DMing 101 – The Campaign pt 1
Over the last 7 weeks I have given you some simple advice on how to build basic aspects of a tabletop role-play. Much of it has boiled down to the same thing; keep it simple, and take notes. Well now I’ll be practicing what I preach! I asked you for a few basic starting points for a game, a genre, and a few characters to throw into it. Here is the premise that you gave me:
Genre – Sci-Fi Noir
Thanks to Tom Forester. Bless, he thought he was going to make things difficult.
Well, no one brought me characters on Facebook, but I am nothing if not ready to improvise. I sourced from others, and here is what they brought to me.
PLAYER NAME – Our very own Timlah
CHARACTER NAME – Sir Isaac Schnicklesnap
BACKGROUND – Self-proclaimed sir, actually poor.
COMBAT STYLE – Mind control and deception
MOTIVATION – Lust for status and power
PLAYER NAME – Kim from 1001up.com
CHARACTER NAME – Grace
BACKGROUND – Gifted student who runs away
COMBAT STYLE – Healer
MOTIVATION – Adventure
PLAYER NAME – Nathan, one of my regular D&D group
CHARACTER NAME – Frank “Clanky” Caputo
BACKGROUND – Reanimated cyborg thug
COMBAT STYLE – Energy/brawler
MOTIVATION – Revenge on a murderous kingpin
PLAYER NAME – Alan, another gamer
CHARACTER NAME – Jack Clancy
BACKGROUND – Broke P.I. and heavy drinker
COMBAT STYLE – Stealth, knives, guns if cornered
MOTIVATION – Looking for his missing sister
PLAYER NAME – Giles, yet another of my regular players
CHARACTER NAME – Jonathan Pearce
BACKGROUND – Psychokinetic ex-photographer
COMBAT STYLE – Jiu-jitsu, baton, psychokinesis
MOTIVATION – The truth about his powers
From the genre alone we can begin world building, and with a rather nice blend of genres we have some assumptions we can make. Science fiction has a tendency to imply futurism or an alternative history, and noir is often bleak, and often has ambiguous villains with uncertain motivations. So let us begin with a few core assumptions, and here are a few simple ones to get this campaign started:
Earths’ environment is failing; Dark clouds fill every sky, ash-fall is as common as rain, and sunlight is uncommon. Air travel is made impossible, and breathable air and potable water are premium quality products. Life for mankind is a struggle.
While Martian colonies have flourished, Earth has decayed; As humanity’s best and brightest were sent to colonize Mars, quality of life on Earth has slowly diminished, and as space for more colonists began to dwindle, and “pure-born Martians” started to fill the expansion projects, Terrestrial humans lost that small ambition to reach the stars.
Power on Earth is divided between Corporatocratic cities and lawless bandit tribes; High walled, shining cities filled with people who either work for a corporation or are enslaved by its’ products and services. Badlands filled with violent and aggressive bandits lead by the strongest and most enigmatic. What then, of those living in between?
Clean air and water are a black market; What the corporations don’t sell for exorbitant prices, bandits steal and stockpile for themselves, building private oases. In between people scrounge what they can, but make do with more readily available sources, old recyclers and filtration systems, most common around older cities.
So now we have the beginnings of a picture, a planet fallen into darkness and complacency, entrenched by violence and underhanded manipulations by people in powerful positions. I’m also captured by the mental image of an abandoned space-port and the city that has built up around it. Now I have that smaller picture in mind, it’s time to get more specific.
With a world to play with we can now start to think of a few themes for stories and quests. What can happen in this bleak world, and what can drag normal people from their doldrum and into a life of adventure? Between the devious corporations, the violent bandits and a world in pieces, there are a wealth of opportunities to throw ordinary people into chaos. Here are a few examples;
People vanish; People disappear all the time. It’s easy to tell when bandits have taken captives, but every now and again people will simply vanish for years at a time. If and when they return, they are changed, rumours abound of half-beasts, cyborgs and psychics, of dead men walking the world. People in the shadow of the cities live in fear of things they cannot fight.
