Today I will be detailing what the product of Canopy will look like, when all is said and done, and why I’m choosing to do it this way.
First, a little history. As I said in my last post, most RPG supplements historically have fallen into two main types: Settings and modules. Modules are essentially pre-made adventures. They contain all the maps, enemies, and narrative elements necessary for a GM to run a story. They also typically contain some details of the surrounding areas and the general setting, like what the king is like or what wizard built this particular dungeon etc. They tend to be able to tie into other adventures to create larger stories. They’re little bite sized tidbits of a world, that you can tie together to create a fuller whole.
Settings, on the other hand, take the opposite approach. They work at the macro level, giving big sweeping histories of anywhere from a kingdom to an entire continent or world. They detail major factions at play, major wars or other events in the past, and typically contain a lot of details about towns and major people in the setting etc. They are the broad strokes to a modules finer details.
Most supplements fall into one of those two categories. There is also a lot of crossover between products. For example, D&D has the Forgotten Realms setting, which contains both setting books, with the broad strokes, and individual adventure modules, with the finer details.
One of my favorite examples of this cross-pollination is the Gazetteer series for Basic D&D. This is where I got a lot of the inspiration for the formatting of Canopy. Basic D&D was intended to be a version of Dungeons and Dragons which had “lighter” rules, to make it easier to get into, compared to the behemoth that was Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Comparing Basic D&D’s 124 pages across two books to AD&D’s whopping 484 pages across 3 individual volumes is enough to illustrate their approach. Basic D&D itself covered levels 1-3, and then added 4 additional volumes (starting with Expert next, covering up to level 14) to slowly add complexity and build up to a greater whole. AD&D just dumped the entire kitchen into one set to cover levels 1-20 right out the gate. For a group just starting to play, 125 pages is much easier to stomach than 484, and then once that is mastered they can move on to greater complexity. There are arguments for and against both methods, but there is something appealing to me about the slow buildup that Basic D&D took.
When it came time for the supplements, a similar effect is seen. While adventure modules have always tended to be slim volumes for both Basic and Advanced D&D, with just enough information to run a single story, setting supplements tended to be much thicker books. As a point of comparison most of the D&D core setting books, such as Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms, come in at 200-300 pages a piece, usually at the higher end of that spectrum. That isn’t counting additional books to add even more detail to those same settings.
The Basic D&D line, however, took a different approach again. The main setting for Basic D&D is known as Mystara (or “The Known World” depending on where you look). When it came time to detail out their setting books, they introduced the Gazetteer line. Each volume in the Gazetteer line ran between 80-110 pages or so, 1/2 to 1/4 the size of AD&D supplements. This makes it a much more manageable chunk to play in. They detail a smaller area than larger settings books tend to, and focus more on the individual details of that area. The brilliant part of this, however, is that TSR went on to produce 14 total Gazetteer books. Each one can be played in individually, without even glancing at the others, but taken as a whole they detail out a setting the size of those larger setting books. Aggregate, they come to somewhere in the neighborhood of 1400 pages total about the Mystara setting. Just as the rulebooks slowly built you up from less than 100 pages of rules for levels 1-3 all the way up to 5 books taking you through level 36 and on to godhood, the Gazetteer line gave an insane amount of detail to Mystara, while still making it simple for a group to play in a little chunk of the setting at a time.
This is the approach I am taking with Canopy. I have some pretty grand plans for this world, but it will be released in individual sub-100 page volumes. The current plan is for 5 to cover the entire setting. Each one will be playable individually, without requiring you to read the whole 5 book series. If you like one particular area, you just pick up that book and go. Each one will cover a unique geography, cover different playable species, and have a rogue’s gallery of the baddies one might find there (along with various other morsels).
My hope is that this will make it an easily digestible, but still deep, setting. Stay tuned for more details as to what this setting actually entails!