Running a few adventures can be fun and exciting, but sometimes there arises a want for more. The world is filled with fantastic tales with grand locations and inspiring villains. It may seem daunting at first, but a campaign is merely a series of related adventures.
Think of it like a television show; Each adventure represents a season and over time the seasons converge upon a climactic state of denouement. In other words, an ending.
But for an adventure to be grand, it must hold a presence beyond the adventure the characters find themselves in. This section outlines some ideas and frameworks you can use to turn an idea from a concept into a campaign.
The central conflict of a campaign is defined by the themes and authoritative powers at play. Such central conflicts such as Good vs Evil, Law vs. Chaos, Nature vs. Civilization, and many more represent the axiom of beliefs being challenged by the present state of things.
In Star Wars, the central conflict is that the Rebel Alliance (Chaos) stands to overthrow the tyrannical might of the Empire (Law). The Empire is vast and powerful, seeking to defeat and dismantle any remaining resistance to its regime.
A campaign need not have but only one central conflict either. Many stories involve more than one narrative theme but those just starting, it's recommended to choosing just one or two central themes to start with.
One key thing to note though is that if you want your players to lean towards one side over the other, make the antagonist opposition much more powerful than the other. Make the antagonist that represents the conflicting theme to scale. Lord of the Rings wouldn’t be the same if the Dark Lord affronted the heroes directly. Instead the Dark Lord had an army of minions, a set of elite riders, and the alliance of a turned Wizard to back their claim.
The alternative to having a Central Conflict is to present the State of the World and determine how the players’ characters enter the picture. Taking this route lets the players decide what conflicts are important to them as the game unfolds.
The State of the World is a snapshot of the world as it currently exists. In fantasy stories, a great conflict is usually affecting the world in a particular way and the characters join together to return the world back to the status quo. Perhaps a curse across the land is causing the recently deceased to rise up as zombies. Or maybe a volcano has erupted causing many of a given ancestry to become displaced. If you choose to go this route, you need to answer the following questions and then present this information to your players at the start of the campaign:
The last question you can discuss with your players during the first session. Often it works best to get all of the players on the same page and let them add their own input on the first step they would take in order to begin resolving this great conflict.
Calamities represent the major threats of your campaign and reflect the central conflicts. Some Calamities take the forms of villains and antagonists while others may take the form of natural events such as the eruption of a volcano or a malevolent plague sweeping across the land. Let your imagination run wild with potential opposition for your players. Maybe the roaming band of unicorns traipsing across the land aren’t as goodhearted and pure as they would like people to believe. Or perhaps a cult of the Lich King is trying to resurrect their master through a series of strange rituals.
A Calamity has the following characteristics: a villain with an ambition, a doom, and a fatal flaw.
Villains play a pivotal role in both maintaining a sense of growing tension and giving you the Storyteller a vehicle to drive the action within the campaign. While the antagonist of an adventure is important for being an active obstacle standing in the way of the players, the villain must be grander in their schemes. They must have... an ambition.
|Conquest||The villain is a conqueror. They are dissatisfied with the world and they think it would be better served by a proper guiding hand.|
|Absolute Control||The villain wants control! By robbing everyone of their free will, they will have no choice but to serve the villain’s desires.|
|Assimilation||The villain wants unity. By returning everyone to a single entity or force, the pain caused by not being able to understand one another will be removed entirely.|
|Destruction||The villain wants total obliteration. Only by hastening the destruction of the world will life have any meaning.|
|Reconstruction||The villain wants total destruction so that a better world can be built from the ashes.|
|Genocide||The villain is an agent of prejudice and corrupted power. The villain believes the ails of their reign or of the world can be placed solely on the shoulders of one particular group or ancestry.|
|Omnicide||The villain seeks the death of all things. All things must die and there are no exceptions. When the last living thing falls, the villain will remain to tidy up and turn all the lights off.|
|Immortality||The villain seeks to remove themselves from the flow of time. With immortality at their heel, death no longer becomes an object of worry or fear.|
|Worship||The villain wants everyone to acknowledge them as a god or to venerate the accomplishments they've achieved.|
|Apotheosis||The villain seeks to become a god. Only by becoming a deity can they attain true power over the mortal world.|
|Unleash Evil||The villain seeks to unleash an imprisoned or dormant evil in the world. Either the villain is arrogant enough to think they can control the evil or they are merely acting as a servant to the evil to accomplish their own ends.|
|Break Seal||The villain is actually a very powerful being trapped in a mortal body or vessel with weak influence. They wish to reclaim the artifacts holding their power or find a way of breaking the seal trapping them in this miserable form.|
|Revenge||The villain seeks revenge for a wrong committed against them. Only by creating a reversal of fortune for their target will they finally be satisfied.|
|Greed||The villain seeks wealth and material riches. Having a pile of money is not enough when they could own an entire mountain of riches all to themselves.|
|Utopia||The villain seeks to create a utopia; a perfect place where their rule is law and those who do not abide by the villain’s law will be put to the sword.|
|Dystopia||The villain seeks to create anarchy. The only kind of world that makes sense is one where chaos is king and where the forces of evil are not held back by the forces good and justice.|
|Boredom||The villain seeks entertainment. A life of excellence has caused them to become depressed. They seek challenge and to feel the flames of youth within them once more.|
|Passion||The villain seeks affections of someone they desire or wishes to enact a plot in their name. Perhaps this loved one is deceased and their schemes are a means to ressurrect them.|
|Power||The villain seeks power whether this takes the form of supernatural power, influence, or honing their abilities to a point beyond compare.|
|False Evil||The villain is not cut out for villainy. They want to be a villain but still possess a moral compass that prevents them from descending down that slippery slope.|
|Inversion||Take one of the previously mentioned plots here and twist it. Unleash Evil might become Seal Good where the villain is trying to imprison a benevolent entity.|
|False Enlightenment||The villain seeks to reveal to the world an ultimate truth. Perhaps the world is just a dream folks need to wake up from or that some greater entity is preventing everyone from following their true path.|
|Savior||The villain is taking matters into their own hands to stop an even greater evil from affecting the world.|
|Prophecy||The villain was foretold to bring about a certain doom upon the world and the villain is simply following the will of fate.|
|Curiosity||The villain has grown fascinated with a discovery and means to unlock its secrets even if it means everyone else is at expense.|
|Fanaticism||The villain is driven by worship of a higher power or grander entity either out of love, fear, or some twisted ideology.|
|Insanity||The villain is guided by an utter lack of insight or mental ability. Their motions have little justification either spurred on by a greater villain, a curse, or some alternative influence.|
|Hatred||The villain is a hateful being and believes that all that has wronged them in life can be attributed towards a person, group, creature, or greater entity.|
|Unrequited Love||The villain seeks to capture the heart of one who has either scorned, ignored, or abandoned them and will do whatever it takes to claim them as their own.|
|Overcoming Insecurity||The villain seeks to prove to the world that they are worthy and to lay waste to those who have trodden upon the villain's hopes and dreams. Or they are seeking to achieve something that will account for a lack of something in their life.|
|Localized Control||The villain doesn't want absolute control, just some control. They want to be the ruler of the kingdom, not the ruler of the world.|
A doom is what happens when the villain is victorious. Many villains reach the apex of power only for the world or even the villains themselves to be subjected to the consequences.
Some example dooms:
And finally, a calamity must have at least one fatal weakness. A fatal weakness is the Achille's heal of a villain and takes the form of a Trouble they cannot resist. While the players have the option to fight against their troubles with Resolve, a villain's flawed nature makes it incredibly difficult for them to resist theirs. Consider the examples below when choosing a weakness for your villain or use them as inspiration for creating one of your very own.
|Addiction to gambling|
|Attachment to the past|
|Blindly following orders|
|Constant remembering of one's misdeeds|
|Desire for recognition via questionable means|
|Difficulty to focus|
|Extreme views of justice|
|Extreme views of morality|
|Failing to communicate|
|Failing to understand evil|
|Failing to understand good|
|Focusing too much on winning|
|Forgiveness to a fault|
|Giving into despair|
|Inability to accept criticism|
|Inability to accept defeat|
|Inability to take compliments|
|Incredible Powers, Incredible Drawbacks|
|Leniency to a fault|
|Likes abusing power|
|Need for approval|
|Need for love|
|Obsession with neatness|
|Obsession with order|
|Obsession with someone|
|Obsessiveness in general|
|Overreacting over petty reasons|
|Politeness to a fault|
|Powerful Defense, Weak Attack|
|Putting one's goals above everything else|
|Reasoning to a fault|
|Refusing to be pitied|
|Refusing to forgive|
|Refusing to give up|
|Refusing to take a side|
|Self-reliance to an excessive degree|
|Sense of entitlement|
|Sense of inferiority|
|Sense of superiority|
|Taking too much responsibility for other people's misdeeds|
|Uncompromising on principles|
|Underusing one's own abilities|
|Using dirty tricks|
|Vulnerable to a specific Weapon Action|
|Vulnerable to Acid|
|Vulnerable to Cold|
|Vulnerable to Fire|
|Weak against a specific Supernatural Practice|
|Weak in Darkness|
|Weak in Daylight|
|Weak to a specific Material|
Part of your job as Storyteller is to Keep Track of Time which means you will determine when certain Calamities will advance their plots and move one step closer to achieving their goals.
