Starting a Local/Small-Scale Campaign – Pt 2

by Gary Whitten

The first blog about this really focused on starting a setting but less so on the actual Local/Small Scale facets of it. That’s what we’ll cover here.

Keeping it Local

One of the challenges is to ensure that everything that your players need to have and do stays in the campaign area. This is where player buy-in can really help because we all know that players routinely throw GMs curves by going where you hadn’t planned for but you really don’t want them going outside the campaign scope. With legitimate buy-in from the players, they should avoid saying ‘Well, we need to go visit Loeni the Master Alewife’ , just because you happened to have a special keg of her spiced mead brought across the sea to the local pub for a mid-winter festival.

That being said, you need to have things make sense as well. With my Valley of Aesri campaign, I had made a potential mis-step by introducing a shortage of iron in the valley, which brought up imports and exports to and from the campaign area. Trade is a normal activity in most campaign settings but it’s often behind the scenes as one of those assumed activities like visiting the outhouse.

To ‘recover’ from this, I created the Inn of the Warm Hearth, which sits on the Beltest Road which runs roughly north-south between the Valley and several cities south and out of the campaign area. The Inn also operates the ferry over the Sast River which has its source in the Sliri mountains to the west and runs through the eastern half of the continent before reaching the sea in a large port city. Because of this key location, it’s in a perfect place to facilitate trade into and out of the campaign area, so I wrote the Inn to be conducive to trade with storage space, meeting rooms and a large carriage house for coaches and wagons.

Give Them a Purpose

If the party has a purpose and a role in the local area, there will be less reason for them to leave. One option would to be to have the party obtain a home base and run a combination LSSC/HBC. For example, in my campaign, which is a combination, the party got hold of an abandoned manor that that had been built by a master Dungeon Delver as a dungeoneering school. The party took over the place in fairly short order but it was in ruins and had an active dungeon beneath it. They’re now clearing out the dungeon while a staff they hired is recovering the manor from disrepair.

Another option is to have the party be the primary defense of the area, whether it’s official or otherwise. If you go with this route, you have many options in front of you for any kind of threat to the campaign area should be dealt with by the party. They would either do this directly or by acquiring the aid needed to do so. The options available to you in this situation are vast. Threats could include flooding, famine or other natural disasters; invasions or rogue beasts; diplomatic impasses or trade embargoes or even locating the Lord’s favorite hunting hound which got lost on his last expedition.

It Isn’t a Lifetime

As I mentioned in another entry, neither the LSSC nor the HBC is necessarily an infinite situation. If you and your party are ready for a change, start writing the necessary material to move the campaign in another direction.

You may go into the LSSC/HBC with a finite goal in mind such as ‘The party needs to stay in the region long enough to locate the long-lost Tiara of Civkoa which is needed to make peace between Seli and Werr’. In such a case, you’ll know when they’re getting close to their goal and can be ready with options and hooks for the next stage of the campaign.

And In Closing…

I hope that these two articles have helped you in some way or fashion. Whether they inspired you to create such a campaign, or just provided you with some cool ideas for your current campaign, I thank you for reading.

If you have comments, positive or otherwise, questions or suggestions please check our ‘Contact’ page.

All content Copyright 2009-2015 Gary Whitten

Starting a Local/Small-Scale Campaign

by Gary Whitten

As was discussed in the first entry of this blog, sometimes a local/small-scale campaign (LSSC) is designed that way from the start, or is a phase an existing campaign.    This post addresses starting an LSSC from scratch.

Player Buy-in

One thing you really need to do with any campaign you want to run is to get a feel for what the players want to play.  It’s their game as much as yours and there are few things that are more frustrating than putting hours of work into a campaign and having your players hate it.

Some GMs go as far as to do a formal survey on various ideas for the campaign, but if you have an urge to do specific type of campaign, flat out ask the players even you do a survey for other items later. When you have the answer, you can then customize the survey for other facets of the campaign.

Own Setting v Purchased Setting

Purchased Setting

One of the next decisions is if you’re going to use a purchased setting or one you wrote yourself. There’s no ‘right’ answer save for the one that is right for you. When you use a purchased setting for a LSSC, there is another decision to be made, and that is ‘which area to use’. This should also be a decision that’s made, at least in concept, by both the players and the GM.

