Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How to build a campaign the Axeman way 101 - Part 2

Previously, I related my campaign preparation method. Now, I am going to talk about the ongoing process of encounter preparation and maintaining NPCs. As I do this keep in mind that my Keep is a living, changing place and not a static snapshot. The world does not revolve around the PCs, though they are center stage for the action. Nothing my NPCs do will out shine the PCs unless the PCs choose the non-heroic course of action.

As I have written this article I came to realize how much each of these sections is watered down into generalities. I plan to write a forthcoming article to expound on these topics, but have barely scratched the surface.

Step 6 – At this point my players have created their characters and I have filled in my background work. I now create a few key maps and document a few dozen NPCs. These NPCs are locals and the allies and enemies my players helped outline. I flesh them out with basic information. Each NPC is listed with the rumors that they know, a physical description, their allies/rivals, a mannerism, motivations/instincts, local haunts and their quirks and flaws.

If they are enemies or likely combatants I will also re-skin or build an appropriate monster. I add an insight and perception check for each NPC. This is based on the NPC level and the Skill Check DC. For example a near-sighted first level NPC would have a   -2 Perception check (Easy DC of 8 – the average roll of 10), a normal PC would have a perception check of +2 and an elf or hunter would have a +9 at first level. Insight works the same way for gullible, normal, and shrewd.

I added a Magister to my version of the keep. I wanted to borrow an adventure from WoTC’s Encounters Keep on the Borderlands. So I added a loose interpretation of Count Benwick. My party warlord is an aspiring knight and the first born of a Baron. I am taking the moneylender Ronnik and am upgrading him to a Baron with opposing lands to the warlord’s father’s. I use Ronnik as the money behind the low-level NPC villain Rikar. Rikar is taken direct from Frandor’s Keep by Kenzer Co.

As the Magister, Count Benwick is responsible for criminal law and order at the keep. As such he is fourth or fifth in command of the keep. Therefore, he is going to be a level 8 NPC. As a noble in the dragonborn empire of Qal-Met I give him the sub-role of leader and make him a dragonborn (60% of the population of the keep is dragonborn).
His title and responsibilities put him in close contact with the Temple of Bahamut. I have an image in my mind of an overweight Knight of Solamnia but as a dragonborn and I describe him as such. Due to that image I will give him the soldier role, and make him a former Paladin of Bahamut. This will be the party’s primary patron and the signatory for their adventuring charter. I combine Benwick’s mannerism with his flaw since they are interrelated. He tends to be a heavy drinker, and will be constantly swirling a wine glass or brandy snifter when the party speaks to him. The moderate level dc for 8th level is 16 so he gets a +6 for his normal vision and I consider him shrewd so a +14 to Insight (hard DC 24). I notate that at 6 pm or later his insight and perception take a -2 to -5 penalty due to consumption of alcohol. I don’t expect him to be the target of attacks by the party but I do give him Defenses based on those for a soldier of 8th level. I list the Prefect, Assistant Prefect, Duke, High Priest of the Temple, and Count Fibiden as allies. Count Ronnik and Rikar are listed as enemies/rivals.

Step 7 – I now move onto to prepping combat, role-playing, exploration and skill challenge encounters. I am only prepping what I expect to need this week, and a few random encounters from other adventure sites near to my expected locale. These encounters can be as simple as crossing paths with an NPC from a future adventure or the sighting of a dragon, to as complex as investigating a mine shaft that seems impenetrable or being chased off by a powerful owl-bear. Clever players may defeat a much higher level encounter or latch on to a concept early, but its OK let them. If they can defeat a tenth level adventure at 3rd level so be it. If things go too far off the rails I can move in an earlier level encounter or adventure because my players have no idea where it was meant to take place. This is something I only do rarely, and when it fits with the PC's expectations.

Note: any of the interactions with NPCs briefly and expound on them after the session. Go back and look at the areas impacted by the players choices and shuffle things around until they make sense again.  

Next, I re-work any published adventurers keeping in mind my hooks and hammers. I like to add terrain and elevation to these encounters as they are usually pretty flat and dull. I drop or re-write any encounters that don’t move the story forward. Add goals for the Monsters to try and achieve and victory conditions based on the Monsters’ goals.  I add any rumors the Monsters should know in case my players parley or capture one. This is done utilizing my dm map created in step 3 and updated in step 5. If pressed for time I leave the rumors off and flip open my map when needed. I adapt or create the battle maps for any encounters, and throw some extras into my folder for game time. Verify my treasure parcels are prepped for the level. Pick out minis or pogs for each monster and I am all set.
Note: Lately, I use the Motivations and Instincts system rather than alignment. Due to that I need take into account any of the characters goals or attitudes when utilizing monsters, rumors and plot hammers etc.

Step 8 – Run the session. During or after the session I record treasure gained, spent and items acquired. If any NPCs are met, killed, befriended or insulted I notate it. Pay special attention to the little details of PC interaction. What did the players interact with, which archetypes did they relate to, what did they skip over? Update the quests under taken and failed or succeeded. What are there any impacts to the DM Map of Hooks and Rumors?

Step 9 – Make any changes based on the session to your plot hook list. It is real hard for a dead NPC to offer a quest opportunity later, though speak with dead can be useful sometimes. After taking a few minutes to update the list of hooks, I rinse, lather and repeat starting with step 6 and any new NPCs I may have improvised or NPCs from an upcoming adventure that need additional work.

I spend about 3 hours a week on maps and about an hour on prep work each week for a session. The initial set up of a campaign can take anywhere from a week at 2 hours a night, to a month. It really depends on how much of the setting exists and how much adaptation you have to do to get it to fit with your characters’ backgrounds. The end result is a campaign that feels tailored to your player’s characters and keeps drawing them back in with mysteries and intrigues centered around their individual PCs’ backgrounds and goals.

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