It’s good to be back! The first week of August saw us at GenCon and very happily winning a Gold ENnie award, and then in the weeks after I’ve been catching up on things post-convention and getting back into the swing of things. Lately I’ve been discussing and toying with the concept that the best world building happens through playing a campaign, and so I suggest the world building DMs out there spend less time before play and just jump into things with a published or a bare bones adventure and then let the world build from there. This also opens your game up to the possibilities for players to contribute to the world building which for me has always turned out better than I could imagine.
Now that I’ve been running my current 4th Edition D&D game for 3 years and the players are progressing through the Epic Tier, I am starting to plan ahead for what we will play and run after the campaign is over. In addition playing a wider variety of games and RPGs, I am also hoping to run a series of mini-campaigns inspired by Phil’s ideas about running a campaign like a British TV Series and his Gears of Ruin campaign posts.
The early stages of planning for these future mini-campaigns is what has inspired all of my raving about world building through play. Now that I have spent more than 3 years playing in my campaign world, it has become incredibly easier for me (and more importantly my players) to envision playing a sandbox game in the world because we already have an intimate understanding of the world. All of this brainstorming has led me to another style of running a campaign that I think could be quite fun and I’d like to explore here.
The Core + Expansion Campaign
Players often cringe at the idea of restricted choices when starting a campaign, but this concept thrives on it. Start your “Core Campaign” with a limited number of races, classes, types of items, locations and pretty much anything else you can limit. Decide what kind of story you want to tell, what kind of character your friends want to play, and then work out what kind of restrictions you should put on the Core game. Run the game with a limited plot for 4-6 or 6-10 adventures and then wrap it up. Characters can die, subplots can remain unresolved, but give a good sense of closure to the game.
After whatever amount of time feels comfortable and works for you and your players, introduce an “Expansion Pack” to your campaign and run another mini-campaign of 4-10 adventures. With the introduction of the Expansion, add a handful of races that can now be played, perhaps a new class the players now have access too, and even introduce new locations and regions the players can explore. If you plan it all out from the beginning the Core to Expansion experience could be something truly magical. Imagine that one of the subplots of your core campaign involves the creation of warforged, or the founding of a school where swordmages are trained and then you lead into the expansion campaign where both of these options are now available to players.
Perhaps the biggest aspect of this campaign style that I am most excited to experiment with is the potential for player’s actions to influence the expansions to the core campaign. Players, especially those that fall into the storyteller archetype, love it when their decisions and actions have a large influence on the direction of the campaign (which is why Sandbox campaigns are such a hot topic all the time). If one or more of your players develop a deep rivalry/hatred of Hags through playing their character perhaps you could have an expansion campaign with Hags as the primary villains and introduce a region of the world where Hags live in large populations.
In the past some of my favorite campaign moments have been flash forward scenes to the heroes long after we last saw them or the return of a known character or NPC in successive campaigns. The mini-campaign concept thrives on these moments and also makes them more common, but I hope no less magical for the players. The Core + Expansion concept provides an interesting frame work to build a series of mini-campaigns, but perhaps more importantly it also plays very well into my thoughts on world building through play by (hopefully) reducing the amount of work the DM needs to put into the campaigns.
The mini-campaign concept has many benefits beyond those I’ve already discussed, such as allowing the DM to avoid burn out as the campaign has a limited run from the start and providing great opportunities for players and characters to change more frequently within the narrative. In fact, every PC that doesn’t continue in your game just provides you with one more tailor made NPC to be used as you wish.
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