Bare Bones Setting

I’m starting an open table game February 10th (this Sunday), and I’m writing a series of articles about how I’m going about preparing for the game. After the game starts I’ll continue the series with articles about how play progresses.

Last time I wrote about the character creation process I’m using for this campaign.

Today’s topic is the bare-bones “setting” I’ll have in place for the first session, and a bit about how I intend it to grow during play.

For the past few years I begin most of my campaigns in the same way, essentially creating a new version of the same campaign setting for each game. Continuity is generally preserved during a particular campaign (i.e. with the same gaming group), but I want each new group to have their chance to spin the world off in an interesting direction, and I also want to give myself a fresh view on the setting, so I do a “reset” for each separate game group.

This is what I start with:

At this point, I know Haven Town fairly well. It serves as the PCs’ home base, and is considered safe (i.e. any expedition can begin or end there without risk). Multiple groups have spent varying amounts of time in Haven Town over the years. Interesting NPCs have been developed, and a bit of the landscape of the town, but for each new game I give myself permission to change these details in response to the particular happenings in th new game.

Raven Hill is a large enough feature to house multiple dungeons, and indeed it does! There are several entrances from the ruins on its peak, and from caves (hidden and obvious) along its shoulders. I usually place the same few dungeons upon Raven Hill, but again, I give myself permission to change these up depening on how things develop.

For this open table game, the first session is going to begin at the entrance to one of the dungeons on Raven Hill.

The Town of Brack, and the other mysterious features on the map, are meant to be hooks that draw the players out into exploration of the wilderness. Brack is in dangerous territory (a swamp), and it is placed far enough from Haven to entail a non-trivial expedition for beginning characters. There are also rumours that Brack itself is dangerous and crime-ridden. The precise nature of Brack, of course, will be determined during play.

For the other features, I try to come up with new ones each time.

The above is the limit of what I’m going to write about the setting before the first session, and probably for a while after that (though this will depend on what expedition the players choose for sessions after the ifirst).

My primary aim in using this structure are probably pretty clear: I want to give the players lots of interesting places on the map to explore once they tire of exploring the first dungeon (which is itself placed a little way outside town).

In starting afresh with each game group, I’m also giving myself some fun: I like to play to find out what happens just as much as the players (hopefully) do. Though I can guess, with pretty good accuracy, what is behind most of the features on the map at this point, I don’t set it for sure (write it down) until I’ve had a little input from the players – just in terms of seeing what kinds of places they want to explore, what kinds of problems they want to solve.

If the players end up returning again and again to the first dungeon until they’ve cleared it entirely (though that would take some doing), I probably won’t add too much detail to the wilderness features for some time, though I may add a bit of background to Haven as they spend time there recovering & preparing.

Needless to say, every feature on the map is as full as Raven Hill: there are dungeons even within the town of Haven, if one cares to look. There’s plent of room for this world to expand down as well as out.

In the next article I’ll take a look at the first dungeon on Raven Hill.


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This page last updated: 2019.02.06