Forgive the break from the usual stuff here about Game Mastering and playing, instead I want to talk about settings and how important they are to come with an RPG. Now, this is an idea I balked at at first, especially as it just seemed like a whole lot more work to do for the game I am making. However, after thinking about it from a distance, I quickly came around to agree with the people telling me that setting is important, especially for an otherwise unestablished game. Why? Read on to find out.
A Good Starting Point
The first way that a setting is a good thing to have with a new game is that it gives a good starting point. Sure, when dealing with basic genres (i.e. "modern adventure", "superhero", or "high Tolkien-esque fantasy") it may seem like one isn't needed, but it can still be a big help. Not everyone has the time, or inclination, to go about and make a whole fantasy world for the game they are running, and by providing a setting you are giving those GMs a way to play your game. Which really is the whole point right? You want people playing your game.
Above and beyond that, the setting will also, or should also, come with pre-made characters. These characters help to show how a finished character, made by someone who understands the rules, can come out looking. This gives a reference point for those people to make their own characters.
Now, I mentioned this above in it being a good starting point, but a provided setting is also just quicker - and thus more appealing - for a group of people looking to play. Most people can read faster than they can write, and it is even faster to read than design a setting. Do you really want to let something like needing a location for your game to stop someone from playing, or buying, what you made?
They Can Take A Life of their Own
Think of some of the settings that you really like. Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars, Warhammer 40k, and so on down the line. Now in some of these cases the setting was there before the games, in others it was made for the games. But the settings took on a life of their own in all cases. All those settings have an ability to make something more epic, more fun, give the players a sense of being a part of something huge, just by being that setting. Do you want proof of this effect? It wasn't an accident that the first reveal of the third edition for Mutants and Masterminds was DC Adventures, or that Green Ronin advertised that acquisition so heavily. Then there are the other games by Green Ronin, as well as the Cortex systems games. Dragon Age, Supernatural, Leverage, and so on down the line. Games that, while being solid game, also make their claim by adapting existing settings to draw people in.
Do it right, and your setting could give the game a life of its own, or pull people it from the power of a few good ideas alone.
A Staging Ground For Ideas
The final reason I'm going to go into is that a provided setting gives a good staging ground for custom built settings. Ideas have a way of being contagious, but more than that, they have a way of giving birth to hundreds of related ideas for other people. These ideas however need something to set them off, and what better way to set off ideas for using your game than a setting built to go with it? How many fantasy worlds would we not have if Tolkien hadn't wrote Lord of the Rings? What if TSR had never come up with Fae Run of Forgotten Realms fame, Greyhawk, or Ravenloft?
What about you?
So what about you? Got anything to add to the strengths settings can offer? How important is a provided setting to you in buying a game? Let me know.