A guide to planning your own campaign (read: story) in your own world. Also useful in any story writing or creative endeavor that requires plot development and world building. I figured people could use it.
Tabletop RPGs. For those of you who are way too into technology, those are role playing games from the days when computers took up entire rooms. In other words, these are played without technology.
Hugo, Thomas, and I got together, and Hugo and Thomas insisted that I start an RPG for them. Long story short, they liked it, and want me to continue it next time. The only problem is- how? How the heck are you supposed to come up with a plot, and a world, and characters?
I have compiled a guide for exactly how I (or how I should have) went about designing my campaign and forming a plot, for those of you who were like me and had absolutely no idea were to start. I will also have a list of resources I found (on numerous internet crawls) helpful in my world creation, to be included at the bottom of the page. *Please keep in mind, this is merely how I designed my campaign/adventure, and it probably won’t work for everybody.*
One more note, before I get started. Thomas, Hugo, and I decided to skip on the whole Dungeons and Dragons thing, eschewing hours upon hours of dice rolling. Mostly, I made my own improvised system, which involved them picking two stats, facing enemies, and then acting out the following combat. Hey, don’t judge- they liked it! Whereas I know that this system is probably not going to work for anyone else, this post is really about planning a story, anyway. And most of the resources at the bottom are geared toward a Dungeons and Dragons style RPG.
But, it’s all just a starting point. I know I got so sick of reading this advice when I was looking for how to plan a campaign, but you really do have to find how much preparation you want to put into this, and what style works for you. Also, there are lots of pre-made campaigns and settings that you can use, if that might be easier.
Just keep in mind the number one rule of Game Mastering: Nothing will ever, ever, go according to plan.
- Step one: Know your players. (For story writing, know your audience)
Man, this would have saved me a lot of work, had I just asked my players what they wanted out of the game before I began planning. A list of helpful questions to ask would be: Would they rather have a sandbox (more exploring the world, less plot driven), or a plot focused game? A fighting game or a mystery game? A complex plot that they have to decipher, or a simpler, less confusing plot? Seriously, you need to ask these questions before you get started. They will determine what kind of game you design, the setting, how much work you need to put into it, and what type of work you need to put into it.
I didn’t ask these questions, and here I was, planning this huge world to explore, complete with warring factions, deep mysteries to decipher, and lots of juicy political tension and warfare. Because those are the types of plots I enjoy! But then I went and asked Hugo what he wanted? A fighting game. A fighting game. Based on working one’s way up to the top of a gladiatorial arena. Lovely.
- Step Two: Basic Setting
There are two ways of building a world; from the inside-out and from the outside-in. From the inside out means that you start with a small setting, say, a village, and you build your world outwards from there. The plus side of this is, you only have to design where your PC’s go- no extra time wasted mapping places they’ll never visit. From the outside-in means having a concept for a world, and then designing a specific country. Then a specific region. Then a city. Then a tavern, and so forth. The advantage of this is that there is more ways to incorporate ideas from all across the world into your story. Since you always know more about the world than what the PCs are doing at the time, more possibilities for adventure open up.
(From the Dungeon Master’s Guide: Core Rulebook II v. 3.5 (Dungeons & Dragons d20 System))
I did the first style of world building, and we started immediately with just a basic setting. I stuck Hugo and Thomas in a gladiator style arena, gave them some equipment, described their opponents, and told them to fight. I made up the details of the Arena and why they were fighting in it later. There are many more basic settings for characters meeting- such as taverns, if you’re in the mood for a cliche.
- Step Three: Basic Villain
Fact: for conflict, one needs a villain. Another fact: Players like adventure and conflict. Conclusion: You need a villain. I didn’t make up a huge elaborate scheme for the villain to perpetrate, complete with exact rituals and goon uniform designs. I just made the main person who will be engaged in villainous activity, and what they are trying to do. Motivations are also important to make a world and plot deeper- why is the villain doing what they’re doing? I can’t actually tell you what I came up with on this post, because my players might read it and that would be spoilers. Examples of villainous goals would be trying to take over a city, trying some ritual to kill members of a certain population, or the cliche- trying to get a hold of a powerful Mcguffin for some reason or another.
If you’re really stuck, or don’t have any idea about what you want to do, one of the documents at the bottom includes a list of different types of master villains, for your perusing pleasure.
- Step Four: More Setting
I read some advice on the internet, saying that if you had enough tension-causing event in your world, and enough interesting NPC’s doing interesting things, adventure would follow. If you have enough involved elements and plot threads to follow, an adventure will naturally come together.
This is the place to think about the various elements that are going to affect your setting and game. If your adventure is set in a isolated village being attacked by orcs, you need to think about the groups and factors that make this possible. Flesh out the orc tribe, and decide what they want (as I believe I already mentioned, NPC motivations are very important). Then think about the village. What is it doing in the middle of nowhere? Who rules it? What have they done about the orcs already? Here is also the place to come up with more of what the Master Villain is doing, as well as minor villains and scapegoats to run into. It doesn’t need to be anything super elaborate, just a basic idea of what the villain is doing, and how it might be possible. If going with a traditional dungeon crawling game, mapping out the dungeons and reasons for the characters to go into them would be essential.
Since I went with a city adventure, I thought out who ruled this city, and what they were doing. I thought about the major nobility, and what they were up to. Then I designed the ordinary people’s guilds, and that they wanted. Next came the criminal underworld (essential in any setting, I think), and some of the activities the PC’s could get involved with if they poked around in the right places.
Anyway, I hope that is enough to at least set you on the journey to designing an interesting campaign. I’ll do another post later about ways to come up with ideas, and brainstorming methods that can lead to breakthroughs. To continue in your RPG journey, the list of resources below have been gathered to help you with the next steps.
- VCR (Very Constructive Resources, or the stuff I used to help me):
Nightcloak’s Essential Guide to a Game Master’s Notebook. Really, the whole blog at (http://gmfoundation.wordpress.com/) has some pretty helpful articles and resources. Here’s the link to the specific pdf download: (https://sites.google.com/site/medic78/GMNotebook.pdf?attredirects=0)
http://geek-related.com/ is a blog that also has some good stuff about role playing games. Specifically, there’s a helpful article about campaign planning similar to this one: (http://geek-related.com/2011/10/08/campaign-planning/)
(http://www.rpgmusings.com/2012/08/planning-the-start-of-a-new-campaign-my-process/) Another article about a person’s particular planning process.
http://www.scribd.com/doc/124208719/List-of-Plot-Devices A document I made years ago for random fun. I compiled a huge list of plot devices and various character encounters, master villain types, minor villain types, ally encounters, things like that.
Yet another list of random adventure ideas. Compiled by OFTHEHILLPEOPLE. (http://fictivefantasies.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/random-adventure-generator1.pdf)
And finally, guides (?) for how an actual RPG is supposed to look like. I had no idea how an RPG was supposed to go, or what it looked like in reality, and these were the most useful resources.
Star Wars as an RPG. What could be cooler? (http://www.darthsanddroids.net/)
The last thing: a few full RPG adventures, demonstrating what an adventure looks like when done right. Also makes from pretty darn good reading. Forum documenting SilverClawShift’s Campaign Journals. (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=116836)