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Doc, the Weasel

Session 0 - Involving Players in Campaign Creation

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Our group just finished our last game out and are now moving on to EotE. This time around, instead of writing a short campaign, I decided to try my hand at having the players do it. 


 


The plan is to have a "Session 0," before the game begins. I normally do something like this to make characters, but this time the players will be hashing out the details of the setting and then make characters. 


 


What I hope to walk away from this session with is a set of NPCs and locations that are tied to both each other and the PCs. From there, I'll make an adventure for the party.


 


I've seen this kind of thing in games such as The Dresden Files and Smallville, but have never tried it. What I hope to gain from it is to have a party that is intimately tied into what is going on. With this game specifically, I didn't want to have a "main" setting/npcs/plots, with everyone having their own little personal settings through their Obligations. 


 


The other thing I want to see is how much less work this is for me as a GM. This one may be hard, because my normal process is a lot of work up front and less week to week. This process inverts it a little, so it may be hard to compare.


 


I plan on writing up my planned process in the next day or two, and then following up with how it plays out (we meet this Saturday). By posting it here, I'm hoping to a) solicit feedback and ideas and b) share with others who may be interested in doing this.


 


Does anyone have any experience with games that do this? Are there any pitfalls to avoid or advice to make it better?

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At this point, at least one VERY important NPC to the plot has been made entirely from my PC's backstory that they gave me.  

As a rule of thumb, I think this is an awesome idea, since the more involved the PCs are with the story and the events in it, the more they will care about it, thus the more fun they will have.  I think you're really going to enjoy keeping it as a combined effort.  It is a really fun approach to it all.

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Have you played FFG Warhammer? Have a friend that owns a copy? There is a 10-part questionnaire for new characters asking key questions about their past. Who is your best friend? Your worst enemy? Describe your family. Etc.  When I started a Warhammer campaign I emailed these 10 questions out to players. When I got them back my campaign was pretty much created for me after putting the pieces together.

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This is basically what I did with my son. He described his background: his family was wealthy, and Gramps owned a mine. He'd been sent in Gramp's ship to deliver a parcel to someone who couldn't be found, and when he returned the mine was empty of all sentient life. Baffled and confused, he searched the holonet for news, and only found two things: a PR stating that company X had bought the mine, and a short piece about an explosion aboard a luxury ship, casualties supposedly including Gramps and other family members.

So now it's my job to fill in the blanks, and provide clues, distractions, red herrings, etc. It's great because we continue to riff off each other as the story progresses. I haven't tried it with a larger group, though I'm hoping to.

Edited by whafrog

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On my phone so sadly can't go hunting for links. Microscope was a system made for rpg world building. Fiasco is a collaborative storytelling game that you could steal some ideas from.

Failing that have everyone come with at least their obligations picked out (or rolled right at the start of the session) have them create one fact about their character and establish a relationship with a PC or NPC (which they can invent) then go around to the next player.

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OK, so how am I going about doing this? What I want to walk out of that first meeting with are a group of NPCs (faces), Locations, and connections between them. This is taken from my normal process in creating a campaign.

 

Here's what I think is important, and how the pieces all interact.

 

Faces

These are the NPCs that the characters regularly interact with. The important thing I want to focus on when building them is what they can do, what they want, how they relate to other NPCs, and if they support or buck the status quo. 

 

I really want to drive home the status quo thing, especially for driving the creation of more NPCs. If we create a crimelord that is part of the established status quo, we then ask who is running counter to that. Likewise, if there is a Rebel agent in town (against the SQ), then who are they working against (or maybe someone is hunting them)? If we do this right, we should end up with a living setting in which action is already taking place without the characters.

 

Locations

These are the primary places that the campaign will take place at. If this were a TV show, these would be built as permanent sets because they would see a lot of use. 

 

Locations should be tied to faces, and vice versa. When we create a place, we should ask who is there to meet. Likewise when we create a person, we should ask where we can find them. There doesn't have to be a 1:1 relationship; one face could have multiple hangouts, or a single location can be home to many faces. In general, though, there should be at least a single pairing per location/face.

 

Planets

These are just groups of locations that are geographically or thematically linked. Despite the name, these don't have to be literal planets; they could just as easily be space stations, inhabited asteroid fields, etc. 

 

The key feature is that they have multiple locations. So if the party only goes to a space station to meet at this one bar, then it's just a location. If there are also steam tunnels where transactions take place, and a bridge where the station's Commander regularly meets with the party to give them missions, then it's a "planet."

