Campaign setting

Last updated

A campaign setting is usually a fictional world which serves as a setting for a role-playing game or wargame campaign. A campaign is a series of individual adventures, and a campaign setting is the world in which such adventures and campaigns take place. Usually a campaign setting is designed for a specific game (such as the Forgotten Realms setting for Dungeons & Dragons ) or a specific genre of game (such as Medieval fantasy, or outer space/science fiction adventure). There are numerous campaign settings available both in print and online. In addition to published campaign settings available for purchase, many game masters create their own settings, often referred to as "homebrew" settings or worlds.

Role-playing game game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting

A role-playing game is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. Players take responsibility for acting out these roles within a narrative, either through literal acting, or through a process of structured decision-making regarding character development. Actions taken within many games succeed or fail according to a formal system of rules and guidelines.

In role-playing games, a campaign is a continuing storyline or set of adventures, typically involving the same characters. The purpose of the continuing storyline is to introduce a further aspect into the game: that of development, improvement, and growth of the characters. In a campaign, a single session becomes a scene or an act within an overall story arc. At its inception, a campaign may or may not have a defined conclusion. A campaign by definition spans more than one session of play. Certain aspects of the game are nearly always constant throughout a campaign: the campaign setting, the players, and the gamemaster. The gamemaster for a campaign is said to run the campaign.


Types of setting

The use of the term "world" in describing a campaign setting is loose, at best. Campaign worlds such as the World of Greyhawk detail entire cosmologies and timelines of thousands of years, while the setting of a game such as Deadlands might only describe one nation within a brief segment of alternate history.

Deadlands role-playing game

Deadlands is a genre-mixing alternate history role-playing game which combines the Western and horror genres, with some steampunk elements. It was written by Shane Lacy Hensley and published by Pinnacle Entertainment Group.

Alternate history genre of speculative fiction

Alternate history or alternative history (AH) is a genre of speculative fiction consisting of stories in which one or more historical events occur differently. These stories usually contain "what if" scenarios at crucial points in history and present outcomes other than those in the historical record. The stories are conjectural but are sometimes based on fact. Alternate history has been seen as a subgenre of literary fiction, science fiction, or historical fiction; alternate history works may use tropes from any or all of these genres. Another term occasionally used for the genre is "allohistory".

There are three primary types of campaign setting:

<i>Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay</i> Fantasy roleplaying game

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay or Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play is a role-playing game set in the Warhammer Fantasy setting, published by Games Workshop or its licensees.

World of Darkness is the name given to three related but distinct fictional universes created as settings for supernatural horror themed role-playing games. The first was conceived by Mark Rein-Hagen, while the second was designed by several people at White Wolf Gaming Studio, which Rein-Hagen helped to found. The first two World of Darkness settings have been used for several horror-themed role-playing games that make use of White Wolf's storyteller/storytelling system, as well as Mind's Eye Theatre, a live-action roleplaying game based on the core games. The third, Monte Cook's World of Darkness, created by Monte Cook based on the first two World of Darkness settings, includes only a single product.

<i>GURPS</i> role playing game system

The Generic Universal RolePlaying System, or GURPS, is a tabletop role-playing game system designed to allow for play in any game setting. It was created by Steve Jackson Games and first published in 1986 at a time when most such systems were story- or genre-specific.

Setting genres have touched on every genre of high-action fictional storytelling from role-playing's roots in fantasy to science fiction in settings such as Traveller to horror in the World of Darkness. Even modern-day spy thriller-oriented settings such as Spycraft have been introduced.

Fantasy genre of literature, film, television and other artforms

Fantasy is a genre of speculative fiction set in a fictional universe, often without any locations, events, or people referencing the real world. Its roots are in oral traditions, which then became literature and drama. From the twentieth century it has expanded further into various media, including film, television, graphic novels and video games.

Science fiction genre of fiction

Science fiction is a genre of speculative fiction, typically dealing with imaginative concepts such as advanced science and technology, space exploration, time travel, and extraterrestrial life. Science fiction often explores the potential consequences of scientific and other innovations, and has been called a "literature of ideas".

<i>Traveller</i> (role-playing game) role-playing game

Traveller is a science fiction role-playing game, first published in 1977 by Game Designers' Workshop. Marc W. Miller designed Traveller with help from Frank Chadwick, John Harshman, and Loren K. Wiseman.

A small number of campaign settings fuse two or more genres in a single game. In GURPS Infinite Worlds , for example, the characters play "Infinity Patrol" agents who travel to alternate worlds. Shadowrun combines fantasy with cyberpunk, Castle Falkenstein draws on fantasy and steampunk elements, and Torg mixes fantasy, science fiction, pulp and horror elements while Feng Shui combines Chinese historical fantasy with kung fu action tropes and dystopian science fiction.

