KJD-IMC: Campaign and Scenario Design

I’m proud enough of this series of articles to want to make it easy to direct people to them, so here we go.

  • Campaign Setting Design was the start of this series and talks about the various setting entities I work with and some of the information about them.  They get more formalized in the next article.
  • Entity Template, Updated and Explained contains the updated entity definition template (previously described in ‘Campaign Setting Design: Definitions’) I use when developing things for my setting.
  • Entity Scope, Updated and Explained contains updated scope definitions (previously described in ‘Campaign Setting Design: Definitions’) I use when developing things for my setting.
  • Campaign Setting Design: Scenario Structure describes how I assemble a scenario from the individual scenes I anticipate
  • The Rule of Three is probably a better title overall than “The Rule of Two to Five”.  I find that anything important for or to the PCs should probably show up around three times.  Whether it’s three ways to get a clue (to give them a decent chance of getting it) or four places to look for the treasure (too few it feels railroaded, too many it gets boring), three is often a close to the right number.
  • Campaign Setting Design: Putting it all Together was the last post in the original series and describes how the previous posts relate to each other and become useful.
  • Node-Based Megadungeon Design is a series presenting an example of how to apply these techniques to design a megadungeon.
  • Sprouts-Inspired Node-Based Design describes a technique I’ve devised for building usable and effective graphs for these methods. Once I have the graph I can fill it in (and change) as needed, confident that the relationships needed for navigation between the nodes are sufficient and complete.

There are a few other related articles that are not necessarily part of the series above, but I think are useful reading.

  • Challenge, Response, and Secret is one of my earliest articles on developing a campaign setting.  In fact, it predates this blog by several years.  However, the techniques in here have been some of my most reliable and useful tools in setting and scenario design, and they boil down to three simple questions: why, what happened, and who knows what?
  • Factions was a later post in response to a conversation in Google+ that illustrates how the hierarchical and node-based entity design (everything is ultimately connected to everything else) works with character groups in-game, and how it can be a ready source of new ideas.  What happens when you tug on a particular relationship?

24 Comments

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

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  6. Pingback: Links of the Week: June 25, 2012 | Keith Davies — In My Campaign - Keith's thoughts on RPG design and play.

  7. Pingback: Node-Based Megadungeon Design | Keith Davies — In My Campaign - Keith's thoughts on RPG design and play.

  8. Miri

    Your site got featured in this week’s Friday Gems from the RPTips newsletter for GMs as part of a reader-advice snippet on campaign creation! THat’s where I came from and I”m definitely gonna bookmark this :D

    • Well then, thank you for kicking this all off.

      Previously my Biggest Day Evar was 362 views. Yesterday was 830, with 238 on this page alone!

      I’m glad people found it interesting, I see a lot of traffic yesterday branching from this page to related page, and presumably to other stuff after that.

  9. Foster

    Also here because of the tips newsletter. So far with a cursory glance, your ideas on design via node based mega-dungeons is a fantastic concept. I’ve felt that current mega-dungeon design and in particular adventure design feels too liner. It’s something I’ve felt, and a feeling some of my players felt as well. I think this approach to the design really brings together both important concepts of a sprawling complex and/or connected sites in that they are vast and varied, but players could also potentially walk past several areas by choosing varying routes. Player choice becomes a massive aspect not only in a narrative sense, but also in a mechanical sense; if they skip the part of the dungeon that’s flooded heavily in a swampy area, there less likely to encounter under water fighting and slimy slugs that dominate minds.

    Little gems like this site remind me why I subscribe to as many DM tip and advise newsletters as possible; you never know when you find something that really opens your eyes with regards to your personal design philosophies.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the articles.

      Every time I see ‘adventure path’ I wince a little because it says right on the tin that you don’t really have much choice about which way to go. You might get to make small, inconsequential decisions, but overall your direction is known ahead of time. I’d much rather be surprised by which way players go, that they actually get to decide which direction or approach to take toward their goal.

      Not so surprised I don’t have time to prep! I generally don’t prep things in detail until it looks like it’s going to be needed, so I like a bit of notice. I ask my players at the end of each session which way they plan to go so I know what material to get ready, but beyond that I don’t try to predict, much, what they’re going to do.

      You might be interested, I’ll be doing a series quite similar to the Node-Based Megadungeon, this time regarding building a sandbox. I’m likely to post here while I develop it, and to provide backing information, and Johnn’s asked me for a ten-point summary that I imagine will be fairly heavily linked :)

  10. Foster

    I would very much enjoy following your progress with the series; you should also expect a fair few, lengthy comments as time goes on. I think bouncing ideas about in the comments is a great way to grow and learn new techniques.

    I approach things similar to the way you do when doing prep work, but I have an overall sketch or idea of what’s going on before hand. Now that isn’t the same as a flow chart detailing the encounters, but rather a motivation, agenda or other such plan of certain big movers within the world. An evil Lich wants to raise an army and sweep the world? I’ll give him objectives to complete and a rough time frame until completion. A corrupt city statesman wants to overthrow the monarch and take control? He’ll be employing people and organisations to undermine the stability of the land, again, with a time frame in place. I’m very heavy on in game calendars and tracking time in game, and I’m always careful to never openly state something as a DM (not to be confused with not openly stating things as an NPC) but I will maintain a healthy flow of hooks and scenarios that are relevant to the current objective being worked on by the antagonist.

    For example, the Lich required the remains of a holy cleric who lived many years prior. One of the PC’s was a Cleric and had arranged to sleep within the temple in exchange for tending to followers on occasion. He had managed to stumble across the henchmen stealing the remains from the crypt, and chased them until he eventually lost them. I had given the players a hook in which to investigate which may have led into the mist of this villains plans and placed them in a situation to stop him. However, they assumed it was body snatchers selling body parts, and walked down that course and I indulged them slightly until they were sure it wasn’t the case. They chose not to investigate which remains had been taken, and so had to essentially ‘bide their time’ for the next hook.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not the sort of DM who would leave his players with an obstacle in their path and say ‘If you can’t figure it out, you don’t progress’. Far from it, I have house rules in place for gathering hints or clues to any challenge. However, when the situation is more about hooking the players into a *new* path or quest, I’m much more likely to react and respond depending on how they see the situation and how they react to it. This doesn’t mean that if they continually misinterpret the hooks, an army of evil will sweep the globe out of no where. As the villains machination progress, more and more notice will be paid to him until it becomes an important point to stop his plans. This is where more direct hooks can be brought in, such as a Holy Order contacting the PC’s and requesting help directly. I find this method also generates fantastic reveals when the Cleric who, 4 or 5 sessions ago, was hot on the heels of the bad guys and the players can piece these seemingly random hooks (that often take place during an existing agenda they have going) into a concise plan of action from growing power player in the world. The players also have a fear of the villain and experience through his actions, without ever even meeting or laying eyes on him, which leads to the thrill and excitement of the experience as a whole.

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