Creating a new campaign world together – the Dead Simple way

So you want to begin a new campaign, in a new world? Here is how to get started the Dead Simple way with almost no preparation whatsoever. It is not half as scary as it sounds, nor is there any need to create massive maps, populate them with nations, cities and peoples, design complex pantheons and long-winded histories.

One of the delights of running a campaign from scratch is that you can adapt and create the world around the players, based upon their characters’ actions and the players’ comments and perceptions.

You start with a table in the corner of a tavern and work your way out from there as the players’ characters explore their environs, go on adventures, and then weave a tale around them.

so, let the players ask questions about the Tavern; What is it called? Who runs it? Is it busy? What is the name of the Best Bitter? Take quick and dirty notes of your answers.

As they leave the Tavern you describe the street outside, that street leads to another and a village or town is born. Don’t name the street or the settlement it unless they ask. If they do then take notes.

They want to visit a smith to get kit, a stable to buy or hire horses, and grocer to get provisions, then off to the main gate to begin their adventure. If they ask the names of the people they meet, then tell them. Get used to doing names and physical descriptions on the fly but make a note of them as you go.

One trick I learned long ago about making up NPC names is to imagine what sort of territory you want the players to explore, then pick a similar region in the real world and use the common names from that area as your base stock. You can still throw in the odd strange name as these might be foreigners or immigrants. Common people tend to have simple names and no surnames. They are often known by their profession or have nicknames. The more wealthy the NPC the more complex their name and they might have a surname or house name.

If one of the players wants to write up their adventures, then encourage them to do so and if their memory of the smith is different to yours, then change yours. This encourages their engagement in the game, and reinforces the fact that your world is drawn from their perceptions of it.

So, they have reached the gate. Hopefully, their mysterious patron in the tavern will have given them some directions. For example: take the south road for half a day until you see some gallows, then turn left into the woods. Follow the path through the woods until you reach the ruined tower on the hill. Maps are rare and precious things, and only one in a thousand might have ever seen one. Medieval people were used to giving and receiving simple directions.

Give them some basic descriptions of the land they travel through, but do not descend into purple prose, you do not need to compete with Tolkien. If they ask for a bit more then add to it. There is little need to plan this in advance, just draw upon your own experiences. Consider that most people measured distances in the time it took to cover them, and the difficulty of the terrain they must cross. It’s half a day by horse or one day on foot sir. Take notes.

Throw in a couple of challenges along the way. Make at least one a physical challenge such as the bridge is down and the stream is a raging torrent, how do you cross? The other could be an opportunity for roleplay or combat. The elves who live in the woods want a good reason to let you pass through their territory, or a band of brigands do not want anyone else to get to the ruined tower before them.

So, each of the elements above are expanding the environment. There is; a road, where does it go?;  a stream and a broken bridge; who are these elves?; are the brigands well known and have prices on their heads? Take notes.

By the end of the first session, you will have notes on the tavern, the village or town, some of its inhabitants, the road south, and some of the people out there. The players will have led the exploration of all this and helped you create the first chapter of your campaign. You will have a record of everything they know about your world.

Many players like to write a little background for their characters. I always encourage this but advise them to keep it short and simple. In the past I have experimented with asking them to answer six or seven questions, each one with a single sentence. These can be brilliant for expanding your world.

For example: whom do you worship? Tell them they can name the deity themselves and must describe what the deity covers. Weave these little details into your new world, and later try to put a few into their adventures.

Remember that you are creating a story with them, not an entire world… yet.

The Notes

Once the session is over sort your notes. I know some GMs who write each thing on a Post-it Note, which they stick to the back of their GM’s Shield, then only afterwards commit it to paper. Others who use lever arch files divided into sections or index cards (which is what I used to do).

The important thing is to begin to create a level of consistency in your new world.

Personally, I use Microsoft One Note, which is like a digital lever arch file, with one page for each location and sub-pages for specific buildings/settings, NPCs, interactions with players etc.

Stuff the players know I put in one colour text and stuff they don’t yet I put in another.

For example: They have met the Town Smith.

What they know is: they asked his name and I called him ‘Charlie’. They bought a list of stuff, and it cost a little more than that in the rules.

What they don’t know is: that he has sold them sub-standard gear for twice what it is actually worth. This may later come apparent if they decide to use an iron spike to hold a rope for climbing and it snaps under the fighter’s weight. Cue an angry discussion with the smith when they get back.

One Note is great as it puts all this information on my laptop that I use to GM from. I do have a hankering to return to index cards though.

The Power of Images

One of the things that I like to do when I have downtime is to peruse image sites like Instagram and Pinterest. You would be amazed at the tens of thousands of images suitable for use in Fantasy roleplaying games.

There are beautiful pictures of; characters and NPCs of every gender, class and race; settings such as towns, dungeons, and wilderness areas; every well-known monster and as many new and unique ones too, and; mounts, vehicles, equipment, magic items etc.

Every image that I think is useful I snip, give it an appropriate name, and store in a series of themed folders. If the artist’s name is available, I add that to the image name as I believe in attribution. For some of the artists I really like I try to fund them through their Patreon pages. Before you wonder how much that costs, I spend about $10 per month on half a dozen artists work.

Then, during the game, I can conjure up these images to give the players a view of what I am describing.

With our retreat to VTTs during these trying times, many of us have come to value the many location and battle maps we can import to our desktops. We have become used to creating tokens for characters, NPCs, monsters, and items. This art repository I have created acts as my library for these.

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Dead Simple 8th Edition Character Sheet

The excellent Ian Caldwell has produced an excellent character sheet for the 8th edition of Dead Simple.

You can find it in the Rules Downloads page.

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The Waltzin’ Dead

Every Zombie RPG & boardgame I have come across features the zombies as brainless monsters. There to be slain in their droves.

Seldom does anyone think about the Zombies themselves. They were people once and many still have a few memories and ambitions, though their capabilities are somewhat diminished.

The Waltzin’ Dead is a 2D6 system roleplaying game in which and your friends awake as zombies in small mid-western town in the good ol’ US of A. The two page rules give you pretty much everything you need to create unique zombie characters and send them off in search of a substantial meal…

You can find the rules at the bottom of the Downloads page.

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Lamplight RPG – 2nd Edition

Thanks to the eagle-eyes and proof-reading abilities of my friends I have revised the 1st edition.

You can find the second edition at the bottom of the Rules Downloads page.

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Lamplight – Random map generator

A friend of mine called Tim asked if I had considered a random generator to create maps for the mines and for solo-play. One quick flash of inspiration later and I’d knocked up a one page generator – which you can now find in the Rules Downloads.

However, I had not tested it as I did not have the time. So this morning, with a few minutes to spare I used it to create a small map for a section of the mines – voila!

Random Mines map for Lamplight

I took some graph paper, a pencil, a couple of pens and 2d6. The generator produced all the detail you see above in about five minutes. Not bad eh?

The thing to understand when you use random tables like this is that it cannot cover everything. Thus you have to apply a little of your own creativity, e.g.:

  • I chose which direction the tunnels came out of the caverns (erroneously called ‘chambers’ on the map), and how many.
  • I added cart rails to a couple of tunnels to connect caverns that had randomly generated cart rails.
  • I made a little key for the symbols I invented.
  • If I rolled one cavern straight after another I put a small connecting tunnel between them (i.e. from cavern 2 to cavern 3).

Then I ran the Encounter table across each cavern, and produced what you see above.

  • Cavern 1: 3 Brigands scavenging for equipment and maybe Orichalcum. They probably don’t want a fight if outnumbered. You can choose to roll Hostility on that or make your own mind up.
  • Cavern 2: Nothing.
  • Cavern 3: A Slith. These have spells so I rolled three times on the Spell table in Lamplight 3 – Foul Sorcery & Thaumaturgy. I got Counter-magic twice so I re-rolled the second one.
  • Cavern 4: A Man’o’War – could be a tough fight for a new party, so I ignored the die roll saying there should be 3 of them, and just put 1 in there.
  • Cavern 5: 2 lost miners, who probably engineered the roof fall to keep the Man’o’War at bay.

I think that this map would probably cover an evening’s play. Then it’s breaking through the roof-fall, saving the miners and into the caverns beyond!

