5 Steps for Planning a New Roleplaying Campaign

As my group and I are reaching the end of our two-and-a-half-year long Rise of the Runelords campaign, I’ve started thinking about the things I would do differently if I were to start a new campaign. I feel I’ve come a long way in these past few years, though I still learn something new in every session. Sometimes, I even have to relearn things I’ve forgotten! So I thought I’d share some of the things that have been on my mind as I start thinking ahead to a new campaign.

Some points to consider when planning a new campaign:

  1. What kind of game do you want to run?
    This question has several things that need to be considered:

    • Which system?
      Maybe you’ve been dying to try a new or different system. Or perhaps you’re determined to get more mileage out of your massive collection of Pathfinder books, like I am.
    • Which genre? 
      High fantasy? Low fantasy? Sci-fi? Mystery? A mixture of several genres?
  2. House rules and alternate rules
    If you’ve not run a game before, it would probably be easiest to start out with the core rules of your chosen system, and perhaps one or two additional sources. If you’ve been playing or game mastering for a while, you probably have a fairly good idea of what works and what doesn’t work in your system. This does assume that you’re running a home game where you have free rein over what rules you get to use.

    • Alternate and third party rules
      Books like Pathfinder Unchained, as well as many third party products, provide alternatives to the standard rules. You’ll want to think about which of those rules you’d like to use in your game. I’ve already started going through Pathfinder Unchained and listing the rule systems I’d like to implement. There are also several third party systems I’m looking at using.
    • House rules
      You may already have some of these in your head if you’ve been playing or GMing for a while, but it can be a good idea to write down your house rules so that you and your players are all on the same page. This will help reduce confusion or disagreements further down the line. Your house rules may evolve over time, so remember to update that document as needed.

Sky City Falls by JohanGrenier

  1. Campaign setting
    • Published setting
      If you decide to use an existing campaign setting, like Paizo’s world of Golarion, you’ll want to brush up on your knowledge of that world. Choosing a specific region of that setting will help you narrow down the reading you’ll need to do. It will also help the setting feel more real to you and your players, as opposed to a vast generic world. It will also help you find and purchase the right products to flesh out the place where your campaign will take place.
    • Own creation
      If you want to build your own world, there are plenty of resources available to guide you. The Pathfinder Gamemastery Guide is a good place to start. You might want to create a world similar to one in your favourite work of fiction, or something entirely new. Either way, you’ll need to make lots of decisions about your new world, from its climate to its inhabitants, so it’s a good idea to document all your ideas and planning so you have something to refresh your memory down the line.
    • Player home base
      It’s worth thinking about a base of operations for your players: a place they can call home and that they will feel is worth protecting. There should be a few NPCs that they know and trust who can help them with locating quests.
  2. Available player options
    • Races, classes and archetypes
      Depending on your decisions made above, it may not make sense for certain classes, archetypes or races to be available to players in your game. For instance, gunslingers would make no sense in the type of games I want to run, so that class is simply not available. Maybe all the dwarves have been wiped out, so it wouldn’t make much sense for a player to be a dwarf. You might not want players to choose classes that had been played in your previous game,  to encourage some variety (this may upset some players, however, so I would discuss it with them first).
    • Banning options
      I don’t like banning options just because I don’t like them or because they will make the game more difficult as a game master, but I may ban options that will disrupt the game or are seriously unbalanced. Some GMs ban entire books, or certain types of spells, and so on. I will generally do research if a player is interested in an option that I’m concerned about, and then decide if the option really needs to be banned.

Aldori Swordlord by caiomm

  1. Story
    Finally, you’ll want to start brainstorming ideas for your story. Existing fiction, movies, TV shows, published adventures, and the many RPG adventure hooks resources available online are good places to start. You don’t have to have the entire story mapped out from start to finish – you want to leave room for the actions of your players to make a difference – but you’ll need a starting point to engage the players for the first couple of sessions.

    • Major NPCs
      You’ll want to have a few NPCs ready to guide the players on the path towards their first few quests. These will probably be NPCs that live in the PCs’ ‘base of operations’.
    • Major villains
      You might already know who the big bad in your story is, in which case, you can start working out ways to build up to the big encounter with that villain. He likely has henchmen that the heroes will have to deal with along the way.
    • Player character backstory
      Sitting down with your players and helping them work out their character concept and backstory can help you and the other players figure out how the party came together. This can also serve as a good way to get ideas on how to incorporate each character’s backstory into the adventure.

It’s worth noting that your plans are likely to be affected by real life considerations, like available players and their interests, your available time and knowledge of a system, and many more. Still, it’s good to have a rough idea of what you want, since if the game master isn’t having fun, it’s unlikely that the players will enjoy the game either.

Once you’ve considered all the points above, it will be time to sit down with your players and discuss everything openly, especially when it comes to house rules and available options, so that everyone is happy and ready to move forward.

How do you prepare for a new campaign? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. 

This post is for day three of the 7 Day Feel Good Blogging Challenge.

Images: Dream Voyage by Takeda11 on DeviantArt; Sky City Falls by JohanGrenierMerisiel vs Aldori Swordlord by caiomm.

2 thoughts on “5 Steps for Planning a New Roleplaying Campaign

  • October 4, 2015 at 2:28 am

    Nice post. I’m pondering starting up a Pathfinder Campaign in the future, will ponder some of your ideas/suggestions.


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