You know, more and more of these posts are coming out of me trying to teach my young sons how to play. One of my sons was reading the book Castle by David Macaulay. I told the older one that he too should read the book. “But, isn’t that...informative?” Gasp! No! Not that! Heaven forbid! Ok, enough of that. Yep! It is informative. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if you don’t have the information contained within that book, you should not be running a fantasy role-playing game that in any way mirrors feudal Europe, which, let’s face it, most of them do.
I’m not saying that this is the quintessential book that must be read, but the information in that book is needed. The book Castle is just the easiest way I know to gain that information.
So forgetting the book - how much research is required to run a game? I do tons of research; probably way too much. Other guys are running things with absolutely none. Where’s the happy medium? I’m interested in your opinions. I think it depends on the education and personalities of your players. Some re-enactors need to have everything exactly right, and the slightest coat of arms out of balance ruins the game for them. I’ve even had arguments a couple of times where I insist that Fletnern (my game world) is NOT Earth and therefore the development of certain technologies would not have followed the same course. For some realists, that isn’t good enough. So again, where is the middle ground? Does it matter if you place a swamp next to mountain and a desert? Maybe not. Does it matter what the mass of the planet’s moon is and how that mass would affect either the gravity while standing on the moon or the rise and fall of the tides? Probably not. Should there be some sense of realism? I think so.
Here’s a big one - If 10 coppers = 1 silver and 10 silvers = 1 gold, does that make sense compared to our modern sense of money? No way. Does that mean its wrong? Maybe, maybe not. This is not the planet Earth we’re dealing with here, and maybe the supply of gold and silver are completely different on that planet. So is game balance and ease of monetary conversion so important that we can ignore this sense of reality? Yeah, I think it is.
Here’s my completely unscientific answer to how much research is needed: Enough that your players believe that within that world, this is reasonable, but not so much that you feel like you have homework every night just so you can have fun one day a week.