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View Full Version : Ask a GM [07/22/08]: How much do you plan a campaign?



Farcaster
07-22-2008, 01:47 PM
In this week's Ask-A-GM, fmitchell asks,

How much do you plan a campaign?

Unless you're using a third-party product, coming up with a gigantic Tolkien-level history for a campaign seems to be going out of style. But how do experienced GMs plan their campaign?

Do you start with a home city/village and plan out from there? Or do you create the entire kingdom, continent, or planet?

Do you decide what nonhuman races/species exist in the area, or do you simply grab whatever the game gives you as you need it.

Do you plan out a whole story arc, or simply sketch out themes and possible end goals, with an initial adventure to get the ball rolling?

Farcaster
07-22-2008, 01:58 PM
I fall into that category of GMs you mentioned that use a third-party product for a campaign setting. This is particularly the case for fantasy. In my roughly two decades of gaming, I have almost always used a published world such as Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, or Darksun.

I have done some world building in a Science Fiction setting of my own devise, but it the game was set in the not-too-distant future of our own world. Clearly, a lot had changed in the interim between the time we played (1995) and when the game was set (2087), and technology was vastly different. My approach though was not to detail all the intervening history, the various states of countries, or even the specific details of the city the characters were living in. Instead, had a summary that gave the players information about the world they lived in broad strokes. The rest, I I let the players explore and detailed the setting as the game progressed. Luckily, none of the characters were super history buffs who wanted to have everything all in one fell stroke. This approach also let me fill in the history as the characters interacted with the world.

One thing that I have found works well when you have a campaign setting that isn't documented down to the smallest minutia, is to give your players latitude to collaborate with you on the creation of the world to some degree. To give an example of this, I once played in a 2nd edition AD&D game that was set in a world of the DMs own creation. I was playing a priest of a goodly god of justice, but the DM hadn't documented very much about this church. So, instead of asking the DM (Jon) for the nitty gritty whenever something came up about my church or its tenets, Jon would let me improvise the details. Doing this requires quite a bit of maturity and inginuity from your players, but when it works, it is an incredible experience. To this day, that was bar-none the most enjoyable game I have ever played.

My approach to planning a campaign is much the same as my approach to world-building. I generally have an idea of how the game is going to start, what some of the major events are going to be, and the ending that I envision for the story. These are just a guideline though. My players often take completly different turns than I expect. When this happens, I just roll with it. Effectively, I create the framework for the story and then I let the players co-author the rest with me.

gdmcbride
07-22-2008, 01:58 PM
There are a lot of ways to build a campaign. None of them are simply right or wrong. It's a creative process -- like writing the opening chapter of a novel -- and everyone has a different method. Here is one I commonly use.

I'm a big believer in organic growth. What we create together will almost always be more personal, more meaningful than me writing a gigantic tome of history and forcing it down the players throats.

I start with a map. Whether the game takes place in a city, a sector, a county or a continent -- draw it. Give a few names, as evocative as you can. Don't simply write 'Vandaria' on your map, write 'The Lost Theocracy of Vandaria'. This nation is lost? From who? It's a theocracy? What do they worship? Are their rulers noble priest-kings or are they corrupt? Great questions. Answer them together.

Write an opening session -- something full of fire and foment. Make it as exciting and engaging as you can. Things go horribly wrong. Our heroes live happily in a town -- burn it down. The land is peaceful -- start a war. All is right with the Galactic Republic -- until the Invaders came! The princess loves the paladin -- kidnap her.

Throw around a lot of loose ends -- what do these invaders want? Why did they burn our town? Where have they taken the princess? You can even come up with answers to them if you want. But a better solution is to talk to the players after every session. What do YOU think is happening? Listen to their answers. Pick the best one or even better take the best two and mash them together.

Make careful notes to allow for campaign continuity. Even better, give a PC a few bonus XP for keeping a copious journal and emailing it to you after every session.

Remember, even as a GM, you are playing a game and thus (hopefully) having fun. If you ever find yourself not having fun while prepping for a game ... stop doing that. Skip to the fun stuff. Focus on the fun.

Hopefully, this method will create a campaign that is both uniquely yours and endless fun. And really, isn't that why we got into this hobby in the first place?

Gary

Grimwell
07-22-2008, 01:58 PM
I tend to follow a consistent pattern for the campaigns I create. I've never actually listed it like this before, but here's an easy outline that I follow:


Concept a region
Find a place for the player races
Create antagonist populations
Create nemesis villains
Personalize things some
Add some wonder
Consult potential players

Concept a region
Inspiration, for me, really brews best when I think first of where I want the campaign to take place. The climate, the ecology of plants, the natural animals, the resources. These sorts of things dictate a lot about what people are going to do survive and thrive, so I find it to be a great point to kick off my ideas as it answers a few basic questions, but opens the doors to many more that can be answered as things get nailed down.

If I create an inhospitable region, each population has to answer a fundamental question created by that region: "How are you going to actually live here before characters thwack you expecting XP to pop out?"

If you are in a winter environment, food and shelter matter a lot. If you are in a temperate environment those questions are a lot less important (which means you have extra time to focus on other things).

Find a place for the player races
So let's assume that I settled on a region that borders an arctic circle. We are talking about cold in a big way and short growing seasons. Now let's stick the races into the environment.

Elves get the forests, so everyone can work from a stereotype there; but it's a coniferous forest... and the animals are way different -- so that can create some inspiration points for them.

Now lets throw the Dwarves into a mountainous valley 10,000 feet above sea level... and give them a volcano in that valley. That gives them access to heat and water, but makes them remote.

Humans wander the tundra as simple hunter gatherers, and have no kingdoms. Halflings populate the southern sea coast, sheltered by the Dwarven mountains (see how I made that up on the spot) and enjoy four seasons due to trade winds.

Hopefully these examples make the point. By selecting different parts of the terrain as a homeland for player races, you start to see where each race is going to build it's culture from and gain distinction in the process.

Create antagonist populations
Then I turn and do the same thing for major populations of hostiles. Let's throw some fire giants up there in the volcano by the Dwarves... just to singe their beards and give them a challenge. The Elves get ogres who chop the forests down to create warmth and cooking fires. The humans compete with a population of minotaurs for mastery of the tundra, and the halfling face regular raids from shauagin pirates (cool, now the shaauagin pirates say "Arrrrgh!" when they rise from the sea. They aren't just monsters, they are pirates).

This gives each race a potential natural enemy, and cultural opposite. It's actually wise to have some of the antagonist populations cross between, say like the fire giants also pillage the elven forests for timber to burn. That way you have some back end reasons for members of different races to partner up.

