Campaign Design: Next Steps

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on February 20, 2009

You have decided to design your own Campaign World and you have the necessary resources in place.  Now you’re wondering what are the next steps? It’s time to consider how you’re going to approach game design. There are a number of different ways to begin working on your campaign and there are still a few questions you need to consider before you begin. We’ll take a look at several of them.

High-Level Perspective

One approach to campaign design is to take a high-level view of the game world. This approach is best suited if you don’t intend to start playing in the game world right away. With a high level approach you would likely design a large, world map and start dividing it up into kingdoms. From there you would drill down to the smaller details. Placing towns and populating those towns with notable NPCs. This approach to design is time consuming and won’t allow for a playable game world for some time. High level design works well if your long-term objective is to publish a campaign setting.

Low-Level Perspective

The opposite approach of high-level design, a low-level perspective starts in small town. The town of Caindel which is introduced in The Magistrate’s Daughter builds on this idea. A small location is introduced along with the major NPCs. This allows you to jump right into playing in the world. If the campaign starts at first level, even better as there is no reason to concern yourself with high-level questions at this point. The PCs are just establishing themselves, just as you are beginning the design phase. As the campaign develops you design and create the high level elements: the kingdoms, extended geography, politics, etc.

Will You Be Playing In The Game World Before It’s Finished?

This is an important consideration to bear in mind. If you plan to play in the game world before it’s completely designed you’ll need to come up with at least the basic elements. The theme of the campaign and your story arc will determine how much work needs to be completed ahead of time. With The Magistrate’s Daughter only the bear necessities were required to actually start the adventure. You have the name of the town, a rough description of the setting and the major NPCs. With these elements in place the players are able to start exploring and you as the DM have enough information to feed them.

Team Design

One of the great aspects of Dungeons & Dragons is that it’s a multi-player game. There is the old expression ‘Two heads are better than one’ and in game design that is often the case. Let your players help develop and shape the feel of the world. If a player wants to play a Dwarf whose ancestors shrugged off their ancestral mountain home and moved into a forest, embrace the idea. It raises questions such as: how did the local Elves view this? How do other Dwarves treat the PC? Your players are a great source of inspiration and they can also be a good sounding board for ideas. Now if you will be running them through the campaign world you might not want to give them all your secrets. In my gaming group several of us rotate the responsibility of being the DM. In some cases we run multiple games in the same game world or campaign.

No matter which method you take, make sure not to overwhelm yourself. Taking on the task of designing your own world is time consuming. It can be frustrating when players don’t notice the tiny details you include in the game world. However, designing your own campaign can be one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll encounter while involved in D&D.

Next week we will look at the different themes that can be incorporated into your game.

What approach to campaign design do you have? What are some of your successes or frustrations in design, we’d love to hear from you.

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