The Theme’s the Thing

Ahoy hoy! It’s my turn to be the GM on our Tuesday night coming up and I’ve been wondering what to run. We’re playing a historical/fantasy game at the mo so I thought I wanted it to be a modern or sci-fi setting. Then I got thinking, does it really matter? Surely the setting is just the superficial surroundings of the story. A group of corporate mercs in a cyberpunk game might be breaking into a rivals office on the 22nd floor to get files but that could just as easily be converted into a wizards tower. The more I pondered it the more i realised it really does matter. It’s even something that came up recently.
I’ve never been one for historical wargames. The ones set in the days of rank and file troops come across as dry and anything from recent history feels almost disrespectful.

Then Konflikt 47 came up. It’s set in 1947 and some rifts have opened up giving technological advances to the Axis and Allies. Walker mechs and Nazi zombies, what’s not to love? This fictional setting even got me doing some research on WWII and I’ve now got a mini-tank crush on the Universal Carrier. The change in setting allowed me to come up with my own idea for an army and added some cinematic style.

Another example is Pandemic. The mechanics of outbursts and epidemics are really well suited the theme of the game. Straw and I recently unboxed Pandemic: Rise of Cthulhu and before we did I doubted it would work. I’ve since read the rules and the changes they’ve made add to the feel of it. Sacrificing cultists to the Old Ones, keeping your sanity in the face of otherworldly Shoggoths and travelling through interdimensional gates are cracking ideas that change the game without losing the basics. It’s Pandemic Jim but not as we know it. Of course you could play it as a selection of plain numbers and probabilities but then it wouldn’t be facing off against the unknowable machinations of Cthulhu. It makes for a better story and that’s part of what we play games for right?

I guess it’s similar to film genres. You might be more tempted to watch a thriller over a zombie film but really it’s the quality of storytelling that grabs you. The difference with games is that there really should be some synergy between the setting and the mechanics. That’s the thing I’m going to take away from this when I run my game. Let’s hope I can pull it off. Until next time gentle readers.

3 thoughts on “The Theme’s the Thing

  1. I agree; setting is not the most important element to a game (though some players will be more inherently drawn to certain settings). The most important aspect in a campaign is creating a unique, dramatic experience. I see no reason why writing a campaign should be any different than writing a screenplay. Your actors simply don’t have lines written in the story. It should be a pure, genuine experience.

    I look forward to hearing how it goes. Contact me on my site if you need somebody to bounce ideas off of.

    Liked by 1 person

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