Entity Scope, Updated and Explained

A-Z 2014 EThis article expands on a sometimes troublesome piece of the Entity Template I posted earlier.

‘Scope’ measures how broad an influence or impact an entity has on a game. This is not necessarily a measure of how much power an entity has, but power and scope often are related.

Scope Definitions

I use the scope definitions below. I will start with the smallest and work to the largest.


An encounter is analogous to a scene in a book, highlighting and presenting an interaction between some number of entities.

Encounter-scope entities exist primarily for the purpose and within a single encounter. They typically have no real purpose outside it, but may be linked to something larger in the scenario.

Frankly, this scope exists primarily to have somewhere to put things that are not important enough to warrant ‘scenario’ scope. In devising an encounter I might simple list the ‘encounter entities’:

  • leader: Ekaad (ogre), owes (and plans to renege on if possible) a favor to the druid Leiko.
  • shock troops: 2 wolves, Ekaad’s pets.
  • minions: 5 goblins, exiled from the Bonesplitter tribe and serving Ekaad for protection.

The relationships in this encounter are probably pretty obvious, if cliche — ogre has a couple of wolf pets, and the goblins serve out of a sense of fear and self-preservation. There are a couple of relationships outside the encounter, but this could be used almost anywhere without really changing anything. There may be some dynamics to be played on (if the PCs kill Ekaad the goblins’ plans will clearly need to change, and fast), but they are likely to be pretty limited.

Under normal circumstances I would expect my players to get through one to three significant encounters in a session — perhaps three normal ones, one really large one such as might complete a scenario or campaign, or one or two normal ones and some incidental ones.


A scenario is a single situation or location to be played in, and can be expected to involve several encounters, multiple cases of interactions between entities. The entities involved in the encounters may be the same ones or different. In D&D terms this might be a module. I might use Polti’s 36 Dramatic Situations to come up with the basic framework, then elaborate on it.

Entities in this scope exist primarily for the purpose of the scenario being played out. They will often have links to entities in other scenarios or at a larger scope, since this is one of the ways I link from one scenario to another, but don’t themselves directly affect much outside the scenario.

In the long run this is likely to be the “most occupied” scope level. Even if every scenario involves campaign-scope and setting-scope entities they will likely make up less than half the entities involved in a scenario.

In the Forgotten Realms, Shandril’s Saga (Spellfire, Crown of Fire, Hand of Fire) could be considered a campaign, and the individual books/modules would be scenarios.

A typical scenario might involve playing out about 12-15 encounters. I would perhaps outline about 16-20 encounters, on the assumption that the PCs will avoid or miss about a quarter of them. This doesn’t particularly take more work on my part because outlining is not nearly as troublesome and time-consuming as the mechanical preparation I do when it looks like an encounter is imminent. Dungeons & Dragons 3.x assumes “13.33…” encounters per level, and I’m kind of lazy about tracking experience points, so I usually just say everyone levels after each scenario.


A campaign is a set of related scenarios, taking place in a particular setting. There will be some recurring entities (such as major antagonists or allies, or even just NPCs the PCs run into again and again) and themes joining them, but each scenario should be cohesive and coherent enough to be recognizable as such, while still closely-enough associated to be part of a larger whole.

Campaigns are often presented in a linear fashion (the GDQ series of modules may be considered a campaign where the PCs are expected to move linearly from one module to the next), probably largely because of the work required to prepare each scenario. I can see ways this need not be so, though.

In the Forgotten Realms, Shandril’s Saga (Spellfire, Crown of Fire, Hand of Fire) could be considered a campaign, as could the Elminster series (Elminster: Making of a Mage, Elminster in Myth Drannor, The Temptation of Elminster, Elminster in Hell, and Elminster’s Daughter).

Assuming Shandril and the Knights of Myth Drannor are only encountered in the “Shandril’s Saga” campaign, they would have campaign scope.

I usually run campaigns of three to five adventures. I have rarely had players interested in following the same story much longer than that, even if they keep the same PCs, so this is usually a pretty good fit. Again, I outline a little bit more (four to seven, say) on the assumption that not all are needed. This has little practical impact on level advancement in Dungeons & Dragons, but in Echelon I might advance the PCs a tier on completing a campaign. This might mean granting an additional level, or stalling them at the top level of the tier (when they have all the cool stuff for the tier anyway), but I’m pretty comfortable with that. Changing tiers in Echelon gives access to new cool stuff instead of the cool stuff they’ve had access to in the four levels previous, so extending the period they get to play with the coolest stuff of the previous tier is unlikely to be unpopular.