Here are two ways that you as the Storyteller can approach this: Calendars and Strikes. Calendars are fairly straightforward: Start by planning how many days or turns it would take for Calamities to reach their final doom. If one step requires some artifact to be plundered from a secret tomb, think about how many days it might take for the step to be achieved with the resources they have. By tying the plans of the party’s opposition to actual days in your world, it puts importance on the time the characters have as well as lend to the illusion of verisimilitude of your setting.
The other way of handling plots is by using Strikes. Offer the group three separate hooks over the course of a campaign to investigate a Calamity. If the characters ignore all three hooks, the Calamity completes the step of their plan that was hinted at by the hook. How you offer these opportunities can the form of rumors or from interactions with the world itself. If a calamity really needs that artifact, give the players a hook in the form of a frightened individual who heard loud sounds while walking through the woods. If the players turn down the third opportunity to investigate, then the front’s plot advances and something happens as a result. Perhaps recovering the artifact unleashes a slumbering dragon upon a hapless town while the calamity and their minions escape to safety.
By design, it is the goal of the characters to prevent a Calamity’s plan from succeeding and reaching its final doom. By following the rumors and discovering the machinations of the campaign, they place themselves in the middle of the Calamity’s affairs. If it truly becomes so dire for the Calamity, then you can even add a step where taking out the characters themselves becomes important to the plot. Have bounty hunters and hired thugs come after the characters! The players will feel the weight of their actions as well as their own power to influence the situation at hand if they feel they are making enough of a difference that enemies want them dead.
If a calamity has achieves all of the steps to their plot, they achieve their goal and unleash their final doom upon the world. At this stage, the players should be well aware of the calamity and should be facing the decision of how to resolve the front.
In order for a calamity to be resolved, their plot needs to be upended. If the players’ characters successfully thwart each attempt at their goal, then all that remains is the calamity themselves.
Calamities are resolved by eliminating their ability to be a calamity. That is, to cut off their source of power. A calamity taking the form of a plague is resolved when it has been eradicated. Calamities that take the form of a villain can be resolved by subjecting the calamity to imprisonment, cutting off their source of power, or simply killing them.
If the players take all the steps to stop a Calamity but don’t engage the last vestiges of the Calamity itself, then you can either have the Calamity come to them or withdraw the Calamity and use it as part of a new Calamity. Perhaps the villain they let get away runs off to join a bigger and badder overlord who is now aware of the players’ character’s abilities.
Whatever the case, when a Calamity is resolved, the characters should be rewarded. This can take the form of Downtime as well as material reward. Maybe the village that lived under the plight of the ruler comes together to purchase a magical weapon for one of the heroes while throwing them an honorary feast. Or perhaps in their haste to avoid the might of the players, the villain left behind a treasure map leading to a boon that could help them against another calamity later down the line.
When a Calamity has been defeated, consider how it affects the plots of other Calamities that you have created. Defeating a calamity may bring with it notoriety the characters were not anticipating. Or perhaps one Calamity tries to offer the players assistance in taking out a rival Calamity.
Every story comes to an end but what often defines a story is how it ends with the final act culminating and reflecting the player character's growth and achievement. In Mythmaker, a campaign ends when all of the calamities you have created are resolved or when the characters have all faced an unfortunate end. Here either the characters can retire into peaceful lives or continue their journey in stories yet to be told.
But the end of one campaign does not necessarily mean the end of the game. Perhaps one or two loose ends from the campaign weave their way into the foundation of a whole new one. A new campaign also lets you draw in details from the previous one such as letting the previous player characters act as mentors or mythical figures inspiring the next generation of heroes. Or you can simply start anew with the lessons learned along the way.
There are several ways of ending the game and giving the characters closure though: