A3-Series • #1
I want to run a great campaign. Right? Who doesn’t? Doing it … now there is the challenge. I have always tried to keep in mind a quote that Steven Burst, an author and RPG player, made in a Dragon Magazine #222 article when he was talking about writing a novel as compared to playing in a D&D game. He says “… games are built around plot, and fiction around characters.”
What that quote has meant to me is that, as the GM, my focus is on creating a plot … a game story that the players (who will make up the main characters) can enjoy and get involved in. I have found the best way to do this is to outline the campaign idea and put detail into only portions of the outline, leaving most of the story details for the players to fill in. Having an outline gives you a guide on how to react to the unexpected, and quickly update and change the campaign as needed by creating new plot elements or changing others based on the players actions.
In my recently-completed Shadows Over Lakeland game series, the plot was built around an ancient Setite Vampire attempting to summon a powerful spirit, Quetzalcoatl — a god from Central America depicted as a flying snake who was the deity of knowledge and the winds. To keep enemies from guessing his intentions, the Setite created a multitude of distracting events: a gang war in Tampa (that spills over into Lakeland); and a war among the Changelings in Tampa with the Seelie and Unseelie courts vying for dominance (again with repercussions in Lakeland). These distractions are what the players get caught up in during the game since they are playing mortals and would not be able to challenge the main antagonist.
Fleshing out aspects of the plot (portions of the outline) was a list of NPCs and several locations that became some of the main focus points for the game. Theron Rafael was another supernatural (a Mummy) who was opposing the Setite Vampires plans, but the group initially thought him an enemy. Uncle Art (a family friend of one of the characters), a Verbena Mage who worked in Tampa as a hemotologist, was another resource the characters had for an ally. Andole Maldvey was an Eshu Changeling who helped move the story elements along. There was also a Chantry the characters gained access to which gave them a safe haven and the ability to learn elements of the game through the Chantry’s library. The Chantry also operated on a different time than the earth plot, which allowed me as the GM to make necessary adjustments to game time.
This game played out much differently than I had envisioned it, but the main plot elements remained consistent even as the story itself changed with the telling. Just because the players thought Theron Rafael was an enemy did not make him one, but it became a whole new plot point in the outline as the players came to realize that Theron was an ally than rather than a threat. In this way, the players fill in some of the story details, but, having detailed out the major NPCs and supporting features of the story, I could more easily react to the unexpected elements the players brought in and stay true to the theme of the campaign.
I’ll talk about character creation in the next installment.