Category Archives: Campaign

What is a Campaign?

I saw a question on Twitter today asking how long a campaign lasts. That got me to thinking and depending one your RPG experience and preferences, the term campaign has multiple meanings.

Campaign comes to RPGs from tabletop miniature wargaming, which in turn gets the term from military parlance. The military use of the term  derives from the plain of Campania, a place of annual wartime operations by the armies of the Roman Republic. [1] Generally, a campaign is a specific portion of a war, such as a series of battles or specific strategy. It can also be a region/terrain, such as the desert campaign in WWII.

Wikipedia has a handy page with all the ways campaign is used, including gaming! There are two handy articles, one on campaign in the context of RPGs, and the other is the campaign setting.

The various shades of meaning in relation to RPG’s that come to mind are: (This is in the context of D&D in my mind, substitute your primary RPG of choice.)

  • The entire game world/multiverse and all activity happening under a DM. That is, the campaign setting.
  • A specific connected set of adventures/game sessions with a clear end point.  Often this means the end of that game “world”, and after a break a new world emerges.
    • An example from published modules would be the Drow series.
  • A campaign in a DM’s ongoing world might mean a major event in the world is resolved, or it might mean players have reached a level where retirement is in order and a new batch of characters enter the realm.
  • A specific group of players and their characters. It may be that circumstances prevent that group from playing again, and the end of the campaign is the end of regular play among that group of people.
  • A DM with a single campaign setting can encompass multiple groups of players and each could be their own campaign, or they could be somehow interconnected. There are lots of examples of DMs running the same setting for decades.

When campaign is used to refer to the setting, it can be a single genre, multiple genres, homebrew, or published.

In a multi-genre campaign setting, one could have D&D set in the past, then western/steampunk, then modern, then apocalyptic, then future. The order could be different, such as in Jack Vance’s far future world where there is magic.

Other GMs have a separate setting for each genre. They could even mix and match home brew for one setting and a published setting for another.

A DM can even have a campaign to get the word out that they are looking for new players.

There can even be a campaign of war within the RPG itself.

So a DM can campaign for new players for their campaign setting that features military campaigns in the game.

What does the term campaign in the context of table top RPGs bring to mind for you?

[Tomorrow’s article explores the term adventure.]

Dice Chain To Inspire Number of Player Character Racial Enclaves

I was thinking on some of the ideas I have had for a new campaign setting, and the idea of numbers of major groups of various player character races crossed my mind. I was thinking how to use the dice chain for something else, and this idea just jelled.

Below is how I am considering using it for this specific campaign setting. There is nothing to stop you from using a dice chain with all the various dice you have. One could also mix in story cubes to get a back story for each “nation”. If you don’t have gnomes in your world, skip them. If you want some races to be even more rare, use different dice to represent them, or make their enclaves smaller and further apart. There are so many other tools that one could use to build details. Tables, cards, dice, PDF’s, novels, TV, and movies each have something they could inspire.

One does not have to go into great detail, just make a note about that race with the number. For example, below I have the four shires, meaning four groups of halflings. They could be in a federation or confederation arrangement for mutual defense and trade.

For the dwarves, the idea of a lost kingdom sounded appealing, so in common parlance, it is the seven kingdoms of the dwarves. This gave me the idea that dwarves would call mithril and other hard to obtain things as rare as the eighth kingdom. This generates an air of history, mystery, and legend without much effort at a complex list of names and dates and charts. It leaves room to add them later, but they are not needed at the start.

Multiple groups of each race brings up the possibilities of rivalries, historic ties, and intrigue between members of each group. This would be in addition to any such things happening with the various groups within each kingdom. Add into the mix relations with other races, and it’s politics where ever you go.

Politics and factions arise in groups of all sizes. Families, neighborhoods, villages, baronies, kingdoms, regions, continents, etc. Families go from the basic unit to extended families, to descendants of the children of a common ancestor. Neighborhoods have those that are older and established vs. the newcomer, or other such division. Villages, towns, and cities have competing factions whether by neighborhood, guild, or class. Baronies have divisions between townsfolk and rural folk. Such divisions scale. Baronies more distant from the seat of the king are seen as backward and uncouth. Newer kingdoms more recently cut from the wilds are seen as inferior to long established kingdoms and empires.

Enemies over trading rights become staunch allies when faced with invasion by a mutual enemy. It can be as simple or complex as you want to make it. It is far simpler to have one simple rivalry and one simple commonality between each neighboring “kingdom.” Let the course of play reveal an increase in the number of conflicts or points of mutual interest. Or the initial single point of interest and conflict might be broadened and deepened during the growth of the campaign through play.

As is evident, in my case, a relatively simple idea has sparked my creative juices, and I see all kinds of possibilities. My goal is not to get mired in the details. While I might have four halfling shires, and seven dwarven kingdoms, I don’t need their official names, names of rulers, or location at this time. Adventurers need not be educated about the scope of the world, or even access to maps of the world. They only need a general idea that the four shires are in the east, for example. Unless they are a halfling, they won’t know more than that.

All of this is just a framework or placeholders for ideas. Not all ideas will work into play. Only those ideas that come into play are worth expansion. The most work and detail needs to go into the starting location and surrounding region. This concept easily transfers to any set of rules or genre. For science fiction, it could be how many star systems, star bases, capital ships, etc. a given group has. Narrow the focus to a city and it indicates number of neighborhoods with each group in the city. Use a roll of the die assigned to a given group to generate a random number for whatever place in the setting it is needed. I think that it is a simple enough concept that you don’t need a table, other than as an example or reminder. If you forget and use the “wrong” die, it won’t hurt.

Dice Chain for Number of Nations/Enclaves of Each Race

Original D&D Dice Chain, as I knew it: (One can roll the dice, or take the maximum from each die, or any number that makes sense for your vision of your campaign.)

d4 – Halflings – The four Shires.
d6 – Gnomes – Burrows for dwellings and grouped in clans.
d8 – Dwarves – The Seven Kingdoms of the Dwarves, the 8th Kingdom is lost in mystery.
d10 – Elves – Ten major enclaves of Elves. Could be wood, valley, high, grey, or other groupings.
d12 – Humans – 12 major nations/peoples. Nations with “fixed” borders, or groups of nomads with claims on seasonal lands.
d20 – 20 other groupings of Humanoids, potential other player races.

Half-elves and Half-Orcs would tend to be mixed in with one of their parent’s communities, or isolated communities where they settle.

There are six dice in the above dice chain. Use a d6 to determine which die to roll to determine number of clans in a dwarven kingdom, or how many tribes of orcs. These could always be those that are known. The world is a big place and magic, interdimensional portals, and the like can explain away any sudden appearance when it is “known” that there are no more X in the world.

What die to roll for number of factions/groups/divisions at this level? (d6) (Level can be city, kingdom, continent, etc.) For example, how many major guilds are in the capital city? Of course, if you roll 20, you may be re-thinking the work that would involve, so as always, change it to suit your needs. A good one would be, how many regiments can be mustered, if you don’t want to calculate detailed population metrics. If you roll a d4 and a 1, or a 1 on any die, what story would you come up with to only have one regiment that the king can count on? Rebellion, civil war, invasion, natural disaster, dragon?

  1. d4
  2. d6
  3. d8
  4. d10
  5. d12
  6. d20

DCC style dice chain (d14) or d16

  1. d2
  2. d3
  3. d4
  4. d5
  5. d6
  6. d7
  7. d8
  8. d10
  9. d12
  10. d14
  11. d16
  12. d20
  13. d24
  14. d30
  15. d50
  16. d100

Campaign Idea – The Broken Lands

The Broken Lands – This name comes from the topography that is marked by the effects of earthquakes. Earthquakes were once common in the area, but are now beyond living memory. This will make valleys, bluffs, plateaus, swamps, and any other feature fit. Volcanism or other processes, including magic or gigantic creatures, could be the source of the quakes. The variation in the terrain will allow for creatures of any type. Mountains high enough for cold based creatures in summer, Wet & swampy regions, areas of mountains high enough to block the rains and have arid/desert regions.

Living memory suddenly changes with the earthquake that uncovered a buried structure. (Vault of the Broken Lands? Secret of the Broken Lands? Mystery/Mysteries of the Broken Lands?) This leads to the possible questions: Why an earthquake now,? Can the cause be determined? What is in the buried structure? This area will be the best available farmland in the area, but it is remote and off the beaten path/main trade routes. While officially part of the kingdom and claimed by one or more neighboring kingdoms, it is a march/borderland and is wild. Only the occasional bandit or ravaging monster has come around in recent years, lulling all into a sense of peace and security.

This abruptly changes the focus for the locals, the region, kingdom, and neighboring kingdoms. This is the hook that brings fresh adventurers to the area. This refreshes the minds of elders about stories of the creatures and adventurers of old.

As a new campaign, the initial setting will be centered in a human kingdom, and the first PC’s will be human. It takes time for word to spread and non-human treasure seekers (of 1st level) to show up. Non-human NPC’s of more power, whether in levels, politics, wealth, or other connections/measures will be possible.

This lets the initial players and their first characters in the campaign have a hand in shaping the way it develops.

New player characters will be average character level – 1, but no higher than the lowest level character. So if the average is 4th level, but the lowest level is 3, start at 3rd level.

Leveling up – simplified – Once have enough XP to level must return to civilization/secure and well supplied base/name level stronghold and rest up and re-supply for a week. For treasure to count for XP it has to be returned to civilization with the players.

Smoke Mountain, Smoking Mountain, Fuming Mountain, Fire Mountain, Dragon Spire, Dragon’s Spire, Dragon’s Maw

COOL! – I was thinking of a volcanism and earthquake defined region, and wanted something like Death Valley (140 miles long), and found the terms graben and horst, and then the jackpot, the Basin and Range Province. It is 170,000 square miles (for example: 500 x 340). It covers a huge area in the US southwest and northeast Mexico. It is all terrain I have never seen, except in TV and movies. But I have seen similar, smaller examples in Colorado. There are numerous features affected by volcanoes and various faults. There are plenty of barriers that would make large “uninhabited”/”uncivilized” regions, and multiple kingdoms. Having border areas on the perimeter that are the more stable heartlands of the greater kingdoms/nations, makes for the far off influence of the kings/rulers/government less immediate.

This area in the real world is home to copper, gold, and silver mining. Mountains would be a good place for dwarves, and areas of isolated forests would be good places for elves. Lost valleys of the Pleistocene, or isolated plateaus full of dinosaurs. Aliens, inter-dimensional rifts, and so forth are all fair game.

Having a bit of real world analog to help inform my imagination is helpful, but it is a game and in no way requires me to stick to the way things are in the real world.

I had another idea in the pipeline, but the idea hit me, so I put it down. I plan to take bits and pieces of my current campaign and other unrealized ideas, and make the current center of action somewhat far off from this new area. I have ideas that I didn’t leave a good place for in my original campaign concept that was more top down than bottom up design. I need a different map for my original campaign anyway, it didn’t fit for how I was trying to use it. It didn’t impact the players, but it didn’t really fit for what was developing in my mind’s eye. It’s a great map my brother did for me, but it didn’t afford all the cool terrain that I wanted available for all the things I want to do. I want just enough map detail for a starting area, and a general concept of what is around it, so that there is flexibility to make a place for the specifics that grab the player’s interest.

Having the geologically active region known from the start makes it easy to have some sort of geological activity happen to alter the landscape or reveal something new. This makes the world living in a sense that there is more rapid and long-lasting change to its appearance than in other locations.

Just writing out notes in my preferred text editor, NoteTab*, the ideas just don’t want to stop. I keep jotting down notes of cool ideas that I don’t want to forget. Just when I think I’m done, another idea pops into my mind. It’s great to have the creative juices on overdrive, but not when it is time to go to bed. Even though I have what is now today off, I still need to get sleep and deal with the requirements of adulting.

*See these past articles where I discuss NoteTab. Software, Notes, 30 posts in 60 days [I forgot about this one.], Tools, Written vs. Typed, and NaNoWriMo. I even have my name in the acknowledgements of the help file for my contributions to testing over the years. I don’t want to take the time to learn how to do all the things in another editor that I can do with NoteTab, as I have better things to do.

Sandbox Idea

I wrote about an idea for a new campaign setting last week. Last night I had an idea for the starting point for the sandbox.

An earthquake rocks a region near a village. The ground opens up and reveals a structure beneath that releases creatures that raid and terrorize the village. Some local hero/adventurer types kill/drive off the creatures, find the buried structure/dungeon, discover great wealth within and word soon spreads. These adventurers could have retired or set themselves up as local power/authority figures, or all been killed in their greed for more.

