26
Nov
09

mad libs campaign design

Commenting on the 9 Minute Campaign Design post, Cr0m of the Vancouver Red Boxers noted that it’s difficult to come up with a good “High Concept” for sandboxy D&D play.  In fact, with the 9 Minute thing, one sandbox will closely resemble another.

There’s a reason for this!

We’re all playing Dungeons & Dragons (or early RPG’s very heavily influenced by D&D’s assumptions), and we’re all playing in almost the exact same sandbox style.

The obvious source of customization, then, is the High Concept.  There have been some very evocative High Concept versions of Dungeons & Dragons: some early, some praised or reviled, some very recent.  (How well the rules of Dungeons & Dragons serve these ends is a topic of debate which need not concern us.)  But generally, for ease of access, most of us are running homebrew vanilla fantasy games.

(You can still differentiate between vanilla fantasy settings if you’re really good at establishing a particular Look & Feel or consciously exclude inappropriate sections of D&D’s eclectic bibliography, but noticing such subtle distinctions becomes a matter of connoisseurs.  Tavis’s White Box game is noticeably different from Eric’s Glantri game, but I’m not sure how to describe it, other than that people are different, which isn’t helpful.)

At this point, the more concrete points of differentiation come down to proper nouns and house rules.  So: MAD LIBS CAMPAIGN DESIGN, which can also be used to bring newcomers up to speed.

The way this works is, write down the following on a piece of paper – and then plug it into the standard D&D campaign script!

  1. Name of the adventuring party
  2. Type of government
  3. Region name
  4. Terrain
  5. Player-character race
  6. Town name
  7. Personal name
  8. Funny-sounding personal name
  9. Race that nobody ever plays
  10. Hardship unthinkable to decent folk
  11. God-forsaken place you would never want to go to
  12. Scary Adjective
  13. Custom monster
  14. Number, presumably non-negative
  15. Artifact
  16. Ominous adjective
  17. Cosmological catastrophe
  18. Adverb
  19. Noun
  20. Early RPG author
  21. Gaming reward such as gold or experience or whatever
  22. Activity associated with adventurers that doesn’t occur in a dungeon
  23. Standard Character Class
  24. Dragon Magazine “NPC Class”

Thus and so:

Hi!  Welcome to the (1).  We’re adventurers in the (2) of (3).  We spend our downtime among the (4)-dwelling (5)’s of (6). We’re aided by the kindly (7) and frustrated by that annoying dickhead (8).  Nearby are the ruins of the (9), abandoned due to (10).  Now it is known as the (11) of the (12) (13), where our party has lost (14) brave men in its depths trying to recover (15).  If we fail, a (16) (17) will (18) destroy the (19).

So it’s your standard D&D really, except we use (20)’s house rules for giving out (21) for (22).  In this world there are no (23) class, instead we substitute (24).

I’ll be curious to see your lists in the comments!


4 Responses to “mad libs campaign design”


  1. November 27, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    Thanks for crediting me with that observation, but I wasn’t able to articulate my difficulty until you laid it out so plainly. You’re absolutely right though: High Concept is where its at!

    This mad libs is awesome. I tried to fill it out, but realized that I’m missing the most interesting elements. I’m going to use it to fill out the pieces that are missing in my game. Thanks!

  2. November 27, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    Here’s my mad libs. I like the parts I didn’t steal from James’ campaign the best. Actually, I’m kinda regretting having stolen anything now, because this was so much more fun. :)

    “Hi! Welcome to the Boon Companions. We’re adventurers in the Barony of Black Peaks. We spend our downtime among the hill-dwelling humans of Threshold. We’re aided by the kindly Bertold and frustrated by that annoying dickhead Bargle. Nearby are the ruins of the Gnomes, abandoned due to Dragon attack. Now it is known as the Swamp of the Blasted Horn-beast, where our party has lost 12 brave men in its depths trying to recover the Prison Ring. If we fail, a Dread Comet will inhumanly destroy the Sword.

    So it’s your standard D&D really, except we use Moldvay’s house rules for giving out Glittering Jewels for Beer-guzzling. In this world there are no Fighter class, instead we substitute Assassin.”

  3. November 28, 2009 at 1:46 am

    Nice! I am curious to know about the Horn-Beast and the Prison Ring!

    “Hi! Welcome to the SPUNK-SLINGERS. We’re adventurers in the KLEPTOCRACY of HOWCANYA. We spend our downtime among the SEWER-dwelling ELFS of EVANSVILLE, INDIANA. We’re aided by the kindly GODFREY and frustrated by that annoying dickhead KLUNGO THE MUD-MONGER. Nearby are the ruins of the AQUATIC ELVES, abandoned due to CHEESE SHORTAGE. Now it is known as the DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES of the NEOCONSERVATIVE SLURK, where our party has lost SIN(PI/3) brave men in its depths trying to recover THE CRYSTAL SKULL. If we fail, a HELLISH BIG-CRUNCH will CONSTIPATEDLY destroy the PANDA BEARS.

    So it’s your standard D&D really, except we use PAUL JACQUAYS’s house rules for giving out HIT POINTS for SWIVING. In this world there are no CLERIC class, instead we substitute LAWYERS.”

  4. 4 Greengoat
    November 28, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    But I love Spelljammer.


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