Getting A Realms Campaign Up And Running

One-shot adventures, like binge-watching a great mini-series, can be fun, but sooner or later any FRP gamer will want to try a campaign, a sequence of interconnected adventures where the stakes—and hopefully achievements—can be higher. More time spent with friends, doing more and for longer. Many campaigns eventually run out of gas and fade away, but others go on for literally decades, building hopefully fond memories (and what else is any life, but a collection of memories? So what are we really doing as we live our lives? Building a collection of memories!) of times spent with friends around a gaming table.

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Which, because where I truly live is in the Realms, brings me to getting a Realms campaign up and running.

There’s no right way or wrong way to play D&D or DM adventures or run a campaign, but here’s how I did it—and more importantly, why.

First, to save time and confusion, I provided statted-up characters, with backgrounds, who were all younglings seeking their fortunes and leaving their home community--the SAME home community--for the first time. This let us jump over the confusion of learning what all the attributes were, and more importantly let me build “day job skills” and a past into every character. I let the players pick from among twice as many characters as were needed (to give them better class, race, gender, and background choices), and often the PC party included an extra character, run by me as DM until it became needed: whenever a PC died or was rendered unconscious, that player took over the ringer for the rest of the play session, rather than being shut out of playing.

And those character pasts handed the players problem situations (such as family reputations, feuds, and debts to others) for their characters that could be exploited or ignored, depending on how play went.

(As play went on, some players will want to try other classes, so from the first I was prepared for PCs to retire, as opposed to dying gloriously or otherwise. Many retired PCs came out of retirement as temporary reinforcements, or established businesses and had families—from whose ranks future PCs could be selected.)

Second, I provided my players with a brief Players Pack: a brief summary of what they knew of their surroundings, complete with laughably incomplete “Here Be Dragons” maps of the Realms (that is, a tiny known area surrounded by arrows pointing off the map that said “Thay a long way off in this direction” and suchlike. This was their “starter common knowledge,” and yes, we had a Session Zero where everyone could leisurely ask, and write down my answers to, their questions that arose from reading the Players Pack. Their characters might be naïve, wide-eyed innocents venturing forth into a big, scary world…but they “knew what they knew,” and could use that as a solid foundation to stand on.

Third, I encouraged players to speak as their characters, with the exceptions of player-to-player: “Pass me that d12, please?” or “Pass the chips” or player-to-DM: “I’ve lived here all my life; have I ever seen this guy/that badge before?” And I extended this, starting with the beginning of the first play session, with councils of war held in-character, wherein the PCs discussed where they’d go and what they’d try to do; as heroes changing the world rather than younglings reacting to what the world does to them, I wanted them to get into the habit of choosing their destiny.

Yes, this meant I had to detail the world in all directions (immediate vicinity, at least) and have adventures ready to go no matter what locales and activities they chose, but I had this big, detailed world already that just had to be gussied up with local detail. (So that, plus answering all my players’ questions for years upon years, is why you got a deeply detailed Realms.)

Yet it was worth all the work, because the players, through their characters, got to choose.

Even in the “home” Realms campaign, after decades of ongoing play, I’ve always encouraged these in-character “councils-of-war” where the PCs discuss where to go next and what to do, so they feel the master of their own fates, not stooges being pushed around by a mighty godlike Dungeon Master (or worse, a DM behaving in such a way as to seem the players’ adversary).

A life is a series of moral choices, and deep down we all know it; arrange matters around your gaming table so as to give your players moral choices for their characters to make, and the adventures will MATTER more to them, and so be more meaningful, achievements rather than “ho hum, more monsters slain, treasure divvied up, on to the next one.”

Fourth, I made sure the players had an array of adventuring choices, including a hack-and-slash for venting real-life frustrations, and a mystery or two (because everyone loves a mystery; there’s a lure there, that can be pure enjoyment if the mystery doesn’t have to be solved for your own survival or freedom). Including some that seem easy, as opposed to the take-on-the-Great-Dark-Lord sorts.

For my library mini-campaigns (run at public libraries where I worked, as teen programs, one afternoon a week for 13 consecutive weeks), I lacked time for the players to have their characters wander about and pick their first adventure, so I hit upon the notion of adventuring charters. The adventuring band would begin play in Cormyr, having just been granted a royal charter that gave them a condition for granting the charter, which was the only legal way the PCs could go about armed in the country. This was a “do first” task. As in, before you independently seek adventures for your own benefit, you, the fledgling Company of the Unicorn or the Azure Sword or the Bright Blade, must complete this task (eliminate these troublesome brigands or drive the goblins out of the hills around this border valley). The task forced the PC party into exploring caverns or a ruin that their targets were using as a lair, and the icebreaker adventure was under way...and could be crafted to clearly point ways on to several other adventures, giving the players their first real choices.

