What I Bring to the Table #3: Campaign-iverse


The third part of a series of "How-I" articles. This specific article covers what I (as a GM) determine regarding maps, magic, religion, politics, style, NPCs and other things best not discussed in polite company. "How-to" implies that there is a best way. There might be, and this might be it, or maybe not. This is how I do it.

In the first part, there was a discussion on designing the campaign with respect to genre and technical requirements, flavor and texture if you like food analagies. The second part dealt with character creation, or ingredients. In this part, plating is the corresponding aspect. This article deals with world(s) design, religion, government and politics, magic and magic-like effects (psionics or chi or whatever), and culture and races. If you only play or GM hard science games occurring on earth past or present, this article will not be of great value to you.


In the first part there was a discussion of range; how far the characters will travel or have travelled in the past. This is relevant in this part as it largely determines how much empirical data must be filled in. In some games this area can be quite small. Bunnies and Burrows, for example, would probably cover less than 10 square miles. A cinematic, far-future, space travelling campaign will include dozens, if not hundreds of planets. Before you freak out, not everything has to be done, just sketchy bits.In fact, I recommend that almost everything be as vague as possible, leaving room to fill in details as the story-line requires.

Start your map with a sheet of paper to represent the entire range as planned, and sketch in the things you know must exist. In a space travel game, put in your known empires. Using Star Trek as an example, Federation space will be the brunt of the map. In one corner, put the Klingon empire. Because the game doesn't much involve Kilingon space, mapping that isn't necessary. Draw in the Romulan Neutral Zone and a bit of Romulan Territory. Add the Andorians, Gorn, and whatever else you know will be needed. Put in Earth (Federation HQ) and the home worlds of the PCs (which may have been culturally influenced by the proximity of the other groups. Other games use similar methods, except the full map is the planet, continent, state, or neighborhood. The players may provide some of what is required. If a PC is a Germaniac Barbarian, and the design concept is northern barbarian, Germania must be in the subarctic wilds.

As the campaign progresses, add what must be there to fit the adventures. If your Little Rascals game requires a haunted house on a hill, find a good place for a hill and put in the haunted house. Some of your filling in of details may depend on travel abilities or campaign plot.

Base of Operations (pedestrian): The PCs have a center of their activity and walk, ride or drive to each adventure. Start with the home area and add on as required, with each new area connected to a previously defined area. Put new areas beyond, or in a different direction from, previous areas. Don't put the fourth adventure location between the home base and where adventures 1-3 occurred. Exception: If the adventure location has nothing noticable about it, it can go anywhere.

Base of Operations with Rapid Travel: Of your commando team is going to be in a different city every adventure, they aren't going to be interested in the stuff inbetween. The Midwest Avengers can travel from Topeka to Norfolk and not notice anything interesting happening in St. Louis.

Treasure Hunt: If the campaign is more of an "adventure produces clue leading to next adventure" type, the map can be linear, or spotty, with new areas appearing out of thin air. It might lead to haphazard geopraphy, but what is outside the adventure will be of little interest to the PCs.

Meandering: If the adventure is exploration in the Star Trek TOS sense, a map is barely necessary.

Personally, Im a fan of stealing maps from whatever sources are available. I used the Yrth (Gurps (3e Fantasy and 4e Banestorm) ) several times before I read the books (which are excellent, BTW). The geography made sense as well as political borders. There is no reason not to make your own unless one of your players is a nitpicker who want to know how a river crosses a mountain range. Maps of Europe, South America, Asia, and Africa also work for this as the natural boundaries became political boundaries whereas the linear state/province lines of North america have only mathematical reasoning.

Politics and Government

Now that you have defined your countries and or planets, governments come into play (unless you are running neanderthall games). As it becomes important, the government must gain some structure. Is the area a monarchy, democracy, anarchy or other form. Is there a great bureaucracy or only a few officials. Are the officials paid monetarily or just with status. Is the leader selected through elections, military or economic might, divine right, or random chance? Are the laws comprehensive with swift, harsh justice or fairly broad with lots of gray space? For space games, are planets unified, or does each planet have several different governments?

This is not really a guide to selcting forms, but just to get you thinking about government. There may be a WIBTTT down the road that goes into more depth, but no promises.


