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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    HalflingPirate

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    Default Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    (Feel free to add to this discussion on the topic of considering what to focus on when creating a new campaign.)

    So you've played D&D for 40 years and are now about to embark on creating the ultimate sandbox campaign where every character action shapes the fate of worlds and the characters will storm the cosmos vying with the gods for the right to control and remake the multiverse in their image. Your players will be two people who have never played tabletop games and your little brother who delights in turning game night into an arguement about the rules. Do you see any problem here?

    Aside from the fact that such a campaign will require years to build because of the massive scale, the scope, (or what the players will affect,) is far beyond anything the players can handle.

    So, lets begin with scale.

    How big is right for your campaign? This mostly depends on how much time and dedication you want to put into it. Those published campaign settings usually take a team of twenty about a year to create a broad overview of a world with one more developed continent and a handfull of fleshed out regions. If that is your goal, you should complete your magnum opus in about twenty years. Clearly you won't be ready for the next game night.

    There are different strategies suggested on these forums for how to go about campaign creation, but most of these are promulgated by experienced writers with half a dozen incomplete settings they have been working on for years. The correct scale for your setting should be determined by two factors: your experience and your deadline.

    If you are an experienced worldbuilder you already have spent time answering fundamental questions and can get to work on what makes your campaign unique. Otherwise, the larger your scale, the more time you will need to devote to trivia which matters but will never come into play. A vastly smaller scale allows a more detailed approach with issues that will affect players and characters.

    Time is the critical issue in creating a campaign. If you need to be ready for next Saturday you really need to focus on what the PCs will be doing and worry about the multiverse later.

    A non-problem I hear about all the time is that when you begin on too small a scale you risk writing yourself into a corner. If you can't find a better way, you can always retcon your setting. My favorite technique is to have the PCs discover that something commonly believed is wrong. The world isn't flat. The sky isn't a crystal sphere. The sun isn't a doorway into the plane of fire. Voila! Stealth retcon!

    The next part is about scope, but feel free to discuss until it is posted.

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    I've played in a great game that only took place in a single forested region, maybe the size of New York (give or take), and we got about 10ish levels out of it before we left that region. There was an admitted cheat, as we had a forced time-skip with our former kingdom in ruins and the forest blighted, and our characters were suddenly dealing with an unpredictable mix of the familiar and the new.

    Which is actually a clever cheat, since you don't have to draw a new map, so much as just re-label things.

    Point being, the size of our adventuring territory wasn't particularly big (only a few hundred square miles). However, the level of detail within the setting, combined with encounters perfectly suited for it and our playgroup, was more than enough for a very long time.

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    HalflingPirate

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    Default Re: Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    Quote Originally Posted by Adamantrue View Post
    Spoiler
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    I've played in a great game that only took place in a single forested region, maybe the size of New York (give or take), and we got about 10ish levels out of it before we left that region. There was an admitted cheat, as we had a forced time-skip with our former kingdom in ruins and the forest blighted, and our characters were suddenly dealing with an unpredictable mix of the familiar and the new.

    Which is actually a clever cheat, since you don't have to draw a new map, so much as just re-label things.

    Point being, the size of our adventuring territory wasn't particularly big (only a few hundred square miles). However, the level of detail within the setting, combined with encounters perfectly suited for it and our playgroup, was more than enough for a very long time.
    Indeed, a small scale allows more depth in the setting for the same investment of time. It is a constant trade off, and there is a multitude of right choices. As a builder you have to decide where to draw the line. It's not an easy choice, but the purpose for which you are building your campaign and the players you wish to attract to play in it should help inform that decision.

    Now the Scope of your campaign is similar to scale, but it directly relates to what the players and their characters can accomplish. If your PCs cannot get to far Kathay, developing an intricate plot to assinate its Dragon Emperor may work better as a rumor than an adventure.

    But if the character can assinate the local lord it helps to know and prepare the lord's defences. These can remain vague ideas until need, but the less you have to create on the fly the smoother the game will flow.

    Concentrate first on what you want the players to do, then flesh out what they might do, and ration your build time accordingly. (Then groan when they do something else!) It doesn't matter that the elf king has an army of 200,000 and six dukes who can field 30,000 troops each if the second level adventuring party is in a village which can support 80 adults.

    Remenber that scope is what the players can do to affect your world. Restricting them too much is just as bad as coming to game night and saying, "You can do anything." You have to develop some depth of detail and guide your players to keep them involved. At the same time their choices have to matter.

    The calculation is complex, but deciding what to spend your build time on can make a huge difference on game night. Will it be a recitation of your great design of an elf kingdom, or will the players interact in depth with an elf lord?

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Flumph

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    Default Re: Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    I go totally from the other end.

    What can effect the PC's
    And what can effect the things that effect the PC's?

    and honestly I hate retcons...including "stealth retcons. They (almost) never work well IMO...especially at scale. I've broken so many DM's worlds over the years on accident by figuring out how to logically extrapolate from such stuff all the time (be it poor design or retcon but retcons happen more) or it just totally breaks immersion. Most of the time I even thought I was specifically on the rails the DM laid out but they no idea what to do. Awkward all round. And also lots of retcons just flat out contradict the basic logic of what has already been shown in previous sessions. And internal contradictions are the bane of buy-in. And honestly if my character can break the world I don't think of the character as having more value I think of the world as having less value, because I figure there would have been thousands of characters like my PC to have come along before now that should have been able to push over the system anyway.
    TBH this is how I ended up become the DM in my games so often.

    Okay just as an example. say you players discover the sun is actually a gate to the elemental plane of fire and nobody knew till now....well the first thing that comes to my mind is " Why did nobody know?"/
    "Why wasn't this a DC 10 knowledge (Plane/Arcana/Nature) check thing?"....because it doesn't really make much sense most of the time. Firstly we ask " who would have been able to find out before the PC's?" And lots of commune with nature capable druids and clerics with sun/sky/light/fire domains....plus anyone with good knowledge of planar workings (like lots of high level magi and magically competent empires the likes of whom many adventurers like to plunder the ruins of)....so are there any efreeti binding empires or netheril like floating boat/city capable types or high level divination casters in the world history? Okay so various druid circles, churches, and a hodgepodge of old wizards throughout history....now each and every one needs a reason for their knowledge to be blocked or for that knowledge to have been cut off and lost....so no great libraries that could have passed it down....now assume you come up with a bunch of reasons for such things happening? Are any contraindicated by what has already happened in the game? Even if not directly but by secondary effects perhaps? . . . It is not matter of writing yourself into a corner per se, but of being self contradictory. Because often the "solution" will be more of an issue than the problem at that point. I'm trying to use that complexity and consequences to make the faus story more verisimilitudinous

    So I go from if you understand the systems that make your world tick, and you understand enough of the power centres that effect the world around your PC's. You can create any immediate area around them extremely quickly. Toss in a couple idea about randomness and the world will kinda create itself for you.
    Plus in creating said system the world will likely toss out opportunities for interesting hooks to be dropped so that you always have a ready supply to tempt the players with.
    Now this leads to a lot of up front work to build the setting but pretty moderate attention outlays after that. It is very front loaded.


