Seize the GM
Seize the GM
Episode 74: Campaign Basics

Main Topic

We talked about world building before, but now we will take the suggestion from you, our listeners, and look at how to create a campaign for your games.Before we dive too deep, we thought we would take the chance to make two or three episodes out of this topic, but that means defining terms first! Bear with us and we will explain what parts of a campaign we think you have to at least be aware of when designing (and next time, we will take a hand at some actual design practice!) A campaign not only fleshes out and enlivens a world that you’ve built, but it will be centered around an idea or theme.  The idea or theme could be internal or external, but it provides a “through line” in the session. Think of a campaign like a season of a TV Show, and a theme for a campaign like the Big Bad the campaign is leading up to or revolving around – In Angel, the theme for one season was that the worst place in the universe, the place that held the most torment was here, which wasn’t revealed until a single scene at the end of the season. Other times, you have an external theme like the literal Big Bad Evil Git that has been pulling the strings, like The Founders in Deep Space Nine behind the Dominion War.

You should ask whether the Campaign will be event driven or character driven, or more accurately how much of each you want to use.  I don’t like the idea that character driven is in opposition to events or world building, but I know that is a way people want to see the axis. Each of the styles described below can be used for character driven or event driven campaigns and some of that returns to the question of internal versus external focus for your table.  Which is going to bring more motivation or movement for the characters? An event driven campaign may go from scene to scene and event to event in a fairly linear manner, but that is not to say personal growth doesn’t happen just that it is framed in respect to the events. Conversely, a character driven campaign may not use the events as milestones so much as the backdrop against which personal moments and growth happen.

How you get to that Theme is a question and here are a few of the styles of Campaigns we will discuss in the upcoming episodes:

  • Discovery/Exploration – This is the “What’s Over the Hill?” and “Going Boldly Where Nobody has Gone Before” style campaign and centers around the player characters being away from what they know and seeking something new in the world. (Star Trek: TOS) (2001).  This can also be where a mystery game can fall if it isn’t going to have the players as proxies for a larger conflict. (The Bourne Identity)
  • Succession of Power – This is the fun handoff or power from one generation to another and related campaign ideas.  It can be a potent campaign concept for political and social games where the transition of power often comes with violence that the players may want to prevent … or incite. (Game of Thrones/ASOIAF)
  • Metaconflict – Conflict way bigger than the players that they are somehow thrust in to the middle.  This is the War between Good and Evil (Dragonlance) as well as the War between the Superpowers (Macross) game where the players serve as pawns, or maybe bishops, but often find personal discovery in the service to a larger power.
  • Microconflict – This is the human versus human, knowable level of conflict.  Here, it is the direct village against village, or maybe the village against a band of encroaching bandits or critters, but it is built on the most intimate scale of these examples and will often feature recurring and long running NPCs, (call back to Episode 45: Flesh on Your NPCs Bones).

From that theme, you can then work on the building blocks of the campaign that may not be finished from your world building, or that may be your world building – who, when, and where in particular. Next time, we will look at one or two of these campaign themes and show how to use it to build out an example campaign! Or two.

Stat Blocks

Zendead- Draks

So what happens when a protoplasmic slime interacts with a living entity? Wait let’s’ rewind a bit. A protowhat? I hear you say, yes it is proto meaning before. See I knew you would questions for me about this substance. What is it and where did it come from being foremost in your mind. Well both of those questions are not possible to answer as of right now. See we are still working them out ourselves. I can give you are bit of history about them. Shortly after the quakes that struck the planet where settling back down. People where trying to figure out what had happened, they started showing up at the epicenters of the disasters. This grey green slime was present and didn’t make any sense it should have been ash and lava and rock not a strange slime. Samples were taken of the slime. That is when things, as the saying goes, went off the rails.

The first samples didn’t seem to have any strange characteristics. It was a semi fluid liquid at room temperature. It didn’t have a chemical reaction to the containers it was stored in. One day it was being transferred to a new lab and some of the material came into contact with a petri dish that had a culture of E. Coli growing on it and the slime then became for nothing better alive. It enveloped the culture. Then the true horror began. The E. Coli that had contact began to change what it became we are not sure. We couldn’t get it sequenced fast enough. The long and short of this part is that it changed the bacteria into something else, and fast. The rate of mutation was in the million of times faster. Evolution at a rate unseen before or since. Needless to say it got out of the dish.

What we had not been able to see was that the local animals near these epicenters had found out that the slime was able to do that in the wild and was changing the local wildlife. It was adapting to a world that wasn’t present now but was on its way. The species barrier was not present at all. Then it found a human. After the change rewrote the genetic makeup of a person they were different. After the first human contact things spread fast people could be carriers at least at first. Like a small group of terraformed people they were a few hundred at first but the population never got very big and the first ones after a few tests were found to have an extra pair of nucleotides that nothing on this planet had. One feature they all have now is a growth that changes the shape of the skull pulling it back and giving them a scaled appearance to their smooth skin. Which is why we call them Draks.

Joules-The Infernal Phone


“You can’t keep it a secret.  They all know”

The phone vibrates in your hand.  You’ve been getting strange messages for the past month.  Cryptic warnings. Subtle threats. Disturbing images.

You kept trying to throw the phone away.  But for some reason it always kept reappearing. Like rings in the old fairy tales.  And you couldn’t ignore it. Some strange compulsion forces you to look at communications.  To re-live all your past transgressions. To exist in a state of anxiety. Every time you start to relax, you hear that familiar chime.