Note: If there does not seem to be enough loot, just hide some for the players to search for.

So, there you go. Try it out and if you have a fun session please tell me about it, or send a like to your blog or wherever you write it up.

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Lamplight Fantasy RPG

“Since the death of the King and most of his Great Knights, the land of Albion has been plagued with many ancient terrors.
The characters have banded together to search out and destroy the terrors surrounding and below the mining village of Lamplight. The locals are happy to see them and are supporting them with what little they have.”

fantasy

An inspiring piece for Cadwallon, by the inestimable Paul Bonner.

This is my latest venture into writing a very simple fantasy roleplaying game. This time I have abandoned the old 1d20 and moved to a 2d6-based system. The main mechanic is very easy to pick up and allows for considerable character development.

I have also returned to the two-page, three column format after a lot of players asked me to do so. Some people like booklets and some like two-pagers, so here you all go.

You can find the rules and the first three setting supplements on the Downloads page, just scroll right to the bottom. Further expansions are in the works and most will be 1-4 pages in length.

If you find any typos or illogicalities please let me know so that I can improve these rules further. The best place to discuss them is on the Dead Simple Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1411598512466256

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Dead Simple RPG – 8th Edition

So, here it is, the idiot edition.

I call it the ‘idiot edition‘ as, until you good people have trawled through it and pointed out all my obvious errors, and I have corrected them, it will not become the official 8th edition.

Most significant changes to the rules and the text are in blue, and there are some significant changes which I hope you will see as a natural evolution to the game.

These are the player’s rules, so I am now working on the GM’s rules, including a fairly comprehensive set of monsters and races for your players to go all murder-hobo on 🙂

You will find it in the Rules Downloads page, right at the top.

I am now retreating to my writer’s bunker to await the storm.

As usual the best place to comment is on the Facebook Page:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/1411598512466256/

 

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IHMN Adventures RPG

I am currently running a campaign using my new DS game – IHMN Adventures.

This is based in the In Her Majesty’s Name universe my friend Charles and I created for our skirmish games. The advantage of doing this is that most of the background, and quite a few of the NPCs are already described in detail.

The crew includes two RPG Grognards, one with some experience and two complete novices. I am pleased to say that the two novices picked up the rules very quickly and were pretty much familiar with them by the end of the first session.

The set-up is that they are people with extraordinary skills and abilities who have been recruited into the Department for Extraordinary Exigencies. This is led by Mycroft Holmes and includes some members of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as senior members with whom the player characters will occasionally interact.

The year is 1895 and the Ripper appears to be stalking Whitechapel, and causing widespread consternation amongst the lower classes and various immigrant communities.

The team, as their first mission together, are being sent to assist Chief Inspector Rush of F Division (and yes I am ripping off the BBC’s Ripper Street).

whitec12

The first session consisted of them examining the bodies in F Divisions Ice Cellar, roaming Whitechapel questioning witnesses and friends of the victims, getting in touch with the criminal underworld and discovering there have been more murders than the Police are aware of.

Creating a list of the missing body parts from each victim, they are beginning to come to the conclusion that someone is constructing a new body. For what purpose they are unsure.

They are also beginning to suspect that two, well-dressed and swarthy men – one with a magnificent mustache – have something to do with this.

whitec11.jpg

No combat or tactical situations in the first game, and the rules are standing up very well to investigation work. Plenty for each character to do.

The next session shall be in a fortnight and I shall report back here on the shenanigans that result as I begin to increase the pace and danger levels for the team.

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Dead Simple – Seventh Edition update

With the assistance of a few stout fellows we now have a proofed and improved draft of the seventh edition. I have replaced the file in the downloads section with this new version.

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Dead Simple Fantasy – 7th Edition

Ladies, gentlemen and you at the back,

I am pleased to release the first full draft of seventh edition. This has been a labour of love/hate/frustration over the last year or two (do not ask about sixth edition, it is not pretty).

You will find this slim, fourteen page, booklet at the top of the rules downloads page.

Although this has been play-tested with my local victims I look forwards to all your questions and nit-picks 🙂 A good place to communicate with me is on the Dead Simple RPG Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1411598512466256/?ref=bookmarks

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