Planning for the Start of a Game, Not the End of a Game

Since this is my second post here on This is My Game, I thought I might give you readers something more than a review. This post will also serve as something of a self-introduction.

Firstly, I’m Tracy. I write for not only This is My Game, but also for another gaming blog called Troll in the Corner. In addition to that, I am working on my own multi-system campaign setting called Sand & Steam  that will have rules for Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, and Fate. Sand & Steam is a gritty, fantasy-steampunk mashup that is different from most multi-system settings in that I am developing different parts of the setting for different srt ystems, so I can tailor each section to the strengths of its system. I mention that about Sand & Steam  not to push my project on you all, but because knowing what Sand & Steam is about is germane to my topic.

Let’s Start at the Beginning

I’m planning a new campaign for my home group, which begins tomorrow, Oct 1. I have run 4 different campaigns for this group over the four year span of its existence. If that seems like a lot of campaigns in a short span, it is. Especially considering that, aside from the first campaign, each of those campaigns ran no longer than 10 sessions before petering out. I’m a good GM, I think, but I am not as good at planning for the arc of a campaign. Hence the title of this post. For all of the other campaigns with this group, I have had an end goal in mind. Working towards that end goal has had me rushing the plot, making things needlessly complex for the players, and generally destabilizing every game I have run.

I want to put an end to that.

Planning What Will Work

One of the major goals I have in starting this new game is making sure that I run the kind of game my players want to play. I know that should be a focus for every GM, but I am making it very explicit for myself. I don’t want any grand plans I have for this game to derail the game like they have in my previous campaigns. To that end, for every decision I make about this new campaign, I am trying to ask myself “will they enjoy this? Is this my players’ type of game?”

The first thing I wanted to consider was the setting. Since I’m in the process of working on Sand & Steam, and my group always wants to use Pathfinder, this should be easy. I just use Sand & Steam, right?

Wrong.

Sand & Steam for Pathfinder takes place in an area called the Undercity. Life there is a desperate thing, and various factions are vying for power, all at least peripherally aware that the Mages that put them in the Undercity—The Collegium—could swoop down and snuff them out at any point. I love the idea, but I know that it wouldn’t fly with my group. That’s not the kind of game they want to play. That means that even though I have a good setting in the works, I have to choose something else. That choice ended up being Golarion, the default setting for Pathfinder, which is found in Paizo’s Inner Sea World Guide.

Moving to the First Session

Now I have setting my group will like. Next comes the first adventure. Sure, there are details like starting area, races, classes, etc, but those are all details that I can work out at the game table as we make the characters tomorrow. What I need is a solid idea for a first adventure. One that has no immediate hooks to some grand, overarching plot. For me, that way lies madness. What I need is something my group will enjoy that also leaves me room to tweak things depending on the race/class combos I see my players choosing.

I tweeted about this yesterday, and I got a good response from my friend, @sandchigger: “They’ve signed on as hirelings for a high level party. In the depths of the Dungeon of Doom, their employers are wiped out.” I like this idea because it solves a few different “starting the game” problems. I know why the characters know each other, I know what trouble they’re in, and since the high level party has to have set out from somewhere, I have a place for them to get back to.

(If you want specifics, I have decided the game is set in Taldor, and the high level party is a group of independent Lion Blades from Cassomir who went to investigate the Ruins of Nazilli.)

To make all of this easier on myself, I am going to pick a pre-existing adventure module, and start the party off in the middle of whatever dungeon I choose. I might grab the moathouse from Temple of Elemental Evil, or the dungeon from White Plume Mountain, but I haven’t decided yet.

Moving Forward

What I wrote above is it, really. Everything going forward depends on character motivation, and player desire.  I am going to give the players background info about Taldor and Cassomir, and make sure their characters have some reason to have signed on for the expedition in the first place. From there, we see what happens. For every session, I will do my level best to use the events of the previous session to move things forward. If I end up with some overarching plot threads appearing, wonderful. If not, then I will continue to do what I originally set out to do: run a game my players enjoy.

I hope that some portion of this story of my history and my planning is help to someone out there. As I keep writing for This is My Game, I will keep writing posts like this, as well as product reviews every now and again. If you have any feedback, I would love to hear it.


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. I write about RPGs like it's my job (man, I wish it were), and I am working on a campaign setting called Shadows of the Collegium. Also, I design games. You can find out more about me on Twitter, and about Shadows of the Collegium and my other games at sandandsteam.net.


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About Rolling20s

I write about RPGs like it's my job (man, I wish it were), and I am working on a campaign setting called Shadows of the Collegium. Also, I design games. You can find out more about me on Twitter, and about Shadows of the Collegium and my other games at sandandsteam.net.
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3 Responses

  1. Have you considered going with more of a sandbox style campaign, rather than one that has a definite story arc? It sounds like that might be one issue. In a sandbox you can have a dozen smaller arcs all going on concurrently, criss-crossing one another, plus one or more “tent-pole” locations that may or may not have anything to do with the various minor plots going on.

    And for such a tentpole, I might humbly suggest my own “Castle of the Mad Archmage”, which is a free download on my blog. :-)

  2. I think sandbox is the direction in which I need to go. One thing I have continually be aware of is that my group wants the plot and their goals to be simple. I tend to over-complicate things. So if I go full sandbox, I have to make sure they always know what is going on. Keep the options simple.

    And I’m checking out Castle of the Mad Archmage right now. =)

  3. Sounds like you are on the right track. I definitely think the starting hook is a great one.

    I think you’ll find starting out without an overreaching plot can be quite liberating. Some of my best games have been sessions that we went into without something specific I felt we needed to accomplish as GM. It just seems to flow better.

    Of course, most often in my own games I end up running a published adventure or adventure path which by their nature have a long term plan. It cuts down on prep time, but I frequently wish I was just running free form and piecing together the story on the fly truly based on the actions of the players.

    Look forward to hearing how the campaign goes!

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