Giving Your Players the Hometown Advantage

. 18.07.2016 . 0 Comments


     Anyone who knows my style of table top role playing game knows that I prefer playing in a modern setting.  The familiarity people have with a real world setting provides less of a hurdle for the GM to create a immersive experience, and this is key to reaching those all important elements of tension and excitement.  But before you go off and start researching far flung locations on this globe, take another look at the world right outside your window and consider what it could bring to your table.

     Below I’m going to take a look at the pros and cons of using familiar territory, what a known setting can potentially add to your game, and why it can be a great for your next table top role playing game.



Flash Fiction

I already knew that the military had blocked off Bowman street which was the main thoroughfare, having just seen again the pair of menacing hummers charging down the wandering snake of a roadway from the base nearby.  I highly doubted however that they would be so quick to guard the old perimeter road that cut around the neighborhoods and out to the farmers trail to the south.  I figured was my best chance.  I had lived in this little town most of my adult life, and my often criticized love of bird-watching had given me a pretty detailed mental map to all the trails and footpaths that wound through the surrounding countryside.  It seemed the only advantage I had, and I had to act fast.

But I also knew that getting to the perimeter road and then to the south was not really going to get me very far without supplies.  The mountains would be far from gentile this time of year and what little survival gear I owned was back at the house- ground zero for the bastards chasing me.  But perhaps if I was lucky and hurried I could make it to Nan’s shop on old 33.  She always had a small assortment of gear for the campers that came through in the summer months, and better still was the fact that his shop butted up against the pine forest that the lumber company had planted back in 92 which I knew I could navigate.

I only had to remain missing for a few days for my name to get cleared, how hard could that be?

– Excerpt taken from short story Sentinel Grove by Matthew Tansek


Home Town Advantage

     One of the things you don’t get to do when you run games in futuristic or fantasy settings (or historical time periods, or alternate universes) is give your players a chance to interact in a location that they already know.  Familiarity with streets, buildings, or locations can give your players the feeling of connection and investment and can add a new flavor that is simply not found in more fantastic fictional places. 

     An easy scenario to help illustrate this point is the zombie apocalypse scenario, where the location in question is overrun with brain hungry undead.  In extreme focus the game might take place within one single house or structure with the players doing their best to fortify the doors and windows and fend off the enemy.  In this situation the ability to know where all of the windows are, where the doors are, and what lies around the immediate vicinity is paramount an instantly set in the minds of the players if you are using a known location.  Players will be able to visualize strategies and coordinate with one another in a fluidity that you would be hard pressed to accomplish if they were attempting to do the same thing in unknown territory.  Similarly with a wide focus the whole town or city may be under attack by zombies, where having your players know the geography allows them to maneuver much better than they could otherwise.  They may not know what is inside every structure in the area, but simply just being aware of where important things are like the hardware store or the gun shop or where they could scavenge food makes the game much more real and intuitive.

     Additionally there is science out there that suggests that being in a place that one considers “home” triggers territorial behavior and urges one to protect their domain.  I’m not sure that this applies to a situation once-removed like a TTRPG, but hey why not try tapping into that urge all the same.

Jump Straight In

     Using familiar surroundings also benefits you as the storyteller in a huge way by cutting down on explanation.  If your players are already familiar with the customs and surroundings of the setting you have to spend far less time taking about fantasy races, behaviors, and anything else in an unknown environment.  If players cycle in and out of your games regularly you may want to consider using a familiar location even more, as explanations are compounded each time you need to catch someone up to speed. 

     One scenario that I have used on several occasions during convention one-off games is to use the convention center itself as the setting for your TTRPG.  The Indianapolis convention center (GenCon) has been the site of dark goings on and “evil lurking in plain sight” scenarios several times.  By using the location of the game itself I ensured that my group already knew the  setting and cut down on necessary explanation considerably, allowing us all to jump straight into the meat of the story and get more accomplished in a short amount of time.

A New Perspective

     There is nothing quite like running a game in a familiar setting to get you to look at everyday places in a new light.  You will be giving your players the ability to “remember” fending off monsters or uncovering hidden occult secrets in locations that they have to deal with or drive past in a mundane fashion perhaps daily.  I was once a player in a horror RPG many years ago that took place in a small town up state. To this day whenever I pass that town on the freeway I remember that game and it makes that place all that much more special to me.  Giving your players a new perspective can really leave an impression. 

Brain Break Red

     Have you ever run a game in a setting that was familiar with you or your players?  What was your experience?  Let us know in the comments below, or reach out in any of our various forms of social media.  Cheers.

Additional Reading

Interested in learning more about table top role playing settings?  I reccomend Delphine T. Lynx’s “Chosing a Setting” for a good breakdown of setting generas.  I’m also going to mention Whitney Beltran’s “Why Minority Settings in RPGs Matter” which does a great job analyzing problems with cleche envioments that many default to.

Additionally if you’re interested in the theory of hometown advantage, here are a couple of articles that I found facinating:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Tags: , ,

Category: Game Mastering

About the Author ()

Tanz is an enthusiastic GM, Blogger, and avid table top gamer with over 15 years of experience. His first brush with tabletop gaming was with Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Ed. Over the years he has transitioned from player to GM, and has run many types of game systems favoring games that bend toward horror and with a supernatural twist in contemporary settings. His DM style is one that leans heavily towards adventure path style play, preferring to give players options rather than unrestricted 'sandbox' style play or narration on rails. He regularly engages with the tabletop gaming community on twitter @Tanz444, his articles can be seen on various digital venues, and loves to GM at conventions whenever possible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *