How much do you care about detail in your games?

How much detail do you want?

  • Really don't care shut up and game

    Votes: 1 3.6%
  • Only care about stuff that is "cool" (what is cool?)

    Votes: 6 21.4%
  • Interested mostly in major events / inventions

    Votes: 3 10.7%
  • Interested in minor events / inventions when they can play a part

    Votes: 3 10.7%
  • I like fine details Chevrolt Corvette vs sports car, .44 magnum vs large handgun

    Votes: 8 28.6%
  • Bring on the esoteric details

    Votes: 7 25.0%

  • Total voters
    28

Toadmaster

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I'm a history nerd and a technology / equipment geek. I'm that guy who can happily spend two hours picking out gear for an expedition so I prefer a fair bit of detail in my games.

I'm definitely at the lower end of the poll, maybe not so important as to what brand boots my cowpoke wears , but I like the option of arming him with a S&W Model 3 "Russian" revolver vs a generic ".45" caliber revolver. Not that there has to be a significant in game difference from a Colt 1873 .45 revolver.

If the adventure takes us into the jungles of Bolivia in 1933, I think it makes it much more interesting if the war between Bolivia and Paraguay (Chaco war 1932-35) plays at least a minor part in it.

I have more fun when a game recognizes that new inventions don't replace the old overnight. Commercial electrical power and telephone service in the US started in 1890, but in the 1940s nearly 50% of rural communities did not have electric power, and only 30% had telephone service. Bummer when you need to get a hold of the half of the party that went out to talk to Farmer Ted.


So where are you, is history and technology just background color or does it play a major part in your gaming? Do you care that the modern socket wrench was patented in 1863?
 

Nobby-W

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The first rule of world building is that nobody gives a shit about your clever ideas - I have pontificated on this before. I like details but players often don't.

Detailed behind-the-scenes work can do a lot to bring a game to life, but nobody really wants to read a 200 page book of setting canon - and you probably don't want to be gaming with the sort of folks who do. Details are good when they serve the game at hand but overdoing world building and shoving detail into your players' faces runs into diminishing returns pretty quickly.

You will have to do some high-level world building in order to have something to hang your game off, but it's a waste of time to overdo it. Unless these factoids have some direct bearing on the game at hand, I don't really care who was the successor to Arbuthnot the third or how many lancers were present at the battle of Lower Throcking. You're better off not overdoing the lore, but focusing on the supporting detail for the game at hand. If you do that it will enrich the game and pull its weight. Keep your big picture in mind for continuity but don't drive everything off it.

Overdoing high level world building and churning lore is a bit lazy IMO. I'm a fan of a process that one might call 'Chekhov's Arsenal'. Put lots of little Chekhov's guns into the game to reveal key bits of lore on a piecemeal basis - especially stuff that' relevant to the adventure so it can inform later gaming. This is more interesting for the players.

Different models of guns can make for good fluff, but you're probably better off doing generic stats for '.45 calibre sixgun.' Chances are your dice mechanic doesn't have the resolution to meaningfully differentiate between models, and if it does then you just wind up with a preferred weapon in any given category and a bunch of slightly inferior ones that nobody ever uses.
 
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AsenRG

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I'm a history nerd and a technology / equipment geek. I'm that guy who can happily spend two hours picking out gear for an expedition so I prefer a fair bit of detail in my games.

I'm definitely at the lower end of the poll, maybe not so important as to what brand boots my cowpoke wears , but I like the option of arming him with a S&W Model 3 "Russian" revolver vs a generic ".45" caliber revolver. Not that there has to be a significant in game difference from a Colt 1873 .45 revolver.

If the adventure takes us into the jungles of Bolivia in 1933, I think it makes it much more interesting if the war between Bolivia and Paraguay (Chaco war 1932-35) plays at least a minor part in it.

I have more fun when a game recognizes that new inventions don't replace the old overnight. Commercial electrical power and telephone service in the US started in 1890, but in the 1940s nearly 50% of rural communities did not have electric power, and only 30% had telephone service. Bummer when you need to get a hold of the half of the party that went out to talk to Farmer Ted.


So where are you, is history and technology just background color or does it play a major part in your gaming? Do you care that the modern socket wrench was patented in 1863?
It depends :smile: . Sorry, not all that useful, but it really does, let me explain!


