Guest Post: Implied Setting

Today’s post is a guest post by the illustrious UrbaneZombie from the Girl-Wonder forums. We’ve been discussing game theory for a while now, and after I thought about his explanation of stories and implied setting (see yesterday’s third reason to write details), I couldn’t help but ask to share it.

The thing that I’ve found in the past is something very strange – implied setting. When I create a setting and know all about it, even when the players don’t, I find that the more familiar I are with that setting, the better my writing is – even if most of the details never make it into the story. (The drawback is that I tend to make jack-in-the-box plots, but that’s not an unusual flaw in plotting.)

This is as opposed to exposited unrelated details, where you specifically let them slip in some way that makes people want to know more about them, and they provide background atmosphere by actually being exposited.

This can work well, and – once a setting has been established and I find out what the players actually like, I find it can be a lot of fun to have what amounts to “storytime” even within the game (assuming there’s an NPC whose “voice” they are fond of).

Certainly it would be a lot of fun if everyone kept bothering the creepy, spiky astrologer guy to tell them stories.

Sasha: Dinner is finished, it’s too dark to travel with no moons, and I’m not tired in the least. This symphony of stars puts me in a mood… Come Armillarius! Tell us a story!
Armillarius: No. I am brooding darkly right now.
Everyone: Pleeeeeeeze!
Armillarius: Oh very well.
[Everyone settles in to listen. Armillarius points with his staff, a black line against the stars.]
Arm: In the southern sky there is a great line of stars, trailing across from east to west. Here they are called Luria’s Road and people see them as a path across the firmament as might be walked by that august and terrible lady.
[The staff wheels in his hand, pointing in the opposite direction.]
Arm: But there are people who live far to the north, so far that Luria’s Road is a line on the horizon. In early fall, as the cold weather comes, they rise up, just above the edge of the world, to glow there in the sky. In early spring, when the ice is still heavy on the trees, they fall again, and are not seen for half of the year.
[He returns to a resting position.]
Arm: On the Rimal islands in the Northern Sea, they call that constellation Lufu, or the Tide… for them, those stars are the peaks of the calm, even waves of the cosmos that lap at the shores of the world. The fall of ocean waves on the shore is slower than a heartbeat, slower than breathing, but the rise and fall of the Tide, to them, is the rhythm of the universe, long as years. As the sea is music to them, so the movement of the stars is music, but so long and slow and old that they cannot hear it.
[Everyone is absolutely silent.]
Arm: The Rimal Islanders have a different notion of the afterlife… they believe that when you die, your vision, your experience is slowed. First day and night seem to pass in hours, and then in minutes, and then in seconds, so that finally they can watch the Tide rise and fall, the way they watch the waves of the ocean, and finally they can listen to the music of the stars, just as they would fall asleep to the quiet rush of the waves in life.
[There is a pause. Someone yawns as quietly as possible so as not to interrupt.]
Arm: Rimal Islanders do not bury their dead. They place them in cliffside catacombs, seated comfortably with their heads raised, so that they can always watch the rise and fall of the stars. And if the dead should slump forward or their head should fall to one side after many years, they only say that one is taking a rest, or that the Tide has lulled them to sleep. One day they will awaken again and resume their peaceful contemplation of the stars, but when a year passes in a few short seconds, they will sleep for aeons. The universe will still be there when they wake.
[Quiet breathing all around indicates that everyone has fallen asleep.]
Arm: Good night mighty warriors… the world will still be here when you wake tomorrow.
[He looks up at the stars.]

Now see how, even if you never tell this story, knowing it makes the world seem calmer? The cosmos is a gentle, rhythmic, peaceful thing, like an ocean of stillness all around the world, and even when there is turmoil and strangeness, people there can still look up and know that there is calm among the stars.

Contrast this with the Edge of the World, where outer space is an alien thing, not horrible but different and unknown and wondrous, and there is a place in the world where you can reach out and touch that wonder, a place where normal laws mean little and your wide eyes can see things that are seen nowhere else.

It doesn’t matter whether you tell the players about these places – it doesn’t matter if they never visit them. What happens is that the stories you tell yourself about the world change the way you think about it, the way you write about it. That’s the implied setting.

1 comment

  1. UZ says:

    Ha, that was a while ago. I wonder how much I’ve changed since then?

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