Gaming Advice for fledgling GMs
I'd like to write out the way that I run adventures and campaigns. A lot of people ask me to explain this and maybe this will help fledgling GMs. One could always hope, right?
I start with a basic idea of the word that the campaign will take place in. By world, I simply mean the area of land that the story will take place in rather than an entire world. I usually start by looking up Physical Maps from different areas of the Earth. A physical map is one that shows forests, trees, mountains and such without cities, roads, or other man made items.
Here's a good example:
After I have a land, I start filling in cities and create borders. Before long I will have divided the land up into kingdoms, duchies, or whatever. I usually decide the scale of the game-to-be while playing with the map.
Once I have the map done, I design governments for each kingdom. I like to try and mix things up, so any given land may have two or three separate types of government. A monarchy bordered by a confederation which is bordered by a theocracy. Makes for some tense politicking and you can throw a war in at the drop of a hat.
Then I contact my players.
I give the players the background and campaign information needed to create their characters. For example:
"You'll start in the human City of the Three Suns in the Kingdom of Light. This kingdom is a theocracy and all officials are members of the Church. The City of Three Suns is named so for the mountain that sits to the east. When the sun rises it shines through caves near the summit of the peak. These caves allow the sun to be seen through the mountain. There are three caves that pierce the mountain and when seen, divide the sun into three.
Three is a holy number and acts as a centerpiece to the whole religion.
The City of Three Suns the capital city of the Kingdom of Light. Situated at the joining of two rivers and surrounded by fertile plains, it is centrally located and is a center for trade.
Crime is punished severely here. If you get caught stealing you will be branded. A second offense will cost you a hand.
Women are accepted, but looked down on as inferior. They may own a small business, but will not have a voice in the church.
You can play anything that you want within this society."
I have the players submit a character background to me. Typically these are one full page long. I go over the background with the player and fine-tune the character to fit my world and the other characters.
These backgrounds detail where the character came from, who their parents are and how they met, siblings, and where and how the PC learned whatever skills that they have.
I never allow the term adventurers. No one can ever say, "I have all these skills because my parents were adventurers and they taught me all the good stuff." That is beyond lame.
People may go on an adventure. If someone goes on multiple adventures, then they may be called an adventurer. But "adventurer" is not a career nor is it a job description.
Your parents may have fought in Vietnam, survived a sinking ship, been stranded in the Alaskan wilderness for two months, and lived in Compton California for a week. These are all adventures, full of danger, and they make a great story. Someone who did all of these things may be called an adventurer. But their JOB could be an accountant, a cop, a teacher, or anything else. They just happen to have the bad luck to live an adventurous life.
When my players write backgrounds, I force them to make logical reasons behind their skills. A noble's son is not going to be a street savvy cat burglar without a good reason. Nor is an orphaned street rat going to know how to read. A brawler from the docks will not know how to use a sword and a mercenary may not know the appropriate manners required when eating a meal with his employer. But if the player can come up with a logical, well thought out reason, then they can have it.
When everything is satisfactory to both me and the player, I make their character for them. I do this for several reasons.
I understand that some games, old school D&D for one, do not run on a point based character creation system. In that case, I would have the player roll up the character's stats before writing up a background.
After the characters have been made I sit down and design three or four adventures. I use elements of the characters' backgrounds to draw them together and to set them on the path that I want them to take.
I write the adventures with each character's skills, traits, enemies, and everything else right in from of me. Thus the resultant adventures are personal to both the players and their characters.
Sometime during this process I develop an idea for the campaign. This idea may start at any time during the creation process but always happens by the end of the second adventure.
So let's say that I have three players. Joe, Bob, and Mary.
Joe has a mercenary thief. A big guy, he's good with a sword or spear and likes sniping with his crossbow. He's also a pick pocket, con artist, and gambler.
Bob is a squire to a knight of the Church. The unwanted third son of a Count, he was given to the church on his fifth birthday. He has just barely been squired and is eager to prove himself in battle. Unfortunately, he has led a sheltered life and is pretty naive about things outside of the church.
Mary is a confederate merchant. She has the innate ability to cast magic, but is unaware of this fact. She is incredibly good looking, charismatic, and intelligent. She uses the locals disparaging views of women and her looks to get the upper hand in almost every transaction.
The first adventure that I wanna run takes place in a small frontier town. I have the church assign Bob's master to investigate disturbing rumors in that region. It is on the way back to the confederacy so Mary joins the party along with a couple of mercenary guards, one of which is Joe. As there is safety in numbers, the knight welcomes these additions even with the slower rate of travel.
I'd throw in a couple of ambushes by bandits or an animal attack to tighten up the group a bit before throwing them into the meatgrinder... I mean adventure.
A couple of things to keep in mind while running sessions:
A Copper Piece would equal $! And a Copper Penny would equal $5.
A Silver piece Equals $20 but a Silver Penny equals $50.
A Gold Piece equals $100 but a Gold Penny equals $500.
Make characters earn money. Make them scramble to get enough money to buy that $650 sword. Don't just give it to them.
When PCs start flashing money, play out the consequences. If you walk into a seedy bar and flash a wad of hundred dollar bills, someone is going to try to take your money.
NPCs aren't stupid. Mugging isn't the only option that they have. Picking someone's pocket is easy if the victim is distracted by a partner. So is slipping a mickey into their drink. Rigged gambling can lighten their pockets, especially if multiple people are involved. As a last resort, mugging or burglary can be used.
Even after the PCs tear into the main campaign, keep up the random stuff as long as you can. The random encounters will get smaller as the campaign gets closer to the end and will eventually stop. Let it end naturally, but don't stop just because the PCs have finally latched on to the main story.
Experienced GMs, please feel free to comment or add to this!