Building Your Own Campaign World

World SketchLast week I asked the question of if you brew your own campaign world and gave some cost effective options for those people that wanted to get into a pre made campaign.  This week I am going to run through part one of building your own campaign world from scratch.  To do this I am going to base it in Pathfinder and give references to resources that I use in that system.  That said, the setting that I will come up with will be easily adapted to most rules systems so if you like it use it.  Take it as a basis and make it your own.

The first thing to do is come up with some kind of hook or seed for your world.  What is going to set it apart from every other campaign world.  Think of the classic books: Tolkien’s seed was the One Ring and probably persistent evil, Weis – Hickman had the riding of dragons, Feist’s initially was likely the linking of worlds and the strength of magic, Gemell is normally about legend and Eddings prophecy fulfillment.  All of these are generalisations and each of these authors had/have much more going on in their writing than just these small snippets that were taken out of them.  It is great to start with a central idea or theme that you want to investigate or expand that makes your world yours!

You will want to keep in mind your players if you know who they are already.  A group that loves high powered magical adventure is less likely to go with a premise of lowly court intrigue with little action but loads of diplomacy.  It can be helpful to sit down with the group prior to your first design session and talk to them about what they like to give you an idea on what to focus on as a hook or a theme.  As I am not likely to use this setting that I will create for this blog until I work out how to remain awake for twenty three hours a day I have no idea who my group is so I will select a theme that I would be interested expanding.

Persistence of Spirit

So there is my theme.  It does not need to be a four page document, and mine is only three words long.  It need only mean something to you at this point.  But as I am trying to demonstrate how to build your own campaign I will clue you in by what I mean with those three words.  I want to create a fantasy land in which death is a true transition of the spirit.  In death the spirit of the creature persists for some time before the spirit is taken by the God that rules the realms of death.  What this means in game is that the character can be played past a death event but I will need to develop some other material around that before I start up.

The next thing you should do is start the design and there are two ways you can go with this.  Basically it all comes down to a question of scope.  If you only want to have a one off game, you don’t need to create a complete world or continent, all you would need do is create the village and surrounds it is going to happen in.  You only need to create the NPC’s and environments that you are likely to use.  If you want to run a campaign that will last over several years though you will have to up the scope BUT you can make it one bit at a time developing more and more NPC’s and areas as you think of your world or continent involve.

Mind MapIn a campaign style game where I am expecting most, if not all, of my game sessions to revolve in or around the setting I would spend some time with a pen and some scrap paper or a mind map/brainstorming app for your tablet/computer to build a mind map for the idea that I have created as a seed.  From this you can think about anything at all about the setting from NPC’s to locales to adventures to unique treasures, gods.  If you can imagine it, write it down.  Don’t edit yourself immediately just write it down.  There is plenty of time to edit stuff that seems silly or ill conceived when you come back to it.

After you have done a run through at the brainstorm and you have exhausted your ideas for the time being (remember you have a long time to continue development) go through your mind map and decide what is worth keeping and what is not.  Be merciless, if you look at something and can’t think what the idea came from, cut it and have a think about what you want to expand initially in the list.

Pathfinder BooksThe main rulebook of Pathfinder focuses much more on building a couple of adventures up front with the campaign and extending on from there.  I would tend to agree with this approach with one exception.  People like to see or know a bit about the world around them so I would prepare a map at least of the kingdom or country that they are in.  This is a must in a game where the scope has you expecting to play many sessions in the world you create.  Just because you have a map does not mean that you need to know everything about it and you can use dirty tricks like I do on my campaign map that is shown here by having unknown or unexplored regions.

