It's been a while. How's it going? I am here today to talk about a very important topic that is very rarely discussed and even less often explained. How to create a campaign. Obviously this isn't the perfect guide to designing anything ever (who do you think I am, mindflenzing
?), but I hope to cover a good chunk of what can be covered.
Part 1: Find a system you are comfortable with.
This one shouldn't need a lot of explaining. As a DM, you need to be super familiar with all of the rules and nuances of the system. In DND, we have a rules compendium, so you can "cheat" a bit, but you still need to know the ins and outs of the system. As the DM, the players will be looking to you for rules questions and judgment calls. If you are as new to the system as your players, that can be ok too, as long as you are comfortable with the rules and know your way around the book where the rules are located.
Part 2: Worldbuilding, gods make it looks easy.
Probably the second hardest step in the whole process. Or so you would think. True, a lot of world building is creativity, but at the same time, a lot of it doesn't need to exist! Many new DM's (myself included) will go into their first game thinking that they need to have the world entirely fleshed out. Not so. A rule of DMing from a man much smarter than my self can be summarized in the phrase "Anything the players don't see doesn't exist". One interpretation/use of this rule is that the only parts of the world that truly NEED to exist are the parts that the players will interact with. You don't need the kingdom on the other side of the world to be detailed down to what their political system is like when all the players will ever find out is that they export steel weapons and wood. Case in point, I am running a game now, and the only parts I have fleshed out are the capital and the town the PCs went to I don't even have a map.
By the same token, if you want the (much more difficult in my experience) "sandbox" approach, then it would be a good idea to draw a basic overworld map. I had a DM who had the players make the world themselves. It was an island nation type campaign, so he had each player draw an island, then pass it to the right, and then name it, pass and draw some distinguishing geographical features, pass and name those features, pass and draw cities, so on and so forth. Not only did this give the players (or at least me) a feeling of a vested interest in the world, it also allowed the DM to do next to no work at all.
Part 3: Plot, Plot, Plot!
Ok, so you have a world, now you need something to do in it. At the core of the concept, the DM is a storyteller and the players are actors in that story. With both it's a beautiful thing and the experience can be truly magical, but without one it falls flat. So you (the DM) have to answer one important question, "Why is the party there?". What is their vested interest in the events happening in the campaign. One of my earlier blog entries was about the pitfalls of planning too much. And that's where the delicate balance must be struck. I will be honest with you readers, this is not easy, nor is it an exact science. It is part science, part art, and a large percentage making stuff up. I have learned from being in many campaigns with many different DM styles that a very good (if not the best) method is what I like to call the "skeleton method". You create a defined starting and ending point, and have a few plot points you want to hit on, and then just make up everything else as it goes. This method has been proven to work even under the strain of players goofing off and doing nonsensical things ( a true detriment to any type of heavily structured campaign). Admittedly, it takes a quick wit and a firm grasp of the situation, but ultimately I believe it is one of the most rewarding (for both the players and the DM) type of story.
Part 4: The driving force.
So you have a plot now, and you have a world for it to happen in, but that's not enough to make the campaign go. Trying to do it now is like trying to have a sandwich with just bread and condiments. There's no filling at all. You need the bits that make the sandwich go... ok that made no sense, stopping with the sandwich analogy now. But seriously, a story isn't a story without some form of challenge to overcome. It might not even be a villain. Tons of stories have been made about the characters overcoming disasters, everyday events, or even themselves. However, there needs to be something there. In the next section on I will be talking about villains and their motivations. Players (and therefore their characters) won't be able to invest themselves in a story where nothing bad ever happens and everything is perfect. Even children's shows (where rose tinted glasses have rose tinted glasses) have some form of conflict or conundrum that he main characters have to overcome. Not always in expected ways either. Many times that driving plot element is something that can't even be confronted about it's actions, like a tornado or a drought. Still there is conflict and from conflict sprouts character development and growth as a person. And that is what the driving force is aiming to do. The character's sow the seeds, and the story makes them sprout.
Part 5: Bad to the bone!
So you want to have a villain. What's his motivation? "He's evil, duh" is the biggest cop out since the Deus Ex Machina was invented. The only places where villains that are soaked in evil and ooze it from every pore are found are Video Games and Disney Films. No one thinks they are evil. As a matter of fact, no one person is ever anything but the hero of their own story. People have done (and will continue to do) horrible things and still think themselves in the right while doing so. Case in point is Victor Frieze (aka Mr. Freeze) from that Batman series. He was a scientist who's wife fell ill and he was trying to develop a cure. He placed many people's lives in danger, regardless of the loss of life that may have ensued, all towards the purpose of saving his wife. This isn't to say that deranged lunatics don't exist, because the definitely do, but even they have a REASON for doing so (insanity). Maybe your villain is draining the world dry of all magic so that he can go back in time to visit his dead family. Maybe he was enslaved as a child and wants to destroy the kingdom that allowed his slavery to happen. Regardless of what his (or her) motivation is, make sure that there is one. As a rule, pointless evil is pointless.
I hope I have given you all some food for thought and provided some good advice for new DMs here.
, signing off.