There is a decision to be made regarding religion. Are dieties active and obvious in the game? In "Firefly" religion existed and was largely accepted, but there were no Blatant Miracles. In "Pulp Fiction," Julius and Vincent experience a Blatant Miracle, but only one of them accepts it. In "Xena: Warrior Princess" you can't swing a cat without hitting one or more divine personages.

The modern world has religion, but few events that would be considered to be Miracles. Amazing coincidents or other excuses are more often given the credit.

For purposes of defining a campaign, look at the concept of "On-Demand Miracles," In AD&D, clerics are able to call upon their god and receive a miracle called a spell. This is an on-demand miracle.

If this sort of divine action will not occur within a game, then there is little more to be done in defining religion. Mostly, list the common religions and their attributes. What rituals are performed, what acts are required or prohibited, and so forth. Sheperd from Firefly was limited in his action because of his religion, even though there were no Blatant Miracles. Religion existed, but did not need definition beyond rituals, requirements, and prohibitions.

If Miracles or Gods are significant within the game concept (it is possible that religion is important to the world but not the PCs, a D&D game without clerics, frex), then definition must occur.

God or gods? Does the game range have just one god or one family of gods (greek gods for example), or several families? Does the same god(s) exist on every planet, in every country, etc. or do they have turf? If each planet has the same gods, do they have the same names?.

As I run mostly fantasy with Blatant Miracles, I normally start with:

  1. Where did the world come from? Who made it?
  2. Who are the players? Major Gods and their dominions.
  3. Have these gods always been in power or did they defeat older gods?
  4. Are there rivalries between gods? Do their followers engage in antagonistic activities towards the followers of their god's rival? (Do Thor's minions beat up Loki's minions?)
  5. Are there legacies of the gods in daily life? Names of planets, days of the week, holidays, etc.
  6. Do prayers get answered in specific or in general? Does the priest ask for a miracle in the form of "Divine Master, help your servants in their time of need"? Or for his enemies to be smote by extraterrestrial laser?

1 through 5 need to be answered in a more general sense. 6 requires a bit more work. If the method is general aid, how often can aid be requested before getting on the Divine's nerves? Is it like the replay rule in the NFL where if your request is approved, there is no penalty but if you pester him/her with too many requests they get answered less and less often? If Specific prayers are requested and granted, are they treated as identical to spells, only with a divine power source? Or are they more open ended. More on this topic in the section on Magic.

Additionally, how devout must a priest be to receive the miracles he requests, and if his religious vows are not kept, is he able to restore himself to favor and how? My previous Gamegrene article "When in Rome.." covers this in more detail.

Magic and Magic-like effects

In this section, I will refer to magic often. Included in this word are Divine Miracles of the specific prayer type, Psionics, Chi, as well as traditional wizardry and its sub-disciplines. The section includes physical, mental, spiritual, and energy effects.

First off, what sorts of magic are available to the players and NPCs and how are they obtained? This is a multi-layered question, in that players need to know how to give their characters magic (outside the game), and there should be thought on how characters get it (within the game). Within the game, the common answers are genetic mutation, schools, secret masters, divine gifts and so forth. Normally the system mechanics cover the outside the game portion, but the GM must determine if there are prohibited areas of the magic system.

As an example, a supreme martial artist may have mastered many chi techniques, which for purposes of discussion here will be treated as spells. He can perform X number of feats per day, but the spells available are only those which affect his physical or mental prowess. He cannot cast fireball using his chi.

Another example would be a priest of Apollo. The character could take divination and healing spells, but not earthquake or raise zombie.

Secondly, are PCs limited with respect to how many spells they can do in a time period. If yes, are they limited by fiat (D&D spell and/or feat tables), energy (gurps fatigue), by material possessions (spell components, talismans, or focii)?

Third, If there are multiple forms of magic in the game, do they work together? Do they stack? Are they exclusive? Also what are the opinions of the other sorts of magic by those of one source? Do priests believe that arcane magic is demonic? To arcane wizards of one school out to prove that their school is better? Do some forms believe that using other forms taints their talents?

