Cutting Away the Binding

All great projects seem to begin from odd sources. This one began with me perusing my massive shelf of old RPG material and pulling out at random Issue #2 of The Rifter, Palladium Book’s “magazine” that covers all their various games. The Rifter is actually more like a irregularly-published compendium of supplementary material that just couldn’t (or shouldn’t) fit into a sourcebook, and as such is a mixed bag of shells covering their entire range of RPG’s. But this issue had a great article right in the front by Eric Wujcik, Palladium rules writer and apparently in-house GM for the company. He was talking about building campaigns “Big.” But not “big” like “a dungeon with 300 rooms” or “a four inch binder covering every last detail of a campaign world” (I knew a guy like that). He was talking about having a big campaign concept, but then developing it as necessary, focusing on those areas most likely to come up in the campaign. In this case, he had the PC’s looking for 12 artifacts necessary to save the world, but he only had plotted out one. The campaign lasted for literally a decade, and was active at the time of the article’s creation. In some cases, the PC’s had been searching for and finding artifacts they had learned about years before.

I wonder at times if those kinds of structured plots aren’t a little too heavy-handed, but Wujcik points out that many campaigns are usually narrow and with little perspective: a single module, one village, with not even a sense of what else is out there in the world.

In any case, I’ve thought about this article and my own campaign. When it began, I had basically created a small community around which they can move. Then, I created a larger nation (the Northern Kingdom), but instead the plot became more linear, with the PC’s essentially being railroaded into moving through three dungeons. What I have realized is that, all things being unchanged, the campaign is just moving on tracks now. And that doesn’t sound all that much fun, a fact which I think is reflected in the players as well.

I’ve also begun to think about how I organize campaigns. Most RPG material is given in book format: chapters, sections, headings, etc. But it isn’t the most conducive to a “wandering” kind of campaign, where PC’s have some freedom in choosing what to or where to go. So I thought, why not lose the book format? I’ve been sneaking index cards into my GMing (or CKing, or whatever) to keep track of monster stats, etc. But know I’m thinking of going farther, and using 5″ by 8″ index cards (it helps that I got a 5″ by 8″ filing box from work recently) with each card having some element of the campaign on it: a location description, a small adventure, a detailed NPC. These could then be organized and expanded without having to rewrite the “bible” of the campaign. It would sort of look like this:

The Big Campaign

1. The First City
1.1. Location (Inn)
1.1.1. NPC
1.1.2. NPC
1.1.3. Adventure Hook
1.2. Location (Temple)
1.2.1. NPC
1.2.2. Adventure Hook
1.3. Location (Merchant)
1.3.1. NPC
2. The Second City
2.1. Location (Inn)
2.1.1. NPC
2.1.2. Adventure Hook
2.2. Location (Stronghold)
2.2.1. NPC
2.2.2. Adventure Hook
2.2.3. Adventure Hook
3. The Third City

Each “entry” on the outline would have its own card, perhaps front and back (with the back having an illustration). More cards could be added as the PC’s move about the map, as necessary. I’ll have to do a “trilal” layout to see if it works for me, and of course share examples here.


  1. I used such an open format for, what I still consider to be, my best campaign. Used with a Vampire game, I layed out the only the top & most public layer of the city’s vampires. Under each leader figure were slots for NPCs to be created later. Much like the outline you’ve listed, the game master knows that a certain NPC exists – but the details are left blank until needed. Saves a lot of tedious book work, but does force you to think on your feet.

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