One side is the Player centric side. I feel a great desire to listen to my players and try to tease out ideas that they might be interested in. If a player creates a proselytizing cleric, I will drop in people to preach to. Perhaps a town that needs some spiritual guidance. For example my current party in the long languishing Aleria campaign contains just such a priest. The town they are settling in has a church, but it is a bit of a derelict building left over from more proserious times. The player might want to set up shop there preaching his religion, I don't know if he will, but it's there.
The other side of the coin: The world focused game is imagined before the players arrive and everything is in place. The players will make their opportunities in the world as they adventure. Naturally a GM has to adjust a bit with the world reacting to what the players do, but before the player's have a chance to do anything the world is there waiting for them. A good example of that in my game would be the ruins of Careth. A ruined city that has been sitting there for quite some time, with a few factions built in and some history behind it. Careth would have been Careth if the players never set foot in it. The players wipping out some Nagga netsting in the interior of the ruins and turning the place into a jungle made me adjust Careth to them, but I didn't build Careth (or the surrounding towns) for them.
It's the age old discussion between winging it, and preloading you game with massive amounts of prep.
For the record, and a bit counter to the things I sometimes post, I fall into the second category of GM's. When I'm running a campaign I like to have as much built out front as I can, so when things veer of off the page I have a framework that will at the very least keep things consistent. Touchstones I can bring the game back to so elements tie together. Prep-work matters less to me if I'm running a one shot because frankly one shots matter less to me. Not the experience of one shots, * but the idea that setting consistency is less important because the group might never come back again.
I'm guessing every GM preps and every GM has to make things up on the fly in different measures while running games. Not everyone is a good improviser, alternately not everyone has their world visualized down to the smallest detail. It's a blend.
So While I was running my D&D game on the regular I developed a bit of a trick to help me blend parts of my game more efficiently.
I have read my copy of the game Microscope, which I have never had a chance to play but love as a concept and as a tool. In particular I like the idea of taking subjects from a game world and looking at them in stages from broad strokes down to details as if each subject is a slide of a cross section in the greater whole. In microscope you the great whole is a history with people places and events.
In an RPG campaign the whole can be an area , and the slides can be the groups, individuals and actions that take place within the area.
What I started doing as part of my game, was trying to write down places and more importantly concepts that the players showed interest in.
In the example form the second paragraph above, I already have the city of Careth out lined for the game. After the group's first adventure in the area I had a few more strings to tie knots in.
here are some of the rumors the group heard upon arriving at the ruins.
- The building rumored to be the location of the old thieves guild is currently occupied by humans with snake like torsos.
- During the battle of Careth "something" crashed into the city and exploded, something that just appeared in the sky.
- Careth was destroyed by a rampaging army lead by the "Grey man." Who latter marched to Dairhouse.
- Surrounding towns avoid the ruins. Those who live near the ruins are looked upon with suspicion.
- There are strange shards of brass covered with gnomish runes sometimes found in the ruins. Careth never had a population of gnomes.
- The Skaven often raid the nearest villages, sometimes in packs and sometimes as loners, usually for food.
This is not so different I suppose than what most GM's do. I think what made it click for me was the organisation of it all. With the area split into "slides" of information I was free to expand freely on any subject without regard to the subjects exact fit as related to other subjects.
There are Naga.
- How did they end up in Careth?...
- What are they doing?
- What are their goals?
- Do they reproduce?
- Do they have a leader?
- What do they prize?
and so on for a few more questions, each slice of the area getting it's own page of quick notes then one master page where I tied (at least tried to) everything together.
Like this ...
- Naga , enslave the Skaven
- The Skaven are being forced to mine for the naga.
- The skaven worship the wrecked sky ship as a god, the Naga use it as a den.
- The Skaven are scared to fight the Naga despite the Scavens numeric superiority.
- The sky ships still contains old black ore rune stones containing magical energy, the Naga want too use them to open a portal to their home.
- The closest town has grown up around providing goods and services to relic hunters who venture into the ruins.
- The Skaven often raid the town for food.
- The skaven do not want to get to far with their food raids for fear the relic hunters will become skaven hunters.
- The naga will be hostile to a player group because the player group might see tier den as a good place to loot, and in fact they will.
- the skaven might try to play a player group against the naga, if the group looks powerful enough, they did just this)
And so on for a page ...
Its' not having everything prepped years ahead, but it's also not winging it. It's a blend.
Look at each facet of the parties current surroundings as a slice of the world, detail that slice without regard to the other slices at first, then decide how those slices might interact.
Thanks for reading
* A while back I took some shit on this blog about my opinion of campaign play being the structure where RPGs really shine. This doesn't mean I think one shot RPG's are lesser in any way (I wrote one.) It's just my preference. This being the internet however we are not allowed to have preferences of our own without having to defend them. As if one guy's point of few on elf games really matters.