11 Questions for starting a new campaign

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You’ve  great campaign idea and can’t wait tell your players. But are you sure you’re ready? Starting a campaign with only a few notes of ideas is certainly possible, but tends to make running the game much more difficult than it needs to be. Unless your campaign is a series of unconnected published adventures, you’re going to want some kind of plan.

Below are 11 questions to ask yourself when you’re developing an new campaign idea. While you may not need to answer all of these, thinking about them can help you solidify what your campaign will be.

  1. What genre/system? Do some research on the genre of the campaign you want to run. What aspects of the genre draw you? These are the things you want to focus on during your campaign. What are the genre’s standard tropes? What aspects of the genre are so cliched you want to avoid them at all costs?
  2. What setting? Maybe your game system has an established setting, like Castle Falkenstein or World of Darkness. Or maybe you’ve found a published setting you’re dying to use, like Ebberon or Midgard. Or maybe you’ve developed your own setting. In any case, take some time to look over your setting or write down some notes about what you’re developing. What aspects intrigue you the most? Again, you’ll want to focus your game on those. Are there any parts of the setting you don’t want to use?
  3. How many players? What’s the minimum number of players you need to run the game successfully? What’s the maximum number of players you feel comfortable handling?
  4. What character types? Are their any specific character types you feel are necessary to the game? Will the party need fighter-types and magic users or techno-wizards? What character types do you not want as PCs?
  5. What rules? What books? Are there any aspects of the game you don’t want to use? Make a note of these so you remember to tell your players. Nothing’s more frustrating to a player than finding out she can’t use the great PC idea after she’s already put a lot of work into developing it.
  6. What props or game aids? Will your game need miniatures, an in-game calendar or some other support or prop? You don’t need to find all of this before you start, but make a list so that you’ll have what you need before you need it. Campaign maps and real-world references such as historical timelines and atlases fall into this category. Also determine if you need dice, playing cards, tarot cards, etc.
  7. What inspiration sources? Make a list of things you can turn to when you’re out of inspiration. Movies, books (fiction and non-fiction), radio programs, websites, podcasts and more related to your setting and/or genre can help feed your creative juices when they run dry. You may feel like you’ve got an infinite number of ideas right now, but after you’ve been running it for several month (or years) ideas may be hard to come by. Do yourself a favor a make a list of idea sources now while you’re researching and they’re fresh in your mind. You’ll thank yourself later.
  8. What’s it about? Come up with a short description of the campaign you can use to find players. Create an elevator pitch. This not only helps you “sell” your idea to your players, it helps you pinpoint what your campaign is actually about. It can also help you figure out what you don’t want in your game.
  9. Who do you need? What major NPCs will you need? You don’t have to flesh them out right now, but make a list of your main antagonist(s) and any patrons/bosses/adventure givers. Who runs the government? What important local residents are you going to need? It can help to keep a running list or spreadsheet of the NPCs you create so you don’t forget anyone.
  10. How does it end? I know, right now the end of your campaign is probably the furthest thing from your mind. But it can help to have an idea how your campaign will end before you start it. That gives you something to work towards and can help keep you on track. If the game’s overall goal is for the PCs to overthrow the current world government, that’s going to require different types of characters and adventures than if you want the PCs to discover a lost continent.
  11. How does it begin? How do you want to start your game? It can seem like you’re putting the cart before the horse to plan the start the campaign after the ending, but knowing where the game is going can make it easier to know where to begin.

Of course, these aren’t the only questions you need to answer when starting a game, but these should help get you going. What are your favorite questions? What do you feel is important to know when planning a new campaign?

[Photo courtesy of CarbonNYC via Flickr Creative Commons]

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3 responses to “11 Questions for starting a new campaign

  1. As a fan of all sorts of RPG’s I find having a really good plan in order for running a campaign is a great idea. I’ve played a few pen and paper games where the story just falls apart. That’s why I love online games like Diablo III. Great fun, and there are awesome communities and forums out there in case you get stuck!

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