Creating Your Own Campaign
I was very glad to read this piece about personal campaign construction. As I struggle with my OD&D work, it’s a subject I come back to often.
Like James, I think this citation is essential:
“When I began playing the AD&D game six years ago, there were very few playing aids on the market of the type that are now so abundant. There was no WORLD OF GREYHAWK Fantasy Setting, no Harn, and very few canned modules in print. Very nearly all of our adventuring had to come out of our own heads. And I still think that’s fantasy gaming at its best. I now meet players, especially young ones, who think that, in order to play the AD&D game or some other such activity, they must invest megabucks in someone else’s ideas. It shocks many of them when I suggest that it’s more fun to make it up yourself.
“Alas for them! No canned module, no playing aid, no set of rules, no list of NPCs can quite become your very own. As enjoyable and thought-provoking as all the published material may be, it is a poor substitute for creating your own campaign milieu, designing your own castles, and exercising your own brain. Creativity is what the game is about. It would be a shame if the success of fantasy gaming contributed to the stifling of creativity in its own enthusiastic adherents.”
– Arthur Collins
Collins seems to be ignoring the fact that if everyone took this seriously, no one would be buying TSR’s many canned campaigns and modules.
As much as I love the Judges Guild materials, and as much as I have been, and continue to be, delighted and inspired by them, I agree completely with these sentiments. What may be missing, of course, are some other important factors. When I started playing D&D in the seventh or eighth grade I was, well, a Junior High school student. I hadn’t been to college, had barely started learning another language, hadn’t been to war, hadn’t traveled that much outside of my own country save for one trip to Central America, etc. In other words, I sure wasn’t J.R.R. Tolkien. My lack of worldliness presented a critical obstacle to my otherworldly designs.
In an interview in the Judges Guild Journal, Dave Arneson spoke about how he saw the age of the people playing D&D skewing younger. When you’re a kid – no matter how well read in fantasy you might be – you simply don’t have the chops to create, on your own, a brilliant and innovative campaign world. This is one reason why I think the canned campaigns and worlds started being popular. It’s not that my friends and I didn’t want to be as unique and original as Collins suggests we all should be. It’s that we often tried and simply failed. Through no fault of our own, we didn’t have the skill set required.
Now, however, as an educated adult who has lived 47 years and worked and traveled, I am in a very different position. I do, now, have the chops to make my own campaign – which is what I think others in the OSR are also discovering. In this sense, we played D&D before we were ready for some of its many challenges, but also before we were ready to experience some of its most sublime pleasures. Age and experience in the real world don’t subtract from the game. They only add to it. The original FRP people – Arenson, Gygax, Bledsaw, and Hargraves – were people who were working far from the innocence of Junior High. Most had lived varied lives and some had even been to war. They, naturally, brought more to original campaign design than I ever could in 1978. D&D was a game written and designed for adults, but was taken over by children. This incursion had, and still has, many ongoing effects and ramifications.
I would urge people who have the ability now, to take the advice Collins offers here to heart. But I think it’s unfair to expect any kid in Junior High to make it over that bar.
I agree, but I also think there is a lack of good tutorials for building adventures, dungeons, and worlds. Most of the advice in rulebooks is just that–advice. Or it focuses on the kind of realism and detail that might be useful in a novel but is not likely to see play in a tabletop RPG. Not a step by step procedure for making something that works.
This sort of makes sense in that you don’t want to limit the imagination, but I still think there is a place for more hand-holding, especially regarding the complexity of a campaign world. I’m thinking here of tools like Victor Raymond’s Wilderness Architect articles which really steps you through the process. That’s definitely not the only way to do it, but it is a way to do it. Lacking such tutorials, people are left to copy modules and settings, which are themselves often not well play tested or designed. Or more tools like B1.
Maybe a campaign setting that was like, here’s a wilderness map, here’s a few dungeons, here’s a few towns. Place them on the map, fill in these tables for wandering monsters, and roll on these tables to determine some relationships between these things (or pick options from the table). That shows exactly what components are necessary and how they work, and would also result in every generated setting being unique.
It depends on the hand-holding. Imitation is the best way to learn how to do this sort of thing, which is why I recommended “Steal Like An Artist” on the other blog. – and it’s also one of the reasons I praised “Isle of the Unknown.” Geoffrey stole like a fine artist.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the Gygax edited series of books on world creation that came about a few years ago, but they purported to be about helping folks with some of these problems. In my opinion, they were turgid and didn’t assist. On the other hand, if you take something like Zak S’s “Vornheim” and try to use that as a guide, you’d get a lot farther, a lot faster.
I myself tried to “steal” ideas back in the ’70s and sought to make a city state like the Judges Guild one using TSR’s city geomorphs and the original booklet to the CSIO as models. It was awful. It doesn’t matter what advice you get. A kid can’t do what an adult can.