Looking for some guidance...

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I am going to have the honor of DMing my group's 4E gaming. My objective for the campaign is to have a campaign not driven by plot, but by the character's. Their actions will shape the world, for good or bad, and they will see the spoils of their victory, or the consequences of defeat.

Previously, my choice had been to work in a setting from a fantasy novel I was working on. The problem I eventually ran into with this was the fact it had a main plot already going, this plot was to determine the outcome of the world. If I were to place the players in the middle of this plot, it would alter the setting. However, if they are not placed into this main plot, then they play second fiddle to the heroes of the world.

So, after long deliberation, I have decided to shelve that setting for the time being. Now, it is back to the drawing board, or word processor if you will, to create a new setting, a setting all about them.

Now, you have the background, I am looking for some guidance on a few issues:

1) I want the world and setting to be a living and breathing thing. This, to me, requires time and creativity, I lack neither at this point. However, how much do I write and create ahead of time? If the campaign will be written by the players, how much do I write before we begin playing?

2) My goal is to create a dark fantasy setting. I would not go so far as to call it horror, but the world and its current status could be considered horrific. How do I bring across the horror feel of the game without stripping the fantasy from it?

3) My initial setting idea is to use guilds (perhaps replaced with a synonym at a different time) as the political element. Of course, these guilds would represent every class, plus whatever additional guilds may have been created. However, how do I deal with the additional classes in the later books?

I realize there are no wrong or right answers to these questions I have, but I am looking for ideas. I pride myself on writing a better story and allowing for flexible rule bending rather than playing a strict game. If my players have the time of their lives with the story and I have to bend some rules one way or another, I do it in a heartbeat.

So, some guidance is needed in order to quell my concerns.

Thanks!
You know, I was about to write a big post, but here's a good place to start:

http://www.darkshire.net/jhkim/rpg/dnd/dungeoncraft/

Some of the articles there are 2e specific, but the world building advice is great.

Edit: For future classes, leave some blank space. IMC, I've set aside some of the areas that don't involve the current plot as regions where new classes and such can hail from. The advantage to a point of light approach is that you can leave regions that you aren't using yet as blanks. There are rumors and stories of such places, but nothing concrete.

-------------------------------

Answers to rules questions are meant to be helpful advice or insights, not canonical R&D dictates. Treat them as unofficial, but (hopefully) useful.

Thanks for the great link, it looks like it will give me some wonderful ideas.

I am curious, in the link there is talk about maps for players. How do most DMs deal with maps? Let's say the map is being created from scratch, do you use a cartographer software (I know of ProFantasy, but cannot find anything else) or do you use Microsoft Paint?
I always draw out my maps on graph paper...guess I'm kind of a luddite that way.

Anyway I too am an aspiring novelist, and I find that the problem with trying to build a setting around your book world is that one gets attached to the story, which can lead to railroad games if you're not careful. I also find that a lot of times a finely detailed campaign setting can lead to this as well.

Personally, and this is just an opinion so take it with a grain of salt, if I want to run a player character driven campaign, I like to keep things fast and loose initially. I think of it kind of like the Baldurs Gate games, where most of the world is blacked out until the party explores it. Or, you could look at the world as a separate character that develops right alongside the PC's. Of course, you'd want to have a sort of world bible down to remind you of the basic concepts and design elements, but beyond this I would just keep things tabula rasa so to speak.

Also, I read through Worlds and Monsters this weekend and the Points of Light setting sounds ideal for a horror-esque campaign, plus it's realy only an implied setting, so there's a lot of room for maneuverability and it's that much less work for you.

Happy gaming.
I would suggest not linking guilds or organizations directly to specific classes.

IMO, base classes (unlike prestige classes) are metagame concepts that don't really make sense when used as an in-game category.

Having one guild = one class also leaves huge holes in the guild's capabilities.

Imagine a Thieves Guild.. wouldn't they want to have some Fighters to bust heads, Clerics to heal them up and perform divinations, and Mages to do all the good stuff that Mages can do?

Having guilds as political forces is great, but I would recommend structuring them around goals or objectives, rather than PC classes.
I would suggest not linking guilds or organizations directly to specific classes.

IMO, base classes (unlike prestige classes) are metagame concepts that don't really make sense when used as an in-game category.

Having one guild = one class also leaves huge holes in the guild's capabilities.

Imagine a Thieves Guild.. wouldn't they want to have some Fighters to bust heads, Clerics to heal them up and perform divinations, and Mages to do all the good stuff that Mages can do?

Having guilds as political forces is great, but I would recommend structuring them around goals or objectives, rather than PC classes.

Seconded, even though this isn't the way it would have worked out historically, as guilds were really just primitive labor unions, I find that it's better for the story if you keep the professional relationships of guilds more vague and tie them more closely to a common goal and core ideology.
Let's say the map is being created from scratch, do you use a cartographer software (I know of ProFantasy, but cannot find anything else) or do you use Microsoft Paint?

