304 RPG Campaign Talk

You want to run an rpg campaign. Your players roll up characters and you do a few intro adventures, but realize you don’t have anything long-term. Setting up an rpg campaign. Thanks to @Tom for bringing this up.


Patrons have it now. Dropping to everyone Aug 7th at 12:05 cdt.

This is for Tom. Perhaps a brief explanation of my emerging Swords & Wizardry campaign will be of some use to him.

First, I drew a map. I didn’t “construct” anything. The most care I took was that there were at least a few crazy or evocative features, such as the Thirsty Maw and the Purple Obelisk.


I decided the starting location would be in Barton, a totally random town name. I began to wonder what kind of a “town” it was. It thus became “Bard Town.” I won’t weary you with too much world building, but, in short, it became a center for the arts with the Bard as its primary deity.

For the first session, the PCs were confronted with two overt adventure possibilities. It sounds like you have your beginning covered, but you’ll see that the beginning pattern is used again later in campaign development, only in a larger scale.

My PCs are mostly all Level 4 now. They got there by resurrecting the Bard in time for an invasion by “Monogodites.” I began to realize that my players and myself are sick of the sights in Barton, so the PCs need a reason to leave. These invading Monogodites might burn Barton to the water (though the PCs hope to stop this), possibly making a change easier.

I’ve begun to prepare whatever the next stage will be. Brett said to use PC backstories, and this is what I’ve begun. Most notably, Brother Stone, our Monk, who wears a fragment of the Purple Obelisk around his neck, suddenly has become aware that the shard is glowing and emitting a high, soft whistle. He has decided to travel to the Purple Obelisk for answers.

If I need other enticements for the PCs, I have two more bits of “news” ready for two of them. Brother Sanguine, head of PC Johan’s Druid Order, has started murdering the heads of other Orders. “There can be only one.” Johan is from the Red Hills.

Roly the PC Kender will learn that a “ruler” in Kenderhome has embraced the Monogodite religion and is removing the fingers of thieves.

A lot of this has emerged by instinct, but if I’m looking for a structure to this, here’s what I see.

  1. Draw a map. Make it big, but don’t worry about detailing it.

  2. Start small. Provide two or three adventure seeds with small or medium-sized dungeons at the end of each or all of them. Watch what the PCs do.

  3. Share the world map with the players. Allow them to choose locations as their homelands (if they wish) and ideally add features or qualities to them. These will be leveraged for personal PC quests and adventures later on.

  4. Try to be aware of when the players, PCs or Referee have outgrown a location. I recently found myself shortening and skipping parts of my latest dungeon. My players started talking about exploring the world.

  5. Then give the PCs two or three personal reasons to leave.


This is really great stuff @Gabe.

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I have had players not give or develop back stories before. It’s just wasn’t their thing. In some of these cases I gave them, people or places to care about and because the players didn’t worry about this stuff they would most often grab onto the hook and gobble up the bait.
Stuff like "that building that burned was the orphanage your best friend grew up in during your childhood years.
Now, all the kids are safe but what will happen to them. "

“Your estranged sister is missing, all you have is an odd note.”

Often players that have trouble coming up with stuff just need somewhere to start. With just a little fuel these players often help develop great stories.

I most often have my players give me 3 NPCs at session zero. Friends/ family/ enemies even frienimies, with just a short how are they connected with these people. The last campaign two players used the term “a dark stranger”, boom same guy. Now the two PCs are connected.
Not all players care about this stuff and just want to play.
Some players never give me anything in writing, so I take notes on small things they verbalize.

Some players give a 10 page account of the PCs life up to the time the adventure begins. For these players I ask them to point out three important things for me to use. This is easier than me as DM trying to guess what events hold special meaning to the player.
I then try and work these items into the campaign as appropriate. Depending on who needs shine time and what the party is doing.
Even if the game is past session zero you can get some of the items from the players to work in.

One other thing I like to do is have players make NPCs they don’t know. Bar keeps, shop owners city watch. I usually ask for one or two of these. The players get a kick out of me using them and it can save me from coming up with random NPCs on the spot.

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