives just like the PCs do. I've always tried to breath life into things by keeping them as reasonably dynamic as I could.

I've done things that way since I played Dark Souls and the characters and merchants who set up around the home base in that game will sometimes move and wonder around having you rescue them in different situations later on and altering the game for you. You could always tell they had their motivations, and sometimes your paths would cross in not-so-friendly ways. I loved the interaction in that game and always aspire to hit that level with my characters.

The more I think about the direction Ferrara should go the less I can come up with. I think after that one-shot campaign it'd be over and done with. And I like that in this case actually, as I don't want to strain the characters I've put in it. I don't want to give it sequel syndrome and try to push more out of the story that I've already gone all out on and I'm happy with. I'm sure, if I had to, I could force more into it. But I think with that one, I'm done with it. I'll be running it sometime soon I hope and I'll write it out somewhere for people to see what I mean. But I don't think I can push this particular one too far.

I have watched the Truman Show (not completely from start to finish, but I've seen enough of it to say "I've seen it") and I do like it and the idea. It was part of why I wanted to do The Breed. The idea of them being constantly under watch and trying to break free was what I was going for. (I don't know if he ever gets free in the movie, but like I said, haven't gotten through it %100.)

I completely understand what you're saying about Wicked Garden's quests. That is exactly what I meant with it. There would be no one person delegating them to missions or objectives. They'd determine on their own with what happens around them what to do next and where to go. If they care about the people of Enclave A and how they intend to protect them if they do. Do they raid Enclave B? Do they scavenge for supplies or try to unite people to create a semblance of civilization?

The hunter-type creatures going after them will not be godlike or gigantic or even that special to the plane for that matter. It'd just be another thing trying to survive with its own motivations for doing what it does (haunting the PCs) Maybe only twice as tall as a human and not particularly powerful in a forward fight, instead relying on illusory tricks, telepathy to speak directly to the PCs to play mindgames and such.

And of course it sticks to the shadows. They might only briefly see the thing, or know its around because it sends them puzzling messages. Sticking to the shadows and being as alien as possible. Something I hope they won't relate to anything else they've seen before.

Thinking the monster will play a huge part of it, and the reason it hunts the PCs will as well. But I don't want to ever directly tell them how important it is or what it's doing or why, despite the creature being one of the only things that will ever directly talk to them. The challenge is establishing a story with as little dialog or "important" NPCs as possible. Environment and investigative skills would be absolutely required to piece even the simplest things together.

07-24-2014, 06:36 PM
The setting I feel is always the interactive part of the greater campaign. So several settings over a period of time will define the campaign.

But, Settings can be just a loosely associated group of events out of convience which can (and often do) develop into a campaign. That is my prefered playing style as the player's take on a bigger role setting the plot, direction, mood, etc,... of a setting/campaign......

07-24-2014, 07:17 PM
Hmmm...let's weigh in:

Setting = Campaign World = where a campaign takes place.
Campaign = collection of adventures tied together with a theme. Or a Macguffin.
Adventure = a roleplaying introduction, climax, and denouement.
Session = one sitting of a roleplaying game.


07-25-2014, 06:34 AM
Hmmm...let's weigh in:

Setting = Campaign World = where a campaign takes place.
Campaign = collection of adventures tied together with a theme. Or a Macguffin.
Adventure = a roleplaying introduction, climax, and denouement.
Session = one sitting of a roleplaying game.


Yes. I'd like to add that the Session is can be to the Setting what the later is to the Campaign.

A session can use the mechanics of a game like AD&D to establish the environment the game will be played in or around or through at that time. Leading to a setting being formed, which can be the beginnings of a campaign.

Captain America
08-19-2014, 11:09 AM
I would point out, Setting = Campaign World only for that campaign. A good thumb through a dictionary can also help clear up a lot of ambiguity that we tend to create all of our own design.

10-15-2014, 03:24 PM
I have to ask, does it really matter? Kind of like stamp collectors calling themselves philatelists to make it sound more important.

I'll go with DMMink on the terms if it needs to be said. I'm not sure it needs to be said.

Is evenone having fun? I'm cool with that no matter what you call it.