Create nemesis villains
What's a teeming horde of ogres in an elven forest if they don't have an ancient white dragon telling them what to do? You know you can't resist sticking in the white dragon as GM if you are going to have a winter zone. Then there is Iceblade the Remorhaz of epic purportion that haunts the frozen tundra.

The point here is to create a few titanic, or long term enemies to work the party against. Including Mayor Drumbles of Ceton, the main halfling port. By day he's a happy mayor. By night he's a Lich in disguise and uses his valued trade route to procure things for his needs. Bad things...

You don't have to over do this step, but one or two big baddies ahead of time is nice for back burner ideas and work over the long haul. You at least have someone to blame things on when the party ignores all your work and heads toward the blank part of the map. "You stumble onto a wicked ceremony where halfling cultists have an elven maiden tied to a sacrificial table. One of the halfings cries out "Drumbles!!!" (ok that sounds funny) and brings a blade hard and fast across her throat, what do you do?"

Personalize things some
So now you have a setting, homelands for the player races and antagonist races, as well as a few nifty "big dudes" to be scary at a distance while the party levels up. At that point I really try to make things my own.

This is where you start to personify some of the people, places, and races. The humans move from being generic humans to people influenced by old Celtic names and distant, cold deities. The Rhemorhaz goes from being an almost animal terror to the manifestation of a deity's consuming force in the world, etc..

While it's probably not wise to change things wholesale, this is where Halflings become Kender and iconic to the setting (Pro Tip: This is also where you make it clear that your Halfings are not Kender, and this is not Krynn... so knock it off Steve, it's not in character for your damn halfling to steal everything he sees!). Or Dwarves become avid bakers of pastries and mushroom foods instead of miners who are gruff, etc. A few simple twists and turns to remind people that this isn't Generic World Setting 432.60, it's a custom campaign.

Add some wonder
Don't forget that these are fantastic worlds with exciting and strange places that deny a bit of the science and theories that drive ours. A castle made of ice that floats high above the tundra -- the kind where people go in but never come out. A secret part of the elven forest that is warm for no good reason, and is their primary cropland. A pool of magical water that amplifies arcane powers vested in those that drink from it... it's stock for fantasy because it's what makes the fantasy fantastic. Which is why I try to stop and remember to find more than one place for it.

I want people to hear a description of something fantastic and have a vision of it in their heads and get some sense of the wonder that their character must be feeling. That's fun and fantastic.

Consult potential players
So now I've got an idea of what kind of setting I'd like to run. To be honest, everything I've listed above would just be a brainstorm for me for a month or two. I like to think about these things, put the thoughts away for a day or two to ferment, and then bring them out to see what they are like.

Once I think I have something interesting and potentially fun, I don't start writing... I start talking to people who are likely to be invited to play in the game. Sharing the larger details of the setting and relationships between the peoples and monsters within will tell me if people even want to play there. Plus it tends to get people to spontaneously brainstorm their own ideas into it and now my ice castle is actually a mind flayer crossing point to their homeland, etc.

Only after I have talked to some friends, as advisor's and potential players do I think about writing for the setting and creating adventures. I can fart out ideas like this left and right, but if people don't want to play in a setting that I've concepted; I don't want to start working on those ideas. I'll throw them back on the shelf to sit and ponder (sometimes for years) and try something different.

Summary (since I can write a lot)
Before I write, I think about a lot of the larger picture ideas. Then I talk to people who may want to play in that larger picture. If I get positive results from the thinking and talking, I start writing.

Due to this process, by the time I need to spec out a starting environment and it's denizens (good and bad), I already know how it fits into the larger picture, potential long term adversaries, and other fantastic details. Which makes it very easy to populate a town or village with people that have personalties that are consistent to whom they are (as a race/culture) and their environment.

So it's easy for me to write, and it's easier for the players to suspend their disbelief in between Mountain Dews, and have a good time.

Anaesthesia
07-22-2008, 01:58 PM
About 60% of my game is written down-mostly where I want to party to go. I usually do put in "extra" encounters, but the majority of those I do on the fly. I also have an extremely detailed background for all my campaigns, so if there's something I forgotten or I'd like to "direct" the party in another direction, I can always refer to that.

Some of my campaigns I stick to certain races, but I am generally open minded about alignment (in Revenge of the Dragon had a evil aligned drow PC amongst the other good/neutral aligned characters). I'm a little nutty and like the idea of a group of characters with mixed alignments. ;)

cplmac
07-22-2008, 01:58 PM
Actually, since my campaigns tend to take quite awhile to complete, my players usually grow attached to their PC's. I tend to use the same setting that they have been campaigning in. There is almost always a few things that they never encountered during the initial campaign, that allows me to use that little item to actually create another whole adventure that may or may not expand off of the previous one.

I do usually have all the encounters planned and printed out, just in case the party would happen to actually run across that particular encounter. I don't like to have to stop the game to scrape together the specifics of any particular encounter. Nothing ruins the flow of gaming than having to wait for the DM/GM to figure out what is going to happen and who all is there besides the PC's. Not to mention all the stats for each opponent.

Usually, I'm pretty flexable on what races and such are in any given campaign. About the only thing that I draw the line on is that I do not allow PC's of an evil alignment. I have, however, managed to get an evil NPC attached to a party a couple of times. Each time, they figured it out to late, since it was after the NPC disappeared that they realized that their current plan has also left with them.

When preparing a new campaign from the original one, it is sort a challenge to come up with a concept that will keep the party interested. The important thing to keep in mind while doing this is that you want to be sure to have different types of encounters from the previous one. To make sure I don't forget something about any particulay encounter is the biggest reason why I like to have major encounters planned out.

jade von delioch
07-22-2008, 07:49 PM
I started out with a map. Drew in the continent and then worked out where the kingdoms were.

After that i built the main overall plot of the game with a few key events; the why and how. After that i just let the game flow and try to keep the game working towards the main plot even when the stories does not seem to have anything to do with it.

chosenderrick
07-23-2008, 08:35 AM
I am fairly new to the DM/GM world. However, I normally start with an overall idea of what I think would be cool to encounter in a game. Not just a fighting/battle scene, but a tough riddle or mystery type deal. I merge information from players background information that they must have to play in my games to make the game more custom styled. Then I let the players semi-mold their futures from there. I believe that good DMing is when players can truly feel freedom in what they do while still having some type of purpose to the overall original goal of the DM! (it's tough but possible)

Midnight
07-23-2008, 11:29 AM
I create it from both directions at once: top-down and bottom-up. In general, I begin with a general description of the campaign area. At the same time, I try to come up with a good idea for a single adventure. I then tweak both of them until the adventure fits the campaign, then I flesh out the adventure. Example: The overall campaign world contains a big human empire named the Empire of Kasatorn. This is aggressive, expansionist, neutral-to-evil. Fighting it off is the small, mountainous country of Arandia (the characters' home country). I drew up a map of Arandia, with its major cities and rivers, plus its neighbors.

