Bunraku Redux

On Sword’s Edge, my blog where I talk about movies and writing and personal stuff, I wrote about the Bunraku effect. In that article, Bunraku refers to a very interesting movie with sets like a stage play, modern costuming and no firearms. The minds behind this movie decided to try to explain all of that with a prologue.

I found that to be the worst decision possible.

Now, in writing, it is possible to avoid providing causes or background to readers. Sometimes you want to do that. In Bunraku, the reason for the lack of firearms was not the point of the movie, so why even bother? There are no guns, live with it. Not knowing would not affect my enjoyment (or lack thereof) of the movie.

I kind of feel the same with RPGs. You might be the kind of GM that loves to write pages of setting information and backstory for a campaign. You might even try to get your players to read that. But would the characters necessarily know all that information? And do they need to know it?

Do you really need to explain to a player why there are no gunpowder weapons in this fantasy world with Renaissance or even Enlightenment levels of technology? Nope. The character wouldn’t know. The character wouldn’t even know what a gunpowder weapon might be. So why is it important, other than providing a reason to argue?

I would say that for much of our history, a vast majority of the population did not know that history. Even today, those “person on the street” interviews reveal a huge swath of ignorance regarding history, technology, and the world around us. Should we expect the populace in RPGs to be any different?

I am not suggesting this as a way to keep players in the dark so the GM has an advantage. I am suggesting that you should consider if it is important for the players to know the complete backstory of the setting. If not, don’t bother them with it. Maybe you don’t even know, and that is totally fine. The PCs can learn about his world as they explore it.

You don’t need to provide a reason for everything in your setting, but it would be kind of nice if you provided a fun setting.

You can read that Sword’s Edge article here.

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