After the rain, growth is spectacular.
It’s not easy making a completely fresh start. This series examines the process of creating a new campaign in detail. So far, we have a campaign plan and a development plan for the game world along with a schedule for that development. We’re now dotting i’s and crossing t’s and building up the foundations of the game world before getting it ready for the first session of play.
You can view a game world from many different perspectives. There’s the Geographic perspective – where things are, and why, and even what effect that has had. There’s the historical perspective – what happened, and when, and why. There’s the player briefing perspective, in which you tell players what they need to know in order to play characters that live in and derive from that game world. There’s the plot perspective, in which everything exists for a reason, and that reason is that it forms the foundations of fun storyline by presenting circumstances which will challenge the PCs and enable them to make a difference. And there’s the metagame structural perspective, in which key concepts unfold ramifications within all of the other perspectives.
Many GMs get by just fine without considering most of these. They put an initial situation in place in terms of the society, slap a quick and dirty map together, and just get on with the game, adding to their game world with each adventure and each time the players stick their character’s noses into a particular dusty corner.
But the really good GMs (usually) go much further than that, and the mission of Campaign Mastery is to help GMs elevate their games to an exceptional standard. It behooves me, therefore, to assume that this extended work is absolutely essential to running a good campaign, and not optional at all. And so we find ourselves looking to build a skeleton view of the campaign world that is entirely distinct from the plot skeleton that forms its spine – because the players won’t get to see the full shape of that spine until the end of the Campaign, if then, and they need something to sink their teeth into before die roll one of the campaign.
A status check
Here’s what we’ve built up so far:
- A Campaign Plan that outlines the external events that are going to shape the PCs lives during the course of the campaign
- A Game World File that outlines the basics of the campaign world and which represents what the PCs all “know” (contents may be Old Wife’s Tales)
- A GMs World File that extends those outlines and indicates the truth, as it will emerge in the course of the campaign, and indicates in which adventure each such revelation is due to occur
- A sandboxed development plan that schedules development of parts of the Game World according to the just-in-time principle, adjusted to accommodate the Real World
- Player Briefing Notes that outline how the Game World differs from the “standard model” and why the inhabitants think the world is the way it is. These are organized for race-by-race and archetype-by-archetype delivery, usually by putting them in separate documents.
- GMs Briefing Notes that contains corrected/expanded versions of the Player Briefing Notes. These are usually all collected into a single document for easy cross-reference, but don’t have to be.
- A House Rules file that currently may contain no more than an indication of the need for a particular house rule, may contain draft House Rules, or (most probably) a blend of both.
That seems like an awful lot of material, but if you were to examine an actual example (I haven’t had time to work one up, but there was the equivalent of one offered in bits and pieces through the first five parts of my Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD / On The Origins Of Orcs series), you would find that they are surprisingly empty.
To illustrate that, let me point the reader to my On Alien Languages series. This not only describes the Languages within my Shards Of Divinity campaign, their relationship to each other, and the Rules Structure that I created to go with them, each part also contains a writeup of one of the societies within that campaign. These write-ups were one or two paragraphs long in my Player’s Briefing Notes and a supplemental paragraph or two in my GM’s Briefing Notes. Easily 95% of the material provided on each society to readers of Campaign Mastery was completely original work, expanding greatly on what was known about many of them. In some cases, parts of this additional material had come out in the course of play, but had never been assembled in coherent and complete form before.
Two-to-four paragraphs became eight pages plus – substantially more in some cases. So there’s lots more work to do.
The process is fairly straightforward, thankfully. Under a number of headings, I will raise a subject about which you need to say something – blank spaces for you to fill. All you have to do is complete one and move on to the next.
Ah, if only it were that simple. There are a couple of wrinkles to take into account.
- Each time you make an entry that pertains to another archetype or race, you have to make corresponding entries in the relevant documents for that archetype or race.
- There are some entries that require you to scrutinize and compare an archetype or race with each of the others, something that is only practical if all entries have been brought up to the same level of completion. So you can’t deal with one Archetype or Race completely in isolation. I’ve broken the topics into broad sections, and I suggest working on no more than one or two sections at a time – then moving on to the next Archetype or Race and doing those same sections for that group. When you reach the end, go back to the first Archetype or Race and do the next section or two.
The Scope Of Work
There’s an awful lot to get through, so try to limit yourself to one line of text per subject. At most, one paragraph per subject. Keep it brief, and that will keep it flexible.
What Goes Where
The raw facts go into the Players’ Briefing documents – you started compiling one for each archetype and each race last time out. Explanations can go into either the player’s briefing or the GMs equivalent, depending on whether or not the explanation is known to the members of that archetype or race. Any supplementary material goes into the GMs Briefing documents, especially how this is going to impact on subjects that haven’t been considered yet. Again, try to limit yourself to one or two lines per entry, or you’ll be at it forever. You will have an opportunity, once the bare bones have been sketched in, to flesh out these notes.
Deviations From The Source
Don’t be afraid to deviate from the official source material. It’s far better to do so and maintain an internal consistency than it is to follow the source material slavishly and try to fit your own ideas around it. The key words in that statement are “maintain an internal consistency” – above all else, this has to be your primary goal. Any changes you make must be reflected elsewhere when appropriate.
If an archetype or race is broadly characterized as Arrogant and Authoritarian, don’t have the leaders selected by democratic principles (unless you think of a way to twist the application of those principles to suit, of course). Think carefully about the impact of everything you write.
If you give a race an additional sense, or a variation on a sense, consider how that alters their world-view, and how (in turn) that altered world-view affects the rest of the society of that race.
Quotations From The Source
A lot of the time, you will simply be supplementing “the official word” and not rewriting it. It can be very tempting to simply give an appropriate reference eg “see PHB p35″. Don’t Do It.
