Matt James on Campaign Creation

 Creating a campaign can be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding events an avid gamer and storyteller can experience. At its core, you are performing the art of creation- taking something from nothing and breathing life into its delicate core. What you create will be harvested and digested by the players and readers that comb through your hard work and spark the neuropathways of their brains. How freaking cool is that?! I’m not trying to be poetic, just provide some perspective so the next time you run your own home campaign, you can see how your creativity may be affecting others.

I am convinced that humans naturally crave inspiration in life. We are creatures that are motivated in ways that no other animal can claim. The mere sound of a song can spring us to action while the most endearing words can bring us to tears. It is for these reasons that I believe roleplaying (and roleplaying games) are vital to a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Sound a bit cheesy? Well, it is. But you would have stopped reading long ago if you could not relate in some small fashion. People love to be inspired and your players are no different.

When creating your campaign, you want to first lay the groundwork that will spring your story into vibrant life. Take into account the type of players you will have and adjust to their needs accordingly.  Robin Laws, one of the greatest game designers in this writer’s humble opinion, states in one of the gaming industries greatest books Robin’s laws of Good Game Mastering that “what really makes the difference in the success or failure of a roleplaying session is you.” The same applies to the entirety of a campaign. It is up to you to design and write an efficient and effective story that will compel them to stick around for more.

This takes time. Very few people are gifted enough to sit down with little to no experience and generate extremely compelling stories that will make others yearn for more. Even the greatest of them all claim that it is a skill gained, not gifted. So while it may appear an impossible task, if you are willing and able to put in the time and effort- you too can be a great storyteller and campaign engineer.

When I create custom storylines and campaigns, I try to keep a few simple and easy to remember tips in the back of my mind. They are by no means all-inclusive- but you may find them to be of use in your own designs.

1. Aim small, miss small: Don’t try to build too much too soon. Start small and build up each subset until you have enough to work with. In example, I would start by creating a small hamlet or village; perhaps a building or structure that houses a specific type of person such as a royal guard keep, or a healer’s temple. I would focus a good amount of resources in developing these areas before moving on to the next building (and so on and so forth). Before you know it, you’ll have a short story that details only this small village- one that will easily draw in your players.

2. Grey on the Horizon:  Every good story needs some form of conflict. It does not necessarily have to involve bloodshed or combat (though that is often the most fun), but it needs to provoke your players into action. Here is where you start to create the external areas of your small village. You can now, in example, start to add a creepy forest or even a troll-infested swamp. Whatever you choose, you start to slowly paint the canvas of your overall world and in turn your campaign.

3. Keep it simple: Writing a complex story arch is difficult. I still struggle with this and I like to think I am somewhat experienced in both writing and game design. If you keep it simple, your players will easily grasp the ideas you are trying to present and will find it more enjoyable.

4. Take the ‘simple’ and build upon it: Complexity will come in time and you will be able to integrate more and more as your players experience your world. One day you will look back and realize you have created a deep and immersive setting. In most cases your players will write the story themselves with their exploits in your game. Keep them apart of it and your campaign will grow.

Above all, remember to have fun. If you are having difficulty in creating the fluff of your campaign, take a small break. Remember the goal is not to become a Pulitzer Prize winning writer. You do it for enjoyment and you do it to feed that primal desire for inspiration. There is so much more I could write on this topic, but I hope you have found your own inspiration in here somewhere. I would love to hear about your experiences and welcome you to share them with me on Loremaster.org. I highly encourage you link your Obsidian Portal campaign so that I can take a look- I love seeing what people come up with.

-Matt James
Freelance Writer & Game Designer

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Gold ENnie for Best Website 09'-11'

Silver ENnie for Best Website, Best Podcast 2012-2013
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