It’s been a long day here at Red Dice Diaries, so I thought that–whilst Hannah is running her Star Trek game on my desktop upstairs–I’d offer some advice on running a game when your well of creativity has run dry or you’re feeling low in energy.
It’s bank holiday Monday here in the UK, and Hannah has some questions about what do to when players “go off the rails” or spin off into a random tanget.
It’s Wednesday and we’re offering some tips to make running your first session of a new system go a little smoother.
It’s the middle of the week and–given the current situation worldwide–many people are planning on taking their gaming online.
In this episode Hannah and myself often ten tips for making your online gaming experience as smooth and enjoyable as possible.
In episode 18 of the podcast I talk about one of the tools I use to keep track of plots in my games:
It’s Tip Tuesday here on the Red Dice Diaries blog, and for this post I thought that I’d give you a tip for campaign creation.
A lot of GMs make the mistake of trying to detail out their entire campaign world to the nth degree. What tends to happen with this approach is that it takes a lot of time and can be very frustrating as a lot of the information doesn’t get used or is ignored.
In order to keep a sense of logic and verisimilitude to your campaign world I wouldn’t recommend just making everything up as you go along, this can lead to contradictions and a patchwork feel. I stead, sketch out the very broad strokes of your setting.
For example: You might decide that there are two kingdoms in your world, in the north and south separated by a mountain range. One is a theocracy lead by a Priest King the other s feudal kingdom ruled by a hereditary monarch.
In this example we’ve got enough detail to give the players the broad strokes of our setting and can expand parts of the setting as needed. But crucially we’ve not exhausted ourselves nor have we boxed ourselves in, there’s plenty of room to incorporate new ideas.
Once you’ve decided where your player party is going to begin the campaign (normally a small settlement or something similar), zoom in and detail that place more thoroughly. The PCs are going to spend their first few session there between dungeons, buying provisions, drinking in taverns, etc it’s worth having a few NPCs, some encounters and other bits and pieces prepared in advance.
You can use this time to determine what you’re going to need to detail out in future, bait your hook with hints about the wider world (using your sketched out world outline) and see which ones the players bite.
When your players bite into one of your baited hooks, use your world outline to improvise more world details, make sure to take notes so that you can portray the world (and any NPCs, locations, etc) consistently.
It’s Tip Tuesday here on Red Dice Diaries, and in this video I’m talking about some of my favourite handouts, newspaper clippings and letters:
The rules for creating NPCs in LOTFP are fairly streamlined, but I was looking for a method of creating NPCs that were a little more different stat-wise without adding an undue amount of complexity to the game, to do this I’ve drawn on my experiences with the Fate RPG system.
Method for Creating Quick NPC
- Name your NPC
Don’t agonise over this when you’re trying to make a quick NPC, fire up a random name generator and click a few times until you find a name you like, or take bits out of a couple of names and combine them together, whatever works for you. Here are a few I’ve found useful:
- D&D Human Name Generator
- There are some great real-world historically inspired name generators available
- Dwarf Name Generator
- Elf Name Generator
- Hobbit Name Generator
- Choose your NPCs class/race
If your NPC is a human then make them a level 0 Fighter, otherwise make them a level 0 version of the appropriate demi-human class.
- Fill in your NPCs saving throws, HP, attack bonuses and skills
This information should be available on the class chart that you have chosen so should be easy to find.
- Give your NPC something extra they are good at
Everything’s been pretty standard in this post so far, here’s where we add a bit extra though, jot down on the NPC’s sheet one or two things that they are good at, when the NPC is required to make a roll for something related to these things add +2 to their roll. This doesn’t have to be their job (although this can be a useful guideline) but it could be based on their physical characteristics or a piece of equipment they have. What they are good at should be fairly specific (‘forging weapons’ is fine, but ‘making stuff’ is a bit too broad) and it should not affect things like combat bonuses or saving throws since these are already covered by the rules although–as ever–it’s your game, so if you want to have an NPC who is a practiced archer, feel free.
If you want to detail the NPC a little further you can also give them one or two things they’re bad at, and give them a -2 penalty when in situations related to them.
And that’s pretty much it, dead simple and it can be done on the fly when you just need to jot down some NPCs one the spur of the moment, or when you want them to have a little bit of extra detailing but without having to add a load of skills or anything like that.
JosIn-case anyone is planning to point it out, I’m aware that the featured image for this post in Frankenstein’s monster rather than Frankenstein himself 😉
Any of us who’ve created and ran a campaign world–whatever the game may be–you know that it can be an awful lot of work. Not only are you having to put in all the normal amounts of session prep, but you’re spending time between games creating mythologies, drawing maps, not to mention the work that goes in before the campaign even starts, creating the bedrock of the campaign setting so that your players have some idea what world they’ll be adventuring in. This isn’t to say the campaign creation can’t be fun, if–like me–you enjoy creating stories and seeing things scribbled on paper come to life in games, then you probably get a lot of enjoyment from campaign creation, it’s still a lot of work though.
So what can you do about it?
I think that one of the greatest mistakes that some GMs make–when it comes to campaign creation–is assuming that they have to create 100% of the campaign world from scratch. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whilst creating elements of your campaign whole-cloth can be very rewarding and satisfying, it also drastically increases the amount of time you’ll spend agonising over your campaign world notes. We all have non-game stuff going on in life competing for our limited free time, and sometimes it can be difficult to find the time to sit down and spend hours writing up whole swathes of a campaign world.
Now there are a few different approaches you could take to get around this:
- Just wing it
Don’t worry too much about your campaign world prep and just wing the details you need. This obviously cuts down your prep to pretty much nothing and can work, but only if you are confident in your improvisational skills and take copious notes (or have a really good memory), otherwise your liable to find yourself running into trouble as you forget details previously established in play.