    It also leads to questions of breadth and depth. Which starts with questions of what touches what your PC's can touch. Are your players going to deal with temples? you should probably have a basic clue how the gods work then. How distant, are most priests spellcasters, how well are gods known and how are such things seen in this community at least, how do clerics see spellcasting? That could well determine how available and to whom non-party divine casting is. What other functions the priests hold (teachers, political advisors, bankers, theocrats, etc) are also probably important from everything from how the cleric reacts to players questions and also possible reactions they would have to PC actions. Do you need long thesies on the nature of divinity and how gods are created? No but a couple phrases and a basic paradigm is pretty good because then you just ask...what are the possible consequences of this? You may well have multiple answers, which can make for great local variety later-already starting to build that other map section as you go. Ask yourself about the consequences of the first order consequences, repeat with how these idea would effect the main things that will touch the PC's. How the priest treats them. spellcasting availability, what the temple is like,how other power centers will work with or against them (and the PC's that may have ties to said power centers). Now if you've done this...the PC's can do basically anything to, ask something of, or with the priests and you as the DM have a pretty good idea of how to work out an answer on the fly that will hold up well.

    Big power centres that are far away may still have local effects.
    Example...Massive magical steelworks somewhere will drive a lot of blacksmiths out of work across their region even if the PC never go there. but if they do go there the fact that the areas they come from just happen to be the areas unaffected by all this stuff starts to make itself obvious pretty quick. Or players start asking where the customer base is for such a place...

    Or
    The elf lord...knowing he has lots of major dukes and 800K troops....you then ask how does this effect the 80 troops in the local town...standardization of equipment...the idea of the army being a separate thing to the local town or not...lots of levels of bureaucratic stuff becomes far more likely...how is the army supported...both monetarily and logistically...how they see other units of the same army....and all of these give you the DM tools and opportunities to shape your stories...you can then take those things you decided on a lower level and consequence them back up the chain....which helps give you a better idea of the elf lord, which will then make making his relationship with his neighbors easier to sketch which will make the boarder town easier to sketch if your PC's up an decide to go there.

    Now all this has limmits on your time etc. Session zero really can help with this. Sandboxes are boxes...they have boarders....some things will reach into the sandbox from outside (other planes, other continents, dieties).
    So I basically recommend concentric circles of detail. Bigg stuff far away needs little detail but stuff nearby needs more.

    But understanding how the world works allows you to build the world fast enough that the players never get you too far off your feet. Which to me is the essence of sandboxing.
    Last edited by sktarq; 2020-10-23 at 06:22 PM.

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    HalflingPirate

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    Default Re: Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    I don't disagree, but as you say, the proposed system is front loaded. You have to do a lot of work to get there, and that means your first game session won't be next weekend.

    Something experienced worldbuilders often forget when advising new worldbuilders is just how much time they have spent thhnking about the things that make campaigns work. Sure, you can crank out a generic dungeon in a few hours, but that's after building many dungeons. Your first was simpler and took longer to build.

    How much more true is this of a campaign setting? The first stones of my setting were laid in 1979, and grew from a small village into a setting that has hosted at least ten major campaigns and hundreds of shorter adventures. By now I can answer almost any question or run an adventure in almost any region with little or no prep. It was not always so. When my world consisted of Talver, The Forest River Ferry, and The Ruins of the Smallwood Church, I couldn't have told you where the Forest River started or ended.

    And it never mattered!

    By the time my players were done with that I had time to build more, and with few exceptions I was able to build ahead of the group until life took them or me away. Other players and other groups kept pushing the growth of my setting, and at no point was my setting ever ruined by previous bad choices. And I made a few!

    The thing is, just like real life, a campaign can evolve.

    Six hundred years ago nobody could fly.

    Two hundred years ago nobody could go faster than a horse could run.

    Sixty years ago nobody could live in space.

    Today nobody can travel to Mars.

    Retcons happen in the real world.

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Flumph

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    Default Re: Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    Okay there is a big difference between evolution and retcon.

    You know how I mentioned power centers?

    i tend to think powers centers should do stuff....without the players. In fact this happens to be the biggest thing I do with keeping up a setting during the game. its almost a tautology...what makes something a power centre-it can cause changes in the game world and has motivation that may cause them to do so (even if they are motivated to maintain the status quo-that means they will do stuff to block others from trying to change stuff) And those actions have consequences.

    So a power center develops a change to the world? Like a new technology? Then the consequences start rolling out from there....that is probably why the power centre was doing it in the first place. Blocking and helping power centres trying to make changes is probably the biggest source of external adventures in a sandbox. And those consequences could be big...like turning a previously impossible thing possible. That is not a retcon. A retcon changes what already exists.


    Also I tend to build a new world pretty regularly. It doesn't have to take that long. A couple months for me now....especially if I keep it pretty limited in scope instead of huge thing.....first one? Probably six and was also more limited. But that is a scope question.

    For new players I would strongly promote making an area that is relatively isolated just to reduce the complexity. Have some very light connections to outside (that be expanded on later if needed but with lots of lead up) and a basic idea of of the REAL big stuff (divine and planar stuff) because that will have social consequences from day one (how death, magic, cleric etc are treated) but the details won't matter too much if you don't want to, its mostly a matter of figuring out how such choices effect people in their daily life and those game issues that may come up (conjuring spells? How do undead work-and the effects on burials etc. How about knowledge of the gods and what happens when you die). This generally means being VERY aggressive in editing from splatbooks. Once you have so many class options, races etc there leads to a question of a body of society to hold the tradition to teach stuff, living space for all the races etc etc. Toward the end of the business cycle for an addition it can get tough in a very large world, so I'd say "don't try".

    As for your experience.... Fair that is your experience. I've had to deal with games falling apart because (usually me but by all mean not always)saw a consequence of a previous (often totally flavor) comment and accidentally blew up all the DM's plans....and they were not good enough to recover. So I have a very different experience.

    And its not even so much about writing yourself into a corner....but also blocking a bunch of really interesting stuff really early without realizing it.

    Spoiler: Small example
    Show
    so lets say the is walled town where someone is being very naughty and having a tribe of ogres harass the town in an extended fashion in order to get the town to act in some way beneficial to them. They have humans who work for them too and someone has snuck an ogre inside the wall and it is hiding somewhere in town during the day and is coming out to terrorize people at night. The PC's decide to figure out where it is hiding and ask for a list of buildings/places that are big enough for an ogre to hide in. A couple manor houses, a temple, local fort and a large inn comes back as the list. THis go well and the orge is found in a manor house of an ally of the BBEG. YAY! Well the PC's keep going on this larger mission as the BBEG hasn't stopped either. Lets say it is four sessions/weeks later in real time but only a week or two in game time. Now maybe they have an idea of a couple illusion spells (mostly for smell) a couple of bits of sailcloth and a scorpion (the catapult) on a cart and they are going to terrorize the ogres with a faux "scaregiant" (aren't they a bunch of cleverclogs) or maybe things have not gone so well and the PC's think the orges are going to attack the wall and have the idea of a ballista on a cart as a way to quickly reinforce whatever part of the wall is under attack...either way they have a siege engine on a cart and want to hide it so that the BBEG's spies can't tip anyone off. Well you can't just say they stash it in a random warehouse, even if that seems pretty reasonable on it's face. Why? because the siege-engine-on-a-cart is going to be about the same size as an ogre. Any places you could stash this faux-giant is somewhere one could also stash an ogre and thus would have been on that previous list.

