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Avoiding obsession with detail, or How to Build a Campaign?

Isawa Sideshow

First Post
I've been trying to come up with an idea for a d20 campaign of some sort, because I'd like to run one. While I'm not a first-time GM -- I've run d6 Star Wars and WW Werewolf games in the past -- I'm very very out of practice when it comes to writing adventures, let alone entire campaigns.

Lately, I've got a couple of interesting ideas, but every time I try to flesh them out, I start getting hung up on the details. Little wrinkles in the metaplot that are a bit iffy suddenly grab my attention and scuttle the entire effort, because I become convinced that if I don't get this or that detail just right, the whole thing will fall apart?

What's the best way to avoid this? How much plot detail is enough, and how much is too much? Does it matter if the plot isn't 100% plausible?

Or should I even try building a campaign, and instead start my writing attempts with a string of not-necessarily-connected adventures, which I could later shape into a metaplot if I so choose?

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First Post
Here's what I do. I come up with a very vague meta plot, and use the character's histories to flesh out the details. I like to allow the PCs to be involved in the meta plot and I erally enjoy rich character histories.


The amount of detail is however much you have time to prepare, IMO. Never hurts to have at least some loose ideas scribbled out for areas where you don't even think the players may go.

Here's a place, that you may already know, that might also be helpful to you-



Princess of Florin
Well, when I build a campaign world, I start with the map. You can draw one yourself, or find a map on the internet somewhere. If you do that, you want one with nothing but geographical features. So once you have your map, add a few cities. Then a few smaller towns, some ruins, some forts, and maybe a mysterious monolith, menhir or some such. Now you need a main trade road that connects all of the major cities.

You can get lots of stories from just this much detail. Is the trade road safe? Who, if anyone, patrols it? Who maintains it? Is it better in some parts than others? Why? What made those ruins? Why is that fort there? Is it meant to keep something out? Or in? Can you see an obvious migratory route for goblins, say, or some sort of wild beast? (If you can, you could always stick a walled town right in the middle of it, just for fun.) That city, the one on the seacoast? Who governs it? Are they evil or good? Are they bent on conquest? Who do they worship? And that other city, over there? Do they worship the same deity? What are they famous for? Was something invented there, or do they produce something better than anyone else?

Write all these ideas down. Then go to the Electronic Aids page on this site, and use Jamis Buck's NPC generator. Spew out a bunch of NPCs of various races, classes and levels. Tell the generator to provide you with their background and motivations. Most of what you get, you won't be able to use, but some of them will make you say, "Hmmm. This guy's afraid of goblins? So maybe he should be from that walled town right on their migratory route. They killed his parents, so he left and went to the big city. But he wants revenge, and he drinks too much. So maybe the players could meet him if they went to a certain bar...."

Do this until you get a dozen useable NPCs who have backstories just crying out to be told. Sprinkle them around your world, or drop them in at random if that works for you better.

You really don't need an over-arching plot. Does earth have one? No. Just lots of people, milling around, getting into trouble. Some go and dig up ruins for the treasure, or the knowledge. Some protect the poor and the weak, while others prey on them. Some are thrill seekers and others are homebodies. But we all have stories to tell.

If you can try to come up with a world filled with stories, the plot will take care of itself.

Isawa Sideshow

First Post
Well, I'm not planning on building my own campaign world from scratch -- I'm not feeling that talented yet. I'm going to go with either a Forgotten Realms or a Rokugan campaign. I'm very familiar with both worlds, and have a large amount of source material available for all of them.

Now, it's just deciding on whether to design the metaplot before the individual adventures, or to start writing adventures and try to have a metaplot fall into place.

And then not getting hung up on the adventure details, like "how did this tribe of goblins come to live here? Why do they live here? What do they eat? Wouldn't they be better somewhere else? Why haven't they been wiped out by other heroes yet? Oh, I don't know, I suck. *crumples up paper*"

How do I avoid that?


First Post
1) Have the PCs generate the characters first.
Designing the plot to interact with the PCs always helps keep them involved.

2) go to the wizards site and check out the
Dungeoncraft Archives

3) I tend to focus on two things: NPCs and area.
A couple of well thought out enimies will dictate plot and an after each session you can ask well now how does this change Billy teh Blackgaurds plans. Most often there are one or two that stand out as good things to explore in the next session.


First Post
Ask your players for ideas. If you are going to use an established setting like FR, have them decide on the type of characters they want to play (in my perfect world, the players also work together to develop a balanced party). If they aren't already familiar with the setting, ask them to read a little of the book and get a feel for it.

With FRCS in particular (I'm not familiar w/Rokugan), pick a region to start in (Faerun is so huge!). At this point, ask each of them to give you a little background for their characters. It doesn't have to be long, a paragraph is good. Often plot hooks will just jump off the character sheet.

Also, meta plots aren't always necessary, sometimes it's just fun to explore and smack monsters. :D


What I do:

I make up the personalities and power groups, and define their resources, motivations, goals, methods, and current plots and plans, and from that decide what activities they are up to. I decide how such groups interact with each other.

Then I flesh out those plans, activities and interactions are into adventure ideas. I add the details needed to run the adventure as needed, based largely upon the resources of the power groups. I also sort of plot out "what will happen if the PCs don't interfere," and get an idea of how the PCs can make a difference.

The PCs invariably will go off the beaten path though. But having already defined the power groups and personalities, I can decide how they respond to the situation.

To me the joy of RPGs is precisely that it can go any which way. Unlike a novel, if you get too specific in details of what happens, those details may never come to pass. Concentrate on the NPCs/Power Groups themeselves and play them according to their motivations and resources.


I highly recommend Ed Greenwood's article "Plan Before You Play" in Dragon 63 (July 1982). In it, he gives great advice about how to start a campaign from scratch, and also on how to develop sufficient useful detail to expand from your initial ideas.

I would also recommend sitting down and rereading the original version of the module T1 Village of Hommlet: look at the various plot lines, the relationships between NPCs, and the possible expansions of the plotline beyond what is explicitly detailed in the adventure. You'll get a good guide for how to balance the level of detail vs. hints to make an adventure successful.

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