This premise sets up the whole thing to use a module featuring a dungeon, a commercial megadungeon, or developing my own. The level of flexibility with this is enormous.

Of course, this leads to a boom town with new found wealth that garners the attention of the far off king, who sends a newly ennobled baron, a younger son of a noble to come in and restore order and make sure taxes are collected. This will be a challenge to players, and the degree of taxes taken will depend on how law-abiding the players and other adventurers are, and how lawful and honest the new baron is.

The PC’s hear about this chance for riches and glory, and arrive with lots of others to make their fortune. The damage, from the creatures, to part of the village is seen on the homes & buildings closest to the hole in the earth. Earthquake damage is also evident. Merchants, innkeepers, thieves, and oh so many others have shown up and changed a once sleepy farming village into a boom town that is the center of attention for miles around. Think of a gold rush town, but with magic and monsters. One cold place this in any genre, not just fantasy. Weird West, Sorcerous Space, etc. Or take out the magic and just be technology, whatever suits you.

The native villagers are in shock at the sudden changes to their way of life. Farmers will be chasing people off their fields. This could lead to a localized famine if the crop is poor from all the digging.

Of the various ideas I have had to pull this together, many can be implemented before or after gameplay starts to make things more dynamic. A timeline of events leading up to and after the earthquake would also help move things along.


Make this a one-off introduction to the campaign. This would call for a small dungeon that is soon tapped out.

Make this the center of attention for the sandbox with a megadungeon.

Formerly sleepy area of kingdom that has not seen much trouble for generations, near a kingdom that has been at peace, but the sudden surge in wealth has many claiming ancient rights to the spoils and demanding their fair share. Documents, maps, patents, deeds, genealogies, etc. All presented to back up claims to land, mineral rights, etc.

What might have caused the earthquake? Why now? Who is interested in this?

Supply caravans lose guards and others seeking their fortune. Some merchants come in on a caravan, but set up shop selling supplies at exorbitant prices to adventurers.

Mines/Miners – non-adventuring types will be digging for treasure, not caring to risk life and limb in the dungeon. Pre-cut stone is gathered from the structure as all newer groups have used prior construction materials again.

Local farmer/crafter sets up an inn, uses materials from buildings of the slain families to build/expand.

Constable. – Native villager appointed/elected/selected by town to keep peace/order. Active before arrival of the baron. Baron can arrive before or after game play starts.

When baron and his force arrives, they set a levy and require the able bodied to build a low wall and ditch around the town with watchtowers at each approach. The underground structure is mined for building materials and is like kicking an ant nest….

If a megadungeon, there will be some other entrance(s) that keep re-populating the dungeon. If they dig too deep too fast or venture too deep too fast, they could attract the attention of a lot of bad things….

Place other NPC’s and static encounters around the sandbox. Note which ones were there before the earthquake, and which are new arrivals since. Are any new arrivals due to what the earthquake has revealed? An old hedge witch/wizard would be there before, do they know anything about the structure?

Sages, scholars, and wizards interested in ancient things might show up.

Local village cleric/druids overwhelmed. Shrines set up to strange and foreign gods. NOTE: Idea of the powers and work that in to it.

Other farmsteads in surrounding area.

Fallen towers, other ruins, caves, sinkholes, etc.

Rival gangs of adventurers. As with any boom town situation, one of them has a level of clout/influence the others don’t and takes advantage of it. Turf wars/claim disputes/etc. This may or may not be the original “heroes”. Calls for generating multiple rival adventuring parties.

Tavern Name: The Fallen Paladin – either a heroic paladin fell in battle saving the town, or fell from grace….

Thieves guild of nearest city/large town moves in to get their piece of the action. Or a thief of sufficient level moves in to set up his or her own guild.


