View Full Version : DM Help Campaign Planning Assistance

2014-02-27, 04:09 PM
Hello! I am DMing a game of 3.5, and would love input on planning. I designed a detailed campaign setting, see sig, and now that I'm running a campaign in it, I'm finding it hard to create a complex situation and articulate it to the players. Here's the current situation in a nutshell...

The golden age of Minoshi, the nation the cs takes place in, has ended. Darkness is beginning to creep back into the world. Minoshi's borders are becoming more independent, more isolated. The Eastern Coast, once a great hub of trade and commerce, had slowed trading with Minoshi, and about a year ago completely stopped. On the surface, it looks like the reason is because the roads are no longer safe for merchants to travel along. The player's current quest is to investigate the coast, figure out why trade has stopped, and if possible, reinstate trade.

I could just have the players travel to the east, talk to some nobles and merchants, go root out some bandits in their hideout, and let trade happen again, but that is to shallow and simple for what I am looking to do. One of the big selling points of the campaign setting is Minoshi, a once great nation, is falling, even if its citizens and leaders don't know it yet.

tl;dr any ideas on making the story interesting? Suggestions on presenting it in an interesting way?


2014-02-27, 04:14 PM
Save yourself a lot of pain and don't write down too much setting info. Your players will never learn/immediately forget 90% of it anyway.

2014-02-27, 04:17 PM
Well the setting I created, I've been working on for over a year, and it wasn't just created for one dnd game. It is an interactive setting I plan on running games at different points on the timeline, and even writing short stories taking place in it among other things.

2014-02-27, 04:21 PM
Start with a dungeon and a town. Expand from that organically, to other towns in the area, the local political unit, the larger nation, the neighboring nations, etc., as the requirements of play dictate.

2014-02-27, 04:46 PM
I suppose one of the questions I really need to answer to make the storyline work is "What can the players do to effect the situation?" As a whole, trade stopped on effectively a global scale. How can the players have any impact on changing that?

2014-02-27, 05:00 PM
As a whole, trade stopped on effectively a global scale. How can the players have any impact on changing that?

That depends on the reason, obviously. You mention the roads aren't safe: maybe there's a single source for the danger? The PCs could perhaps address that. It might be as simple as some warlord raiding the trade routes, or more complicated social instability leading to an increase in banditry, etc. The reasons for that could be infinite - a civil war, a succession crisis, an interregnum, a weak ruler, a religious conflict, a doomsday cult...

2014-02-27, 05:05 PM
Alright. I just have a hard time imagining how to present the problems without it seeming 2d. Even if there is multiple problems, like bandits making the roads safe, and a doomsday cult bringing the end of the world or a plague or something, its still seems like the players just go to the cause and hack the problem to pieces.

Sir Pippin Boyd
2014-02-27, 06:15 PM
The players can discover indicators of the bigger problem while trying to solve the symptoms.

For example, they players may discover during or after their attack on the bandits attacking the roads that the bandits are being allowed to operate freely by a corrupt official who is letting them steal freely so he can claim a cut. This would lead in with the bandit problem and help the players to find signs of a larger-scale corruption that could lead them in any number of directions. If hack-and-slash is what you're worried about, present them with more of a political and investigative campaign where they're working in a city to discovery the full depth of the rulerships' corruption and how to expose it.

2014-02-27, 09:08 PM
Thanks for the suggestions, I think I've got a few more ideas to work with. I went about detailing the root of the problem, and the symptoms it causes, as well as thoughts about rumors that could be true or false that common folk believe/spread.

2014-02-27, 09:26 PM
Give them a problem they might not want to solve in the most direct fashion. Say, perhaps the "bandits" are actually just some tribesmen who need to steal food because some silver dragons came and started eating their livestock and chasing them away from their home (or even trying to eat them too). Should they care to learn, the silver dragons, in turn, had to do that because one of the more independent border sects took it upon themselves to claim the land from the dragons. The players are then presented with a dilemma: Do the right thing and cause the chaos to consume the setting even more quickly, or allow the independent consolidation to do its thing to keep things stable? If they do decide to take the path to help the creatures chased from their homes, they also have lots of either violent or nonviolent methods they could go about it.

... Though none of this really applies if your characters are Neutral in-it-for-the-money types.

Lord of Shadows
2014-02-27, 09:30 PM
It could also be that the bandits are attacking out of a need for survival. Perhaps something has happened that forced otherwise peaceful people into banditry. The party may not realize this if they just go "kill the bandits" and get a little traffic moving again. Whatever it was that caused banditry in the first place will still be there. When they realize that, and that the bandits may not have been all that bandit-ty, whammo.

This same "whatever" could also be causing doomsday cults, crop failures, mine cave-ins, all sorts of misfortunes. And they may not have all happened at once, but have slowly become increasingly common. The past year has been especially bad, leading to the drop in commerce.

The general populace may suspect that something is up ("there haven't been any caravans from the East in a long time") but the government has been trying to cover it up to prevent unrest. We don't need our own peasants revolting...

Assuming the sun rises in the east, maybe that is symbolic of something.

Lots of possibilities here.

2014-02-27, 11:10 PM
Sticking solely to mundane causes and effects:

Rise in banditry (defined as "attacks on travellers")
-> less trade happening
-> less tax revenue for the authorities
-> can't afford to patrol the roads properly
->> more banditry
-> alternatively, some rulers try to raise taxes on their townsfolk
-> more previously peaceful townspeople become outlaws to avoid taxation
->> more bandits!

As these 'more bandits' include increasing numbers of people from the major towns - who still have friends and/or family back there - the bandits themselves become more respectable, and attempts to crack down on them attract, gradually, less popular support.

There's a vicious circle, which is inherently hard to break. "Talking to nobles" won't help, because they don't have the answer, and "killing bandits" will improve the situation for about three days before a new group moves in. It will also make you deeply unpopular with the (growing) segment of cityfolk who actually sympathise with the bandits.

At some point, you reach a stage where there are too many bandits and not enough travellers left for them to prey on. Then the bandits start preying on isolated towns and villages. Then people there need to defend themselves, which takes more resources, further impoverishing everyone, reducing taxes...

The trick is not to let the PCs get too much cash. There is a finite amount of cash in the world, and most of it needs to stay in circulation just to keep the basic everyday economy going. Nobles in this world are (normally) rich in income, but that's drying up now, and the amount of cash they have on hand is very limited - increasingly, they're probably writing IOUs. Wealthy merchants may have nice houses filled with lots of nice things, but in terms of gold/silver, even they will be very limited. So if the players try to flog off a magic item, they'll have a hell of a time finding anyone who can even afford it, much less one who's actually willing to part with the cash in exchange for this - thing that can't be sold on.

And anything as cheesy as trying to mine the Elemental Plane of Earth should result in a ton of rocks falling on the character who suggests it. (Literally.)

Edit: It's possible the players will think "macroeconomic crisis" isn't much of a scenario, and there's nothing they can do to solve it (which is probably correct, at least at first). That's okay, this is just the background to their world - it's why/how the empire is in decline. It should take them a good few sessions to put the pieces together and realise they can't actually solve the problem (which in itself will be good for them), and by that time they should have discovered plot hooks to half a dozen smaller adventures that they can do something about, so they can get on with those and clock up a few levels while ignoring the fact that the world is crumbling around them.

2014-02-28, 01:28 AM
Realistic politics/problems can often make for bad gaming. Its a touchy balance - you want things complex enough that it doesn't feel trivial, but simple enough that it doesn't feel overwhelming. 'Realistic' problems are usually really difficult to solve simply because if they were easy, someone else would have just taken care of it - some irreducible conflict remains at the core, and a decision must be made as to what gets sacrificed and what is fixed (and then the various conflicting groups have to be convinced to come to an agreement on it).

Anyhow, that warning aside, I'd have it be a new religion that cropped up recently. Something with a good dose of 'abandon your worldly goods' that would cause trade to become slack, or 'you cannot have commerce with non-believers', or 'your life must be dedicated to service of the cause' or whatever. Behind it is illithids or aboleths or a dragon who happened upon that one epic item that makes everyone with Int<13 automatically become your slave or whatever (though a dragon would want trade to continue, just because that's more nice things).

2014-02-28, 03:38 AM
Realistic politics/problems can often make for bad gaming. Its a touchy balance - you want things complex enough that it doesn't feel trivial, but simple enough that it doesn't feel overwhelming. 'Realistic' problems are usually really difficult to solve simply because if they were easy, someone else would have just taken care of it - some irreducible conflict remains at the core, and a decision must be made as to what gets sacrificed and what is fixed (and then the various conflicting groups have to be convinced to come to an agreement on it).

Also, many real world social and economic problems can be boring as [redacted] and so can their methods of resolution :smallsigh:

A random thought that popped into my head for this: maybe this is an aboleth plot? All the bandits and other issues that are reducing trade are the result of their mind-controlled minions interfering. Perhaps the region has drawn their ire in some way? Perhaps they are weakening their prey before an invasion from the deep?

Replace aboleth with any subtle, manipulative, and probably mind controlling villain and you're still good.

If you want to put another dimension into it, actually remove the mind control aspect of it. Those who are actively hindering trade are doing so for the bidding of others willingly because they believe a takeover by whoever is manipulating events will be a good thing for any number of reasons (and not for the "the only salvation is oblivion" reason). The hinderance of trade is just a necessary step in creating the conditions where the manipulator could come to power.

2014-03-01, 01:14 AM
Why is the Golden Age over? Why is the empire in decline? Decadence? Overtaxed citizans? Over extended military? Barbarian incursions from the North/South/East/West? Weak political rulers who dither about? Antiquated tax systems that are inefficient?

The PC's don't have to solve these problems, but they make for a great setting as you slowly reveal these things going on in the background.

I really wonder how PC's would react to inept rulers who mean well but make poor decisions, or avoid decisions at all.

2014-03-01, 01:35 AM
Somebody upthread said, Start with a town and a dungeon.

I think that's a great way to start, even if you have the whole world mapped out.

I would go even simpler: start out with a dungeon. The town can wait for a level or two.

Plot Points:

When the players have some success, have people in town ask them to make mundane trips to nearby villages. These trips can no longer be attempted by 1st-level Commoners; it takes seasoned adventurers even to lug goods.

Then when they're on the road, they can discover why, whatever that reason is.

Each village, in its isolation, can have a weird quirk that needs "solving" by the group. Maybe one is ruled by a mad priest who brainwashes the residents when they don't act the way he wants them to. Another one pays protection money to troglodytes, who are running a racket on the townsfolk. And so forth.

Eventually, the adventurers come to the attention of someone who has a grasp on what's going on, and sends them to The Big City To Sort It All Out.

Lots of wilderness and dungeon adventures on the way, because there's really no good way to get from here to there since the roads have all fallen into disrepair.

In fact, there are independent baronies enforcing independent authority within the boundaries of the country-- little principalities that are on no map, because they are new and unknown.

This way, the players can get a taste of the culture of your setting and also piece together the fact that the Golden Age is over, or nearly so.

Post-Golden Age Flavor

Everybody has some idea what the fantasy middle ages was like (either in Europe or otherwise). Your players will pick up on how this setting differs from their mental picture based on the details you present to them.

When there is time for expository RP, have details ready that describe how things now aren't like they were before:

Have someone pounding wheat into flour by hand in the shadow of the old mill that no longer works.

The armorer can sell you a suit of plate mail (at a crazy inflated price), but it's the last one he has. When is he getting more? Ha, there's no more steel coming from Nextdoorville; there hasn't been for years.

Older people in town ought to constantly complain about how it isn't the way it used to be. Show younger people acting with abandon. (While this is human nature, bringing it up will indicate the strangeness of it.)

When planning how to get from A to B, have someone tell them about Gnome's Ferry, or whatever river boat service there is. Tell the PCs like it's still there and operating. But when they get there, it's clear it's been abandoned for some time; important information (like whether the ferry is functioning or not) just isn't moving from town to town like it should.

About one of these vignettes per adventure ought to let the players know that things are not the way they used to be, and perhaps spur them to make things "right".

Jay R
2014-03-02, 12:03 PM
As the structure falls apart, more and larger groups will find themselves outside of it, and start contributing to the chaos. They can work their way up from bands of marauding bandits through troops of marauding rogue knights to legions of marauding rogue lords to armies of rival kings, with the size of the group their leading getting bigger as the PCs get more powerful.

But are they merely wandering through the chaos and trying to stay alive, or are they trying to actually help put the society back together? If the latter, then they need to try to lead people out of the darkness, and their group of followers will grow, from a band, to a troop, to a legion, and up to an army.

They may even eventually figure out that all those marauders they keep killing are trying to do the same thing they are.

2014-03-03, 04:05 PM
Thanks for all the wonderful help. I got a bunch of planning done, and the players ended up uncovering one of the lords in the area was corrupt and was the cause of some of the bandit attacks (not all). Now they are headed to free the captured rebels the corrupt lord captured and sold as slaves to other nations to keep them quiet.