A Setting Book That Would Hit a Few Buttons

So I was driving home today and was struck by an idea for a setting book. It’s something that would definitely hit a few buttons, among OSR types in particular.

The idea would be a “grand campaign” book, akin to The Great Pendragon Campaign, which would advance the timeline of the setting 25 years or so. So that’s one button; I know a lot of folks don’t like “advance the setting” things at all, and some do. (Please don’t turn the comments into “advancing the setting is evil”; that’s not the point of this post.)

However, it would be a bit different than TGPC, in that there would be several major decision points that the game master would decide upon at given intervals, either by his own fiat or by player intervention in the various plots and events that are boiling, and the outcome of each influences the outcome of the others. Thus, it turns from a railroad-type plan into a “choose your own adventure” book. That’s the second button; I know a lot of folks have fond memories of “choose your own adventure” type books.

I’ve run the math, and assuming four major plot points over the course of 25 years (with intervals where things run along until a new decision point is reached), that means around a hundred different chapters would be needed to cover all the various permutations over the space of all the years. That can be condensed by compressing the number of years between decision points, or expanded by making the decision points spaced wider apart.

With two pages to describe the world-as-it-is on any given year in any given timeline, that gives a 200 page book, which is eminently doable.

The mechanics would work just like a choose-your-own-adventure book. In year 3, for instance, the game master is given a choice; if Iuz defeats the Shield Lands, turn to page 7. If the Shield Lands survive, turn to page 44. And then there would be more descriptions of how the world unfurls until the next decision point; if the giants controlled by the drow House Eilservs conquer Sterich, turn to page 24, if not, turn to page 72. And so forth.

The idea would be that of the four plots, it would be easier to influence them earlier on, but there would be fewer signs that the fate of the world hangs on the outcome. Once it becomes obvious that it’s a world-changer, it becomes much harder to deflect.

And of course if the game master just wants to have all the wars and politics and such going on in the background, as a backdrop to the player characters’ actions, he still has choices and can have a ton of options for how his campaign unfurls over the course of time. There end up being 16 different outcomes with four plot-points. That can start to get a lot bigger as you start to add a fifth or sixth plot point or more than two possible results of any given plot point…

I figure that gives me the best of both worlds; it advances the timeline, but gives the game master a lot of choice beyond a single “Raistlin can’t die in Pax Tharkas so he can be around later to stop Takhisis”. If you want your player characters to influence events, you can, but if you don’t, it’s perfectly acceptable to let things just unfold in the background and keep them guarding caravans and exploring ancient ruins.


Also, please don’t forget the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary Kickstarter going on right now! 900 monsters, suitable for most OSR-type games, all under one cover. Can you help get us to having an illustration for each and every one?

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

4 thoughts on “A Setting Book That Would Hit a Few Buttons

  1. That's honestly a very cool idea.

    It would also be ideal for a gaming group that gets together infrequently but wants to play an "epic campaign" – one session determines a single decision point, then the Grand Campaign advances one step.

  2. I'd like to see it combined with how Beyond The Wall does adventure design. Charts you fill out yourself, extra blank maps to doodle in and change the landscape as you see fit beyond the preset blocks of text, etc.

  3. I like the idea quite a lot, but I am concerned that most of the product would be useless to the purchaser. That is, unlike a CYOA, this is likely to be run through only once, or maybe at most a couple of times. As a result, most of the material would never get used in any way by a particular Referee. And that is inherent to the design!

    That isn't a deal-breaker, I think, but it is something to consider when designing the book. If some way could be found to use even the sections that are skipped (and I confess that I am not sure how that would work), that would make this even more useful.

  4. That's certainly a consideration, faoladh, but it does open up the possibility of replayability in a way that a conventional advance-the-timeline campaign doesn't. (Or, rather, gives the GM the tools to conduct an advance-the-timeline campaign that doesn't have to have the same general outline each time.)

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