Campaign Setting Idea

While mowing the lawn yesterday, I  heard sirens and had one of my off the wall thoughts. What if you died and didn’t know it, and could only do the thing that you were doing for eternity?
That’s potentially a terrible curse. But I went with the idea and let the ideas bubble up as i continued to mow.
I have an idea for a new AD&D campaign and want to have fun with it, so I put together some quick notes on my phone in Evernote, when I took a break from mowing. I then cleaned them up and added more ideas below.
  • When I was still on the same thing for eternity idea, I thought about this making people think about their eternal future and learn things that would make them have as much variety as possible in how they do things. For example, learn 100 or 1,000 ways to cut the grass, or maintain the lawn. This will prevent boredom/monotony.
    • I further imagined literate cultures having lots of books on 100 ways to do 100 things, or long lists of ways people have died and ways to deal with that. Pre-literate cultures would have intricate oral traditions taught by the elders on such matters.
      • The idea of dying in childbirth was very unpalatable, and how to deal with that? Perhaps a belief that the mother and child are united together in eternity exploring and learning from the cosmos.
      • This and other horrible ways of dying lead to the idea of nuance, and not being literally the only thing one does for eternity. I am sure one burned to death could be seen as involved with fire in the afterlife, as a shooting star, lava flow, etc. Or they become a fire elemental or other creature on the plane of fire!

This lead to the idea of birth and death augurs, and the points that follow:

  • All humans – Characters are all humans, with rare exceptions. Demi humans arrive via random gates from other worlds. For some reason, the idea of an all-human party is appealing. Maybe the first character for each player has to be human, and future characters can be something else.
  • Birth augur determines class and other affects, etc. Use DCC until generate own lists. Players write a paragraph or two to weave together class, secondary skill (if AD&D), and birth augur.
  • Birth order to get 7th of 7th son/daughter, etc. If roll 7th of 7th son/daughter, get plus 1 to Intelligence and Wisdom, or other cool bonus. Social class, rank, parent’s occupations, season, month, etc, all play a part.
  • Parents would want children to carry on the family business, but if the birth augur says differently, then parents are reluctant to challenge the way things are.
    • Making a character with a class that goes counter to the stats. A high strength for a mage, for example, might indicate one bucking the trend of their birth augur. This should call for interesting role play situations.
  • Death augur, roll on table,  determined at birth. Thus the characters have it at the start of the campaign. Age, season, circumstance, activity, such as battle. Search real world augurs of birth and death. This should encourage players to be heroic and if they are slain, to go out in style.
  • All groups, human and monster believe that what one is doing when they die will determine what they do in the afterlife for eternity. Those slain in battle might be involved in eternal war. The nuances of the death could point to something else related to that circumstance. For example, slain by ogres could mean you awake in a new world where ogres are friendly and you have to work past your issues with ogres to move on. Or you could be re-born as an ogre….
  • Note, raise dead forces a re-roll of birth and death auguries. If identical, signals a blessing from the powers. If vastly different it signals a mark, curse, burden, or quest is demanded to lift or rectify it. If one is the same and the other is different, it presents a fun roleplay opportunity.
  • Those who desire a long life avoid the things that signal the possibility of their death.
  • Certain death – there is a saying, “While death comes to all that is, the only certain death is one that is foretold.”
  • No fear of death.  Fate, luck, etc. all play a part. If character knocked down, but ruled by the DM as not part of his death augur, “flip the body” like in DCC, and just badly injured. Possible permanent injury table.
  • I like the idea of no set alignment, but those on the side of civilization and law, and those on the side of monsters and wildness. More of the law & chaos of original D&D. I had the idea for the name of a rule set, “Heroes & Anti-Heroes.” Those on the side of law are heroic and those on the side of chaos are the opposite. Not necessarily cowards, but their great deeds are infamous rather than heroic.
  • Undead and those who seek to cheat death would be chaos and hidden cults. A lich would be the ultimate in an attempt to cheat death.
    • Demons would be those powers out to trick the susceptible into resisting death at all costs. The “blessings” from the demons would be life as undead.
  • Call Turn Undead “Banish Magical Abomination”, and druids would “Banish Unnatural Abominations”. Let druids turn undead at 2 or 3 levels lower.
  • No set deities. “The powers”, “great ones”, generic name for all the deities. Few groups would worship a specific deity.
  • Any tribes/groups/nations/cultures that don’t follow the birth/death augur tradition will be viewed as “wrong”. This should be rare and not encountered in the core of the campaign region.
This whole idea helped me to see undead and law vs. chaos differently. It is not as confining as one imagines.
This also feels like the idea for a book.  Hmmmm…. Not until I get the first draft of the final chapters of the novel I have yet to finish.