The resources the GM needs to prepare in advance are:Edit
A map of the adventure environment.Edit
It might be the ‘known world’, or just the starship they’ll be flying between planets. The ‘environment’ is the place the characters will be having most of their adventures.
An actual physical map, on one large sheet, really is required here – printouts of little bits of it don’t give players a real understanding of the layout, infrastructure, and relationship of the various physical areas where they might adventure. In a campaign based in a certain city, the city is their ‘starship’. You need to have copies of the map on really big sheets of paper – draw it up on A1 or A0 sheets from a local stationery shop. Better still, if it’s a real city, buy two maps and an A-Z. The A-Z gives you a lot more detail of the streets of a large city and the buildings and parks in it. Use it as a design resource.
The first map you mark up as the ‘big overview’ – stick it up on the wall of the gaming room. Mark the sector or ‘quarter’ divisions prominently – a big red marker pen will do nicely. Write the names of the sectors just as prominently. You can add a note in smaller writing about the main types of buildings in the sector – rich residential, light industrial, docks and warehouses, etc. That’s there to give you and the players a more instinctive understanding of the layout of the city.
The second map is for everyday use in the game. It will be used by the players for planning approach and escape routes, surveillance and all the other details of their lives. Mark in the sector boundaries with a smaller pen so they don’t obscure detail, and add significant features like gates and checkpoints between sectors. Write the names of buildings, cafes, and so on as the players visit them, so that they become familiar with their character’s haunts. If you live close enough to the city, go there and spend a weekend looking around, taking photographs of the major ‘landmarks’. That’s in quotation marks for a reason – I’m talking about gaming landmarks. The average tourist wouldn’t want pictures of the main police station or the access gates to the city’s storm drain system.
Every TV show has ‘The Book’, a volume which contains a mass of background details. Everything that’s happened so far is listed in it, along with background material the writers decided when they were writing the episodes but never used in the scripts. It keeps the series consistent, and you will find something similar very useful in your campaign.
Writing ‘The Book’ will help you focus on the important details of the world, and also suggest adventures as you go along. A well-plotted series will have ‘prefiguring’ – alert viewers or readers will realise that parts of an episode were set up by previous episodes, or accept part of the character’s past which is essential to the episode’s resolution because they have seen some mention of it previously, where it wasn’t crucial to the plot. Perhaps the earlier episodes were written with setting up the later one in mind, or perhaps a writer was just inspired by information in ‘The Book’ and wrote an episode which used it.
It’s best to build The Book on a computer. You can add notes at the right places as the campaign develops, put in links to relevant other information, and so on. But most important, you can edit it down to give the players info-dumps. You might have a mass of information on the collapse of civilisation. Only a small part of it is vital for the players’ understanding of how the world reached this state. Other items may become part of the game later as the players try to unravel secrets that might bring down the oppressive regime. Some of it is just background information so that the events make sense to you, and might never be revealed to the players – but if you have it, and they ask difficult questions, you can draw on it for good answers.
The players’ briefing.Edit
Just as you’re ready to start play, save a copy of ‘The Book’ as a player briefing and cut out all the stuff they don’t need to know yet. It’s important to be disciplined there – cut out stuff you’d just like them to know. The briefing material can’t be too long, because you shouldn’t give them too much to absorb right at the start of the campaign. You can always slot it in later, and they’ll learn more of the material if it comes in short bursts which are relevant to the present scenario. A classic case of “As you know, Professor…”. When someone suggests going up the Space Needle to look at the layout of some restricted compound, the GM lets them know that “Ever since you’ve been in Seattle, you’ve known that the Space Needle has been closed since the electrical systems burned out in the EMP.”
The players’ background briefing tells them about the world they are about to enter, and then has an outline of the character generation rules – the game-system you’re using, character points available where appropriate, skills and equipment they have access to.
An outline of the first three scenarios.Edit
If you don’t have enough inspiration to have at least that much mapped out in outline, you need to consider whether you can sustain a full campaign. The whole point of setting a campaign in a milieu you love is that the stories inspire you to create adventures – the first three should be a doddle. If you can’t lay out just three adventures, you should do the one adventure that really attracts you as a one-off scenario without doing all the work involved in preparing a campaign. Only if your players are excited by that singleton adventure and demand that you base a campaign there, and you have developed a feel for where the campaign will go, should you set up the world.
The first three adventures will also help you design the initial set-up. What you think the players will need in them will help you to decide the players’ options. If your third scenario involves moving a very large object in a 21st-century game, you can anticipate it by making sure that one of the jobs open to the new characters is one where they’ll have access to a van big enough – delivery driver, or mechanic in a City Council garage, perhaps. Though they may not have easy access to such a vehicle… getting the keys and avoiding Security to “borrow” it at the right time might take up a good chunk of the adventure.
This feeds back into the Book and perhaps the player’s briefing – I considered ‘ambulance driver’ in the last paragraph, but then realised that ambulance personnel have access to drugs and expensive technology, and their qualifications and references will be closely scrutinised. Even if they have the right qualifications, if they are living on the fringes of society they can’t use them because the Government will have flagged up their records. Anyone trying to check their references will attract entirely the wrong kind of interest. Adding that sort of detail to the briefing (“Your formal qualifications are useless because…”) will help build the players’ understanding of the kind of paranoia their characters should be feeling.
Optional: The Campaign ArcEdit
An optional extra is an idea of ‘where the campaign is going’. Most campaigns don’t have this – the adventures will be whatever appeals to the GM to play next. But if you do have an idea of the ultimate aim of the campaign, you can design a story arc which will let you plan its progression. Adventures and encounters along the way will suddenly have more significance when the players realise that the contacts made and knowledge gained earlier in the campaign have deeper relevance.