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Why can't I set up a campaign?

Gamer Talk

I hope this is in the right forum, and I apologize for the coming wall of text.

I am, if I say so myself, a pretty experienced game master. I have been running campaigns on and off for a very long time now. Last few years, I have done Shackled city, Rise of the runelords and Curse of the crimson throne, with breaks due to work and family taking too much time. I have also been playing in others' campaigns, a variety of RPGs including Babylon 5, Buffy the Vampire slayer, GURPS, d20 Modern, Dark heresy, and some others. I have also run a number of shorter games... but all of them published adventures.

Now, I have felt somewhat burnt out on D&D-like games. We stopped Curse of the crimson throne after episode 2, because I felt I couldn't play it as it deserved. I have played, which has been good.

I set my sights on Exalted. I wanted to make a somewhat simple campaign, start as heroic mortals, then only solars, in the western direction. I freed up time, I read... and something happens. Writer's block, perhaps. I feel like all my ideas are pointless. Most of the time, it feels like there are NO ideas. There is a lot of text involved in the setting, and I am no slouch at plowing through text, but right now it feels like I can't make sense of it.

At this point I don't know what to think. I haven't created for a game for years... but I so want to.

Please, paizonians... do you have any suggestions? I apologize if this is too rambling or personal, but I suspect there are others out there who have dealt with this.

Dark Archive

Go play in a game for a while. Stop trying to run and just go have fun in someone else's sandbox. Afterwards go back and see if you can create something.,

let someone else dm for a while. that gives you the time to slowly prepare for your next game. and it gives you the oppertunity to relax a bit

This may sound a little juvenile, and perhaps, depending on where you are coming from, condescending. Let me assure you it is not meant to be. In my experience over the years, all of my writer's block as far as campaign creation was concerned hinged on my desire to make things deep, complex, and full of wonderful sub-plots and memorable characters and locations. If this sounds, at all, like what you are struggling with, here's my advice. Make it simple. Remember the good ol' days (or the good new days depending on who you are) when the quest was simple? Kill the evil magic-user who's trapped the: princess, holy relic, powerful magic item, high-priest, etc. in his: tower, dungeon, forest full of traps, etc. The ruler of the nation you are now presiding in calls you in to his audience chamber because you've garnered some fame for heroic deeds. He/she asks that you go and recover the: princess, holy relic, etc. You go, encounter some of the evil magic-user's minions along the way, maybe get waylaid by some bandits, but in short order find the: tower, dungeon, etc. You crawl your way through the dungeon, killing mini-bosses along the way, getting loot, and then finally making your way to the big boss's chambers. You defeat him in a heroic victory and then rescue the: princess, holy relic, etc. It's simple, it's cliche, it's stereotypical, and yet, depending on your audience of course, it works.

Another reason I suggest this is because, in my own experience, when I start simple, and cliche, I usually end up still making a pretty fun campaign. There's still something to be said for making it simple with RPGs. Not everything has to be full of twists and intrigue and clue-finding mystery. Sometimes, just hacking and slashing your way through baddies en route to the big bad evil guy/gal is just as fun, if not more so, than trying to wade through the muck of political intrigue or the mire of misleading clues.

Just my 2 coppers. Take it or leave it as you will.


Brainstorm with dice.

A lot of times we're not sure what we want to do with a campaign, a setting, or a series of adventures. Recently I developed a series of adventures to take characters from 1st to 20th level (or tried to). Basically I tried to have it be one session per level, but I know it will not be that way when its really played.

Select a DC 25 or higher creature as the Supervillain, and work your way down a few DCs for each adventure below that one. And if you can't think of anything unusual or captivating, jot down some ideas (anything that comes to you, even if it doesn't make sense) and roll some dice.

Write down generalities, archetypes, even colors or shapes to get your creative juices flowing. And just start rolling dice. It may not make sense at first, but I think you might be surprised how well certain things have turned out doing it this way.

When I find myself in your situation, I watch a movie or two with the kind of storyline that inspired my campaign in the first place. It usually recharges my creativity and makes me want to work again.

I don't read in that circumstance, because my version of writer's block is all about words, and seeing them in print seems to make things worse. But the images on screen start the imaginative processes.

When I find the idea tank is running on empty, I usually try doing what I call a musing. It's basically a stream of consciousness outpouring of ideas, thoughts about those ideas, problems I see with those ideas, and possible ways to fix said problems.

A lot of these ideas are terrible, but usually one or two of them is good. Eventually, I get to a place where a story starts to develop and I find I'm able to move forward with actually writing it down.

If you want an idea of what something like this might look like, take a look at Rich Burlew's "The New World" articles. That's essentially where I got the idea.

