View Full Version : Critique My first campaign setting

2005-12-21, 03:53 PM
Just today i finshed the first draft of my write up on my new campaign setting, i haven't made one before so i don't think its very good. Rich's articles on making settings was very helpful and inspirational, actually my world has a few similarities to his (in the article). This is just coincidence though, i came up with each idea on my own (well i was probbly inspired from something) and i mad emy discisions for my own reasons.

Since the write up is quite long (7 pages on Word single spaced) i won't post it here, but if someone wants to see it i could e-mail it to them.

Also, i have not yet gotten my map on the comp, i drew it by hand and don't have a scanner, so i will attempt to describe it here:

To the north there is an icy wasteland with minimal inhabitents, a mountain range seperates this from the rest of the world, to the south climate is like europe and the msot important physical feature is the very very large lake, really an inland sea, with a large island in the middle. Down south there is a very dense, thick neigh impassable jungle cutting this off from the rest of the continent. The rest of the geography is unimportant

Also it is not all that well organized since A: this is my first and B: its a first draft originally intended for my players.

So if you are interested just give me your e-mail and i will send it to you ASAP, i have it on word, 13 pages double spaced.

2005-12-21, 04:02 PM
I don't want to read 7 (or 13) pages, but here's a couple unsolicited suggestions:

1. Make a ONE page overview that summarizes the rules players need to know in order to make a character for the game. Include basic ruleset used, important house rules, races, classes and alignments allowed, technology level of the area where the game play will happen, and general style of play. Also mention method of character generation, time, date and location of game, and your contact information. Make sure this takes up ONLY ONE page. If it takes more than one page of normal size type to describe your game, it's way too complex for your first campaign.

2. On one page, outline some general adventures and/or quests you expect the PCs to go on. This is just brainstorming stuff. The main purpose is not so much to flesh out encounters, but to get you thinking about which parts of your game world you need to detail in order to run a campaign. If you spend your campaign-building time working out interesting locations and creatures that the players will never meet, then you've just wasted your time. Instead, figure out what sort of things you want your players to do and then put those things in interesting locations, or involving interesting creatures. Again - ONE PAGE. It can start with more than that, but then trim it down to simple bullet points and remove ideas until you've got your best ones. Order them by CR/level/toughness and set your starting PC level a little under the weakest mission. Only now should you start fleshing out the encounters (and in so doing, fleshing out the areas of the game world they take place in).

2005-12-21, 04:20 PM
Ok, first things first, i am NOT looking for players, i was looking for advice on building this. I have been playing DnD for several years now, this is merely my first setting made entierly by me.

I can understand the length thing though, i could cut it down a bit, altough about a page or two are just the general timeline so its really not 7 whole pages, in fact 5-6 is more accurate. But thats nit picking, i am sure i could get it down to 3 pages maybe but i don't think 3 (i am horrible at cutting things down). Right i've cut out the least important stuff and its about 4 pages single spaced

Sorry about any confusion

2005-12-21, 04:25 PM
There's an important difference between writing a book and writing a campaign world. A campaign world is designed so that players can have adventures in it - so they can write their own story, not the DM's story. A book is designed so that you tell your own story - you, the author, and not anyone else's.

If you are writing a book themed like a campaign setting, then that's cool, but suggestions regarding it will be WAY different than if you are writing a campaign setting you actually expect people to play in.

Is that making any sense?

Edit: And this might sound weird, considering what I said above, but do NOT permanently delete anything, especially if you are still at "first draft" stage. No matter whether you're writing for yourself, or writing for future players. It doesn't matter - all those starting ideas and half formed bits are gold - unrefined, but still very valuable. You should be saving your work as different versions at this point.

I have a friend who writes a bit and he has always regreted one of his early mistakes in deleting a lot of stuff. He'd written about 25 pages of material and showed it to a friend of his. The friend read it and said, "Well, it's good, but I didn't really like this first dozen pages or so of useless character development. It didn't seem to go anywhere. Why don't you cut that out and just start with the action?" My friend did just that and suddenly the story was lost at sea. He'd lost where he was going with the characters. Although maybe he should have started with the action and incorporated character development later, he'd deleted those pages and trashed the notes. So now he had half a story and was racking his brain trying to remember exactly how he'd had it set up before.

Lesson: Save as a different version, especially if you've cut something out. Memory space, especially for word processing files, is too cheap.

Edit 2, Lesson 2: Beware the critiques of others. They may very well lead you astray. They don't know all of what's in your mind, nor where you're headed with something. If you show them a story half finished, then they'll be dissatisfied with it and you'll be discouraged. If you *have* to show your work to someone, find someone who has writing experience and knows the process (and is therefore familiar with the state that a half finished work will be in and won't make stupid critiques like "I didn't like it, it just sort of ended right here without resolving anything..." You: "Dude, that's the essence of unfinished work.").

