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!


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