And what do successful real-life and gamer adventurers do? Make the most of their choices.
 
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Ed Greenwood

Comments

I have often considered launching what I refer to as "Realms Zero". A campaign based as faithfully as possible to Ed's "Home Realms Campaign (tm)." I would wipe out Vaasa and Damara, and restore the Moonshaes to their pre pseudo-Britain form. But most importantly, it would focus on the small areas seen in FR0, before any RSEs had reared their hydric heads...perhaps I will do after all.

Here's to you Ed,

Axe high friend, I go.
 

Jiggawatts

Explorer
This was a lovely read, thank you for your contributions to our shared passion Ed. I have a bookshelf full of Realms products (the 2nd Edition ones are my favorites, that era really nails the feel of the setting), and will forever be grateful for sharing your wonderful detailed world with us.
 

ParanoydStyle

Peace Among Worlds
for a second I thought from the thread title that Ed Greenwood was actually inviting random ENWorlders to come play some Forgotten Realms with him and I kind of geeked out/swooned...just a little, you understand.

Faerun remains by far the D&D setting that I'm the most ignorant of, but most of the tiny crumbs of knowledge that have tumbled down to me make it seem really interesting. If I had infinite time, I'd definitely want to get to know it more.
 
I am a fan of the Realms and have been for a long long time but ...

"I provided statted-up characters, with backgrounds, who were all younglings seeking their fortunes and leaving their home community--the SAME home community--for the first time."

-This is how you start a convention game, not a long term campaign


"... often the PC party included an extra character, run by me as DM until it became needed: whenever a PC died or was rendered unconscious, that player took over the ringer for the rest of the play session, rather than being shut out of playing. "

- I've never seen this to work really really well. Death of a PC does not = "out of game". It's not difficult to drop in a new PC even if the party is in the middle of a dungeon. It's an opportunity, not a blocker.

"Second, I provided my players with a brief Players Pack: a brief summary of what they knew of their surroundings, complete with laughably incomplete “Here Be Dragons” maps of the Realms "
-This on the other hand is excellent and a great way to start players out, especially in an unfamiliar setting.


I appreciate the work that went into the Realms but this DM-ing style of "let me make the characters, their backgrounds, their relationships, AND let me run a character that's in the party" ... I've never been a fan of this. Given the amount of information out there about the world I've found most players can come to a Realms game with a pretty solid take on how they fit into the world and where they are from.
 

jayoungr

Adventurer
I've never seen this to work really really well. Death of a PC does not = "out of game". It's not difficult to drop in a new PC even if the party is in the middle of a dungeon. It's an opportunity, not a blocker.
Depends on the group. I'm familiar with a group that has done that regularly, and it works fine for them. They have been playing D&D since first edition, so maybe it's an old-school thing? But anyway, although you can introduce a new character in the middle of a dungeon, some people just prefer the "take over an NPC" solution.
 
Depends on the group. I'm familiar with a group that has done that regularly, and it works fine for them. They have been playing D&D since first edition, so maybe it's an old-school thing? But anyway, although you can introduce a new character in the middle of a dungeon, some people just prefer the "take over an NPC" solution.
I started playing in 1980 - it's not particularly an old school thing.

I think it cheapens the impact of players choices, but if you're playing a character the DM made up from the start - as described in the article - then I suppose taking over another DM-made character mid-dungeon is not a huge jump.
 

Schmoe

Explorer
I am a fan of the Realms and have been for a long long time but ...

"I provided statted-up characters, with backgrounds, who were all younglings seeking their fortunes and leaving their home community--the SAME home community--for the first time."

-This is how you start a convention game, not a long term campaign
You need a correction here. I think you meant to say:

"This is how I start a convention game, not a long term campaign."

Also, I find it somewhat amusing that you are basically telling Ed Greenwood that he's been doing it wrong. Different strokes for different folks, after all.
 

Scrivener of Doom

Adventurer
You need a correction here. I think you meant to say:

"This is how I start a convention game, not a long term campaign."

Also, I find it somewhat amusing that you are basically telling Ed Greenwood that he's been doing it wrong. Different strokes for different folks, after all.
Precisely.

This worked for Ed. It may work for others or it may not. But I think we're quite safe making the assumption that Ed knew what he was doing. If it didn't, I am sure he would have made the changes necessary so that whatever he chose did work. You know, like all of us do.
 

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