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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Setting Saturdays - July 5th, 2014

Today's Music to Create By:  Jethro Tull
Candle Color: Green

Happy Saturday and welcome to Dungeon Mastering by Candlelight, the blog where we put on some classic rock and roll, light a candle to set the mood and create cool old school fantasy campaign material for your gaming group.

Last week we started out by sharing about how home RPG fantasy campaign building had really seen a decline until the fairly recent arrival of the old school renaissance or OSR movement.

So you've decided to kick off your own completely self built campaign.  Good deal!  Where do you begin?

The first thing you need to do is create a few maps.  Unless you are a veteran Dungeon Master and know you will keep at writing and mapping material your players may never see for the fun of it (and it is fun), you probably want to stick to maps that will have actual meaning in your campaign.

The first sample map to the right is a good example of the simplistic but functional map style I currently use for just about everything involving overland and city maps in my current game.  All you need is a pen and a box of inexpensive colored pencils to get the job done.  Each color on the map represents a different broad type of encounter location.  This map of a fairly enormous city, the starting city in my current game, is scaled at approximately three square city blocks per square on the grid.  Each color represents a different neighborhood.  Each neighborhood on the map represents a different encounter / adventure difficult level very much like the levels of a classic dungeon.

Anyone can make a great map like this one in an hour or so, rather than hours and hours.  All that extra time you have can be plugged into writing up the non-player characters, adventure locations, shops and such within the city.  You can key these directly into the map or you can do what I do and just create a stack of brief 3x5 note card write ups related to each color coded encounter area on the map.  As the players explore and realize that certain areas are more dangerous, sometimes much more dangerous than others they will learn to skirt those areas or at least be on their guard when they pass through them.

This exact simplistic style can be used for overland maps as well.  I use a one square equals one mile for what I call my "adventure scale" maps used in my campaign.  You can create four color coded maps with the starting town or village in the center and usually wind up with about a thirty to fifty mile diameter circle of highly detailed out terrain surrounding it with this method.  Most player groups I have DM'd for will remain fairly close to the starting village or town for four to five levels of advancement and in OSR games where experience points run into the thousands and tens of thousands at those levels this usually equals three to six months of play.

A note on experience points and the rules.

Follow the rules.  Start at level one.  Be patient.  Let the players grow their hero up from nothing.  Allow them to experience danger and failure from time to time.  Don't be a helicopter DM - always hovering over your players and coming in to rescue them from poor decisions, no planning and poor dice rolls.  Let them run out of food and water.  Let them run out of arrows in a fight.  Keep track of these things.  Its not hard.  It only takes a minor amount of effort on your part.  Your game will improve dramatically if you do.  The sense of having to plan together, work as a team and explore will be built back into your game or possibly you will experience it for the first time.  Do not always fudge the dice rolls.  That should be a rarity and not the rule of thumb.  Dungeon Masters in the old books were called the referee for a reason.  A good referee knows the rules and follows them.  He does not make it all up off the cuff.  This ruins the integrity of the game world you are creating for the players and it becomes less about the game and more about them sitting around and listening to you wax poetic and make things up.  In my opinion a good OSR referee and DM creates a  campaign with some details, a good dungeon with clever bits and then gets out of the way so the game can play out as it was meant to according to the rules as they were written.  This does not mean you should not house rule certain things but once you create a house rule and introduce it into cannon for your game then stick to that rule, always.

Starting Village - Onlidale

Onlidale Village Map
Drawn by Edward Kann (me)
The map to the right is for the human and halfling village of Onlidale.  This was part of a cooperative, open project I contributed to and so it is free for you to use.  The map is already supplied with a key.

This is a more traditional hand drawn map for a village and more and more I am going back to this more artistic style for smaller encounter locations where the grid based style does not provide enough visual reference for me.

So for me, overland and city maps are basic grid maps with color codes and village and the big grand campaign map are more of a later period OSR hand drawn map style like this one to the right.

Obviously you can go with whatever you like but to start you'll need a starting village or city and some miles of terrain surround it.  If you plan to kick things off with a dungeon adventure think about placing it in the wilderness so that the characters have to go find it.  For example, the ruins of the mad mage have been avoided for the last century and the path leading to it has all but disappeared.  It still exists for those brave or insane enough to go explore it although few return who do so.  It is in the woods to the West of town, well off the main road.  Other than that the locals have no other clear direction on how to find the place and so the players have to get provisions and plan an expedition to go find it.


Exploration is one of the three pillars of a good D&D campaign.  Always include this into your game when possible.  Exploration, roleplaying the character in speaking encounters, negotiations and such with npc allies, foes and the other characters and combat are the three pillars of a good campaign.  A great many DM's just hand locations to players.  They build roads leading right to the dungeon.  Stop doing this.  Drop the dungeon in a swamp or forest.  Make it creepy and difficult to find.  Put other interesting fights and combats and hazards along the way.  Give the players a good reason to go there.  Your game will improve because you do these things.

Well that is a wrap for today's blog entry.

Thanks for reading and see you next tomorrow!

Ed Kann

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