    Now is this a horrible game breaking thing...probably not. But an observant player may well notice and it will dent the whole suspension of disbelief of the scenario. If it happens on the regular then it does make taking whatever the DM is saying all that seriously.
    Spoiler: Bigger example
    Show


    Okay lets say you have some new players and are starting small. you have some interest on doing some stuff with undead but aren't sure yet and want to get on with it. So to start you have a nice mostly idyllic valley that is a near the main part of nation but kinda isolated. (worry about the rest of that stuff later right?). Ok to start with you decide to do a bit of a whodonit someone locally important has been killed you want to introduce a few people including your three suspects in one scene for efficiencies sake. So you have this at the burial where everyone import will be together. You use the whole burial events as a backdrop to cycle important people in. give breaks to pull people away and shove them next to new people etc. And someone gives them the clue that leads them to go check out some abandonded building nearby. Which you've turned into a small dungeon. Which leads to a quick overland bit and a second dungeon that leads to a quick social skill focused session to nail the murderer. Good job. You've introduced the players to several major aspects of the game and got a good story. In the meantime you've been thinking about that whole undead idea and have some really cool ideas about where if someone isn't buried with adept/cleric spells within three days they will rise as unquiet dead....and maybe a natural disaster has caused a disruption to the normal process and people are calling for help. The whole dead rising thing would have major social effects. Dying alone would likely be very taboo. Street people who hide under bridges would not be okay...imagine if one got sick and died while hidden under a bridge or hidden somewhere...suddenly you have a zombie or a ghoul in the middle of town so they take actions to prevent it. Honestly sounds really cool....but how do you explain that the burial back in session one had NOTHING to do with this at all? Logically the tendency of the dead to rise in this society would have become a thing in their funeral rights...and the town is part of the same society/culture....errrr say that valley is special and it doesn't happen there...cool...it is known as the "Valley of Peace" outside of the place or something...sounds good at first glance but, still doesn't make sense. Put yourself in the position of someone with lets say decent money in the main area of the nation and you are growing older and sicker....do you want to risk coming back as zombie? would it have an effect on the disposition of your soul? and just think of the social shame if your good for nothing kids don't visit in time. Nope You're going to go up to the valley of peace and die there and not have to worry about it and can even say how much a good civic citizen you are being by not being a threat....congrats you and every other person with a fear that death will come soon and enough money/freedom to travel....that many people would effect that valley. People would want to live there for lack of undead threat....make it too small or can't support the farming? fine but they would still want to die there, just it being special and obviously blessed would see to that. Now the valley having lots hospices, hospitals, inns for travelers go to and from said places and probably pilgrimage sites...well all that would have been pretty visible to your players if it was there. And shoot it is pretty cool all by itself. . . but is really hard to square with what their actual experience was...This could well be a game breaking shift mid stream where the players never quite gel again in spite of both part being really good ideas and well crafted.
    ...now if you had waited a week until you knew that roughly the dead auto-rise in most of the nation but not here (because you're not ready to work out the detail yet) and a major part of the valley's economy is catering to the dying, their visitors, women of means about to/just have given birth (childbirth is dangerous as all get out-for both mother and child, would certainly qualify as "expecting death" or at least high risk) etc...then you could have just said the village you started in mostly supplies food to a larger town with its hospital and chapel that are mostly for outsiders...toss in a comment or two about being in a blessed land and the rising of the dead in the burial scene and make the abandoned building originally be a something vaguely related (a spa or something for sick people) and you'd have a near perfect lead in for whatever you wanted to do outside the valley later. ANd again at the time you started only the basics of what was going on death rising etc was known. The dead auto rise in most of nation, but not here and those with money come here when sick or really old etc ... All you need to start really but really hard to retcon around. Similarly if the whole nation lives in terror of being invaded by its giant imperial neighbor...probably want to at least establish the existence of that kinda early, probably a vague sense of its aggressiveness etc. You don't need to know its line of succession but because it effects how the place is set up (towers and defensive walls) and its society (size of military, who gets local respect, etc etc). Who knows if the empire will invade or the players will decide to wander over there in during or after their zombie chasing but it puts the seeds down to grow.


    as part of the spoiler edit but not the same exact topic....also I think worlds especially sandboxes should move without the players. Stuff should happen off camera. Possible adventure lines that the players didn't take should resolve themselves somehow and maybe the players will get to hear about it. I tend to kinda size up the situation see what power centres would likely be involved and roll a couple dice. to kinda give me the picture of what happened. A town that was dealing with orcs? it is got a nat 1 maybe it got wiped out really bad numbers may see a few refugees shuffle across the paths of the PC's...or maybe they got a nat 20 and fended them off and are now heroes or have a band of heroes that led them in a great defense - maybe to later act as rivals, allies, frenemies, for the PC's....but in all cases it shows the players that the choices they make for the PC's have consequences as well as the larger world exists around their characters and moves without them. I tend to find this both really aids engagement and gets around a lot of the self-motivation problems that some sandboxes can get to...where it seems that lots of players just sit waiting to be told what to do.
    Last edited by sktarq; 2020-10-23 at 10:46 PM.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    This depends heavily on what system you're using and how you use that system. In particular, it depends on how much power creep the system allows for characters to attain. D&D is one of the most power creep heavy systems in existence, making it actually a real outlier among RPGs. Very few other systems allow for such drastic changes in character capability over the course of a story. In most other systems characters start out at Power Level X at chargen and over the course of a campaign advance to power level X+N, where N is never sufficient to launch them all the way to Power Level Y. Scope, therefore, in non-D&D systems, is largely tied to the amount of points handed out at chargen (GURPs, for one, is very explicit about this), because that value determines the sort of challenges they can engage with. Essentially, you initially decide what the party is, whether its a group of low fantasy mercenaries, a group of kids at a wizard academy, a high-powered world-saving super team, or even a group of anthropomorphic mice and the scope will follow naturally from the kind of stories that party is capable of facing.

    This changes when you're dealing with D&D or some other system (often a derivative of D&D like various d20 license games) where significant power creep is baked into the system. This creates a problem for world-building because ultimately in such a system your scope is dependent upon the maximum level of power the party will ultimately obtain which you can't actually know from the start because you don't know how long the campaign will last (campaigns are far more likely to end early than go long), leading to the potential problem of the ultimate challenge ending up well beyond the grasp of the characters. There's also the issue that power creep is troubling for settings overall, because the existence of characters who are often several orders of magnitude more powerful than the start point inevitably begs the question of why don't those characters solve the problem du jour rather than sitting on their hands until our heroes gain enough power to handle it.


    Scale is rather a different issue. A story can be massive in scope while being tiny in scale, a good example being the Persona games, which mostly happen in a single town or city and involve all members of a single school, but possess storylines concerned with the fate of reality itself. This is common in superhero stories too - the Infinity War saga scales the conflict for the fate of the entire universe down to control of six shiny rocks that fit a single glove. Such scale compression actually makes a lot of sense for tabletop RPGs, which are mostly focused on small group tactical experiences in combat and person to person social encounters or problem solving otherwise and not massive set piece battles or huge government enterprises.
    Resvier: a P6 homebrew setting

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    What do you all think would be the minimum amount of work that could be done to make a campaign functional, implying much more scale & scope, while in reality minimizing the workload for a DM (or GM, whatever)?

