In my next few blog posts I’d like to think about campaign structure a bit. I’ll revisit the campaigns that I’ve ran and played in and see what I liked of the structure and what could be improved.
For now I’ve decided on three topics to write about:
- Getting acquaintance with the world as a player. Starting as a player can be difficult in a world you don’t know much about. How do we handle this?
- Timers and pressure. I want the enemy feel dangerous and this means pressure to put on the party. When and how do we start putting pressure on the party (especially when they don’t know the world yet)?
- An end goal and how to get there. This will also go into ‘how do I prepare my sessions?’ and introducing a BBEG. Also, how do the characters fit in?
Today I want to start with introducing the world I built to the players.
Getting acquaintanced with the world
I often feel a bit lost as a player when I’m thrown into a new campaign. My character has lived there all their live, but I don’t know anything about it. What can we do as DM and as player to help this?
As a DM I think it’s good to tell beforehand what kind of world it is, but there’s often no time or space to go into the nitty gritty details. I think the least you should do as a DM, when players have picked their characters, is to say how usually the classes are portrayed in society. A wizard can, for example, both be high class in some games, and prosecuted in others. This is very important to tell players beforehand. Maybe the thieves guild has been falling apart and there are now two in the city that are competing. Important information.
A thing I did in my own campaign, but was not very happy with in the end, was to have several session 0’s in different games. We had a worldbuilding session where we played the Quiet Year to set up a continent. Then we had Do Not Let Us Die in the Dark Night of this Cold Winter to set up a village in the winter. And we ended the worldbuilding session 0’s with the villagers that were left over fleeing to the city because of a troglodyte threat. On their way they were rescued by the final party for the campaign.
Although the games were fun and definitely not a waste, it didn’t work out enough with pulling my players into the world. Even though they now knew some more things, even had come up with several landmarks, in the end they just forgot about it because they thought the games had little importance or because of the time between the games. At least there was little reaction when they finally came at the evil hide-out that they had come up with themselves.
I think it’s important as a DM to have some examples in your first sessions on how different people interact with the world. Almost as an exposé, it must show the hardships that the party can solve, but they must also choose a side at the same time.
I tried this in my campaign in one session by having a merchant become a goblin king, because he fed them for a while. Under pressure of the Goblins he was becoming more chaotic and evil though. He wanted to escape, but was held there under watch.
As a player I do like to be pulled into the world building process of the DM or at least give myself the freedom to come up with stories and tales that belong in the world. When I was playing a Cultist in Low Fantasy Gaming, I told some holy tales in a sermon that I had written myself. These tales eventually lead to an adventure, finding an old temple I told about in the forest. I thought that was very generous, maybe too generous, of the DM, but it was a lot of fun.
I could see myself playing a barbarian telling the stories of my ancestors too. How they roamed the plains but now things have changed. Or a wizard writing poetry about the world. In any case, I am a writer at heart and I love these additions to put into a game as a player if there’s room for it. The problem is that I don’t often feel the room to do so.
In the Hotsprings Island game I’m playing in now, we had a lot of introduction to the game. Our first 5 sessions or so were just exploring back and forth on the island. Although we had missions and there was a bit of time pressure, it didn’t feel like there was pressure. We just had to survive and that was difficult but doable. Around the 6th session we were starting to mingle with the factions of the island. I think this was a bit of a too long introduction where the world was basically in stasis.
It’s alright to have a long introduction to the world, but the wheels should keep moving.
I really recommend talking to the players and see if they want to be involved with the worldbuilding and in what way. Worldbuilding should go on during the campaign, I think, and I think it’s very fun if I have the room to come up with my own tales and experiences of the world (and also if other players do).