Friday, November 7, 2014

Assembly Required: Outlining Step Two - People, Places, and Things

I touched on this briefly in my previous installment of Assembly Required, but it's important enough of a section that I like to give it the full once over. Players may be the breath of your campaign - but the people, places, and things you populate it with are the lungs. You cannot create a functioning, living campaign without the interaction between both groups. So here are a few questions/guidelines on building up your campaign's lungs.


  • What sort of groups organizations are there? What are their details? What are their goals? How do they operate? How are their enemies? Allies? What are their game mechanical costs? (e.g., if the Stygian Circle is a Enemy, how much is it worth?)
  • Are there any NPCs of renown that the player characters would know about? Will they ever meet them? If so how often? If it's at least once a adventure consider writing them up as a character.
  • Do the PCs have any allies, patrons, enemies, or dependents? If so detailing them now might save work. Did they come up with a novel idea that works for the setting? If so explore it!


  • Are the PCs operating out of a home base (specific city, space station, etc.)? If so consider using GURPS City Stats to write it up. 
  • Detail a half dozen or so places the PCs can go to during a game. For example, a bar, a hotel with a seedy reputation, etc. Don't put too much detail into them - just enough to whet the players appetite.


  • Are there any mythical, legendary, or otherwise well known objects the players might get their hands on? If so sketch out a few details.
  • What sort of items do the players already have that deserve such detail, if any?
  • What's the technology level of the campaign? (as discussed before) What gear books are you using? Is it ala carte? If not you need to make a list of what is and isn't allowed - even if it's only "All gear from the Weapons Chapter of GURPS Ultra-Tech that is TL9^ is available, except for Screamers."

It might seem like a lot of these questions are redundant with those for Campaign History - and to a degree they are - but now is the time to make lots of notes on how you plan on treating them and expanding them in the setting.

The Worked Example: Something, Something Kill Monsters Urban Fantasy Secret Magic
Here is an example from my campaign (though it's already written up!) of the kind of detail that's useful to have around. Anything that goes above 500 words is probably too much to start out with. Again, these can be rough notes or full on stats (though really that should come later after you've had time to let the campaign ideas "steep").

The Stygian Circle
Founded in the late 19th century, the Stygian Circle was founded by the mysterious sorcerer Lanius. Not much is known about Lanius before he appeared the small hamlet of Vernichberg in Germany where he killed every man, woman, and child, except for seven individuals he seemingly chose at random. Over the course of three days as the corpses of Vernichberg rotted, he spoke to the survivors and showed them the wonders of necromantic magic. No one is sure what he told them or even what he did, but at the end of those three days the first of the Stygian Circle were born. Since then the necromancers of the Stygian Circle have plagued mundane and ceteri alike with their predations and unfathomable goals. They typically gain new members from the warlock population or those who wish to pursue the darker aspects of necromancy, which have been forbidden by the Conclave. Like their founder, especially powerful members of the Circle have been known to destroy entire towns as they seek out those with the gift for sorcery and then twist and corrupt them to their own ends. Their “forced” recruitment practices as best left unmentioned as the few survivors who have escaped usually end up mad or dead within days of their leaving.
             Circle members all bear a magical brand that can only be detected by magical means or by viewing their aura. This black brand of thorns twist around deaths-head moth has become a sigil feared by any sane man. Hunted by the Conclave and her allies, members of the Circle cannot operate in the open in most instances or face immediate retribution. The exception to this is when they are “harvesting” towns to replenish their ranks in which case they don’t care if others know who they are because no one will leave alive or sane.
              All members are exceptionally talented necromancers and know more about death and the dead than almost anyone else. It is rumored that those of the First Order have found the way to cheat death itself and this more than anything else drives more and more sorcerers into the arms of this blasphemous organization.
              The Circle operates in small cells with up to twenty members who move around constantly and are assigned tasks by intermediaries from the First Order. From missions to loot tombs to experimenting with new spells, each cell might be tasked with any sort of job. This way if the Conclave captures any members, they only know about their current or past missions and have no idea where other cells are. Rarely, they’ll operate in bigger groups (up to a hundred) when they intend to go “harvesting.” Though not approved by the Conclave they operate like any other Cabal or Coven and have a structure that is almost identical to any of those working under the aegis of the Conclave.

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