<i>GURPS Infinite Worlds</i>

GURPS Infinite Worlds is a supplement for the Fourth Edition of the GURPS role-playing game, published by Steve Jackson Games in 2005 and written by Kenneth Hite, Steve Jackson, and John M. Ford. It expands upon the campaign setting of conflict between the Infinity Patrol, which is the dimension-jumping agency on "our" Earth, referred to as Homeline, and Centrum across a multiplicity of alternate history Earths. This was presented in the Fourth Edition GURPS Basic Set.

<i>Shadowrun</i> role-playing game

Shadowrun is a science fantasy tabletop role-playing game set in a near-future fictional universe in which cybernetics, magic and fantasy creatures co-exist. It combines genres of cyberpunk, urban fantasy and crime, with occasional elements of conspiracy, horror and detective fiction. From its inception in 1989, Shadowrun has remained among the most popular role-playing games. It has spawned a vast franchise that includes a series of novels, a collectible card game, two miniature-based tabletop wargames, and multiple video games.

<i>Castle Falkenstein</i> (role-playing game) role-playing game

Castle Falkenstein is a steampunk-themed fantasy role-playing game (RPG) designed by Mike Pondsmith and originally published by R. Talsorian Games. The game is named for a legendary unbuilt castle in the Bavarian Alps. Players play the roles of gallant adventurers, facing the intrigue and derring-do of Victorian adventures such as The Prisoner of Zenda.


Fantasy settings draw their inspiration almost exclusively from fantasy literature, such as the works of J. R. R. Tolkien and Robert E. Howard. The setting in these games is usually a world with a level of technology similar to that of medieval Europe. Fantasy elements include magic and supernatural/mythological creatures, such as dragons, elves, and orcs.

Fantasy literature

Fantasy literature is literature set in an imaginary universe, often but not always without any locations, events, or people from the real world. Magic, the supernatural and magical creatures are common in many of these imaginary worlds. It is a story that children and adults can read.

J. R. R. Tolkien British philologist and author, creator of classic fantasy works

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, was an English writer, poet, philologist, and academic, who is best known as the author of the classic high fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.

Robert E. Howard American author

Robert Ervin Howard was an American author who wrote pulp fiction in a diverse range of genres. He is well known for his character Conan the Barbarian and is regarded as the father of the sword and sorcery subgenre.

The very first role-playing settings from the late 1960s and early 1970s ( World of Greyhawk , and Blackmoor ) were based in the fantasy genre, primarily based on the popularity of fantasy works by authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Over the decades since, fantasy role-playing has evolved and expanded tremendously, even developing its own subgenres. The genre can be subdivided into high fantasy where supernatural events are commonplace, and low fantasy where there are few or no supernatural aspects.

While pure fantasy games were initially popular, games such as Ars Magica popularized the notion of fantasy set within elements of real-world history. Later games would update this concept even further, bringing fantasy gaming into the present day in a genre known as urban fantasy (e.g. Mage: The Ascension ) or even into the future by combining urban fantasy with cyberpunk (e.g. Shadowrun ). Even when the main setting of a game is not taken directly from the history of our world, they still tend to draw heavily on historical models, though distorted by the presence of magic; also, as gods often have direct and tangible interactions with the world, religion is usually very unlike our world.

Fantasy typically remains the most played roleplaying genre with the majority of the top five roleplaying games by quarterly sales involving fantasy settings (as seen in sales estimates for 2010-2013 [1] ). RPGs of the fantasy genre are sometimes collectively called "Fantasy roleplaying games" ("FRP").

See Category:Fantasy roleplaying games

Science fiction

Science fiction settings are inspired by science fiction literature. The setting is generally in the future, sometimes near future but also quite often in the far future, though in many cases the setting bears no connection to the world we live in, e.g. Star Wars. Common elements involve futuristic technology, contact with alien life forms, experimental societies, and space travel. Psionic abilities (i.e. ESP and telekinesis) often take the place of magic. The genre can be divided similarly with science fiction literature into subgenres, such as cyberpunk or space opera.

Science fiction settings for role playing were introduced with Metamorphosis Alpha in 1976 -- dungeon adventuring on a "lost starship" -- and in 1977 soon followed with Traveller, a space opera game. Its Third Imperium setting covered multiple worlds and alien races. Due to the success of Star Wars , and the impact that the franchise had on popular culture, many science fiction settings were introduced or adapted, especially during the 1980s. The scope of a science fiction setting is typically larger than that of a fantasy setting, encompassing multiple worlds or even entire galaxies. Such settings often involve detailed accounts of military and/or trading operations and organizations.

