View Full Version : A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away...

Nova Spice
10 July 2002, 03:46 PM
Well, my PCs have but one adventure left before we exit the campaign I'm currently running and then, we begin a New Jedi Order campaign.
The title of this thread reflects what I believe is a missing element in our group: a well-thought out story with immersive storytelling, rich characters, and an intriguing plot. Mind you, I'm not too bad at it, I just want to take this thing to a higher level.
Now, this is not a request for plot ideas and such since the campaign hasn't even started. This is simply a quesion on procedure.
When you creative GMs begin "designing" your campaign, what methods do you use to lay it out? Do you try to create everything before it starts, having a beginning and an end already thought out?

-How do you weave your PCs goals and aspirations into your story arc?
-How do you describe your NPCs (the main ones) and how do you portray them in a way that is convincing?
-What do you come up with the "main" plot? How do you create all the little adventures that lead up to the climax without wandering off-course?
-And last, but definitely NOT least! How do you describe the PCs surroundings wthout taking an hour to describe every little intricate detail?

I want this campaign to be good, damn good. I'v seen and heard about so many great campaigns on the Holonet and I want my PCs to have one too! So basically, it all comes down to how can I take my PCs to a galaxy far, far away....

Wedge in Red2
10 July 2002, 04:43 PM
Originally posted by Nova Spice
When you creative GMs begin "designing" your campaign, what methods do you use to lay it out? Do you try to create everything before it starts, having a beginning and an end already thought out?

Not sure I'm a "creative" GM, but here goes. I'll try to do my best to answer your questions. Just be aware, my way of doing things is probably not the best way :D.

Generally, I have an idea of what the story arc and the main themes/ideas of the campaign are going to be before I start. I don't plan the whole thing out. Just some ideas like "have the characters uncover a bunch of Jedi secrets lost during the reign of the Empire". I come up with some adventure ideas, how they're going to link together, a reoccurring villain, stuff like that. But overall I don't have an ending planned. You never know when things are going to go on a tangent and stuff up all your planning :D!

-How do you weave your PCs goals and aspirations into your story arc?

Hmmm. Well, if my PC's go to the trouble of writing a background, I try and work it in somehow. For example, in the above-mentioned campaign a couple of my characters made up a planet they came from. Now, I'm going to take them back to this planet at some stage in the campaign by giving them some leads to Jedi secrets that may be found there. Or maybe a potential Jedi apprentice. Stuff like that.

The problem I think I find is that my PC's will often be sparse on their backgrounds, and often more sparse on their goals/aspirations. So I have to 2nd guess them...

-How do you describe your NPCs (the main ones) and how do you portray them in a way that is convincing?

In detail :). I try to use evocative words when describing them. A Sith villain is towering, clad in black, and snarls at them. I also try to use stereotypes. For example, describing a character as wearing white robes and PC's will often conclude they are a peaceful academic. I also try to describe main features concisely. The Sith villain is tall, has black robes, long blonde hair, and piercing blue eyes. I donít go into detail of how his hair is styled, what his robes are made of, or exactly how tall he is. If the PCís want more info, they are free to ask :D.

Hmmm, well, reading that back, I've totally contradicted myself! I guess I try to give lots of detail in as few words as possible. Leave gaps for the players imagination. And as I'll mention below, prepare descriptions in advance.

-What do you come up with the "main" plot? How do you create all the little adventures that lead up to the climax without wandering off-course?

Well, sometimes a little wandering off course is not such a bad thing (IMO). Sometimes the characters like a bit of a break from the major plot. Often I try and put it together like the pieces of a puzzle. The PC's get a bit more of the puzzle each adventure, until they begin to guess what the picture it's going to show them is going to be.

-And last, but definitely NOT least! How do you describe the PCs surroundings wthout taking an hour to describe every little intricate detail?

That's a good question. Often, I appeal to images the players already know. If they're flying into Coruscant, I describe the towering buildins on either side, and leave it to their knowledge of the movies to picture the rest. When they recently went to Ord Mantell, I described it as "like Tatooine, except less sandy and more rocky". I also try to generalise. You don't need to describe every building on the street, just give a general feel to the street - is it cluttered, what's the style of architecture, what is the predominant colour.

I often prepare descriptions in advance so that I can be sure I cover off everything. While the vision in your head of what it looks like is clear, you have to make sure you translate that vision into words. You don't want to miss a critical element (e.g. the colour of the sky, the noises in the street, etc.). Also, try to appeal to more than just the sense of sight. Describe the sounds and smells (if applicable).

Hope that helps. As I said, this is what I do, itís not necessarily the best way!


10 July 2002, 06:28 PM
I too am on that same track as you. I want an Epic of a story. One that will live in the players minds long after we have played.