    I've kinda been focused on this, mostly because of the existence of this thread. Best I can do is come up with a Seafaring campaign, sometimes transporting passengers or cargo, sometimes exploring old ruins & what-not, with maybe rumors while at a seaport building a story for something down the line.

    In that situation, I'd crank out the details of the ship & crew, anticipated dungeons/encounters/adventure hooks, a very basic world map with the next few Ports named, basic idea of regional cultures, and a few NPCs in case of surprises.

  9. - Top - End - #9
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    Quote Originally Posted by Adamantrue View Post
    What do you all think would be the minimum amount of work that could be done to make a campaign workable, implying much more scale & scope while in reality minimizing the workload for a DM (or GM, whatever)?

    I've kinda been focused on this, mostly because of the existence of this thread. Best I can do is come up with a Seafaring campaign, sometimes transporting passengers or cargo, sometimes exploring old ruins & what-not, with maybe rumors while at a seaport building a story for something down the line.

    In that situation, I'd crank out the details of the ship & crew, anticipated dungeons/encounters/adventure hooks, a very basic world map with the next few Ports named, basic idea of regional cultures, and a few NPCs in case of surprises.
    The minimum amount of work is to set the campaign in a single location, usually a city, that is both unusually cosmopolitan - thereby increasing scope - and also for some reason of outsize importance politically - thereby increasing scale. The classic D&D example is setting a campaign in Sigil, which being the nexus of the multiverse is of paramount importance and PCs can both encounter phenomenally strange environments and exert profound influence without ever leaving its boundaries (Planescape: Torment only leaves Sigil very briefly towards the end and manages to be massively epic in both scope and scale). Doing this does tend to mean the campaign has to be at least somewhat politically oriented, or as often referred to in RPG supplements about 'intrigue' because you achieve scope and scale by manipulating the existing levers of power rather than essentially forging new ones with armies or artifacts.

    One important trick to making this work is to show how the decisions made by the upper echelon echo downwards to impact the teeming masses through the use of refugees, slums, returning veterans, food riots, or various other social disturbances. The second half of the movie Gladiator - in which the actions of a tiny number of people in an arena can influence an empire of many millions through the will of the urban mob - is an excellent example of how this is done.
    Resvier: a P6 homebrew setting

  10. - Top - End - #10
    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    The minimum amount of work is to set the campaign in a single location, usually a city, that is both unusually cosmopolitan - thereby increasing scope - and also for some reason of outsize importance politically - thereby increasing scale. The classic D&D example is setting a campaign in Sigil, which being the nexus of the multiverse is of paramount importance and PCs can both encounter phenomenally strange environments and exert profound influence without ever leaving its boundaries (Planescape: Torment only leaves Sigil very briefly towards the end and manages to be massively epic in both scope and scale). Doing this does tend to mean the campaign has to be at least somewhat politically oriented, or as often referred to in RPG supplements about 'intrigue' because you achieve scope and scale by manipulating the existing levers of power rather than essentially forging new ones with armies or artifacts.

    One important trick to making this work is to show how the decisions made by the upper echelon echo downwards to impact the teeming masses through the use of refugees, slums, returning veterans, food riots, or various other social disturbances. The second half of the movie Gladiator - in which the actions of a tiny number of people in an arena can influence an empire of many millions through the will of the urban mob - is an excellent example of how this is done.
    Mapping and populating a city seems like a good amount of work to me, considering what I'd need to be satisfied as a DM/GM. Don't get me wrong, I've done it plenty, and I'm sure most of us can pull it off purely out of habit at this point. But it is still time consuming enough.

    On the flip side, using my Seafaring example, I'd need to get ahold of the layout of a ship, generate the NPC crew, and find/make a map for the region the ship roams through. Most of us could knock that out in a few hours, I'd think.

  11. - Top - End - #11
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Flumph

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    Default Re: Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    Quote Originally Posted by Adamantrue View Post
    Mapping and populating a city seems like a good amount of work to me, considering what I'd need to be satisfied as a DM/GM. Don't get me wrong, I've done it plenty, and I'm sure most of us can pull it off purely out of habit at this point. But it is still time consuming enough.

    On the flip side, using my Seafaring example, I'd need to get ahold of the layout of a ship, generate the NPC crew, and find/make a map for the region the ship roams through. Most of us could knock that out in a few hours, I'd think.
    EEP! I would totally disagree om the seafaring idea. If anything I would say that would be one of the most complex and work heavy setups I could think of.

    Spoiler: why seafaring is scary
    Show
    Okay Why? Lets just say your PC's start out...and another ship passes by and the your players hail them....AND suddenly you need that ship needs an origin..both for where the ship just came from and where its originally from...plus the same for the crew, which may not be from the same areas themselves as ship crews can tend to be rather cosmopolitan. Plus what is carrying? Why? and do it all again for every ship your players cross....either on the high seas or in whatever port they head to.
    Oh right with the high seas idea you players can pretty much pick any port and away they go pretty easy...which means you need to be able to deal with whatever choice they make....Now as a more DM driven game where there is a "main plot" and the DM has a fair idea of where the PC's will want to go, in a player driven plot style (more "sandbox" for a term) you have to be ready EVERYWHERE and that is hard.
    So when the PC's show up to some port on that map....what do they find? Ports are kinda a pain. Ships and port need a TON of specialist work and materials....thus when you have the PC's meet a ship you have implied that a ton of other stuff exists...Woodlands, lumber yards, skilled woodworkers, fiber sources (usually farms), fiber workers to make rope, nets, sailcloth etc, source of metals. metalworkers etc for all the fittings chains etc (and quite a lot of this is quite advanced) plus skilled navigators, navigation tools, specialized marine construction to set up things like piers, and all the food, governance, protection, etc to support all of the above. And all of those resources have to a reason to be spent. What is the point of the port? They need to have a reason...classically it is a difference in supply and demand for various commodities in different places. Those reasons explain who shows up at the port, what people do there (buying X, selling Y, etc). and that is a lot of work....let alone what those various group that show up are even like for the PC's to deal with.
    You know how I've been saying that areas outside of the PC's will deal with can be just sketched out? Lots of seafaring kinda kills that. you only need to really develop what the PC's are likely to touch and what is will touch and shape those things. a seafaring campaign basically lets everything touches in way more places and lots more touches wherever the players end up.
    and don't get me started on pirates....because pirates need a tons of weird stuff. They seem simple but are not. Firstly they need prey....usually that is other ships but can also be shoreline raiding (think more like vikings or barbary pirates for examples) And what do they get from these raids? Slaves, cargo, supplies, and the ships themselves seem the most obvious ...but what can the pirates do with them. Most pirates will want the supplies and possibly some slaves and a minority of ships for themselves but the cargo, rest of slaves and ships are only really valuable if they can converted into goods and/or currency that the pirates do want. So the pirates need some way to do that. So either sponsors, ability to hide the fact they are pirates or pirate ports...and pirate ports will need somehow to get those things back into normal trade routes for them to be valuable to the people at the port that the pirates would sell to. And if there are too many pirates in the area you are going to need both quite a lot of traffic and it too be rather profitable in order for people to keep building and sending ships if the risk of piracy is to be tolerated. Pirates are basically parasites and if you want to build a parasite you need to have a decent idea of the host it is living off of.


