GM Tips: Preparing for a Campaign Part 1

A while back on a YouTube video I did about preparing for a Star Wars game Fábio Fontes requested some more advice on prepping for a more long-term campaign; I’ve been thinking for a while about how best to do this, and I think that doing it as a video probably isn’t the best way since the videos would end up being massive, so I’ve decided to write it in my blog instead. The topic is an extensive one, I’m not going to create an exhaustive treatise on it, but in the interests of avoiding a huge wall of text and of splitting my workload–I discuss this later in this series–I’m going to break the advice down into a series of blog posts.

The focus of this series is not building a specific campaign world or what rules-set to use (although these topics may be lightly touched on), but general prep advice for planning long-term campaigns.

This the first post serving as both an introduction and an opportunity to talk about the sort of thing you should be thinking about before you even start gathering players or putting pen to paper when it comes to campaigns.

Things to Think About Pre-Campaign

How often are you going to run your games?

Is your game going to run weekly, bi-weekly, monthly? It’s worth thinking about because the closer together your games are, the less prep time you have between sessions, however the advantage of games run closer together is that the players (and yourself) have less time to forget what happened in the previous session and it’s easier to maintain energy levels about a game.

Once you start recruiting players you will also have to factor in their ability to attend game sessions, it may be easier for some people to make a once a month game than it is for them to commit to regular weekly sessions.

For example: In the Heart of Darkness Star Wars campaign that I have just started, a couple of the players had prior-commitments that made it difficult for them to do a weekly game, but since I’d inherited the group (with one addition) from a previous game, I knew they could all do a bi-weekly game so decided to stick with that.

How many players are you going to have in your group?

The number of players you plan to have playing in your campaign can have an influence on your prep, since you will have more characters running around in your world, so potentially more stuff you have to deal with, however, an increased number of players can mean a larger mine of potential inspiration–backgrounds, character goals, etc–for you to work with and pull on to create stories.

At this point you should try to be realistic with yourself, think about how many players you’re likely to be able to get to commit to playing a long-term campaign, this is often more difficult that getting people together for a one-shot or a short-term game since if you say to someone, “Hey do you fancy playing a D&D one-shot this Saturday?” the commitment required is relatively small, whereas if you ask them to commit to playing twice a month on saturday, potential for a year or more than that’s more of an ask.

I generally go with 4 or 5 players in a group, since this gives me a good-sized group to work with but means that people aren’t constantly tripping over each other or having to wait for ages for their turn to speak, as can happen with significantly larger groups.

What will you do when players leave/join?

In a long-running campaign you’ll inevitably reach when for some reason or another one or more of the original players has to drop out of the game, this could be that their schedule has altered at work, they’re moving away from the area or any number of other reasons. You should give some thought at this stage how you plan to deal with this and whether or not/how you plan to introduce new players to bolster your numbers, getting it worked out at this stage will save you panic and stress further down the line.

Some things to think about:

  • What will happen to the departing players PC? Will they have a dramatic death scene? Depart the group in-game? Continue as an NPC?
  • How can you introduce a person to the group without upsetting an established group dynamic?
  • How can you introduce a new PC and have them continue to adventure with an existing party or group?

How long do you envision the campaign running for? Is it going to be an open-ended campaign?

Open-ended campaigns are those that have no specific end-goal or aim, whereas a more closed campaign deals with a particular story arc. For example: My recent Storm & Sail game was about a group of pirates trying to locate and recover the fabled philosopher’s stone, of course they did other things along the way but the game ended when that main objective was achieved.

The longer a campaign runs, the more likely it is that you will suffer from player attrition and have to replace some of the original group, this isn’t a problem if you’re prepared for it, but it can also be difficult to keep your enthusiasm as a GM if you’re running a really long campaign. There are some things you can do though to prevent your interest flagging in an open campaign:

  • Give the PCs a variety of potential quests/stories.
  • Introduce a new threat or part of your game world, be careful of over-using this though.
  • Have something about the setting change, this could be something small such as the owner of a local tavern retiring and his son taking over the business to something much grander like the death of a king or the beginning of a war between nations. Again you should be careful not to overuse this tactic or it will become commonplace.

At the moment I tend to go for something of a middle-ground when it comes to campaigns, I generally base them around a main story or group of stories and guesstimate how many sessions I think it might take the PCs to accomplish that story, so for instance, in my Storm & Sail game I estimated it would take about 10 sessions to complete the game, since my players moved quite quickly through some of it, the campaign only actually took us 8 sessions, but at least they had some idea of the level of commitment required at the start of the game.

The advantage of this approach is that you can sell the game to the players from the start, so instead of just saying “lets play D&D” you can say something more dramatic like “in this campaign we’re going to play out the rise and fall of the dread necromancer.”

2000 YouTube Subscribers

I’m pleased to announce that a few days ago our YouTube channel passed the 2000 subscriber mark, I’m pleased that people find the videos I put out entertaining and/or useful enough to subscribe and stick with our channel and blog. To mark the occasion I filmed a combination intro/thank you video for the channel.

