Content of the article: "For those needing help with Non Railroad Campaign and Worldbuilding"
I recently replied to this post: https://www.reddit.com/r/DMAcademy/comments/kuo363/writers_block_more_stubborn_than_an_immovable_rod/git2zz0/?context=3
regarding the issues of building a world and creating a campaign that is not railroaded without needing to analyze every single little detail of the world before the puck even drops. Some things I found with a bunch of videos and my campaign I have been running so far. Just to note, this works for me, might not for you, takes a bit of preplanning, and I am new as well (only 13 sessions so far) so season as needed to make palatable.
Making Overarching Campaign Plot
Best thing is to have set up the "unless case" Rather than planning a massive narrative, plan the main arc off of the bbeg's plan process. They want something by a certain time to that something happens, which keeps getting foiled by the PCs. For example, BBEG wants to take over old tech building so it has chance of releasing dead magic zone over entire world, making it the most powerful. How to do this? Maybe they are an artificer, and need to find the key to this building. Now have the BBEG assign a few minions to go search for the key. If they get the key, go to next step. Maybe the key needs to be properly oiled? get those people. Maybe the key is a dud, find a new one, or fool the lock. Repeat.
This makes it really easy for campaign changes to take place. For example, PCs suddenly steal key. Now the PCs may or may not know what it does and might throw it into their bag. Now mug them. If they bring it to the city to be identified, warring factions state their "opinion" on what it is, selling it as fact. The main thing is, the BBEG will do whatever they are capable of doing to get this key, until not using the key becomes easier.
I started using this method, and it makes it much easier to plan, and has a good mix of your control and PC control. With this, you an still have your epic battle locations, such as the fight on top of the building dodging failing stonework and antimagic blasts, but you don't need to have every little thing planned. What ends up happening is that you end up with a "railroaded" campaign when looked back upon, but what was really happening was that you were laying the track infront of the train with guidance from the PCs (the conductor). See https://media1.tenor.com/images/2215a91a8a528f56b3f0a510f15d0761/tenor.gif?itemid=3793283
This makes world building feel full, but you don't need absolutely everything. Rather than doing all the prep before the campaign starts, you can now prep an overarching plot, a subplot, and the adventure, and the thext session all in about 1-2 hours a week, rather than hundreds before even starting. Remember that you are there to create a story with the players, not tell them one, but you do end up telling most of the story, as you are the one that creates meaning behind their actions. If you abandon all premises of story, you end up with a bunch of them sitting around a table saying "what do you want to do". And that can be both Players and PCs.
In more general game knowledge, an NPC name list is really helpful. If fantasy, there are many fantasy name generators out there. If mirrored after real world, use a census from the equivalent time and space.
You go through a lot of random characters, you don't need to write them all down, but try and add 1 descriptive thing about them. Your characters don't have to be like videogame store owners whose whole logic is "buying or selling" and "That will be <x> gold". Example, my group decided to walk into a random bar. Made the bartender a bit more chipper than the average one, and went with it. By the end, we found out that he left the big city to get away from being a bartender to the university crowd. None of that was planned, but was formed by the rapport and discussion between your PCs and you as you go through a discussion. Main thing is, let characters develop naturally, and work out a goal for them. People are toast if they dont have a goal, so ensure even the most boring NPC has one. These can be made up on the fly, but will make each feel more unique. And don't have it be to cheat PCs out of as much money as possible.
I see this one show up a lot. I made myself a playlist in Youtube for the extremely gritty details. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLGEbHiCntvcdF7O0g_vdcRrP1fifiXfyl This goes through all of it, but some more things to add are thinking about the geography and the impact it has on your world. Society can be defined as the cyclical impact of geography and technology on humans. Meaning, people live where they do for a reason, and if something gets in the way, they build to overcome it.
Example: mountains, which have valuable ore. Towns will form around the mines, but the trek into them is long and steep. Footpaths develop along the easiest routes, and some people will build cabins and hotels along the road, especially where 2 cross. these form towns solely based on commerce. The town may process the gold there, and exchange for money, if so, expect all things that you would get from having a bunch of rich miners in 1 spot (see goldrush).
Example 2: Large navigable river. For a very long time, rivers were the most reliable form of transit available, as anything that floats can count as a boat, and because land is on both side (a defining characteristic of rivers) it is very difficult to get swept away. Heavy things can also be transported by river, so expect any town that is set up along one to have manufacturing of heavy components. In fantasy, ironworkers and smiths more likely here where shipping bulk iron and coal are done with a large rather than strapping chunks of the stuff to pack animals. A good dockyard can also be expected, along with some more rare resources.
Example 3: ocean access (scifi equivalent international port). Depending on how advanced your civilization is, the ocean may not be navigable. For a very long time, boat would not leave sight of shore, so they would always know where they are. Once the lattitude and longitude lines were added, venturing out was more of a thing, but still not great. Most ships would sail to their desired lattitude and just go straight along it until they hit their destination as there is no easy way to find the longitude. Having ocean access grants major shipping, exotic good, and tourism, and liekly will form a capitol, or major culture centre. Some industry, but probably not the extremely heavy stuff. Shipping raw resources is expensive, so things in this city would be more finished goods. Expect things like artisans, high end furnishings, etc, rather than timber.
Hopefully these things help someone.
- Writing a homebrew campaign
- My Style of DMing (?)
- What is an aspect of DMing ( prep and otherwise ) that you were forced to learn by doing?
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