    Spoiler: what would be easy
    Show
    So what things easy? Simplify. I'd say....pick a boarder/frontier region of a semidistant developed nation. Many towns and the like will be highly simplified...Things you want to not really develop or forget can be imported from the main part of the nation. You do have to get some idea of main nation but you don't have to get really into the weeds but at the same time you can lean on it for stuff that the local system couldn't support (rare training for example). There are in general fewer power centres to track. Not a lot of major outside groups have major effects....they may have big effects (like the big Orc tribe matters alot) but there only a few players. Any given area tend to be pretty basic and simple internally and often driven by individuals rather than systems..and individuals can be non-sensible and quirky which can help cover anything weird. Lots of unknowns can be left pretty blurry in the what is already there and beyond the frontier. You should have a reason why people are settling the region and all but that can be pretty easy
    Last edited by sktarq; 2020-10-25 at 10:29 PM.

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    Default Re: Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    EEP! I would totally disagree om the seafaring idea. If anything I would say that would be one of the most complex and work heavy setups I could think of.

    Spoiler: why seafaring is scary
    Show
    Okay Why? Lets just say your PC's start out...and another ship passes by and the your players hail them....AND suddenly you need that ship needs an origin..both for where the ship just came from and where its originally from...plus the same for the crew, which may not be from the same areas themselves as ship crews can tend to be rather cosmopolitan. Plus what is carrying? Why? and do it all again for every ship your players cross....either on the high seas or in whatever port they head to.
    Oh right with the high seas idea you players can pretty much pick any port and away they go pretty easy...which means you need to be able to deal with whatever choice they make....Now as a more DM driven game where there is a "main plot" and the DM has a fair idea of where the PC's will want to go, in a player driven plot style (more "sandbox" for a term) you have to be ready EVERYWHERE and that is hard.
    So when the PC's show up to some port on that map....what do they find? Ports are kinda a pain. Ships and port need a TON of specialist work and materials....thus when you have the PC's meet a ship you have implied that a ton of other stuff exists...Woodlands, lumber yards, skilled woodworkers, fiber sources (usually farms), fiber workers to make rope, nets, sailcloth etc, source of metals. metalworkers etc for all the fittings chains etc (and quite a lot of this is quite advanced) plus skilled navigators, navigation tools, specialized marine construction to set up things like piers, and all the food, governance, protection, etc to support all of the above. And all of those resources have to a reason to be spent. What is the point of the port? They need to have a reason...classically it is a difference in supply and demand for various commodities in different places. Those reasons explain who shows up at the port, what people do there (buying X, selling Y, etc). and that is a lot of work....let alone what those various group that show up are even like for the PC's to deal with.
    You know how I've been saying that areas outside of the PC's will deal with can be just sketched out? Lots of seafaring kinda kills that. you only need to really develop what the PC's are likely to touch and what is will touch and shape those things. a seafaring campaign basically lets everything touches in way more places and lots more touches wherever the players end up.
    and don't get me started on pirates....because pirates need a tons of weird stuff. They seem simple but are not. Firstly they need prey....usually that is other ships but can also be shoreline raiding (think more like vikings or barbary pirates for examples) And what do they get from these raids? Slaves, cargo, supplies, and the ships themselves seem the most obvious ...but what can the pirates do with them. Most pirates will want the supplies and possibly some slaves and a minority of ships for themselves but the cargo, rest of slaves and ships are only really valuable if they can converted into goods and/or currency that the pirates do want. So the pirates need some way to do that. So either sponsors, ability to hide the fact they are pirates or pirate ports...and pirate ports will need somehow to get those things back into normal trade routes for them to be valuable to the people at the port that the pirates would sell to. And if there are too many pirates in the area you are going to need both quite a lot of traffic and it too be rather profitable in order for people to keep building and sending ships if the risk of piracy is to be tolerated. Pirates are basically parasites and if you want to build a parasite you need to have a decent idea of the host it is living off of.
    Having ran portions of some of my prior games in a seabound setting, I disagree.

    Firstly, I would put an NPCaptain in charge of the ship to start, not the PCs. In time, I'd expect the PCs to be more in control, but at first the bunch of them combined couldn't afford a ship, let alone pay the crew. The NPCaptain at least puts the next few setting on rails, and can put a timer on how long they spend at port. You know what's coming next that way, and only need to develop what you need there.

    If they come across something, its a planned encounter I either expected, or had in my back pocket in case there was a lull or went in in an odd direction, buying me time for the next session.

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    Default Re: Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    Note that the DM isn't always in control of scale and scope, at least without lots of invisible walls.

    I tried a small scale, points of light setting at first. But players continually asked (through their characters actions) "what's over that hill? Why is it what it is? How can we change it?" And it turned out that that was really fun.

    So now, 6 years and a dozen groups later, I've got a sprawling setting with something like 300 wiki articles written and a backlog of 400+ more to go. With endless more that could be written.

    Heck, I spent a month researching and writing 10+ pages on dress styles. And that only covered a few of the cultures in one small area of the map.
    Dawn of Hope: a 5e setting. http://wiki.admiralbenbo.org
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    Default Re: Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    Border/Frontier regions tend to be rather limited in scale though, even if they have a vast scope. Pretty much any frontier region is inherently of less significance than the settled region it is drawing from, to the point that even when the residents of a border region conquer the central region - as happened with some historical regularity regarding steppe nomads and China - the much greater population of the central region results in it remaining dominant over time.

    So if you want to give a border/frontier region considerable scale you need to increase its importance somehow. Good options including making it the sole source of some form of McGuffinite - Dune is perhaps the best example of this - or providing it with outsize importance culturally, such as a 'holy land.' In a fantasy context you can also make the border region the source of some horrific evil that must be confronted - Pathfinder does this with the 'Worldwound' region.
    Resvier: a P6 homebrew setting

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    Default Re: Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    Quote Originally Posted by Adamantrue View Post
    Having ran portions of some of my prior games in a seabound setting, I disagree.

    Firstly, I would put an NPCaptain in charge of the ship to start, not the PCs. In time, I'd expect the PCs to be more in control, but at first the bunch of them combined couldn't afford a ship, let alone pay the crew. The NPCaptain at least puts the next few setting on rails, and can put a timer on how long they spend at port. You know what's coming next that way, and only need to develop what you need there.

    If they come across something, its a planned encounter I either expected, or had in my back pocket in case there was a lull or went in in an odd direction, buying me time for the next session.
    I did mention that if it is DM driven it can be predicted but as a sandbox it is very difficult. And I stand by that. I'd also still bet it can well be rather fragile if your players decide to not cooperate with your plans or even just start poking around/asking annoying questions...not due to any lack of skill but just nobody can create a fully logical, sensible, and interesting/original culture totally on the fly, and if they start asking about some ship you just mentioned in passing thjat moored to a different pier you may need to. With the right group of players you can certainly pull it off...but I'm not sure that is so much setting dependent as player group dependent. I mean you can go back to some of the oldschool pre-2e DnD and there is pretty generic town and the like and the game certainly works if the players buy in....full worldbuilding isn't actually needed to have fun for a lot of people. And a fast moving game where your players never deal with anyone for very long or deep probably doesn't need anywhere near as much detail as say a published setting but is going to require a similar sort of buy in. Session zero would be highly recommended to make sure that is available. And once the PC's can get their own boat I'd say you'd need a main DM driven plot to prevent the whole mess just being delayed a few levels but now having to make sure you stay consistent to what you said before.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mechalich View Post
    Border/Frontier regions tend to be rather limited in scale though, even if they have a vast scope. Pretty much any frontier region is inherently of less significance than the settled region it is drawing from, ......... outsize importance culturally, such as a 'holy land.... - Pathfinder does this with the 'Worldwound' region.
    I totally agree...but that was a response to what type of setting required the least work. Smaller scope and scale is something that can well be a tradeoff for the ease of building it. Small scope and scale can produce many great stories

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    Default Re: Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    Small scope and scale can produce many great stories.