Now I have the beginnings of a setting. At the same time I came up with the idea that there are kobolds burning a town's wheat fields. The heroes need to stop them. What they don't know (which makes the adventure more complex) is that the farmer who hired the PCs also set the kobolds against the town in the first place. At the same time he arranged things so that the local Duke didn't want to help the town (see below as to why), so that the town _had_ to hire adventurers. So he gets all the credit for contacting the adventurers and making the bold decision to stop the kobolds with outside help. It's all for his own political gain, and he can make the Duke look bad by pointing out how this town solved all its own problems while the Duke just sat there.

Further complications (connecting this to the Empire of Kasatorn): This farmer is actually doing this because he's being encouraged to do so by an agent of the Empire of Kasatorn, who wants to politically destabilize Arandia in preparation for an invasion. He's charming the farmer and giving him a means of disguising himself.

So why doesn't the Duke want to help? Again, this involves making up some background, which I made up then, and which also gives more context to Arandia. Here's what I came up with: Major racial tensions include elves (Arandians kicked them out of part of their forests about 800 years ago; they hate humans and have never forgotten the insult) and religious divisions between human groups (some worship Norse gods, others Celtic). The Duke hates Celts (the smaller group), and the Celts hate him because some Celts rebelled against him about 10 years ago, and he put the rebellion down brutally. The town is Celtic, so the farmer (I named him Efrech) can be sure the Duke won't help. He makes this sure by going to the Duke and requesting help--but in a fashion that emphasizes Efrech's Celtic background and makes the Duke angry.

And so forth. Once this was done, I had an adventure, but I also had a larger context (which I did not need to populate in a great detail). This setting in turn led to other adventures.

MortonStromgal
07-23-2008, 02:50 PM
I write a few words or a couple sentences before each session of something I want to have happen. The rest is "off the cuff". If I am creating my own world I'll usually give the players a 1 page handout before they make characters describing the world in which they live.

For my latest game (Awakening/Requiem for Rome) I said make some characters for 246 BC... They came first session with some concepts and we put them to paper then I said ok we are going to start that an NPC vampire of the Senex (thats the vampire senate) is sending you off to start up trade with Illyria because supplies will be needed for the war with the Cartheans and the Mages have been ordered to help but their role is very mysterious as to why they are helping. Then we started and it was all "off the cuff". I will be doing flashbacks as the players flush out their backgrounds and tying it all togeather as we go.

nijineko
07-23-2008, 09:26 PM
my process combines inspiration, free association, and lots of research. like midnight i simultaneously work at both ends: big picture and small picture. when i get emptied out of ideas for the one, i will switch to the other and be refreshed. as i do research and conduct free association exercises i typically experience a progress best described as sudden downloads of inspiration. large chunks of the world setting: cultures, races, classes and prestiges, flora, fauna, cosmology, and so forth will simply pop into my head full blown and ready to go. i am frequently hard-pressed trying to keep up with the speed with which the ideas come. for me the challenge is trying to get it out of my short term memory and into long term memory or onto some form of record before it fades from my short term memory. luckily, i never seem to run out of ideas, or variants of ideas. =D

emmagine
07-23-2008, 10:46 PM
I take a non standard approach to creating an immense world for gamers. First off, I have a general idea for what is going on in my world. Big bad evil people, big great good people, and the history that has been developed in previous games. I like to have a good initial short story arch for the players to get their teeth into things. this takes a few weeks spare time to plan, but gives the players a sense of accomplishment, gets them involved in the world, and maybe a cameo of some famous figure, usually a cameo of a bigger villain that they don't know is a villain yet ;P


So that's the easy part. Next I analyze the players for similarities. One game we started at level 3, and all the players were at least partially paladins. Needless to say, the orders of the paladins are now very richly detailed in my world :P Finding something in common, I create some sort of order, cult, fraternity or whatever that the players can all have in common. This is a great way to prevent infighting if you concept it properly. At this point I work the character histories that the players have written together. Add to them, and then tell them what has happened since then.

at this point it becomes history in the making. I let the players personalities become the definition of the portion of the "order, cult, fraternity, militia" they represent. If the guy is sneaky, his branch of that order are famous for being sneaky.

At this point, Some cataclysmic event will begin brewing. A huge war is always a good one ;) Perhaps some other country has begun making an undead army secretly in caves and sewers throughout the players country. Perhaps invaders from another world, Or just a good old fashion invasion. All kinds of other things can take place, civil wars, perhaps the king is going mad and a coupe is being planned, or perhaps the players are more fiscally minded and end up creating a new trading syndicate. I try to let the players carve out their niche in the world, and that becomes history / trivia for later games.

Years of gaming have given me a very rich world, with very interesting stories and backdrop for future gamers. Former PC's make for VERY detailed and well thought out villains and heroes, or other npc's. Players seem to love running into a former player of their own.

One traveler game we ran, the players ended up building up a huge empire. when I say huge, big enough to give even the empire it self second thoughts about mucking with them. They mass produced some of the tech they found / built, and kept the best for themselves.

The next group of players, made starting characters IN the old players company / empire. Many of them the same players. Months later when events came to a head, they were able to switch and play their more veteran players for an epic encounter, and then back to their new ones.

All of these things make games fun to play, and fun to run. When you read something, see something on tv, or hear a story from someone about something cool, jot it down in a notebook. and work it into your campaign binders when you have time.

I won't bore you with more details :P but that's what I do!

Bearfoot_Adam
07-24-2008, 09:13 PM
I go for more of an episodic feel for my games. Usually a 12 to 14 episode series. So I start with an emotion or concept and try to come up with episodes that fit in with that theme. As far as the actually session plan I go for a couple paragraphs to a page desciption with any combat already planned.

Obah Bason
07-26-2008, 10:26 AM
I have done both starting from a town and working my way out, as well as starting with a whole kingdom and working my way in. Both are a lot of work, but yield very different results. Currently I am using a micro Kingdom set in an Egyptian themed desert. There is 1 city, 5 towns, a river, 2 ruins, and 5 pyramids.

That may not seem like a lot, but my PCs still may never make it to all of those locations.

