Friday, August 27, 2010

6 Steps to Starting a Small Campaign

I was poking around Stack Exchange (thank you Rob for providing yet another excuse for me not to write) and answered a few questions. One question was how to begin a campaign quickly without using a canned setting. Here are the 6 steps (the 7th is optional) to getting started in a minimal amount of time.

1. Map out village, town or keep and the surround wilderness. This will give the players a base of operations, a place to heal, sell off treasure, upgrade their gear and gather information.
Don't be a perfectionist. Have fun. Don't worry about if the river is running in the correct direction. More than likely you will want to draw two maps, one of the surrounding wilderness and one of the town/town/keep.

2. Detail more important and frequented sites such as a temple, the lord's estate, a shop or two, a guild hall and of course a tavern.
If you think about it players visit only a few places. Keep a GM notebook handy when they decide to visit something you hadn't detailed. Wing it, but write down what you did so you can be consistant and develop it later.

3. Detail the important NPCs the players will encounter and plug them where needed. These should include a couple guards, a shop keeper, cleric, a few mercenaries/torch bearers for the players to hire, and of course a barkeep for your tavern. I think it's also important to stock a few generic NPCs that are not assigned to anythign on creation, but say the players visit an area or home that you hadn't detailed, wha-la you already have an NPC ready to go.
Keep a notebook as your players adventure to keep track of the new NPCS and places you'll need to create. Who knew they would go visit a washer woman to get advice on how to care for their linens in the wilderness.

4. Now check out your wilderness area and select a few locations and put something interesting there. Could be a home of a crazed mage who calls everyone Ned, a broken statue with faded runes, or hey, a dungeon entrance. When doing this don't be heavy handed, a few scattered sites will do.
A sure way to make a place more interesting is just add ruins. These can be home to some horrible critters that have been terrorizing the countryside, the top level of a dungeon and or a place for the players to rebuild and call home.

5. Develop adventures from a few of the interesting places. My advice is to include at least one old fashion dungeon crawl. It doesn't have to be a mega dungeon (it can turn into one later, maybe the players never found that secret concealed invisible door that can only be opened on the full moon the first time around that leads to the next of a billion and two levels) keep it simple and small at first. Some of the other area should be lairs for one kind of creature or another. These places are also great for planting seeds for future adventures.
Most enounters/adventures should be level appropriate, but there is nothing wrong with putting out on bad ass encounter the players have little to no chance with. This will give them a goal when they reach higher level. An 'I'll be back' moment.

6. After placing interesting points and developing a few small adventures go back into the town/village/keep and sprinkle in information to various NPCs. What they know, why they know it and if they are telling the truth. To get the players to go into the old copper mine might be something as simple as one of the farmer's lost his favorite goat inside and pleads with them to help. Also this is a chance to develop local folklore. One local wine merchant may speak of the night of she devils who harass his workers in the field. They come once a week so they have begun tying out a cow fo them schreeching devils to take. When the players investigate they might find a nest of harpies in the nearby forest.

7. (optional) Develop broad sketchs of the world around your chunk of land. Maybe whose kindgom it is in. Different cultural aspects of a neighboring barony or country. If you have multiple races you may want to know where they originated and so on. But that's when you start slipping to a larger campaign. This is something you may want to develop if your campaign is going to be bigger than the area you developed.

Starting small is great for jumping into a campaign quickly. One campaign I ran for over three years never left a one hundred mile area. The players never realized this. They were shocked of how small of an area they explored when I showed them my world map. The reason I like this method is much of your campaign world will be developed on the go. Lots of winging it and I know for me that's when I do my best, but then you also need to take good notes so next time the players visit the GM can be consistant.

It's Friday everyone. Have a great weekend and get some gaming in.


  1. This is a very good list; thanks for sharing!

  2. What Jim said! This is good practical advice for any ol' RPG.

  3. This is my favorite approach. I used to do a lot of world-building and very little adventure-adding. No more!

  4. Nice advice. Create what you'll use.

    I had a pair of 2E campaigns in the same kingdom (about 100 miles across and 70 miles long) but used terrain to encourage diversions. Both games went to 7th level and both parties had plenty to do.