Races and Cultures

When populating your campaign, racial and cultural barriers can be fun or nightmarish. In an interstellar space game, it is easy to make each new race come from a different planet, and have it's own language(s). In single planet games it becomes a bit more difficult, but not impossible. As an example, I've used a map of Europe for some of my fantasy games. I was easy to declare that if your character was from France, he spoke French. If the PC wanted to know English, there had to be some background reason why. It follows in any other game where PCs come from a variety of areas. Barbarians and "monster-race" characters are the hardest to fit in, but it can be done. A GM can also declare that common or "universal translators" are in effect. It is unreasonable (to me) that a whole world should speak one language. An Australian, a Scot, a Minnesotan, and a Texan cannot hold a conversation and they all speak English.

A similar effect with culture happens in Fantasy and Space games. Nobody blinks at something odd about foreigners. The Fur clad barbarian in Shogun Japan can be as free as he likes despite wearing the skins of dead animals. Keeping in mind the xenophobic nature of people, this sort of tolerance is hard to comprehend. This same tolerant society though, sees no problem in assuming that all orcs are bloodthirsty baby-eaters, unless they're in the company of mostly human adventurers. I'm not saying that your game has to be full of intolerant bigots, but some consideration for these things might be worth while. Similarly, different cultures have different outlooks on issues such as prostitution, slavery, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, possessions, women's (or men's) rights, and so forth. Racial effects are similar to cultural effects.

It is my understanding that in Star Trek: TNG that the Ferengi were supposed to be the new Klingon's, a hated race. Their culture was designed and implemented and they came off as a joke, because they didn't really fit into the previously defined cultures.


This is a large area, and I'm going to be brief and describe how I manage my NPCs.

Innocents: This includes townsfolk, shopkeepers, travellers, and anyone who probably won't be in combat with the PCs. As a rule, I do not write them up. I know that their attributes are average or really close (smiths and laborers may have higher ST, Clerks and merchants have IQ, etc.) and one or maybe 2 skills at an adequate level. They don't have names until it becomes important or the character is likely to reappear. All this is unnecessary. When trades-folk get names its usually trade related. The armorer becomes Smitty or Helmut, etc. because it's easy for me to remember and not inappropriate, and too many games fill up with Xandars and Kelgins.

Scrappers: These are low level foes or mooks. Their names are like Innocents. They don't happen until they are needed. My Scrappers are generally named after Sesame Street characters. Their attribute are slightly higher than innocents and their primary skills are weapons. They have cheap gear and generally, all the same types of armor. They are written down, but only the essentials. Example (Gurps 3e) ST, DX, IQ, HT, Weapon, Skill, Damage, Dodge, Armor values. Mooks of a given group will all have the same advantages, disadvantages, perks, feats whatever.

Captains: These are the leaders of the scrappers. Still no names, but better stats, more feats and advantages. They also get a real weapon and armor.

Personalities: These are characters deserving of names. Level bosses, important Townsfolk, Recurring extras and sub-plot personalities such as love interests or rivals. Full development. Innocents can become personalities. The bartender at Dammit's Obligatory Bar, got his name from a City Councilman that came in and said "Dammit, gimme a beer." I also name NPCs after people I know. I use people from my high school and other experiences and use the personalities to match. If my players say, we go talk to Jason W-, I think about how Jason W would react to the situation and play it back. It's a lot easier than trying to remember what I meant when I wrote down crumelteezy.


That's all for this installment. Part 4 should be about hardware. Magical and tech weapons, armor, and gizmos. If you have any questions or comments about this article, please post it here. Alternitively, if you are too shy to post there you can e-mail me at whutaguy8205 at yahoo dot com. Be sure to use a relevant subject line to avoid becoming spam.

Had to spend a night mulling this over because I couldn't think of anything more involved to post than a James Brown backsinger impersonation: "Yeah! [pause] Yeah! [pause] ...

No matter what focus I start with I end up considering similar things as I try to fit the parts together. One of my favorite gimmicks was when I used backdrops from a VFW calendar for an outdoor campaign. I don't how much impact it had but the truth was that was what the rest was built upon.

To date I've never been involved with a game convention game, so I'm curious if there are any special pointers or differences like you pointed out with the prepared character sheets (last article).

Wrt to convention games, most of this article is moot. Converntion gamers (generally) don't give a hoot about the setting specifics. A genre statement is usually enough. The players are more (entirely) concerned with the episode at hand and don't care about long term, intricate plot and subplot dealings. Even character growth and development is generally ignored becasue the players will not be using the same characters again.

As a warning, magic and psionics can get complicated quickly if your sysem of choice is not a common one. Nothing will slow a game down (and suck the fun from it) more than having to explaing intricacies of spell rules. Keep it simple.

I'm sort of glad that you could only go "Yeah! Yeah!" but I would like to know if there was anything you hadn't considered before or if everything was blatantly obvious?

The methods for adapting to a galactic adventure like Star trek never occurred to me. I've never run anything like that although fear kept me away from attempting a Traveler adventure when I had the chance. SciFi has this image of intricate detail. So that was a revelation.

The classification of miracle-types was very interesting. It and the magic section could really command their own in depth articles or series.

I'm sure you've mentioned it specifically before somewhere, but the message that I'm picking up is for GMs to settle on their own systems or styles -- during the creation process -- and know it so well they can run a campaign fluidly, switching NPC to NPC or scene to scene. It was confidence-inspiring. I wanted to start on a new adventure!

Your concept of Range strikes a real chord with me. I can remember the first several sessions I played all took place within the same range. We had no idea what we were doing, just learning the rules and figuring out the strategy, and every weekend for a few months we were killed by orcs in the dense woods between the King's Way and the High Road (except for one weekend we were killed by paladins). We never even knew (or cared) who the king was, or where his road went. The DM knew our attention was held completely by the woods and I don't think he knew what was outside our little range either.

Nice article Whutaguy.

I like the fact that your article covered different methods for different styles of campaign. This is an excellent summary with useful tips and ideas, and I'm looking forward to the more detailed articles.

I used to have (just looked for it and couldn't find it) a set of Rolemaster 3rd ed books. I found the rules system horribly over-complicated, but the "Campaign Law" book, like your article methodically covered the important aspects of world building.

Their approach was most like your "base of operation" method. They recommend that you detail the world from the top down, with similar aspects as you have described, progressively creating more detail in a radius around the players as they travel. It was a pretty cool book and wish I could find it!

However, they did seem to be overly obsessed with some fairly irrelevent details. "Nitpicky" geography considerations like you mentioned. Naming almost everybody. I prefer your approach, which is more flexible, and minimizes unnecessary work!

You mentioned using real maps, which I've done and works quite well. One idea I've toyed with, is the possiblity of playing a large game of Civilization IV until a few cultures have reached the medieval era, then using the state of the game at this point (geography, political boundaries, cities, technology, religions, cultures, military conflicts etc etc) as the basis for a campaign world. Has anybody tried this, or something similar?

One nitpick of my own.. please don't use long non-standard abbreviations like WIBTTT! It took me a while to figure it out.

If you like the d20 system, the World of Warcraft RPG has an interesting system in place for GMs to create their own worlds. I've actually ripped it off for non WoWRPG games. It involves giving a town "levels," which was your classic magic-user, fighter, priest, thief levels. Only, you have a military town, a magic-based town, a religious city, a trade city or a population center. Each level gives the town added benefits. Obviously a military outpost is going to be better defended than a theocratic city based around temples. The rules also allows you to mix and match, so you can have your trade city be a fortified trade city with a bustling mage guild, giving it added protection and some interesting intrigue to boot.

Enter the concept of city feats, which allow the GM to add benefits. Certain military feats are Cavalry Regiment, Reinforced Walls, etc. These allow you to further customize your town. So, if your temple city has an elite corps of fighters, wouldn't it be interesting to make them all archers?

Though, it's kind of chafing to have these sorts of rules in place, just because it doesn't give you free leeway to figure things out on your own. A good (or just experienced) GM should just be able to come up with things on the fly; make up cities, countries, cultures and so on with maybe just a little research and using the hour or two between classes not studying, but drawing maps where class notes should be. Regardless, it is nice that they included those sorts of rules in an RPG that's based off of a MMORPG, considering the general age range of WoW players and that the game is designed, more or less, to be an easy gateway into table top gaming.

using CIV4... hmm, interesting. How exactly would you handle the conversion? is it possible to print maps out?

I don't know how close the WoWRPG is to actual WoW, as they use different rule systems (D20 vs. Dwarcraft, or whatever it's called).

In addition, experienced GMs can skip using these city rules and create cities however they want (leaving their use to newer GMs or slow periods).