Seize the GM
Seize the GM
Campaign Design Part 3 - Deeper Dive (con’t.)

Main Topic

The two topics are Micro Conflict and Succession of power.

  • Micro Conflict

Micro Conflicts are up close and personal.  These are times where the stakes are not high, but are personal. You can look at individuals, towns, or other places or people with an emotional resonance to build this conflict up so that the stakes are never objectively huge but highlight character development through solving these seemingly “lesser” problems of the campaign world.   

  • GuardaManger (Fantasy/The Extraordinary of the Ordinary) – Sometimes You Can’t Hit Them Until They Fall Down


It’s been a long time on the road and nothing is quite the same as shaking the dust off your boots at your favorite roadside tavern.  This one in particular has been a recurring favorite over the last few years, but The Rusty Ruler is a shell of itself when you get there, and it isn’t ready for you to enjoy yourself. The town has a new leader, you see.  These odd elections they favor in the Ghulla can change who is in charge without a death. You are now seeing the results of one of these elections. Your favorite barkeep is forlorn and sees the new taxes as stifling his business and when combined with the demonization of ale and meat it has been hard to turn a pretty penny of profit.  Can you help?

What does it take to change the mind and heart of a town?  Who is this new leader and what drives him or her to outlaw and punish taverns and merriment? Can you sway a whole town back from the edge of the rather mundane abyss and help save your friend’s business? He’s offering you ale for life if you can pull it off.

This campaign pushes a party out of what is the most common comfort zone – exploring and dungeoneering – and into municipal politics! The Who What and Where can all be handled with aplomb, but this is another campaign where the GM is able to set the pace well – FIrst you need to qualify to have a recall election of this Burgermeister and then you need to have the election itself, so the Players have the chance to learn what the platform was that drove the new meister to control and why people support it.  You could go with magical powers and demonic pacts, but it could be as simple as taxes to provide better infrastructure or a recoiling against one or two more violent overindulgences led to the lockdown of the tavern.

Use the conflict of personalities and the tendency for the smallest of disagreements to balloon into the largest of feuds in a small town. Maybe it all comes back to an unpaid tab, a rough night, and a personal vendetta that will only be solved with violence … but more likely than not, there will be ballot box stuffing, GOTV campaigns, and promises of kickbacks to sway the locals to your side and maybe have a P.C. elected to be in charge.

  • Zendead (Sci fi) – The Prism of Power


The topic of how the two powers in this part of the world drew up the Game is something lost to time. But the rules are simple. No killing is the first one. But the rest is more free form. The goal is to amass as much power and influence as possible before the empress has chosen her empirical consort. Thou you must be careful because if she is aware of how much you have then she might make an example out of you. Can you place the empirical consort in her way so you have that much control over the Throne of the Seven Diamond Stars?

  • nulloperations (Cartoon/Contemporary) – Of Pies Untold


In the world of the Valley of Sunshine, there are four townships. Each is a bastion of hope, wellbeing, and comradery. They love their neighbors, their fellow town residents, and they love their neighbors across the moon rain rivers that criss-cross the valley. They are a people who are full of pride and love of their land, and the myriad fruits and vegetables they grow in the fertile soil.

But behind the veiled perfection, a sinister truth lies within the hearts of the Valley of Sunshine. One contest that stands above all the others. One that drives the residents to sabotage prized harvests, overturn wagons, and (dare I say it) start food fights. Yes, I speak of the yearly pie contests of the Equinox Festivals. Each Spring and Fall, sinister plans go out to disrupt the bakers of the four townships. Players take the role of the bakers and their staff, and choose to take a defensive noble stance or an offensive saboteur route. They can spy to learn techniques, or practice and master their own craft. The Equinox Festival is a hard-won contest, and the prize is having a town crowned master of the season. Will it be yours?

  • Succession of Power

Succession of Power takes many forms.  This provides for the coming of age stories of teenagers growing into adults as well as the passing of the baton in royal houses. It can encapsulate an aging empire’s decline and slide into irrelevance as much as it is the rise of new powers.

  • GuardaManger (Coming of [Super]Age/Mystery) – Paragons of a New Age


It is always fun when school goes back into session at Paragon High.  Paragon High only hosts the best and brightest of the newest generation of superpowered and enhanced individuals, as well as the odd alien or three.  You have transferred into Paragon for your sophomore year of High School, with the rest of the party, all arriving at the same time to the glistening and shiny “School of the FUTURE” … and all had the same experience being hazed by the new Juniors.

It may be a rite of passage, but it doesn’t need to be, and there are far too many things that do not add up at the school.  While it seems that Principal Praxis is well intentioned, his eyesight doesn’t see through the walls of the school. The juniors on the Softball team certainly are up to something after practice, and the scheduled inspections are not happened if you look at the licensing requirements from the International Order of Metapowered Academics.  You are a new kid here, but between the Paragon Pegasuses slinking around, the oddly cleaned grounds where you never see a groundskeeper, robot, or even magical spell, and the willful ignorance of the Junior classes’ actions something more is going on.

Can you and your friends outwit and outlast the Junior class troublemakers?  Find out what the Pegasuses locker room is hiding? Can you save the school – from itself or something else?

Here, the mystery of the school echoes the imprecision and the uncertainty of growing up.  A common theme used in fiction, but the use of the superpowers lends a more uplifting tone to the campaign.  What ties together these different threads is up to the GM but the pacing and tone is what makes this campaign sing.  Your pacing should be plotted out with the school year, so if you have four quarters in your schools, have three major beats before the big showdown.  Work around periods of classes and weekly school sporting events to build it up like school calendar. For your tone, look to comic books like The New Teen Titans, The New Mutants, and DNAgents while movies and TV like Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Zoom, and Sky High all capture great aspects of the idea of teenagers and adolescence as metaphor and the coming of age with superpowers.

