As the GM, you are responsible for creating the world the players' characters
live in, the people they interact with, and the events that present challenges
to your adventurers. At first it seems like a monumental task, but
don't give up hope. Once you get rolling and have a good idea of
what you want for a campaign, it all sort of falls into place. What
follows is a list of questions for you to answer about the campaign you
want to run that will help get the framework set up. Once you have
the framework, the details come easily.
Inspiration: Where it all begins...
The first thing you really need to build a campaign
is an idea. Something that everything else sort of "grows out of."
It can be anything, really. Movies, comic books, and novels all make
good sources, and have the added advantage of providing you with a lot
of background already in place. Even these aren't the limits of what
can inspire you to run a game. In all honesty, my own Champions campaign
started out with an idea for a single character, which was originally to
be the main villainess of the world. As we started playing, though,
it turned out that the character is not the villain, and is in fact a patron
of the hero party. This brings up another point to remember:
none of the things you decide when you're setting up your campiagn are
set in stone, and you can change them if the need or desire arises, even
after play begins. If you haven't already found your inspiration
for your campaign, do that, then continue on.
Start with the basics:
When you're starting a new campaign, I've found that
it helps to think big at first, and work your way down to the smaller stuff.
So without further ado, let's move on to the questions that you will want
to answer. I've included some suggestions after each question, but
don't limit yourself to just those choices. It's your campaign, make
it fit your own ideas.
What is the tone of the campaign you wish to run? (Funny, Serious,
What type of campaign interests you (and your players)? (Fantasy,
Cyberpunk, Science Fiction)
What setting do you plan to use? (Earth, An alternate Earth, Some
other world, Space)
If your setting is unfamiliar, what is the world like?
What is the climate? (Ice world, Desert world, High or Low gravity)
What is the ruling body? (Tyrant, Republic, Tribal chief, World government)
How deadly is your world to the Player Characters? (PCs drop like flies,
PCs only die if they do something incredibly stupid, PC deaths are determined
strictly by the dice)
What game system do you plan to use? (This will depend on the answers
to all of the previous questions)
What sort of technology is common? (Clubs, Swords, Gun
Powder, Steam Engines, Starships)
Is there other technology that is uncommon but exists? (Gun powder
in a fantasy setting, Laser weapons in a modern-day world)
The Player Characters (PCs):
How do the PCs fit into the world? Following is
a set of questions to lay out the group's relationship with the world around
them. A quick side note, I've found that it's easiest to start the
campaign with the characters already in a group and working together, however
it's not uncommon for the first adventure in a campaign to detail how the
group gets together, often presented as a "flashback."
How do the characters know each other? (Members of a guild,
Strangers working toward a common goal)
How important are the characters in the Campaign? (Small fish in a big
pond, important government agents, legendary heros)
What is the reputation of the group? (Well loved, despised, vigilantes
loved by the people but hunted by the government)
Who are the group's allies? (The city guard, a local wizard, the
head of the government, the chief engineer of a starbase)
Who are the group's enemies? (The city guard, a local wizard, the
head of the government...)
Why are they the group's enemies? (Working against the group's goals,
personal vendetta against the adventurers, just ordinary villains constantly
being foiled by the adventurers)
Does the group have any contacts? (A bard at the local inn, one of
the king's aides, a street informer)
We've already given some thought to the setting in the
first questions. Now it's time to flesh it out a little bit more.
Some of the following questions may not be applicable to your particular
campaign. If something doesn't seem to fit, just skip over it.
Will adventures take place in a specific area or will the group travel
far and wide?
What does the area look like? Draw out at least a basic map with
major terrain features and (if applicable) the major cities. If it's
a space setting, you will probably want a basic map of the players' home
system and home world to start with.
Describe the characters' home town/city/planet:
Who are the major NPCs? You will want to think up names and basic
backgrounds for each
Which NPCs are the characters likely to encounter in a combat situation?
You will want to generate stats for each of these characters. For
thugs, soldiers, and other 'hired muscle,' you can be more generic and
make up one set of stats for a group of these types.