The real question is, how much am I into the setting?
If I do, then yes, I do care. I do care when the stirrup was invented, I do care that a Roman spatha ain't the same as a gladius and I care about the difference between Meinz and Pompei gladii (though there probably doesn't need to be different stats for those). I do care about a form of address in my Medieval China games, and I do care about the contrast between rural and city characters, the influence of eunuchs on court politics, and so on.

If I don't care about the setting, well, I'm not likely to care about the technology and history, either. That's not necessarily because I don't know the history, in some established settings it might be because of the history!
But then if you offer to run it, expect me to be a merry adventurer who would shoot any gun he can put his hands on. So, don't expect me to care about the difference between two made-up weapons corporations. Arasaka gun or British Explosive-Propelled Slugs, you say? Whatever has the better stats, of course:wink:! If stats are the same, I'll pick the cheaper one. If price is the same, screw it, I'll decide based on character background, or roll a die!


In all cases, as you say, there probably doesn't need to be a huge difference in game stats. In d100 games, I prefer to have a difference. In 2d6 games, not so much. In d10 dicepools or Dice Step systems, it can go either way, depending on how they're utilized.


It just so happens that d100 and 2d6 systems are what I play the most, with d10 dicepool and Dice Step systems lagging behind.
 
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TristramEvans

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For me it's the difference between "systemized detail" and "fluff detail".

I love fluff detail - bring on the obscure facts, historical significance, anything that gives a weight and identity to equipment or puts into into a setting context.

Systemized detail is often less important and can be obtrusive. I dont need minutial distinctions between items that bog down gameplay or complicates the system. At the end of the day, getting hit by a Katana, short sword, or Katar is effectively the same result. I prefer gameplay to remain fast to maintain the "weight of the moment".

But it also depoends to an extent on what the game is modelling. If playing a modern military or covert ops game, I'd be more inclined to enjoy a level of detail systemized to distinguish different firearms than in a superhero game, where the weapon a character uses is usually besides the point.
 

Stevethulhu

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I fall on the side of, it depends but mostly it doesn't matter.

Like, in Cyberpunk 2020, the difference between a generic 10mm Large Autopistol and a Hurricane Arms MkIII 10mm is important because it's a fashion statement. But in Legend of the Five Rings, a katana is a katana. Because that kind of fluff doesn't matter in that game.

I'm kind of the same on setting detail. It doesn't matter past a certain point. And once you've got a big enough body to be called lore, it really makes no difference other than to cause arguments.

That's why the last time I ran a game in a world I made up, I consciously chose to go with, if it isn't going to get used in play, it doesn't get written down.
 

PolarBlues

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I'm a "really don't care". All the games I like are pretty broad strokes, don't sweat the small stuff.
 

Lundgren

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As a GM, when it comes to mechanics, I'm usually just approximate them anyway. I want as much details I can squeeze out without it slowing down the game, balanced against the simplest option to get the job done.

When it comes to the setting, the fluff, I want a lot of details to understand how it ticks and how people think in the setting. As I GM I need it to improvise. As a player, I want to make a character that fits into the setting. My character won't have my beliefs and values unless he comes from where he could have them (but as likely some other values that would fit).

If I don't know the setting and don't know if I'm interested enough, I might create a character that don't know much about the setting; so he share my ignorance.
 

Dumarest

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I generally play in real-world settings and sometimes "real world plus superheroes exist." I only care that there's enough detail to make a setting and situation feel real. Whether it's 100% historically accurate is not important as long as the feeling is there.
 

Voros

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In The Jewel Hinged Jaw Samuel Delany analyzes in detail how Heinlein (of his early and peak juvenile period) uses small and cumulative details to build the world that the characters live in. It is a technique that became standard among the better sf and fantasy writers after him and helps avoid the Infodump so common to the genre.

To me more GMs should read that essay and try and imitate that technique, where 'fluff' and 'flavour' like historical context and details are sprinkled throughout the games descriptions, dialogue and NPC behaviour.
 

ffilz

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I pretty much no longer play in/run historical or future history games. I checked "Only care about stuff that is "cool" (what is cool?)" with the definition of "cool" as things than mean something in play. It could be mechanical differentiation details (swords and axes are different weapons) or it could be cultural details that have meaning to play. Random detail thrown into description is nice also to keep things well colored.
 