Gamma World , introduced in 1978, explored the replacement of traditional elements of fantasy settings with the pseudo-scientific elements of post-apocalyptic fiction. These settings lend themselves to the "adventuring" mode of most fantasy games, and thus focus on developing specific locations and loosely defined cultural or racial groups.

See Category:Science fiction roleplaying games


Historical settings take place in the past. Because historical games often overlap the fantasy genre, a distinguishing mark is that fantasy games are set on a "fantasy world" similar to but distinct from Earth, while historical games are set in the past of Earth. Settings that have been explored in roleplaying games include Pendragon (Arthurian), Sengoku (Japanese warring states), Recon (Vietnam War), Tibet (historical Tibet), and Fantasy Imperium (historical Europe).

The roleplaying game Ars Magica is one such 'historical' game, set in what its source materials call 'Mythic Europe': while history is generally accepted to unfold as depicted in real-world historical accounts, Ars Magica presents a detailed background for its setting, tying the existence of magic, wizards and the Faerie realms into a historical context while allowing for 'fantasy' elements to come into play.

See Category:Historical roleplaying games


Horror settings take their inspiration from horror literature. Horror role-playing can be divided into two major groups.

Modern horror settings such as Call of Cthulhu were first introduced in the early 1980s, creating a hybrid of fantasy horror and modern thrillers. These settings tend to focus on organizations and societies in which generally normal people fight against malevolent supernatural entities. Such games often are structured as a straightforward "monster hunt", though Call of Cthulhu also involves a great deal of investigation and clue-finding.

The second style of horror game reverses the roles, with the player characters being such supernatural creatures as vampires and werewolves. This second style was popularized by White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade. A series of games by the same company followed, sharing a setting called the World of Darkness.

The setting in both these styles of horror games is often contemporary, between the 19th century and the current day. Creating the correct mood and air of suspense is very important in these games.

Some elements of fantasy role-playing settings were often related to the horror genre. Vampires and ghosts are typical fare in most such settings, for example. Campaign settings that combine horror and fantasy elements on an even footing include the Dungeons & Dragons settings Ravenloft and Ghostwalk . The D&D Heroes of Horror sourcebook also provides ways to emphasize horror elements within a more typical fantasy milieu.

See Category:Horror roleplaying games


Humor games are based on creating situations which are funny or have a funny premise. Humor is not usually a genre in itself (although it can be), but a modifier added to other genres. In 1983 Bureau 13 introduced humorous modern horror/fantasy gaming. In 1984, the Paranoia game introduced a science fiction setting which used a post-apocalypse world in which to set a tongue-in-cheek game of futile struggle against a computer-controlled dictatorship. Humorous settings for multiple genres have since been released. Humorous settings typically develop few if any locations and organizations, focusing instead on specific characters of note and general tone.

See Category:Comedy roleplaying games


Multi-genre games that mix elements of different genres together. For example, Deadlands presents a Wild West in which elements of horror and magic are prevalent, and Castle Falkenstein presents a Victorian-era world with Jules Verne- and H. G. Wells-inspired technology alongside fantasy elements like magics and the denizens of Faerie.

Similarly, Shadowrun presents a futuristic dystopia that draws heavily from Cyberpunk influences such as cyberized limbs, megacorporations and the virtual reality internet in the form of the Matrix, while also including, as a major plot element, the return of magic to the world and the classic Dungeons and Dragons races of elves, dwarfs, trolls and so forth. Likewise, the superhero genre typically emulates the comic book universes such as the DC and Marvel Universes as a form of science fantasy set in contemporary setting where all fantastic elements from futuristic technology to mythic beings co-exist.

More extreme mashups are also possible; Torg combined fantasy, science fiction, pulp, and horror elements while Feng Shui combined Chinese historical fantasy with Kung Fu action tropes and dystopian science fiction. In GURPS Infinite Worlds , the characters played "Infinity Patrol" agents who travel to alternate worlds characterized by different genre elements including steampunk and horror.


Licensed games are tie-ins to larger media franchises. They were once rare but the number of these games is increasing. Licensed games are usually considered part of their franchise's genre rather than a genre in and of themselves. Many licensed products are now defunct because of license expiration, while others such as Blood of Heroes take a system designed for a licensee's game world and create a new world to match it.

