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Brave, New World

1: Setting and Campaign Building

by Charles Dunwoody
May 11,2005

 

Brave New World

1: Setting and Campaign Building

By Charles Dunwoody

Column Goal

If you've read my column before, you can read about the changes I'm making in New Start below. If you're here to discuss setting and campaign building, you can skip the New Start section.

The reason I'm writing this column is to discuss setting building as well as campaign building by using examples from an ongoing game that I'm running. Even though I'm using Bulldogs!, a D20 sci-fi game, I hope this column will appeal to all GMs whatever rules or genre they use.

New Start

I took a month off to explore 4th edition D&D. Now I want to get back to campaign and setting building.

From the title of today's column you may have deduced that I have gone as far as I want to go with building the world of Dragonsuns. I have really appreciated all the feedback and discussion on building Dragonsuns.

There are two reasons I'm changing the direction of this column. First, responses to building Dragonsuns have dropped off.

Second, and most important, I am currently writing a supplement to the Bulldogs! D20 space opera game thanks in no small part to writing this column. Having examples of my writing and design style out on the web has definitely helped my writing prospects.

Because I'm working on Bulldogs! I've started a game in that universe for fun and for playtesting. Combining the design work on Bulldogs! with that campaign and with this column makes a lot of sense to me.

Where to Start?

I'm going to assume that you're a GM and have players and know how to run a game. With that in mind, I'm also going to assume that you want to start a new campaign in whatever genre you like and with whatever game system you like. For my examples, I picked the sci-fi D20 game, Bulldogs!.

So where to start? I will need a setting, the physical location where adventures take place. Also, as Tim Dunwoody, my brother, pointed out in a response to my last world building column, it isn't enough to just create a world. You need a campaign and a first adventure that draws in the PCs and gets them both excited and immersed in your campaign. Monte Cook discusses the same idea in his Dungeoncraft column in Dungeon Magazine.

To me, a campaign grows and evolves as PCs explore the physical setting, uncover mysteries, and set in motion new adventures of their own. To get the PCs involved in shaping the campaign, I need to get them excited.

Getting PCs excited and involved means seeding adventure ideas throughout the setting and adding secrets to every major piece I add to the campaign. Providing hooks and layering hidden information will encourage the PCs to explore the universe and seek out mysteries to unravel.

So, first I want a physical setting in which I can set NPCs with secrets and agendas of their own and in which I can seed adventure ideas. Second, I need to tie some of the secrets and NPC agendas together in a first adventure that also contains hints and clues about a bigger campaign, the actual story that the PCs will create while exploring the setting.

Setting Creation Example

The Galaxy in the Bulldogs! universe is small as galaxies go, but it is still big. Around 10,000 light years end to end and 2,000 top to bottom. Even with hyperdrive capable of flying five light years an hour, a ship still takes over two months to cross the Galaxy.

To get started, all I really want is a broad overview of the Galaxy so I have an idea of where all the races live and where allies and enemies come from. Bulldogs! provides two empires and an area, called the Frontier, between them created to end a devastating war.

Even the Frontier is too big to work with to start, however. At this point, I want to continue to narrow my starting area down to an area the PCs can both envision easily and get around in.

In a fantasy game, that might be a kingdom. In Bulldogs! I'm going to start with a cluster of stars with a diameter of 500 light years called the Kravel Cluster (named after the most important system in the cluster). I am developing this area with several adventure seeds that might interest the PCs.

At this point, I would usually focus in on one planet (or a village or city in a fantasy game) and create a first adventure to draw the PCs in. I would detail some local NPCs, develop a few secrets, and toss in an adventure that would bring the PCs together.

I'm not going to do that with this campaign however. Instead, I'm going to get the PCs together and give them a reason to enter the Kravel Cluster. Once there, the PCs will be free to explore and follow up leads as they wish. Creating an open-ended area is a daunting and challenging task that could result in the PCs floundering around without direction.

To avoid getting the PCs totally lost in the Kravel Cluster I need to do two things. I need to provide them with enough information to make intelligent decisions when seeking adventure. And I need to seed enough clues in the Kravel Cluster to encourage the PCs to seek out answers to hidden secrets. With those two tasks completed, I can bring the PCs together as a group and give them a reason to stick together.

Campaign and Adventure Creation Example

Bulldogs! provides several campaign start ideas including suggested ways to get the group together and a few sample adventures. Looking through those will give me an idea on how to get the group together.

I decide to use Deep Space Exploration. A patron offers to provide the PCs with a ship to explore the Kravel Cluster. In exchange, they get to keep fifty percent of the profits they make, but they also must pay fifty percent of repairs and/or upgrades to the ship. This campaign fits in well with the Kravel Cluster, starts the PCs at 1st level, and provides them with a possible patron and ship.

Based on the idea that the PCs end up planet bound in the middle of nowhere, They will start their exploration on the planet Andromache (described under Frontier Colony in Bulldogs!) having worked on a freighter to get there. The players can decide if their characters know each other yet or not.

What's Next?

Three adventure ideas are provided for Deep Space Exploration. I can use the three adventure ideas as opportunities for the PCs to investigate, thereby giving them much more creative control over the evolving story. With three adventures ready to go I can provide the PCs with information that will pertain to each adventure. As they investigate one or more of the adventures, they will discover how useful their starting knowledge can be.

Finally, I need to start giving hints about upcoming challenges and bits and pieces that may eventually reveal hidden secrets. I'll be introducing the Kravel Cluster, a patron, and ship so I want to develop secrets for each. I'll take any suggestions you have to offer.

I'll create the three mini-adventures and play the first game. The PCs will be introduced to both the Bulldogs! rules and universe. I'll plant ideas for future adventures, create a couple of NPC contacts, and start revealing some secrets.

I'll need a secret for the PCs' patron. Their patron knows of two possible commercial ventures: a nearby system contains a gas giant that could have valuable gasses and industrial metals are rumored to be in a nearby system.

The PCs themselves may know the following: Telemetry Station 006 is in orbit and many travelers pass through and the new colony on Dokor can use supplies and the world is not fully explored

Finally, an NPC might know the following: base chemicals for fuel might be in an unexplored system. That NPC may later end up murdered on Dokor.

One possible adventure will be Sen Gamma Rescue, which is available for free here: http://www.galileogames.com/bulldogs/pdf/SenGammaRescue_Adventure.pdf. PCs could travel to Telemetry Station 006 looking for adventures or just to stop for a drink.

I'll need to come up with a secret concerning the station itself, T'Prinn the bartender, and T'Parn the adminstrator. The smugglers themselves may work with nearby pirates (an adventure seed from Bulldogs!) and clues could lead the PCs to the pirate's base. I might also give one of the natives a secret and his home planet.

Next Month

What I'll cover in the next column is the other two adventures I decide to develop first all in ways that will encourage the PCs to explore, adventure, and seek to unravel some mysteries. Also, how the PCs' choices in the first adventure helped build the Kravel system and helped direct my design for future adventures.

If you have any secrets you think should be hidden in the Kravel system, have adventure ideas, or any other suggestions please share them here. I can use all the input I can get! Sharing your own design tips and secrets would be helpful as well.

May your imagination rule the worlds you create,
Charlie

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