If you can find a version of the source material that permits copy-and-paste, use it. If you can’t, or it screws up your formatting (which happens sometimes), synopsize it. This is because trying to cross-reference or edit something at a later point becomes much harder when you have to remember what is written on “PHB p35″; there’s going to be a lot of material on that page, and you have to know to what you are specifically referring. More, neither you nor your players will want to open one document that simply tells you to open another – with neither of them telling the whole story. As much as possible, your player briefings should be a one-stop shop, and you certainly want your own notes to be as quick to access and digest as possible.
So, let’s get into specifics. I’ll start with Archetypes, because they are often the simplest.
Profession Vs Calling
Decision number one is whether or not the Archetype represents a Profession, a Calling, or both.
A Profession implies an internal structure with its own Society, Rules, and Authority. It also tends to indicate a formal educational process of qualification and some sort of professional standards. A Calling means that anyone can pick it up. The combination usually means that the Archetype is open to anyone, but that there is a Hierarchy of some sort that attempts to control and dominate the adherents and takes a dim view of independent operators, for example a Thief’s Guild.
The D&D/Pathfinder “Fighter” class, for example, might be open to anyone, or it might involve formal military training. Or there could be a combination – anyone can take it up, but there are “professional bodies” who are selective in their membership and who can offer advantages to those the select to join.
Paladins are usually treated as being very elitist and formally structured, ie a Profession. Clerics are usually assumed to have a rigid Hierarchy, making them a Religious Order – but are often bound to take anyone who feels the Calling, or claims to. Perhaps there are “Lay Clerics” as well as “Ordained Clerics” in your world; what’s the difference?
Note that advantages should never come without a commensurate price, and mere qualification restrictions are not enough of a price-tag.
Connect Archetypes to Nexii
When developing the campaign plan, three Nexii were chosen. These are plots that have no real purpose other than to give the game impetus at key points and focus the player’s attention where the GM wants it, as opposed to where the best place is for it to be in terms of the broader campaign.
The Primary Nexus is what the players think is going on when the campaign first begins. The Secondary Nexus operates to keep action happening in a period where both sides of whatever conflict the PCs are in the middle of are busy maneuvering for position or tactical advantage in the mid-campaign and is more about direct action and straightforward conflict. The Tertiary Nexus provides a contrasting emotional tone in the late campaign when things are getting grim and serious. Refer “Choose Three Nexii” in Phase 4: Development for more information.
It’s great to implant the seeds of these Nexii into the Player Briefings. This is especially true of the Primary Nexus. Some of these clues should manifest within the Archetypes, others within the Races. In the case of the Primary Nexus, what are the archetypes concerned with at the moment? Is there are conspiracy against Mages? Are the Legions (Fighters) being torn apart by internal dissent? Is corruption in the Church rife, leading to a crackdown?
For the Secondary and Tertiary nexii, you need to be a little more oblique. Build triggers into your races and archetypes so that their reactions when you drop the starter’s flag will create the Nexus, or create the significance that makes the Nexus important enough that the players will care about it.
Connect Archetypes to Themes
Your campaign themes should always be reflected in the archetypes in some way, usually by exemplifying that theme in one respect or another. For example, if a theme is “There is no success without struggle”, then each archetype should encompass both a struggle of some sort that earns the rewards of progress within the archetype.
Some are trickier than others. “Bittersweet Victories” is almost identical in meaning to “Every Success has a price”, but the latter is far more easily integrated that the first. That’s because the first concerns an emotional state, while the second is more generic. Nevertheless, through the usage of graduation ceremonies and other traditions, it is possible to build such emotional content into archetypes; for example, if there are only a limited number of openings within the archetype (fits Paladins, Wizards, Clerics, and Elite Fighters, for example,) and the tradition is that the winner apologize to and encourage those who didn’t make it? Or perhaps there can be only one living member per family, no matter how promising others might be?
Comparative Archetypes and Racial Exceptions
Does a given archetype mean the same thing to all the races? Is a given archetype available to all races? Or are there differences in social context?
Is an Elvish Barbarian something completely distinct from a Human Barbarian, for example? Do the Elves of your campaign even Have Barbarians? You could argue, based on The Hobbit (the original story, I haven’t seen the second movie yet) that the Forest Elves are Barbarians, simpler and more elemental than the inhabitants of Rivendell or the other Elves seen in the Lord Of The Rings. They are petty, arrogant, and spend their time carousing and feasting – sounds relatively “barbarian” to me! Others would disagree, and even point out that Legolas comes from the Forest Elves – and he’s both civilized and poetically well-versed! So you could make the argument either way. A convenient way out of the conundrum is to say “yes, but” the meaning of “barbarian” isn’t quite the same!
It involves quite a bit of work, but I often find it rewarding to “custom-fit” the flavor text of each archetype for each of the major races. I’m not suggesting that you go that far, but a step in that direction is very helpful, both in terms of distinguishing between the races and in making the archetypes more than stats and abilities.
What is the authority structure of the archetype? How is it structured? Are there rules?
Let’s take Barbarians again, just for the sake of example. It might be that they have no formal authority structure, but when two Barbarians face each other for the first time, they face off against each other in some mutually-accepted test of dominance (arm-wrestling is a good one). The loser, and those who look to him as a superior/leader, are not permitted to operate at cross-purposes with the winner, and may be recruited to bolster his forces if he needs them for some specific task. Or it may be that they have to perform one service for the superior and are then free to go their own way. With groups, the Leaders might have to go at it, or it might be that Champions can be used.
Alternatively, since intelligence tends to be the biggest shortcoming of Barbarians in general, you could state that it is the most highly-prized ability amongst them as a social class and that the leaders must engage in a game of riddles – the first to get one posed by the other side right is adjudged the superior.
Both Elves and Humans are likely to have Wizards, with formal social structures – but probably not the same hierarchy, possibly not even the same criterion for leadership.
With Paladins, it might be ranking within the Nobility if you want them to be more like Chivalric Knights, or they might have a spell or minor ability (on top of those in the book) that lets them sense and compare “Purity Of Purpose” – with the most zealous (most fanatical?) assumed to have the authority to command the lesser. Or it might be that this is only the case within the Paladins who look to a particular Deity, and that it is the Divine Ranking of their Patrons that dictate who can give orders to whom outside of these Orders.
