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World-Hopping Campaigns

by Paul Mitchener
Jun 14,2005


Methods of Campaign and Adventure Design 10

By Paul Mitchener

World-Hopping Campaigns

A number of potential RPG genres, including time travel, space opera, and some old AD&D settings such as Planescape and Spelljammer, have the feature that the PCs can potentially visit a vast number of possible locations. My belief is that it is a good idea to design some of these locations in detail. Thinking about such things in advance makes it far easier to come up with interestingly alien worlds, and to indicate both similarities and differences between cultures, which is much of the fun of such a campaign. On the other hand, without artificial constraints, the number of places involved is far larger than anything a GM can disign in advance.

In this column, I want to look at my method of designing things taking these opposing problems into account.

Getting there is half the fun

The first issue in any world-hopping campaign is the method used to travel between locations, whether travelling in a starship, or using inter-dimensional portals or a time machine. It is somewhat boring for the journey to always be completely straightforward. Fortunately, there are ways to make things slightly more interesting for each of the above methods of travel.

Major Locations

As I mentioned above, some locations should be designed in detail, much as for any other prepared campaign. As well as locations for individual adventures, possible designed locations include the following.


In a portal-based campaign, the main piece of geographical planning needed is showing which portals connect important locations, and how convenient they are. This can be an important consideration in making certain locations important for planar trade or even conquest.

Space travel campaigns can be planned similarly. To see this, let us assume that a starship can typically only travel a certain maximum distance between systems without needing to refuel. Then some systems will be in range of many other systems. Assuming these systems have resources, they will become important central locations, as described above.

Time travel campaigns may be free of this type of geographical consideration. On the other hand, it is possible that the background consists of a number of alternate realities, each of which is best reached from another that it is similar to in some way.

Showcase Locations

Showcase locations are not necessarily frequently visited, but can be used to indicate the sheer range of possibilities available in a world-hopping campaign. These unusual places can be designed to highlight one overwhelming mood, or simply to emphasise one particular difference with 'more typical' locations in the campaign. Here are some examples.

Of course, there should be some reason, such as a specific resource or source of information, to visit such odd areas. The main population in showcase locations may or may not be human.

Less Detailed Locations

If there are many worlds present in a campaign, most will probably be described by at most one or two paragraphs of text.

It is therefore useful to have a number of descriptions of fairly generic places. These places can then be used during a game if for some reason more detail is needed on a location where not much information is prepared. Of course, some improvisation will still be needed.

Sources of Conflict

As in any campaign, in order to generate adventures, it is helpful to include natural sources of conflict. I have looked at such things in more detail in other columns; for now I will just mention just a few ideas that are more or less clichés, but nonetheless provide good starting points for something more interesting.

Encounters and Events

Encounters and events can be planned as in any other campaign, by looking at the campaign background, major sources of conflict, and possible planned or ongoing adventures.

One trick when using these encounters and events is not to fix a location. That way, extra detail or interest can be added at any point or time in the game where it is needed.

Wrapping Up

Well- once again a late column. Apologies; I hope to be more punctual next month. As usual, feedback and ideas for future columns are more than welcome.

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