“You know what you did to that old man.”

You remember being at the train station, yelling on phone to your subordinate about some perceived transgression.  You got your first message that night. The next morning you heard that your subordinate threw himself out of his office window.  You’ve been getting similar messages ever since. Torturing you every time you hear that chime. Destroying bits of your soul till the end of time itself.

And as the last of your essense fades, you realize where you are.


“Your hands will never be clean”

You see, the world modernized. Mobile data and constant electronic surveillance and endless swaths of data stored in the cloud.  Technology infusing every aspect of life. What humanity didn’t know is that hell was upgrading as well. Humanity still saw hell as this otherworldly place of fire and sulfur, filled with the eternal screams of the damned. So, with Hell using the ubiquitous tools made by man to mete out punishment in the afterlife, you didn’t know that you were in hell. Humanity’s past sins and shames are repeated to them through the technology they used every day.  And with all the stories of Anonymous and other hacker groups, man is able to delude themselves, thinking that they’re still alive. Making the punishment all the more sublime. Hellish tools like the infernal phone have become standard tools for punishing the wicked. Man is now unwittingly creating the tools of his own torment.


“Do you know where you are?”

nulloperations- A Ring of Storms

It’s an art piece, to be sure. A golden ring interlaced with sapphire flecks and leaves of silver. It is large enough for an average ring finger, but fits comfortably on a larger pinky or smaller thumb. But wearing it as a ring doesn’t matter as it is functional no matter the distance from its owner. Once bound it cannot be unbound until death.

The ring is a focus, a fetter for a bound entity of lightning and rain. The storm spirit will manifest itself only when the wearer experiences intense emotions. Fear will bring mountains of dark clouds and heavy rain. Anger will bring thunder, fury, and cutting winds. Loss and pain will bring cold shadowy downpours that never seem to end. Love will bring a soft and warm summer rain with rainbows swept through the mist. The spirit feels all that the its master feels. It lives only as the master lives.

Ownership of the ring is a lifelong affair. An unbound ring will not obey until it feels the touch of intense emotions, and once bound the ring will not transfer to another until its master has passed beyond. If the ring is taken violently then hurricane forces gales will sweep the land and send the ring travelling. If the ring is taken by accidental demise, the spirit will weep the master’s last pains. And should the ring’s master come to a quiet death in their slumber, the spirit will bring fog to the land for a year and a day until it has finished mourning.


The Siren’s Cosmic Call, or How I stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Imprecision

It can be as simple as a one way street sign pointing the way under the brightest street light this side of June & Hospice.  It can be as subtle as the repeating refrain of a songbird just a month too early to be heard. Sometimes, the universe will tell you to wake up and pay attention – you have been called to service. Why?

Sometime, long ago, the universe realized that it needed help, or at least antibodies within the vastness that is.  You have been chosen. You have been called. You have an ability to stop the infection that seeps into our world. How?

That is a question that is harder to answer.  You find the others, called like you, coming to the same place like you, holding a quizzical look like  you. Each different, but also with similarities. The universe made a team. The universe chose people to come together, perhaps at its most pure form, to be a kind of family. This is no closer to how, though.

If it isn’t an accident, what do you hold that sets you apart?  Do you fly through the air? Have you found some remarkable insight into the nature of this world? Or do you just have an imagination?

There is no instruction booklet, only flashes and glimpses of insight in your disparate heads.  There is no guidance, only guesswork. You could be nothing more than disposable accidents of creation, hearing something not meant for you; is that a better option than the universe actively using you like flotsam and jetsam to discard at the earliest point.

Is it about the betterment of all over your own comfort … or is it something more that these other people here have kept hidden? There is but one way to find out, and so you commit yourself to uncovering this mystery or perhaps to collapse of old age and in that singular moment see the infinite glory you believe you have been protecting.


Cyclopean  adjective

cy·​clo·​pe·​an | \ ˌsī-klə-ˈpē-ən  , sī-ˈklō-pē- \

Definition of cyclopean

1 often capitalized : of, relating to, or characteristic of a Cyclops


3 : of or relating to a style of stone construction marked typically by the use of large irregular blocks without mortar

Etymology of cyclopean

“of or characteristic of the legendary Cyclopes of Greek mythology,” 1640s, from Latin cyclopeus, from Greek kyklopeios, from kyklopes (see cyclops). Especially in reference to having a single eye in the middle of the forehead; also “vast, gigantic,” and in reference to a style of ancient masonry, irregular or unhewn, fabled to be the work of a gigantic Thracian race (1822).

First Known Use of cyclopean

1582, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Look-up Popularity

Bottom 30% of words

Closing remarks

Zendead- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone  Good to read to your kids and to draw minor ideas from. Good for introducing kids to fantasy and reading.

Joules-Crap Guide to D&D

nulloperations- Space Engineers: Minecraft in Space

Guard-a-Manger- Stranger Things.  The Season 3 trailer dropped, and I have not been doing a great deal of reading lately, but it reminds me of how effective theme building can be and how evocative the creators are with their design elements.

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

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Joules- Email, Twitter, Facebook

Nulloperations-Email, Twitter, Facebook

Guard-a-manger- Email, Twitter

And Thanks to Merriam-Webster and online Etymology Dictionary for our Lexicon segment

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