Matters of Fate: Random Tables

Love them or hate them, random charts and tables have a long history in RPGs, whether it be to determine wilderness encounters, a random bauble gained at character gen or any number of other potential things.

What do random charts do?

You might be asking yourself why you need random charts? After all with it’s focus on narrative and the invoke/compel mechanics of aspects it’s very easy to run a Fate game without any use of random charts, one thing random charts are good for is adding an element of uncertainty into the game, they also allow the GM to shift the balance of his prep. For example, if you have created a wilderness encounter table keyed to a certain area of your campaign world and your players decided to go there on a whim when you have nothing prepared, you can turn to your random encounter chart to buy yourself some time or at least give you an idea of the sort of thing that they should be encountering.

They can also be very useful for more exploration themed games where the GM wants an element of chance to influence the players discoveries, if you want character skill to have an impact on this, perhaps a player can change one dice for every point above zero they have in the appropriate skill. These charts also keep the game fresh and surprising for the GM, in heavily scripted games the GM tends to know everything and it’s only when the players do something unexpected that the GM has to think on their feet and has an element of uncertainty, random charts just add in a dash more.

So how do I create them?

In most games creating these charts is fairly straightforward, you simply have a chart listing the numerical possibilities on the dice and which options correspond to them, however, what do you do with Fate? Well there are a few different games that have posted examples of different ways to do random charts in fate and I’ve messed around with it myself, but I tend to go for a chart that looks a bit like this:


In order to read the chart you simply move one row down for each minus you rolled and one row to the right for each plus you rolled, you ignore any blank dice you got unless you rolled all blank dice in which case you use the result on the top left of the table.

In order to make this easier for people to use I’ve uploaded a template version of the chart above in Excel format so that you can play around with it and use it in your own documents should you wish (Excel format stuff can be copied and pasted into Word and a lot of other software).

Update: As pointing out by Shokon–many thanks for the catch–there are a number of spaces on the table above that cannot be reached by rolling 4DF, so I’ve replaced the template link below with a new one where these spaces are greyed out, thanks again Shokon 🙂

Update: Thanks to Bean Lucas and several others on Google+ I have been able to update the template so that it shows the chance of rolling particular squares on the template.

Click here to get the template

In order to make the most use out of this template you will need to have the Fate Glyph font file installed on your computer, you can find it by clicking here.

RP Rambles: What I love about roleplaying

Telling Stories

I’ve been giving a lot of thought recently to my future and what I would like to be doing with my life, and however I look at it I keep returning to the idea of writing–and in particular storytelling–as something that I find both very gratifying and extremely important to me. Storytelling is one of the main reasons that I got into RP-ing and, no matter how my GM-ing abilities and gaming experience may have changed it’s that central desire to tell a story with other people that keeps bringing me back to the game time-after-time.

So why not just write a story?

A reasonable question, I actually do a fair bit of creative writing for my own enjoyment and have done every since I was old enough to hold a pencil, my first stories were written on lined sheets of paper, four lines of text followed by a simple drawing. The main thing that I remember about those early tales is that I drastically overused the word ‘suddenly’, something I’m pleased to report that I got over as my vocabulary expanded.

One of the things that sets RP-ing apart from sitting and writing this blog or creating a story is that it isn’t just me sat in a room feverishly typing one a laptop or scribbling in a notebook, when it comes to crafting a role-playing based story I’m part of team that includes the other players, we’re all creating a story together. Sure, the GM creates the framework and the world that the story takes place in, he or she also populates the world with a background cast of characters, but it’s when the PCs enter that world that it really comes to life.

You might have heard authors talk about how vividly they imagine their characters as they write novels, how sometimes the characters speak with their own voices and guide the story as though they were independent of the author; this sort of thing is the meat and potatoes of role-playing for me, the excitement comes when the PCs begin to interact with and change the campaign world. Before I turn the players loose on it, as a GM I have complete control over what is taking place in the world, but as soon as the PCs step into it, I have no way of knowing for sure what is going to happen. This isn’t something that you should be worried about, sure it can be a bit scary, but it’s the good scary like when you climb onto a roller-coaster.

Collaborative Storytelling

I’ve never subscribed to the idea that the GM should be sat above the players handing down nuggets of plot to eager and grateful players who clutch them to their bosom and scurry off with them like worshipful supplicants. It’s not for everyone, but one of the aspects of the role-playing that I take great joy in is getting the players as involved as possible in helping to tell the story.

Whether this is a player elaborating on a scene:

Player: “I need a distraction, are their any lanterns hanging in this barn?”
GM: “You better believe there are, what’s your plan?”

Or perhaps a scene entirely initiated by a player:

GM: “Why is your thief so worked up by what the trader is doing?”
Player: “My character had a bad experience with this trader, would we be okay to do a flashback scene and play it out?”
GM: “We sure would, explain the set-up for the scene.”

You might even play a game with narrative-based mechanics that build this sort of thing into the game:

GM: “Since your character is hunted by the Voidcaller Inquisition and you’ve not exactly been keeping your head down I’d like to compel your trouble aspect to have some inquisitorial agents show up on your trail.”
Player: “Sure I’ll take the fate point.”

So what’s the payoff?

