Friday, July 09, 2010

GM Mentoring: Stealing Your Campaign World, One Element At A Time...

Good Evening:

Today, I received the Blackmoor bundle from, which included two 3E books and a 4E book, all focused on this ancient realm of adventure and nostalgia. I've never played in Blackmoor, and were it not for the OSR, I wouldn't even have any interest in learning about it. Now that I have the books, though, I look forward to seeing what I can pick up about the setting itself.

I like to collect settings. I have probably ten different fantasy campaign settings, if not more, on my gaming shelves, including many of the popular and common ones: Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Kingdom of Kalamar, Dawnforge, Scarred Lands, Krynn, Athas, Majestic Wilderlands, World of Onn, the Diamond Throne, the Role-Aids' Demons Campaign Setting and so on. I don't have Eberron, but that's because I didn't find anything in the announcements of it that pulled at my interests. Blackmoor now joins the list.

As a tinkerer and a Game Master, I have no qualms about stealing ideas and inspiration from multiple sources. Given that the core gaming experience of Old School adventuring is the dungeon that didn't always have to make sense, with disparate neighbors next door to one another sometimes without rhyme or reason, there's no shame in doing the same with your own campaign world. You can be particular bold in stealing the ideas you like best, and use the names as they appear in the original setting. Alternately, you can be somewhat slick about it, change the names to protect the innocent, and put them in your game world. Even if it doesn't start off making sense, over time, you or your players will come up with reasons for these elements to come together. You will explore that interaction over the course of numerous adventures, and when all is said and done, the end result will blend together in a most unusual and personal manner. In essence, you will synthesize this amalgam of ideas and inspiration into a unique and distinctive whole, particularly if you are okay with changing the details from the original source to meet your own needs as your campaign evolves.

For example, perhaps you like the concept of half-giants from Dark Sun's Athas, so you take the overall concept, tailor the game mechanics to reflect your setting, and make a place for them inside your game. Perhaps the concept of the Red Wizards of Thay intrigues you. If so, you could tailor them to your setting, calling the the Emerald Magelords of Arn, and create embassies in various surrounding regions as the Magelords attempt to spread their influence. Maybe you like the Moathouse from the T1 module, and so you bring it over almost whole cloth from Greyhawk into your own world. You might build a pantheon for your world from the deities of four or five different and disparate campaigns, simply because you like the flavor of each priesthood. The possibilities are endless.

Whatever you come up with, so long as it is fun for you and for your players, is perfectly okay. In fact, even if your entire campaign is stolen piecemeal from multiple other settings, the end result becomes yours, and takes on a life all its own. For the working GM operating under a time crunch, there's absolutely no shame at all in pulling together this kind of world. It can help with addressing Gamer ADD, since you can explore the exciting elements of new game worlds within your own campaign framework, and add to your creation with other ideas and other settings as the players explore and expand their adventuring possibilities.

So, how many of you have done this? Or barring that, how many have played in campaign worlds like this? What was your experience like?

With Regards,


Trey said...

I would suspect this is the way a lot people do it. I've certain taken bits here and there from numerous published campaign worlds, though I do tend to change names and whatnot. I did a short campain not too long ago that used elements of Talislanta and Exalted's Creation in the mix.

My campaigns mostly have "other media" inspirations, though, as I think Greyhawk was the only campaign setting I had access to in my formtive years, and Marvel's Conan Universe, and glossaries for numoerous fantasy novels were more ready isnpirations.

James Bobb said...

To see my humble Onn proto-setting listed with some of those others makes me feel like I should do more to do it justice. Though the homage bits were drawn from Greyhawk, most of the 'stolen' bits were from popular TV and movie series from my childhood (especially Star Trek). It's suprising how changing the context or a single element can give somethig a completely new feel.

Flynn said...


As you build on your World of Onn, be it with adventures, new setting books or extra supplements, it will grow and blossom. Of that, I have the fullest confidence. I look forward to watching it grow.

With Regards,