Lessons from a TV series bible. #8: List of standing sets

Continuing the discussion from How to write a series bible:

Item 8 in the checklist is a list of standing sets.

8 List of standing sets . Most series, especially three-camera sit-coms, have a set number of standing sets where the majority of the show’s action takes place. List these sets and provided thumbnail descriptions of each if they contain unique or unusual details.

In RPG campaigns we seldom use sets as such, though I do know a couple who had their house designed and built so that most of the downstairs was configurable with wide doorways, moveable walls and so on, the better to be used as a set in freeforms (“LARPS” in foreignspeak), which they enjoy and play a lot. They have standard ways to set their house up and dress the rooms for different freeform campaigns. {That sounds extravagant, but it doesn’t amount to a lot more room than a dink couple would occupy in that city anyway, and when they retire and want to sell it it will be a three-bedroom house with excitingly variable-geometry entertaining spaces.}

We do, however, sometimes run campaigns in which the PCs have a base of operations such as a precinct house, a castle, or a ship. And there is definitely something to be said for providing a set of floor plans or deck plans for those. Even if (like me) you seldom run gridded combat or room-by-room crawls, and therefore use only the quickest of sketch maps for adventure locations, floorplans &c. for the PCs’ base of operations get enough repeated use to amortise significant investment of time and effort.

I’ve only once drawn (and never got much use out of) deck plans of the spaceship that PCs rode, nor did I ever get the feeling that others spoke of that Serenity was a tenth central character in Joss Whedon’s Firefly. But I can definitely see that sort of thing happening in some campaigns. I have however twice supplied my character-players with the floor plans of castles that their characters got the lordship and occupancy of (basing one set on Warkworth and once on Rochester), at least three times I have supplied floor-plans of the palaces in which PCs served as retainers of the lord, and once I supplied floor-plans of the high-end boarding house in which the PCs lived. I feel that my effort was amply rewarded all six times. Apart from sometimes informing intrigue and mysteries, the specificity of spaces and spatial relationships, and the inclusion of detail such as where the servants lived and what could be seen from the windows of characters’ rooms seemed to make the PCs’ lives and circumstances feel more real and solid.

With such detailed places there go minor recurring NPCs, such as desk sergeants and majors-domo, whose consistent characterisation in even very small parts adds to the sense of reality a GM can achieve, besides offering PCs resources and features to make creative use of in play.

This is something I keep trying to bring into my games: the pub where the PCs go to relax after the job, the museum library where they do their research. (And, as you say, associated NPCs, who will mostly be encountered in this particular place.) My players don’t seem enthusiastic, so I don’t push it.

Serenity has that rare thing in televised SF, a consistent deck plan: when you go from A to B you always pass through the same intervening spaces in the same order. In my recent Firefly game I didn’t draw a plan, but I borrowed the ship from the fan film Bellflower (a smaller ship for a smaller PC group), where they built the sets as a single entity; so I immediately knew what was connected to what.

I have recently (during remote-only gaming) been using floor plans a bit more, and wrote some software to start with one or more images with known scale and drop a game-standard square or hex grid onto them. (I’d like to release it, but either users would have to run my Perl code on their machines – which is hard on Windows or Mac – or I’d build it as a web service and have to sock up the bandwidth for every image they used, because the output is an SVG file that contains the images.)

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The problem with that, as a player, is that it’s more stuff to keep track of, and it takes up playing time.

Something a bit related to standing sets: In Wives and Sweethearts, I drew up crew lists for a couple of the smaller warships in the campaign. Not in the sense of characterisation, but what all the jobs were, since a Navy will prescribe this in some detail. Officer PCs had to do quite a bit of organising of the crew, so it was helpful to know what they had to work with.

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I can think of three times when I’ve drawn up full plans for the scenes of campaign activity. In my first GURPS campaign, Uplift, I planned out the mercantile starship that the mixed band of humans, chims, and fins (and a couple of Tymbrimi) were flying around in search of profit and alliances, deck by deck, including the deck that was a pool for the fins. In a later GURPS campaign, Whose Woods These Are, I took a map of the Village, enlarged it, and turned it into a midwestern US town (making use of a telephone directory for Lawrence, Kansas in the 1920s that a friend sent me). In one of my Big Eyes Small Mouth campaigns, I similarly enlarged the plan of an English castle into a much larger castle that could house five clans of sorceror aristocrats.

In that last campaign, I also had each player submit a family tree for one of the clans. Then I took their four family trees and a fifth one of my own design, and figured out who had married into each clan from which other clan, and thus who was whose uncle/aunt or cousin.

Most of this was stuff I did myself. I generally allowed the players to see the results, but I didn’t make them responsible for knowing them. Instead, I consulted them during my own GMing. However, the players did have the benefit of a consistent milieu to move around in.

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