Now, using the 'theme' of Egypt, I do a lot of my preparations as a simple outline. Stuff like "Easy encounter, then environmental hazard". Since it's in the desert, that means a giant scorpion and a sandstorm. It helps me avoid railroading my PCs by planning too much.

Jcosby
07-28-2008, 11:51 AM
As someone said above there is no right or wrong way to create a campaign. It's a creative process for the DM. I've run many campaigns in the 30 odd years I've been playing D&D. Each time I tend to try and approach it from a slightly different angle.

Scope, means a lot to the way I plan out my campaigns. Are the adventures going to be focused on a small part of the world or are they going to be moving through out the whole world.

Some of the types of campaigns I've written have the party going though an "epic" story. Save the world type of stuff. Other's I've had the party at first level ride into a new town and get caught up in the politics/drama of the moment. Another type of adventure I've liked to run in the past is the survival, mystery type quests. Once, I've had the party ship wrecked on an island, another they woke up in bodies that were not there own with partial recall of what happened; still another starting the campaign striped naked chained to the wall and the sounds of goblins and orcs coming down the hallway talking about which PC to eat first.

The style of the campaign will determine the amount of work I do ahead of time. I'm not a world builder; I think there are some great worlds out there to use already. Forgotten Realms, Darksun, Greyhawk, Dragonlance, Harn and many others; I've run campaigns in all of them although I enjoy Forgotten Realms the most. In my opinion DM's already have enough work to do running the campaign I don't want to spend more time creating everything from scratch although I know a lot of people that take a lot of pride in creating their own worlds.

Usually when I create an Epic style campaign I will have everything planned out to a fine level of detail. It will almost be written like a book for the players to go through chapter by chapter. Other campaigns will be written almost in module form with each ďadventureĒ being itís own part of the campaign and I will leave open story hooks for players to choose where to go after they have completed the current adventure. Lastly, one of the hardest types of campaigns for myself to run but most of my players truly enjoy is the open ended campaign. I will ask the players where in the world; say of Forgotten Realms where they want to start. Thatís it. From there itís completely up to the players to drive the campaign. They can go where they want and when they want. Talk to whom ever they choose and do what ever they want. As a DM you have to really be on your toes and be ready to run anything at a moments notice.

In the end, the campaign needs to be fun and enjoyable for all parties involved.

Jeff

bltzkrg242
08-03-2008, 04:18 PM
I created a map years ago with basic ideas of where I wanted what and who populated those areas. As each new game comes online I place PC's in a new location but near the other so that as they travel more detail comes with their passage. I started in a very Medieval English area for th players to have an idea of what things should look like then as the game progresses they will wander out into stranger areas.

Ghoulsick
08-05-2008, 12:09 PM
I find it easiest to plan a big campaign based on a main character. This gives you a beginning and an end and lets you map out where you want the PCs to go. From there you will run into questions about the usual;
What do they need?
Who will they meet?
Pre-roll some heavy encounters and fit them into the scheme of things. you know, make it all come together. By filing in some of the major and important pieces you can see how it all looks on paper.
When you see it like this you can see what details you need to work out. Common races and weather. Cities and towns, travelers and heroes. They will all come out with room to spare for in game atmosphere... which is what we all really need to be worrying about. Less details and more game atmosphere. Let it go where it goes

bltzkrg242
08-06-2008, 06:24 AM
Based on ONE main character? Sort of de-rails your plans if they die doesn't it?

cplmac
08-06-2008, 08:45 AM
Based on ONE main character? Sort of de-rails your plans if they die doesn't it?

If it is based on one of the party characters, and that character dies before the party achieves the "objective", then yes, I would also agree that would tend to de-rail things somewhat.

raven21
09-02-2008, 05:37 PM
I ussaly start with a single idea, goal or quest and wing the rest of it. From a combination of players actions and my own creativity can move the game along fairly well.

TAROT
09-07-2008, 08:03 PM
I suppose that I've tried pretty much everything. Top-down and bottom-up. Centre-out and both ends towards the middle. Working out timelines, starting at "Fiat Lux."

Eventually, I found myself creating star systems that I knew were never, ever going to be used in a game, and decided that I should try to concentrate my efforts on things that were going to be seen.

So, in recent years, I start more with a general feel of a world. Figure out the basic politics, technology, sociology and magic required to get there. After players have created characters with goals, I then develop the parts of the world that will affect them in achieving their goals. Friends, family and foes. Geography, politics, cults, cabals and organizations. Whatever. Anything that is not closely related to the characters' interests, I tend to ignore as much as possible.

MinipainterUS
11-30-2008, 12:29 PM
My campaigns generally start with a meta - plot, the overarching storyline which becomes the glue that holds all the parts together. I try to define about 10 - 12 major plot point objectives before I start any in depth design work.

These major plot points are the individual goals for a series of scenarios (usually 4-6 per plot point), but get combined with side ventures, red herrings, McGuffins and opportunities created by the players.

I also like to include sessions specific to each of the PCs, where some aspect of their pre campaign back story gets explored. I find these are really enjoyed by both the PC in the limelight, and the rest of the group, as they know that their day will come as well.

At the beginning of the campaign, I try to have at least the first set of scenarios done to plot point #1. While playing these sessions out, I keep a notepad handy to make notes of ideas and directions to explore that come from PC actions. Usually, I find that the players will unknowingly give me directions to travel which helps craft the next journey along the story path. My goal is to have each plot points scenarios written by the time we complete the previous one.

Generally, a campaign with 10 plot points will become about 100 scenarios total before reaching its natural end.

darelf
12-02-2008, 03:06 PM
I ask the players.

Generally, most of the games I GM anymore, the characters have some kind of built-in hooks... i.e. in the current Exalted campaign, there are Motivation and Intimacies. That stuff practically writes itself.

I start with a location, generally a region, take a look at the characters and their motivations/goals/etc. and decide on a first encounter. Then I wait....

As they interact with the NPCs/situation/puzzle/whatnot their questions and activities point the way to what they are interested in. I then quickly improvise a couple of leads to see which ones they want to pursue, play off their known desires and run as fast and loose as possible.

Ta Da!

Etarnon
12-03-2008, 12:49 AM
How much do you plan a campaign?

I'm a worldbuilder type referee, so when there is the potential to build worlds, especially in a science fiction genre game, I go with the top down approach.

I go to the largest scale of the campaign, one step beyond what the characters will ever do in a few years of play, and work down from there. The process could take months, so I plan ahead, and start the design work, and detailing it. When I have about two months of work left, I start recruiting, releasing some of the details of what I have done, so that by the time I'm finished, I have a group of players.