The next step I would take would be to begin building the initial settlement or base for the players.  in my mind-map and on the map I created for the campaign I chose the village of Dante’s Rest as the place that the players will start.  The very first thing I would do is build a settlement stat block as set  template as is set out in the Gamemaster Guide pp. 203-213.  This will give you some statistics that you can refer to for the game but not really put any life into the setting.  The stat block for Dante’s Rest would be the following;

Dante’s Rest

NG village
Corruption: -3  Crime: -1   Economy: -1   Law: -1   Lore:  +0  Society:  +0
Qualities: Holy Site, Rumourmongering Citizens
Danger: +0

Population: 134 (89 humans, 23 Elves, 15 Halflings, 7 other)
Notable NPC’s:
Mayoress Rowan Mayfair
(Human Aristocrat 7 NPC Codex p. 253)
Blacksmith Terran Harfoot (Halfling Expert 6 NPC Codex p.262 modified halfling racial stats)
Innkeeper Selma Treble (Human Expert 4/Warrior 1 Gamemastery Guide p.303)
Brother Elleniel of Bindara (Human Cleric of Bindara 11 NPC Codex p.52)

Base Value:  500 gp   Purchase Limit:  2500 gp  Spellcasting:  5th Level
Minor Items:  1d6  Medium Items: 1d3   Major Items: –

To flavour the stat block a little, give your village or settlement a little bit of a historical blurb that touches on some of the salient points in the statistics.  For example, the below flavour text would give you a great start in thinking of the village as more than a simple set of statistics:

Dante’s Rest is a humble unassuming village sitting on top of a bluff that overlooks the Fell Sea.  It is here that the great hero Dante, Jasmine the Creator’s only mortal lover, was killed by the Graveknight Listross who was reincarnated into the Armour of the Fang to challenge the only mortal that had lain with a God.  Dante’s companion Terella preserved Dante’s corpse and built him a sarcophagi of the purest veins of crystal that are found in the caves that riddle the bluff.  She made it her life’s work to build an amazing mausoleum that was testament to the heroes courage.

Today it is said that only the blood of Terella may become Mayor of the village that sprung up around the mausoleum.  It is far from the metropolises of the Radiant Kingdom but it attracts its fair share of religious pilgrims and history scholars.  It is due to this steady flow of travellers that flow through the town that it is said that the truth of any small rumour can be found at the bar of The Fallen Siren, a famed Inn located with its outlook over the cliffs of Dante’s Bluff as the area is now known.

Now we have the backbone of our little village we need to start giving it some real flavour and build on the culture of our land.  We will want to introduce a good deal of detail to the characters of Dante’s Rest when they start adventuring as it is likely the place that they have called home, though this may not be the case also.  We need to build this village as a microcosm for our game and it’s seed, being the persistence of spirit.  We want the first adventure to reflect this seed and so part two of Building Your Own Campaign World will focus on bringing our initial adventure and locale to life.  Taking the stat block above and turning it into a place that the players will remember and talk about in years to come!

Mark Knights is  39 year old guy living in a small rural town called Elliott in Tasmania, Australia.  I have been role playing since I was 11 years old playing the original versions of Dungeons and Dragons, MERP, Elric, Dragon Warriors and the like amongst other genre games.  I played D&D 2nd Edition through the 90′s but I ran Earthdawn for my fantasy setting and loved it as a GM.  When 3rd Edition came out for D&D I tried it but found it too heavy on rules.  I ignored the 3.5 edition of DnD in favour of Earthdawn (big mistake) as I thought it was just a money spinner.  When 4th Edition DnD came on my players and I gave it a red hot go but hated what it had dumbed the game down to be.  On a trip to Melbourne to buy some 4E stuff from a hobby store an old mate of mine pointed me at Pathfinder and in a Fantasy setting I have never looked back.

2 thoughts on “Building Your Own Campaign World

  1. In my case I prefer to start with the universe itself, then work my way down. But, take no more time until I reach the level of the scenarios than I absolutely have to. At least enough to wing it should the party go beyond the immediate bounds of their world. That said, I substantially agree with you.

    Interesting village by the way.

  2. Thanks. I was going to try to explain the top down approach as well but it made the blog a little confused so I took it out hoping that this was a more newbie friendly approach to the concept. As these blogs continue I will play them out and then do a blog to end it off that will talk about things like the top down approach as a more advanced way to tackle things.

    I did like the village and I have to say I am looking forward to see where this “goes” so to speak as the idea of playing a character past death in a traditional style game like Pathfinder has always interested me. We will see soon where I go with it.

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