How does /tg/ start writing campaigns?
Producing maps, creating memorable characters, plots, hooks, adventures, all this is a ton of work, especially if the players decide to not continue playing.
How do I prepare for everything, basically? I mean PCs can do whatever they want, what's to stop them from going somewhere I haven't planned?
tl;dr tips and tricks by DMs for DMs
Start from the PCs. Who are they and what they want? Who would they cross paths with trying to achieve those things? Then combine those and fiddle with it until it mostly makes sense.
New DM here
I personally like to make a huge world map, as I draw I think of how the environment might shape the people that live there. Then I think of very vague, very loose possible plot hooks that could happen in those locations. I do all of this before "Session Zero" and then offer my players a very brief explanation of each location and what they most likely can expect from those locations. I let them choose which region, island, nation or whatever to start on and then I listen to them discuss what possible characters they will want to make. By the end of "Session Zero" I usually have a good idea of what everyone will be playing and where they want to be, and only after I get that inkling on my players do I begin to actually plan out potential plot hooks for the party.
For example, if my players decide to begin on the largest island that is mostly controlled by human nations with an uneasy alliance, I might start the players in a small village, far from the major cities. I'll give them a reason to begin looking for work which will slowly bring them inland and with each NPC they speak to I might drop some subtle hints that two of the nations are getting close to blood shed. After a few small quests and more dialogue I might drop a hint that one of the nations attacked the other one and started a war. Now the PC's have the option to get involved in either side or go to a new area of the map. Alternatively if I have a party who are deeply tied to religious events I might use an ancient evil or a cult as a plot hook and instead make it so that the players must venture deep into a dangerous temple to find an artifact, or to slay the leader of the group.
Most importantly it's important to make it so failure is part of the story.
New GM's will always without fail construct a vast sprawling world with far too many integrated rules and elements of lore.
The way veterans do it is they'll typically work off what the players what to do and the PC's they've made.
I build a map with incredibly little detail on what the players will be doing. At most I might make a sandy area and go "this are will be wide open with small oasis's around and villages." and after that I do nothing else for the setting until I hear my players speak. I avoid making lore that's more than a single sentence as well. For example on a small island the only lore is "They're kind of like vikings." if my players want to know more I can make more before our session, and if not then I'll simply ignore it and focus on what they do want to know.
I've been a part of groups where the DM spent weeks preparing a huge map and then gave us an hour long speech of all the political entities and powers and named two dozen NPC names that he thought were important and it was honestly awful. Half of the NPC's he introduced he expected us to know, even if we never heard of them. I learned then that over preparing is a terrible thing, but I did enjoy that he gave us a world to choose from so I adopted that ideal into my game mechanics, but I still prefer to let the players make most of the world as they play.
>How does /tg/ start writing campaigns?
some little concept or idea bites my mind on the ass, a video-game, movie, book, TV show, even just a picture from my archives; then I start writing bits and chunks.
from these "seed ideas" further concepts grow like mushrooms on bullshit in the dark.
slowly the bits all grow together till eventually you have a full adventure with all of the trimmings sitting on the screen or table before you.
organize them into coherent order, build a map to match and there you have it.
I only write down what the players know about the world in-character at character creation, which is fortunately not too much.
To produce plots, I simply use the aftermath of the players actions after a few "filler" missions, and let them go from there.
Start basic, get specific as needed. You should have numbers, even rough ones for long shot hypotheticals(do they attack this NPC because they're crazy?) for at least your next two sessions.
If the PCs never go to East Westburg then you may not get anything out of designing everything there. You should know the flavor and be ready to do numbers later.
Write a rough draft of your campaign story from start to finish. Even if it just reads Bad Wizard attacks Kingdom with Undead Armies, Wants Become Lich, Defend against Army, Journey to Helpful but Strict Dragon, Earn it's Respect, Get MacGuffin Artifact, Defeat Lich at his Kicking Rad Fortress. If you're doing something more advanced like a political or mystery plot you NEVER want to have your players halfway through it and realize you don't have a satisfying set-up.
One of my favorite methods of making a plot a bit more advanced(multiple antagonists, more freeform/sand-boxy worl but still with a strong plot, etc) is to assign "time-lines" to important NPCs or events. If the PCs waffle around too much maybe some guy razes an important city, or reaches a holy site before the party does. Maybe a fated disaster actually happens. Maybe that Dragon with the MacGuffin I mentioned gets killed by the Lich's General and now the party has to fight that dude, wielding the MacGuffin Artifact. Gives a bit of Consequences to the setting.
And as always, make a little extra that you're OK with not actually using, especially if you can refluff it and use it another time!
My plan is always make a rough map and assign countries, kingdoms, capitals on there and just start thinking of basic history and culture of them all. I then tell the PCs this info and they decide where they're from and can help make their town or church, etc to be part of the world building. So for my current campaign I decided to start them in a Port and so I had to make a reason why they were all there, so bam plague and they're sent there to investigate or hired by those investigating to help and guide around the area. I make a few key inmportant npcs like the leader of the city and guard captain then just improv most of the others on the spot as they seek them out. Then for plot hooks I mainly just think of cool shit with what I've already made or steal from the Internet and change it around to fit the setting .
Thanks, I try and do this every time but always end up feeling like I'm just throwing a bunch of quests together
Well, now I've gone and made a map with very little info. I have a starting point (adventurer's guild) and a general idea (demons are wresting control of the world slowly) and a hook (the adventurers guild is really run by these demons). I have their first quest too.
So now I should just wait for them to roll chars, and hope that maybe one week should be enough for me to prepare for whatever they feel like doing?
Not that guy, but um no? They mean talk to the players, see what sort of game they want, make characters together and pull ideas from that for the campaign to include over time. Its not hard, works better if you don't catch world builder's disease and over write a bunch of stuff that either doesn't happen or you end up railroading players into for your story.
I have an idea for a world, ideas for 5-10 major NPCs and/or 3-6 major factions, and an idea for a storyline
I make everything else up as I go, but write it all down so I can make it seem later like it was all according to keikaku when I tie it back in
Sure. We don't play with tiles or anything, just me sketching a rough approximation of the area on demand when necessary.
I've got lots of downtime during encounters to think about the later ones. I'll just start writing my plan down as my players discuss or act, especially if I have advance warning they'll be heading towards a "dungeon" style series of encounters within the session.
Have some ideas of your own that you like, see what things the players are interested in. Combine as you see fit. Its not rocket surgery, just including things people expressed an interest in, that can be elaborated on.
Learn to modify your campaign, and work with your players. Like what if the PCs want to be in the military. You can still use the same plot, but modify all things adventurer to all things military. Having simple elements allow you to be prepared for anything.
Let's say you have the players going to these ruins in the forest, but the party for what ever reason is now on the coast. Well now those bandits you were going to have ambush the players are now pirates. By having flexible pieces, you can put just about any campaign any where you players want to go.
>How do I prepare for everything, basically? I mean PCs can do whatever they want, what's to stop them from going somewhere I haven't planned?
You make your plans flexible enough to work wherever they choose to travel to.
The Big Bad King becomes a Big Bad Sultan or Big Bad Pirate Captain. The ruined ancient temple becomes a ruined shrine, castle or palace. The giant troll becomes a giant dragon or giant bear.