- Use a pre-published campaign setting
This has the advantage that a lot of the work is done for you, but you’ll still have to read all of the campaign book and tweak it to fit your specific group. There’s also the potential issue of one of your players knowing the established setting better than you do.
- Frankenstein approach
In much the same way as Doctor Frankenstein created his monster from the stitched together body parts of different people, I suggest doing the same when creating your campaign. Don’t restrict yourself to just using a single campaign, take bits and pieces from different pre-published campaigns, adventure modules, etc, stitch them together and then fill in any cracks with your own creations. Using this method will create a campaign world that still feels like your campaign, but will save you having to create absolutely everything from scratch.
Example of the Frankenstein Approach
This approach is one that I’ve been moving towards since becoming more interested in OSR gaming, since a lot of those systems are broadly compatible it makes sense to beg, steal and borrow maps, pictures and text from the many and various different sources. Currently I’m using this approach for my Rose of Westhaven LOTFP campaign. When I began the campaign I started with the naïve assumption that I’d have enough time to detail every last little thing, health issues and other real-life factors quickly disabused be of this notion.
Here’s what I did
I definitely didn’t want to wrap up the game, because I was–and still am–having great fun running it and my players seem to really be enjoying it, but I also didn’t want to short-change them by presenting a wishy-washy, sketchy campaign world just because I didn’t have the time to develop it fully. In addition to the hand-drawn maps I’d created I had already started taking different maps from the internet to save me time.
For example: Porthcrawl Village, Salazaar’s Tower and the Church of Peaceful Repose in my campaign are all maps that I found online and then imported into Roll20, Google Image Search is your friend when it comes to finding maps. Even if you can’t find something 100% right for your game, locate something that is pretty near to what you want and then alter it, it’ll still save you a bucket-load of time.
A little while ago I backed a Kickstarter for the Midderlands OSR setting and bestiary, set in a fantasy version of Britain and Ireland, recently I started to notice how well this campaign setting dovetailed with the information that I’d already established for our campaign. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a 100% match, but it was near enough that I could see how I could get a lot of material from the Midderlands and import it into my campaign without having to make too many alterations.
For example: Midderlands comes with a map containing a fantasy version of the Midlands in the UK, since this is on a larger scale than the map I’m currently using, it won’t be difficult–when we zoom out from our current campaign map–to incorporate it into the larger Midderlands world map. An expanded version of the map that shows the Midderlands version of Britain and Ireland is about to drop onto Kickstarter soon as part of a second book in the series, I’m planning to back that and use the maps from it for my campaign.
The book also contains a lot of folkloric information that has been adapted from real-world folklore and information, since it uses the same sources as my campaign setting it will be easy to incorporate, especially since our campaign takes place in a different time period to the default Midderlands campaign.
Advice for Using the Frankenstein Approach
There are a few things that are normally easy to incorporate into your campaign setting:
- Maps: There are loads of different maps and images available on the internet via Google Image Search, these are incredibly easy to drop into a game, just find a map that looks like a tower, town or whatever and then write your own key and details to go with it.
- Adventure Modules: Depending on your choice of genre and games the ease of using adventure modules may vary, however, there are plenty of generic adventure modules out there that could be re-skinned to use in your campaign, even modules that have specific game stats can be altered to work with your own campaign. Make some notes on the book and look up equivalent stats for your system of choice and then run with it.
- Pictures: A picture paints a thousand words, having an image of an NPC or an item found by your heroes can really help to provide visual impact for your game, again here Google Image Search is your friend, but you can also find suitable images in magazines and RPG products, even if they’re not perfect, as long as they give your players an idea then it’s a useful shortcut.
- Campaign details: It’s often harder to convert elements from a published campaign to incorporate into your own, depending on how much flexibility your existing ideas give you to add new stuff in or alter old details, this is why I prefer to paint the broad-strokes of a campaign world and only drill down to the detail as necessary, it gives me more wiggle-room when it comes to incorporating material from other sources.
Joseph Teller mentioned the important point that it is very possible when using this method to create a monstrosity whose flaws only become visible further down the line, I think this is a good point and certainly something to keep in mind when you’re stitching extra material into your campaign. Joseph says that–in his opinion this method only really works for shorter lived games–I think it’s certainly easier to pull off and requires less forethought with shorter games, but as long as you’re careful it shouldn’t be too much of a problem for a longer game IMO.
One of the aspects of the roleplaying that I really enjoy is producing campaign wikis/blogs, etc that provide more of an insight into currently running games and campaign worlds, it lets me keep my writing-hand in, keeps up my enthusiasm between games and also helps refresh my (unfortunately poor) memory concerning the salient details of the campaign.
Another benefit–and one that I don’t see mentioned all that often–is that doing this work has encouraged me to read information that I might not have looked at before.
My most recent example of this came whilst I was setting up a series of pages on this site for my Rose of Westhaven campaign, particularly the entries concerning the fictional calendar that I have created–using Donjon’s excellent Fantasy Calendar Creator–for the game. Days, months, seasons, moon phases and all those sort of things that go into a calendar are elements that I have often neglected in past game and I’m hoping to bring them more centre-stage to my campaign. While setting up the three moons of my campaign world using the calendar, it occurred to me that I had no idea what the figures in the lunar cycle section of the calendar creator were referring to. A quick search on Google and Wikipedia lead to me reading a wiki-page about the Me tonic cycle and various methods of measuring times used by different cultures throughout history.
All of this was information that I had not even considered before and–even if I only remember a fraction of it–it has still educated me and will hopefully enrich my game in the future. When you’re writing up your session notes in future, if you see something that you don’t know much about whether it be a style of architecture, settlement demographics, religions or whatever, spend a few minutes reading around the subject on the internet, you certainly won’t make anything worse by having more knowledge.