View Full Version : How do you write your campaigns?

2008-01-28, 05:33 AM
I was finishing off writing my campaign the other day and I wondered, how do you write your campaigns?

For me, I find it's best to work out the beginning, let the players play my beginning and then I write the campaign when it's begun, because that way I find I have commitment to it.

For example this campaign I'm playing right now I started off with the players sitting in the mayors office, and then going off to a graveyard and down into a tomb and from then on I've just been taking the bit of paper out my pocket and adding little bits to it when I've done my work in lessons.

So, my question, how do you write your campaigns?

2008-01-28, 06:19 AM
It starts with an idea for a theme. I think a little about roleplay and combat possibilities and based on that decide which system to use. Now I will invent factions, power groups, etc. Then I think of the main plot arc, and draw (or find) a map based on that. Around this time I inform the players about the campaign coming up, tell them the theme and background I came up with and encourage them to come forward with character ideas. Based on their ideas and where I want the story to go I write the first adventure and then taking it from there.

I have noticed that I find it very hard to write a campaign without the pressure that it needs to get worked on because the campaign is running, the whole process goes a lot faster with that pressure.

2008-01-28, 06:34 AM
I have my own homebrew world, so everything I do pretty much revolves around that.

I like to start things from level 1, so I don't have a whole campaign arc when things start. It's more of a "here is your starting point." Once I have that layed out, I just keep going. What do they find in the first mission that leads to the second? What can I throw in as a Red Herring? What does the second mission give that starts to clue you into the overall story arc?

My other big considerations follow this line of questioning.

1. How original is this? Unless it's a group of brand new players, people don't enjoy rehashing something they've done. Unless you do it extremely well.

2. What interesting allies are on the field of play? A king, a druid, a dragon, all become interesting if done well. Just need to find the right vein for the campaign.

3. Is the villain believable? If there isn't a good purpose behind him, the villain isn't that, he's an encounter. (See Rich's Article. Good stuff)

4. Does this story really include the characters? I've seen brilliant ideas that don't really include the PCs. Subtle things like relationships make the game more interesting.

5. What are the player's playing styles? My groups tend to enjoy the RP aspect, though everyone enjoys a good fight.

That sums it up for me. Sorry if I rambled.

2008-01-28, 06:52 AM
I first try to think of an event I want to occur, something interesting. I think of people I want to build, and random bits.
For my current world, I started with:

I want my players to accidentally kill a king or queen. Not just get framed, but actually be the ones who killed them. Accidentally.

I want a general with a near perfect military command.

I want a game clock - a world that changes based on the day. Certain events happen on certain days, certain rumors spread. Something more alive - even if the PCs don't realize it.

From there, I wrote what the players were going to do, built a railroad, define the exact routes they were going to take. Find a way to delay them to prevent something from happening, etc. etc.
Then I studied, got in contact with many friends, and built my sun tzu. Read many articles, everything from the art of war to the manuals describing the process of which the U.S. military ships goods frontline.
And I wrote a bunch of rumors, suggesting that the railroad occurs.

I develop and toss around ideas for months with myself. Building random characters, many of which never will be seen.
Then, I finally build a map to represent it.

Then I run a test game with a group that won't be playing in it for long, try to drive them on the railroad, and take notes when i can't. Fix the errors they find.

Then I actually run it for a real group.
When I actually run it, I keep the railroad in tact usually for 1-2 sessions.
Then I find it more fun to just see what happens.
With my current campaign, the players blew up the tracks and didn't even realize it yet. :smalltongue:
*is actually excited to see how her game world unfolds*

2008-01-28, 08:20 AM
Much like the previous posters, I just start with an idea of how the thing will start, some cool things that i want to happen along the way (village full of zombies? yeah thats in), and the cool thing they'll do at the end (i.e. kill a dragon). I then just let them at it, and yet them slowly meander through, seeing how long i can string things out, and gently nudge them in the direction of awesome. Railroading them there just isnt as fun. When they get to end point, restart process with that as a start point.

Remember, not having rails means that the players cant go off them.

2008-01-28, 08:40 AM
I like to start off the campaign with the characters performing some generic mission/task such as "the village is being attacked by wild animals, the party must save the village" and then throw in a twist that is the real plot hook. Last time I had the villagers who were in distress belong to a cult of Nerull, and the animals were attacking because the cult had a druid held prisoner waiting to be sacrificed. Then the party briefly glimpsed the BBEG (or one of them at least) while they fought off hordes of zombies. They are all hooked by the idea of getting this cult leader who manipulated them.

Lord Tataraus
2008-01-28, 09:27 AM
Well, I start with some sort of inspiration to come up with a theme, then I begin to develop the theme further and jot down notes until I have a pretty set idea for a specific theme and setting and present it to my players. If they like it they start making characters and I help them along and determine a starting point based on what their characters are like. Also, I am fleshing out the world a bit more by creating more defined nations and organizations or lack there of to set the world in motion. After playing a session or two I come up with a main plot based on the characters' interaction with the world and its effects on the various power groups and they set off with me making it up mostly on the spot.

My group loves that style of play and looks down on a preset campaign. One other has tried to DM a few times but the players get frustrated with the lack of freedom and it crumbles.

2008-01-28, 10:51 AM
I do things a little differently. I'm never the main GM but I'll start up a campaign every year or two when the main GM needs a break.

When I'm not GMing I keep a list of ideas that could go in a game. They live in my computer in a file called "musings." Most of the ideas are plots, some are hooks, and some are NPCs.

When I feel like running a game I come up with a premise. The first major game was a sorcerer trying to ascend to godhood. The second was the establishment of a town in the savage frontier. The third was a thieves guild based game for an all rogue party. I don't do world building (tried it in my first game and found that even if I could write a world as deep as FR, I couldn't communicate that world to the players, and they weren't all that receptive to it anyway, so instead I rely on existing worlds that the players are already familiar with) but I do come up with factions and NPCs who are involved in the premise. All this gets written in the back of a notebook (the back is for NPCs, organized by faction - actual sessions go in the front).

At this point I envision where the game will end. It doesn't get written down or anything. I don't usually stay enthusiastic about my games after a certain point, so I like to have ideas ready for after that point. I don't actually railroad my players towards that point, they just always seem to go there.

Anyway, once I have the one big major arc down I go through my musings and select plots that fit with the game. Where possible I tie them together with common NPCs. These get written in the front of my notebook. A lot of the time they're more like starting points for a plot than actual plots.

Once I've done this I invite players. I make it clear that I run an interactive storytelling game that is loosely based on D&D. If they're more interested in trying out a new build than roleplaying a character, they simply won't have fun in my games and shouldn't bother playing. It should be pointed out that I have the luxury of filtering out players like this and not everyone can afford to. I do require backstories and the players who write interesting ones will be rewarded with more plot.

(As a sidenote, I don't do XP in my games. I level players when I want them to level. I do think good roleplay should be encouraged though so I borrowed Deadland's fate chip system to reward players. Basically a fate chip lets a player fudge one of his own rolls. The best and longest backstories each earn a free fate chip. Additionally players can get a fate chip for keeping a journal.)

Anyway, once I get backstories I read them over. Any loose threads that need to be tied off end up in my list of potential plots. Even if something isn't a loose thread, it could be a plot hook. Siblings work nicely here. I've been wanting to include a PC's brother on a wanted poster for quite some time now. But really anything that will get a reaction from a PC is a good bet. It's important to use these to get players attached to the main arc. It makes it personal for them.

So now I've got three sets of plot. Stuff I made. Stuff my players made. And continuations of stuff from players. I merge as much together as I can and call it a game. Usually I'll have an intro written and several potential plots that can be brought to light at any time. The plots are mostly just hooks or setups. I don't write game more than one session in advance (though I have trouble estimating how long something will take to play so I often write too much by accident) and I pretty much just write as we play. I aim to have a clear beginning, middle, and end for each session and they're each combat, roleplay, combat, or roleplay, combat, roleplay.

2008-01-28, 11:06 AM
Well, I kind of semi-wing it. Generally, I write a series of loosely associated module kind of things, then I make a note of where in the game world any given module was encountered.

2008-01-28, 12:59 PM
It depends, really. Sometimes I start with a vague idea. Recently it was a adventuring in a place called the Big Rock Candy Mountain based on the song. From there it snowballs into other things. If the Mountain is based off the song, then it needs birds, bees, cigarette tress, policemen with wooden legs, dogs with rubber teeth, etc.

Then I think, "Why is it called the Big Rock Candy Mountain?......it must be made of Rock Candy! And thusly, I created a Rock Candy Elemental to rule at the peak of the mountain.

Continuing the thinking process, I recalled the Candy Mountain online toon about the unicorn named Charlie. Thusly, I created an encounter involving him having turned undead from having lost his kidney.

Continuing from there, I wondered what the surrounding area was like. Well, if I was to continue with the candy theme...what about Frosting Hills? Sounds like fun. White hills as far as the eye can see made of white frosting. Mmm. Well, who would live here? Gingerbread men of course!
Creating a campaign is a process. Let your mind wander around. Steal ideas and make them new. Have fun with it.

2008-01-28, 06:03 PM
1) think up the cool scenes, villains, monsters, situations and locations.
2) tie all this cool stuff loosely together in a semi-coherent pseudo-plot.
3) Unleash the players!!!
4) ???
5) Profit!

Think "Indiana Jones": if this is done right the players should be too busy worrying about what's going to hit them next to sweat it over minor inconsistencies. :smallwink:

2008-01-28, 06:12 PM
Usually, I have already imagined a few scenes I believe to be awesome, maybe some background on the country the PCs are in, and the first two, shall we say, adventures. If my players ask me for it, I also prebuild the (always low lvl) PCs.
From thereon, I wing it. This is usually a little problematic when my friends insist on showing up irregularly or late, so I never quite know what the party is capable of handling. Thus, I usually skirt the TPK and find another way to make things work - with acceptable results.
It works best when I have a rough Idea what´s happening, some statted encounters and I small reserve of NPCs at my beck and call, and a good idea who´s going to be present. The best things happen when a player does something unexpected and the entire table rolls with it......Somewhere down the road, the PCs whill reach a switch which puts them down on the rails of the main plot again - without obvious railroading, but incentives. And if they´re not game, well, there´s another switch somewhere down the other track :smallbiggrin:

2008-01-28, 07:38 PM
I used to use pre-built campaigns like FR and Dragonlance, but eventually I tired of those settings and started homebrew.

I always let my players know what setting I am wanting to run, I ask them to roll up some characters for me along with some background fluff. I typically want my campaigns to be centered around THEM and THEIR characters, so having that as a starting base is a huge help, rather then forcing them to conform into my idea of what the ideal party for the campaign is.

After that I think to myself, what would a space marine, two scientists, and a telepath be up to?

I come up with a general idea for an introductory adventure (save the mining colony from a mysterious disease) that could lead to a bigger plot (giant rival mining corporation trying to eliminate competition).

But I always let my players get there one way or another, whether its investigating step by step or charing in guns blazing into the corporate HQ on a major city-planet. I come up with random encounters on the fly as needed, and try to stat up a main villian or two.

2008-01-28, 08:11 PM
1) Create a setting, or use an existing one.

2) Nothing happens without some instigating actions, so decide who the instigators are, their motives, and the plans they'd like to use to accomplish their goals. With this established, create the NPCs. While you can skimp on detailing most noncombatants, NPC enemies must be created in full detail: all their stats, feats, items, spells, and whatever. It's the work that goes into creating these enemies that makes the campaign rich and interesting.

3) Throw the PCs into the mix and churn.

4) Frantically re-purpose the NPC enemies when their original plans don't work out as intended. An occasional support character may need to get brought in as full-time help when the PCs prove more resilient than you'd expected (which is probably going to happen most of the time, because the players have n brains to your one). Basically play the NPCs just as you'd play your own PC. Don't cheat, or fudge the dice. Especially don't have supposedly intelligent enemies fighting to the death when they could run away to recover and plot again. If your planning wasn't adequate and a battle turns into a rout, learn from this. You might need to develop new NPCs: the angry mother of someone the PCs killed, for instance. But these new NPCs should have their own motives, not just be a replacement with the same goals as the original. Treat the plot as an organic manifestation of character goals, not a railroad.

2008-01-28, 08:24 PM
I think about what the players like to do. Then 15 min before each session, I come up with a basic idea, and wing it as I go along. If you have major character NPCs as BBEG and recurring allies it's not that hard.

2008-01-28, 08:33 PM
Like some other DM's, I've got my own homebrew world. I usually start them off inside the only functioning city in the continent. I've built loads of pre-generated adventures, published adventures, and my own home-brew adventures into my homebrew world. I pretty much give them a prompt, maybe a rumour, just to help them get kick-started. Otherwise, I play out the entire campaign however they go about it. After a really big event, or maybe four sessions, I'll introduce a BBEG. After that, they usually start working towards the baddie. If not, no big worry. It's a big world, and I'm more than happy to let them explore it.

2008-01-28, 08:57 PM
I make it up as I go along. So far I had the idea for the campaign at 3:00 Am, the campaign full of players by that time the next day, the first room planned out by the time they were in it, and The second room planned by the round before they entered it. I'm getting better, right? :smallwink:

2008-01-28, 11:11 PM
I start off by setting some world changing events into motion in my game world (usually a modified version of Forgotten Realms). They events are usually complicated and have a variety of NPC's influencing them.

I then come up with a couple of ideas of how the PC's can affect these events and help prevents any grevious loss of life.

I then come up with a starting point for the PC's and let them loose into the world. I provide them with hooks along the way, side quests to hunt for fame and an eventual attempt at a rail road if they continually avoid the main plot.