These come in two flavors: internal and external.
Internal relations deal with splits in a hierarchy or authority. “Rogue factions” are always fun to have running around, if not overused. Sometimes these rogue factions will represent the right path, sometimes they may be extremists and counter-productive to the archetype in general. Sometimes both. The one certainty is that any PC of this archetype will have either chosen a side, or will be called upon to do so at some point in the game!
External relations deal with the (general) relations between one hierarchy and another. Paladins and Thieves don’t usually work well together – there can be exceptions, of course. How do Clerics feel about Wizards? About Druids?
In a martial society, success as a Fighter may be the key to Nobility – it often was, in Feudal Society – and that might mandate that Fighters don’t like Clerics, because Clerics are prone to opposing the will of the Noble Fighters in response to some alleged “Higher Authority”. But that in turn applies that the Gods rarely make a show of their presence, and despite surface trappings of religion, the populace has only the Cleric’s Word as to the source of their powers. It might be that Clerics and Wizards are exactly the same save for having different spell lists, spell foci, and the like, and that the “higher authority” is all in the Clerics’ collective imaginations. Or the Gods might be demonstrably real, and the Theologians have a crusade against Wizards because the latter are without “Moral Compass” in the use of their Gods-given Gifts.
You have to assume that every Archetype will bump shoulders with every other one at some point, and – at the very least – will form opinions about them.
Is it appropriate for the Cleric to charge for casting his Healing Spells? Can the Paladin demand recompense for his services? Even if they have to subsequently tithe most of what they accrue to their respective organizations?
It may well be one rule for the Party and another for the Public. And you can argue which way things should go either way: Charging the party is entirely reasonable if there is assumed to be a professionally-contracted relationship between party members, but the dispensing of services to the public is a gift of those services by the individual doing so. Conversely, charging the public but not the party is reasonable if the Party is more of an alliance for the purpose of mutual success, permitting the character to waive his fees-for-service.
Are there professional courtesies that have to be exchanged when entering a new territory? There often are such in the case of a widespread Thief’s Guild, for example. Clerics may be required to attend daily services at an appropriate chapel, shrine, or temple if there is one within reach, no matter what – or may simply be required to inform the head of the local theological establishment of his presence. That local may or may not have authority over the actions of the Cleric whilst the latter is in his jurisdiction – and may be held responsible by HIS superiors.
Professional Courtesies may be social in nature, customary, or may be strictly regulated, or all sorts of options in between these two extremes. Wizards in a strange territory may be forbidden from accepting apprentices without the approval of the local Guild representative, for example, but might be free to do what they want, otherwise.
It’s worth pointing out that the Church Knights in David Eddings’ trilogy The Eleniumand its sequel, The Tamuli are essentially Paladins who are subordinate to the clerical hierarchy, even above their own leadership. This is a useful point to make because it subordinates one Archetype to another.
In addition to determining what the social niceties are, the GM needs to determine the penalties for breaches, and what sort of process may be involved in reaching judgment.
Each Archetype will have its own authority figures, both contemporary and historical, and these will have reputations and personalities (possibly fictionalized!). Every member of a given archetype can be expected to know who these people are. They might never figure directly into the campaign, but they will almost certainly be referred to on occasion – so give them a name and a public reputation now for future reference, and put them at the end of the document to make them easy to find.
That ends the archetype phase of building the world skeleton. Move on to the next archetype, and – when you’ve finished them all – its time to think about Races and Societies.
The Rarity Sequence
With archetypes, it doesn’t matter what order you do them in. That is not the case when it comes to races, as the sequence itself can be used to make the task easier. This requires a preliminary step: estimating the total population of each race within the bounds of the part of the campaign world that the players are expected to reach.
All done? Now, put it aside – it’s almost certainly wrong. Go off and read Medieval Demographics Made Easy by S. John Ross.
I tend to have a central realm that is heavily populated, a fringe that is far less populated, isolated pockets of intermediate density within that Fringe, mainly clustered along trade routes and navigable waterways, a very lightly populated outer fringe, and a largely unpopulated wilderness – but that suits my game, in which there are more monsters and they are more dangerous to any form of settled populace. So I exaggerate the differences in population density.
I then modify these results for differences in habitation patterns. Most Elven societies that I’ve seen don’t farm as intensively as Humans – not even close – so I will arbitrarily select a value for them. Dwarves tend to be confined into small communities of high population density – and because they operate by volume and not surface area, densities can reach far higher numbers than those of human settlements.
If you take the square root of the human equivalent and then cube it to get the Dwarven population density, you will get a rough idea of how significant the volume factor is. Taking 100 as an example: Square root of 100 is ten; ten cubed is 10 x 10 x 10, or 1000 citizens per cubic mile.
The same calculation works for determining the population of a community of the same physical size; let’s say a village of 250 people. Square root of 250 is 15.811; and 15.811 x 15.811 x 15.811 is 3953, near enough. But these “villages” are probably scattered far more distantly from each other. For a geographically much smaller area, say a mountain range, it’s nevertheless quite easy for a Dwarven Kingdom to have ten times the population one would expect.
The alternative is to say that the villages are physically much smaller, and hold some intermediate number of people: 800, for example. Take the cube root of the value and square it, then divide by the “human” population density to get the physical size of the community: cube root of 800 is 9.28; square of 9.28 is about 86; population density of 100 per square mile gives 0.86 square miles. Area of a circle is Pi-R-squared, so 0.86 square miles is roughly 0.523 miles radius. Call it half a mile, so the whole settlement is about a mile across – using these assumptions! Notice that this gives a higher value for effective population density than 1000 per cubic mile – 0.86 miles radius gives 0.6 cubic miles volume, and 800 people in that volume is 1,335 people per cubic mile.
