Starting an RPG Campaign: The Map

January 11, 2020

When you sit down to begin building an RPG campaign, where do you start? Do you start with a story that you want the players to follow? A Big Bad that you want them to defeat? Perhaps a map and a world that you want to let them explore. Each of these can make excellent starting points depending on the adventure that you want to craft.

We’re going to take a short look at different ways to begin constructing a new campaign and some things to keep in mind depending on the way you begin it.

In Part Two, we looked at Starting with a Villain. Now let’s look at a beginning built around a map of our local area or world.

Part Three: Starting with a Map

Rolling hills, long stretching mount passes, sprawling cities, deep reaching caves… You can tell a lot about an area based on its features, especially in a fantasy setting. Mountains and Hills? Probably full of giants and dwarves. Nearly endless forest? Elves are most likely to blame. Fort near a cave complex? Built to take care of the creatures that surge up out of the Underdark.

When creating a map to serve as your center point it’s generally a good idea to consider who and what reside in the different areas. Frequently these types of campaigns are driven by the interest that players have to explore their surroundings. Ensuring that there is something to do no matter where the players will go is something to keep in mind. At the end of every session asking the players where they plan to go next allows you to refine any general ideas you had about the upcoming section.

I know that the north has an ongoing conflict between the giants and dwarves. I’ll use the term King as both their name and title, then let the players meet both sides. As long as the players don’t randomly start attacking the first thing they see it should give them a chance to join either side and get different rewards for helping. There’s also a cave nearby that they might want to explore. For now I’ll leave it as a dead end that has a group of dire wolves patrolling the area.

These general ideas tend to be enough for both you and the players to get a decent grasp on the world. With time spent fleshing out the different factions, enemies, and keeping a few random encounters on hand using a map as you starting point lets your players experience what they want to.

You can populate the world with quests, conflict, small stories, and colorful NPCs to your heart’s content and let the players discover it all on their own.

In our next—and final—installment, we’ll be looking at how to Start with an Item.


Anthony S

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