D1 Series #2
All hobby-related activity in which we engage is fun and enjoyable. Every so often, though, despite that fun we can be stuck with a sense of sameness. As Game Masters, we have a great chance of avoiding that redundancy but also have the largest challenge in overcoming it. We rely on the basic elements of the campaign setting and we retread classic plotlines while we keep our players comfortable in their preferred class roles and species. In short, we avoid risk and fail to stretch our gaming boundaries.
But good setting creation and good storytelling are dependent on the new and risky option. Being a cooperative endeavor, there also should be some reliance on sharing the workload of creative input. By taking chances on new ideas and by pulling the players into the process, all table participants can have a fresh experience with an innovative setting and story.
The idea of a Session Zero to start a new campaign series can be expanded to multiple installments that see the entire table contributing and creating. These pre-game work sessions can become a short string of game-like gatherings in their own right. During these group meetings, a number of creation tasks can be handled. First, a rough sketch of the setting map can be made with everyone taking turns adding a feature. Second, broad flavors or characteristics of certain regions can be established. Third, general setting concepts like magic level, socio-political structure and maybe even small bits of key history can be codified. Fourth, everyone can work together to craft interesting NPCs to sprinkle across the setting. And fifth, time can be spent sifting through various monster manuals to randomly select interesting and unique creatures that dwell in the setting. Other activities can be added to this list too depending upon the interests of the group and depth of new possibilities being sought.
In my own gaming career, I have shared some of the workload with players and the results were really good. My three players and I spent a couple of hours spitballing ideas for the campaign map and then passing around a blank sheet of paper to sketch those terrain types. After that, we collectively worked on placing villages, towns, cities and ruins as well as noting areas occupied by specific species. We also took some time to name a number of locations on the map. I then took that sketch and traced it onto traditional gaming hex paper, making a few adjustments here and there, then coloring it all in with added trade and travel roads. It was a very good way to start a new campaign with new players and served as the basis for a solid albeit brief game series.
A different group of players were gathered for a companion campaign focused on the dwarven territories of this new setting. We decided to let the subterranean map build itself as the game progressed but found a different way to cooperate in the creation process. This trio of players took the lead in developing the social structure of the dwarven city-state from which they came. They established the vocational guild system, the clan- and family-based social structure and even the naming conventions of the dwarves. It was an excellent way to clearly differentiate this campaign from the previous GM-directed one we recently had completed.
These two examples only serve as a brief look at the vast options available in shared campaign design and the stretching of gaming boundaries. We will look at more involved and varied options in our next installment.