It’s also a reasonable assumption that a uniformly spherical settlement is unlikely to the point of near-impossibility. Instead, the “sphere” would bulge inwards where there were no “corridors” to other settlements, and protrude out where there were such. I use the difference in population density as a guide to how pronounced this effect is; a volume that could hold 1,335 Dwarves now has only 1,000 (the population density we worked out earlier) indicating that the bulk of the settlement is only 1000/1335 = 75% of the size indicated, or about 3/4 of a mile across; only where such corridors lead away from the settlement does it reach the entire mile diameter. But there’s no real need to do this, it’s just me being a little anal retentive.
The final note worth making is that this says nothing about how many “levels” there are within the community. This can be calculated – you need to know the lengths of a series of horizontal arcs across the cross-section of the sphere, then determine the areas of a number of circles with diameters of such arcs (a cross-sectional slice through a sphere is a circle) such that the total area matches that of the total population divided by a reasonable population density per level – which I would expect to be somewhat lower than human; you can’t “build” right next to the neighbors the way you might on the surface, you need “load-bearing” rock in between the hollow spaces you occupy. But this is too much like work even for me, I never bother. Instead, I guesstimate using a rough-and-ready shortcut.
For every such lesser circle, there is one still smaller that exactly equals the area of the main circle. So, instead of defining levels, I define pairs of levels – in fact, since the top is effectively a mirror image of the bottom, pairs of pairs of levels – until the total surface area (a simple multiple of 2, plus the original central cross section) is greater than the ratio of effective Dwarven population density divided by base human population density, where the “multiple” that results is the number of paired levels.
This gives a great deal of flexibility: if I make one level bigger than half the area, the other gets smaller; if I make one closer to half the area, the other also moves closer to being half the area.
Nor is there any need for a pair of levels both to be north of the “equator” – you can have one above and one below, if you want. Do this for most of them, and you end up with a community shaped more like a top – with projecting spikes.
Or you can assume that most of the mountain is solid rock, and Dwarven populations are no higher than Humans. Or something else completely. There are no wrong answers, only answers that have ramifications.
Take whatever the lowest absolute population is and divide all the other population levels by this to get a Population Index. This gives a ranking of significance for the overall campaign of the influence of any single population group. Don’t be surprised to get values in the thousands or more – 10,000 Halflings and 50,000,000 Humans mean that for every Halfling there are 5,000 humans.
For most purposes, you are best off going from high to low. The index gives some indication of how small a minority you are talking about, and hence how minor their influence on the campaign is going to be.
Relative Population Index
I also find it useful to my thinking to add up the population indexes and get the percentages of each. So far, we have 5000 for humans and 1 for Halflings in the above example; let’s assume that the grand total comes to 12,500 (an unlikely result, it’s too round a number, but anyway…) That means that human societies are 40% of the total of the “civilized” societies. If you want to include Orcs and Goblins and so on, you can. This is nothing more than a Demographic Handling tool to help think clearly about the dominance of one society over another. Clearly, Halflings are nothing more than a strictly local group in this example.
This is particularly significant when thinking about Wars. I don’t care how effective they are on the battlefield, 40,000 Halflings pose no threat to 50 million humans. 100 million goblins, on the other hand…
I write the relative population index in brackets next to the actual index value: Halflings 1 (0.008%), Humans 5000 (40%), and so on.
Connect Races to Nexii
I’ve already talked about this in relation to Archetypes, so I won’t repeat myself.
Connect Races to Themes
This is also just an extension of the discussion regarding Themes and Archetypes, so I assume the reader is quite capable of working out how to do this for themselves.
I find it useful to give some general comparisons of racial abilities. Do Elves tend to be weaker or stronger than humans? Weaker or stronger than Dwarves? This says nothing about the potentials of individuals, just about how common those exceptions to the broader trend might be. This can be very useful information for players in characterizing PCs; what was it like for the character who grew up stronger than everyone around them? Or faster? Or more quick-witted?
On top of that, some races have additional abilities relative to humans. What impact do these have on the society?
What’s the generic representative of the race like, in terms of personality? How far removed from the reality is that perception? Does any particular race or archetype have a different impression of the race?
Scope for individuality
How much latitude for individuality does the society offer? Do the encourage diversity, or conformity? What social mechanisms exist to implement these policies or traditions?
Are there any groups or sub-populations with social stigmas attached? How do these manifest? How do people subjected to this racial prejudice cope?
What impact do the population levels have on the race and on the society? Homogeneity requires a fair number of representatives or relatively little variation between individuals. What are the resulting agricultural demands? How large are the settlements? What is the impact on the economy, on the size of settlements, on the culture?
The Geography occupied by a population impacts that population in multiple ways. Some geographies won’t support some population levels without additional assistance, and that makes the population dependent on that assistance.
You’ve already decided the population levels of the race, with a view to what is a reasonable population density; the geography dictates the actual population density, so putting the two together dictates how widespread the lands claimed by the race are.
Of course, trade can compensate to some degree for a lack of agricultural space, but humans have a way of expanding their numbers beyond what the lands they occupy can support – and then going off and having a war somewhere.
What are the major population centers, and what makes them distinct from each other?
What natural resources does the society have access to? What DON’T they have direct access to? What are they dependent on, economically or socially?
Who are the enemies of the race? Very few will be able to answer “none” and the more significant the race, the smaller that tally becomes. On top of these obvious foes, there are a bunch of others that may not be so obvious.
Every geographic feature is strategically positioned with respect to whatever’s on the far side of it. Sometimes there may be easier ways to get past this strategic position than bullying through it; but that can leave your flanks exposed to a potential enemy. So, ultimately, every feature is strategic, only the nature of the significance changes.
Some are more important than others because you stand between two forces that are hostile to each other (or hostile to you), and some are less because you have an alliance with your neighbors. But that’s only a matter of degree.
What is the strategic position of the lands occupied by this race, and what impact does that have on their society? Their economy? Their military? Their history?
Some societies are more vulnerable than others. Any form of dependence, as noted earlier, is a vulnerability in the military sense.
In addition, there may be social vulnerabilities. These have either already manifested into ongoing civil disturbances, or they are a lurking time bomb. It’s fairly obvious how the first should be handled – who, what, where, when, outcome, response, and the current status of the problem; the second is a little trickier to achieve. The technique that works best is to include as a statement of fact in the racial profile something that is in fact an assumption on the part of the race. At the right time, you then have someone challenge that assumption, producing an immediate social crisis.