If I'm doing a science fiction setting, like Star Trek, Alternity, Space Opera, Star Frontiers, Mechwarrior, or Traveller, I generate the very rough details of a few sectors, define stellar locations, and major planets and military or trade bases in the area. Then I pick a sector to focus on, in which the campaign will happen.

From there, I pick a subsector, and generate all the worlds, their trade routes, population, and make rough notes on the ecology of inhabited worlds, and major NPC political figures.

After that, a half dozen worlds are detailed, including weather, planetary maps, sunrise and sunset tables, seasonal weather charts, details of major planetary-influence NPCs, and specific animals for each planet are designed.

That done, I'll design the starports of those worlds in detail, drawing a map, detailing volume of traffic through the spaceport, specific laws, etc.

When it is all done, I know it all cold, so then, when anything happens in game, I can run what I had planned, or make it up, based on knowing all the comprehensive details I've done to this point.

It's a huge amount of work, but it pays off in the end, because the characters can go literally anywhere, and do anything, and I'll be ready.


For fantasy, I might draw out a continent, from a rough continental drift diagram of the world, that shows seismic and geological factors. This gives me mountain ranges, and volcanoes, and areas of earthquakes. Mountains, and latitude give me weather patterns, and those give me vegetation, forest, and agricultural patterns.

From the areas where crops grow, I establish kingdoms, large and small based on the food supply. I pick a spot in the far past, figure out where the first settlers were, and establish small towns of the first civilizations.

I then make jumps of about a century at a time, showing where cities evolve, and when those come into conflict, decide where wars were fought over what resources, what empires thus rose and fell, and bring it up to date, which gives me a history.

From there, I go back to the past and establish legendary items, swords, armor, artifacts, etc, along with major and minor NPCs.

Then I do the map, either with campaign cartographer, or paintshop, or a combination of ways, it depends.

Here's a map of my "Land of Etarnon" 2e campaign:
http://www.adrive.com/public/744d2a7d88726e07d5400d71592b8dd5816a8a2f4fa56093f2 0ca441f847421e.html

That's the process.

It's definitely not for everyone to do it this way.

mrken
12-03-2008, 09:59 AM
How much do I plan for a campaign? Argh, I have never stopped since I started back in 88. I just keep adding more details, locations, NPCís and plots.

When I first started to GM I would just wing everything, Traveller, Star Frontiers and 2nd ed. As much as the players enjoyed it, I found the incongruities were driving me personally nuts. One canít have this many inconsistencies in life and stay sane I thought.

So, since I pretty much wanted to focus on a fantasy world (because I knew this was too big of a task on a galaxy scale) I came up with an entire planet, land forms with tectonic plates and weather patterns. The landmasses were then populated and civilizations were then set in motion. A history was then put in place.

Finally I set in place groups of players to fill in the details of a given situation. Generally all of the groups have been placed in a general area to make it easy for me to stay one step ahead of the group but this last group is over a thousand miles away from where any other group has been placed so that it would not conflict with another group that is currently using the continent. This world has been in use for about one hundred years game time. It is hardly even discovered by the players though one player has now been to three different areas of the map.

While I have spent a good deal of time making this area of the map fit together in so many ways I still donít really have the entire planet mapped or planned out. If the party decided to do nothing but travel I might find myself in trouble, as I havenít given enough thought to what exactly is on the other side of the planet. Would hate for it to be more of the same. But there is so much to do in the parts where the players play I guess I just hope they never want to wear out their shoes for the sake of wearing out their shoes.

GoddessGood
12-03-2008, 11:02 AM
For the most part I follow what Darelf does. I have an overarcing plot point for my game. I have a beginning, an end (or several) in mind, and some important points along the way that I want to get done. That's all I have until I get characters from my players. Once I have that, I use the background they've provided, their desires for their characters, the sense of personality I got from the character, what I know about the player's own preferences and whatever I think might be fun to toss in to flesh out the story. I do a lot of customize as I go, as well, which is made easy by the fluidity of the story I set up. Yeah, it means I've got to come up with a lot on the fly, but with the years of practice I have at it and the planning I have done ahead of time, it starts to become natural.

This way, I usually have fodder for a session or two built up ahead of time. Sometimes, I'll have something pretty set planned out and then something will happen, like one of my players doesn't show up, and it throws everything I had planned out of whack without that character. It can take me a lot to recover, so I tend not to rigidly plan things.

Loftower
12-03-2008, 07:38 PM
I tend to get very detailed, like Etarnon (howís it going, btw?; I havenít had the opportunity to agree with you by post in a year or so.)

Iíve had a fairly stable group of players for the last 15 years, so I can use a lot of old material as ďbaselineĒ, though I almost always create a new world for every campaign. (I do not use 3rd party campaign material.) The stability gives me the luxury of leaving things alone: if I want the local elven culture in my new campaign to be like the one in the last campaign, I donít have to do anything.

My primary focus is on a theme. Generally, itís about why this campaign is different from the last one. Thatís the part that needs the most work. My current campaign is all about dragons, which have been very rare in my previous campaigns. The campaign before was a Norse-feeling campaign, so sailing/rowing, winter, and paganism were strong themes. Before that was an iron-age campaign with a Roman-Empire feel, so the strong political framework with the ďbarbariansĒ threatening and slave revolts took up most of the prep-time.

I do not write plots. I write power blocks. Each power block has some motivations and goals. They will attempt to progress those goals as the game goes on. The PCs can influence the goals and motivations, as well as the resources that the power blocks. By having nothing scripted, I canít fall into railroading.

I like to have my encounters fully ready. I have several hundred dragons prepared for the current campaign, for instance. Once, during a campaign about ten or fifteen years ago, the PCs captured a goblin and I didnít have his name written down. That hasnít happened since. Thatís the kind of detail Iím talking about.

Again, itís not for everyone.

Windrider687
12-04-2008, 12:40 AM
In terms of filling a campaign with material, generally, I base a campaign off of a quasi-realistic/historic setting, and then embellish and expand it to a fantasy setting.

Strange as this sounds, every single world that I have created has come from me first just randomly drawing lines on a scrap piece of paper and then somehow by chance having it turn into a continental-like arrangement, which I then give a story to...
...yes, I'm insane.