I use GIMP (which is an alternative to Photoshop). My maps are quite basic, my dungeon/city maps are nothing more then straight lines with names, numbers (where I write more detail on an area insteadof simply a name) and a white background.

I've also got a world map that is almost completely white. I've got smaller maps of specific areas that are much more detailed, but there's still lots of white. At the moment I've got the first few weeks of travel mapped out (although some towns only have a name while others have even less). Surrounding this is white. After my players pick a direction to travel (they can go either north, east, south, or stay in the area they're in) I'll start to develop the white area in that direction.

I'm planning on staying 1 game session in front of my players. So let's say they did nothing but travel south, they could get quite close to the edge of the developed world, but its unlikely they'd get beyond it.

Having said that there are pockets of developed areas outside of the starting area. I'm putting those in as I come up with ideas, before I forget the ideas. Sometimes I'll map out an idea for a place but I don't know anything beyond that area.
Having the player's determine the plot can be difficult.

Why? Generally in a group of people there are a fair number of people that will be having trouble deciding what to do.

The trick is to be open to possabilities and yet avoid railroading.

Here are some suggestions that I have used.

1> Hand the players something and let them determine what it is and create the significance.

I once ran a WoD Mage campaign where I would provide something like a letter (no words printed on it) to one of the players and let them determine where that item came from and what significance that it held.

This type of technique works with roleplayers that have some schooling in improv theatre as it requires the player to develop their own story to the object or item.

The same sort of idea with less free form is where the DM provides an object that is hard to ignore and requires some response from the players.

Dead bodies are good (as a bar fight settles down have a dead body be found on floor under a table -- body plunges from the roof of a building to die a few feet away from the players -- players hail a carriage or take a room and find a dead body inside)

Suspicious items are also good (players are walking through town when some riders go buy and a big jingly bag falls at the player's feet -- one of the player's is passed a note from a bar maid or a vendor in a market -- players find something unusal in their bag of trail rations like a precious item or a baby monster/egg).

You think up something.

2> A list of choices. This is used when you want to focus the players down a few recommended paths but does not limit them to one particualar choice. If the players are part of an organization like a thieves guild then they will likely be given rumours of a few promising targets or ways to make money.

Players can then evaluate the choices offered and make a pick on the ones that sound interesting or suited to them.

Similar to this is the list of town rumours. Some of them may pan into adventures and some may be ignored.

A good thieves guild adventure that I participated in had the DM providing a changing list of rumours with players given the option to go to various other characters with help completing various quests or adventures.

The player's only requirement was to find some way to earn a living inside of the town. This was not a save the world type of campaign but instead it was try to survive inside of city. Various neighbourhoods were the home of certain characters giving them advantage in those enviroments and disadvantage when they went to other areas.

3> The last major type is the goal oriented campaign. Players are given a solid goal that they know they need to achieve and then given freedom to choose how to complete that goal.

An example might be to defeat the evil empire or carve a kingdom from the wilderness.

Players can then choose actions that they see as furthering that goal. Not all stories need to further the goal but the majority of the stories that the players will attempt will in some way relate to the main goal.

Players should choose their latest action to further the cause and then inform the DM of the basic what, where, when, and how parameters. The DM then helps guide the players along their journey of completion.


Ok, I hope that helps for thinking on how to run a campaign without a fixed plot.
1) I want the world and setting to be a living and breathing thing. This, to me, requires time and creativity, I lack neither at this point. However, how much do I write and create ahead of time? If the campaign will be written by the players, how much do I write before we begin playing?

2) My goal is to create a dark fantasy setting. I would not go so far as to call it horror, but the world and its current status could be considered horrific. How do I bring across the horror feel of the game without stripping the fantasy from it?

3) My initial setting idea is to use guilds (perhaps replaced with a synonym at a different time) as the political element. Of course, these guilds would represent every class, plus whatever additional guilds may have been created. However, how do I deal with the additional classes in the later books?

1) I'd say go ahead and write as much as you want. For a lot of DMs, world creation is a big part of the fun of DMing, even if parts of what they invent never manage to make it into a game. In my opinion, coming up with "too much" background ahead of time is never a problem - I think it's always nice to have extra details to fall back on.

If you're looking for a way to have your players provide direction to the campaign, then I'd recommend one way to get started is by having an informal character creation session with no actual gameplay involved. While the players make their characters, you provide them with details about the world they'll be playing in. Ask them what they want their characters immediate and long-term goals to be, and how they plan to go about accomplishing them. With a little luck and work you should be able to come up with an idea for a starting adventure based on everyone's collaborative input. At next week's session you'll all be ready to go!

