A campaign in the making

I have been thinking about some theoretical campaign creation stuff. I do that a lot. I almost exclusively GM when playing RPGs, and while I like being the GM, it also means that it can be difficult to get better at it. All learning and improvement is one part doing and one part observing after all. So, when I can’t observe other GMs, what do I do? I think. A lot. Too much maybe, I don’t know.

I have no illusions about my abilities as a GM. I am not perfect, far from it. I know that I have difficulty accepting when things don’t turn out the way I envisioned it. I gotta kill that demon some time soon, or else my upcoming campaign is gonna suck hard.

How do you then craft a campaign? For me, the answer is simple; you don’t. You nurture a campaign and let it have a life of its own. A pretty smart guy I know, called Nifelhein here on WordPress, has golden advice on the subject: Don’t plan, prepare!

Preparing for player input is actually easy. All it requires is to plan nothing. I’ve seen a lot of GMs complaining that their players always do “unexpected things” and how this ruins their campaign. Player actions should always have consequences in the game world. If your story doesn’t support this, then write a book.

What makes for a good story in a book seldom makes for a good story in an RPG. I think this has something to do with structure. Many books follow some sort of narrative structure, where the tension continually rises until the climax. This is hard to do in an RPG since collaborative storytelling allows the story to make exciting turns at any time.

Dungeon World embraces the loose structure approach of collaborative storytelling, so it should in general avoid these complications. It openly states that nothing should be planned out before play, questions from the GM to the players will reveal anything relevant about the setting and the story to be played. The GM can ask loaded questions if he wants to have an impact on the game world though, but even loaded questions will have unexpected answers. Players are creative like that.

I think I will try using this story structure in every game I’m ever going to GM. I’m a GM that wants to give the players what they want, and using this approach helps telling a story about the main characters. I think this is important.

Well, these ramblings got a little longer than expected. I hope they were worth your time.

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About Undreren

I'm a university student from Denmark, currently taking my candidate degree in Mathematical-Economics. I have played pen & paper RPG's since 2004, but my interest for the phenomenon sparked about 3 years prior to that. I'm an amateur programmer and knows Java and Haskell as well as some rudimentary HTML, CSS, PHP and Javascript.

One response to “A campaign in the making”

  1. olepeder says :

    Interesting post, very much along the lines of my on thinking on the subject. Which you can read more about over here (in Norwegian): http://imagonem.org/den-lille-boka-om-rollespill/kampanjen/

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