Anvalin
12-10-2008, 02:57 AM
I like to get a good map of the world first so i can get a good idea of how far the PC's are going to travel from set point A to set point B. This ensures that I don't have weeks of travel time to come up with random encounters or fluff dialogue. To that end I've come up with a world that was close to the size of Texas with islands the size of large counties around it. This has been my primary world since inception back in 2004. Once you have a good world it seems easier to build a small area up for the characters to begin in and formulate areas as they begin to explore. Good note keeping in this is key. And when starting out I like to leave the players free. I don't set a plot, I just let them explore to see the play style of the PC's they'll be running and if I need to look out for surprises. Players have an innate way of getting themselves into something without your help.

hueloovoo
12-13-2008, 05:09 AM
On the rare instances (2) I've been coerced into running a game, I have always done it the same way I write: entirely by the seat of my pants. Both times it turned out irreverent, entirely overpowered, pandering to the players' unhealthy desires for instant level gain, and yet, somehow nobody complained either time that the game sucked as bad as I thought it did.

I mean seriously, the second time I had the characters hunting down 30 Tarrasques with the 5 tools of the Incarnations of Immortality (Death's scythe, Time's hourglass, War's sword, etc.)!

Also interestingly, it seems to work well for my stories (until the love interests actually get together, which unerringly ruins the flow of every story). But it's so much easier to control the power levels in single-authored stories...

Bansheguy
01-11-2009, 11:41 PM
I guess my approach is different from everyone else's here. I used an inside-out approach.

I spent a number of years using Greyhawk and other settings, and while good, they had me asking questions they could not answer. So I spent time thinking about those things, and finally came up with some answers. I then started to build a new setting around my answers.

From there I did things from the top down. I created several planets, each with their own topographies and environments. And for the primary planet, I created a "known world" area, and many "unknown" areas. I then added plot elements in a descending scale. and tied everything together with a central starting point.

Games always start in and around this point. But from there the players are free to choose for themselves where to go and what to do. And as they explore different areas, those areas get more fleshed out, which creates more plots and sub plots for the future. Many of the plots and sub plots have their own time lines, where things will happen even if the players are not involved in them, and those things can affect the players in the future.

Most of the time it would seem like a pretty normal D&D world. But if players dig a bit, they can find some unusual things. One unusual thing is right on the surface tho.

I never liked how campaigns always matched threats to the players. First level characters would never run into high level threats. That always struck me as totally unreal. In the real world, it is very possible for a person walking down an alley at night to run into people they would never be able to defeat. I made my world to be the same way. There are some areas, where low level characters could easily run into very high level threats. So sometimes running or bending over backward to avoid a fight is the best thing to do. A player sure wont last long if they go around trying to attack everything in sight. So in my setting there are some very real threats the players cant beat, and that gives it a bit of realistic tension that other settings lack. That person in the tavern that the thief is thinking of pick-pocketing, might be just a normal merchant, or they might be a 20th level adventurer, so the thief really needs to think about whether or not they want to try it.

McCummhail
01-13-2009, 01:48 PM
Your image of what a game master is, is the primary influence on your storytelling style. Although I have done campaigns with elaborately crafted worlds and meticulously planned story arcs, this isn't my usual style.
I see the game master role as more of a director of character-based improvisational storytelling. My job as a game master is to present an interesting scenario for the characters. The players don't have scripts telling them what to do or what to say, so I should not have a script telling me or them what to say either.
This style presents a lot of work initially as the onus of initiating the scenario lies with you, but as the characters develop and their motivations are explored, the work lessens as things become more focused.
The hard part as others have espoused is staying alert and aware. You have to be aware of where they are looking to go and alert and ready for when the characters go where you never anticipated. These unexpected turns are often often some of the most engrossing and rewarding situations in gaming.
As to concretely answer the OP, I will often spend time preparing roughly equivalent to the amount of time we spend playing, with the first session of a campaign spent creating characters together with set premise, tone or theme. Depending on resources and experience this takes about 20-60 minutes per character.
I require more time if I am less familiar with the game system.

DragonDM
02-21-2009, 06:52 PM
In this week's Ask-A-GM, fmitchell asks,

How much do you plan a campaign?

Unless you're using a third-party product, coming up with a gigantic Tolkien-level history for a campaign seems to be going out of style. But how do experienced GMs plan their campaign?

Do you start with a home city/village and plan out from there? Or do you create the entire kingdom, continent, or planet?

Do you decide what nonhuman races/species exist in the area, or do you simply grab whatever the game gives you as you need it.

Do you plan out a whole story arc, or simply sketch out themes and possible end goals, with an initial adventure to get the ball rolling?

It really depends on the Players that I have when the game starts.

For the most part, there are areas of my Game World that are very detailed because of past player exploration, and others that are still completely blank, waiting for Players to move the game in that direction, thus defining it. When creating a new area, I start small and work up to big: Start with the village/town where the players will start, and the nearest threats: other Races and Creatures and their locations.
Then the Realm, the Region, the Kingdom, and then how it fits into the rest of the World.

I grant as much Freedom of Choice as possible to my Players.
I will sometimes grab old Moduals as well as personal Adventure Quests, and place the Plot Hooks for two or three of them into the starting area - which is usually a (fairly) safe place to be.

The Players define the Game from the choices they make - and the successes and failures of their Characters as they Explore the Area.

How far the Game goes really depends on the Players:
On how often they play - and how successful thier Characters are;
Their goals both In, and Out of Character.

While I will plan the over-all Goal(s) and ending of Plot Arcs, I leave as much open ended as possible - so that changes can be made as the Players make their Choices and succeed or fail in their attempt.

Dytrrnikl
04-21-2009, 11:45 AM
The methods used vary from DM to DM. My initial influences of DMing helped shape how I approach a campaign today. One of my early DMs used his in depth knowledge of World History and Cultures to create a vividly detailed setting. At the time, I didn't realize it, but he created a campaign based upon William Wallace alla Braveheart. Another DM was absolutely merciless. If you made just one bad choice, you were toast. And the list goes on and on.

I look at myself as an amalgam of all of those DMs I had the privelege of participating in their games, shaping the stories. So, here's 'my' approach:

I sort of write the campaign backwards - I determine where I would like to bring the campaign to a close - usually the final level of the PCs and a line about the end game scenario. Usually, I aim for an average group level of 18 - 20. I then determine if the campaign is going to be man vs. 'man', man vs. nature, or some other basic conflict that can be made into an epic story. And then I try to pick what I'd like the final conflict to be. Those three decisions are 70% of my planning. Here's the kicker, the basic conflict and final conflict are not set in stone. I allow them to change and evolve as the story develops, based upon how my player's direct the story.