So I turned to a study of Mythology. WotC had an article about Epic roleplaying. Which I liked. But for me it was not good enough. So I went to another website. The Smithsonian Star Wars Power of Myth site to be exact.

Now the WotC article was taken just about from this source, but I like it better.

Anyway. Step by step I sketch out the "call to adventure" the "hero deeds" and the like. It is amazing. And with a little practice I will develop an Epic and you should too.

The link to the Smithsonian site is:


10 July 2002, 06:37 PM
Well let me start with campaign planning .
I usually start with an idea of what a cool story would be if i read it in a book , not alot of detail , but a beginning , and a couple of endings . then i think of a cool setting ( this is easy because its Star Wars and we have some great sources for inspiration) . then i start to flesh things out by telling my characters the type of adventure im going to run , for instance i get an idea for a really political ,low violence , AOTC campaign that will take the characters from just before EP2 - well into the clone wars. this will have my PC's thinking up completly different characters than if i wanted a high action take on the confederacy head on campaign . so in a way i help myself out by giving myself some time to let the characters develop with my PC's ( backstory isnt and option -its required) . then i get the backstory's together and try to put a little something in the game for everyone. so in a way i customize the story to my Characters.

now this of course doesnt work out all the time .I had a character suddenly bite it , and the rest of the characters really had no reason to be where they were except for helping this one PC out . that was odd. we got through it , but its was some serious on-the-fly GMing.

another way to get your creative juices flowing is to ask your players what they would like to see in the game . have them make a list of five things they would like to see , and some of them will make it into the story , and some of them wont , but at least you asked. an example of one of my recent PC's lists was this::
1 a cloud city setting
2 a rancor-like fight
3 bounty hunters that arent in the movies much ie: bossk, IG88
4 more starship combat

- thats just one player and its alot to work with.

so all in all you should have a story you would like to have going , and try to fit in alot of personal character development , but you dont have to do it all on your own . it everyones game - you just happen to run it , so its everyones job to make sure that you all have a fun , and interesting storyline/game.

now for descriptions , i like to use color alot , as it will shape a persons vision of your scene in alot of ways , when you tell someone that a room is very dark with the shadows a hazy violet , the only light in the room is a floor lighting pattern that basks the walls with splashes of deep red ... you havent even told them about one piece of furniture in the room and they have a fairly vivid picture of what it looks like.

for describing NPC's go for the stereotype method for the nobodies , get a little more in depth with the minor-recurring guys , and the biggies should be fully fleshed out "people" . Wedge had it right with the sith , snarling , tall , imposing characters , with a life to them . add some color decriptors as above and you have a fearsome scene.

I read alot of books , and i use the lead of far greater authors than myself . remember its a story you are spinning on the fly , and they have alot of great ways of describing things. all of the NJO books (love them or hate them) have a wealth of easy-read well described star wars stuff . especially read how they describe the major Vong Villians for the first time . the first time you read about Shimra - he is imposing . you read it and you feel like this great big guy is in the room with you. and thats the feeling we want to evoke in our players . not just fear , but the entire pallette of human emotions.

well hope that helps . one mans answer sheet is another mans list of questions.:)

10 July 2002, 07:09 PM
I too start the adventure/campaign with only a rough outline of the first encounter and basically wing it from there. My players know this and really appreciate that they can literally go anywhere or do anything (of course it's not to say that they won't accomplish the adventure goals in the process, just maybe in a different order or setting -- it's all about the illusion of free will -- e.g. the players must face off with a major bad guy but don't go to the planet he's on...No problem! Just bring the bad guy to them (unless they're deliberately running away from the guy :D ).

For location/NPC descriptions, I usually keep them generalized unless there's something important to notice: speeds things up a bit and keeps everyone's attention.

Of course I find the best method of colorful description is to utilize Projective Telepathy and just beam the images straight into the players' heads. Now if I could just get TK Kill down....:D

10 July 2002, 09:38 PM
-How do you weave your PCs goals and aspirations into your story arc?

My players, unfortunately, don't always have goals and aspirations (at first). It depends a great deal on how creative they are, as well as how much they know about the setting. I've run games where the players were completely oblivious to the particulars of the game world. In these cases, I'll develop a bare bones background for their character, giving them both a short- and a long-term goal.

Note that I'll check with them prior to this, to make sure that I don't trample over their own creativity. Some players don't like the GM telling them where they're from, what they've done, or where they want to go. Lately, though, it seems that one of the only ways for me to get the players on any sort of parallel course (to one another) is to give them a little "help."