One of my favorite campaigns started with a plague spreading out into the land and and a hobgoblin horde pillaging the countryside. The PC's avoided the plague after it was determined that a simple cure disease was not going to cut it. They decided to attack the goblin horde because they had heard that the hobgoblins had a dragons horde that they were guarding. They beat the horde and scored lots of fat loots. The plague had spread to such an extent that it had wiped out most of Cormyr. It affected the world around them to such an extent that some of the gods were losing power due to lack of worship (including the PC priest - this was the railroad). They followed up on the clues that they had from the start of the campaign and quested and defeated the plague. While they were celebrating their victory and basking in the renown and rewards from saving several countries from doom several of their enemies that had survived previous encounters attacked with revenge in mind. That concluded the first story arc. The campaign was going well enough that I started a second story arc that continued them past their current level 20.

2008-01-29, 12:43 AM
I'm running my first campaign now, and how I did it was at first I wasn't planning on making a campaign. I just made assortments of individual adventures. I had finished the first one, and had lots of ideas for others, and I had fit a nice plot hook into the first for later deepening in another adventure, and realized how I could quite easily extend it and add to it to make it into a campaign. So I did. Then I started running it, and realized I had written the first adventure, had a vague idea of the second, and knew the general direction the party was going after that, and am now writing it on the fly.

Dr Bwaa
2008-01-29, 10:26 AM
I started running my first campaign this past September, after playing a lot of D&D for about a year and a bit prior. I knew I wanted to make my own world, because of my players, one had played a little before and had read a lot, and the rest had never played, and I didn't want there to be any preconceptions of the world or things the one player knew that no one else did and so forth. I started by drawing up a map, putting some countries in, and labeling the important locations. Then I decided on some very very basic politics, such as who ruled what areas, how they ruled, what the basic government was, and the history of the land for the past ten or fifteen years, all very broad. This I gave to the players and asked for backstories from all of them, which they eventually gave me. These gave me extra side-plot ideas, some main plot ideas, and left me wondering how on earth I was going to forge them into a party (lvl 1), as I'd given them no restrictions whatsoever except "core races/classes, and here is a list of deities you may choose from." I had all their backstories in my hands (or at least on my computer) by the time we were starting, and I doled out starting equipment based on what was reasonable based on their story. I gave them a generic plot-start (Since I still didn't have a main plot idea at that point): "Telemar is massing troops on our border. Will you go to their capital and bring their ruler this highly-important message? Our last couple messengers were killed, and we're all out." From there, I exercised no control over the party, which turns out makes it difficult to get any plot accomplished, but I didn't know starting out how much they were going to be into role-playing/combat/whatever, so I figured I'd just let it go and find out from there. At this point, they're all about level 7, they've grossly abused one Wish potion that they found in an underground assassins' hideout and someone 20'd a Spellcraft or Knowledge (Arcana) check and I generally reward natural 20s as much as I punish botches, so I gave them the Wish potion, not expecting the 10-WIS NG wizard to go ahead and use it the next day to save a bunch of fleeing townspeople. I spent my winter break figuring out a tremendous amount of detail regarding the city they're now in, its politics, some intrigue, some NPCs, and so forth, to the point that my DM notes are now a 50-page monstrosity of a Word document (to be fair, about half of that is occupied with descriptions of what has happened so far). At this point, I write more plot when I am inspired to. I came up with a couple major artifacts over the break, so I wanted the PCs to go questing for them. Now it's pretty much just me thinking up cool ideas and the PCs ruining everything and making things entertaining by themselves. Example: this weekend, the wizard decided to join the Mage Guild in the city, and the cheery Drow cleric went with him, and while he was signing up with this strongly chaotic mage guild, she was casting Shatter on a little floating globe holding a miniaturized Salamander that I'd thrown in just for flavor (she wanted to see it more closely). So then a mage, without missing a beat, throws an Otiluke's Sphere around the wiz, cleric, and Salamander so they don't wreck anything, and then everyone else present hangs out and watches two casters fight a salamander in very close combat. Good times were had by all. [/long, off-topic perambulation]

Fiery Diamond
2008-01-29, 10:36 AM
I don't write them. In fact, I don't even plan very far in advance. I start with a home-made world and setting, then find out what the classes the players plan to play. Then I come up with some idea - it could be as basic as "one country will go to war with another eventually" or "monsters have started appearing where they weren't before" and make up the campaign a session at a time.

I'm an impromptu type DM. I loathe railroading - I guide them along the path I most desire, but I let them go the opposite way if they want, and change the path of the campaign (which doesn't require a lot of effort since I'm only creating it a little at a time anyway).

-Fiery Diamond