2005-12-21, 04:38 PM
Yes you are, i am not writing a book in any way, on my shortend maybe 3/4 a page is devoted to a short history of the world, which is importnat because it is fairly non-standard. Mainly because when istarted desiging the world i meant it as a change of pace from the other campaigns my group has done, most of which were set in a world that could be described as a FR rip off. This rest of the writing i have (aside from the history) is rules on the roles of the races and classess in the campaign. I also have a section on the monsters of the campaign. and it just takes up space. There is also a bit on the equipment aspect as the setting is currently low metal (iron and stuff)

EDIT: i didn't delete anything, i just opened a new page in word.

2005-12-21, 06:13 PM
Although Gamebird is much more experienced with DMing than I am, I have to disagree a bit with her.

I think that there's a solid difference between 'campaign setting' and 'campaign'. I think there is basically no upper limit on how much work and detail you can put into creating your 'campaign setting', provided you understand fully that much of your work will go un-used. For me, creating a campaign setting is a fun exercise in its own right, and a good one may last through many, many campaigns. It doesn't matter that none of the PCs will visit Nithook City during the next campaign: it's still nice to know who the ruling council is, what the city looks like, its main economy, and so forth. It's great when the PCs run into a random person on the road, for me to decide on-the-spot that he's from Nithook City, and since that's right next to a dangerous swamp, he's got experience with poling rafts around, and he's also got a certain accent, and he's far from home, etc. etc. The more developed your campaign setting, the less you have to improvise on-the-spot when your characters start asking questions about the world they live in and the people they meet.

Now, when designing the actual 'campaign', I think she's dead-right. Keep it simple, at least at first. I prefer to create 'situations' which the PCs can address in whatever manner they choose, rather than 'stories' which have an ending I have already decided upon. I may think up a chain of events which are outside the PCs control (generally), such as that in six months, the young king will be assassinated by a spy from the neighboring country, touching off a struggle over the now-uncertain succession, which could lead to outright civil war. (I am flexible enough to allow the PCs to foil the assassination, should they learn of it, but in general I'm talking about stuff unrelated to what the PCs are doing. They are probably off exploring caves in the northern reaches, defending border towns from raids from the horse-lords, and trying to find out what happened to the members of Brotk's family... they'll hear about the assassination weeks after it already took place, most likely).

Soooo.... I'm not exactly volunteering to review your campaign setting materials, but I am saying, don't worry too much about how long they are.

It sounds like you're building your world 'outside-in', that is, you started with the 'big picture' (what the continent looks like, where major ecological features are found, etc.). You must make certain you also cover the 'small picture', e.g., the local area in which the PCs will start... town names, local NPCs of import, local politics, local creatures, local adventure hooks, etc.

The 'outside-in' approach always requires more work than the alternative, the 'inside-out' approach, in which you begin with describing the local area around the PCs, and then add details to the rest of the world only as necessary to stay a step or two ahead of wherever the PCs are headed. It may be Gamebird is thinking about this approach.

But the while the 'inside-out' approach is much faster, I prefer 'outside-in' for the richness in context and assistance it can give you, as the DM.

Hope that's of some help.


PS Almost forgot to mention!

For my own first, entirely-my-own-invention campaign setting, I have well over 50 pages of materials on the setting alone, including maps, descriptions of areas, the royal lineage, about a page each on several major races, some important historical details, some info on the current political situations, geographical notations, a new calendar, a custom currency, notes on several of the most important religious factions, a couple of important secret (and not-so-secret) societies, and details on two or three neighboring cultures that are immediately important (I worked out the culture of some barbarians far to the north, becuase one of my players wanted a barbarian. I also worked out the culture of the neighboring country, because one of the players is a foriegner from there... and I worked out the culture of some of the monstrous humanoid neighbors, so I could have justification and understanding of their motivations for raiding, attacking, alliances formed and broken, etc.).

2005-12-21, 06:35 PM
Well outside in was kinda required, the island in the middle of the lake is, to sum it up, the only source of magic items in theg setting, it is home to the undead and really a giant campaign hook waiting to happen.

2005-12-21, 06:37 PM
Well outside in was kinda required, the island in the middle of the lake is, to sum it up, the only source of magic items in theg setting, it is home to the undead and really a giant campaign hook waiting to happen.

2005-12-21, 06:42 PM
Well outside in was kinda required, the island in the middle of the lake is, to sum it up, the only source of magic items in theg setting, it is home to the undead and really a giant campaign hook waiting to happen.

2005-12-21, 06:43 PM
That's not, necessarily, an 'outside-in' required thing though. You could have begun your campaign setting by describing the island-of-undead-and-magic-stuff first, in detail, and then also describe the place the PCs are starting. You'd basically be describing just two places in the world, without worrying too much about where everything else is, or who lives there, or what the names of the last 15 kings were.

