DnDNext, Modular Games, and Setting

When a new edition of the world's most popular role playing game is announced, people react. Boy, do they react...

I'm uninterested in stoking the fires of the edition wars with this post. If you're looking for flaming of a given edition or play-style, you're going to be disappointed. I was curious about another aspect of releasing a "modular" game system.

To be sure, the concept of a modular role playing game system is not a new idea. Take a look at Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying core rulebook, any edition of Steve Jackson Games' venerable GURPS, Hero Games' HERO System, Green Ronin's True20, or Savage Worlds. Each of these are useful and entertaining games.

My question: Should a core rulebook for a game include a default setting?

Several of these previously-mentioned games do not have settings included in their core books. (I think HERO might be the exception there.) Would a modular RPG benefit from having a solid, well-defined setting in their core rules books?

I feel that, given DnD's tremendous popularity, it will need somewhere solid into which the casual tabletop gamer can drop their spell-slinging mystics and thugs with axes. DnD4e's default setting was the Nentir Vale (borrowing heavily from previous editions' settings later in their development). DnD3x's default setting was Greyhawk, but it seemed to suffer from an editorial push to be generic enough that it didn't outshine the rules the game presented in the three core books.

Regardless, I'm curious about the kind of balance that authors feel should be created between a system and setting in a "generic" or "modular" game.

All the best games integrate elements of the setting into their rules. The things on your character sheet should mean something in the world your character lands in. An Orlanthi shaman won't have spells to summon fire elementals. The Knights of the Blue Rose will be expected to arbitrate disputes in the outlying areas of the kingdom, regardless of their arcane or martial abilities (or even their ability to speak the local language). You can tell how successful an Investigator in Call of Cthulhu is by comparing their number of encounters with the Mythos and their Sanity score.

To get this level of detail, in a potentially "generic" rule set, could be an editorial challenge. Done well, the integration of these two parts of game-craft should show inventive / creative types how to apply the core rules to their own settings.

At least that's what I'm hoping for.


To Greyhawk or Not To Greyhawk?

Every few years, I look at the current state of the table-top roleplaying culture and I wonder where I should be running my games. Not whose house to gather at, not which room to take over and strew books around in, but what setting to use?

Let's face facts: I don't have the same amount of time to devote to writing material to use for game. Work is more and more invasive on my time, real life takes its toll. So, how do I spend my time prepping for the sessions I run? So far, it's been about taking established Greyhawk material and translating it to Pathfinder rules. That, or creating whole-cloth the stuff that I need for my specific game. Greyhawk is awesome, and there are no more books being released there.

Golarion, on the other hand, has new material being released from both professional and amateur sources. (This is, of course, the default setting for the Pathfinder RPG. And more than just quantity, the quality of the Golarion releases is quite high. Personally, I haven't seen the kind of layers and detail that are being wrought for Golarion since 80's-era Glorantha. Detailed local shrines which actually have effects on the characters who attend them, personalities and politics in every corner of the world, well-balanced NPCs who genuinely need the player-characters as either their foils or their allies.

Also, have I mentioned that this is already in the system my players prefer to use?

Greyhawk was my first setting. I'm profoundly affectionate for it. However, I might need to swap over to a different setting for the games I'm running in my limited time. Yup. I'm thinking it might be time to set Greyhawk aside for a little while (at least until I get done with my writing for it).

Opinions? Confessions?

Let me know!