Some important concepts from my work in computer software can definitely be applied to campaign planning. Let's talk about two of them.Image (cc) Tim ProbertSeparation of ConcernThink of any dungeon* you've seen - or have written - with a map of the layout, lists of encounters for each room, key items and notes on where they are hidden. How many times have you, as GM, had to skip, rearrange, shuffle or rebuild parts in response to the party's actions? Exactly.Separating the elements means more flexibility. Generally, the dungeon map doesn't care what monsters lie within and the monsters don't care what important treasures they guard. So if we plan loosely we can make it easier to change or add things on the fly.Let's say instead we have:a handful of dungeon* maps, with or without notes about key featuresa page of magical or plot related items and a list of - or means to generate - treasurea page for each faction/threat with a few common monsters, and some sketches of common encounters at various l
Image (cc) Dean PetersThere is an age old argument for and against the "Railroad" and the "Sandbox" when it comes to RPG campaigns.Railroads are pre-set linear story paths that the players can break by deviating from them; this is the main criticism that tends to be levelled at traditional published adventures.Sandboxes are environments that let the plots be driven by the players; the GM leaves hooks and clues for them to find but the story follows the players' choices.But these aren't the only options, these are just the options that are easy to publish.Some people love a sandbox. The Welsh Piper blog has some amazing hex map creation tools perfect for sandbox campaigns and hex crawls are an old-school D&D staple. The counterpoint is that sandboxes can lack focus - this is one of the many things I agree with The Angry GM about. Popular opinion is that a railroad is bad, but a railroad is easy to run for new GMs. Until the players break it and you end up having to write your own ma
Image (cc) paganjesus on DeviantArtI'm the kind of person who likes to have a project, so I'm setting myself one right here.For years I've been looking for a way to weave the player characters into engaging plots while still keeping prep low and flexibility high, and it finally feels like things are falling into place. My hobby project for the rest of this year is going to be formalising my ideas and getting them down on paper. Electrons. Like so:On DMing, or How I Learned to Let Go and Embrace the Chaos (May)Railroad / Sandbox / Other (June)Reusability and Separation of Concern (July)Using a Grid for Plot Components (August)Populating the Grid (September)Using the Grid for Planning (October)Reshuffling Items in the Grid (November)Example Campaign (December)Sounds manageable, and by the end I'll know if it works or not. Hope you'll follow along. I'll be using this post as an index as I go and post a retrospective at the end, wish me luck!
Image (cc) amorphisss on DeviantArtFae don't seem to feature much in Dungeons and Dragons games (that I have played) and I think it's probably because they're low challenge in combat. But why would faeries, who are essentially physically weak extradimensional magic users, be interested in engaging in combat when they could be playing to their strengths?By their nature, the Fair Folk are otherworldly, capricious, playful, powerful, and broadly disinterested in us and our world unless they can derive some entertainment or gain.Here are my thoughts on how to take advantage of this nature to have fun at the table:The faerie realm (or the Feywild if you insist) is not part of our realm, so have fun with geometry and geography:Faerie roads can join places in our realm with little concern for their true geographical - or even temporal - relationships.A moment in the faerie realm could be years in ours, or vice versa.Things that are small in one realm can be vast in the other.Fae settlements and buildings do not need
Image (cc) Kridily on DeviantArtDungeons & Dragons is a bad game.* Bad naughty. It's irresponsible in that it doesn't show us how to be Dungeon Masters - my favourite term for which is Apocalypse World's "MC" as we are, after all, Master of Ceremonies above all else.D&D teaches us to build encounters, but not how to build stories and worlds. It teaches us to think in terms of probabilities and not stakes. I learnt to DM on 4e and I've spent maybe a decade unlearning how it was presented to me then. It took Stars Without Number and Dungeon World to open my eyes to how a game could be run.Embracing the ChaosThe adage "No plan survives contact with the players" is particularly true at our table it seems, but it's usually expressed as a negative. Dungeon World says Play To Find Out What Happens and I decided to embrace the chaos and go with that in my homebrew Stars Without Number campaign. Let the players drive the story and I'll try to steer, or just sit back and watc
Liberator by Phil Parker, on FlickrHow could I not recommend the magnificent Stars Without Number as a top tier FREE GAME?Stars Without Number - Free Edition is the game that changed how I DM. It helped me prep just enough and forgot about "building encounters" and start enjoying the game so much more. It's the game I wish I'd run first, but more on that later.But how does it play?Mechanically, it's an odd mix of d20 (for combat and saves) and 2d6 (for skills) but the players didn't seem to mind. Skills are distinct enough without being too granular and it all seems to work. Being an OSR game there are hit dice and hit points, and my favourite method for rolling HP when you level I have seen so far: roll all your hit dice and get that if it's higher than your current total, or get +1 HP if you rolled lower. It really helps to smooth the curve.Character generation is somewhat random, in a similar vein to Mythras, but the players' non-random Focus (think Feat) choices and Skill pick mean
One thing I loved when reading Dungeon World was how all the moves fall into the same basic pattern:10+ (on 2d6 plus modifiers) means clean success7-9 means success, but with a cost or limitation6 or less means failure and the DM moves the story alongIt's an easy change from pass/fail and it runs right through all "Powered by the Apocalypse" games. Note how there's no DC. I like this. So often my players roll skill checks and announce the result before I decide the DC that I end up just eyeballing it - so why not get rid of it? This is all about stakes and not about difficulty.So for my beloved Stars Without Number it's an easy enough change for me to want to start using it, I guess it is for any other 2d6 system, but can we apply it to D&D? Mathematically (according to AnyDice and some probability calculations) this should map to 18+, 9-17, and 8 or less which is actually not too clunky!However, 2d6 and 1d20 give totally different distribution shapes, so any modifiers are going to swing thing