Starting from scratch (creating a new campaign after 20 years)

     So now that I’ve decided to dip my foot back into a long-lost hobby, I need to decide where to begin.  All of my players will be brand new, ranging in age from late-teens to early 40s.  They are generally all interested in fantasy literature and a few have experienced PC or platform RPGs in the past.

     I guess that the first decision that I’ll have to make lies in choosing a game system.  I would be curious to any advice from you folks regarding this.  I do know that I will want to run them in a “traditional fantasy” setting.  I’m still getting caught up to speed on what products are out there these days so I suppose I’ll have to let this decision sit for a while.  While I’m figuring this out, I still have plenty that I can do.

     Generally speaking, I’ve always preferred GMing and playing in home-grown campaigns.  I would like to give my new players the same kind of feelings that I first experienced back in the early 80s.  That said, sculpting a whole campaign would be a bit of a waste if my group ends up deciding that they’d rather be having a root canal. 

     I guess that I’ll build a very localized area first, which will detail the immediate surroundings of the area where their first adventure will take place.  I will flesh out details for the rest of the world but only enough to cover things which may come up during the first few sessions.  The idea here will be to use my experience (and their lack thereof) to create the illusion that this is a place which is very well-known to me.

***

GEOGRAPHY

     Again, I’m going with a stereotypical fantasy setting here.  As such, the bulk of the “known world” will have a pseudo European feel to it.  Depending on character backgrounds, certain players may have familiarity with other, more exotic areas but that can all be determined during the character creation phase.

     For my initial foray into the setting, I will be using some real-life places from my past to draw upon.  This will allow me the ability to really paint vivid pictures for my players without doing all the ground work that I will have to do as the campaign matures.

RACES & CLASSES

     I am going to go by my personal preference here.  This campaign will be “human centric”, meaning that known world will largely be dominated by humans.  That’s not to say that other races will be unheard of, simply that you wouldn’t expect to be tripping over demi-humans around every corner.

     Obviously, classes will depend largely on the system that I decide on.  I will note though that magic will be somewhat “rare”.  For the setting itself, I wish to foster a sense that magic is something special.  Those who possess magical abilities will be cause for wonder, suspicion, or both.  I just personally feel that this type of campaign is more interesting than one where every tavern is inhabited by four wizards, a couple sorcerers, and witch.

RELIGION

     This is an area which I will only flesh out to the degree necessary at this time.  Obviously, if I end up with any PCs with a holy background I will have some information to cover.  Also my first adventure or two may have elements which may require various references to religions of the world.  For the most part though, I doubt that it will come up and so doesn’t need to be a focus at this time.    

HISTORY

     This is another one of those areas which won’t require too much work at the start.  Points that are critical to the background of the PCs will have to be covered.  I will also have to “color in” the starting area with some detail.

MONSTERS

     As with my feeling about magic for the setting, I would like monsters to be something special as well.  Much of the known world will be quite settled.  While certainly there would be inherent dangers in traveling through the wilds, settled areas won’t often be besieged by roaming bands of monsters.  I would prefer most encounters with monsters to be something that will make players feel a bit of discomfort at what they may be facing.  I suppose I have an advantage here in the fact that all of my players will be brand new.

     I’m still giving some thought about which direction I would like to go with intelligent, humanoid monsters.  Basically, I’ll call this “To orc or not to orc”.  Evil overlords, sinister mages, and otherworldly beings have traditionally used a race of humanoid monsters as their disposable grunts.  The lowly orc is perhaps the most common of these.  As I have yet to decide on the main conflict for the campaign, I’m not really sure whether I will have need for a force like this in the world.

     With my focus being on humans, I suppose that humans themselves could easily fill this role.  Certainly humans have had no qualms about constantly warring with themselves throughout our history.  If not humans, then maybe I could go with something a bit less stereotypical than orcs/goblins.

MAJOR CONFLICT

     Without making the campaign very linear, I would like it to focus along one central conflict.  I tend to always feel this way but especially with new players.  I feel that it will help them become invested in the story. 

     There was a quote I read once which said, “If your players decide to go to Cleveland, you’d better have something for them to do in Cleveland”.  I believe strongly in this and in giving players free will to do what they want.  The main conflict will always be out there.  However, the PCs may end up doing all kinds of interesting things along the way which have nothing to do with it.

     My starting adventure will largely be a stand-alone.  Despite this, I would like to sew some seeds within it, to point toward the big picture.  I believe I will decide this as I develop the first adventure.

CHARACTER CREATION

     Once I have wrapped up this initial batch of work, I’ll work on the creation of the player characters.  Ideally, this will give me a good direction about how I want to flesh out the rest of my campaign. 

     Using the information that I have come up with in the previous points, I will write-up some basic “world information” for each of my players.  I will then work with each of them to figure out what type of character would be most appealing.  Once we have a good idea of that, we’ll work on their backgrounds.

     Finally, I will take the information that I now know about my party and use that to help me answer more questions about the world that I am building for them.

***

        I would be really interested in hearing any input from you folks.  Any suggestions for a Fantasy RPG system?  I was a big fan the HERO System but I’m afraid it may be too clunky for newbies.  Without outside input, I would imagine I’ll end up with D&D 4e or Pathfinder.

     Thanks for reading.  Good gaming!

