Campaign Building

This is an excellent primer on campaign building that was posted by Pfr_Fate on the Pinnacle forum. I thought it was worth re-posting here. — Sean

When you start a campaign, it is very similar to pitching a TV show. With that in mind, here a few things you need to decide (of course these elements can — and maybe should — change during the lifetime of the series).

Interaction Generation

Any series of continuing adventures needs an excuse to have constant adventure. There are quite a few, but select one to start. Here are some examples:

  • Hub Location — The characters live upon a busy hub of interaction. A new story arrives with new people daily! Examples: Love Boat, DS9, Melrose Place, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon-5, Gunsmoke, Big Valley, Bonanza
  • The Lonely Man — The characters are forced to be on-the-move, constantly running from or in search of a large thematic problem. As they wander, they encounter new people and new stories. Examples: Kung Fu, The Incredible Hulk, The Fugitive, The Invaders, Battlestar Galactica, Lost in Space
  • It's My Job — The characters are in a profession that stays in one place but seeks out new stories or adventure in the course of their daily jobs. Examples: Superman, Nightstalker, X-Files, Dragnet, Emergency One, Supernatural
  • Explorers and Travelers — The characters are in a profession that moves and encounters new situations as a function of their daily jobs or to survive and reach home. Examples: Band of Brothers, Wagon Train, Star Trek, Star Trek: Voyager, Land of the Giants, Land of the Lost, SeaQuest

There are more, but that gives you an idea of what you need to establish.

Familiar Location

Next is the 'Familiar Location'. Though not technically always a 'location', this is a wondrous plot device that allows the players and the GM to quickly start a story and to immediately focus the players. You can begin every story with this plot device in a second without having to concoct stories to bring everyone together and it allows the players to have a Touchstone into their game world when they need to begin or when they get lost in the story. Examples include Giles' Library, the Seaview, Marlowe's Office, the Enterprise, the 4077th, Mr Phelps's tape recorder and files, Dean Winchester's Impala, David Banner's hitch-hiking (and that theme music), the Daily Planet or Daily Bugle, the Baxter Building, Wayne Manor, the cave of Marshall Will and Holly, the infamous D&D inn, Warehouse 13, Collinswood, Dale's Camper, etc.

Ties That Bind

After determining your characters (or maybe as you determine your characters), you need something that binds them together. This may be a complex or as simple as you desire, but it must exist. The characters could all share the same job, bad situation, common goal, or location. Examples include characters that are stuck together because: all are Lost on an island (or shipwrecked tour passengers!), all work on a cruise line or space-station, all belong to a secret organization, all happen to be on the same bus when something important occurred, childhood friends and so forth. Look at Gilligan's Island, X-Files, Gunsmoke, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, DS9, and more to see how very different character backgrounds can end up constantly together.

Episode, Season, and Series

During a campaign, you will need to tell three types of stories.

The Episode is a one-shot deal. It can include Season and Series events, but need not. Each adventure is an Episode. Some can be 'two-parters' or even 'three-parters'. Without Season or Series events, the episode is a simple generic adventure playable in any group.

The Season is a larger challenge taking 5 or more (probably more) episodes before moving on to the next season. The Season is one storyline that relates to the characters in a strong way, eventually changing them significantly. Out of those 5 or more episodes, the Season story should be strongly influencing at least half of them, either providing the main story or challenging the character's background and personalities on the side. When the Season is over, a new one will begin, but (hopefully) with a changed universe.

The Series is a more vague constant never-ending theme. That theme affects the growth of the character and represents the story you will tell. Essentially, it is the THEME. Not the plot or setting — the THEME. For example, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the THEME is simply about growing up and moving from one stage of life to another, with the monsters representing those normal challenges of life encountered in the growth. Buffy starts in high school, moves through college years and into the adult phase. Along the way, she has her first love, graduates, finds jobs, etc. The problems come at her like monsters (when your first love betrays you, when your college roomie is horrible, etc.). You have to have a THEME or your player characters are about as important to your story as an NPC.

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