Hullo, Gentle Readers. Your GGG here again. I still haven’t gotten around to writing more about the patriotic wonders of the Boston area, because I’ve become, shall we say, distracted with an idea for a new project.
I am something of a compulsive world developer. As new iterations of D&D have come along, I’ve created a world specifically for that edition, drawing on what speaks to me about that edition. I had my Wardome Campaign, which lasted from Basic D&D into Advanced D&D 1 & 2. Then there was my Dreamtime Concordance campaign, which was a retro-1st edition game made before 3rd edition came along. Third edition and 3.5 were my Swords of the Amanar campaign, and 4E brought Seven Kingdoms: Seowyn’s Crossing. Now, with D&D Next looming, I’m starting to ponder on what the next campaign will be.
I thought it might be fun to take my readers on this journey with me, to share my insight, and to offer advice that’s stood me in good stead on some very long-lasting campaigns. Hopefully, this’ll help you with the decisions you’ll make when the time comes to make your own next campaign.
Where to Begin?
Almost all of my campaigns start the same way – with a distinctive blank notebook. It may be a touch old fashioned, but there’s something magical about writing down notes on paper for me. Maybe it’s just that I haven’t had a mobile device that I find as easy to take notes in as a notebook, or maybe I just like the way writing feels, but all of my campaigns have started on paper. I carry that notebook with me everywhere, then jot down ideas as they come to me. Later on, I’ll sort the ideas, type them into a Word file, or other text format, and organize them. These days, that will probably entail creating a new campaign site on Obsidian Portal and creating a Wiki that I will update obsessively as ideas gel and settle.
Sometimes, the tricky part is not so much in getting started as in reining in all the great ideas you have floating around and figuring out the framework you want to hang your campaign on. I’ve started in lots of different ways, depending on my ideas.
For example, when 3rd edition had just come out, I made an outline for what I wanted a campaign to look like. I knew I wanted to do something involving Spelljammer, because it’s one of my favorite campaign settings ever, so I thought about what the different worlds would be that would be important to the campaign. As ideas gestated, I would jot them down in my notebook. Slowly, I began to get seeds for adventures, so I would note those in a specific section of the notebook.
My 4E game evolved out of me taking every tidbit of info that was being described online about the new edition and finding a place for it to live in my game. When we found out about tieflings being a PC race, I thought about where they would come from. When I heard about the elf/eladrin split, I began to conceptualize the “Feywar” in which Elf, Eladrin, and Drow became separate races. Based on the “points of light” model, I came up with the idea of a continent that had hosted a huge united realm but which was now divided and dangerous. Somewhere, I came up with the phrase “Seven Kingdoms” as a title…not knowing that a similar concept was lurking in A Game of Thrones, which I hadn’t read at the time.
For Our New Campaign
So, in thinking of D&D Next, one thing that strikes me is the step back towards a real old school feeling. Maybe it’s the return to some older edition things like lower hit points, or maybe it’s the fact that the playtest modules are mods like Keep on the Borderlands and Isle of Dread that I played over and over in high school. Whatever the reason, that’s the vibe the game has for me right now, so I want to create something that makes me feel like those games made me feel back then.
For me, that makes me think of Keep on the Borderlands as a model. The Keep involved a series of caves near a small bastion of civilization. Missions could be given, but exploring the Caves of Chaos was more or less its own reward. PCs were drawn to it by rumors, and there was little motivation for exploring it beyond killing monsters and looting treasure.
While I don’t want to reduce the story of my campaign to goals that simplistic, there’s a lot to be said for setting up an environment like the Keep. Positioning the PCs as heroes in a limited setting, possibly giving them rumors of different dungeons in the region, and letting them decide what to do could be a different way to play, given the heavy storytelling my games have been involved with of late.
It also makes me think of the old computer game Darklands, which was set in Medieval Germany. This game made me aware of the concept of Raubritter—Robber Knights. Maybe the “Keep”, to keep using the term, is one of many such Keeps in the area, but one of the only ones to still be dedicated to Good and Order. Once upon a time, the Keeps held back the Darkness from the Light of Civilization. Since the fall of the power of Order, however, the other Keeps have succumbed to the will of evil men, becoming strongholds that are used by bandits, evil wizards, evil knights, and so on.
From this simple idea, we have the potential for many adventures. Maybe the Keep’s leadership wants to reach out to other Keeps that still subscribe to the old ways of honor, and they enlist the PCs. Maybe one of the robber-knights’ keeps holds a magic-item that must be recovered, or a helpless innocent in need of rescuing. Maybe in the absence of a central power for order, many of the regional monsters proceed aggressively, knowing that they’ll have few challengers, or even be supported, if they’ve made a deal with an evil lord. Maybe they attack caravans, giving a cut to the lord in exchange for adventurers being pointed towards a rival tribe.
I don’t know too much about the campaign, except that I’m going to go with a medieval European feel, with a twist to make it reminiscent of the Germanic raubritter period. Villages and towns will largely be related to the Keep they stand near, and I suspect there was once a strong, centralized kingdom which is now gone. I see lots of potential for adventure already.
Follow me in future articles as I go over my process and create a complete campaign for D&D Next.