Campaign Structural Paradigms

Reynard

Legend
What structural paradigm do you tend to design your campaign around? That is, structurally speaking, what does your campaign look like.

I am going to use entertainment analogies, but that's just because that is the way I think.

I prefer a television paradigm -- specifically, a 90s semi-serial series like X-Files or Buffy/Angle. I prefer to have an ensemble cast that engages in adventures that sit somewhere near the middle of the episodic to serial axis. I don't really break things into "seasons" though. This is as opposed to the novel paradigm -- a single long story without episodic breaks -- or even a "CRPG" paradigm with story nodes and surrounding side quests (exemplified to me by Rime of the Frostmaiden for D&D).

One paradigm I have always wanted to run but have never figure out how to do it structurally is the procedural. This differs from the "regular" television paradigm I listed above in that each adventure would essentially be a variation on a theme, and character development would be slow and subtle at most.

What about you?
 

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payn

Legend
Factional. As many as I can reasonably make. The PCs can align, or not with whoever, but their actions do have consequences in the setting. There is no right answer, nor wrong. Some things are insignificant, and others are impactful. Though, the board is always changing.
 

pogre

Legend
I am similar to you -I use an episodic structure. Closer to a series that relies on earlier information in the season like GoT or Deadwood than complete episodes like The Rockford Files.
 

Yora

Legend
I am working on a new campaign for which the structure is based on classic dungeon crawling.

There is a town, there are nearby dungeons. There are treasures in the dungeons, the players get XP for carrying the treasures to the town. Since long rest is only possible in the town and the characters have weight limits for how much supplies they can bring, the players have to make regular trips back and forth between town and dungeons, with the pacing depending entirely on how safe or daring the players want to play it.
 

Reynard

Legend
I am working on a new campaign for which the structure is based on classic dungeon crawling.

There is a town, there are nearby dungeons. There are treasures in the dungeons, the players get XP for carrying the treasures to the town. Since long rest is only possible in the town and the characters have weight limits for how much supplies they can bring, the players have to make regular trips back and forth between town and dungeons, with the pacing depending entirely on how safe or daring the players want to play it.
What game system are you using?
 


Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I run closer to a novel. Chapters will each cover a topic with an appropriate change at the end, but at a slower pace then serial TV shows. I do homebrew setting and adventure in a semi-sandbox setting - there are plots out there, but I'll basically run in whatever direction the players want, including ones that come up during play that I never expected or prepped for. While I have some concepts that will be coming later they are highly susceptible to changes based on player interest. I practice Schrodinger's Plots - everything can be in flux until it's been observed at the table. So as a novel I would call it loosely plotted - there are some planned twists and an ending, but if I was an author I am writing to find out and the characters keep surprising me so I've scrapped NPCs, plots, manipulated things into concepts I never expected when I started writing, but someone it's all coming together as a narrative.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
What about you?
Episodic. It's the only way I CAN run games these days because my players schedules are erratic. I try to keep things contained in a single session if I can, with themes and recurring characters that cross sessions to keep things linked together.
 


BookTenTiger

He / Him
Interesting topic!

I use the Super Mario paradigm. Most Super Mario games have an overworld you travel around, and each level is like a big playground with multiple goals.

I usually organize my campaigns by creating a big map, and placing in it setting where I have some loose ideas of themes and adventures. As I get to know the characters and their interests, I'll add more details to those settings. During the campaign, the characters travel around the map, and when they get to a new setting they'll find out about a number of things going on. I like to think of each place like a big playground for the characters to play around in.

Over time, stories will emerge from these various settings, but I'm not too focused on big arcs.

Here's an example of one of my settings:

Umber Dell
A village of tortle slaves, tiefling nobility, and gnoll slavers.

Players might...
  • Liberate the Tortle slaves!
  • Explore the peat bogs for lost treasure
  • Fight Skirovan, an alchemist necromancer whose experiments are polluting the water
  • Search for the ancient Omyrian Fortress where a Tortle Shaman is in hiding
  • Overthrow the corrupt priest who has enslaved the Tortles
  • Shop for potions in the Flower Market
And so on. The characters may have a goal or two given to them from outside of town, but more or less they get to do what interests them. And if something is too difficult or high leveled, they can always come back!
 

Blades in the Dark, which I have run since the start of the pandemic, is an ensemble serialized series that alternates between missions (Scores) and personal character development (Downtime). The mechanics and the campaign structure are pretty closely tied together.
 

kenada

Legend
Exploration-driven sandbox. We’ve tried this over a few iterations the last few years. This is the first one to really click, and it’s pretty fun.

My creative agenda is the Right to Dream. I have a hex map and a setting. The party defines a goal it is working towards at the end of the session, which helps direct my prep (where I need to make sure things are detailed). Otherwise, they can go and do pretty much whatever they want. The party’s aspiration for this campaign is to loot the fallen capital, though their current distraction is some property that came into their possession recently.

To help keep me honest and prevent the campaign from drifting too much into other agendas, I’ve taken stuff from various sources (Apocalypse World, Principia Apocrypha, etc) and cobbled together a set of principles and best practices. The system is a homebrew hybrid of Old-School Essentials and Worlds Without Number.