A setting is a place where many campaigns happen. I suspect many people don’t differentiate ‘setting’ and ‘campaign’ — even though I differentiate them when considering things in terms of my processes, I often conflate them in conversation because I rarely have more than one campaign active at a time. Unlike the relationships between encounter and scenario, and scenario and campaign, I expect that often the links between campaigns in a setting are more ‘background information’ than active connections.

That is, most entities with setting scope are unlikely to be active allies or enemies. Entities related to them may be, but setting-scope entities are somewhat fundamental to the setting. For example, the gods in most campaigns are unlikely to be directly involved in adventures and campaigns, but their churches and followers may be, artifacts associated with the gods may be, and so on.

The icons in 13th Age are certainly setting-scope entities. They exist, they influence events all over the setting, but are rarely directly involved in any particular situation.

Elminster in the Forgotten Realms is kind of tricky. I am inclined to treat him as an entity with setting scope, despite his direct interaction in the relevant campaigns being more than described above. He is too pervasive to the setting to be considered a ‘campaign scope’ entity.

Entity Scope

Generally an entity has scope equal to the lowest level that can encapsulate everywhere that the entity is relevant. Elminster shows up in many Forgotten Realms campaigns (as defined above), and thus is an entity with setting scope.

As shown above, entities can exist at multiple scope levels. In fact, a particular entity may take part in things at many levels. Elminster is a character with setting scope, and is a significant character in the “Spellfire scenario”.

Note that an entity might have links to entities outside their own scope, without leaving scope themselves. For instance, Shandril might ‘appear’ only in the “Shandril’s Saga” campaign, but clearly has links outside it (Elminster for certain, and the Cult of the Dragon can probably be considered one as well).

As a general rule, play at a particular scope level might affect the next larger scope level.  For instance, the culmination of the Avatar Series “campaign” resulted in some major changes among and to the gods themselves.  Entities at a particular scope level can be expected to be able to directly affect each other and certainly affect entities at lower scopes.

However, entities at a particular scope level generally don’t get involved more than one scope level lower.  For example, Mystra may well be a significant entity in a campaign relating to her or her interests, but  is unlikely to play a major role in an arbitrary scenario that is not part of that campaign.  Her clerics or other followers may well be significant (the scenario might be to cause a new Magister to be chosen, which in this case might have relevance at a campaign level but not setting level), but Mystra herself is unlikely to be involved.

Closing Comments

Game design happens at many levels, depending on what specifically is being worked on. I use the levels described above.

It is possible to work at just about any scope level described above. I have designed encounters for people (including one involving a fiendish ogre mage and his devilish minions), scenarios (entire ‘adventures’ for my players). I’ve spent a fair bit of time on setting development. I’ll be honest, in the past I have conflated ‘campaigns’ with ‘settings’ (by the definitions above) and really didn’t get designed so much as happen… but I can see their place in this structure.

I try hard to avoid linear design now. All of the levels above (except perhaps setting, the ultimate container for this structure) can be developed using similar techniques and tools. This can and should be able to produce a setting consisting of non-linear set of campaigns, each consisting of a non-linear set of scenarios, with a non-linear set of encounters. Because of the size of the higher-level items it might not be practical to actually design all the possible PC activities, but since the techniques can be applied at varying level of detail it may be sufficient to do the high-level definition and drill down as needed.

No related content found.


  1. Pingback: Campaign Setting Design: Definitions | Keith Davies — In My Campaign - Keith's thoughts on RPG design and play.

  2. Pingback: Founding of a New Sandbox | Keith Davies — In My Campaign - Keith's thoughts on RPG design and play.

  3. Pingback: Layers Upon Layers in the Sandbox | Keith Davies — In My Campaign - Keith's thoughts on RPG design and play.

  4. Pingback: Fractal Game Design | Keith Davies — In My Campaign - Keith's thoughts on RPG design and play.

  5. Pingback: Variations on a Theme: Adapting Polyhedral Pantheons | In My Campaign - Thoughts on RPG design and play

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *