View Full Version : Planning for Campaigns

2008-04-10, 09:23 PM
As a relatively new DM (though not in D&D, I must mention) I've found myself having difficulty in planning. If I'm going to railroad the players, I can come up with the obstacles and such, and I'm pretty good at creating interesting NPCs. Most of them are quite mad, but in my campaigns, that's expected. But I'm currently trying to run a less linear campaign than I have in the past. Any tips for that?

What I've been trying to do is revolve it around the characters. I've created a number of important NPCs, and based what happens in the quests on how they would react to what the players would do. I think about what the characters' limits of power would be, and what they would do in reaction to what the players do. My theory here is that I'd generate a more 'realistic' campaign.

I've also had an idea to generate a number of 'events', which are each more or less independent, so that I can spring these events on the players without it seeming like it's part of a linear plot. For example, I'm going to give them an option to steal some documents from a warehouse, but if they do, they'll be attacked by rivals. I'm considering making "attacked by rivals" and "steal from a warehouse" separate 'events', so that even if they don't go to the warehouse, they'll still be attacked by rivals, but for a different reason. Now, these events might occur whether or not they do anything - such as the tea party the queen is hosting.

But anyway, any tips?

2008-04-10, 10:09 PM
Grab some paper and a pencil. Sketch out a map of the local countryside. As you sketch things out your mind will fill in ideas for what is going on at different locations - battlefields, cities, temples etc. Drop the players in the middle of this and let them move as they wish. The world goes on around them.

2008-04-10, 10:39 PM
My DM seems to make up dozens of NPC archetype characters and then interjects whichever one seems appropriate for the situation we have wondered into. The last one was a War Troll he drew made a while ago out of boredom and never planned on using. Then we were hunting down criminals and needed a BA sheriff of town and wallah.

2008-04-10, 10:50 PM
holywhippet is dead on, its how half my ideas come out - If you feel you need more, just expand the map a little and life will flow back into the campaign.

I'd add a warning. You may think you know your PCs capabilities, you may think you know the kinds of decisions they'd make, but be prepared when they do the unexpected.

Events are good too. In my experience, campaigns get boring if you try and relate everything to a central plot without anything else interesting in the world. Consider everything else a base for the central plot, you will be able to incorporate it in unforseen ways later.

2008-04-10, 10:53 PM
I run a fluid game I have an idea of what they want, and idea of what I want and a firm idea of what the characters want and I adhoc. A _lot_ of people don't like that style but if you carry it off right they will never ever know.

I recommend listening to the first six or seven episodes of the Fear The Boot podcast. Its pretty helpful for campaign design.

2008-04-10, 11:17 PM
It might be a little bit worrysome to force certain events like "run into rivals" to happen.
Like you've suggested, you should plan out several different opportunities for your PCs to latch onto, and they get to choose which of these to follow, but you should also give them the opportunity to turn around what was supposed to happen.
Say you give them the choice to go to steal a document from a warehouse, and they choose not to. Now, you had planned that these Rivals wolud attack them there because they (the rivals) believed that they should protect that (your NPCs need backstories and driving factors too), and then they instead choose to go... say... clear out a cave of temporal filchers. Now, let's say these rivals also have connections with the same people who set them up on the mission, and now they're there to do the same thing. So, you give your PCs the opportunity to either fight them for that right, or team up and work together.
Of course, that's how I accidentally made my BBEG my PC's best friend...
If you want it to be truely fluid, give them the chance to change the world in ways you hadn't expected.

2008-04-10, 11:25 PM
The best way that I have found for running a fluid game is to develop the major (and some of the minor) characters and their goals. Come up with their current activities, what their plans are in the immediate and the long term, and how these things will go without any PC intervention. Have serveral of these going at once, the minor ones close and easily recognizable, the major ones far away and hidden by other activities.

For example, in my game my players are helping build a fledgling community on an undeveloped island. I created the main antagonist for the immediate as the leader of a gnoll tribe that inhabit the mountain that the town's base is against. This leader is a gnoll that several years ago became host to a wounded green dragon; the dragon's mother was killed and turned into a skeleton before he was hatched (the work of the BBEG centuries before), and most of the clutch was destroyed. The baby dragon managed to hatch and escape the caves, bonding with a gnoll in order to survive. This gnoll/dragon took control of a portion of the main gnoll tribe and has been trying without success to dig out the cave so he can take his late mother's horde for himself. His plans without PC intervention are to order his gnolls to dig, where they will eventually breach the cave in a year's time. When the PC's framed the gnolls in an attack on the ogre camp and the ogres retalliated, his plan remained mostly the same, except he dispatched the ogre's and kept an eye on the situation. When he determined that it was the PC's doing, he decided to let it go since it was not really a direct threat. However, if the PC's decide to try and mine his mountain or attack his gnoll's directly, he will respond with anger. If driven to it, he will threaten the PC's to back down. If they don't cooperate, he will kill them.