    Probably the best quote I have read in a while, and a fantastic summation of my point.

    Yes, as much worldbuilding as you have time to do is better, but for a new DM, a new player group, or a quick start for a new game, you can get started with surprisingly little.

    A village of 80 with about 8 fleshed out NPCs, a nearby dungeon with multiple paths to deeper levels, and a direct import of the PHB cosmology being assumed and you are off to the races!

    But even a beginning worldbuilder will have some aspirations. She may well have ambitions to ultimately create a fully fleshed out multiverse. So, even though she may begin as I suggested, (most DMs will want to begin with more, admittedly,) it is possible to grow the setting. The trick is to not overthink it.

    (My assumptions begin with the idea that the world is being built for a player group. If this is not true, feel free to disregard what follows.)

    After your game sessions have a discussion with the players. I used the time to calculate and award exp while discussing with the players what worked, what failed, and what they were curious about. With this info I would go into the next week's building and adapt to what I learned. Then, when the next game session was ready I would look at my maps or cultures and write about something that caught my attention. In this way my world grew constantly and i never had to worry about my players walking off the edge of the map.

    But my world didn't just get bigger, it evolved. For example, clerics originally had to be Lawful or Chaotic. There wasn't much else to worry about. Then the G/E axis was added along with a vague reference to gods. We went with Greek because it was somewhat familiar to us, but as the gods did little but grant spells it never mattered. Then a player showed up with Deities and Demigods and suddenly we had all kinds of gods and rules for what they could do.

    Were these retcons? Yes, but at each stage the old PCs were either assumed to know or they were able to learn in game that what they thought they knew was not complete and there was more to the story. By the time 3rd ed came out there had been many of these upgrades to my campaign setting. They never required throwing the whole thing away and starting over, and because I always included my players in such changes, it never created immersion-breaking or 'ruining' someone's character. Transitions were always talked out at the game table before they went in.
    Last edited by brian 333; 2020-10-26 at 09:49 AM.

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    Default Re: Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    Having explored the minimum and been horrified by the potential of the maximum, it may be a good time to consider what an optimum starting setting might require.

    Beginning with scale, a new setting needs a detailed map of the first adventure zone. The map should be no more than a day travel from the start location, and the DM must be familiar enough with the region to adjudicate encounters in that area.

    The scope within this region must be very detailed. Who and what lives there, and how do they interact? What is the likely reaction to the arrival of PCs?

    An encounter table, with nighttime alternates if appropriate, would be a good place to begin, and explaining how these creatures interact would go a long way to informing the DM's choices.

    As an example, suppose your table has herd animals, goblins, and hill giants. Brainstorming gave me an idea:

    The herd animals could be sheep. The sheep could be tended, (haphazardly,) by the giants, and poached by the goblins. Harassing the sheep might annoy the giants if they see or hear it happening. The giants may trade mutton and sheepskins with the human villagers for potatoes and barley, and the occasional manufactured item. On the other hand, the goblins are despised as raiders and thieves. Being persecuted causes them to split into small bands of a dozen or so and move around to make it difficult to be caught.

    This is an example only, and whatever the local conditions, it need not reflect the global racial outlook. Locals may be more or less tolerant than the world at large, and in my example, worldwide opinion may consider goblins civilized and hill giants brutes. But the focus, or scope, must be on what the PCs can touch.

    Having a starting location and an adventure prepared, it is time to step back and expand the scale again. What is within a week's march? The scope in this need not be as focused, but a general idea of what the PCs might encounter and how these locations interact is important.

    At this point issues of cosmology and the outer planes become something to consider. Having deities for the PCs and a general idea of how the outer planes interact allows the players to build on the mythology for their characters and deities, and adds depth to the setting.

    With all of this done, now may be a good time to create a world map and explore some questions about the cultures found there and deities they worship. But the focus should be on expanding the scope around the adventure zone.

    At this point I guestimate about 60 hours of writing with twice that in more casual brainstorming, or about a month of writing an average of two hours per day. Experienced writers can cut this in half. But then, the point of this article is to help new DMs.

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    Default Re: Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    Quote Originally Posted by brian 333 View Post
    [stuff]

    ...With all of this done, now may be a good time to create a world map and explore some questions about the cultures found there and deities they worship. But the focus should be on expanding the scope around the adventure zone...
    I generally want to have a world map & the cultures within first, or at the very least early. While I agree that the focus should be around the "adventure zone", I believe a general understanding of the world early on informs too much to not at least have the bones of the world in place. And sometimes, you get inspired from that stage of world building with ideas that you'd want to include from the start.

    For example, knowing the relationships between cultures ensures that how you populate starter locations, and determining the types of encounters and adventures to craft, make sense down the road.

    If you are going to tailor your world for characters your PCs want to play, you may have to make accommodations early in your world, to not compromise verisimilitude (I can't believe I used that word). Or maybe you put the onus on them to ensure a believable fit, but their eagerness means asking questions when you've just started your work.

    Not saying you have to have every aspect of your world map covered & every culture fleshed out first. I honestly like to keep open areas undefined, in case I want to insert something later & need a place to squeeze it in.

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    Default Re: Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    World scale ideas in the beginning must be vague and or flexible, because the vast scale equates to vast building times. However, I don't disagree that knowing your world helps as your players explore it.

    The issue with your world building invalidating a player's character concept is one I don't understand. You don't have Jedi in Oz or Shaolin monks in Middle Earth. On the other hand, if an early character is a paladin then it is easy enough to take that into account while worldbuilding.

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    Default Re: Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    Quote Originally Posted by brian 333 View Post
    The issue with your world building invalidating a player's character concept is one I don't understand. You don't have Jedi in Oz or Shaolin monks in Middle Earth. On the other hand, if an early character is a paladin then it is easy enough to take that into account while worldbuilding.
    Easy example: The game world I'm working on, Dwarves are basically stand-ins for Feudal Japan. Traditional Dwarven stereotypes don't exist, but are common and popular choices, especially for some of my old-school players.

    Less easy example: I once chose to run a game in a stone-age setting, with some very specific exceptions. Most armors weren't on the table, weapon selection was limited, etc, unless you were an Elf. Elves didn't trade above a certain level of "technology", and the prices were all skewed. Totally changed character generation.

    I could probably come up with a few more examples, if I thought about it.