By inventing these initial goals for them, I can easily weave them into the plot. As for goals and aspirations that arise in play, I try to pay attention to my players and see what sorts of things seem important to them. It's generally pretty obvious what turns them on.

-How do you describe your NPCs (the main ones) and how do you portray them in a way that is convincing?

I'll generally work up a short physical description, including a couple of character "tags" for each NPC to make them memorable. Give that Ithorian a limp and cane, that Rodian a bright, safety-orange-dyed crest. The Hutt they meet likes to wear tinkling bells on the end of his tail.

Portraying them convincingly comes down to having continuity. Make sure your NPCs have realized motives, the same as you want your PCs to have. NPCs don't live in a vacuum (with some exceptions, nyuk), so make sure that the actions that they take in game or behind the scenes make sense. Give each NPC a line of reasoning (it need not be sane reasoning, either), and then follow that line to its logical conclusion.

Also, I like to change my voice when doing different NPCs. It's not really a question of dialects (though that can be a part of it). Pacing your words a certain way, speaking faster or slower, or imitating some form of speech impediment, like a lisp, can really individualize NPCs. I also like to use mannerisms. With one NPC, I might leave the note, "Scratches his nose self-consciously when he lies." If he lives long enough, the players might eventually pick up on this.

-What do you come up with the "main" plot? How do you create all the little adventures that lead up to the climax without wandering off-course?

Main plots don't have to be difficult to create. Stick with a central theme. Give yourself a goal in relation to your game, and stick to it. Remember not to rush things, though. If the central plot of your game involves the players being framed and arrested for smuggling twi'lek slave girls and then escaping from the spice mines of Mon Gaza, be sure to give them one or two games of relative peace and freedom before springing it on them. Work up to it slowly, because this gives them time to form in-character relationships, goals, and motivations before the plot really begins to move.

As for little adventures, these tend to make themselves. It's always nice to throw the players a bone once in a while, too. Not all side plots need involve the central plot, either. Make sure they're relatively self-contained, unless you want them to become central later on. Wandering off-course isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes it supplies a much-needed break, especially if the central plot is getting tired.

-And last, but definitely NOT least! How do you describe the PCs surroundings wthout taking an hour to describe every little intricate detail?

Describe the obvious first, and lay a few clues if there is something important that needs to be noticed. This gives my players a general description of what they're seeing, and allows them to fill in the rest of the details themselves. I'll usually have more details available in my notes, in case they want to know more.

You obviously want to keep the game moving, but you don't want to leave the players wandering in a plain white world filled with 10 x 10 rooms and stereotypes. With some things, you can rely on the players to visualize them right off; a YT-1300 freighter, for instance. On the other hand, you can always spruce that up:

"Parked in the landing bay is a battered YT-1300 freighter. Several victory marks have been painted next to the cockpit in red, and a pair of black fuzzy dice can be seen dangling behind the dusty windshield."

Instead of a stock YT-1300, we know that this one has been through a lot, hasn't seen a wash in some time, and that the pilot/gunner has either experienced his share of dogfights, or wants people to think he has. As for the dice, who knows? Maybe the guy just likes tacky stuff. And the description only covered two lines of text.

Lastly, remember that there is more to a description than sight. Try to include one or two other senses when describing something. Think about what the smell of the docking bay might be like, or what sorts of sounds might be heard there, or what the temperature might be like.

In the end, it's a matter of taste. If you seem to spend most of your time talking while the players seem to spend most of their time waiting for you to shut up, the descriptions probably need trimmed. Still, don't be afraid to be florid with your language once in a while, especially when it comes to important NPCs, places, or things. Saying, "You find a big old ruby" doesn't say much. Saying, "You find a large red gem that is warm to the touch and seems to glow with an inner light," makes sure that the players know that it is either very important or very valuable.


11 July 2002, 04:29 AM
Well considering I'm currently working on my first Star Wars campaign in about 6 years, here's some of the advice I'm following which I am finding very useful (all examples are based on the game I am currently in preproduction on);

Theme... what theme do you want to portray in your campaign?
e.g.The fall and redemption of the PC's Jedi Master set during the backdrop of the Clone Wars.

Location... what sectors/planets do you want the campaign to centre around?
e.g. To avoid my players conceptions about locations featured in the films, my campaign is going to be set in the Tapani Sector (Lords of the Expanse). With only about 10 majorly inhabited planets, I can easily put my own feeling onto them without the players thinking 'that wasn't like that in the films'.

Plot... work out your story into 3 major plot points. These 'acts' are a common structure in films and novels, so transfering them to roleplaying is quite easy, and you still have room for the fluid nature of most RPG plot-paths.
Act 1 - Ends with the "death" of the Jedi Master at the hands of the "Inquisitor".
Act 2 - Ends with the mysterious murder of the "Inquisitor"
Act 3 - Ends with the redemption or destruction of the - now dark - Jedi Master.