 

By focusing on planets, we can start making sense of the conflicts between local NPCs and distill the issues into something more universal. 

 

 

My goal for the first session is to have around 3 planets, with 12 locations, 12 faces (total, not each). This is just a benchmark. If we end up with 9 locations and 14 faces, then I will have done my job. This should be enough to run 3 adventures from (which is my baseline goal). 

 

I'll post my plans for how the session will actually play out in a little while. I've also been working on some forms to help facilitate it all.

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Have you played FFG Warhammer? Have a friend that owns a copy? There is a 10-part questionnaire for new characters asking key questions about their past. Who is your best friend? Your worst enemy? Describe your family. Etc.  When I started a Warhammer campaign I emailed these 10 questions out to players. When I got them back my campaign was pretty much created for me after putting the pieces together.

 

Yes I indeed have played WFRP 3ed (check out my sig). In this case, we'll be making those friends and enemies first, then making the characters themselves.

 

On my phone so sadly can't go hunting for links. Microscope was a system made for rpg world building. Fiasco is a collaborative storytelling game that you could steal some ideas from.

Failing that have everyone come with at least their obligations picked out (or rolled right at the start of the session) have them create one fact about their character and establish a relationship with a PC or NPC (which they can invent) then go around to the next player.

 

Thanks for the ideas. I've briefly looked at Fiasco as well as some of the games that it inspired (and have inspired it). They are what made me want to do this in the first place.

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This is very big aspect (no pun intended) for the Dresden Files rpg. 

 

Oh yeah. As I said earlier, Dresden is where a lot of this is coming from. There are some awesome ideas there (like the status quo thing) that are too good not to steal.

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So here is how I plan to run Session 0. 


 


I created some Setting Creation Sheets to help guide this process.


 


This may seem too structured for some, but it doesn't have to be. I'm giving it this much of a system so that if things start to slow down, I can point to the next action and move to it rather than wait for someone to do something. If the group starts writing stuff on their own, without turns or anything, then I'm going to let them.


 


I do have some rules.


 


1. Everyone participates


No one can leave the session without adding one setting detail. I'm not worried about this, but some groups may be.


 


2. Everyone gets at least one thing they want


If everyone wants criminals as NPCs but just one player wants some Imperial antagonists, that person gets one. The fun part is then as a group fitting the seemingly odd piece into the greater setting.


 


3. Everything someone creates is shared


I don't want someone writing stuff out in their corner, without engaging the group. They have to put it out there for everyone to see and react to. That may lead to dialogue about how to improve the idea, or it could lead to someone figuring out a connection between it and something else. 


 


4. The GM is a participant (and just a participant)


This isn't ONLY owned by the players. The GM has to play with this material too, so they should have as much say as the other players, and gets a turn like everyone else. That said, the GM does not get veto power over the group in this instance. If everyone else wants something, they get it.


 


5. Anything left blank is the GM's


If there is a detail not filled in by the group, the GM will do it on his/her own. As a player, you may not like the outcome.


 


 


With that in mind, here's the system:


 


Step 1. Discuss Overall Direction of Game


Is this a full on criminal group, or are they legit traders? Maybe they are somewhere in the middle. Do they take odd jobs, or do they have a single employer?


 


For my group, I'm just going to ask them to choose 1-5, with 1 being totally legit, 5 being totally criminal, and 3 being a mix. This is more for them to work it out amongst themselves before making characters, so my involvement will be minimal.


 


Step 2. Roll Obligation


For people used to the standard character creation method, this may seem out of order but it really doesn't have an impact on character creation. Not a negative one, at least.


 


Why I want to do this first is so that when the group is creating the NPCs and locations, they are doing so with an eye out for connections to their characters. 


 


Step 3: Select/Create Planet(s)


This is more about broad strokes than specifics (though you can jump to specifics if your group is ready). The goal here is to look at what kinds of settings the group wants to play in. Do they want a city planet like Coruscant, or a wasteland like Tatooine? Are they canon planets, or are they invented?


 


Step 4: Create NPCs and Locations


This is the meat of Session 0. 


 


In turn each player creates one NPC and/or location.  Ideally, they create an NPC with some details, and then a place to find them. If that's not possible, or they don't have any ideas, or they are tying their idea to an existing location or NPC, then no worries. 


 


After everyone has had one turn, continue, but now after making an NPC or location, you should also make a connection between NPCs (or locations if it makes sense). This connection does not need to involve what you just created. Maybe you want two existing smuggler NPCs to hate each other, or maybe you want a forbidden love between Rebel and Imperial agents. You could also just see an NPC and make a friend or rival for them (making the new NPC and connection at once). The more conflict you create here, the better


 


There are going to be more ideas thrown out there than just the individual NPCs and locations. Maybe the NPCs are part of an organization, or maybe the locations belong to a single city that needs some detailing. Let that all flow and write it all down. 