2) I love dark fantasy settings too - not classic horror, just bleak and scary. This works perfectly with the Points of Light concept. There are just way too many ways to go about creating this atmosphere for me to possibly describe them all here, but one of my favorite ways is to simply keep the PCs waiting for the axe to fall. Anyone who's ever watched a horror/thriller knows that the scariest parts are often the moments of breathless "waiting for SOMETHING BAD to happen." What you don't see is often scarier than what you do - a lot of the scare goes out of a monster once you get a good look at it. Because of this, I find a good tactic is to let tension build and build, playing off the players' expectation that something horrible is about to happen. Then you occasionally punctuate this tension with absolutely frantic, terrible "stuff." :D

3) I agree with Matthew77 in not having your guilds tied to individual character classes. Creating the guilds from a wider variety of groups might work a little better (ex. various merchant/trade guilds & professional/labour guilds), although it might be fun to loosely tie some guilds to specific character classes (ex. a mercenary guild for fighters, a spellcrafter guild for wizards). I wouldn't be too strict with pigeonholing each class into into a single guild, though.
An addition to my previous post.

4> You can provide a circumstance that forces the players to react and develop a solution.

This could be abandoment on a deserted island or having the players all be slaves in a large city (aka Rome). The initial placement of the players forces them to react or take action in some way.

What got me thinking on this was watching the new anime Vampire Knight. It made me think of an idea that I call 'House of Blood'. This is a sort of Ravenloft/Dracula idea where the players would all be asked to create as part of their back story how they came to be in a large castle that was owned/ruled by a family of vampires.

The players are thus in a situation where they can work to explore the castle, serve the family, ask to do errands, attempt to do opposition, or something else. Being on the end of the food chain though will keep them wondering and also knowing that what they say or do may be observed should keep them also a bit paranoid.

In such a story, the players are toys to the vampires that should be in the Paragon level while players are in the Heroic level. Players will thus have to work hard and together to even take down one of the vampires if that is what they want to attemp to do.
Continuation of idea 4>

I watched new anime Bus Gamer which made me think of another circumstance that could force players into making decisions but still not fully limit their ability to do as they like.

Bus Gamer is a form of arena contest / mortal kombat. Companies choose a group of people to be their team. Teams then play the equivelent of 'flags' with an item held by the 'home' team which the 'away' team must get and hold by the end of the period of the contest round.

Roles of home and away switch from round to round and the prize money doubles with success in each round.

I would imagine this to be a 'quick' gladitorial model with each successful round resulting in the gain of a level by the players. Players would likely reach the end of the campaign around level 15 or so.

If you wanted to quickly break a group into the new 4e mindset then this would be one of the better ways to do it. They would quickly get a chance to experience levels 1 to 15 for purposes of power and progression with varying challenges at each level.

A bit of a contrived campaign but most gladitorial campaigns are more 'meat and potatoes' then other types of campaigns.

A DM could choose to have the players be forced into the contest because they were slaves or have the players at the begining of the campaign choose a reason they participated and what they would eventually do with th grand prize.
My problem with player driven campaigns is usually the players. No offense to my game group, who I doubt read these forums, but I have tried time after time to establish motivations for their characters. With only few exceptions the most common answer I get is: "Phat Loot! We want Loot!' This even went so far as my players demanding they get to "go shopping" in those exact words.

Players that have no motivations for their characters will not do anything without being lead by the nose...and then they might complain of railroading.

To that end, I have been working on some player motivational tools. The first is my creation I have dubbed BIM Cards (Backgrounds Interests and Motivations). The following is the text I sent to my players on a handout explaining the BIM card purpose

BIM cards represent a very important aspect of your past. Use the information provided on this card to help you understand your character's goals and motivations.
If the situation or theme presented on this card is ever resolved in any fashion you are welcome to request another card.


Take a look at the table below and either pick or roll to determine a motivating factor in your character’s life. This of course is not an end-all be-all definition of your character, but rather just a small tool for you and the DM to help create a richer, more personal story.

The best part is you don’t have to do a lot of work! Just pick or roll and let your DM know the results. The DM gets all the hard parts, like thinking, writing and brain using so you can save your energy for swinging your sword at that orc! You will be given a card to remind you of your choice and the significance it will have in your game. That’s right! You won’t even have to remember. Your handy B.I.M. Card will do all the work for you!


d20 roll Theme
1-2 Romance
3-4 Family
5-6 Religion
7-8 Friendship
9-10 Mentor
11-12 Education
13-14 Craftsmanship
15-16 Magic
17-18 Enemy
19-20 Crime


A second idea for getting a party motivated and cohesive I learned from the Fear the Boot podcast (www.feartheboot.com). The hosts of fear the boot talk about building a group template. During that first session when you make your characters have the group decide what they will be doing and how they can create a better story on their end. You can find the group template here http://www.feartheboot.com/resources.aspx

Unfortunately I haven't really tried either out yet as I am reserving all my tricks for the unveiling of 4th ed. We shall see.