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By Ed Greenwood - JULY 1982

All too often in AD&D™ campaigns run by novice DMs, the world outside the dungeon is neglected or ignored altogether, serving only as a universal trading post and safe resting place. Most of the scope that the AD&D game offers is thus lost; many such campaigns grow dull (despite the DM’s frantic attempts to introduce more terrible monsters and more enticing treasures) and die.

The traditional advice handed to a novice DM who realizes what is happening (or fated to happen) to his game, is: pick up the WORLD OF GREYHAWK™ Fantasy World Setting or The City State of the World Emperor by Judges Guild, or a similar product, and “do it that way.”

This approach can mean failure for the poor DM if one of the players has access to the same material, or if the party begins to go off on a tangent into an area or topic not covered by the role-playing aid — and in any case the use of such products limits the variety of play, landing the DM back in the same situation once the players “use up” or grow bored with the module. None of these products tell the DM how to set play in motion, or how to build in contacts and activities to give the party a variety of things to do.

Len Lakofka, in his columns in issues #39 and #48 of DRAGON™ Magazine, has taken the traditional route of advising how much and what type of treasure and monsters should be thrown at the fledgling party, and doing this correctly is indeed essential to the creation of a long-lived, balanced campaign. But many DMs give their players a feeling of being lockstepped through a sequence of contrived events, a single carrot held ever before their noses, with blank emptiness on either side. That is, the players have only one course to take in all circumstances, either because the DM is forcing the players into certain actions by having his world act upon them (i.e., “ten assassins suddenly ambush you,” or “there’s an umber hulk between you and the exit, and it’s advancing,” or “the king sends for you and orders you to go forth and slay the bandit lord — bring his head back in ten days or be hunted and slain by the royal soldiers”) rather than allowing them — the exceptional heroes, remember? — to act upon the world.

Such “you must do this” tactics are a necessary part of any DM’s bag of tricks, true— but if the DM uses them constantly, players tend to get fed up, and the campaign proves short-lived. Many DMs have no problem adding depth to their games, but this is written for those who like a guiding hand or are looking for new ideas. One DM I know runs a “roleplaying first and foremost” campaign set in a desert city. We’ve had great fun playing on nights when no character drew a sword and no dice were rolled; we merely bargained and dealt with others in the city, following up many mysteries and intrigues. When violence does occur in such a game environment, it is memorable and not humdrum hacking, the way campaign play should be.

Setting up such a campaign is simple — but it is a long task. Take the time; it (or the lack of it) will show. First, list the settings, characters, and situations you want to include in play. Then put them on a map. Consult geography texts if you’re unsure about the positioning of geographical features. The simple rules of thumb to remember are: rivers run from mountains to sea, the largest cities are found where navigable rivers and sea meet, and fortresses or cities are also constructed at other strategic locations (mountain passes, bridges or fords of wide or deep rivers on important travel and trade routes, and good harbors along the seacoast not adjacent to a river). Good agricultural land is necessary to support large cities and a high standard of living. The supply of raw goods, particularly metals, also governs the standard of living and the prices of everything the characters must buy.

Once you have a map, trade routes (and from them, political forces) are immediately apparent, and the character of your world is thereby established. Then a host of modifying factors (such as traditions and past political history, racial distribution, and religious beliefs) must be added. The easiest way to illustrate this is with a sample; see the map accompanying this text.

Crude, eh? It can be prettied up later, as Gollum would say. The letters stand for regions (kingdoms, if you prefer) governed from large coastal (port) cities (the triangles). Each can be described simply:

From these few threadbare descriptions, we can build in forces of activity; the tensions, trade, and interests which are the life of any world. The sea and the desert are the two natural obstacles to trade, and so there is an important overland caravan route between Cluf and Emmersea — imperiled by the nomads, of course. There is also naval trade: Darshin, because of its location, is the foremost sea power, but it is weak in resources and needs goods from the other cities to survive. Alut is also hungry for resources, has a good port, and desires to expand over “the barbarian kingdoms.” Said kingdoms (D, E, F, and G) aren’t too pleased at the idea; Geldorn, in fact, fears both Alut and Darshin, and heavily guards the isle of Ghed to preserve its naval power and independence. Geldorn is at the very end of the horseshoeshaped caravan route, is valued for its gems, and is not a country suited for overland travel.

Politics (social mores) and codes of conduct are matters best dealt with in detail at another time, but at a glance one can see that the government of Alut would be a matter of pompous trappings and hallowed traditions, that of Barsheba would be close-armed force to guard the mineral wealth of the country, that of Famairal would be the most easy-going by virtue of a widely accepted code of behavior (to wit, the necessary tasks and customs of farming the land), and those of Cluf and Emmersea would be the most open and tolerant due to their “crossroads” aspect, perhaps having only a “Trader’s Code” of some sort.