A ship is leaving for Mars; No one has travelled to Mars in years, but invites are being sent out to seemingly random people to leave Earth for a new home on Mars. Who sent them? Who received them, and why? Is it even real, or a trap being set? Did the players receive the invitations, or have they been hired to find out who did?
Vital machinery is failing; Supplies are needed to fix the water recycler, supplies that are not cheap or easy to get hold of. Brave, or suicidal souls are needed to go hunt them down, but time is of the essence. With reserves running out, water is going to be in higher demand, and the arguments have already begun.
Time to start tying the party to the world. To make a truly compelling adventure for them, they need to feel a personal connection, something to make them want to fight. Using your characters you can build up a cast of characters, and find that perfect opening scene to bring them all together.
Sir Isaac Schnicklesnap
Down and out, but aiming high. What Sir Isaac is looking for is a chance to be something greater, anything that’ll put someone influential in his pocket, but of course the odd drink is a welcome substitute.
NPCs – With Sir Isaac in the party your quests should directly assist someone of power. In my city idea, I’m thinking a civic leader, like a mayor, or whoever controls the water-recycler.
Quests – Sir Isaac’s main priority is to himself. Your quest options are wide open, but remember that he’ll choose self-preservation before anything else.
Perhaps the only person left with a shred of optimism, Grace is the kind of person who still believes in stories and happy endings. An adventure for Grace shouldn’t start out to grim, but should promise the chance to see new things and meet new people.
NPCs – Grace will likely seek to help people, so will leap to the aid of anyone crying out for help. Of course people who turn out to be in anyway deceitful are likely to earn her ire quickly.
Quests – A mystery is likely to grab Grace’s attention and engage her intellect. A missing person, or a trail of clues will lead her by the nose into any trap you please.
Frank “Clanky” Caputo
“Clanky” may be an ex-mobster, but he’s no love left for the world of organized crime. No job is too dirty so long as it gets him names, and favours to trade. He won’t pull punches, and he won’t play fair, but he’ll hunt down any route to vengeance he can root out.
NPCs – Former friends, corporate strong-arms and bandits. Clanky has friends in low places and enemies far lower, and can bring a cast of grim characters to this campaign.
Quests – Dirty jobs are a must, and anything with the stink of organized crime will have an immediate and powerful allure.
Destitute private investigator Jack Clancy has no particular love of solving crimes anymore, only one holds his attention utterly, that of his missing sister. Paid work is not to be sniffed at of course, so a job that pays well enough is worth nothing if not a half-hearted look.
NPCs – Old contacts and drinking buddies are going to be easy to come by. As for patrons, you’re looking for anyone with pockets deep enough to get Clancy out of bed.
Quests – The main mystery that will perk Jack’s interest is a missing person case, anything that’ll lead him along the path to finding his sister will appeal to him.
Tormented freak, lost, alone and with a brain straining with inexplicable power, Pearce’s life is consumed by the search for an answer. Anything else is a distraction, but potentially a useful one. Getting into trouble finds one meeting dangerous people, dangerous people have dangerous information.
NPCs – Pearce has no one in his life, a world full of strangers, but potential sources of information.
Quests – Directionless searching means that Pearce is likely to take any dangerous job going, but one whiff of psychic experimentation is likely to send Pearce chasing.
Two resounding themes sing out in this party; searching, and missing people, so our story begins with a hunt for someone lost. And it’s a hunt that will take our party into dark places, into the spheres of dark and powerful people. Next week, we set our scene, and fill it with a cast of characters.
My name is Joel (Terra_Phi most places) and I am an experienced DM of nearly 7 years. I also run a site called Quotesfromthetabletop.net with a friend of mine who’s much better at site-building than I am. If you’re interested in getting into tabletop role-playing, our site is full of good reasons, all the stupid and brilliant quotes and stories that could only ever happen at the table.