- The first part of a step-by-step instruction on how I prepare my Planted Campaigns
- How I come up with ideas
You are free to skip the fluff part and go right to the crunch below.
Whenever I watch a movie, play a video game, have a conversation, or read a book, I see the story through the eyes of the GM. I try to deconstruct all sorts of stories I come across in order to use ideas or elements for my games. This often works very well and I would say it has increased my skill as a GM dramatically. I have developed many One Shot games from this kind of ideas, and had a great deal of fun running them.
Sometimes, though, I feel a different urge – the urge to build a world. I want stories to naturally develop and arise from intrinsic conflict, and I want people to go through a breathing and living world to interact and change it. Whenever this urge arises, I try to get a campaign going.
Now, don’t get me wrong here – I don’t always construct a whole new game world for this itch. Instead, I consider the most basic development of a setting as world building already. More often than not, I pick or design a town or city, think about the dynamics, power struggles, problems, and people in there and start developing a network of intrigue, conflict, and secrets that holds enough material and momentum to have players immerse in it for hundreds of hours without ever getting the impression they have come to the end of the material. My goal is to never introduce anything that feels hollow – everything should always have the feel there is more to it than is apparent.
Naturally, this kind of information and event overload can quickly lead to confusion, if not downright frustration in players. In order to prevent that, I choose a unifying theme that everything in the game world will either emphasize or contrast. This way, all events are somehow connected, but are still born from decisions of breathing people with motives, aspirations, and plans.
Please don’t confuse all this with bragging – I’m not saying my games are all like this. Rather, this is what I want to achieve with my GM style. If I succeed in doing so is of course open for my players to discuss.
Although this might look a lot to you, the actual amount of work involved is pretty manageable. If you don’t count reading source books and getting inspiration, I probably don’t need more than 2-10 hours preparing all this for my games (which is actually not that much, considering you can run years-long campaigns from it). This is an estimate on the durations it takes me personally to go through the steps:
- Ideas and Brainstorming: 0,5-2 hours
- Entity Cards, Relationship Grid and Plotmap: 1-3 hours
- Gunmen List: 0,5-1 hour
- Hook Adventure, Adding PC Backstories, Material: 2 hours
- Preparation between Sessions: 0,25 hours
I know, this is the most boring part in every design guide. But that’s because it is the fuel that gets you going in the beginning.
Whether it was an inspiration you got from a book or movie, a dream you had, an idea that spontaneously developed or just the creative flow experienced when reading through a new rulebook, something has to spark your interest in order to get you going.
Of course, this initial idea will change a lot during actual preparation, and like the ship of Theseus, not much will probably be left from your first thoughts once you finish your design. But that actually doesn’t matter. The idea’s job is just to get you started. Once you have a bit of material developed, this becomes your new motivator to keep pushing further. Sometimes you have to kill your darlings, but it’s not that hard once you grasp the concept of letting go of a loved idea in exchange for one that is really better, but hasn’t been with you for so long.