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Campaign Prep: Engine Style

Posted By Phil Vecchione On October 7, 2011 @ 4:00 am In GMing Advice | 6 Comments

With the conclusion of my most recent Corporation campaign, I have been working on the prep for my new All For One campaign. As with any new campaign I run, I like to try to shake things up, doing things differently from campaign to campaign. In my previous Corporation campaign there were very few reoccurring NPCs (largely because the players did not leave a lot of witnesses), and the missions were assigned out from the corporation but never personal. All of that was fine for that campaign, but I did not want that setup for All For One.

For this new campaign I wanted there to be a cast of NPCs that the players know, and would show up in different players backgrounds. I also wanted to make sure that each player was the focus of some part of the story in the first leg of the campaign. I also would need a way to organize this information into something that would be easy to reference during prep and during play.

Components

As grandiose as this idea was, I would need a practical way to put this together, meaning I was going to have to do this from some existing sources and not invent the wheel on my own. My personal time is not as plentiful as it used to be. Luckily, I happen to know where to find a book of plots and one of NPCs.

Disclaimer!

Yes, I am one of the authors of both Eureka and Masks. This article is not a promotion for either book. Follow the links to learn why other people like these books so much.

The last part is a way to represent all this information in an easy to use format. I was inspired by Jeremy Keller’s new game Technoir. In Technoir, Jeremy shows how to lay out a campaign using a plot map, by taking elements (NPCs, plots, etc.) and linking them to the PC’s to create an interlocked web that forms the fabric of the campaign.  Thank you Jeremy for the idea.

Disclaimer #2!

I was a Kickstarter backer for Technoir. The game rocks. ‘Nuff said.

Ok, with a source for Plots, a source for NPCs and a way to show the connections between them, it was time to get to work.

How I Did It

Picking The Pieces: I started by flipping through both Masks and Eureka to pick out NPCs and Plots that would be good fits for how I pictured the game will run. In one evening I picked seven plots out of Eureka, and eight NPC’s from Masks. Conveniently both Eureka and Masks number their entries, so I made a list of the plot and NPCs numbers. I also wanted to give each player an in-game gift in the form of a Resource (a noble title, money, land, etc), so I made a list of those resources as well.

The Cards: I did not want to assign all the pieces myself for fear that I would make picks that were obvious fits for the characters, rather than the possibility of some interesting role playing opportunities for some less than obvious choices. I decided to take a page from Kurt’s article and put some of my index cards to work. I made a card for each player. I then put each resource on a card, each NPC on a card, and each plot on a card, and separated them into individual piles.

Let Fate Deal: Once I had the cards, I put a card down for each player on my desk. Then, I took each pile of cards one at a time, and I dealt out a resource to each player, then an NPC to each player, and then finally a plot to each player. When I was done I had something like this:

IMAG0764

Once the cards were dealt, I recorded all the results in my campaign notes (in OneNote).  I then emailed the players their Resource and NPC; the plot assignments I kept to myself. The Players did not need to know which plots they were assigned to; as a matter of fact, they did not need to know which plots were in play.

The players were told to take the resource and the NPC and work them into their backgrounds. They were not obligated to make the NPC an ally, they could be rivals, enemies, etc.

The Map: With the assignments done, I started a plot map. On a blank page in my OneNote notebook, I put the names of all the players in the center (in black), then the NPCs (in red), and the names of organizations that were part of the plot (in blue). When a relationship existed between any two entities, or where there was one that I wanted to exist, I connected them with lines.

As the players completed their backgrounds, I read through them and picked out other potential NPC’s that the players named and placed them on the map as well. Where possible, I began to create links between the players backgrounds. In one case, one of the characters got into a duel (to first blood only) with a Musketeer before joining their ranks, and the player gave that Musketeer a name. Another character aided a group of wounded Musketeers before joining their ranks. That character did not name the Musketeer, so now that Musketeer is the same one that the other player named. So I joined a line from the NPC to that PC as well. After doing all the initial connections, and creating a few more, the map began to take on a very interesting look:
Plot Map Start

Going Forward

So now I have a group of PC’s and a handful of NPC’s that are all tied together. As I bring in the plots, I will create links with the NPC’s which are mentioned in the plot descriptions, creating connections to the existing NPC’s to make the connections more personal, and making the web tighter.