Savage Schemer

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I find it impossible to answer the poll. I can be any one of those at a given time, depending on the game I'm playing, who I'm playing with and the mood I'm in. I probably trend toward the top 3 in general, but not enough to plant my flag on any one of them.
 

Toadmaster

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I was thinking more historical / quasi-historical games, as I've definitely been guilty of the don't care about your made up world, although in my defense that often comes down to how well the made up world works for me (which is often directly related to how plausible and consistent it is). I have also seen things taken to a level where pedantic accuracy gets in the way of good fun.


Twilight 2000's original alt-history I was cool with, I could buy into that. The second edition alt history not so much although I did like Merc 2000s background which seemed more relevant in the 1990s (a slow decay into collapse rather than a hot war). In general I find made up tech to be far less interesting than real tech. Unless really well done, a heavy laser blaster is as good to me as a fictional Colt-Arisaka Model 99, a few games have done this well, most just give names to generic weapons.


I really like the small details that separate a similar genre, pre-civil war frontier western, vs the more common 1880s "wild west" vs late period 1900-1930s "new west". The themes between them are quite similar but the technology really sets them apart. Crossing the country in 1850 was a months long trek, vs less than a week after the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869. A game set in 1920s rural West Texas, Arizona, New Mexico looks quite a bit like one set in 1880, until the motor cars, aircraft and submachine guns make their appearance.

Also the idea that Victorian London, Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper existed at the same time as wild and woolly 1880s Dodge City and Tombstone (more or less and yes I do know Sherlock is a fictional character :tongue: ).


As a modern person living in a technologically developed country I also kind of like the contrast of a game world. I live in a world where I can order a pizza while standing on a wilderness mountain top (for take out, they usually don't deliver :hehe: ), I get some enjoyment out a game when it is able to relate both the sameness and the differences of a different time / place.
 

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If it doesn’t help the players kill something in front of them, blackmail/coerce/entice/clear the name of an NPC, lead to treasure, or avoid a specific danger it’s probably keeping me from noticing another piece of info doing one of those things
 

KrakaJak

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I think it's all about relevant details. Details for details sake doesn't really do anything besides confuse players or have them chase red herrings. Being upfront about the details that matter, especially in a historical game, because I as a GM am determining what details I'm including and how I am including them. I try to not have "Um....actually..." GM gotcha moments.
 

Chris Brady

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I'm an amateur writer, I like a lot of fine details that add to the feel of a 'lived in' setting. Nothing overboard, mind you, but still enough to give the players a sense of this world could exist somewhere.
 

AsenRG

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I think it's all about relevant details. Details for details sake doesn't really do anything besides confuse players or have them chase red herrings. Being upfront about the details that matter, especially in a historical game, because I as a GM am determining what details I'm including and how I am including them. I try to not have "Um....actually..." GM gotcha moments.
What's wrong with the players chasing red herrings:tongue:?
 

Black Vulmea

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Detailed behind-the-scenes work can do a lot to bring a game to life, but nobody really wants to read a 200 page book of setting canon - and you probably don't want to be gaming with the sort of folks who do. Details are good when they serve the game at hand but overdoing world building and shoving detail into your players' faces runs into diminishing returns pretty quickly.
Time to trot out the wine list again.

'The Wine List of the Welcome Wench said:
Read the bill of fare for the Inn of the Welcome Wench in The Village of Hommlet. If I start my campaign with nothing but the village of Hommlet, I know that there's a place called Keoland which exports reasonably priced brandy and wine. That could mean the quality is merely middling, or it's simply closer and therefore less expensive to ship - most likely it's some combination of the two. I get a sense that the vintners of Urnst enjoy some natural advantages over the Keoish, and that the two are probably trade competitors. I'm also pretty sure that Veluna is someplace special, because their wine is in demand enough to be found in a small country inn at a price few locals could ever hope to pay.

I can build a region from a wine list, a wine list that is something with which the adventurers can interact from the first time we sit down to play.

I didn't need to detail Keoland, or how it came to be called Keoland, or what it was called a thousand years before it was called Keoland, or what the terrain of Keoland was like ten thousand years before that and then a hundred thousand years before that, in order to plant the seeds - grape vines, actually - of a place called Keoland in the minds of the players.