Darshin and Geldorn will probably be armed camps; the strategic importance of Darshin means its independence would last only as long as its navy was the most formidable on the seas. This warlike stance is balanced against the fact that the isle requires goods from the other countries to survive, and by the fact that the pirates and the navies of all the other countries could in combination defeat it, if Geldorn attempted any conquests. As it is, there is strife between the Darshin trading vessels (who charge trade rates to the other countries of sufficient amount to maintain the existence of overland trade) and those of Alut, who are trying for a share of cargo-carrying fees — and between both of these and the pirates of the isle of Ghed, who are preying on both navies and keeping them both too weak to defeat the other. (If one did achieve supremacy, it would of course then turn and crush Ghed.)

A lively situation for adventuring, and two countries in particular seem ideal sites for a party of adventurers: Geldorn, with a government whose reach and attention is turned outward and not into the wild (monster-populated) interior, and with gems to be found which lure adventurers, merchants, and even official agents from all countries; and Emmersea, a land of small villages or dales lightly governed by merchant lords. Of necessity (so as to not discourage trade), government and law enforcement in Emmersea will be light. Emmersea’s terrain of small valleys makes for a choice of trade routes within the country, adventurers’- type terrain, which can support small settlements easily handled by a DM. The fact that the country is marked with the ruins of earlier civilizations provides a setting for (and a market for the rewards of) adventuring. If agriculture is crowded into the valleys and the slopes around the valleys are heavily wooded, Emmersea has an exportable good: lumber for the wagonmakers of Cluf and the shipyards of Darshin, and a need for textiles and other goods possible only when agricultural land is plentiful and good.

Aside from the acknowledged authority of the governments, there will be many other power groups in this world. The merchants not governing Emmersea and Cluf are one such group — or, more probably, they comprise many groups. Others will be rebels, opponents of the governments of all types — perhaps giants or the goblin races in the mines and mountains of Barsheba, having been pushed out by men and angry about it. Religious groups — some allied to the local government, some opposed — are other sources of power; so are the intellectuals, philosophers and inventors, particularly when technology and progress is not sponsored or favored by the state.

Technology, religion, and accepted authority (laws, customs, and tradition) will provide much of the impetus, directions, and limitations on adventure for the players; the DM must take care with the development of these things and concepts. The restrictive tenets of a religion, for example, can affect trade. If Geldorn embraces the druidic faith, it will not be the scene of legal logging operations, nor will its borders likely be open to those carrying lumber or caged wild animals being transported over land or sea.

Much of the activity of the campaign will come from the ongoing struggles between various power groups; for example, the G and D series AD&D modules put out by TSR Games depict a world of various groups (ogre magi, the hill giants, frost giants, fire giants, kuo-toa, illithids, Lolth-worshipping and elemental godworshipping drow nobles) all cooperating to a degree, and at the same time vying for supremacy. A party will unavoidably make allies and enemies as they take action in the midst of such conflict, and members of the party may even join (opposing?) groups and find themselves directly involved.

The DM should also determine the prevalence and nature of the ruins of previous civilizations. Not only are these necessary for the location of artifacts (many of which, the DMG tells us, are of construction and origin now unknown) and as a justification for the existence of “dungeons,” but they can possess a fascinating aura of grand mystery. As players of the GAMMA WORLD™ game know, exploring the leavings of the past is dangerously alluring —and players in more medieval-style AD&D settings usually enjoy burial sites, stone circles, and the like. Secret (evil, or opposed to the accepted — state? — religion) cults can worship at such places, and treasure can be hidden there; both are often hinted at by local legends of magic, apparitions, and otherwise strange doings.

In our sample world, Emmersea is the chief locale for such ruins and old landscapes, although ruins can be placed in any wild areas (such as Geldorn’s interior, the desert, and the mountains in all countries), and such areas would logically be populated by various non-human races and creatures. Alut might have artifacts preserved in its great towers and tombs, but these would be rare in Barsheba, Cluf, and Famairal, where magic items would long since have been found and destroyed or carried off.

Yet another factor can be added to a world: that of “other-world connections.” Connections with other planes and other “worlds” (parallel Prime Material planes) allow a DM to use many monsters and characters (such as those found in this magazine’s Giants In the Earth column), and limited experiments, such as characters from futuristic and modern settings, that otherwise could not be justified. The presence of an “other world” gives the DM ample justification to end, or retract, elements that don’t add fun to play, or that threaten the balance and/or cohesiveness of the campaign.

In my own “Forgotten Realms” campaign, similarities between the world we all live in and the AD&D fantasy world (such as chronology, fighting tactics, and legends of beasts such as dragons and vampires) are all accounted for by the existence of connections between the two worlds. These connections were once well and often used, but are now largely forgotten (hence, “Forgotten Realms”) by those on our side (uh, that is, this side, the modern one, with the progress and pollution and such...). But some few quietly walk our earth who know the Realms well. . . .