I then pick a starting point, usually an adventure based around background details of the PCs. After that it's all flying by the seat of my pants. My planning for a night's session up until the end game of the campaign is usual at most one or two sentences, sometimes scribbled down only a couple of minutes before the session begins. Most times, its me just winging it throughout the night. And then at the end of the night, I jot down a few notes about what occurred and see where I can present a golden apple that will draw my group in the direction of the end game. One thing I learned a long time ago though, as it's sort of become a running joke in the group, is to have a list of readily available names for random NPC interaction.

For me, the most important thing is to follow Bruce Lee's advice and 'Be Like Water', find the path of least resistance for your campaign that will create the best story possible; no matter which way it twists and turns or it heads in a direction you hadn't forseen.

Rook
05-26-2009, 08:21 AM
I believe this is an excellent approach. I've often placed characters in situations that required them to run, hide, or strategize rather than fight an impossible foe. Learning to assess situations accurately is a useful skill for players to develop. Have you come across many difficulties with running your campaigns this way? I know I've found it may take a much longer period of time to get the players where they need to be to start their low-level quests, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.


I guess my approach is different from everyone else's here. I used an inside-out approach.

I spent a number of years using Greyhawk and other settings, and while good, they had me asking questions they could not answer. So I spent time thinking about those things, and finally came up with some answers. I then started to build a new setting around my answers.

From there I did things from the top down. I created several planets, each with their own topographies and environments. And for the primary planet, I created a "known world" area, and many "unknown" areas. I then added plot elements in a descending scale. and tied everything together with a central starting point.

Games always start in and around this point. But from there the players are free to choose for themselves where to go and what to do. And as they explore different areas, those areas get more fleshed out, which creates more plots and sub plots for the future. Many of the plots and sub plots have their own time lines, where things will happen even if the players are not involved in them, and those things can affect the players in the future.

Most of the time it would seem like a pretty normal D&D world. But if players dig a bit, they can find some unusual things. One unusual thing is right on the surface tho.

I never liked how campaigns always matched threats to the players. First level characters would never run into high level threats. That always struck me as totally unreal. In the real world, it is very possible for a person walking down an alley at night to run into people they would never be able to defeat. I made my world to be the same way. There are some areas, where low level characters could easily run into very high level threats. So sometimes running or bending over backward to avoid a fight is the best thing to do. A player sure wont last long if they go around trying to attack everything in sight. So in my setting there are some very real threats the players cant beat, and that gives it a bit of realistic tension that other settings lack. That person in the tavern that the thief is thinking of pick-pocketing, might be just a normal merchant, or they might be a 20th level adventurer, so the thief really needs to think about whether or not they want to try it.

DragonDM
05-28-2009, 09:07 PM
The Full Game World of mine is very much like Dytrrnikl's and Rooks.
There are other People (NPCs, Hero-PCs, Villain-PCs, etc) of every level out there.

Now, if a PC Party runs into a person that is more of a Challenge then they can deal with, personally - there are still options out there.

Once, I made a High Level Party go through a Dungeon and clear out all of the "powerful" monsters (keeping them about the CR as the party, with a Boss Fight five CRs higher) but leaving anything that was below a certain HD/CR value alone. For them killing these creatures, not only would they not have earned any EXP, but they would have had Treasure taken away from them by the Higher Level Mage that sent them in there, to begin with.

Thankfully, they did as asked, and when they returned to the Mage, they asked him why he had them do that. For a response, he showed them the recording of a party of Low-Level Heroes that were only a few chambers behind them the entire game! If they had backtracked - they would have known that they were being protected (which would have lowered their moral, and perhaps turned them against the Higher Level Adventurers, becaue they did not want to be 'babied'), or if they had left any of the more powerful monsters behind them, these low level PCs would have died.

While these things are always possible in my game, they are not always used. In other words, I do my best to suprise the Players as much as their Characters.

Bansheguy
06-03-2009, 11:58 PM
Oh yes, I have had issues with my approach!

Right at the start of my present game, a beginning group decided to explore the sewers right outside a huge "Wanderer's inn" (Read adventurer's guild home.). Well, being an adventurer's guild home, they of course had a thieves guild, along with the rest of the guilds. And the thieves couldnt always leave by way of the street doors, so they have a sewer entrance as well. Well, as the group was exploring, they came across some feint tracks the barbarian noticed. so they attempted to follow those tracks. Those tracks were left by a 17th level elf thief/assassin, who was specialized in the short bow, and who had night vision. And he didnt like being followed. the groups first warning, was the sound of a bowstring being pulled back. He then spoke with them. One character wanted to attack first and ask questions later. Now 5 or 6 1st-level characters would be no match for that guy, so I was afraid the group would be slaughtered when they were just starting out.

Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed. But I dont know who was more nervous at the time, the group, or me.

And right now one of my characters--a half-elf warrior--has a vendetta for goblins, such that she is spoiling to fight any she can find (Goblins killed her family. But they were working for someone else.). Now if it was JUST goblins, there might not be much of a problem. But goblins in armies are just the little guys, and they have a lot of more powerful humanoids backing them up. So this character can very easily get in WAY over her head. And the rest would have her back, so she could easily get them all killed. The druid has been trying to moderate her thinking, but so far with little effect. The future could be VERY interesting, and maybe very short. For now tho, they are on a mission to rescue and return her brother, so he can take the family throne (Minor nobility).

But even now, threats are on the horizon. The group is going to be getting danger close to some of the most powerful NPCs in the setting. NPCs that have a bad habit of shooting first, and not bothering to ask questions later. One mistake on this mission, and it could be game-over in a heartbeat.

The big thing the group now has in its favor, is that they now KNOW that some threats are far above what they can deal with, so they usually try to play things safely. LOL, and they have a powerful flying ship that can usually get them away from trouble fast!

Zijixiong
06-04-2009, 09:59 AM
For the past several years, I've always put my fantasy games in the same setting. Of course, most of those games are my own actual game, so it makes sense to put them there. By doing so, and by applying what I know about economics, politics, religion, and geography, I have made a very detailed world complete with special ideologies, backgrounds, myths, histories, and more. It makes for some unique scenes.

As for the rest of the game... I make scenes, and I make a list of events. Sometimes I put the events in a particular scene. I also make notes in each scene of possible ways to arrive at that scene. Then I let the players make their way through them.

Of course, I do set goals, both major and minor, and I even put in planned setbacks after certain key event combinations. I give it everything a story needs in order to be a story except the actual telling.

So, yes, I put a lot of detail into the setting, the world, and a lot of detail into the places in story skeleton. Sometimes I use everything in the catalog of scenes and events, and sometimes I don't. Often I don't have to make new events even if the scenes change because I make most of them independent of the scene.