Well in addition to telling an entertaining and often surprising story, role-playing can help you connect with people, it also expands your creativity; it can be very difficult to sit down in front of that daunting blank page and start writing the words of a story, you’ll be surprised how many ideas come to you when you’re riffing with your friends and bouncing off each other.

As an added bonus you get stories that you can laugh about and relive at a later time with your friends, war stories of ancient campaigns and brave deeds that you undertook when you were another person, in another time and place.

That’s why I love role-playing.

Storm & Sail: Amended scale rules

Recently I’ve been thinking about a simple way to represent scale/differently sized vessels in my Storm & Sail game; I didn’t want to make it too complex, you can see the rules I arrived at in full in the rules google doc:

For ease of viewing they’re also reproduced below:


Ships have a size rating, the sizes are as follows (if it is necessary in a game then human-sized creatures count as size 0), the default group ship begins at size 2:


  • Size 1: Small vessels – Pinnace, sloops and barques.
  • Size 2: Medium sized vessels – Barques, Fluyts, Brigs and Merchantman.
  • Size 3: Large vessels – Galleons and Frigates.


In any vessel attacking a smaller vessel than itself adds +2 damage on a successful hit per point of difference in size (so a frigate successfully hitting a pinnace would add +4 damage); however larger vessels are less maneuverable, a smaller ship trying to flee or out-maneuvre a larger vessel gains +2 to the attempt for every point of difference in size (so if the pinnace attempted to use it’s maneuverability to dodge the incoming frigate attack it would gain +4 to do so).

The Rebel Strike Trilogy

We’ve recently wrapped up the Rebel Strike Trilogy, a linked series of three sessions using the FFG Age of Rebellion Star Wars rules set in my Adventures on the Outer Rim version of the Star Wars universe, I’m going to gather all of the material about it in this post.


  • Kaid-Sen: A dour sharpshooter working for the Rebellion.
  • Inigo Stazzi: A happy go lucky hothead who somehow manages to get the job done.
  • T7-01: A sharp-witted astromech with a talent for penetrating enemy computer systems.

Episode I

The Rebellion has rescued a Quarren known as Sekas Proko from Tattooine, the Quarren has access to experimental stealth technology but will only turn it over if the rebels free his ally Berek Nur from the clutches of the Empire. Kaid, Inigo and T7 board the prison ship Leviathan and attempt to free him.

Intro crawl:
Commander Sheb Gergran’s briefing:

Episode II

With the stealth-tech in the hands of the Rebellion it is fitted to the cruiser Constantine and sent out for a test, however, when activated the ship vanishes, it re-appears later in the Draconis sector inside the Imperial blockade around the frozen moon of Ga-Ri V. The fleet intends to distract the Imperials whilst Kaid, T7 and Inigo sneak aboard to investigate.

Intro crawl:

After the Strike:

Episode III

With Inigo away on an important mission, Kaid calls in a favour from a Sullustan contact of his and manages to arrange for some much needed R&R for himself and T7 on the peaceful ocean world of Spira. However an old enemy pursues them there, learning of this Tyber Zann, wishing to clear his debt sends the bounty hunter Remo Williams to aid them.

Intro Crawl:

I had a great time running this trilogy and was lucky enough to have four excellent players involved in it, there were the usual scheduling problems and such like that tend to plague this sort of game but we stuck with and created a fun story that I certainly enjoyed GM-ing and the players seemed to enjoy getting involved in 🙂


Matters of Fate: Shortest skill list?

I’ve been thinking a fair bit about skill lists, Approaches and Professions in the Fate system, in preparing my Storm & Sail game (starting next weekend) I’ve decided to go with a Profession based system, but it has got me thinking about just how many skills are actually needed in a Fate game; if you love the current amount of skills that’s grand, I’ve no problems with that, but this post probably isn’t really aimed at you.

Recently my wife Hannah has been running a game using Aspect only fate, essentially the skill rating you add to your dice rolls comes from the number of aspects you have that are applicable.

For example: If you had “Best gunslinger in the county” and “Quick on the draw” as aspects and found yourself in a shoot-out then you could claim +2 as your skill level, one rank per applicable aspect.

This system seems to be working really well at the moment although it does involve a bit of adjudication as to what aspects are applicable in certain situations, and having players who aren’t going to attempt to manipulate the system to get the best rolls in any and all situations; very similar to some of the potential issues that Fate Accelerated can face depending on the level of player buy-in to the spirit of the system.

It also got me thinking about the World of Darkness series of games where attributes are organised into three categories, physical, mental and social, I started thinking about whether or not these three “stats” could be used to replace the existing skill list, and I believe that they could be. Those three labels cover pretty much all situations that I can think of, trying to be diplomatic with somone, roll social, trying to recall ancient lore, roll mental, fighting a pirate, roll physical.

Now I can hear some people complaining and saying that there wouldn’t be much variety using this system, however I think this is where the stunt system can more than adequately pick up that slack, you want to play a character who is more dexterous then brawny, then take a stunt or two that benefit you in those sort of situations, and vice-versa if you want to be the brutal but clumsy barbarian. Although it might be worth the GM being a being more lenient with the situations that stunts can apply to.

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