Friday, January 16, 2009

Part One: Begin from the Beginning

An obvious first question about campaign building is where do you start? The two basic approaches are the 'top-down' approach, where you start by determining major details like the number of countries and the types of deities, and the 'bottom up' approach where you start by statting up a number of encounters or maybe populating a small dungeon. Many gamers start both approaches by doing something most every gamer loves to do - drawing maps.

With the top-down approach, you draw a map of your entire world and include major details like the names of major cities and the locations of mountain ranges and forests. Of course, the time and effort involved in such an approach is pretty daunting. It can also be a little tough to create a satisfying map if you have little artistic talent and/or knowledge of geography. On top of that, you can spend a lot of time creating details that are never even 'seen' by the PCs.

The opposite is the bottom-up approach. Map a dungeon, drop in some monsters and turn the PCs loose. Details like the nature of the terrain around the dungeon or the location of nearby towns are made up as needed. The big drawback to this approach is that you usually end up with a patchwork 'unrealistic' world. It's also a real hassle to continuously try to 'keep ahead' of the players as they explore the world around them.

An approach that compromises between top-down and bottom-up is to map out a hamlet or small village and a nearby dungeon. You fill in enough details to keep the PCs occupied for several sessions of play and then expand from there. Classic 1st Edition AD&D ‘village and dungeon’ modules include T1: The Village of Hommlet and N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile God. This is the approach that I will be taking with this series. I think it is the best choice for the novice Dungeon Master. The amount of work is not terribly daunting and we should be able create enough material to keep the players busy for some time.

In our next installment, we will try and answer a few initial questions about the campaign world. After that we will get down to the nuts and bolts of drawing the maps for and populating our little village and dungeon.

1 comment:

snorkey said...

Now this should be interesting: given that I am about to start a 4E game in two weeks.
Our groups approach (at my suggestion) was to get the "whole gang" involved in the world building using Dawn of Worlds on a battle map which I am currently converting in gimp (here is the first ages' history.

I look forward to seeing more.