How Destiny Made Me Rethink Setting Details

Destiny is set is the distant future as much as Star Wars is set in the distant past. The setting pitch: Around today, as you’re reading this blog post, humans set foot on Mars for the first time. They met a benevolent force of goodness and Light. Humanity had a golden age lasting centuries. Then something bad happened that crippled or killed said benevolent force, who in its dying (or whatever) moment created tiny robots to find warriors who could be its champion.

Centuries later, your robot—called a “ghost”—finds you. In the ruins of the Cosmodrome in Russia. You’re dead but resurrectable. You’ve been dead for a very long time. And you’ve been resurrected in the middle of enemy territory, with no information except what few words your ghost tells you before telling you to run.

Here’s where you wake up:


Yeah, I totally buy that after centuries of a “golden age” followed by centuries of conflict means the Cosmodrome will look something like today’s but with a few decades of wear. But that’s all we know, and the game assumes your character just takes everything on faith. It’s practically a religious crusade, if you think about it in those terms.

But that’s Destiny for you. There’s lore that claims a connection to the current day plus a millennia of drastic changes. So why the Yugos? Shrug emoji. Why did this “golden age” not bring with it some future-modern refinement to the Cosmodrome? Shrug emoji. If this conflict has gone on for centuries and the Cosmodrome was hit fairly early on (as implied in a Taken King story mission), why is it this intact? Shrug emoji.

(I might not get how emojis work.)

But I’m not ranting. I’m building to a point. By providing the thin veneer of lore, but just enough to be interesting, it forces us to come up with our own answers (or ignore them and just shoot aliens). I wrote some head canon for my main Destiny character last month. My alt—an Exo warlock—has a different hypothesis:

Ghosts weren’t the only things the Traveler expelled in its dying moment. The Earth was destroyed, and it brought us back as best it could. Only none of us remember that, because we’re just a city of resurrected warriors.

She isn’t fighting to protect an Earth-that-was. She’s fighting to give this Earth a second chance, and for a deep sense of vengeance that she’s sure was probably implanted by her ghost or the Traveler itself, but that doesn’t make the feeling less real.

If anything, her need for vengeance is the only thing she knows or feels is real.

Nearly Everything You Learn About the History from the Game

If you’re totally unfamiliar and think I’m being hyperbolic, let me provide you most of what the game gives you regarding the history of the setting with respect to humanity and the Earth.

The intro cinematic and exposition:

The tail end of said exposition, then the first story mission (starting with your resurrection):

A short scene a couple missions in, where the Speaker of the Tower tells you some stuff:

(Nolan North gives a better delivery than Peter Dinklage, but you get what YouTube gives me on a quick search.)

What This Taught Me

Unless you’re writing a Hitean alternate history, you don’t need to burden much with supporting details that doesn’t make gameplay happen. Now, gamers will likely hate it if you provide a game book and leave as many holes as Destiny has it is lore, but there’s a way to handle that while providing the fruitful void I’m playing with: call out those questions.

Those questions become the foundation of belief systems or character groups. My Exo’s “This Earth isn’t real” philosophy and my Awoken’s “The Awoken are the true path of humanity” philosophy are choices they can make because of the setting, even if they don’t affect FPS gameplay. But they can affect a tabletop RPG’s play!

It also tells me there’s less of a problem with presenting one or two pages of a setting and saying “my setting’s done.” By presenting the setting in what’s physically a small space, you’re inherently stating “this doesn’t try to be complete, and that’s for your benefit.”

Are there people who want to harvest all the lore they can get their hands on? Sure. That’s what game lines like Pathfinder or the World of Darkness are good for. For the rest of us, we can leverage the power of sparser setting infodumps, provided we present them well and in the right context.




4 Responses to How Destiny Made Me Rethink Setting Details

  1. Thanks. This is exactly what I needed.

  2. Ken Burnside says:

    I keep telling myself that I can make a usable RPG setting as a 3-fold brochure.

    Printed duplex, it has 6 slots. Each slot is 8.5 x 3.67″ wide.

    Slot 1:
    Cover art, and the one paragraph “setting pitch” Think the blurb on the back of a paperback book.
    Slot 2:
    Back page publisher information.
    Slot 3:
    Set up the Problem For the Players To Solve. Outline the antagonists.
    Slot 4:
    Give suggestions for character hooks and customization options
    Slots 5 & 6 (adjacent):
    Graphical relationship map of the antagonists, with “Plug in character interactions here” outlined around the perimeter.

    I think they’d go well with Minimus.

    Would you spend 99 cents on a 2-page PDF that promised a campaign skeleton to work from?

  3. Lugh says:

    I want to plug one of my favorite small press games here, Edge of Midnight.

    The setting is an alt-Earth that is somewhere post-WWII but with a wide range of funkiness. It is basically an amalgam of noir movies (because it’s a film noir RPG) rather than a coherent world. Oh, and it has “warlocks”, which are scientists that have figured out that the laws of physics have some very odd loopholes that can be exploited.

    The PCs are almost definitely among The Few. These are people that have looked around and noticed some things. Like the fact that *no one* has any memories going back before the end of the war. And *no one* but The Few are bothered by this. And the fact that the laws of physics really shouldn’t have loopholes. Why is all this happening? What is the nature of reality?

    The cool thing, as with Destiny, is that nobody knows. The GM section of the rulebook actually gives five completely different possible explanations. And encourages you to come up with your own. It is crazy easy to do a setting infodump, because the infodump just ends after a few paragraphs with “and that’s all we know. Your job is to fill in the rest of the blanks.”

    It’s the obvious flipside to starting a character knowing nothing more than their name and stats and creating the backstory on the fly.