As a GM, there is nothing quite like that initial feeling you get when you are about to start a campaign with some friends. You have tons of inspiration that hasn’t been tapped, plenty of ideas, and a feeling of “newness” fills each of you as you begin that first session. But there is a lot of prep work that is required before you start something like that as a GM. Although you can begin a campaign on-the-fly during the first session, it’s considerably challenging to devise over-arching plots, side plots, character-plots, cities, dungeons, people, monsters, treasure, weather patterns, geographical landmarks, etc., as you play. It’s really best (and can be a lot of fun) to build up your world at least a little bit before beginning.
A few years ago, Chris Perkins, one of the big producers with Wizards of the Coast (and all around tremendous DM), uploaded what he called a “Campaign Bible” that was about 12-pages of information for the players to read prior to starting the campaign. In the document, players could read up on interesting features that people living in his world would know from landmarks to famous people. Much like we would in real life, we have various knowledge of the same information in the country we live in. This information allows players to select the best character that suits their interests and fits the world, and it gives background information that they can use as they play the game. For example, if they know that the king of their realm is known for allowing anyone to seek an audience with him, day or night, they can automatically make that move when they arrive in the city he resides in without being told in-game by the GM. It allows players to roleplay their character with knowledge, which in turn gives more immersion to the system.
Creating a bible helps the GM as well in many ways. You are able to lay out some basic, important information in a well-organized document for later use. You also can get a good feeling if you’re up to the challenge of running a campaign, too. Usually these bibles should only be 10-15 pages maximum. Writing that many pages can be quite a challenge for many people, and coming up with that amount of information for your world will show you if you have the motivation to stick with it. By filling out a document such as this, you are able to answer the important questions that need to be answered from the start. For example, you need to know about interesting features of your world so the players have places to go without you railroading them. Important people need to be created for them to interact with. A sense of realism needs to be made such as what month is it, how is the geography laid out, how desolate is the world, what is the typical weather like for each season in each region? You need to be able to provide information on races and classes to the players, too. Give the races more life by having a short history of each, where they are typically found, how they interact with others, and what are some unique things about them. If you’re going through the trouble of making your own world, it had better be unique in many ways. Otherwise you might as well use a published campaign setting that is already fleshed out.
Currently I’m preparing a campaign as I venture out and search for a gaming group. I want to be prepared when I find the people who need a GM to run a campaign for them, so I’m working on the concept now. This is done by creating a campaign bible of my world. That way when I do stumble upon them, I don’t have to ask them to wait another month or two while I work on concepts. I can present the bible document to them to read over and see if it interests them.
I’m going about it a little differently because I don’t have a group yet. If you already have a group and are interested in running a campaign, you absolutely need to consult with them first. Sit down with them over pizza and ask them as many questions as you can. What kind of campaign are they wanting? Combat? Roleplaying? A mixture? Do they like mystery adventures, or do they like to solve puzzles and riddles? Are they into political intrigue? Do they like their characters to be in constant danger or dominate from the start? How often are they wanting to meet (this will give you an idea of how much time you’ll have to work on between each session)? Once you have your answers, then it is time to make the campaign bible, listing the important information they need to know upfront while they make their characters and prepare for the first session.
My world is called Zatra, and I begin the bible with an introduction. At this point, I am writing more information in it than my players will know. There are facts and knowledge in this that will not be privy to them from the start. It’s easier to hide that information than have to come up with it in the future. Over the next few episodes of this blog, I’ll be providing and discussing each section and why it is helpful for the players while giving any possible recommendations or tips on how to improve that section. For now, here is the introduction of the document that sets the mood and gives the general idea behind what conflicts the world is facing right now (without conflict, a Utopia world would be boring to run a game in).
the world of ZATRA
Zatra is a realm that is at the end of its golden era, on the verge of falling into total darkness. What was once the pinnacle of mankind in discovery, innovation, and other advancements has become a realm of fear and terror. For thousands of years, only one omnipotent deity, known only as God, oversaw and took care of the land, nurturing and guiding those in his favor to the world he envisioned, bringing it into a utopia. Prosperity abounded. Yet all was not well as a flicker of darkness had become a manifestation in a direct polar opposite of what the world had become. This manifestation became a second deity, known only to a handful of people. Numbering in seven, they were drawn to each other with the influence and guidance of this new figure who they named Koz. However, the new power was weak and needed time, followers, and self-nurturing before it was ever a threat to God.
The world is still divided into a five kingdoms, but there are no true rulers over siding them. What remains is a broken world that is destined for a film of darkness to overcome the lands. Few civilized races still reside above ground for fear of being infected by the Touch, a mysterious ooze that removes conscious control while granting physical boons and bestial violence. Those who have avoided the contamination have fled to the Dwarven Kingdoms far below the surface as the subterranean species find a strong resilience to the Touch. Dozens of sealed vault-like caverns called the Chambers are built for all civilized races who are unaffected by the Touch. The kingdoms have been reinforced and sealed from the world, completely self-sufficient. The three dwarven kings and their two advisors are the only living beings who know of the secret chambers that access the surface and how to navigate through them.
As the group of Koz followers, known as the Nub Sumat, aid in spreading the Touch, Koz grants them more incredible powers that can change the world on large scales. Time is dwindling for those seeking a peaceful, healthy life as the last remaining outside the Chambers are slowly transformed into the creatures that haunt the world. Discovering the hidden tunnels that lead to the three Dwarven Kingdoms is inevitable as Koz grows more powerful each day. But those hiding underground have grown to be xenophobic and shun anyone from the surface suspecting them of contamination.
Next episode will talk about creating a historical timeline for your world.
Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with. Thanks for stopping by.