The Alphastream Game Design Blog

The Campaign Our Players Want?

Promotional image from the D&D movie, showing all the actors in a circle looking down towards the camera.
The characters in the movie Honor Among Thieves

When we plan to design or run an RPG campaign, we absolutely want to choose a campaign we will enjoy running. But we aren’t alone. Our campaign will be more successful if we consider the types of campaigns that appeal to our players.

Beyond Player Types

In the past I’ve discussed Player Types. When running adventures, it is helpful to understand the kinds of players we have at the table and the types of play they enjoy.

Thinking through player types such as Instigator, Power Gamer, Storyteller, Roleplayer… these are helpful despite being simplifications. Players seldom fall into solely one category. But for a single adventure or when designing a scene, we can add elements to please the player types we have. We add a strange glowing idol for our Explorer to interact with, and maybe the treasure includes a map. Our monsters issue threats and reveal clues while fighting, to please our Roleplayer even as our combat filled with minions pleases the Slayer.

Major Themes

For a campaign, we want to zoom out and consider the overall types of experiences our players gravitate towards the most and the least.

If we want to run a campaign that is a huge dungeon, filled with combats testing the PCs, will that work for our group? How about a campaign of courtly intrigue? Or, one heavy on exploration where PCs uncover lore and secrets while trying to carefully track scarce supplies?

Themes can be quite varied. Pirates can be a theme, involving ships and swashbuckling and high seas action. Commerce can be a theme, where players are merchants or heavily involved with mercantile factions. Urban intrigue, or murder mystery, or cops and robbers. These themes will resonate differently with players, but they are large enough constructs to allow us to tweak the experience.

If our group loves combat, urban intrigue or murder mystery may be a stretch. It might work if we can set it against a backdrop of nations at war, or factions fighting one another. If on the other hand our group loves roleplay and storytelling, an endless dungeon may still work if we fill it with lore, factions with interesting NPCs, and big decisions that change the dungeon or the lives of the factions within it. In both cases, we may instead be better off considering themes that fit our group more closely, so long as they interest us as GM.

In Alien, the entire table can hear you scream

Interactions and Gameplay

Themes often hint at the types of interactions and gameplay. A game of private investigators who solve murder mysteries is likely to involve roleplay including clever back-and-forth with suspects, skill use based on hunches, and interacting with the environment to find clues and test theories.

We have to be interested in running such a campaign, but so do our players. We can think through our campaign ideas and whether the players will engage with them. Will they lean into the horror aspect of a game of Alien? Would they prefer a campaign where they run a spaceship and can modify and upgrade it as they gain resources? One where they explore different civilized planets, negotiating and roleplaying with varied cultures?

Choosing our Campaign

Let’s recap:

Now that we understand our players and the types of experiences that will resonate, we should be able to pick our next campaign to run. If you are still vacillating between a few options, my recommendation is to pick the shortest campaign. If it works out, you can extend it. If it isn’t what you hoped it can be, you can end it more easily before too much time has passed.

We’ve picked a campaign! Next time, how we can tweak it!

If you have a minute, check out my series, Success in RPGs!

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This entry was posted on May 27, 2024 by and tagged .



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