Agenda
■ Make the world seem real.
■ Use the campaign as an experiment to answer stakes questions.
■ Play to find out what happens.

Always Say
■ What the principles demand.
■ What the rules and your rulings demand.
■ What your prep demands.
■ What honesty demands.

Principles
■ Barf forth fantasia.
■ Portray a living world.
■ Address yourself to the characters, not the players.
■ Reveal the situation, don’t bury the lead.
■ Divest yourself of the characters’ fates.
■ Name everyone, make them real.
■ Don’t prep plots, prep situations.
■ Maintain the integrity of the experiment.
■ Use the dice to decide, but make sense of the outcome.

Best Practices
■ Rulings over rules.
■ Ask the characters how they do it.
■ Let the players’ characters off the rails.
■ Let the characters manipulate the world.
■ Let the dice kill characters, but telegraph lethality.
■ Give the players’ characters layers to peel.
■ Don’t make the characters seem incompetent at their role in life.
■ Make combat deadly but avoidable.
■ Allow clever solutions to work as long as they are plausible.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Exploration-driven sandbox. We’ve tried this over a few iterations the last few years. This is the first one to really click, and it’s pretty fun.

My creative agenda is the Right to Dream. I have a hex map and a setting. The party defines a goal it is working towards at the end of the session, which helps direct my prep (where I need to make sure things are detailed). Otherwise, they can go and do pretty much whatever they want. The party’s aspiration for this campaign is to loot the fallen capital, though their current distraction is some property that came into their possession recently.

To help keep me honest and prevent the campaign from drifting too much into other agendas, I’ve taken stuff from various sources (Apocalypse World, Principia Apocrypha, etc) and cobbled together a set of principles and best practices. The system is a homebrew hybrid of Old-School Essentials and Worlds Without Number.

Agenda
■ Make the world seem real.
■ Use the campaign as an experiment to answer stakes questions.
■ Play to find out what happens.

Always Say
■ What the principles demand.
■ What the rules and your rulings demand.
■ What your prep demands.
■ What honesty demands.

Principles
■ Barf forth fantasia.
■ Portray a living world.
■ Address yourself to the characters, not the players.
■ Reveal the situation, don’t bury the lead.
■ Divest yourself of the characters’ fates.
■ Name everyone, make them real.
■ Don’t prep plots, prep situations.
■ Maintain the integrity of the experiment.
■ Use the dice to decide, but make sense of the outcome.

Best Practices
■ Rulings over rules.
■ Ask the characters how they do it.
■ Let the players’ characters off the rails.
■ Let the characters manipulate the world.
■ Let the dice kill characters, but telegraph lethality.
■ Give the players’ characters layers to peel.
■ Don’t make the characters seem incompetent at their role in life.
■ Make combat deadly but avoidable.
■ Allow clever solutions to work as long as they are plausible.
I love this peek behind the curtain, very cool!
 

Reynard

Legend
I should mention that it does depend on the game as well as the purpose. I run "convention campaigns" that are 4 to 6 4-hour sessions long over the course of a 3 or 4 day con that are a single ongoing story very much in the short premium TV paradigm -- a single "story" with built in pacing beats. But I just got my The One Ring 2E stuff and gears are already turning for a much more "novel paradigm" campaign involving the Black Arrow that killed Smaug.
 


MGibster

Legend
What structural paradigm do you tend to design your campaign around? That is, structurally speaking, what does your campaign look like.
I use the three act structure.

1. Setup
2. Confrontation
3. Resolution

It's good enough for most fiction writers and it's good enough for me.
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
Depends on the genre, system, and whatever the group is into.
I enjoy episodic games for pulpier games, and for ultralite systems. When I run, though, I usually aim for a self-contained "serialized novella" or a "miniseries." That is to say, campaigns are short (ie, under 10 sessions), and generally coalesce into a fairly well-defined story-arc with a resolution. I also try to end each session on a strong beat (an important choice, a big reveal, a cliff-hanger) like episodes in a "tune in next week" -style serial.
 

Hand of Evil

Adventurer
Epic
Depend on the system, been playing Zweihander in the Witcher world.

Have a couple of plots that are impacting the world but those are background. For the players, I have moved to every action has a re-action game. Basically, the players do something, and I ask what can happen from that action. I then may do it or just note it down. Games mostly center around monster hunting and exploring ruins that the players pick from job posting boards.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
What structural paradigm do you tend to design your campaign around?

I don't run campaigns; I just iterate them.

I am looking forward to the day when Artificial Intelligence gets good enough it can run a game for other other AIs, and then, after realizing how the game runs best after trillions upon trillions of iterations, the AIs will band together and take over the world so that they can (1) kill off us pesky humans, and (2) institute a workable spell-less Ranger.
 

payn

Legend
I don't run campaigns; I just iterate them.

I am looking forward to the day when Artificial Intelligence gets good enough it can run a game for other other AIs, and then, after realizing how the game runs best after trillions upon trillions of iterations, the AIs will band together and take over the world so that they can (1) kill off us pesky humans, and (2) institute a workable spell-less Ranger.
Just Kirk em with 9 point alignment and watch them fry.
star trek spock GIF
 

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