Where do the characters stay between adventures? (a room at the inn, a
house, under a bridge)
Where are the popular hangouts? (A bar, an inn, the starport)
Are there any places nearby that are mysterious? These types of places
are good 'obvious' first adventures. (the haunted house on the hill,
the old ruined castle just outside of town, an asteroid or planetoid near
the character's homeworld in a space setting).
Is there an 'underworld'? Black market, thieves' guild, etc?
What about the sewers? (Lots of neat things can come out of sewers)
Are there any other races in the campaign? (Orcs, goblins, aliens)
If so, what do they look like?
Do they have special abilities?
Are the characters allowed to play alternate races?
What is their basic social structure?
What is their technology level?
Where can you expect to find this race?
What is this race's relationship to the humans (or whatever your 'normal'
How much does the group know about the world (or galaxy)?
Are there any famous legends? Famous treasures or artifacts? (you
don't necessarily have to establish this right now, but if you know, great!)
How strict are the laws? What about weapons restrictions?
Does magic exist? If so, how easy is it to use?
Do psionics (mind powers) exist? If so, are they illegal? Are
I say antagonists because sometimes the PCs are the
'bad guys' in the campaign. Either way, these are the people working
against the characters. Again, we've established a little bit about
these people previously, but it's time for more detail. Note that
you can decide all of the answers to the questions below and then spend
the first few gaming sessions "making it happen" the way you plan out below.
This is another good way to start a campaign:
Who is the leader of the antagonists? What is his/her/its background?
You will more than likely need stats for this NPC eventually, but probably
not right away.
Does the leader have any generals or other underlings? If so, who
are they and what do they do? Why do they assist the leader?
If they are likely to run into the PCs, you will want stats for them as
Why are the antagonists working against the PCs? Was there a specific
event that drew their attention to the group? Be specific here.
What are the goals of the antagonists? (Make money, galactic conquest,
destroy the world)
How powerful are the antagonists? (Small group, large organization,
government, race of aliens)
What kind of resources do the antagonists have at their disposal?
Do the antagonists have access to special technology? If so, how
easily can they acquire such objects?
Do the antagonists have other allies or enemies? What about spies?
While it's been brought up a few times already, you're
going to want to put some thought into what's really available to the characters.
What is the general technology level of the planet? (Stone age, iron
What sort of weaponry is available? What types of armor?
What modes of transportation are available?
For space campaigns, does faster-than-light (FTL) travel exist? What
method is used to accomplish this? (warp drives, jump drives,
star gates, hyperspace)
What is the main method of communicating from one place to another?
(This applies to a space setting as well)
Is there special technology that would be considered well beyond normal
for the setting? If so, do the players have any way of acquiring
If magic and/or psionics exist, is there special technology that makes
use of them?
The Gory Details:
I stated before that setting up a
campaign is often the hardest part of Game Mastering. The list above
is fairly detailed, and should give you a really good start. If you've
answered the questions above (or at least most of them), then you should
have a pretty good idea of what your campaign is like, what the world is
like, who's in the world, how they react to the PCs and why, etc..
From here, you will need to fill in the details about what's going on in
the world, but with the basic framework in place, these details should
be logical, and in many cases you will be able to make them up "on the
fly." Just be sure to make note of anything that you make up so you
don't forget later. Understand that no matter how much planning you
do, you will almost assuredly have to make up things during your adventures...
PCs are a crafty lot, and it's impossible to plan for every contingency.
That's why it's important to have a good understanding of your campaign
world before you begin playing.
Be sure to talk to your players if you already have
a group assembled and get their opinions about what they would like to
see. Also, once the players have their characters and background
generated, you will be able to take each character and detail out exactly
how the character fits into the campaign. Many times a PC will have
a personal enemy aside from the main antagonist. Be sure to work
out any details regarding the characters' personal enemies or contacts.
The more you have worked out before you actually start playing, the better
off you will be, and the more your players will enjoy the game. One
word of warning in conclusion, though: Remember that the PCs are
the main focus of the story. Be careful not to put so much emphasis
on your world and the NPCs that the players' characters start taking a
back seat to everything else. Good luck to you, and above all, enjoy
your game... that's why we play, afterall.
Back to the main page