This is it: you’ve been working hard by running little adventures here and there, getting a feel for the system your group enjoys playing, perfecting building combats and role playing NPC’s. You have decided to take the leap, you want to write your first campaign. Ah… but where to begin? Often times I find that the beginning is the most difficult part of doing anything, writing a campaign is no different. Starting without specifics makes it easier to write, that’s for sure. What’s the overall theme of the campaign? Is it dark? Is it driven by politics? Who/what is the main villain? How long can your group play one set of characters?
Probably the most important thing to find out is what kind of game your players want to play, whether the tone is serious, silly or anywhere in between. After all, it is their story after all.
All of these are things you should ask yourself before you actually start writing. If you’re running 13th Age, usually picking one or two villainous Icons to be in the spotlight is a good place to start. Once you have a general idea of a bad guy picked, it gets easier from there. For the first campaign I actually made myself, I chose the easy route: undead. Undead are commonly known, fun for players to smash (since there’s no moral dilemma) and tend to be pretty easy to explain seeing how they don’t need rations/shelter to exist. Not that I really pay attention to that much anyway, but I do always aim to give my stories some believability despite it being fantasy.
When you have the “who” figured out, the “where” seems to fall into place. Do you plan on having the PC’s traveling to the bad guys HQ to bring him to justice? Or perhaps the bad guy comes to them. The two most important wheres to figure out is where the game starts and where you see it ending. Of course, the ending will always be a little loose and depends on your players actions but you should at least have a general idea of how you want to set it up to go. A good tale usually involves a journey littered with many perils to thwart the protagonists, take advantage of that trope. Tropes are fun, and should always be considered acceptable to use at the table! Just don’t overdo it. When I build environments for the PC’s to experience or travel through, I always try to write a novel-type description of the first thing they see. This brings the “Theater of the Mind” to the table and may inspire your players to a degree. Usually a descriptive sentence or two will do it, too much description and your players will fall asleep. Find something that inspires you as well.
The “why” the story tends to be the more difficult thing to flesh out. I suggest give something basic like “The evil emperor wants to take over the largest city” or “The Dragons believe humanity is obsolete and needs to be eradicated.” Those are pretty huge examples, don’t be afraid to zoom the scope in a little to make the overall story smaller. the important point is, don’t detail it too much. The “real” motivations of the conflict tend to reveal themselves as the campaign goes on. I use the word real in quotes because sometimes there are some “why’s” that come up that you didn’t originally intend, perhaps something a character did inspired you to create a secondary struggle that contributes to the whole picture. Before you know it, you have this large web of a story with many intricate little plot lines.
Let the players be a part of the campaign making process, don’t be afraid to throw around general ideas with the players without giving them the whole story. See what small stories they have for their characters, incorporate that into the overall story ark. Players tend to care much more about what’s happening when they helped create it. Improv can be hard at the table as far as important story elements but starting with a rough outline is the best method, I find. Plan individual sessions loosely once you have the basic idea of what the campaign is as a whole, that way you can incorporate character story arks into the story as it goes. This way, you have a multi-layered story being told that ends up being a product by the end that even you as the writer didn’t expect!
Stay metal \m/