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Making a campaign setting, part 2

In a recent article I talked about my first tip for creating a rich and engaging campaign setting for your games, which was, in short, to make sure not to rush it. My second tip for creating a campaign setting is to establish a goal or theme for your setting. This may sound difficult (or for some of you, too “artsy”) but it isn’t, really. Think about some of the great settings of Dungeons and Dragons: Darksun is a dark and gritty setting where just surviving in the hostile environment is an adventure in and of itself. Dragonlance is almost Greco-Roman with all the divine spats going on, and is the sort of place where you can never be sure that the dwarf you’re drinking with isn’t secretly Reorx, god of the forge. And of course there’s Planescape, with its mix of Victorian-English culture, fantastic sights, and battles of great philosophical import.

None of these settings would have been half as potent if they hadn’t focused themselves on a specific feeling that they wanted to evoke from their players. It’s something like picking a genre of movie: do you want the pulpy comic-book action of Ebberon, or the dusty, history-filled Forgotten Realms (pre-fourth edition, that is)? Maybe you want a setting that will lend itself to a romantic-comedy feel. Okay…probably not, but you get the idea.

While you’re picking your theme, you should probably also consider another important aspect of your drama. Do you want a space-faring sci-fi epic, or something similar to present day? Most groups will, of course, be most familiar and comfortable with a high-fantasy setting more reminiscent of Tolkien than of the medieval Europe it is theoretically associated with. These two elements can compliment each other well, for example Forgotten Realms wouldn’t work nearly as well in a “modern” setting.

Once you have an idea of what you want your campaign world to do, you can start building it from the ground up to reach that ideal. Once again, this isn’t set in stone, and you may decide after a week or two that your setting would be better as a horror campaign, or that you’d rather have it set in the future than renaissance Italy. That’s fine, and perfectly natural, though you want to avoid getting stuck in an endless limbo of ever-changing campaign ideas.

By Alex Riggs


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