Dungeoncraft From Dragon Magazine 256 Ray Winninger Last month, we resolved some basic logistical and administrative issues-how many players is best, what rulebooks to use, and so forth. With that out of the way, it's time to start creating the campaign environment. Before we start play, before we even attempt to design our first adventure, we should flesh out the campaign world. What's our fantasy world like? What sort of adventures await our brave players? These are a couple of the more basic questions. Before we go too far, though, it's time to introduce you to the First Rule of Dungeoncraft: Never force yourself to create more than you must. Write this rule on the inside cover of your Dungeon Master Guide. Failure to obey the First Rule has been the downfall of too many campaigns. You shouldn't feel compelled to create more information or detail than you'll need to conduct the next couple of game sessions. When some DMs sit down to create a new campaign, they are strongly tempted to draw dozens of maps, create hundreds of NPCs, and write histories of the campaign world stretching back thousands of years. While having this sort of information at your disposal can't hurt, it probably won't help-not for a long time yet. Spending lots of time on extraneous details now only slows you down, perhaps to the point where you lose interest in the game before it starts. For now, the goal is to figure out exactly what information you'll need to conduct your first few game sessions. You can fill in the holes later, as it becomes necessary. This approach not only gets you up and playing as quickly as possible but also keeps your options open and allows you to tailor the campaign around the input of the players and the outcome of their adventures. In this spirit, you should aim to start your campaign as soon as you can, while doing as little preliminary design as possible.
With that in mind, you face an important decision at the start. You must choose whether you want to use a published AD&D setting or create one of your own. As usual, there are both advantages and disadvantages associated with either path. TSR's settings were all created by expert game designers, so they're full of great ideas. They also come packaged with professionally crafted maps and play aids, and there are dozens of published adventures available for most of them, which might help you get through the occasional dry spell during which you don't feel like creating your own adventures. Surprisingly, however, none of the settings is terribly appropriate for inexperienced Dungeon Masters. Most of them concentrate on presenting the sort of information that's unlikely to directly influence an actual game session for quite some time (detailed histories, cultural backgrounds, etc). Creating your own setting, on the other hand, requires you to begin from scratch. Ultimately, you must generate your own maps and supply your own ideas. While this can be challenge, successfully tackling it is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have with the AD&D game. For the purposes of future columns, I'm going to assume that you'll be creating your own campaign world. If you'd rather use one of the TSR settings, the advice in "Dungeoncraft" will still be useful. You'll be surprised how much of the work that goes into starting a new campaign remains the same under both options. If you decide to use a published setting, you might be able to skip a few of the steps that follow, but we'll probably catch up to you within the next column or two. Note that those of you who create your own settings should still take the time to browse through the various AD&D supplements and adventure modules down at your local hobby shop, even those specifically tailored to one of TSR's published settings. Most of TSR's AD&D material is easily adapted to just about any campaign setting with relatively little effort. Later, you can look to the occasional
module for a welcome and temporary relief from your design duties. Starting the World How does one go about creating an entire fantasy world from scratch? After all, it sounds like a lot of work. The secret is to remember the First Rule and to keep in mind that "creating the world" is what you and your players are going to do together over the next several weeks, months, or years of play. For now, your job is to create only those details necessary to get the ball rolling. Your starting point is the world's basic concept or "hook." Most successful AD&D settings have a single, easily digested characteristic that makes them unique and interesting. Ultimately, it's this concept that captures your players' imaginations and draws them into the game. Making an imaginary world come to life is one of the most difficult tasks you face as the Dungeon Master. The more unique and interesting your world, the easier it will be for your players to accept its reality. A good "hook" goes a long way toward immediately signaling the world's unique characteristics to the players. Think about your favorite fantasy worlds from books, movies and games and try to identify what it is about each of these settings that makes it different from all the rest. Try to express these differences in no more than a paragraph or a few sentences. This is exactly the sort of distinguishing characteristic or hook you need for your own world. Most hooks can be broken down into five categories: culture, environment, class/race, opposition, and situations. Culture Perhaps your game world is set against a cultural backdrop not encountered in the typical AD&D game. For instance, you could run a game based on the cultures of ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, or the ancestors of the American Indians. You can then set about adapting the AD&D game's magic systems, character classes, and monsters to this new environment. Depending upon the culture you choose, TSR has published some excellent
sourcebooks and settings that might inspire you. Some of these titles are out-of-print, but you might be able to find them at local stores, game conventions, or Internet auction sites. While settings based on cultural hooks can be interesting and rewarding, they're often difficult to create. To do a good job of adapting the AD&D rules to your chosen backdrop, you'll probably have to do some serious research and maybe a little game design to patch the few holes that pop up. For a detailed example of the sort of work involved, pick up any of the TSR products mentioned in the sidebars. One obvious benefit of a cultural hook is that it has the potential to tell you and your players an awful lot about the game world. If you base your game around an ancient Egyptian culture, for instance, you know something about the setting (largely desert), some of the adventures the players can expect (exploring hidden tombs), some of the monsters the players are likely to encounter (sphinxes, the phoenix, various desert serpents) and something about the world's mythology and theology (both based on ancient Egyptian beliefs). Environment Another option is to use a particular environment as your hook. Imagine a continent that consists almost exclusively of forests, mountains, swamps, jungles, deserts, or islands. Note that your choice of environment can also tell you a few things about your game world. The idea of a forest world, for instance, suggests that elves are more prevalent than they are in other AD&D settings. A desert world suggests that its cultures are largely nomadic and that finding drinkable water might be an important part of many adventures. A world that consists of an enormous archipelago suggests that seafaring will play an important role in the campaign. Class/Race You might also think about basing a hook around one or more of the AD&D game's character classes or races. Imagine a world in which all the player characters are members of an ancient order of wizards, or another in which
all the adventurers are members of rival orc tribes (in which case you might want The Complete Humanoids Handbook). Most of TSR's Class Handbooks give you some advice on how you might run an entire campaign built around a single character class. While campaigns built around such a hook can be lots of fun, they're often difficult to pull off. First of all, the various character classes and races work together to balance the AD&D rules. By tampering with the available choices, you can upset that balance. As an example, think about how much more difficult the average adventure becomes if none of the player characters are Clerics and the party has no access to healing spells. Similarly, lots of players prefer or dislike various roles. By limiting the available options up front, you're making it harder for some players to create characters they like. Opposition The most commonly encountered opposition is another possibility for an effective hook. In this instance, your campaign is dominated by a single monster or a closely related group of monsters. The exact monster you choose should suggest to yourself and your players something about the world. For instance, a world dominated by dinosaurs probably has a primitive "land that time forgot" appeal. Likewise, a world dominated by undead suggests that the campaign environment has been subjected to some sort of evil curse and that the ultimate aim of the player characters is to lift that curse. In fact, if you're interested in running this type of game, it's important that you select an adversary that suggests similar possibilities. Deciding that your campaign is set in a world dominated by stirges or umber hulks is bound to confuse your players and isn't likely to help you create the campaign environment. Situation Sometimes, a simple situation can serve as an effective campaign hook. Imagine, for instance, a world on the brink of apocalypse. Age-old prophecies predict that a great cataclysm will befall the