Thursday, September 10, 2009

Structuring Your Campaign Development

So I'm currently enrolled in a course on Project Management in order to get my Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification. One of the first things we learn is that the principles of "project management", in the abstract, are applicable to almost any project undertaking, from preparing a meal for the first time to building a new building. Big or small, the idea of planning, budgeting, scope, timeline, and deliverables is, essentially, the same.

This got me thinking, as many things do, about gaming; specifically, the development of a new campaign and / or campaign setting. Over the years as a GM, I've gone the full spectrum from providing a written "book" for each player detailing the setting and the system that went into the dozens of pages, taking weeks to write and design, down to creating a campaign premise over dinner and starting gameplay by dessert. The capacity for engaging gameplay exists in both methods, but there is a world of difference between the two.

Its also interesting to note that many, but not all, big-press RPGs over the last 20 years or so have either whole rulebooks devoted to GMing and campaign development, or at the very least a chapter (or several chapters) on this process. Steps are usually laid out along the lines of "what genre do you want to use?" or "should the setting bie 'epic' or 'gritty'", or "should the setting be high-magic or low-magic" etc.. I know some people use these guides to develop their campaigns, while others have their own unique processes, and still others develop no "campaign" as such until several sessions into playing what are essentially a string of semi-related adventures.

So my lunchtime Thursday question for all of you out there is, how much structure and planning goes into developing a new tabletop campaign? Do you have a "process" that you follow for every new campaign, or does each come into existence in its own way? Do you develop the campaign premise as a team with your players, or are you, as GM, a one-man band that produces the premise whole-cloth and then presents it to your players for acceptance or rejection?


Chgowiz said...

I don't really put a whole lot into the initial prep:

1. Just in time preparation
2. One page dungeon levels
3. Write it down - play it on game day
4. Let the players flesh things out
5. Broad brushstrokes to events and plots
6. Don't overprepare

Timeshadows said...

If I am running within my milieu, I don't need much planning, and run most sessions off the cuff, or with a bit of daydreaming before.

If I am running in an established setting or (quasi-)historical period, I research the heck out of it in a broad sense, and drill-down into the areas of interest to me. I then combine that information with what I know of fiction-writing essentials; politics; and human nature to produce a broad outline for my own notes purposes.

I rarely provide anything in the way of handouts because I have found most players don't appreciate the time/effort/expense, so to salt with that!
--If they cannot understand what it is I am describing, I use analogies, especially (sadly in this day and age) popular media (anime, video games, sci-fi tv shows, films, comics, etc.) and then run from there.

If the visual images are essential, I scour the net nabbing photos and images and compile them for print-outs to hand around as, 'It looks like this, but with more of these architectural features, as if created by this culture, and at least this old and weather-beaten.'-sort of things.

That's about the extent of it.

kaeosdad... said...

Oh hell yes I spend a lot of time developing my setting. But I also don't run games set in the traditional fantasy worlds so it's a must. Plus I'm very much into the world building aspect of dm.

So onto the questions:

The initial stages is all about the framework. It begins with choosing a genre, vibe or theme that I want the start of the campaign to capture, basically the feel of the campaign.

Next I write out the assumptions about the world, where do the adventurers begin the campaign? What is the area like? What are some recent events that is common knowledge? What are some possible reasons/hooks that could attract or pull the group of player characters together? All of this should tie into the theme.

After that I work on my world building tool kit. This is basically some stock npcs, monsters, treasures, hooks and maps to use in the game. At this point there is NO STORY. Absolutely none. I pick stock elements that match the theme and if I get inspired I write out some cool ideas along the way that could serve as hooks in the future.

The last step and probably most important is to get the group together and make some player characters. I explain the assumptions about the world, and the general feel I'm aiming for and ask the player's what kind of characters they would like to play. This is where the world really begins to develop.

During character creation I collaborate with the players to not only make sure that their characters fit the feel of the setting, but most importantly to make sure that the setting supports the type of character and story that they want to play.

That in a nutshell is how I've been starting a campaign, it's my favorite method and after the initial character creation I use the stock elements from my toolkit to improvise a short adventure.