My bullshit detector works really well, and it tells me the difference between 'stuff that matters to the players' and 'stuff that's primarily written for me.' My first order of business as referee is create stuff that matters to the players, and that means understanding what they are likely to want to do.

You know why Traveller UWPs work so well? Because they answer the questions player want to know first: can I fuel my starship? will the air kill me? can I pack heat? what kinds of gear are available?
I thrive on setting details, but those details serve two purposes for me: first, to give the players something with which to interact, to inform their choices, and second, to give me something off which I can improvise as the need arises. I have copious notes for my use at the table, but I don't expect the players to digest more than a couple of bites before we start the game; the rest is there for them to discover, or not, as they play.

A game set in 1920s rural West Texas, Arizona, New Mexico looks quite a bit like one set in 1880, until the motor cars, aircraft and submachine guns make their appearance.
I really look forward to having the free time to post about developing my cowboys 'n' gangsters GangBusters campaign, set in 1920s 'El Dorado County,' of eastern New Mexico.
 

Nobby-W

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I'm an amateur writer, I like a lot of fine details that add to the feel of a 'lived in' setting. Nothing overboard, mind you, but still enough to give the players a sense of this world could exist somewhere.
'Lived In' is a good catch phrase. You want a setting that looks lived in. Going to town on high-level lore doesn't achieve that - you need to go down into the detail that's relevant to the actual adventures and localities your party is hanging out in. This is really the value of fluff. Bonus points when it also informs the players of stuff they need to know about the world.
 

Chris Brady

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'Lived In' is a good catch phrase. You want a setting that looks lived in. Going to town on high-level lore doesn't achieve that - you need to go down into the detail that's relevant to the actual adventures and localities your party is hanging out in. This is really the value of fluff. Bonus points when it also informs the players of stuff they need to know about the world.
Little details, like the sheriff spinning his S&W Model 3 revolver as he watches from a post in front of his office. Which is next to the postmaster's, whose sign is hanged by a single black iron chain. Across the street the old piano is playing a tortured rendition of a ditty the players half-remember from their childhoods.

There's a Fargo Wells wagon missing a wheel down the road, and the driver is yelling at some topless Black man trying to get him to fix it faster. The pair of Bay horses are drinking from a leaky trough.
 

Nobby-W

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[ . . . ]

If the adventure takes us into the jungles of Bolivia in 1933, I think it makes it much more interesting if the war between Bolivia and Paraguay (Chaco war 1932-35) plays at least a minor part in it.

I have more fun when a game recognizes that new inventions don't replace the old overnight. Commercial electrical power and telephone service in the US started in 1890, but in the 1940s nearly 50% of rural communities did not have electric power, and only 30% had telephone service. Bummer when you need to get a hold of the half of the party that went out to talk to Farmer Ted.
These sorts of details are relevant to the setting at hand. The war is happening in the place the characters are trying to adventure in, and provides a source of encounters. You can introduce the war with a Chekhov's Gun (maybe announce it in the newspapers or have some article about a battle) and then have the party run into a patrol of soldiers, rumours about their location or perhaps a particular colonel who is an amateur archaeologist and chasing the same treasure your players are.

Less interesting is a history of several historical wars or something several steps removed from the action. It can go in for flavour but it's not really going to pull its weight unless it informs something relevant to the adventure or somehow contributes to the 'lived-in' feel of the location. If you want something distant and historical to inform an adventure you could perhaps have an NPC with some connection (e.g. great grandfather fought in the war and he has a trophy sword on the wall), or fluff the adventurers can see like a war memorial in the town square. These are more real.

Turning up to a town with no electricity of phone might well be an interesting mcguffin for (say) a Call of Cthulhu game. Folks are using candle or kerosene lanterns for light. Designing a setting in detail behind the scenes can be good for informing this sort of thing if you stick to the sort of details that can be used in this way. Think of it as writing The Hobbit vs. writing The Silmarillion. The notes that eventually made up The Silmarillion informed the writing of The Hobbit, so it was valuable ground work, but The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings outsold The Silmarillion by about two orders of magnitude.
 

Black Vulmea

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Less interesting is a history of several historical wars or something several steps removed from the action. It can go in for flavour but it's not really going to pull its weight unless it informs something relevant to the adventure or somehow contributes to the 'lived-in' feel of the location. If you want something distant and historical to inform an adventure you could perhaps have an NPC with some connection (e.g. great grandfather fought in the war and he has a trophy sword on the wall), or fluff the adventurers can see like a war memorial in the town square. These are more real.
And they offer pathways inviting the adventurers to explore that history, rather than expository dumps the players are expected to digest out-of-character.

I do love settings with deep history that, as referee, I can call out: obviously that's true of real-world historical settings, but it's also why I ran my 5e game in Divine Right's Minaria and I'm a fan of the Wilderlands and - to a point - Traveller's Charted Space. I understand the impulse to take that deep dive into the past by world-builders, whether it's for publication or simply one's homebrew. It's a different . . . skill, perhaps? . . . to present that history in a meaningful way in actual play, and it's absolutely vital to put the lion's share of one's effort into The Here and Now as experienced directly by the players and their characters.

So, how to do it? Think of the present-day setting first, particularly in terms of what it means to be an adventurer in that world, then figure out how it got that way, working backwards. I find that in describing the present, the past often suggests itself, in broad strokes; often those broad strokes are really all I need, since I tend to improvise a lot anyway, but if I want to go back and add more flesh to the bones, it's actually much easier.

And for Lawd's sake, embrace ambiguity. Leave substantial blank areas and create as you go - don't put yourself in a box before you roll a die! Most importantly, describe what people in The Here and Now believe to be true, rather than hammering out 'facts' of the setting; as you build out that past, you can use that ambiguity as part of mysteries.
 

Nobby-W

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[ . . . ]
And for Lawd's sake, embrace ambiguity. Leave substantial blank areas and create as you go - don't put yourself in a box before you roll a die! Most importantly, describe what people in The Here and Now believe to be true, rather than hammering out 'facts' of the setting; as you build out that past, you can use that ambiguity as part of mysteries.
I feel there's a blog post or article in this thread - world building dos and don'ts.

There's a temptation to build out a huge body of canon and fit everything together neatly, but - OTU, Tekumel or Glorantha notwithstanding - it's not very useful for supporting actual gaming. Detailed setting canon can inform useful stuff, but if you build out high level canon without doing the adventurer-facing stuff it will end up being sterile and not terribly interesting. In the worst case it becomes an attractive nuisance - q.v. the reputations of the Glorantha, Tekumel and OTU fan bases.
 

Toadmaster

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I don't get the GM gotcha moment comments related to detailed history, but I certainly understand the over use.

For me I think it would be a really cool detail in a CoC game to have the players travel from a major city like New York or San Francisco (by train because air travel was practically non-existent before 1930) to the bustling "metropolis" of Pheonix, AZ (pop 40,000) and then have to take a stage coach ride from the train station to the very "old west" like town of Young, AZ (one of the last regular runs for a stage coach in the US). I love those kinds of contrasts. Maybe that could be seen as a GM gotcha but as a traveler from a big city at the time the lack of amenities in rural AZ would probably be just as surprising as it is for the players. It can be surprising to people now who encounter this "what do you mean there is no cell phone service, and WTF is dial up?"


Agree that it can be overdone, players shouldn't be required to have a doctorate in the games back story to enjoy the game. Hammering the players for not recognizing some minor factoid is a great way to spoil the fun of a game.
The GM on the other hand having a deep depth of the game world can be quite helpful for bringing the setting to life.
 

Toadmaster

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I feel there's a blog post or article in this thread - world building dos and don'ts.

There's a temptation to build out a huge body of canon and fit everything together neatly, but - OTU, Tekumel or Glorantha notwithstanding - it's not very useful for supporting actual gaming. Detailed setting canon can inform useful stuff, but if you build out high level canon without doing the adventurer-facing stuff it will end up being sterile and not terribly interesting. In the worst case it becomes an attractive nuisance - q.v. the reputations of the Glorantha, Tekumel and OTU fan bases.
Absolutely, I can see where a GM feeling like having that level of detail means they have to use all of it, and wow what a great way to spoil a richly developed game world. I've run into that with Glorantha. I love the basic setting but the depth can be overwhelming if one tries to use all of it.

I haven't run across it personally but have heard horror stories of players in historical games nit picking every detail, and that could get old very quick. There needs to be a balance between interesting detail and pedantic.
 
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