I’m here today with Tracy of Exploding Rogue Studios to talk about collaboration in campaign building and gaming. Tracy is a game designer, writer, and all-around awesome person who is currently running a Kickstarter for an expansion of the setting Iron Edda: War of Metal and Bone. It’s a really cool project and you should really check it out!
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Hey there, I’m Tracy. I’m one half of Exploding Rogue Studios, and I really don’t like building campaigns all by myself. I’ve written a full campaign setting in Iron Edda: War of Metal and Bone, and there’s a lot of content you can use for a campaign. However, I also included a way that the GM doesn’t have to do all the work to prep the setting for their group. In fact, the players do it all.
Questions, questions, questions
You might not be comfortable or used to the idea of players having input in the immediate area that their characters will start in. I felt the same way, but always thought that I needed to handle that work, even though I didn’t care for it. Then I played Apocalypse World for the first time, and I saw how it didn’t have to be that way. To establish the setting (this was a con game), the GM asked us a lot of questions, then dug a little deeper after we’d answered.
I adapted that technique for War of Metal and Bone. War contains random tables (because gamers love random tables), and at the start of every campaign, each player takes turns rolling up a question and answering it. They also draw something on a map of the setting to represent their answer (an idea from The Quiet Year.) The GM writes down the answers, and once every player is done, the GM has a page full of plot hooks, and the players have something even more important than that: engagement.
You might not play War of Metal and Bone (you should), but you can adapt the techniques to your own game. It doesn’t matter if you’re using a pre-written campaign setting, or something you’ve written yourself. In either case, the first step is knowledge.
Here’s how you can try it:
Know the setting
You, the GM, need to know the setting. You need to have details you can fill in for the players as they ask questions. For War of Metal and Bone, it means knowing the Warrior Clans, knowing about Midgard and the lands around it, about how Bonebonded work, as well as seers and runescribed. Basically, absorb the setting to the point you can be a primary source of information.
Have questions ready
Some games that employ this technique might already have questions prepared for you. If you’re playing a more traditional game, you’ll need to come up with your own. You can be as general, or as specific as you’d like. You can decide this depending on what kind of game you’re wanting to run. If you’re really good with total player input, as general questions and narrow things down with follow-ups. If you know you want a fantasy spy-thriller game, ask things like “A notable agent from the Kingdom of Helbane was assassinated. Where is the dead drop where it happened, and how are the goblins of Helbane reacting?”
And, most importantly…
Be ready for player input
Seems obvious, right? Ask questions, and you’re going to get input. But you might get things you didn’t bargain for. NPCs you didn’t know existed until the player came up with them. Relationships between NPCs you couldn’t have anticipated. This is a golden moment for the rule of “yes, and” or “yes, but.” Accept what the players say, and run with it. Unless the responses they give you run absolutely counter to how the setting works, roll with it. Take what they give you and make it your own. This is my favorite part of this process, because you get to mess with the players now. Take the example question, above. Let’s say the player answers:
“The dead drop was behind Old Otis’ shack, and the body was found by Jesena, the stable girl. The goblins of Helbane aren’t doing anything yet, because the spy was supposed to be secret.”
Good stuff. Now you get to decide that Jesena has been seeing shadowy figures on her way to and from the stables, and she’s coming to that player for help. Or, better still, you decide that Jesena is that player’s close relation or somesuch. Make it personal (assuming you’re not violating the character concept in the same way you’re asking the players to not violate the setting).
Deciding to give the players say over the hooks and starting point of a campaign creates buy-in and engagement. It can be tricky to set the right boundaries (on both sides), but I think it’s totally worth your time.