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    Default Re: Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    The largest campaign I ever run took place in all of reality and was complete insanity (entering a magic bag, dora the explorer on tv, the omnitrix type device on a wall that turned the party wizard into a dolphin then an american chestnut tree, turning all narraration off, bringing the campaign to a halt until the players realized how the lever worked. hitchiker guide type stuff, 26 dimensional living maps, trading souls for concessions in a train that was a dimension in and of itself, travelling to a far future sci-fi without magic, hunting the bbeg from the last campaign, going from planet to dungeon to galaxy to train to hotel to their deaths as a result of a single roll.) Fun, but never again.
    Empire!6
    Check it out. It's fun.

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    Default Re: Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    Quote Originally Posted by Adamantrue View Post
    Easy example: The game world I'm working on, Dwarves are basically stand-ins for Feudal Japan. Traditional Dwarven stereotypes don't exist, but are common and popular choices, especially for some of my old-school players.

    Less easy example: I once chose to run a game in a stone-age setting, with some very specific exceptions. Most armors weren't on the table, weapon selection was limited, etc, unless you were an Elf. Elves didn't trade above a certain level of "technology", and the prices were all skewed. Totally changed character generation.

    I could probably come up with a few more examples, if I thought about it.
    For a player to play in such a setting they must buy into the concept in the same way you must buy into the idea of Jedi in Star Wars. But you began the setting concept with these ideas rather than adopted them after your campaign had begun and dwarf characters had been played.

    It is perfectly fine to begin worldbuilding with large scale concepts. My point is that at some point you must narrow the scale to what is in reach of the PCs, and that the majority of your worldbuilding must be within a scope they can affect.

    As an example, when I drew my first regional map back in 1982 I concieved the main villain who was behind the various enemies the PCs had faced. Then I set about building his lair and the region around it. I created detailed lists of the organized units, down to the hit points of individual soldiers, and I created elaborate random encounter tables. This work took me from Christmas of 82 to summer of 83, and all that while I was running a Friday and Saturday evening game. I was rarely prepared for the game sessions because I spent my time on The Lair of the Lich King.

    It was1996 before my first adventure there.

    The point is, knowing the lich was there affected many later decisions I made, but I wasted a winter and spring of regular game nights playing off the cuff because I was building outside the scope of my PC groups.

    What I should have done, as I later learned, is to make a note and keep it on file so I could add to it over time, and focused my building on what the PCs were going to do next.

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    Default Re: Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    Sample Example:

    The village of Talver is a small market village on a bend of The Forest River. Its population of 80, mostly human, inhabitants serves the nearby farms. There is no wall or fortification to defend the village which depends upon the river to guard it on three sides and the steep slope of the collapsed bluff to guard its Western approach.

    The Military Highway bisects the village as it drops from the bluff to the Forest River Ferry. The ferry is a tethered barge attached by a thick rope to a tree on the upstream point about a hundred yards South of the landing, and is operated by a single gnome who steers it at an angle into the current, causing it to swing from one bank to the other. The ramps and deck of the barge appear to have been intended to carry horses.

    Talver has no inn, but a Town Hall has ample floor space to accomodate visitors with a large corral in the adjacent lot.

    The village has a dry goods emporium and a barber shop which advertises 'painless' tooth extraction and surgical services. There is an apothecary, and careful inquiry will disclose the address of a retired army mage.

    So, now I have some NPCs to create, and I need a reason for the PCs to be here. I have already decided what the introductory quest will be: giant insects eating the local crops. The PCs will be offered room and board to kill the locusts with a 10gp bounty per bug slain. It has not been mentioned that the farmers will offer a bonus of riding horses for a job well done. The age and degree of training depends on how well the job is done.

    I need a map of the region and of the battlefield area. A map of Talver would be nice.

    Unanswered questions:
    What is a military highway, and why is there a ferry?
    Why does the village feel safe without walls?

    Now is a good time to consider from where the PCs come. I have yet to make any regional decisions, and I have no maps. So, I will create a rough sketch for background information and let the players flesh it out.

    This is the handout I will give them prior to their rolling up characters:

    For PCs all PHB races and classes are available. Custom classes and classes from other sources are accepted only on a case by case basis.

    As the outer planes are as yet undefined, the deities in this campaign will not directly intervene other than through the granting of spells. Players are free to develop background for their characters' patron or to leave this as vague as they like. At this time the worship of deities is a roleplaying decision.

    Within 100 miles of the starting village there will be a cosmopolitan city, and any character can be from there.

    Many human and halfling farming villages and towns support the city.

    Dwarves have two homelands, both in distant mountains. Mountain dwarves will be from one of these, while hill dwarves will be from the families of dwarves who live and work as craftsmen among the lowland races.

    Elves have a xenophobic nation at the headwaters of the Forest River, and while in recent years some few have come out to trade, the forest is guarded and intruders are unwelcome.

    Because of this, there will be few half-elf NPCs, but players should feel free to play half-elves who originate from human lands.

    Twenty years ago the Earl of the Northmarch fought off an invasion of humanoid tribes and tripled the size of his fief. The result of that conflict was a lot of halfbreed children, some of whom were raised in the remnant tribal hiddouts while others were raised, with varying degrees of acceptance, among humans. While the Earl, now promoted to Duke, has decreed that all of the tribal peoples living under the law are protected by the law, prejudice is not uncommon.

    Gnomes are from a distant homeland and folk generally know little about them, which the gnomes seem not to mind.

    More to come.
    Last edited by brian 333; 2020-11-09 at 11:50 AM.

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    Default Re: Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    Quote Originally Posted by Adamantrue View Post
    What do you all think would be the minimum amount of work that could be done to make a campaign functional, implying much more scale & scope, while in reality minimizing the workload for a DM (or GM, whatever)?
    I've always felt that the best way to imply more scale and scope than is initially visible is to literally imply it directly to the players with references, allusions, unusual NPCs, and such.

    An excellent example of this is the original Star Wars trilogy. It's easy to forget with all the EU material created over the years, but there were a ton of great throwaway lines in the movies that made the galaxy feel like a bigger place even though no one knew exactly what they were referencing.

    "We'll be sent to the spice mines of Kessel!" + "...made the Kessel Run..." -> Ooh, there's a penal colony/planet out there called Kessel, and people are doing smuggling and prison breaks there. I wonder, is that 'spice' as in Dune, or...?

    "General Kenobi, years ago you served my father in the Clone Wars..." -> Clone Wars? Is that, like, clones on both sides, or a war against clones, or...? And are there tons of clones still hanging around somewhere?

    "I've outrun Imperial starships--not the local bulk-cruisers, mind you, I'm talking about the big Corellian ships now." -> Okay, so there's a place or company called 'Corellia' known for making really big ships that are also really fast, and they're a cut above the standard ships in the Empire.

    "No disintegrations!" -> Disintegration weapons are a thing, this guy apparently has a reputation for using them, and he and Vader have a history.

    "Oh, well, someone must have told them about my little maneuver at the Battle of Taanab." -> There was a battle at a place called Taanab that was big and/or important enough that they jumped Lando to the rank of general for his accomplishments there.

    "Many Bothans died to bring us this information." -> So, 'Bothans' are a group of particularly good or well-known spies or agents or whatever, and they must be a pretty big group if they could sacrifice a noteworthy number of members to get those plans.

    And so forth.

