Some thoughts about setting. Also, last post of 2021. Hope you are having a good New Year!The gazetteer of the Known World from X1: The Isle of Dread is a little over 1,200 words. At the time of this writing, the gazetteer portion of Doomslakers B/X is a little under 1,200 words. I am not sure what this means. How much is too much? How much is too little? When it comes to campaign setting material, this is a matter of taste and often strong opinion.
My opinion has always leaned into less-is-more. I buy RPG books based on a few criteria and one of them is that they not be overwhelming. If the book is thick enough to deal 1d6 hit points of damage I probably won’t pick it up. My sweet spot really is the saddle-stitch realm of 32-96 pages, with a very strong (irrationally strong) love for 64 pages. If you can’t fit your idea into 64 pages then you might need to do some brutal editing. Just my opinion, for me personally.
Why? Because my time is limited, my attention span is limited, and I don’t enjoy treasure-hunting for a rule or reference in a 300 page monster of a book. I like succinct, but with style. I like brevity, but with character. The Basic and Expert rule books are excellent examples of brevity and usefulness, especially Expert since it also includes much from Basic. Star Fronters’ Expanded Rules is another classic example of delivering the goods in 64 pages.
(Aside: I do enjoy massive catalog style books, though. Here I’m really just referring to core settings and/or rule books. But if you make a 500 page monster catalog I’ll be into it. I don’t have to read it all, I can find inspiring bits and use them as I wish.)
X1 describes 16 distinct areas on a single page and includes a cool drawing of The Broken Lands by Jeff Dee. X1 gives us bare-bones descriptions. It's a beautiful little gem of world-building because it is so simple. A map coupled with some descriptions of entire nations that clock in at 100 words or less… enough to get any campaign started, with a little imagination and elbow grease from a dedicated DM. That’s pretty much the heart of old school gaming.
Of course D&D took the Known World much farther with the publication of 14 Gazetteers and a box set. Probably hundreds of thousands of words in total. Too much? Yes. Way too much, for me. I appreciate that those books exist and I own a few of them but I wouldn’t use them in any campaign. I’d steal from them though. And I have.
But I think you can do more complex settings than what is in X1. I mean, 1,200 words is perhaps a little too bare-bones. I was thinking of Yoon-Suin as a great example of a rich and complex setting that is at the same time very simple and easy to use. Because the book is composed almost entirely of random tables, it means the book isn’t prescriptive. You don’t have to know all the history and lore because you are generating it each time you use that book. I love that approach.
Another example of excellent world-building is found in Barrowmaze. The setting is small and laser focused on tomb raiding. The book is well organized and gives you all you need to run a campaign. It fits into an existing world easily or you can run it without referencing the outside world at all. Meaty and lean.
The setting of Mork Borg is a good example of image-first world-building. The details are less important than the vibe. This is the kind of setting you can pick up and run without having spent more than ten minutes examining it first. Bare-bones, but highly evocative. As if you took the text of X1’s gazetteer and reformatted it with art and layout to make it look sick.
For Doomslakers B/X there will be a lot more than 1,200 words. The book is a campaign setting, after all. But I’ll still fit the rules tweaks, new content (spells, monsters, magic items), and gazetteer into 64 pages – with art.