by NPC Aaron
Last week we talked about building interesting encounters. This week we’re going to increase the scope and talk about building a campaign that feels truly epic. But first we need to talk about the general goal of that type of campaign.
What Makes A Campaign Epic?
When building a campaign about heroes we often want to capture a certain feel. We look to movies and video games and we want the climax of our campaign to feel like they do. We want all the characters to be truly invested in defeating the big villain and we want the encounter to have unprecedented gravitas. There are some campaigns where this type of end is not appropriate, but a lot of heroic fantasy and sci-fi campaigns are going to strive for this. We want the feeling of a summer blockbuster or a Final Fantasy style game at the end.
The key to this is that the scope of the game needs to be big. The journey to the epic climax needs to be long and full of twists and smaller conflicts that cause the player characters to be invested in that final showdown. Creating that through traditional storytelling is difficult, but doing it with a shared narrative like a roleplaying game is nearly impossible. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying though and I thought I should share the experience I’ve learned from my own efforts.
Where To Start
The problem when building an epic campaign, is that the image we have in our minds is of that incredible climactic end encounter. In reality that is the easiest part of building something epic, but the hard part is giving the encounter the dramatic weight it needs. That weight can only be accomplished through the story that gets there. It has to be earned over the course of many sessions.
With that in mind we need to erase that final encounter from our mind. We can save that for later on when it gets closer. We need to work counter to our gut in this case and start at the very beginning. The more preconceptions you can erase the better. In the case of this Pathfinder campaign, I didn’t even have the notion of a villain. I didn’t think of a set piece for the campaign ending. I just came up with a rough setting, and let the players help build it. If you can do that before you start coming up with a final scene, you’re going to find that the work gets easier.
Epic Grows Organically
When you let the players help build the world, and when you focus on the local stories at the start, you are going to find that the story starts becoming epic on its own. The villains you bring in are going to be despised. The allies you bring in are going to be treasured and the places you create are going to be explored with more interest because you are focused on them for their own sake rather than their spots as mere bumps in the road to a climax.
I don’t know if we’ve met the final villain of the current Pathfinder campaign or not, but I do know that the villains we have met are truly despised by the players. I know that they care about unraveling the mysteries that I have put in front of them even though I don’t have an exact idea of where it all leads.
The important thing to remember is that stories have a starting point and that focusing on their end while playing out their start is not doing you, or your campaign, any favors at all.