    So you don't need to have a whole world map to start, you just need to know that the starting town is near Imperial Bay and the reason the town guard is mostly made up of retired Tangaran troops is that they settled there after being shipwrecked in the Battle of Ivory Point a few decades back. You don't need to have a detailed economic system to start, you just need to know that Maaray architecture is all the rage in the capital, and all the stones used to create all those fancy mosaics come up the Steel Way from the quarries in South Tangar. You don't need to have a detailed religion to start, you just need to know that people swear by "the Three Hells" and "the Gods Above and Between," and that the worshipers of the Chirrashan pantheon stick their little hexagram-and-sword symbol on freakin' everything.

    So come up with a bunch of references to people, places, fashion, architecture, history, battles, gods, you name it, and sprinkle them in wherever it makes sense--not enough to overwhelm the party with a loredump, but enough to make it feel natural. And the best part about this approach is that you don't have to pre-prep everything, you just need to add detail regarding the things the PCs seem to be interested in. If you namedrop the Faith of Chirrasha and the Church of the Ancestral Winds and the players think the Faith's symbology and tenets are much cooler than the Church's, well then obviously most of the world outside the starting town leans toward the Faith over the Church too and always has, wink wink.

    Quote Originally Posted by Adamantrue View Post
    I generally want to have a world map & the cultures within first, or at the very least early. While I agree that the focus should be around the "adventure zone", I believe a general understanding of the world early on informs too much to not at least have the bones of the world in place. And sometimes, you get inspired from that stage of world building with ideas that you'd want to include from the start.

    For example, knowing the relationships between cultures ensures that how you populate starter locations, and determining the types of encounters and adventures to craft, make sense down the road.
    Agreed. Even just a basic outline of a map on graph paper or in Paint that's full of random dots and names is essential to get a sense of where things are and to give you a place to mark down details as they come up. If you decide during prep (or improvise during a session) that the Duchy of Vyalos is southeast of the March of Westford and they're separated by the Vyandalan River, you want to note that down somewhere so you don't accidentally swap those later.

    A map is usually better than written notes for that, since if you start with a list of "X is east of Y in the forest" and "Z is northwest of W over the mountains" and such and then try to generate a map based on all of those constraints, you're not gonna have a fun time. Whereas with a map you can look at it and go, "Oh, there's already something east of Y, lemme nudge X to be a bit farther north" and avoid any issues cropping up down the line.
    Better to DM in Baator than play in Celestia
    You can just call me Dice; that's how I roll.


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    Darn you PoDL for making me care about a bunch of NPC Commoners!
    Quote Originally Posted by Chambers View Post
    I'm pretty sure turning Waterdeep into a sheet of glass wasn't the best win condition for that fight. We lived though!
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  25. - Top - End - #25
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    HalflingPirate

    Join Date
    Nov 2011

    Default Re: Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    Excellent points, Pair.

    When I made such references in game and players expressed curiosity, I would write a paragraph or two as a handout and pass it around in the next game session. A lot of my worldbuilding was done this way. Remember to lable what PCs commonly know, what the sages might know, and what only the DM will know, (and don't share the last!)

    To continue:

    I now have some NPCs and a village with allusions to a larger world. It's time to create a map of the battle zone. I want this to be four adjacent farms surrounded by the fields of a larger farm owned by a Squire. The Squire is paying the bounties, and while the four farmers own their 10 acre farms and work them for their own benefit, they also are employed by the Squire to tend his fields and horse herds.

    A feed barn at the junction of the wagon paths to the farmhouses is set aside as the adventurers' quarters with a strict admonition about not burning the place down, and the PCs are then brought out to the field where a giant grasshopper is steadily mowing a hay crop.

    I have decided there will be three kinds of grasshoppers:

    Larva are 1hd, AC10, small, 5' move, 1d2 damage. They will not attack, but will defend if grappled.

    Hoppers are 2hd, AC12, medium, 15' move, 15' jump + knockdown, (evasion), 1d4 damage. They will attack in self defense but will not cooperate.

    Locusts are 3hd, AC 13, 20' move, 25' jump + knockdown, (evasion), fly (clumsy) 30', 1d6 damage. They are carnivorous, (and cannibalistic,) at this stage and will attack for food almost anything in their jump radius. While they do not cooperate, if one observes another attacking it may join in. If one of the hoppers or locusts is getting the worst of the fight the uninjured locusts will likely attack it instead.

    The locusts lay 10 to 100 eggs in mulch and abandon them. In 3-5 days they hatch into larvae, which devour the mulch. For every 200 pounds of available mulch a larva survives to become a hopper. In 6-12 days the hopper becomes a locust with the single-minded drive to eat enough to successfully mate and lay eggs. This usually happens in two weeks of maturity. Males typically die during mating, being consumed by their mate and whatever other locusts happen to be around. Females die a day after egg laying.

    Larvae and hoppers are green, but locusts are brown with large heads and mandibles.

    Larvae are preyed upon by giant wasps which paralyze them and lock them in cells with their hatching eggs.

    Hoppers are preyed upon by giant jumping spiders, which leave hollowed out carapaces behind.

    Wasps and spiders occupy the center of the random encounter tables on either end of the locusts. So far my table looks like:

    2 humanoid scout
    3 locust nest (10-100 eggs)
    4 locust nest (10-40 larvae)
    5 giant wasp
    6 locusts (1d4)
    7-8 hoppers (1d6)
    9 giant spider
    10-12 farmer/herder

    The table can grow later to 2-16 or 2-20 as the number of locusts diminishes due to PC activity and the PCs must range farther from the farms.

    Okay, I now have a starting village and adventure ready. This has taken about a week at two hours a day to produce, and will offer about six hours of game time.

    More to come.
    Last edited by brian 333; 2020-11-10 at 11:46 AM.

  26. - Top - End - #26
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    HalflingPirate

    Join Date
    Nov 2011

    Default Re: Scale and Scope Issues for a New Campaign Setting (Open Discussion)

    Now that the first adventure is ready, it is time to expamd a bit. I need a larger map, and I need another adventure. I also may want to give some depth to my world.

    So, for the next adventure I decide to build from the first, and devote more of my build time to background.

    In my encounter table I had humanoid scout, and along the way I decided it would be a kobold. So, what are kobolds doing here? That's where I'll focus my next adventure.

    I need a tribe and a lair. The tribe is easy enough. There will be ten squads of ten warriors, another 20 scouts, and a leader and her bodyguard squad. There will also be 150 non-combatants and their young.

    I don't want every humanoid tribe to live in a cave, but I want my kobolds to reflect the MM description, so they will live in a sprawling, low-roofed tent which covers a maze of gullys at the base of a low cliff. Their lifestyle is communal, mating is earned by serving the tribe well, and the young are raised in a creche by retired elders.

    They hunt, usually at night, by driving (usually wild) herd animals over a cliff or into a gully. The butchering is usually followed by a party.

    10% of the tribe will speak Common, (badly,) and they will typically be among the elders. 50% of scouts speak Common.

    The non-combatants maintain the tents and engage in mining a low-quality jade from bands in the cliff. (There will be about 200 pounds if the village is sacked.) If approached peacefully they will trade jade for arrowheads, spear points, daggers, buckles, and other worked and manufactured goods.

    Okay, now I have the adversary for the next adventure. I need a couple of hours to create a map of the tent and its defenses, (lots of traps,) and I need to generate the squads which may fight. The non-combatants will run away screaming, so they don't need stats.

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