How much is enough content?

Hello! I wanted to talk with the community about how they recognize when there is enough content about a setting, especially one based off of a historical era?

I’m working on a game that is set during the Victorian Era and Gothic Horror genre, which is about 1801-1901-ish depending on definitions and events.

I realize there is more to the world than Victorian England at that time, but that is the cultural origin from Gothic literature and events. I feel that I should address other events and parts of the world, but the scope is overwhelming.

What I’ve been doing is a lot of research–likely too much. When I think I’m done I find more that make me question some content choices. I am not a Victorian Era historian and I’m not expecting this game to be one in which the point is portraying the lives of Victorians with 100% accuracy.

I feel like the subject matter is overtaking the needs of the game and slowing the writing of the game text. On top of that is the desire to address or mitigate the socially challenging parts of the Victorian Era for gamers coming to this game without diluting some distinctions of the era itself.

I feel like I’m over complicating my content decision process and want to do a good job representing the essence of the source material in an interesting and approachable text that provides enough context to help anchor and inspire others to create amazing Gothic stories for their groups.

Thoughts?

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More research is always good, even if you dont use what you learn in this game, the knowledge doesn’t dissappear. Plus, it makes you a more worldly person.

I think what you should focus on is game first, accuracy second. Even if you are building a simulationist game, try to omit any information beyond what is necessary to explain the themes and give the players room to inject their own information. If they didn’t want to do that they would’ve picked up a video game instead of your ttrpg.

Something else to consider is that your game does not need to be completely accurate, it just has to feel accurate. Try expanding your research (if you haven’t already) to the most well known and prolific gothic horror so you know what set dressing a gothic horror fan will be expecting, regardless of it is historically accurate.

This is a prickly subject but, IMO, unless you find the problematic social history such a big issue that it negatively impacts the fun of the game, I would leave it in. I would still make sure there is a section in the game that highlights it and serves as a warning to get the reader actively thinking about it and considering the extent to which they want that content in the game. A ttrpg contains vastly more player injected content than other games and you can’t be personally hovering over every playgroup to tell them if they are playing the setting right or wrong. I don’t think you will upset anyone if you have a section stating “this game takes place in the Victorian times, the social environment was harmful to X and Y because of A and B and often manifested as L, M, and N. If this kind of content makes you uncomfortable do not feel compelled to run a perfectly accurate Victorian era”

From another point, if you are designing a horror game I would expect the people who choose to play are doing so with the expectation that content of the game will make them uncomfortable. You should focus your efforts on establishing and maintaining a safe environment for players to interact with uncomfortable content, but to intentionally excise it would be hampering the horror. IMO, horror is the manifestation/representation of a real issue, and in order for monsters/ghosts/murderers to make sense in a horror setting, it would feel contrary to whitewash the social ills that spawned those kinds of stories in the first place.

4 Likes

This is something I struggle with all the time. There’s no right answer of course but here’s my take: The only thing that matters is communicating what is essential to playing the game, and the very best way to do that is by baking it into gameplay. So a 30-page treatise on the Victorian era does not meet that design brief, but characters who inform the setting through the choices they require during creation definitely does.

Figuring out what is essential and what is not happens for me in playtesting, when I can step back and watch what players latch on to, where they are at sea, where they have too much information to parse, and so forth. As the person soaking in historical research, you are probably too close to the material to make a good judgement about where to draw the lines, so trust the data.

As an example in my game Grey Ranks I learned through playtesting that, while I didn’t need to provide a detailed history of the Warsaw Rising, I 100% needed a periodic information dump to convey a changing landscape. So I built it in as an engaging part of gameplay - before each new chapter you read a broadcast from the pirate radio station, Radio Błyskawica, out loud, and get new facts and setting info that informs play directly.

Hope that helps!

14 Likes

My personal preference/goal is to never include anything that isn’t usable or will never get used in the game.

For a Victorian/Gothic Horror setting, including a list of the basic Gothic tropes (isolation, the sublime, old castles/ruins, madness, the supernatural, etc.) with a short description I feel would be important to include. A history of Gothic literature starting with Walpole and The Castle of Otranto? Not so much. :ghost:

The same with the history of the period. If Dracula has just landed at Whitby, I don’t need to know the details about Queen Victoria’s relationship with Disraeli. :bat: :slightly_smiling_face:

And never underestimate the power and importance of a list of resources for further reading and study!

This is just my opinion and preference. :slight_smile:

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Thank you all for your very useful feedback.