These are the tips I've found and they work for me, so hopefully they'll work for someone else too :)
And to address one direct question...

And last, but definitely NOT least! How do you describe the PCs surroundings wthout taking an hour to describe every little intricate detail?
Here's where I cheat... I include a lot of setting and background material on my website and then base my descriptions around that. For the first few adventures, I don't dwell on the description of the setting much, but instead focus on the people or the situation they are currently involved in. Once they become familiar with that, they have already been pointed to take a look at the site and read up on various locations that have started to draw their interest.

Lord Diggori
11 July 2002, 05:33 AM
-How do you weave your PCs goals and aspirations into your story arc?
I make the goals of the PC's the story itself. What they would seek creates the story. My job as GM is to make an exciting means to these palyer chosen ends.

-How do you describe your NPCs (the main ones) and how do you portray them in a way that is convincing?
It's all a matter of their backgrounds. If they're aliens make them act like the animal they closely resemble: Mon Calmarians are very observant and cautious like fish, Quarrens are stealthy and quick to strike like a squid. Along with this look at the past that made them. A crimelord that struggled from the gutter is gonna be more brutal and direct then one that grew up in luxury and had the job handed to him by daddy.

-What do you come up with the "main" plot? How do you create all the little adventures that lead up to the climax without wandering off-course?
The Star Trek method works the best for me. every adventure has a A & B story. A story deals with the main mission of the group, the goal they all share. Each adventure has obstacles for that goal thatc increase in difficulty. The B story is the focus on one character per adventure, their time to shine: Riker makes peace with his father, Picard has a love interest, Data tries to tell jokes, etc.
To stay on track simply move through the tangents you know are dead ends as quickly as possible in real time, but preserve game time. "You want to search the junk planet? Fine. Four days later you dont find the Codex but do now know that bantha pudu isnt the worst smelling thing in the galaxy."

11 July 2002, 05:52 AM
Personally, it could take me a month or more to create a campaign. First I think of a rough plot line. Just detailed enough to know what kind of NPC's I want to have. Then I create those NPC's. Each NPC get's their own full character sheet. Fill everything in and make that character as "full" as possible (ie. background, personality, everything). Now keep in mind those are just the MAIN NPC's, not the stormtroopers and all the underlings. For those I just use the stats directly from the RCRB. Then I begin to fill in the gaps of the "rough" plot line. I create required and random encounters. Then I create a sort of draft of information which includes a general list of the way things "should" go. Granted things never go exactly how they SHOULD. But depending on how well you know your players, you should be able to get a general idea of how they are going to tackle this "adventure". After that it's just a matter of figuring out how you want your scenes to be (floor plans for ships and cities and such). Now as far as describing things to the players, for me the best way to do that is just to fly by the seat of your pants basically. I know that this all has probably been said in previous replies to this question, but you should just take your time. Make everything as detailed as possible, while still leaving room for change. Your players might do something even you never expected. You never know.

Nova Spice
12 July 2002, 08:56 AM
Thanks very much for the quick responses and the well-thought out ideas. I appreciate everyone's time, and I now have a starting point in which I can begin to lay the foundation of creating a better campaign. ;)
Once again, thanks! :D

Wulph Ryshode
12 July 2002, 12:50 PM
I just finished an NJO campaign that my players were very impressed with. They are very experienced gamers and so I was surprised when they told me it was one of the top five campaigns they've ever played, especially since it was only my second campaign.

Anyway, for my first campaign I planned everything out ahead of time and they liked it but it was probably a bit too linear because of all the planning I put into it.

For the second campaign I was having a very difficult time coming up with a plot. So basically I just thought of something interesting that could happen to the PC's at the beginning of the game. So the PC's are exiting a cantina when a man being chased by the local authorites literally runs into them. He mutters something about secrets or treachery (I cant exactly remember what he said) and passes one of the PC's a holodisk just before he is gunned down (I know its cliche but it was a starting point). Now when I did this I had no idea what was on the disk. But as the players dodged the authorities and tried to find a hacker who could defeat the heavy encryption on the disk an idea was born. Before it was all over I had an intricate campaign that explored the origins of the Yuuzhan Vong and their connection to the ancient Sith (I know it sounds weird but I worked). Basically, what I found out was that too much planning can be a bad thing. The campaign evolved as it went along, I had no set ending or even middle for the story, I just took in what happened each session and used that to plan for the next session. It gave the PC's a lot of freedom and it ended up that they wrote as much of the story as I did. So from my limited experience I would say not to plan too much out ahead of time.