Today’s update is focussed more on the DM/GM side of things and assumes you’ve managed to get everything you need to run a game, as well as that you know the rule-set you’ll be using.
So, you’ve got the players, you’ve got the game of your choice and you’ve got the means to fuse the two together for a storytelling experience you may not have had before. What now?
Now, gentle reader, it is time to plan. As these articles are system neutral, I can’t go into too much detail regarding specifics but brush-strokes can provide a suitable starting point that I can follow up with specific game settings at a later date.
First of all, when it comes to story planning you need to know what you want to get out of the game and what you want your players to get out of the game. Most of the time these things will be the same, but sometimes they won’t. If you ever feel like you’re straying from this goal, it may be worth re-evaluating things. You don’t need to go into detail at this stage, you just need a good idea of what’s going to happen.
For example, you might want to give both yourself and your players a swashbuckling campaign of larger than life characters and acts of derring-do. In this situation, you might cast the players as Indiana Jones-type characters, roving the world for hidden treasures and saving people as they go.
The next step (although if you’re using a published/real world setting, you can ignore this), is to build your world. With a good idea of the general story outline, it’s time to make a world to anchor the story in.
The world is perhaps the most important thing you’ll create as a DM/GM. Without a believable and engaging world, the players may as well be running around in a literal sandbox. Let the story flavour the world, as it in turn will change the story in unexpected ways later down the line. You want your world to feel like it has history, weight, and boundless horizons (if you’re playing a multi-world/planet game, focus on one to begin with).
The world for the example above would be filled with ancient civilisations, nefarious cults and have rainforests, swamps and deserts aplenty. If your campaign is more intrigue focused, you might want something darker with cramped cities, scheming nobles and rampant illness.
When populating the world, the people and monsters living there should make sense. Some guides will recommend using random encounter tables to spice things up, but if you do use one and get a result that doesn’t make sense, you might want to roll up another result or risk breaking the player’s immersion. Where possible, reflect the fact that different groups of races (usually) have their own, vastly different societies (this can also apply to different groups within the same species).
Again, don’t worry too much about the nitty gritty details at this point, just create a rough outline.
With your story and world done, it’s time to start fleshing things out. Plot out the major arcs of your story, change your idea of it if you have to. The great thing about RPGs is that nothing is set in stone and I can almost guarantee that your players will derail and alter the story anyway. With the major arcs sorted, start making some major NPCs for each one. At this stage, you only really need an appearance, rough backstory and major motivations, as well as how they tie into your plot.
From here, start considering the locations each part of your plot might take place in. Flesh them out, fill them with people and side quests. At this point you can start planning the fine details. Map the cities, work out currencies, do whatever you feel you need to in order to make these places feel real and alive. Figure out how your characters will get from A to B, what problems they might face on the way, how their travel ties into the calendar and local events.
With all this sorted, you should start feeling more comfortable about the world you’ve made. Naturally, of course, different stories require different themes and different worlds. I might go into further detail in a future post about how I populate my worlds and build cities and their histories.
A word of warning though, you may have an entire world planned out to go with your story, but your players will do something you don’t expect and force you to create things on the fly. This is perfectly fine and normal. If you don’t feel comfortable improvising, practice at every opportunity you get. If you really want to learn more, there are classes and books you find, as well as plenty of online videos and resources.
As ever, if you have any questions, leave a comment below.