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>Bunnies & Burrows</i> Fantasy roleplaying game

Bunnies & Burrows (B&B) is a role-playing game (RPG) inspired by the novel Watership Down. Published by Fantasy Games Unlimited in 1976, the game centered on intelligent rabbits. It introduced several innovations to role-playing game design, being the first game to allow players to have non-humanoid roles, and the first to have detailed martial arts and skill systems. Fantasy Games Unlimited published a second edition of the game in 1982, and the game was modified and republished by Steve Jackson Games as an official GURPS supplement in 1992.

Steve Jackson Games game publisher

Steve Jackson Games (SJGames) is a game company, founded in 1980 by Steve Jackson, that creates and publishes role-playing, board, and card games, and the gaming magazine Pyramid.

GURPS Cyberpunk book by William Gibson

GURPS Cyberpunk is a genre toolkit for cyberpunk-themed role-playing games set in a near-future dystopia, such as that envisioned by William Gibson in his influential novel Neuromancer. It was published in 1990 after a significant delay caused by the original draft being a primary piece of evidence in Steve Jackson Games, Inc. v. United States Secret Service.

History of role-playing games

The history of role-playing games begins with an earlier tradition of role-playing, which combined with the rulesets of fantasy wargames in the 1970s to give rise to the modern role-playing game. A role-playing game (RPG) is a type of game in which the participants assume the roles of characters and collaboratively create stories. Participants determine the actions of their characters based on their characterization, and the actions succeed or fail according to a system of rules and guidelines. Within the rules, they may improvise freely; their choices shape the direction and outcome of the games.

Magic system set of rules that magical effects follow in a fictional setting

A magic system, which might also be referred to as a magical system, is a set of rules that regulate the magical effects that can be produced in a fictional setting. Magic systems are most elaborate in both video games and role-playing games, because of the necessity to balance the game itself. A common feature of magical systems is either abide by its own environmental or physical law of nature, or use a method of limiting both the quantity and quality of spells that can be cased by a magic user.

GURPS Fantasy RPG setting

GURPS Fantasy is a Genre Toolkit source book for the GURPS Role-playing game. The fourth edition of GURPS separates the fantasy parts into fantasy and a setting book called GURPS Banestorm


GURPS Space is a genre toolkit for creating Science Fiction campaigns using the GURPS role-playing game. It performs a similar purpose as GURPS Fantasy does for Fantasy games. Rules and guidelines are provided for running games from science fantasy and space opera to hard science fiction, creating worlds and planets and notes about aliens races. The first edition was published in 1988.

Character creation

Character creation is the process of defining a game character or other character. Typically, a character's individual strengths and weaknesses are represented by a set of statistics. Games with a largely fictional setting may include traits such as race and class. Games with a more contemporary or narrower setting may limit customization to physical and personality traits.

Psionics, in tabletop role-playing games, is a broad category of fantastic abilities originating from the mind, similar to the psychic abilities that some people claim in reality.

Paizo Publishing is an American publishing company in Redmond, Washington that specializes in game aids and adventures for "the world's oldest fantasy roleplaying game" and its flagship spin-off game and setting, Pathfinder. The company's name is derived from the Greek word παίζω paizō, which means 'I play' or 'to play', and in 2014, the company changed its name to Paizo Inc. Paizo also runs an online retail store selling role-playing games, gaming aids, board games, comic books, toys, clothing and other products, and has an Internet forum community. The current CEO of Paizo is Lisa Stevens.

Technomancy, also called technomagic, is a term in science fiction and fantasy that refers to a category of magical abilities that affect technology, or to magical powers that are gained through the use of technology.

Tabletop role-playing games in Japan

Role-playing games made in Japan made their first appearance during the 1980s. Today, there are hundreds of Japanese-designed games as well as several translated games. Traditional RPGs are referred to as tabletop RPGs or table-talk RPGs in Japan to distinguish them from the video role-playing game genre.

Group SNE is a Japanese company founded in 1986 by the current president Hitoshi Yasuda, which produces role-playing games, light novels, board games and card games. Ryo Mizuno was one of the founding members. Group SNE is named after Syntax Error, the programming language BASIC's term. The most famous product of Group SNE is Record of Lodoss War well known for a fantasy anime adaptation. Moreover, there are several anime adaptations based upon Group SNE's products such as Legend of Crystania, Mon Colle Knights and Rune Soldier.

Tabletop role-playing game form of role-playing game

A tabletop role-playing game is a form of role-playing game (RPG) in which the participants describe their characters' actions through speech. Participants determine the actions of their characters based on their characterization, and the actions succeed or fail according to a set formal system of rules and guidelines. Within the rules, players have the freedom to improvise; their choices shape the direction and outcome of the game.

Outline of fantasy

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to fantasy:

Phil Masters is a British role-playing game author.


  1. Multiple "Top 5 RPGs" quarterly sales estimates, ""