Welcome to the table!
One of the great joys of playing Dungeons and Dragons, or indeed any TTRPG, is exploring fantastical worlds. To my mind, one of the most exciting parts of being a GM is creating those worlds. Getting to make the fruit of your imagination inhabitable for your players, and seeing what they uncover and how is just deeply gratifying. It’s also kinda terrifying.
There is a very understandable urge to try and plot out the whole of your own world before you unleash your players on it. I understand that drive, honestly I do. But it’s a trap for young players. It’s the Mirror of Erised. You will starve to death before you ever get it finished, and your players will stand over your coffin asking when Session 0 is happening. That being said, if anyone has ever managed to do it, I have nothing but the deepest respect for your efforts. Truly, the gods smiled on you, and wove the thread of your life in gold.
If planning the whole thing out is too much to do, and speaking as someone with a very troubling relationship with executive dysfunction it’s certainly too much for me to do, how do we get started? “I’ve got all these cool ideas about the world, and amazing places to go and explore! I need to draft up all of it and make it fit together perfectly! I just don’t know where to start.” Cool, I love the energy. Let’s work with that. Definitely note down all of your cool ideas. Preferably somewhere that is always accessible. I use Evernote (not sponsored, but totally open to it), but whatever works for you. If you can keep track of physical notebooks, then do that. Find something that works, is what I’m saying. The more accessible it is the easier it will be to keep building that database up.
But then it comes time for the rubber to meet the road, and your players have managed to shake a Session 0 out of you, and now they’re baying like wolves outside your door for session 1, what’s the next move?
Allow me to make the case for stealing the structure of what is, to my mind, one of the finest first books of a series in all of fantasy.
The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan, has probably the perfect structure for kicking off a campaign. And this is specifically for kicking off a campaign in a world you create. I’ll get into one-shots, and session structure in a future blog, for now lets stay on task. The book starts with a small group of five characters(how delightfully analogous to a table of PC’s) who are in a small village. There is three outsiders in the village, one pair of them mysterious strangers with an unknown motivation, the other a travelling outsider with piecemeal news of the greater world outside of the village. As a basis for quest giving NPC’s, that’s pretty damn perfect. You could stop it there, and that would be a great way to get the players to start choosing how they want to explore the world.
But to really kick it up a notch, a dark force of external evil attacks the village and pushes our PC’s to choose a path. I put it to you that that is a perfect instigating incident.
So what do you, as the GM, need to get this show on the road? You need a small village, or town. You don’t really need it totally mapped out, unless you want to. You need a couple of NPC’s with quest hooks, which can be as simple or as complicated as you want. You need a handful of villagers, and a place for people to gather. And you need a bad guy. From there you let your players show you where the world needs developing.
When the players say they want to follow Path A, that’s where you need to focus your development. That’s the part of the world that needs a little more fleshing out. Keep notes, and refer back to your cool ideas. Chuck one or two in, as seeds, or encounters. And note down where you put them. That way you can come back later in the campaign as your weary heroes seek resolution and look like a genius who planned it all out from the beginning.
There is so much more that can be said on this subject, and I promise we will come back to it, but for now go rough out that small village and give your players somewhere to start their epic adventure.
I’ll see you at the table next session,