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Plotting Campaign Plots

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Did you get a new RPG book for Christmas? Maybe thinking of making a New Year’s resolution to run a great campaign or a character that you’ve been dreaming about? Have you been wanting to hit the ground running after the holidays pulled your game group apart for the last month or so?

January has a few good reasons for us as tabletop gamers to make plans for something new in our games, and so we thought it would be a great time to share a few thoughts in that direction. Today we are going to look at campaign plots, the overall theme for the series of adventures you want to play.

There are more themes than there are genres, so in an effort to be as helpful and useful as possible we will not be touching on system-specific mechanics. These plots will fit a variety of settings, and hopefully they will help get you and your group pushing in the right direction to plan for the game you all want to play next year.

Investigating the Lost Civilization

There was once a great empire that stretched across continents, or perhaps even galaxies. They had great magic, advanced technology, and powerful secrets that made them seemingly invincible. Then, for no reason recorded in history, they simply vanished. Now only ruins and lost treasures remain buried in dangerous places, waiting for brave adventurers and archeologists to uncover them!

Having a lost civilization that your party is interested in learning more about is a great plot for exploration games in any fantasy or science fiction setting, even modern ones. It gives the group a good excuse to delve dungeons all over the world, or planet to planet depending your setting. It also gives the GM a theme for rewards that she knows will be appreciated: anything pertaining to this civilization is going to feel like a prize when the players get it. Story plots can be as spread out easily by determining how often such objects or hints are obtained, making campaign length easily adjustable.

Antagonists in such games do not have to be linked, as different ruins will have different inhabitants based on their location. Or you can easily have a villain competing with the heroes to uncover secrets, wishing to use the knowledge of the lost civilization to create their own empire or destroy reality. You can also have a sole survivor of the lost civilization trying to resurrect the empire, to a good or evil end.

A couple of notes if your group finds this idea exciting. This sort of campaign works best if every PC in the group has a reason to investigate the lost civilization. They can be very different reasons: academic curiosity, obsessed missing relative, best way to get paid, power hungry, already got one cool toy, etc. If a player character is not attached to this plot, they are likely to feel very left out at times since the adventures and rewards are so keyed in to the plot. Also, I highly recommend having the group talk about what makes the civilization so interesting so everyone is on the same page going in.

This City Needs Us

People are frightened, despairing, and losing hope for a better tomorrow. Maybe most people are not completely aware of what they should fear, or maybe there are too many dangers to keep track of. Regardless, this city has some good people in it, and what’s more this city is your home. That makes it worth protecting. You may not be the best hope, but you are better than most. And you are the only ones left that even stand a chance.

Having a city that needs the party leans its self towards a location-based campaign, where the party is trying to make a difference in the lives of people they meet several times over the course of every adventure. It gives the group a good means to build relationships and consider the consequences of their actions much more closely, as those consequences will often become an inescapable part of their future lives. This sort of plot works great for modern fantasy, mystery and horror settings because most players are already familiar with a lot of things they will find in these settings.

Antagonists are much more likely to be reoccurring, with more complicated schemes that are constantly at odds with the player characters’ lives, and probably the lives of neutral NPCs and other antagonists. Complicated plots for adventures are also easier to maintain and address because of the level of familiarity the players and GM have with a location-based game.

If your group wants to play a game where they are the heroes of their city, discuss what sort of city you want in your campaign. Since everyone will be stuck there for a while, it is a good idea to make sure everyone is on the same page and has some elements they are excited about from the beginning. Also talk about winning and losing and what that is going to look like for everyone, as you will probably be doing both as a group during your campaign (again, with no way to simply sweep the consequences under the table). You will see as much development in your player characters as you do in the city you protect, so hopefully that is what you all want.

A League Above the Rest

Most people are squishy mortals that will only know true power by fearing it when they see it. You are one of the few greater beings, with the power to destroy cities or enslave minds or conquer death its self. No force in the ‘verse can stop you, except perhaps those few with similar powers to your own. And perhaps your own conscience? After all, with great power comes great responsibility.

Playing a campaign where the player characters start at high power levels makes for a very drastic campaign setting. Whether they are demi-gods, super heroes, kung fu masters, or summoners of powerful creatures, the party can drastically alter the world they live in. That can be a lot of fun, as you do not have to worry so much about the mundane things. It also makes combat more epic when you are only concerned with other beings of your power scale.

Antagonists are obviously high powered beings as well, for the most part. You can also have your Lex Luther type characters, normal mortals that use wealth and influence to obtain the power to defeat people of the player characters’ level. Their schemes are always powerful and catastrophic because mundane problems are best left to mundane authorities that can actually handle such things.

If your group wants to play high powered heroes in a generally low-powered world, make sure that everyone has a general rule about using their powers that they can all agree on. Inner party conflicts can become devastating when your shouts have the power to make an entire town deaf. A moral compass is very important for these games, even if you are not really playing heroes. Random destruction is the path of the antagonist, and if your player characters take that over there will be little left to motivate the game forward.

Final Thoughts

There are probably a hundred adventures I want to play next year, and some of the systems are not even finished yet. I know that we will never have enough time to play every campaign we want to play, but I think it is still important to dream big and add some diversity into our experiences as players and game masters.

Most importantly, I would encourage everyone that is still in the middle of a campaign to keep having fun with each other. While starting a new campaign has a lot of potential for a fun year, the best campaigns of all are the rare ones we love to keep playing year after year.

 

~Joshua

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Author: Burn Everything Gaming

Website that mostly produces Actual Play Podcast as well as game reviews and other musings on the topic. Hope you enjoy.

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