Thank you, people. I wonder... is this a symptom of running published adventures for too long? I used to run a forgotten realms campaign, and an AMBER campaign, where I created most of the stuff myself. I have been busy, true, but is there more to this? Do you atrophy your creativity by using premade stuff?

Don't be afraid to "be inspired" by someone else's work. Use it as a foundation for your campaign. The use can be as light or as heavy as you like. Use it to get the juices flowing.

Don't be afraid to get player input. Player backgrounds can be a gold mine for adventures. Sometimes even an off-hand comment in or out of game could provide a twist or even a great campaign arc.

Sometimes, you just have to fake it and make it up on the fly. I once ran a 3.5 campaign for about a year with little to no prep (not having much time), and fun was had by all.

Another thing you can try doing is create a campaign or a part of a campaign where everything is backwards or extremely different from what is "traditional"

In a homebrew campaign I made (called Greyhavens), the prominent species was aasimar, the dwarves were mostly sorcerers of 8 ritual elements, having something to do with the dream world. (I think sorcery in this campaign defined the material world as the dreams of those capable of magic put together. These dwarves worshiped crystal skulls or something like that. Aasimar and Tieflings were dueling over the continent, with the dwarves and elves playing interference. Elves were barbarians and druids.

Perhaps not so different from other campaigns, but different enough I think. Its not entirely difficult to take a race, a class, or any element of the roleplaying game and use it in an unusual or unexpected way, different from how it is traditionally used.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Sissyl wrote:
Thank you, people. I wonder... is this a symptom of running published adventures for too long? I used to run a forgotten realms campaign, and an AMBER campaign, where I created most of the stuff myself. I have been busy, true, but is there more to this? Do you atrophy your creativity by using premade stuff?

I don't think so at all. Your miles may vary, but here's my personal experience with burning out and getting back into GMing: it took me 15 years!

I designed and ran a GURPS fantasy campaign back in the '90s, but after more than a year of getting everything perfect, the actual play didn't go so well. There were some inter-personal issues, but my players really didn't like what/how I ran it, and the group imploded after about six sessions. I took it pretty hard, and destroyed most of my campaign notes afterward. The experience really soured me on gaming in general, and GMing in particular.

I took two years off from gaming at all, and got back into it slowly: a one-shot once in a while; playing the "Special Guest Villain" occasionally with a different group; and finally, I was asked to join a group that was going to start playing this new D&D 3rd edition thing. That campaign ran about two years, and I was back in the scene.

I only returned to the GM side of the table last June, when I started running "Rise of the Runelords" in Pathfinder after the completion of our previous homebrewed D&D 3.5 campaign. I have to say, being on that side of the screen felt like comning out of retirement.

I've found that working from a published outline makes it a lot easier to provide a richer RP experience, as I can put my creativity into the details, hanging them from the preexisting storyline, which I can also tweak to cater to the party's AND the player's strengths and weaknesses. When designing, I tend to get bogged in the small details at the expense of the larger story: so having the larger story already written has really made this much more enjoyable for me.

I'm finding that I'm really having a lot of fun filling in the cracks of a published adventure path, set in a richly-detailed published campaign world. Since this is *my* version of Golarion, I've made some changes to canon, added side-quests, put my own spin on published NPCs (and added a fair number of my own), and spun the plot on a slightly different axis. I've even incorporated a couple of geo-political elements from my old imploded GURPS campaign, and it's nice to have those in play once again.

So, no, there's no shame at all in using someone else's work as a baseline from which to be creative. Every GM has their strengths with game design: Me, I like to sweat the small stuff, and leave the big stuff to the pros.

Good luck!

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Pawns, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber

I like to mix things up. One session I'll pull out a published adventure which I've tweaked to fit into the campaign... the next I'll grab a random map from somewhere and make up a story about what lives there... the next I'll build my own adventure from scratch with all the maps and stat blocks worked out... the next I'll just show up at the game with no prep work at all and see what happens.

Do something different. Others have already suggested switching to the player side of the table for a while and that's always a good idea, but just switching up your GM style a bit can help too. If you're playing through an adventure path grab something from a completely different module/path and stick it in as a side adventure. Then redo a couple of the scenarios so that they fulfill the same role in the campaign, but work differently.

One thing I've enjoyed doing is taking a group through a module or scenario which some of them have played or GM'd before, but redoing enough of the details that they don't realize what it is based on... or have no idea what is going to happen even if they know the module/starting plot.

I'm big on improvisation, but you can't always come up with a good session on the spot. Thus, my campaigns usually involve a large number of 'set pieces' which I can put in place any time I need one... if a particular scenario doesn't come up I recycle it for use later in the campaign or a different game entirely. Prep a number of encounters, sketch out various small adventure sites in broad strokes, and then string them together with whatever overarching themes and goals you've got... and suddenly you have a multi-year campaign.

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