What If You Don’t Have Eureka and/or Masks?

So having 500 plots and 1000 NPC’s makes this process pretty easy, but lets say that I did not have both books, or either. How would this work? Well, I would have made up 8-10 NPC’s on my own, just writing up a paragraph of detail for each one, or I could have pulled them from one of the source books in the game. (Note: our very own Walt wrote a supplement for All For One, that is chocked full of NPC’s).  For the plots I would keep it simple, come up with a paragraph or two of original plots, or I would have picked a few published adventures that I would use, and linked a character to each one. The rest of the process would stay the same.

What A Web We Weave

With my campaign gearing up to start in less than 10 days, I am pretty psyched about the results. The whole technique was very easy to set up and deploy, and the results are great seeds for the upcoming campaign. Have you ever used similar techniques to seed the start of a campaign? Do you have a technique for creating those player to player links during your campaign setup, or mapping them?

About  Phil Vecchione

A gamer for 30 years, Phil cut his teeth on Moldvay D&D and has tried to run everything else since then. He has had the fortune to be gaming with the same group for almost 20 years. When not blogging or writing RPG books, Phil is a husband, father, and project manager. More about Phil.




6 Comments (Open | Close)

6 Comments To "Campaign Prep: Engine Style"

#1 Comment By Noumenon On October 7, 2011 @ 5:43 am

Those names are all so long and complicated. Are any of them joke names in translation?

#2 Comment By DNAphil On October 7, 2011 @ 6:31 am

@Noumenon — In terms of the NPC names, those are from Masks. The players names, they came up with, and I have not run them through Google Translate to make sure that no one has selected something like Joe Ass Grabber. But now that you mention it, I will do that over the weekend to check. ;-)

#3 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On October 7, 2011 @ 10:35 am

@NoumenonNestor Lancaster is one of my contributions to Masks. I hope I’m not giving anything away with those links… ;)

(Trade Secret: The names of most of my Masks characters have some kind of meaning; finding the right name usually took longer than actually writing the character.)

#4 Comment By Razjah On October 7, 2011 @ 11:57 am

I really like this idea. I’m definitely stealing the PC web with NPCs, even if I only handwrite it because I’m not a fan of the computer at the table.

I will be telling my role playing club about this at today’s meeting. I know a few of the GMs could make great use of this.

#5 Comment By Redcrow On October 9, 2011 @ 3:59 am

I try to encourage my players to write up brief backgrounds for their characters and include at least 3 people that are important in the character’s life. These can be friends, family, enemies, rivals, etc. but everybody knows somebody unless they’ve lived in a cave their whole life.

The more detail the player provides the better, but I don’t need much. A name a sentence or two about who the person is and what they do is usually enough.

For those players who don’t want to list contacts I usually create a couple for them. Although I don’t usually have too much trouble getting the group to create their own after the quite memorable ‘nagging ex-wife’ I created for one character during a Shadowrun game. She had the uncanny ability to appear or call the character at the most inappropriate moments.

NPC contacts that are directly tied into the PCs background really help to set the character firmly into the world and provide great opportunities for personalizing adventures right from the start.

#6 Pingback By News from Around the Net: 14-OCT-2011 (Sponsored by Savage Mojo) | Game Knight Reviews On October 14, 2011 @ 5:02 am

[…] PC, item, etc… Everybody achieves results in a slightly different way. Well, late last week DNAPhil at Gnome Stew offered the “Engine Style” of campaign preparation over at Gnome S…. I’m a big fan of Masks and Eureka, but I haven’t tried using 3×5 cards and some […]


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