I think even with 'inside-out' design strategies, you still usually draw some kind of large-scale map, even if large areas of it are blank or just say 'forest here' or 'mountains there' or whatever. That kind of thing is very easy to fudge or change later, if you suddenly realize you need for there to be a desert within 100 miles of where the PCs are.

Still, if you are going to make such a major choice, it does make sense to do the outside-in thing. After all, what you've stated already about teh campaign world does beg a lot of new questions which you should be prepared to answer. Things like
-why are all the magic items from there
-why can't people make magic items elsewhere
-why are the undead there
-why don't the undead all escape, especially the ones that can fly
-are there people outside of the island who can make undead?
-what to the various peoples who live near the lake do about the island-of-dead-magic-item-hoarders?
-how long has this current state of affairs existed? How did it get that way to begin with, and why hasn't anyone done anything to change it in the meantime?

The answers to these questions will provide much more detail to your campign world, and I encourage you to think about them and flesh them out before you begin. The alternative is to either hand-wave and ignore them when your PCs bring it up, or else improvise when they ask, and both of those approaches have weaknessess.

Of course you run the danger of spending time working out all these answers, and then the PCs never ask. It's always a danger when you construct a campaign world. But I think it's worth it.


2005-12-21, 07:17 PM
Yes, I was thinking more like an inside-out approach. But like you say, you've got to work out answers to expected PC questions. If you give them a map, they're going to point to the space off the page and say, "So what's over here?" As LeperFlesh describes, if you give them a starting area, then several players will immediately wish to have their characters from anywhere else (it doesn't matter where, just as long as it isn't where you wanted them to be from).

My campaign setting started pretty much as Umbral_Arcanist did, with an idea of the landscape ("There's a big elf forest here in the north, and some mountains all along the southern border..."). I wasn't nearly so ambitious as he was though with changing technology level, radically changing the racial roles, etc.

I was coming out of 15 years of running Vampire and, while my world conformed to the rules very closely and to the initial layout of 1st edition, it did not conform to the 2nd and 3rd edition game world/setting changes. Every new player I got (which I had dozens over the years), I had to explain that Lodin wasn't dead and the Apocalypse isn't upon us, etc. It got to be pretty frustrating, especially when people would build their characters around concepts or social groups that simply didn't exist in the my game world.

So when I started D&D, I figured I'd short circuit that by staying very close to the sort of game world players would be familiar with if they had the basic books. My only major deviation was in deities, but I made sure that someone who took a deity out of the book had a pretty good "equal" in my pantheon to switch to.

I think it's a better use of a prospective DM's time to think of their campaign setting from the point of view of their players. Detailing Nithook City is fine if you are 1) using it as an exercise to figure out how you want to structure most cities of similar size, 2) planning on having the players go there someday, or 3) going to mention it frequently. If you don't plan on doing any of those three, then detailing Nithook is as useful to your campaign as writing 40 pages of fan-fiction about Harry Potter, when Harry Potter doesn't exist in your game and has no relevance at all to it. Which is to say: it's a waste of time. Time you could be using to make the campaign setting richer and better.

Something I learned in Vampire - there are two types of campaign work. The first kind is specific to these immediate players and what they're doing. Designing adventures, NPCs they'll interact with, lairs, cool places - all that is specific campaign work. To get the most out of your time and your campaign, spend as little time on it as you can. Because once the PCs have gone through an encounter (or killed an NPC), it will never come up again. Or at least, it's very unlikely to.

The second is the better kind to work on. It's general campaign work. In D&D, a deity list is general. That's good. You'll use it campaign after campaign. Knowing the motivations of the neighboring humanoids is general (though the composition of a particular band the PCs are going to fight is specific). A map is general (unless it's the map of a single-use adventure site). Currency system is general. Political structure is general, but don't get too bogged down in names or personalities.

If you're "writing a book" as I said before, that's fine. Great. However, it doesn't contribute to making a good campaign setting that people will want to play in. Go pick up a campaign setting based on a book! Like Black Company or Conan. Sure, there's interesting stuff in there, but it doesn't make for a good campaign setting for people to play in. That's because it wasn't designed with the players in mind.

I would suggest you would design your campaign setting with the players in mind.

2005-12-21, 08:40 PM
I don't think the players will ahve too much of a problem, one has seens itand thought it'd be cool since it was original and different. I am hoping it will help us RP more as welll.

Thanks for the advice on cities, since names is not one of my strengths, i dreaded having to name a bunch of cities/towns. Thats one reason I wanted one spot were the bulk of the action would take place, on this island.

I actually have put quite a bit of thought into the island and campaign but i am worried that i may be cutting too much

I dropped elves dwarves and orcs, but added 3 non-standard classess (4 if you count adept) and greatly limited what monsters appear. Only 5-6 types of undead and few intelligent monsters, its a smallish setting thats quite isolated

Also, they made the Black company into a aetting??? thats..... interesting, i love the books so much i can't decide if that means i should seek that out or not........

Also why did i triple post up there?