Take a look at your favourite RPG setting and you’ll find odd similarities with theme parks. These settings can easily kill your group’s story if you’re not careful. Here’s why theme park settings are so popular, their inherent pitfalls, and some ideas on how to fix them.
Why RPG Settings Feel Like Theme Parks
RPG designers, by necessity, need to give players plenty to play with. That’s why Golarion, Faerûn, the Mortal Realms, and even the mega-city of Ravnica are so cleanly divided into areas. It’s as if they were designed by a theme park designer. There’s usually a hot place, a dry place, a wet place, a funny magic place. There’s also often some form of Steampunk City, Pirate Island, Monkey Kingdom, Dragon Mountain, Asia Land, Snake Jungle… and the list goes on, covering all the tropes.
This is a good thing. GMs need options, players want to explore their favourite tropes, and RPG writers don’t want either of them to go looking elsewhere for their fun.
Unfortunately, all these choices can destroy a coherent story.
How Theme Park Settings Destroy Stories
Image your party heads to Tian Xia, the East Asian themed lands of Pathfinder’s Golarion. On the way there they stop off in the Mwangi Expanse (lush jungles) and take a session to explore the deep oceans around the Isle of Kortos.
Have magical portals, can travel.
Finally, the party gets to Tian Xia and they’re off to see an important diplomat. The encounter, an important setup for the rest of the campaign, has little buildup. The party have been in their bikinis or deep in the jungle for a few sessions now, with no time to dip their feet into the deep culture Tian Xia represents. As a result, your carefully prepared roleplaying encounter falls flat with the players missing vital cultural and historic clues dropped by the diplomat.
How to Fix Theme Park RPG Settings
One thing I love about the Game of Thrones setting is that the fantasy elements are relatively limited. I’d argue the same about the Lord of the Rings: there are no drow, flumphs, owlbears, or beholders. You could fit the LotR bestiary into one book. Both settings still have their worlds, but they’re doing more with less.
Similarly, you can get more out of the many options modern RPG settings present by picking and choosing. It’s that simple. Give it a try.
Check out the Battle Zoo Bestiary
The Battle Zoo Bestiary, for Pathfinder 2e and 5e, is now on Kick Starter. The book features many new monsters, so you’re sure to find some great additions to your campaign world. Remember, you can always reskin a monster to turn it into a variant of something prevalent in your world, which is one neat trick for keeping things simple.
Don’t miss out on this one.