The Modular Campaign: Part 2 – The Map

ModularIn my last post I talked about the strengths and weaknesses of the modular campaign, and how to keep your main story arc separated from the ebb and flow of quest lines and content. But these were vague suggestions, hardly getting to the meat of the issue. For the modular campaign to work, preparation is key.

PrepIn my limited experience, the easiest place to begin designing a campaign is from space. Unless your campaign takes place on a space station, then it might be necessary to leave the solar system as well. Whatever the case may be, world development comes first. The three questions I ask at this phase are:

1) What is the highest level of technology on my planet?

For long games I generally keep my players low-tech at the earliest stage. If the highest tech on the planet is atomic weapons, I might start them with handguns. If the pinnacle of civilization is a stone wheel, then the players get rocks and mud. Either way, the development of the world, the availability of resources, and thus the apex of your civilization, will be hinged on tech. That is unless…

2) Does religion dominate society?

Without digging too deep on this subject, it’s sufficient to say that religion and science have not, as a general rule, played well together. If your planet is populated by Those Who Pray to the Mossy One, who are in constant conflict with They Who Worship the Great Lichen, then the two groups may not have scienced their way out of the dark ages yet.


He demands blood! And moist wood. But mostly blood.

This can also be used to create disparaging levels of development from one culture to another. Or, religion may have taken a backseat, if your world has…

3) Multiple races living on this world?

Is this an earth-like world? Is it populated by *sigh…* elves, dwarves, and goblins? Or have you thrown Tolkien on the fire and flooded your cities with animate Troll Dolls and discarded Beanie Babies, brought to life after the chosen one opened Pandora’s Toybox? Do the other races have religion of their own, or have missionaries spread the word, converting sentient toys to the path of The Mossy One? Is there veiled racism? Outright violence? Do the Trolls have a vendetta against Plushy races?


This is the face of a bloody zealot.

Answering these three questions will make the rest of the planning stage a cinch. Commerce, property, money, magic, food…almost everything else ties into the first three questions. From here out, planning quests, dungeons, towns, and cities will be a matter of plugging in reasons for conflict and monsters to fight. But first, the map.

Because the players have the freedom to roam in a modular campaign, it’s a good idea to scale technology and difficulty to distances based on the map. If they avoid roadsigns and wander off the beaten path, give them hints that they may not want to proceed up the path to Mt. Doom. If the party insists, by all means pull out the module folder labeled “Hunt for Necroflesh the Fallen One” and watch your players backpedal their way down the mountain.


After the map has been drafted, the next step is to label the cities and dungeons, decide which faction occupies which, and fill in the gaps. Given that there are three towns and three dungeons, my early module layout might look something like this:

City – BegginnersVille – Troll Controlled (Devoutly Mossy)

City – BeanieBriar – Plushy Controlled

City – Plasti-Shire – Contested (Lichen Conflict Underway)

Dungeon – Torch McGonnigal’s Wax House – No Affiliation

Dungeon – Fairdale Recycling Center – No Affiliation

Dungeon – The City DMV – Troll Friendly


Your standard dungeon, except without the payoff.

Each location can then be broken up into a game module of its own, with unique encounters, challenges, and rewards. Some of these encounters may be specific to the location, or to the level of the players. Others may be mandatory and serve a purpose to the main storyline. In the rough planning phase, I will usually mention this.

Dungeon – Torch McGonnigal’s Wax House – No Affiliation

5 challenge rooms (map to be generated at a later date)

>Three loot chests (medium), 2d6 gold per enemy slain.

>Monsters: 6 various sculptures of the cast of Jersey Shore. Difficulty (medium)

End boss: Torch McGonnigal’s wax sculpture of standup comedian Carrot-Top. Difficulty (hard)

>Plot Item: A prop from Carrot-Top’s stage trunk, which will be revealed later as “The Talent” a chalice capable of siphoning the skills and abilities from another creature.

Grail(Next week I’ll talk about random encounters in the game. Difficulty scale, and why not all fights should be balanced. And I’ll post a sample section from my own campaign.)


One thought on “The Modular Campaign: Part 2 – The Map

  1. Pingback: Who’s The Hero? — 5 Methods for Developing Provocative NPCs | Masks of Monsters

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