 


In the attachment, I have some sections labeled "details • choose x" in which the creator has to choose that many of those details to fill in. They are free to add more, or someone else could do so, but that's the bare minimum.


 


Continue this until you have close to your target number of NPCs and Locations. For my session, I'm aiming for 12 of each. Don't worry about hitting those numbers exactly, just use them as a ballpark. If I end up with 9 locations and 13 NPCs with an awesome story then it's a victory.


 


Step 4a: Tie Obligations into NPCs


While this is all going on, players should be thinking of – and talking about – which NPCs play into their Obligations. This may change as the session moves on, but it should be settled before the end of Step 4.


 


Step 4b: Develop Themes and Issues


After a while, there should be enough material to start looking at the big picture. What are the major issues on a planet – or at least which issues will the game be dealing with. By thinking about these things, we can not only create something more than a random group of unrelated NPCs, but the issue itself can be used as inspiration for what NPCs/locations the setting is lacking.


 


In the end, you want to have 2-3 issues per planet by the end of Step 4.


 


Step 4: Create Characters


After having made the setting and connected the Obligations to people, now make the characters. Once you have them, you have everything you need to create a campaign.


 


 


What do you all think? Are there any things I'm missing. Does anyone have any suggestions?


 


My plan is to try this out Saturday (schedules willing). I'll post our results and share any insights.


Edited by Doc, the Weasel

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I like this a lot more than the questionnaires that a lot of games have.  Some of my best games have involved player-created hooks, and the more they can give you, I think the more fun you'll all have.  If you want to get crazy with it, you could even try the troupe-style often used in Ars Magica, where the GM rotates after every session or adventure.

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out of curiosity, will you require your players to roll obligation or will you also allow them the option to choose an obligation?

 

also... this is fantastic.

 

I'm making them roll. I prefer just a touch of "idea forced on you" to go with "ideas you come up with on your own." 

 

That's just my own taste, though. 

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Ran the session yesterday, and it was a blast. I'm still working on putting the notes together for the group (I'll post the final product), but I have some observations for anyone else trying it.

 

1. The session was waaaay too short for my crew. We run 1-5:30sih, and I still had to push to moderate time. We could have rolled on for another 2 hours. That's a good thing in some ways, but at the same time it can't last forever. 

 

In the future I'll be more of a stickler for time.

 

2. The taking turns thing worked for one round. After that it was a free-for all of ideas. I was glad I enforced it once, because it made sure everyone got one thing in. 

 

3. The "make a connection" rule didn't even make an appearance. I could have forced the issue, but the way we were flowing, it didn't work. Because of that, though ...

 

4. My job ended up being making each piece fit into the campaign as a whole. Most of the session was the party working out details on faces and locations, and me adding or changing aspects to make the pieces connect. 

 

5. Since I missed out on the connections, I'm having to work them out after the fact. There are some great details and characters, but they need those relationships and rivalries to become stories. 

 

6. Cannon was alternately consulted and tossed out the window. It was easy to use cannon. It was easy to make something up. It got weird to start with cannon, and then change some stuff to fit what we wanted. It shouldn't be weird, but it was at least for me.

 

Overall this was a great success. I'll have the setting information up once I have it all together.

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Tracking Status Quo is just a way to ensure that there is conflict. The status quo represents the established order, though not necessarily legitimate authorities. Jabba the Hutt is the status quo on Tatooine. 

 

There's two ways I use it. When creating Faces, I ask which they represent. Once that is established it leads to the question of who opposes (or is opposed by) them. If they represent change, who represents the current order, and vice versa. That leads to another face on the other side of the spectrum, and a greater issue.

 

For example, if you create Jabba then ask who would be trying to upset his rule. That leads to some up and coming gangster, threatening Jabba's enterprises. Not only that, but now there is a story around this conflict. Resolving that could be a whole adventure, or even blown out into a campaign. 

 

I try to have that kind of thing for everyone, so that the whole setting is brimming with possibility. 

 

I also list the major players out on the planet sheets so that you can track which side has what. It isn't hard to create that one conflict but make a bunch of people on one side and not the other. It also lets you see that there may only be one big conflict going on rather than a bunch of little ones. Having it all in one place allows the GM to see what the setting is lacking from the top level and adjust. 

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