Control of the means of interplanar travel (see the AD&D Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide, and my article on gates from issue #37 of DRAGON Magazine, reprinted in the BEST OF DRAGON™ Vol. II collection, for details) will be of immense strategic importance, and all who know of them will join in, or at least take sides in, the struggle to control the “gates” and gate mechanisms at some point. One idea for a long-lasting campaign is that of a powerful mage or group of beings opening up, re-opening, destroying and creating a group of gates between various alternate Prime Material planes and the Outer Planes, using these as bridgeheads for invasions of creatures from these other planes, in the same manner as Lolth is expanding into the mountainous, icy world in AD&D module Q1, Queen of the Demonweb Pits. A party could find such a group to be a numerous, widespread, and powerful foe which could work behind many day-to-day events and adventures.

Such gates could be placed in our sample world in hidden valleys in the north of Cluf, for example, with quiet interplanar caravan trade taking place; or an invading force of monsters from some other plane could be issuing from a gate in a ruined city deep in the desert, under the guidance of lamia. Strange ships could be encountered, arriving at Alut and Darshin, or washed up piece by piece on the remote western shore of Geldorn — perhaps coming from another plane through a seaborne gate, perhaps hailing from a hitherto unknown western continent, or the fabled Far Isles — if a DM works at it, the possible directions he offers the players for play to proceed in are almost endless.

A contact with another continent, for example, offers enterprising characters a chance to found a trading company operating between the known kingdoms (A-G) and the new continent, with all the attendant headaches and rewards. This leads us to another topic: employment. In law-abiding areas (Alut, Barsheba, Darshin, and Famairal), few free-booting adventurers are going to be tolerated. A visible means of income is necessary; at least some of the party members must have honest jobs. Too few DM’s explore this facet of the game, preferring instead freewheeling, fiercely independent player characters who live off the work of others (the lot of a privileged few, mostly hereditary nobles, in the medieval-technology societies found in most AD&D campaigns).

If a DM lacks the time or the confidence to work out a detailed social situation, or wishes to utilize commercial modules when placing them in his existing world would disrupt affairs greatly, the “Anchorome campaign” is a solution.

This campaign, named for a legendary island far over the sea to the west, further from the mainland than most sailors ever dare to go, is simplicity itself. The party is provided with — hired, conscripted, ordered, or bequeathed — a ship. This vessel (if properly maintained) is adequate for them to live on, and to carry a respectable amount of trade cargo. Due to the menace of pirates or warships, or because of a storm, or because rumors of treasure are eagerly followed by the party, the ship is sent off the normal trade routes into the unknown.

Play can include a single voyage, like that of C. S. Lewis’s Dawn Treader, or (like the owners of a Traveller free trader) the party can carry on voyages for many years, concerned with trade, continually provisioning and maintaining the ship, avoiding seizure and shipwreck, and so on.

The setting (an unknown sea dotted with islands) allows use of all marine AD&D monsters and many published role-playing aids, from Judges Guild’s Island Books through D&D® Module Xl, the perfectly suitable Isle of Dread, to AD&D modules like C1, S1, and S3. The island in the A series modules, modified somewhat, could also be used. The DM merely charts the immediate vicinity of the party’s ship, determines aquatic monster and ship encounters, and locates whatever is desired (from modules, magazines, current reading, and creative thought) on islands — or upon the vast backs of sleeping whales, for that matter! When DM or players tire of the setting, the DM creates a nearby continent or an interplanar gate upon an island, and the campaign setting can shift overnight.

Whatever the precise campaign setting, the success of play depends upon the players and the skill of the DM — in particular, the care and extent of the DM’s work outside of actual play. A sterling example of the depth displayed by a well crafted, detailed world — and the “life” such a world seems to take on — is in Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales. A few areas of special importance and concern in world-making will be discussed below and in future articles.

The Dungeon Masters Guide warns the DM that time records must be kept in any meaningful campaign; too few DMs realize this (or bother to undertake the work to make it so), or that this timekeeping should be extended to the movements and activities of all rulers and other important NPCs, the locations of all active and potential warriors (particularly mercenaries), valuable trade goods, and the ongoing enactment of political policies, orders, encounters and the spread of information — not just to the training times and monetary expenditures of the player characters.

The lure of the lost and forgotten is an interest-producing facet of play well known to most DMs, at least on the level of the hunt for buried treasure. But few see the potential of ancient records, histories, and tomes of lore as a source of hints to treasure location, clues to the identity and present whereabouts of now-dead (or undead) kings, magicusers, and other important individuals, partial spell or artifact knowledge, and background lore.

