RPG a Day 2020: Beginning A New Campaign

The topic for day one of RPG a Day is ‘Beginning’. I’ve written about starting out as a roleplayer before, so instead I thought I’d talk about starting a new game.

There’s something magical about starting a new campaign and the primordial fire we get to play with in session zero. As time’s gone on, I’ve tried not to build too much beforehand when I’m running a game. A logline, a pitch for the group. I try to offer a few different potential games to play, remembering the trinity of:

  • What is the game about?
  • What do characters do in the game?
  • What do players do in the game?

Once a game’s picked, I tend to do a dash of prep. A few names, a few places, some ideas about the big dramatic beats which can change later if necessary. That’s all fine and standard. The magic comes later, when you add players.

I started out running games very much with stories I wanted to tell, but as time’s gone on, I’ve learnt to leave empty spaces. What do the players want to experience? How can we make it together?

An example is the Wall campaign I ran using Dungeon World. We started out with the world. I had a bit of paper with a wall a thousand miles long, with a capital city at the centre point. Beyond it, only desert and demons. I asked each player to add a landmark, a civilisation and a mystery, doing the same myself after each of them had a turn. That loaded the world up with interesting things we all pitched in, then we were ready to make characters. In making the characters, the players were asked a lot of questions, like what it meant to be a paladin in the world, where people learnt magic and so on. By the end, we had a world which we’d all contributed towards which felt deep despite only having existed for a few hours.

Since then I’ve done things like use The Quiet Year by Avery Alder to map out the backstory of a community in Apocalypse World. I’ve found games like Beyond the Wall, which builds this sort of thing in the system itself, or Masks. Masks has a couple of questions about the backstory of the characters and then questions everyone answers about when the team came together. I love that, as it helps establish not only why everyone’s already in the group, but also potential threats for the future.

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