That's one of many characters. He's not a direct threat to home, but building the same for other characters, whether villains or not, will make the campaign breathe. Give them backstories, goals, and plans for interference and they will move on their own, not waiting for the PC's to kick in their doors to have anything to do.

2008-04-11, 03:07 AM
I've allways found it rewarding to give players quests that makes them go wherever I want. Then I know at least where they're ehading, and I need only to create what''s there, not on the whole map (example (http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=1144))

Now, don't make your plot linear, but make it more like a flow-chart (or whatever it's caleld) with several different aproaches (like join the prison guard, rob some merchants or break into the prison) leading to the same plot twist (talk with Batlug the thief in prison, get the map of Loott).
Now, when they have goten to a point where they are bound to react in a predictable way (they will search for Loott) you do the same again. :smallbiggrin:

2008-04-11, 05:36 AM
If I'm going to railroad the players, I can come up with the obstacles and such, and I'm pretty good at creating interesting NPCs.

1st piece of advice is a change of thinking. The above sentence is a bad thing. Railroading is a symptom of a poor game.

2nd piece of advice: Make a plot web. Example:

Start with the opening scene of the game session. Then put yourself into the PCs shoes. Try to think of all the things they might try to do, and all the things that might happen based on their capabilities, and the vagaries of chance (good/bad rolls). Put a circle in the middle of a piece of paper with a label for the event, and then draw branches out for each thing you think of, and then figure out how each effects your plot and the characters in the plot, and how they would react. The better you know your players, the better this works.

I've pulled this off several times during my more convoluted sessions. Think of it as a series of if-then-else statements, drawn out in an easy to follow chart.

I also use batsofchaos method a lot. I have NPCs with goals, know what their resources are, and have them pursue those goals. I then make sure that these goals cross over what the PCs are trying to do, and/or work against them.

2008-04-11, 05:51 AM
1. Create an environment. (This includes locations, NPCs, typical creatures, and the like. It can be a city, a country, a star system, or whatever.) Make sure it's full of interesting and dangerous things to do.

2. Pick some NPCs and give them goals. Make these interesting and significant.

3. Make sure the PCs have goals that somehow conflict with those NPCs' goals. These goals can come from the PCs or players themselves, or they can be given by other NPCs (who may have their own goals, which may or may not really be the ones they're giving the PCs; this depends on your level of intrigue). Try to give the PCs ties to the world - family, factions, jobs (preferrably something interesting, like Royal Knight or Space Ranger or Police Detective) - to use to give them goals that they'll care about.

4. Let the PCs go wild. You're the world, you keep track of what happens separate of the PCs and how others react to them, but you don't drag them by the nose from place to place.

5. Think on your feet, and buy time. Situations will keep coming up that you haven't specifically prepared for - that's the point, sort of. Have stats for generic NPCs (bandit, guardsman, Royal Navy Captain, etc.) ready. It's also very useful to talk with the players to find out what they're planning, so you can prepare ahead of time. If they're going to go on an expedition to Mount Dragonhome, you need to know the week before they do it, so you can prepare. End sessions with some kind of pre-briefing - "So, what are you all planning to do next?"

Some players will require more direction, some will be quite happy to create their own fun when you've got a sandbox for them to mess around in. You'll need to adjust to your players' level of independence.

2008-04-11, 06:23 AM
Thanks for all the advice guys. Some of it was sort of what I was thinking, like giving NPCs goals. I made these index cards with NPCs on them, and they have names, occupations, brief personality description and a list of goals they have.

One of the foreseeable problems I have is that my players kind of expect and in fact want there to be a central plot, so I can't just give them a world to play in. There is a kind of loose central plot (which involves the queen and others ultimately wanting to destroy them). I know I'm not going to railroad them; I'm trying to get away from this.

2008-04-11, 07:08 AM
Advice for first post - Create a staple of NPC classes around the players level. It is much easier to work with than trying to custom fit each event.

Centralizing the theme while not railroading them:
Create a few people in the town that the players can go to for "odd jobs" (multiple quest hubs). Keep track of who the players do favors for and build t5he campaign around those interactions.

ie> Have several "quests" they can choose from:

The Barons Daughter is missing
Disturbances down by the loading docks
Highway men attacking caravans (Guards wanted!)
Reward for returning my lost family heirloom

If they save the Barons daughter you continue along that path. Once that is complete you have the baron interact with them and give them another possible questline.

2008-04-11, 09:55 PM
Well, came back from a great session - the players took it somewhere I didn't foresee but my general plot was intact.

2008-04-11, 11:55 PM
Planning? What is planning?

Eventually my players will fight asmodeus, just because he's the BBEG. In between, there's a castle with some undead in it they've been asked to destroy/clear.

Other than that, I literally make it up as I go along.

2008-04-12, 01:55 AM
That's true, that really works for some people, I think.