I have recently started a Corporation campaign, and unlike my other campaigns for this game, which spanned the solar system, I wanted this campaign to remain rooted in one location. I wanted to be able to improv a large amount of the campaign, and if the game spanned numerous locations it would be harder to have re-occurring NPC’s and consequences from the players actions. So, I rooted in the game in a Beanstalk. In doing so I altered my prep to account for running out of a central location, and modified how I manage the campaign between sessions. I wanted to share with you those techniques that are applicable to any location.
I want to thank Judd G. who originally suggested I write this article, a few months ago, when I was putting a request out on social media looking for article ideas.
A location-based campaign is a campaign that is primarily set in a single geographical area, and that area plays a central role within the campaign. This could be an Eberron campaign set in Sharn, or a Star Trek game set aboard Deep Space 9. In my case, it is a Corporation game set on the Babble Beanstalk. While the majority of the sessions will take place on or around the defined location, sessions can go outside of that space, but eventually they return.
This type of campaign structure has some interesting features:
- Depth – When most of your sessions occur in the same area, you have the opportunity to invest more in the description and complexity of the location. You also have the chance to iterate descriptions over time, so locations become more detailed and complex as they get used over and over.
- Consistency – When you focus on one area, you have a consistency of setting; there are set expectations. From the player-side it lets them be able to anticipate how the NPC’s of an area will react, as well as for them to pick up on subtle clues from established NPC’s and organizations. From the GM side the consistency makes it easier to prep, since you have a good feel for how the area works and what is going on behind the scenes.
- Re-occurring NPC’s – This is really a sub-set of Depth, but when a game is set in one area, you can have NPC’s that the players interact with again and again. These NPCs are familiar to the players, helping root them into game, and their increasing interaction with PCs allow them to develop into more complex characters.
- Consequences – In a location-based campaign, you can have meaningful consequences for the players actions. The things that the players do in one session will have repercussions in later sessions, and that is material that can be drawn upon and used for prepping your game.
Like all things in RPGs, there is no one right way to set up a location-base campaign, but from the ones that I have run, I use the following structure after I have picked the main location. I have done this process by myself, but what I really like is to do this activity with my players and have us populate the area as a group.
For each of the things below, I like to do them for three general groups: those friendly to the PCs, those netural, and those hostile. I typically do 3-4 per group.
- Create locations of interest – Within the defined area come up with a list of places, buildings, stores, etc. I will record the name of the location, a brief description, and its general location in the area. These locations are where different scenes can occur.
- Create organizations– Next, create some organizations who operate within the main location. They can be things like secret societies, law enforcement, cults, etc. For these, I record their name and what they are trying to achieve within the location. These will be groups that are the movers and shakers, and are going to be the ones that are making events occur in your location.
- Create NPC’s – Now create a list of NPC’s who inhabit the location. When possible, tie them to a location and/or an organization. Don’t be afraid to mix and match here, putting a friendly NPC in a hostile organization, or a neutral location. For each of these I record their name, their organization and/or location, and a few tags to define them. These are going to be the people that the PCs interact with. (Shameless Engine Plug – Masks is an incredible resource for this).
- Create some situations – Create a list of 6-8 events that are going on in the area at the time the campaign starts. Draw on the locations, organizations, and NPCs above. Every situation should tie to at least one of those.
With that all laid out, you are ready to get the campaign started. Take three of your situations and focus on them for the first adventure. For these three consider the following:
- What is the ultimate goal if the PCs do not intervene?
- What are the outward signs of what is going on, that the PCs could come across?
- What scene could you put into a game to show one of these signs?
For the first session select one of the three detailed situations and make that the focus of the game. Use the other two to add some options or side quests to the session. Then draw upon the list of Locations, Organizations, and NPCs, to round out the details.
Once your campaign is running there are some things you need to do to tend to the location. Doing a little upkeep will help your location feel more real, and will make prepping your future sessions easier. Between sessions, while you are managing your campaign, include the following activities:
- Mark the passage of time – Because you are in the same area, how does the area and those people react to the changing of the seasons? Think about those changes and work them into your descriptions into your prep for the upcoming sessions.
- Create consequences – Take time to ponder what the characters have been doing in the area, and think of how the NPCs and Organizations will react to the actions of the PC’s. This may move the NPC or Organization from one group (friendly, neutral, hostile) to another. It is also possible that the consequence could be the creation of a new situation.
- Incorporate new components – During the running of your sessions new locations will be described, new organizations revealed, and new NPCs encountered. Make sure these get extracted from your sessions notes and added to the list of locations, organizations, and NPCs that you initally created. These now are components that can be worked into future games.
- Advance situations – Those detailed situations you have, look at how they may have changed during the running of the game and make adjustments. Some of the situations may be resolved, some may have splintered into other situations, new, and unrelated situations may arise. You may want to promote one of the less detailed situations into a more detailed one, or put one of the more detailed ones on the back burner.
Doing this process between games will generate a tremendous amount of story ideas, and you will find that this process is a cauldron of ideas, of which you merely have to skim off the top before each session and add a little detail. Also this current list of locations, organizations, NPCs, and situations can be used during the game to come up with things on the fly.
The Care and Feeding of a Location
Location-based campaigns can be a lot of fun and have the opportunity to create rich and detailed settings from which a multitude of stories can be told. A location that is setup well, will be the catalyst for amazing stories, and with a bit of care and feeding between sessions that catalyst can remain viable and producing ideas through the life of the campaign.
Do you like location-based campaigns? What have been some of your favorite locations? How do you like to prep a location for a campaign? How do you have your locations change and grow?