posted Wednesday, November 18th 2009 by
Dungeon Mastering Advice
One of the great joys of being a DM is creating a world for your players to experience through their characters. While there are some very high quality campaign settings available, especially if youâ€™re willing to adapt from older editions, if youâ€™re at all like me then nothing can possibly match the enjoyment of building your own world for your game.
Of course, all that intricate detail is of no use if you canâ€™t communicate it to your players. Handing most players a campaign bible the size of an average university history textbook is a surefire way to ensure they wonâ€™t read through any of it. One obvious reason for this is that the sheer volume of the detail is intimidating, especially if you expect them to become intimately familiar with it before you play, but thatâ€™s not the only one. There are several factors to consider for effectively building a campaign world and communicating the details to your players.
The first introduction to your campaign that your players will have is typically a campaign brief. This is usually a document presenting them with the vital information about the setting that they need to understand in order to create suitable characters. Here are some tips to help write an effective campaign brief.
- Keep it short. Most players are more likely to read a campaign brief of 3 pages than a detailed campaign bible of 30 or more. This is not to say that you canâ€™t or shouldnâ€™t have more details in mind than can be contained in those three pages, but especially for the initial communication, shorter is better. Try to consider 3-5 pages as the absolute maximum length for an introductory campaign brief.
- Keep it to the point. If your campaign world has a history rich with lost empires and great battles, thatâ€™s wonderful, but if your player characters are beginning as adventurers based out of a small town in the hinterlands, none of that is going to be directly affecting them.
- Keep it clear. Try to avoid using terms specific to your campaign without defining them. Make an effort to ensure that names are consistent and that your writing style is clear at all times on who is doing what to whom. If your players arenâ€™t able to understand part of the campaign brief, it may as well not have been included at all, and thatâ€™s something you do not want.
- Consider formatting. Use bold or italics to emphasize important details. Keep the formatting consistent throughout the documentâ€”the idea is to make it as easy to read and understand as possible.
- Keep it open-ended. This is a critical point thatâ€™s often forgotten or left out by novice world-designers. Always remember that youâ€™re creating a shared world with your playersâ€”the lionâ€™s share of the effort in designing a world is the DMâ€™s responsibility, but try to leave room for the creativity of your players. As an example, one game I ran began as a fairly standard fantasy setting in my mind, but one of the players decided to play his tiefling ranger as a cowboy. Rather than telling him that wouldnâ€™t work, I ran with it, and the campaign setting became much richer as a result.
- Keep it organized. With only three to five pages it may not seem super-important to keep every bit of detail cleanly organized, but itâ€™s actually quite vital to do so. Not only does it improve readability , it makes it that much easier to add to it as your campaign continues to grow.
- Avoid fiction. There may be some temptation to lay out your campaign setting using an in-character document. This can be an excellent exercise to get into the right mindset for both you and your players, but itâ€™s not always especially clear, concise, or easy to refer back to for specific details. The campaign brief should be presented to the players first, so they have time to digest the information, before you bring them further into the world with in-character writing.
Once you have the basic campaign brief laid out and your players have become familiar with the material you provided initially, expect more details to come out. Check out next weekâ€™s article for a more in-depth discussion of keeping up with the details!