Recent posts in the 30 Days of GMing Challenge got me thinking about campaign construction. Specifically, about how long it’s been since I built a campaign from scratch. I only have so much time in the day, so in recent years I’ve fallen back more and more on the use of pre-written campaign material when I start a new campaign. While I usually (okay, always) tweak it to better suit my players, it isn’t the same as building the campaign from scratch. So I thought it might be interesting to create a campaign setting, much as I would if I were starting with a new group of players. I also thought it would be helpful if I talked through this creation here, so you might pick up ideas on how to build your own campaign from scratch. I’ll post once a week or so on the topic, and go through the steps I use to get a home-built campaign player-ready.
And so it begins…
As I mentioned before, I usually tweak or build the campaign to suit my players and their characters. Since I’m building this campaign without an actual group, I’m going to lay down some base assumptions to get started. If you have a group and are working along with me, feel free to adjust as needed for your own table.
First, this is going to be a fantasy setting. While I enjoy other RPG genres, I have the most fun in a fantasy setting so that’s what I’m going with. Second, I’m working with the Pathfinder RPG in mind, though that will only really start to matter when I begin writing stats. Third, since I don’t have a particular group, I’m going to build with a “standard” group in mind: four characters, fighter, rogue, cleric, mage. I can always adjust the particulars later, for instance if I have a bard as opposed to a wizard I can change some NPCs to better support that class.
With all that in place, lets rough in the village. It doesn’t have to be a village, of course. I could start them off in a city neighbourhood or as part of a nomadic tribe. But if you’re just starting out, a village is a very manageable chunk of world to create. For the first little while my party will find adventure close to home, so it means I can worry about detailing the rest of the world later, and only as needed.
When I need to give a location some flavour, I use what I’ve termed, “the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” method. The Good is some sort of tangible benefit the location bestows. The Bad can be some sort of threat to the location, or the location itself contains some sort of danger. The Ugly is one mystery associated with the location, which could turn out good or bad depending on what the party discovers about it. So using that I come up with:
The Good: The village is a minor trading point, as it is built on the fringe of an ancient and long-ruined city. While the actual population of the village is small, during “dig season” the village almost triples in size, attracting a wide array of adventurers and treasure seekers. While not extensive, resources to support adventurers (healers, magic dealers etc) exist.
The Bad: The village must keep a constant watch against the creatures and humanoid tribes (mostly goblins and troglodytes) inhabiting the recesses of the ruins. While this is easy during dig season, with all manner of adventurers and mercenaries present, it is becoming increasingly difficult in quieter times.
The Ugly: The ancient city is a massive ruin, and generations of explorers have yet to map even a fraction of it’s surface, never mind what lies beneath. The architecture is unfamiliar, and many have speculated the city wasn’t built with humans in mind. Occasionally, runes carved into buildings and monuments glow of their own volition, though with no obvious effects for weal or woe.
Just with those broad strokes in place, I have a location that is both supportive and interesting to my adventurers. The village allows me to narrow my scope at the beginning, while placing it on the edge of a vast ruined city gives me room to grow. And the village gives me the opportunity to weave very personal stories into the adventure, with the proximity of the the characters’ friends, enemies, and family. In fact, that’s what we’ll look at in Part 2.
Does this inspire you to start your own campaign world? Have any suggestions for mine? Tell me about either in the comments!