For example, if you’ve decided to use the Forgotten Realms and your players want a city campaign full of intrigue, then you could possibly use Waterdeep. But if they want something much smaller, then perhaps a Dalelands campaign. Obviously, there are many other options, but no matter where in the published setting you go, you have the core features of the world, like the currency and the pantheon taken care of for you while you customize the piece of it that you’ve chosen for your campaign.

Writing Your Own Setting

When you write your own setting, the good news is that you get to do everything the way you want to make the game you want. The bad news is that you get to do everything in the setting. I hate when that happens! It’s so easy to get overwhelmed, but there are techniques to use to avoid it.

  • Start small! Even with a LSSC, there’s much to do, so always ask yourself if what you’re working on is needed at the stage of design that you’re at.
  • Get ideas! You’re not the only one who’s ever done this, so rummage through campaign guides of published settings that you own and see what they have and think about that in terms of what types of things to include.
  • Brainstorm! Keeping in mind what your players said they wanted in a campaign, your style and what you found in the campaign books, brainstorm up lists of things to include.
  • Categorize and Prioritize! What you have in your lists is dozens, if not hundreds, of hours of work. So invest a few hours before you start actually creating, you need to make a game plan to make the time you do use the most worthwhile. This is probably my own biggest challenge, I’m very much a ‘ooh, look shiny’ person, sometimes to my detriment.
  • Set a Starting Point! At some point, you need to start your campaign, so set that point before you dive in.
  • Create! Dive on in and start bringing your setting to fruition. It is inevitable that you’ll think of things you didn’t come up with in brainstorm. Immediately write it down, but keep going on what you were working on. At regular intervals, take these new ideas and add them into your prioritized plan. Take care not to overly delay your start date when you do so.
  • Play! Start up the campaign!


If you have comments, positive or otherwise, questions or suggestions please check our ‘Contact’ page.

All content Copyright 2009-2015 Gary Whitten

by Gary Whitten

The three primary topics that will be covered in this blog are Local/Small-Scale Campaigns (LSSCs), Home-Base Campaigns (HBCs) and increasing campaign immersion.

LSSCs and HBCs may be some of the lesser-known or used campaign styles, so let’s take a quick look at them.

LSSCs are campaigns that, by design, are going to be run in a very limited geographic area. The one I run is about twenty by thirty miles in size in a location called the Valley of Aesri.

HBCs are campaigns that have some sort of central location at the heart of the campaign, almost like a meta-character. The campaign I mentioned above is also, at the moment, an HBC based around an abandoned and dilapidated manor estate whose owner perished in a battle between his loyal staff and those who wanted his money.

Campaigns run in either of these styles are not necessarily permanent, as it’s totally possible for a campaign in its normal evolution to change into one or both of these type, or to start out as one and morph into something else.

LSSCs lend themselves to increased immersion simply because the campaign is spending so much time in a small locale, so that almost anything the GM creates has the potential to be re-used any number of times. When this happens, the additional content begins to layer upon itself adding detail and depth to the setting, regardless if it’s one of your creation or if you’re enhancing one you purchased.

HBCs often are, but are not exclusively, also LSSCs. This is because the players are usually anchored to the central location to one degree or another. Like a campaign that is just designed to be in a small area, the GM of an HBC will often end up writing additional content for the setting creating better immersion.

Over the coming months, various things to help a GM with each of these types of campaigns will discussed.

Ok, so we talked about the campaign styles but what is Campaign Immersion? A gaming synonym you probably heard of is ‘Suspension of belief’. One on-line dictionary puts immersion thus: involvement, concentration, preoccupation, absorption – “long-term assignments that allowed them total immersion in their subjects”. Some people learn languages in this way, going into a school or even the society, where they only speak and live the language instead of just taking it in a class.

There are some really simple things that you can do to add to immersion to your game and in this blog, we’ll be talking about more than a few of them in the coming months.


All content Copyright 2009-2015 Gary Whitten