Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Olden Domain - How I'm Doing It

So I have flyers out and the beginnings of the campaign are finished.

You know what else I've done?


I have this sheet of hex paper with tiny-ass hexes on it, and it isn't filled in any more than that player's starter map on the Olden Domain mailing list site.

I have a basic sketch for one of the dungeons (where the mega-dungeon will be), and a few random encounter tables.

I have a full notebook page of ideas for locations (just lists, mostly), with a rough idea for level spreads and themes, and how they are connected.

But detailed maps?

Not one. And no keys made for these maps that don't exist.

The way I'm doing my sandbox is to not touch anything until somebody says they want to visit. Then I will pour my current ideas into that location, decide what clues that location will have for locating other locations, as they are encountered. This ensures that I don't have to be committed to detailing The Great Pyramid tomorrow because it's the next closest thing on a map I made six months ago if I really want to showcase a brand new idea I had yesterday.

Nothing exists until someone wants to go there!

Wasted creativity, and especially tearing your hair out detailing every damn thing before knowing if it will ever be used, is a referee killer.

What if The Olden Domain absolutely bombs and nobody wants to play in it? (eek!) No time wasted on detailing locations within it.

What if people get excited about that mega-dungeon and don't want to bother with the rest of the wilderness? Or what if they want to explore as much as possible and not fool around with a huge hole in the ground?

I can accommodate their wishes without having any investment in the locations they leave behind. I really hate making a dungeon, leaning on the players to check out this really cool place, and then have them go somewhere else. There is this pull within me to railroad them into it anyway, when the correct thing to do is just let go.

I'm looking at this little sandbox I've planned, and I'm astounded by the enormity of it. To do this properly, there must always be first level-appropriate places to handle the needs of new players (and new/replacement characters!), while also being a succession of locations suitable for whatever level after that. I could sit down and write enough to match the entire output of 1E TSR and still not have a thoroughly detailed setting. At the same time, I don't feel totally comfortable winging an entire dungeon. Sure, "Location #5, Kitchen," I can improvise off of that handily, but I want to know where the kitchen is before anyone walks in the door.

So I'm not even going to start the process yet (OK, I might sketch out a few maps for my own amusement...). I have ideas, but that's how it stays until someone steps through that door.


  1. Sounds like a reasonable way to go about things. I've run a few 'seat-o-the-pants' campaigns. Typically, aside from a few notes about outlying areas, I began with a fairly fleshed-out "Hearth" setting, be it an inn or a village or maybe a walled town. Some bastion of civilization that the adventurers would find themselves returning to for food, supplies, possibly whores.

  2. I've done that before...But only for my daughters. While I'm decent at seat-of-your-pants DMing, I'm horrid at taking notes, thus maintaining any uniformity. Remembering the name of the inn keeper is fine if s/he's some kind of central NPC, but recalling the name of the groom's helper can be a pain. And that's just names.

    It gets worse if they're moving quickly and you've come up with an off the cuff encounter that incorporates an area... Egads, I've had disappearing glades and groves before due to my hideous lack of note-taking.

    Problem with me is that I don't write quickly enough, and my handwriting is atrocious, so if I take my time to properly jot down salient points, then there's this odd break in the game. That sucks.

    I like the idea though James. You sound like you're a very organized person (from previous posts) and you're certainly creative enough to come up with ideas on the fly that don't "feel" half-baked. If it were me, the advice I'd find most useful would be to take notes, both in game as well as post game.

    But I'm sure you've got that under control...

    Good luck on your 'Olden Domain' campaign. Sounds like a hoot.

  3. James, you just described how I have done most of my campaigns. My Carcosa campaign has been largely created by the seat of my pants as the players explore the map. Some people have expressed surprise at how little is drawn on the published Carcosa hex map. That's because that's all I have on that map!

    What you're doing, James, is honest-to-God campaigning. I think that published RPG products (such as modules and campaign settings) skew most of our perceptions of the reality of playing D&D. Who the devil writes a 128-page tome for his campaign setting before playing? Who writes 64 pages of descriptions for his dungeon before playing? Etc.

    I strongly support what you're doing here. Simply pour the current contents of your imagination into your current session, and let tomorrow take care of itself.

  4. What your describing is how I've ran my campaigns for the past 18 years now. I always start small, waaay small. A simple village & that's really about it. Period. The innkeeper is "Innkeeper", the Blacksmith is "Smithy", etc. Unless they're crucial to the ongoing campaign, I don't care what their names are &, more importantly, neither do my players.

    I always have a few random dungeon maps I've doodled at somepoint on hand, so I can easily throw the players into the thick of it. When the players get the itch to start exploring the land beyond, I just make sure to take notes of what I describe to them, so as to keep the continuity straight. One of the best tools I bought myself for gaming was a minirecorder; it not only saves me time, but in the heat of running the game, I know my own handwriting looks about as decipherable as a doctors' prescription. After the adventure, I can rewind, take proper notes, & fill in any details as needed.

    I myself have never been disciplined enough to sit down & really create a true, honest to goodness adventure module or campaign setting; they just kind of evolve over time.