For me, that approach works, and having a detailed and polished world around the campaign lets me dip into notes for more detail for unscripted scenes, or even for developing the scenes in the first place.

Moritz
06-04-2009, 10:05 AM
My initial setup for a game is, draw a map, think of the main plotline, a few secondary plotlines, populate my world with themes, and then I'm pretty much done.

So when game time comes along, I make it up as I go.

Killwatch
06-08-2009, 03:08 AM
I know my villains, I know what they are thinking/expecting. I know what their goals are, in essence I know who they are and that is really all I need. This is what I have planned for next game;

File Five: This Game:
-The seven cultist survivors, will be extremely remorseful. 2 will kill themselves, 2 will turn themselves in for treatment, 2 will seek out Phobos for worship and validation, and one will eventually find Donovan and give himself up to him for penance.

-The Devel will seek to help Donovan hunt down the cultists and perhaps some innocents just for fun. She will do so in her mortal form, masquerading as a former, yet innocent cultist.

-Donovanís older sister calls to find out what has happened to the their parents, as they have not been showing up at the restaurant. She is contacted by Oscar, Donovans old lover from last year, and tells Oscar what has happened.

-Oscar will arrive looking for Donovan and want to take care of him

-Vlada will track the devel woman down and ďseek to assistĒ Donovan and his people to take her down.

-Donovanís younger brother, Scott, is also taken by IMEP.
--Danielís older brother from the BS is lost within, kidnapped by IMEP attempting to duplicate Daniels experiment, and does so. Daniel will get notification that his brother is missing He will come on scene trying to show that he is a better man, but he isnít.
--The duo team up to take on their brothers, make their lives hell.

-BoA want the disc? destroyed as it has names and contacts for SCRET members who are agents for the BoA

-The BOA sees Kaylona as the evidence of freak-tures, and begins an all out terrorist campaign against it

-Daniels mother wants to attend his sisterís graduation, inviting her+1

-The Fireball collapses and Michael falls to earth

-The Dark Tribunal wishes to recruit the duo

-Mortified Gods are sent to earth

-Phobos, agent of Pluto, begins rounding up new followers to summon Pluto to earth, to search for the portal to Tartarus, to release Prometheus and gain power to destroy Dark Olympus, and then take on the true gods
--He has brought a shard essence of Jupiter to begin a new race of vampires, Plutonian Vampires-Increased HF

-Verdant has convinced Absinths mother to grow some ďodd plantsĒ, exotics, which are really Verdantís seedlings. He has been seeding all across America

-MoCs take over a mall

-Blood Master is sent to take out Talisman, who has been staying in Kaylona as a high level freelance computer consultant. Talisman will use anyone and anything to deflect the attacks of BloodMaster. He appears as a hairless man wearing a black trench coat and bolted sunglasses. He was hired by the government of Georwell.

and each game I take something away and/or put soemthing else on as the character progress and affect my world

Charles
10-14-2009, 05:11 PM
In this week's Ask-A-GM, fmitchell asks,

How much do you plan a campaign?

Unless you're using a third-party product, coming up with a gigantic Tolkien-level history for a campaign seems to be going out of style. But how do experienced GMs plan their campaign?

Do you start with a home city/village and plan out from there? Or do you create the entire kingdom, continent, or planet?

Do you decide what nonhuman races/species exist in the area, or do you simply grab whatever the game gives you as you need it.

Do you plan out a whole story arc, or simply sketch out themes and possible end goals, with an initial adventure to get the ball rolling?


When I started my world; and just so we understand eachother. My world covers my whole living room wall (5' by 20') I started out with one piece of paper; drew in the city, a coast line and what I wanted (vegitation wise; trees, rivers, lakes, mountains, etc...). From there I just expaned as the group adventured more.
When it comes to races/species, etc... I figure everything exists; it's just a matter of if and when the party runs into it.
When it came to the whole story and theme, I was smart and kept it simple. I knew I wanted a huge battle at the end with a main enemy. So I named him and just figured I'd start dropping hints/clues as we went along.
But my best advice is this...
If you go by the book as far as challenge ratings (and ofcourse I'm playin' D&D 3.5) when choosing creatures it makes it so easy to flesh out a dungeon. Always remember that obsticles and terrain up the CR.
Also, for thinking long term (and I always see DM's forget this) for levels 1-7, these are your levels to let your players know what you plan on throwing at them later in the game. That is, if you plan on using undead, water terrain, flying creatures, etc... they better have met them or have dealt with it within the first 7 levels.

Now, this is what's worked for me. I'd think generally, if you keep this stuff in mind you should do alright. Either way, all DM's make mistakes. You'll learn from them, hopefully, and move on.

Charles

WhiteTiger
10-15-2009, 08:43 AM
I usually flesh out a continent but I can't draw so I usually end up duct taping mutiple maps I find off the web and stick em together and then drop cities and roads where I think it makes sense. At the same time, I am doing a world's history starting back to about 1 million bc and moving up to present day for D&D anyway. The history usually includes all of the races history and the histories for all of the nations/kingdoms/city-states/etc.

I then work on an overall plot. I have a huge overarching plot. Historically, I've been able to start the campaign really well and everyone is interested but the problem has been... How to maintain the mystery until you get relatively close to the finale? I don't seem to have enough "meat" in the middle of the story and I use too many side adventures to get the party where I need them as far as levels go. The other problem is I tend to focus on one race for a particular campaign and what usually happens is that one of the characters ends up becoming the "Chosen one". It's not what I wanted but it seems that I am in a rut and everytime I write a story, one of the characters ends up being more special than the rest.

Ah well, keep working on it... I guess.

Malruhn
07-26-2010, 02:19 PM
What I've done more recently, and which has worked out very well, is by using an established community, and setting up half a dozen short adventures and dropping hooks for them through the town. The characters choose one and head out. Then I just pay attention and see what they are doing, what they like and what is really ticking them off.

One campaign started off with an NPC cleric being kidnapped and the party having to track down some orcs to get him back. A comment was made early on about "Men In Black" and black helicopters, and the entire party ran with the aside for about five minutes before I could get them back to the table. The straight-forward "save the cleric from the orcs" turned into an alien (extra-planar) invasion of psionic albinos that dressed in black and used hover-cars, that had paid the orcs to kidnap a local human.

Three years later, the campaign arc ended when I got transfered.

I usually have the next step in a campaign fully fleshed out, a crappy outline set up for the second step, and a germinating seed of an idea for the next. Only in rare situations does that third step actually bare fruit...