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9 Comments

Filed under New Campaign

9 responses to “Starting from scratch (creating a new campaign after 20 years)

  1. Ideas off the top of my head are True20 or Houses of the Blooded, with arguments for each.

    True20 runs like D&D, streamlined in several degrees. Classes are scaled back into three Roles aimed at being combat monkey, skill monkey, and then the person with Powers. Most d20 materials can actually be converted into True20 with a conversion chart they provide in the back of the book. That said, this perk is less useful if you intend to keep a more human-centric world. Let’s be honest: the only perks to piles and piles of D&D books is the new monsters, spells, and hooplah. If those are taking a back seat, the value is slightly diminished. Still, True20 is fun, and a Fantasy Roles source exists to let you build what are basically D&D characters with the game’s straight-forward “You Take a Feat Every Level” system. Furthermore, if you buy the revised edition, it includes the Companion book right in with the rest of the book — all one tome. These extra chapters break the game down further, letting you build all new roles in a balanced point-buy manner if you want, and provide rules for messing with advancement (for example… slowing down Powers if you want a toned-down magic presence in a setting). Another bonus with this one is that, at the least, if Fantasy runs dry you don’t have to buy another book. It runs whatever game you set it to run. It’s d20 divorced from the setting trappings.

    And Houses of the Blooded. It’s not really about going off and fighting monsters and slaying dragons and selling your sword for coin and all of that jazz — and from what it sounds like, those aren’t the things your campaign will really be aiming at? In which case, Houses of the Blooded exists. It’s about the intrigue and betrayal and political maneuvering of the various noble Blooded NPCs and PCs. It combines the RPG game with a semi-Risk style metagame where your character is responsible for the well-being and advancement of a Province, and will get to tend to spy networks, traitors, resource shortages, trouble and the like. The thrust of this game is the Style Point, which you spend to do lots of things, but importantly: You spend one, and you add a Detail to the current scene that can grant bonus dice. Lots of the things in this game feed into this idea: do something cool? Style point. Roleplay right into harms way? Style point. Created a great work of art? Won a game of insults? Won a debate? Style points. Furthermore, monsters are present in this setting, but are rarer than in other fantasy games. The Ork (the word for ‘monster’ in the setting’s language) are terrifying and quite deadly — that sounds like a meaningful encounter right there to me! And you can throw in whatever fantasy flairs from there you want. Ork cults, ork allegiances, etc. HUGE perk and HUGE draw of this game is the fact that the players get to define the setting. They have Abilities (called Virtues) that allow them, when rolled, to actually state irrefutable facts about the scene; so, instead of rolling to find clues to a murder, you would announce the murder and the players would roll — and then state what they find, helping to build the adventures and world with you.

    Just my 2 Coppers! I wish you the best of luck!

    • That said, will openly acknowledge that HotB as-is may not be appropriate for your playing group, if only because it openly acknowledges its Sword & Sorcery roots in that love, sex, revenge and violence are obviously hot buttons for courtly intrigue. That is my disclaimer!

  2. Thanks for your input. I’m looking at Savage Worlds at the moment, based on another suggestion. So far, I’m thinking that I might give it a spin.

    I had always enjoyed the Hero System, back in the day. I really enjoyed the whole point system with advantages and disadvantages. It really let you simulate just about any type of character that you could dream up. The major drawback was that it was a bit “clunky” for new players and required a LOT of work for the GM in creating and balancing encounters.

    Savage Worlds seems to be a decent balance so far. I’ve been reading through their free rules and am going to try a couple encounters tonight, to see how it feels.

    Someone else had mentioned HoB and I took a quick peek at it. Looks interesting so far. Will have to see what I can come with.

  3. bonefather

    I am in such total agreement with how you are going about this. I have been homebrewing since I started gaming. Recently I have been playing in a Pathfinder game that is rooted in the core established setting and is a verbatim campaign path. I have found it is not to my tastes (the setting and style). I would love to dive into a delightful homebrew game.

    • Thank you for stopping by and for your comments!

      For myself, I’ve just always found the game-play in a home-grown setting to be more enjoyable. As a GM, it just feels more organic to watch everything “grow” as time goes by. Please check in from time to time. I would love to hear any feedback that you may have.

  4. bonefather

    Not a problem, always glad to make a gaming connection. I have bookmarked this site and added it to my blogroll, so I will be checking back regularly. Game on!

  5. mikemonaco

    I’m 100% with you on prefering home-grown settings. A book full of “important” NPCs, places, etc. kind of discourages improvisation.

    I’ve heard good tihngs about Savage Worlds too but there are some great “retro-clones” of the old D&D/AD&D that are mostly free. The older systems seem a lot more ammenable to house-ruling too, which can help establish the setting. My favorites are Labyrinth Lord and Lamentations of the Flame Princess, although I’m lucky enough to have some olf Moldvay/Cook D&D books and just use the new stuff to supplement them.
    Good luck & have fun!

  6. mikemonaco

    Another stand-by suggestion is GURPS, if you like point-buys and character customization. I understand the latest edition got a little carried away (although a HERO system fan might see that as plus!). There’s a “GURPS lite” free download out there.
    Lastly if you like AD&D but want a more “modernized” treatment of it, Castles & Crusades is a solid system too.

    • Thanks. I’ll have to check those out. The number of different products out there nowadays is amazing to me.

      I am familiar with GURPS from back in the day. I’ll take a peek at their download.

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