The DM can have great fun composing such works, the players will gain much from them, and play should improve. Too many players find (and survive the opening of) books in dungeons only to find that they hold yet another illegible diary or accountant’s ledger — or worse yet, expect from experience that every book found will be a spell book or magic item (Book, Codex, Grimoire, Libram, Manual, or Tome) from the DMG.

Many DMs miss a great chance to spice up play by slighting an entire character class: thieves. Too many thieves are played as door-openers and lockpickers for those rare occasions when the swashbuckling blast-and-hackers who make up the party feel an attack of caution — and their thievery tends to be either pocket-picking and corpse-stripping, or of the snatch-and-run variety.

The DM should ensure that such performance carries much risk, but enjoys only limited success — a thief who seeks wealth (and advancement in levels) should keep such risky, bandit-like activities to a minimum, preferring instead careful planning of thefts. The target must be watched, specific tactics devised to overcome defenses and obstacles, escape routes and a location or means for the quick disposal of loot to avoid discovery be settled upon — a stupid or reckless thief who does not keep on the move should be a short-lived creature, and player characters are, after all, supposed to be a cut above the norm.

Only one more topic is essential in a DM’s primer — politics. Aside from personal feuds and rivalries, there is always a struggle for power surrounding the government of any kingdom worth having. The legitimate king is dead, perhaps, or senile —and his three known sons (plus another two claimants who may be illegitimate sons of the king or only, however unwittingly, impostors) all battle for the throne; in the political arena of councils and by wooing various nobles or power groups as patrons, and then increasingly by means of daggers in dark corridors and bared swords on the high roads.

The players, as all others in the land, must choose sides in this struggle, and if their choice is ill they may fare accordingly. Such a war of succession (as illustrated in Roger Zelazny’s Amber series, for example) may go on for years, as rival claimants go into hiding, emerge to win the throne in a bloody ambush or midnight murder, and fall in their turn to the next usurper . . . and of course, a kingdom so weakened will be inviting to neighboring states wishing to expand, or the nonhuman tribes who have bided their time in the mountains, forests, and swampy valleys of the north, waiting to reclaim the land that was once theirs. Many local officials and minor nobility will seize this chance to gain wealth and power in the face of uncaring chaos at the capital, and these small-scale governors will rule the affairs of various small areas of the kingdom by the weight of their swordsworn (men pledged to service).

A royal struggle need not be so widespread, however; some such struggles will never actively pass beyond the walls of the palace, such as the nasty situation which arises when the monarch’s eldest child is female, and a younger brother (as the eldest male descendant) believes he should have the throne.

If the DM does not favor large monsters or wilderness adventuring, a vast, complex castle with forgotten passages and dungeons (like the fictional Gormenghast or Amber) and old, manylayered intrigue may prove an ideal dungeon setting — the players need never even see the light of day. If one thinks a castle setting limiting, consider the action in Howard’s Red Nails or Goldman’s The Lion In Winter, or the possibilities, offered by the half-ruined, labyrinthine citadel in Wolfe’s Shadow of the Torturer.

Understanding why one kingdom is stronger than or opposed to another, and why one mountain pass is strategically important and another not, is essential to the DM, if players are to affect the status quo without always coming into direct contact with (or becoming) rulers. An endless diet of kings and princesses and wicked nobles reduces the excitement and interest of the trappings and traditions of power and, if the DM can’t come up with alternatives, dooms a campaign to increasingly dull and bland play.

A good guide for the novice DM to judge the depth and interest of his or her campaign is to consider its elements and events without the players (and their characters and deeds). Is the setting, bereft of player involvement, still interesting enough to be the stuff of which tales are made?

If not, something must be done. And yet the action of the world must not be entirely divorced from the actions and interests of player characters — the play of the campaign must be concerned with them, and the overall tapestry of events in the world should be affected by them, moreso as the characters grow in experience levels and the players in playing experience. On the other hand, the DM must avoid any tendency of events to halt in mid-action when adventuring stops, coming to life only when player characters walk onstage to do battle. (I always thought it odd that enemies would lay low at the same time as player characters trained or recovered from wounds, and that no one fell upon the unprotected treasure of player characters while they were off training.)

Note that players need not be made aware of all the DM’s work in creating nearby characters, groups, and activities. They can learn what they will as play proceeds; indeed, a degree of mystery builds interest more than any other quality of a campaign. Too much will frustrate players, however; the DM must find the proper amount, while bearing in mind that several small, simultaneous mysteries are better than one Grand Mystery after another. Mysteries also leave a DM room to modify his campaign to respond to player desires and achievements, and to avoid or explain a way around apparent contradictions.

And every long-running campaign will have such “gray areas,” no matter how intricately developed it is before the onset of play; for six days a DM labors mightily to create a world and breathe life into it, but the world he creates is (alas) not perfect, and by the seventh day that DM has certainly earned a rest....


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