  • Zendead (Apocalyptic Fantasy) – Changing of the Guard


At the onset of the Age of Banners when the broken world was being pieced back together factions rise and fall. Some have strong footholds on the few elements that can prove the right to rule. The right to rule is it yours or is it the others you call friends? Well the one that can grab it it from the Lord might be his rightful successor as the law is written. Will he give in to your will or will you fall to his will? The area that you can control will be a weapon that you use as well as the people in that area. The hardest part is getting the Lords attention and doing things to help him get what he needs or wants and proving you are the help that is worthy of having his seat once he is done.

  • nulloperations (Cyberpunk) – Underworld Overlords


A theme in the grungy world of cyberpunk is the role of the mover, the shaker, the deal maker. These fixers live and die by reputation, and the people they employee, often the players, are the ones that help solidify this rep into the history of the metroplex’s streets. Reputation serves as a marker of where you stand in those dingy alleyways. Are you the top shot caller the corps hire for work? Or are you yesterday’s news? Ready to be passed on and passed over until the current big fish is ready for a fall.

A street level game is a game of reputation, half-truths, and lies; while the players are not always the focus of the fixer role, they are adjunct to helping lift someone’s rep and role amongst the gears that keep the machine rolling. Doing a job to destroy the rep of another by causing a project to go bad, or being their best selves and knocking out hard assignments for their fixer, they are the motions that pass the baton of overlord from faker to maker.

I did this in Shadowrun, as the players’ connection to Eve Donovan, the fixer from the Silver Angel module. Over time the reputation of the jobs Eve sent them on were boosting her reputation and helping to reestablish her as a queen of the Shadowrunner scene.

Stat Blocks

Zendead – The Ring of Trophoil

The most powerful members of the Empress of the Seven Stars as she is known gives to the presenter of her consort this ring. What is so special about such a simple and unimpressive worked ring of brass? The decorations are truly simple and no gemstones adorn it even. The ring though is capable of seeing the truest intentions of a person that are the focus of its wearers mind. It creates an unexpected connection that can dive into the second or third level of the person.

nulloperations – Open a Can of Sleep

It looks like any number of energy drinks hot on the market. You know what I mean, the corporate drivel stamped all over with animated characters that have too excited eyes or covered in weird living metal patterns? Yeah, that stuff. Well this one’s different. Oh, it’ll keep you up, because it’s filled with as much sleep as you want to put into it.

It’s not stupid. Of course, it makes sense. No, no listen. Here’s what it does. The can goes under your pillow when you go to bed. It’ll eat your sleep, store it up. You don’t even dream. Just snap; eyes close, eyes open. I set an alarm personally, so I don’t feed it the whole night. Then, when you’re tired, when you need that energy that comes from 8 full hours; crack open the can, chug down the sleep you gave, and enjoy the night like you slept through the day.

Side effects? What? No, no there’s no side effects. Just, you know, so long as you’re not a bad dreamer. I mean you’re not a bad dreamer, right? No nightmares? Night Terrors? Weird dreams about a talking dog? No? Good. Wouldn’t want them lingering to ferment. That’d be dangerous.

How to Fit a Can of Sleep into your game

The Can of Sleep acts as an energy restorer, reducing stun damage, fatigue, and other endurance systems. But it comes with the chance of nightmarish failure. Whenever someone drinks a can, run the system’s version of a luck check. If they fail, they get the benefit of the Can of Sleep, but they should also be struck with terrors, fears, or have a mental negative trait trigger.

Guard-a-Manger – Prince Kevin

A legend even among the legends at Paragon High, when Prince Kevin enters the room, he is the most important person in the room without a doubt.  Everyone knows it and everyone respects it. I mean, it is Kevin after all! But few can remember why the respect is paid to Kevin this way, or even why the title of Prince is provided to him.  He has fine chiseled features of a high school jock, complete with the ubiquitous letterman jacket. He is always fashionably late, and seems to know just when to leave the party before the it gets buster.

Kevin is even helpful.  You recall him showing up at just the right time to catch the falling punch bowl when Chad had knocked it over, and how he “accidentally” knocked that glass away from Amber the sketchy guy was giving her.  He even loves changing tires when someone has a flat. His big doofus like smile and enjoyment of just offering people a hand make you feel better about how you never seem to see him in any of your classes.


Bodkin  noun

bod·​kin | \ ˈbäd-kən  \

Definition of bodkin


b : a sharp slender instrument for making holes in cloth

c : an ornamental hairpin shaped like a stiletto

2 : a blunt needle with a large eye for drawing tape or ribbon through a loop or hem

History and Etymology for bodkin

Middle English bodekin

First Known Use of bodkin

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Look-up Popularity

Bottom 30% of words

Closing remarks

Zendead- For those times when you need to have a fully stated up NPC or character in record time. Check out the Character Generator at It will give you characters for 5E D&D as well as Cypher characters. Because sometimes you need something right now and fast.

nulloperations – LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS (mature rated trailer btw). The series has been some fantastic sci-fi. It’s meant for mature readers, it’s not bashful of being down and grungy, and it takes some neat chances.

Guard-a-Manger- Planetary. The acclaimed comic book series from Warren Ellis is a tongue in cheek look at and commentary on the history of comic books and of stories in general across the 20th Century.  It is a gold mine of ideas, imagery, and a textbook look at how to deconstruct conventions well instead of just sloppily throwing it on the page.

Music is courtesy of The Enigma TNG you can find his music on YouTube or on Bandcamp

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And Thanks to Merriam-Webster for our Lexicon segment

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