Some of these are very obvious – “Dwarves are completely loyal to the throne”. That won’t do; you need to be more subtle but just as profound in importance. “The white tree only blooms when a royal heir is born” is a better choice. You then have the tree bloom when the Queen is childless (or even apparently dead), or have it fail to bloom when the Queen gives birth to a supposed heir. The implications are obvious – or perhaps someone is trying to manipulate the order of succession by using magic to manipulate the blooming of the tree. Either way, the implications are likely to tear the society apart, at least for a while. It might even be that the royal family has been manipulating things in the past, bringing the tree to bloom “unnaturally” after spreading the legend themselves, as a way of enhancing their legitimacy – and would have done so again, quite successfully, if it weren’t for the manipulations of a second party who believed.
A social vulnerability is anything that a culture is not equipped to handle. And that’s something that an enemy can sometimes exploit, either to harm the culture, or to distract it prior to a surprise strike – if they are clever enough, manipulative enough.
Most Recent Conflict(s)
The social impact of the most recent military conflict in which a a society has been engaged are deep and lingering. It takes time for a former enemy to be accepted as a neutral party, never mind as an ally; mistrust and suspicion run deep, compounded by wartime propaganda.
In some respects this is less of an issue in fantasy campaigns because there are no mass communications; the lord labels someone an enemy, you go off and fight the soldiers of that enemy, and that’s an end of it. Repeated conflicts, as between the English and the French, are a quite different story, of course.
On the other hand, there is a common perception that the uneducated tend to hold simple grudges far more deeply once they are established and ingrained. Hillbilly feuds are legendary (and by that, I mean both inflated out of all proportion and a case in point). So you have a wide latitude, but either way, the last conflict, its outcome, and the impact on both societies, are very much something that needs to be described in player briefings.
As significant as enemies are the people with whom a society or culture are allied, because that makes them stronger in the face of their enemies. When the foes are mutual antagonists, that doesn’t matter much, but when there is a more complex set of national relationships involved, things can get very interesting.
For each Ally, then, you also need to list those populations who are enemies of yours simply because of your association with that Ally.
Most Recent Alliance(s)
No matter how it turned out, the most recent alliance that was publicly put to the test is going to have left strong feelings amongst some of the population. It will also have influenced and entered the social consciousness. The relationship and what resulted will dictate the nature of this “emotional baggage”. Could anyone doubt that post-war relations between the US and Great Britain were altered as a result of World War II? The “Plucky Brits” entered the popular zeitgeist of the US, and there was a reciprocal impression of the US that entered the common attitude of the Brits (“Brash Yanks”) at the same time. “We saved your a** in the Big One,” is inevitably followed by the reply, “Yes, and you never fail to remind us of it.”
On top of that, the most recent alliance that is publicly known will evoke opinions, often negative, and – with reasonable frequency – hostility. Depending, of course, on what relations were like beforehand. So this relationship should also get documented.
Which brings us to the subject of politics in general. You can lose a lot of time and waste a lot of effort going into too much detail in this area and still barely scratch the surface. So I recommend very tightly restricting your notes to the bare minimum specified below.
Government Authority Type
Theocracy? Plutocracy? Democracy? Empire? Confederation of city-states? As succinctly and briefly as possible, note the Government Authority Type. Then specify at least one thing that makes this example of that type of Government Authority. Johnn Four’s excellent series here at Campaign Mastery ‘City Government Power Bases’ (which I intend to extend later this year – one series at a time!) may be useful reference.
Level of Authority
How absolute is the government’s authority? How much freedom and latitude do they permit their citizens? I use an arbitrary score out of ten, but you can use one out of four, five, twenty, or whatever else takes your fancy – so long as you are consistent about it. That number, plus an indication of what it means (e.g. “Level Of Authority 7/10″) is enough, unless you have something unusual in mind. Whenever a subject comes up in play (“Marriage restrictions”), all you have to do is roll a die to determine whether the Government has imposed rules in that area. The Government Authority Type then gives an indication of the nature of the regulations.
How happy are the citizens with their government? Or, perhaps more usefully, how Unhappy are they? I use a number from one to 10. This is the chance on 2d20 that there will be an armed insurrection or rebellion of some sort fermenting (get the same result a second time for them to be active and publicly known), the chance on d20 that an incident will turn into a riot (assuming a crowd is present and provoked by the incident), the chance on d10 that citizens will protest or complain in the most socially-permissible manner (which varies according to the government type and level of authority) – it might be anything from a go-slow or complaints muttered under the breath to a group of protesters with placards, etc).
How strong a grasp does the most popular religion have over the community? If this rating is higher than the Government’s level of authority then the Government is effectively reduced to a figurehead to at least some extent. Another score out of 10, therefore.
How tolerant are the Political authorities of lesser religions? How tolerant is the dominant religion? How tolerant is the broader society? I rate each of these out of 10, and write the result as follows: “Religious Tolerance 7/4/9″. I will sometimes draw a simple flag symbol to denote the Political score and a Cross to represent the Religious score, but I try to be consistent so that I don’t need such mnemonics.
Observe that the combination of scores can describe quite subtle and complex situations. Take the example above: the government is fairly restrictive in terms of what it considers a “real religion”, the dominant religion preaches tolerance and brotherhood, and the public are extremely intolerant of anything too different. Sometimes I think that the religious authority level should be the difference between the latter two values, sometimes I think the two should be independent. In this case, 9-4=5, so the religious authority score should be 5.
The “yea” argument for this approach is that the difference reflects the degree to which the people will do what the religious authority tells them to, and this is the Religious Authority score, by definition. The “nay” argument is that the Religious Authority score is an overall summary, and that authority in more specific areas might vary, so there is only a vague relationship between the difference and the Religious Authority score.
Choose your own methodology and just be consistent about it.
Other Secondary Authorities
In Australia, we have a Federal Government, a small set of State Governments, a whole mess of Local Governments, and a couple of Territory Governments. The US has the same basic arrangement with rather more States, and (I think) an additional layer of City Governments (the Local Governments being the equivalent of Counties). They also have State Governors, which we don’t, and have a habit of electing various officials Individually (our officials are appointed by an appropriate branch of Government or are part of the Public Service). The organizations and internal structures of each of these layers of government are different, of course. We have a Senate but don’t have a Congress, for example.
In no greater length than I have used to do so in the two examples contained within the preceding paragraph, list the levels and layers of Secondary Authority.
Finally, who are the key individuals whose name everybody knows? Name the relevant ones, ignore the rest (or treat them generically). Further, who are the popular Heroes and who are the popular Villains of history? Who is the most notorious individual who is at large (or has been, until recently)? Who are the most famous figures from History? And what are these peoples’ claims to fame?
Describing a Society is another task that can consume great quantities of time. Page after Page of unnecessary detail can easily emerge -and the only way to prevent it is to be absolutely ruthless with yourself. Once again, what’s below is as succinct and restrictive as I can make it.
Almost everyone that the PCs interact with will be a member of a family. In some campaigns, the workplace will often be completely separate from the place of residence, in others the two will be one and the same thing. If the family usually lives with the individual, knowing the structure of the typical family unit and the courting process has obvious value; these are people who are likely to be nearby when the NPC is encountered. Even in the first campaign type, though, knowing the structure of the common family unit gives NPCs something and someone to talk about when interacting with PCs.
Even more important in both cases is that almost every PC will also be a member of a family unit. Knowing the structure of those family units helps players develop their PCs, and the same is true of every entry on this list that falls under the heading of “Society”.
Family Units are best generally described in two different ways. The first is the “layers perspective”, which describes who is where within a family unit in terms of relative immediacy. The second is the “migration perspective” which indicates the social mechanisms and traditions by which members can move into the family unit from outside, or move from one layer to another within the broader family unit.
Family Unit Layers
There are three significant layers: Immediate, Close, and Remote. Modern & High-tech Campaigns may require the addition of a fourth layer, “Distant”.
The Immediate layer contains everyone within a family unit who normally resides in a single dwelling with the head of household, and it is this proximity that gives the layer its name. The position of “Head Of The Household” may be an actual one within the social fabric or it may be a nominal label shared by several, or even by a family council in which all members of the household make some contribution to the management decisions of the family.
The Close layer contains former members of the Immediate layer who have left to establish their own family units, and may sometimes include members of a more extended family. What they all have in common is that under certain conditions, it is normal and expected for members of this family to move back into the Immediate Family layer either temporarily or indefinitely. In campaigns and societies where extended travel/relocation for an entire family unit is unusual, such as most fantasy campaigns, the members of the Close layer also tend to live relatively nearby to the central Family Unit – hence the name.
The Remote layer contains the rest of the extended family. These may occasionally visit or send messages, and networks of relatives may provide avenues for social news to spread, but they are not part of the social routine of the central Family Unit on a day-to-day basis. In the context of campaigns with easy communications, these are the family members that you contact regularly by phone or social media, or who you spend time writing to on a regular basis during a postal-service era or equivalent.
The em>Distant layer only exists as a separate entity when you have such remote-contact means at your disposal, and contains family members who were once in a closer layer but with whom contact is not regularly maintained. I have cousins who I used to see at least once a year, but with whom I have fallen out of contact over the years. They aren’t quite as disconnected as total strangers, because those closer links were there, once upon a time, and can be reestablished – but it doesn’t happen very often.
The question to be answered in this sub-step of the development process is, “Who is usually in which layer?” Is it normal for Parents and Grandparents who are no longer capable of unassisted living to reside within the Immediate Family, for example? Is it normal for daughters who are soon to give birth to move back into the immediate family under the care of their mother, at least until such time as they have daughters of their own of child-bearing age?
In some societies, it may be normal for specific non-family members to assume a quasi-familial relationship with a given family unit, so the population of a layer may not be restricted to blood relations and their spouses. In some country towns in both England and Australia, up until fairly recently, the local Vicar or Parish Priest was very often considered and treated as a Close family member, expected to join the immediate family for a meal if he happened to be visiting at the right time of day, and expected to visit for a while at least every week or two, when he would be enlightened to the family gossip and would in turn pass on the significant news from other members of the Parish. Similarly, there was a time in the US where it was quite normal for a Doctor to do the rounds of his patients, visiting them at home every month or two just to see how everyone was going. I can quite easily imagine a society in which it is normal for each family to contain a “social representative” from outside the family within the Close layer purely to keep the family in touch with social expectations and obligations, and to deal with any grievances the community at large has with the Family Unit or members therein. I can imagine a democracy in which each Family Unit has a vote cast by the Head Of Household on behalf of the entire Immediate Family – thereby making the family more important both socially and politically than the individual, and requiring family registration and so on.
Quite obviously, you can’t complete the populating and structuring of a typical family unit without also working on the Migration aspects built into the social norm, and vice-versa. The two have to be constructed in parallel, as each Migration Path adds members to one or more layers, or takes them out under certain conditions. Is it normal for the eldest son to remain within the Immediate Family Unit, eventually to inherit both the “Head Of Household” title and any family business? Is it normal for Daughters to remain within the Immediate Family layer until wed? Can they earn outside incomes, and if they do, do those earnings become part of the collective finances of the Immediate Family, in whole or in part? Is Divorce permitted, and what happens to the family unit when this occurs?
I use bullet-points to list the members of each layer by general category, and with each such member, I note the ways in which those family members usually leave that layer of the family unit. I then consider the common social customs – marriage, adoption, etc – by which family members may leave or enter a layer, and add additional members to each layer at the same time as adding that custom to the migration paths (a different bullet list). I think about external members of the family units and whether or not such things are considered normal. I slowly build up a picture of the elements of a typical family, in this fashion, until I feel I am done – then I convert each bullet list into a paragraph on the family unit and the social practices that add or subtract members from it.
A simple paragraph on the normal domestic life is then relatively simple; it describes the impact of social norms and the economy on the typical household. Under some circumstances, it may emerge that the family unit as described is incompatible with the economic reality of the culture being created; in which case, something needs to give in order to make survival possible. That something is usually a restructuring of the typical family unit away from the accepted “normal ideal” already stated, triggering a social evolution within the society (whether it wants one or not), but it might also be that social customs stand firm and whole families are on the verge of starvation. How do the people react to that? Is poaching common? Are there charitable institutions that work to fill the gap between enough and survival?
Of course, in order to write that paragraph on Domestic Life, you need to have some idea as to the state of the Economy. In particular, the standard of living in terms of the number of people who can be supported by a typical single working member within the household. I have usually decided this in the course of writing the paragraph on the Domestic Life of the members of the society being created, so it’s simply a matter of writing it down. I can then turn to two other important economic elements that need description: the domestic economy, and the trade economy.
The domestic economy is about what people do for a living. In general, there will be some presence of just about everything, so what needs to get reported here are the big picture and any anomalies. In part, this comes back to the geographic location of the population. If there are lots of trees and not a lot of good rock, they will have lots of timber buildings and carpenters to build and furnish them, for example. Food distribution is another major consideration at this point.
The trade economy is about what surpluses the society creates and who the customers are for those products. In cultures without industrialized commerce – currency exchanges and the like – the choice of customer will be dictated by what those customers can offer in exchange, as much as anything else. How the goods are to be transported is another major consideration.
I like to do one short paragraph on the “Big Picture”, one on the domestic economy and any anomalies, one on agriculture and food distribution, one on trade and trade partners, and one on the shipping of trade goods. That’s five paragraphs, and between them they should take up rather less than a page.
What’s more, these get successively quicker to write. Each one that you do not only adds to the information on the society you are currently detailing but also partially completes the work on a trading partner or two or even three. If you start with the wealthiest economy in terms of surplus trade goods and work down from that, you will find the picture filling in for ALL the societies you are creating progressively getting easier and faster.
There are whole cultures out there about whom everything we know has derived from the ruins they left behind, and the products of their arts: literate, musical, and fine (sculpture and painting). From Ancient Egypt to Babylon to the Greeks and Romans to the Vikings, the arts are key to our understanding of the society. Even more recently, Bohemian Coffee Houses from the 50s where people listened to readings of the latest Beat Poetry link that poetry to the subculture in a totally iconic way. So the arts are important, even vital.
No-one expects a GM to be an art expert, and no player would stand still for a long dissertation on art. But a little goes a long way, and is very definitely better than nothing. What we care about for campaign development, in general terms, are how the arts interact with the lives of the ordinary citizens. Decorative weapons and hilts, the style of sculptures and such at temples and churches, do people go to the theater – things like that, which clearly influence the look-and-feel of the culture.
I listed four distinct arts at the start of this section; a short paragraph on what’s popular and what’s famous in each of them is enough for players and the GM to hit the high points without wasting time on a lot of research. I would add one final paragraph on what art would be present in the typical family home, and perhaps another on what would be on display in public places that PCs are likely to go – inns, bars, perhaps a typical corporate headquarters in a more contemporary or futuristic era.
We’ve already made some decisions about the religion of the society, but as yet nothing substantive about what the actual theology is. It’s time to correct that. There are three basic areas of significance under the general heading of Theology, and I would write a paragraph on each.
The first is the creation myth, if any, in a nutshell. This is sometimes a manifestation of wider attitudes within the society, and is hardly ever in direct contradiction with those attitudes. It’s no coincidence that the theory of the Big Bang emerged during a period when science fiction was prophesying an explosive diaspora of mankind out into the galaxy – or that less “explosive” theories like the Steady State came into vogue when space exploration began to contract and people focused more on planet Earth. And now, with a more spasmodic interpretation of the Big Bang in favor, is it a coincidence that manned space flight is back on the agenda in the form of a mission to Mars? Maybe, but there seems too much of a coincidence about it for this pattern to be dismissed. You can also see something similar in the way that Biblical accounts of creation were interpreted during the ages of wind-power exploration in comparison with the interpretations that were in vogue before the Reformation – or so I’ve been told, I’m not an expert on religious beliefs of the period. What I do know is that a little consistency in this respect helps reinforce the overall perception of the society, and that alone makes this effort worthwhile.
The second item is the religious influence on what is considered acceptable behavior and what is not. This goes beyond what is considered criminal, to cover all the more petty standards of behavior that tend to be ingrained into citizens from childhood.
The third and final item are what the theology has tried to suppress, either successfully or unsuccessfully, and in particular, what superstitions persist despite serious efforts at undermining them.
Both of these items are useful for adding a touch of the “native society” to characters, be they PCs or NPCs.
Of course, there was something that was very obviously not included in the discussion on Theology – how people worship – the forms, the timings, and so on. What are the religious practices of the society?
How are people educated? Is classroom attendance mandatory? At what ages are people normally permitted to leave school and begin to make their own way in the world? Are there any forbidden subjects? Are there any peculiarities?
Yet another aspect of a racial write-up that can consume vast amounts of time and effort, often of little value, especially since the most worthwhile parts would form part of the background development of individual adventures. Instead, I divide recent history into three smaller subjects that are just enough for players and GMs to play characters deriving from the society.
This is a fairly obvious one, there’s not a lot to say. Are there any races that this race/society particularly gets on with? Are there any that they particularly dislike? Are there any who have changed from one category to another – that tends to be the result of fairly dramatic and interesting events that leave all sorts of marks on a society! Simple questions, profound answers.
Current Social Issues
What are the social problems and questions that are most pressing? What are the ones that are most important in the minds of the public? What is being done about them? Do the people support this plan, do they consider it wrong or inadequate in some way?
Hot Topics of Conversation
Outside of social problems, what are the most prevalent subjects of casual conversation? What are the subjects that everyone has an opinion on, or an interest in?
Distilled Cultural Essence & other further reference
There are a lot more simple questions like this that can be used to flesh out and define a society. This formed the basis of the first major series that I wrote here at Campaign Mastery, one that I can still happily recommend today: Distilled Cultural Essence (Four parts).
In addition to that series, there are seven other articles here at Campaign Mastery that are relevant to this subject, or to aspects thereof. In order of publication, they are:
And, beyond those references, last year Campaign Mastery hosted a round of the Blog Carnival in which the subject was “Location, Location, Location!” This link is to the Carnival Wrap-up page which describes and links to each of the articles – check them out for additional useful material and ideas.
Organizations & Relationships
Each race is likely to be the home of at least one organization of public note, possibly more. While the existence and basic (public) nature of these organizations and the relationships both between them and with authority should be known to all the players, regardless of race, those races whose homelands host the central authority or ruling body of an organization are likely to know a little more.
In a separate document, I create a list of organizations. It’s worth trolling through the campaign plan again to look for any organizations of note that get mentioned there. For each item on the list, I add a paragraph describing their purpose and public profile.
I then decide where they are most likely to have their headquarters, and why. Adding the location to the description, I also make an appropriate notation in the racial profile that we’ve been generating. I don’t proceed to this step until I have all the racial profiles done up to this point, which makes these choices a lot easier.
I add information to the racial profile that only members of that host culture will have noticed. There might be nothing, but that’s a little unusual. There might be a little more “personality” to the way the organization does things – that’s more appropriate. Or it might be something about how successful they are, or what sort of neighbors and citizens they make.
I then create a new document by copying the Organizations notes and name it “Organizations – GM’s Reference”. It starts with everything that’s already in the common player’s reference material, therefore. I copy and paste the additional information from the racial notes into this GM’s file – this helps ensure consistency in the handling of each organization every time they are encountered.
In the GM’s reference, I make notes on any organizations that are more than they seem, or not what they publicly claim to be, and what they are really up to. Finally, I make notes on relationships between organizations, and between organizations and authority. In some cases, where it will be reasonably publicly apparent, I will also annotate the racial profile with information on the relationship between the authorities of that culture and an organization.
The goal is always to make sure that the players have all the information that they need to play their characters, and that the GM has all the information that he needs to keep track of what is really going on.
There are two additional sources that I should point out under this heading:
The Keys to The Ten
We’re now approaching the end of this phase of the campaign creation process. In fact, it only remains to do a little bit of final housekeeping – integrating the three Nexii into the campaign plan.
Part Zero: Introduction/Grounding
Before the Nexii begin, ie before the players begin to work out what they think is going on within the campaign, there is a necessary indoctrination period. This might be completely contained by pre-campaign briefing notes, it may come to an end in the course of the first adventure, or it may even last until almost the end of that first adventure. Certainly, by the time that the second adventure starts it should have come to an end, or have started to do so. In Babylon 5, this phase occupied most of the first season, and was all about working out how Babylon-5 could/would function.
The transitions between Nexii layers don’t have to be hard and fast. It can be a gathering of clues/experiences that slowly add up into a complete picture. You decide when to pull the trigger that makes it seemingly clear.
Beginning, Middle, and End
Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Each nexus is connecting tissue that relates one plotline to another, and that imbues those plotlines that are connected in this way with common characteristics. It might be members of a particular organization, or employees of a particular individual, or a particular plot against something the PCs care about (including against them) or even something more diffuse and abstract, such as a general impression that everything’s going to hell in a hand-basket for lots of little reasons.
Now that you have connected each of the Nexii with background elements, its’ time to finalize the integration of each Nexus into the campaign plan by locating the beginning of the beginning, the beginning of the middle, the beginning of the end – and the end-point of the Nexus within various adventures as seems appropriate. The beginning is the gathering of clues that suggest a connection between events, the middle starts when the players can no longer deny that there is a connection and need to react accordingly, the end is when they know, or begin to discover, the particulars of who and why the connection exists, and why it should matter to them.
Tone & Content
Once the various key stage markers have been matched to plot events, it’s time to think about what “plot look-and-feel” elements you are going to have in common to all the adventures that are being bound together. This is often nothing more than a common tonal value – gritty and grim, or gothically spectacular, or whatever. In the original Fumanor campaign, it was simply a growing awareness that all sorts of groups and individuals were paying unusually close attention to the PCs – themselves not really knowing why – and that the PCs kept getting caught in the fringes of things that were going on in the city they were inhabiting at the time. Eventually this culminated in the discovery of a Drow Double-agent, seemingly bringing an end to that entire plot arc; at first, he had seen them as something he could employ to distract people from what he was doing, then they became an irritant and distraction, then something he could take advantage of directly, then a direct threat as they began to close in. Only after he was exposed, and the PCs discovered that the Drow were masterminding a military campaign against the realm by Orcs, did they learn why the Drow – and various unrelated groups – were really so interested in them, as the main plot (the quest to choose the 13th Deity) started.
Ultimately, what you need to document is what impact each Nexus is going to have on the adventures experienced by the PCs. This binds the nexii to the campaign plan and to each of the PC races and archetypes who will be affected, effectively linking the PCs who will eventually be generated to the campaign plan, and making them a part of the campaign world.
We’re moving toward an end-point. With the completion of these notes, the skeletal outlines of the campaign are almost complete (there’s some minor bones, tendons, and cartilage still to add) but we’re just about at the point of putting some serious meat on these bare bones. Creating everything in note form makes it faster to create and change things, and to keep an eye on the big picture, but its time to start filling in the gaps. Actually, the racial and archetype profiles that we assembled in the course of this article will go a long way toward doing that, so you could say that we’ve already started. We’ve created a lot of spaces and labeled them “meat goes here”, to extent the metaphor. So, next time: Enfleshing!
You wouldn’t be a GM if you didn’t keep having ideas. It is to be expected that quite a number of them will have occurred to you in the course of the work described in this phase of the campaign creation process. Hopefully you’ve done as recommended in earlier parts of the series and kept a note of these in your ideas file, because you’re about to need them…