December 23, 2008

One Thing One Campaign

Although I love my campaigns to have elaborate and sophisticated plots, diverse encounters and a great number of NPCs, I don't actually have all the time or resources (inspirations!) to try and build one from scratch when my players are waiting for me to complete my masterpiece while deprieving them of their gaming fix for months.

There is definately an easier way to create campaigns that can still instill enough fun and roleplaying for players. What I'm trying to say is that campaigns don't have to be a complicated affair and don't always have to last over a long period of time. You just need the right elements to let the players feel like they are playing a full-fledged campaign.

In fact, you don't need that many elements. You just need one.

Yes, that's right.


Here's my list of things that you just need one to have a whole campaign dedicated to it.

One Artifact
This is the most easily overlooked campaign-screaming element which promises to bring alot of fun for players. It appeals to powergamers because this is the chance for them to own and use something that some DMs would outright forbid in their games for balance reasons. While an artifact is usually steep with its own epic historical background, it would please the storyteller in your group.

The role of the artifact in the campaign should be identified first. Is it an evil artifact that needs to be destroyed? Or is it the only artifact that can save the world from something?

For the former, look no further than Lord of the Rings to see how an entire campaign can revolve around one artifact.

For the latter, an example of how a campaign can revolve around an artifact is the old retro-cartoon Xyber 9.

One Big Bad Evil Guy
This is the classic of classical 'one-thing' campaigns. There is one villain that is out to do something evil and the PCs have to stop him.

The keyword is power. The villain has to be powerful. So powerful that it takes the whole party to take him down. There are many BBEG archetypes that are usually associated with this kind of power like liches, vampires or evil gods.

Although it is common that BBEGs are evil (it puts the E in BBEG afterall) but it can be an interesting twist to have a BBGG too. Look at Anakin who was turned to Darth Vader from Star
Wars or Prince Arthas who became the Lich King from Warcraft. They may have been good at one point, maybe even a close aquaintance or friend with the PCs but they have still turned BAD and only the PCs are powerful enough to stop him.

There could be a moral satisfaction of defeating a BBEG but there could be moral salvation for the PCs by defeating a BBGG.

One Monster
Very similar to the BBEG but there is no moral requirement to stop this one. This works often when said monster is tremendously huge in size,

Power is still the keyword here and with monsters, they are capable of having really crazy powers or immunities.

The text-book example of this is the Tarrasque. Back in 3.x, not only trying to defeat the monster was tough because of its crazy stats and spell resistance but killing it made it a monster that not everyone had the right power level to do so.

One Book
So far I can say that this applies to D&D books released by Wizards. They have a habit of releasing books that focus on a central theme.

In 3.x, there were books about the aberration, undead, dragons, demons and devils (one book each), being good and being evil and even being dead (Ghostwalk)!

In 4E, we have the recent released Draconomicon and the Manual of the Planes while the undead book will be released next month but there is an excerpt which tells you on how to create a campaign with that book.

Having a focused theme for a campaign needs a specialized group of players. It shows them the direction on how PCs should generate their characters based on the needs and the theme of the campaign. It also opens possibilities that wouldn't normally work well in an open-ended normal campaign.

For example, a min/maxed cleric that is build to emphasis on radiant damage attacks would shine more brightly in an undead campaign while it makes an easier choice for a ranger's favored enemy when he is playing in a dragon-slaying or abberation hunting campaign.

For the DM, it could be an opportunity to explore certain types of monsters or themes that they may have never incoporated in their adventures or campaigns before. Other times, some DMs are just better in having a strong focus in a campaign than trying to run a kitchen-sink type campaign.

The ultimate book for me that fits into this criteria of being able to have a whole campaign revolved around it is closer to us than you think; the Monster Manual.

But That's Not All
In the end, while it can be easy to base a campaign on one thing. It does lost its luster and appeal gradually over a certain period. The best bet to lose the boredom and make it interesting again is to mix these 'one element's together.

You could base a campaign around a BBEG who wants to gain control of a powerful artifact that can only be destroyed by casting it into the mouth of the Tarrasque and then destroying the tarrasque itself.

So any one element that can used to craft a whole campaign to share?


Ravyn said...

One location.

I'll admit, I've never done this successfully, but one of my GMs pulled it off with room to spare. Basically, the entire campaign is run in one place, whether that one place is a large city, the ruins of the library of the gods (I still need to run that game), The World's Largest Dungeon, or something else entirely.

Questing GM said...

Good point Ravyn!

Thanks for mentioning that. I forgot all about Ptolus and Sharn. I guess it can be run as a campaign that feels like a mini-sandbox with set boundaries and it has to be large enough so that players can still explore it without feeling bored.