Saturday, February 18, 2012

How much campaign do you need?

You see it all over the place: coming up with a campaign is a lot of work, some would-be DMs toil for considerable lenghts of time and never reach a point they are really happy with. How much campaign development do we really need? I pondered this yesterday and took up a simple experiment: fit as much campaign as I could on two regular sheets of paper.

I dived in with drawing a campaign map in a small gridded off section of the 1st page. With a simple random system (1d6 for row and 1d10 for column) I placed the terrain (forest, open, mountains and sea), 2 towns, 4 castles and 6 dungeons on the map.

I named both towns (Nutham and Brewster), the castles (Grimsword, Ravenmeet, Shrike and Evermont) and gave the dungeons fitting names to establish theri nature (Forgotten Elfhall, Orc Pits of Doom, Shadow Crypt, Mount Death, Lost Shrine of Dwar and Halls of the Last King. These names all went down on the first sheet where I decided to list an encounter for each grid location on the map (towns, dungeons and castle are the encounters for their location). All of the remaining spots on the map got an appopriate encounter based on terrain and neighboring locations. The encounters ranged from such things as 30 Bandits, MU-levle 8 with 20 hobgoblins, 2 storm giants and 1 great elk (each encounter described as briefly as outlines above).

Following populating the map I detailed the two towns listing Entry Tolls, a random encounter table for each town, a couple inns for each town (name, lodging costs, meal cost and chance of getting robbed ) along with a price list for unique goods or those that strayed in price from the default price list. Smokeweed and pipes are in Nutham, Cheap booze in Brewster.

Next came the castle descriptions each got their lord, a couple retainers, troop roster and overall value of trappings and treasury along with a simple sketched map of each place. Grimsword is ruled by a 10th level Lord, with a pair of mid level knights and men at arms. Ravenmeet is ruled by an elven lord with a band of elf knights and a compnay of elf archers. Castle Shrike is ruled by Lady shrike a cruel 12th lelv MU with hill giants, ghouls and orcs in her garrison. Evermont is ruled by Duke Evermont a 9th level lord with a number of retainers and knights and a couple comanies of soldiers.

The dungeons came next, each getting a map of varying styles. The dungeons all got a slightly different layouts some depending far more on random encounters to flesh out the action. A couple have repeated generic chambers, two were drawn in profile.

Scattered about were the house rules on movement and wilderness exploration. It's a small map so travel isn't all that quick or certain; how many move points it costs to travel forests and mountains is random. I decided to use shields will be broken. Exp are calcualted at 100 exp per HD/level or just 50exp for wimpy encounters and 1 exp per GP.

There are at least a half million exp available to PCs in the campaign, that's enough for a small, aggresive and lucky party to reach respectable levels. At seven encounters a session there's at least enough action for about 20 sessions if the players and DM don't milk things for more innvolved play. So 4 pages (2 sheets) of campaign that could last long enough for some players to build their own strongholds. How much campaign do you need?


  1. Are we counting random tables or no? If not Agrivaina fits on 1 8.5x11 page right now, a very marked up map. But I also use about a dozen random tables regularly during play.

  2. I'm not proposing a slash and burn austerity plan as a push towards minimalism. As anyone who has read my blog can see I'm a huge fan of random tables. It is surprising how much campaign can really fit into brief description. Letting the details come during play seems to be a heck of a lot more fun than does weeks of "work".

  3. I have just a dungeon, sketched out local map and that's it for my current game; but I do like to create more, but keeping the details minimalistic so that it's easy to expand upon .

  4. Yet another thought-provoking and inspirational post JD.

  5. I've run Traveller campaigns with nothing by a subsector map and the random tables in the books. It can be a great way to play.

    On the other hand, for some campaigns, a bit more prep can be fun, too.

  6. The other aspect to consider is that most modern adventure modules (by which I mean pretty much everything produced in the last three decades) are designed to be used up: You prep dozens of pages of material; you play through them in a session or two; and then you're left with basically nothing usable at the end of it.

    OTOH, if you take something like the Caves of Chaos, combine it with re-stocking guidelines, and maybe random faction interaction table if you're feeling fancy and you'll have material that could easily fill dozens of sessions.

    The Caves of Chaos are a dungeon, but I've found that I get a lot more mileage out of any material I prep as a situation instead of prepping as a plot: A situation can give rise to any number of plots; and be recombined and augmented to provide even more.

  7. That's pretty awesome. I, too, would be interested in seeing a PDF. The nice thing about working under such artificial limitations is that it forces you to prioritize the info that is actually needed during play. It's so easy to slip into detailing mode even if one is trying to keep it simple.

  8. When the muse whispers and you have the urge to create, I think it's important to ask "would the player's care?" If the player's aren't interested in 99% of a DM's campaign write-up then the DM should look at prioritising his time and effort - unless of course he's doing it for his own pleasure.

  9. Can you share with us your work?

  10. I found this article very inspiring, so I actually tried to do this, and got the following:
    - 6 times 10 squares of land with grassland, mountains, forests, and swamps
    - a sketchy wilderness map
    - 2 towns (name; three inns with prices for meal and room, and chance of getting robbed; 1 city tag and 1 borderland tag as described in Red Tide)
    - 4 castles (ruler, garrison, 1 borderland tag)
    - 6 dungeons (only a couple of key-words: inhabitants, function, origin, etc.)
    - all other squares got monster lairs (I only put down the monster type, as numbers and treasure can be generated by the rulebook).

    This is a two-page long campaign. I wonder how one includes maps and random tables (the latter might be used by the book, so putting it down on these sheets is moot).

  11. I'm happy folks have liked this post. Sorry I haven't uploaded my original notes to date, I updated my software lately and the scanner side of my printer/scanner is no longer supported (@#%&!@!) which has put a kink on fun and other projects.

    It is inspiring how much one can create if they don't get mired in the details and let such flow from play.