Thursday, August 15, 2013

RPG Blog Carnival August 2013: Campaign Creation

Okay, so I haven't done one of these RPG blog carnivals since about May.  That's because the next theme was one I wasn't into and then I sort of lost track of where they all went.  But anyway, this month's is over at Evil Machinations.  There are actually a couple interwoven topics for this month but I'd like to lay out the basic method I now use for campaign creation.

I first started roleplay gaming back in 1978, so the entire hobby was so new that everyone was new to it.  Now, 30+ years later, I have developed a general approach to campaigns.  It consists of three parts, which I call "plot streams", "class bases", and "tinkertoys".

The plot streams are the main plot lines running through the campaign.  These are not set strings of events which the characters march through in railroad style. Rather, they are dynamic sets of circumstances with lives of their own which the characters will come in contact at or near the beginning of the campaign.  I usually like to have three of them running simultaneously.  One plot stream is too predictable and limits player agency.  More than three and a certain overload sets in; it's hard for me or the players to keep track of what all is going on.

Now usually I like to have one or two main streams and then one or two minor streams.  The major streams are the ones that eventually lead to some sort of major consequences for the world if the heroes fail.  The minor ones have more regional/national/metropolitan level significance. In addition, minor ones will usually have some point of intersection with a minor one.  That keeps the players guessing a bit and allows for the minor to merge with the major or perhaps grow into a major one later.  Any stream can have side branches which terminate somewhere and there is always room for individual small side adventures.  Side adventures may be impromptu ones thrown together on the fly at the table or a small scenario written ahead of time.  I like to use the small scenario type side adventures to showcase campaign world background themes.

I design a major plot stream by starting at the end.  What will happen if this stream travels to its conclusion?  The dragons re-establish dominion or demons invade or whatever.  Then I come up with the main personalities driving the stream.  It may be an individual or a group (more on this later).  Each one of them needs personal motives but there can also be larger environmental effects moving things along.  But to start play in the campaign there has to be a small, local manifestation of the major stream which will draw the players in.  That is where I really go to work with detailing to lay out the who, what, where, when, and why of the local event.  The local event must have at least one but preferably two or three leads for the players to follow up.

As the players finish encounters in a stream I am constantly re-shaping what comes next based on what happened in the last encounter.  It's a dynamic process.  Anytime the characters interfere with the stream, the groups and individuals driving it will react.  And this is also where character backgrounds and motivations get woven into the campaign as it progresses.

The characters also start with relationships which I call "class bases".  I usually run fantasy RPGs and prefer class-based systems.  So for each character I establish a relationship based on the character's class.  Clerics get some training from someone and will have a local shrine/temple.  Rogues will have some types they used to hang out with or a guild.  Wizards have a master they apprenticed with or an academy they attended.  These bases provide NPC contacts for information and stream leads, sources of equipment and cash, allies or hirelings, people and places who need protecting, etc.  I generally prefer to have the base be an organization/group even if it's just a small one.  Organizations will contain their own strong personalities, have motives, internal conflicts and alliances, external conflicts and alliances, buildings, and such.  And all of that can be designed simply by starting with the character class chosen by each player.

Finally there are the "tinkertoys".  For each of the major plot streams I like to have several main personalities whose motivations and interactions drive the stream.  I start with one, link it to another, then link them to one or to others and so on.  For instance, person A is in love with B, but B is in a relationship with C, thus A wants C out of the way.  D is also pursuing B and thus also wants C out of the way, and thus has allied with A to eliminate C (but has not revealed to C any feelings for B).  And each of those persons can have family members, fellow guild members, etc. to add detail and complications.

So once I establish the major and minor plot streams, build the tinkertoy for each, and design the bases for each character all we need to do is schedule the first session and we're off.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post. I'd never actually thought about plot that way, and that's a mistake.

    Your method is simple and organized; I'll try to use it in my next campaign.