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I have been playing and GMing rpgs for a number of years, and a little while ago I had what I believe to be a really good idea for an original campaign setting for Savage Worlds, my system of choice. It is complex and ambitious - far in excess of anything I've even run for myself before.

At least initially, my intention is to spend some time fleshing out the idea so that I can produce a few simple scenarios/one-shots in the setting, and see if my regular players enjoy them. However, assuming that they go down well, I am very interested in taking the idea as far as I can, with the possibility of self-publishing.

I have found this question, which answers many of my queries regarding the actual publishing part, but what I would like further information on is pointers/advice on the process of developing a setting/campaign of signficant size specifically for other people to run. I've only ever written stuff for myself to run up until this point, and would welcome any guidance on gotchas to watch out for, and considerations that I might not normally be aware of.

So, in summmary:

When writing a campaign/setting intended for other people to run and possibly eventually to publish, what particular considerations and issues arise regarding the actual design of the setting, campaign and the scenarios/adventures that make it up that you do not find when you only write adventures for yourself to GM?

Based on the comments below, I thought it was worth clarifying...

I am not expecting/wanting answers only from people who have actually published here, as I think it is possible for people to think through the process and how they would go about it if they were to embark on the same endeavour.

I am less interested in the actual publishing part as I have managed to find a number of resources to help me here. I want this question to focus on the process of designing and writing the content.

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2 Answers 2

I've been writing homebrew settings and adventures for many years. What I find works best is a mix of history and little details.

That said, I always start with a map of the relevant territory. How big the area is depends on the idea that sparked the setting. Some have been continents, others only a village in a valley, or just a chain of islands.

Next, I will spend some time thinking about the factions at work in the area. Conflicts between such factions can be an excellent source of adventures. It doesn't matter if they are nations or clans or guilds or even members of a towns council. Size is largely irrelevant, motivations and goals are key for faction. This is an important thing, if the motivations and goals are not believable the whole setting can easily fail.

This should all tie in with a history. How far back you go is up to you. I tend to go as far back as I need to for the story, 10 years, 100 or even 10,000. Start with an outline of major events and fill in what you need. Be careful not to over do the history as you can write yourself in a corner. An important thing to remember with history is that the players almost NEVER uncover a complete history. That would be boring. The history is for you. They will uncover only as much as they need to for the story. This is often far less then you will write.

Now that you have a map, some factions and history you are almost ready. Add some spice and some details. These go hand and hand. The details I like to add include at least one city/town. If my map has room for more than one city then I will only detail the major ones. Hubs of trade and capitals are good start points. How many cities is up to you and what will fit on your map comfortably. You should have a bit of info on each. Things like population, major import/exports, who rules it, system of government, and attitude toward its neighbors. While these details can be a bit dry it is all in how you present them to the players. Reading off a list of stats is boring but working little tidbits here and there will give them the info they need in a less snore worthy fashion.

Finally, the spice. It can be hard to do this last and nothing says you have to do it last. Just be ready to rewrite it some if you haven't put down your framework before hand. Spice is just a bit of color, those memorable NPCs or places. They must fit in with your framework. As example, I used an execution area in the public square to motivate my players to dislike the local Baron. It was called the "Dancing Floor" and there was a hanging every day. Once they saw it they were hooked on the idea of toppling that Baron. Which was what I wanted.

NPCs are also spice. Make up a few, some good, some bad, some grey. Don't forget the funny ones. This can be the hardest part, you want just enough info to give you what you need for the player's experience but you don't need a complete dossier on every stable hand. Most often I start with a first name and few adjectives. Only the NPC's I know will be major players get more detail. In this way I have several names and a few words about each, this is enough to wing it if the players take interest in that NPC and later I can add more.

I'll stop myself here. Good luck, don't get discouraged and enjoy yourself.

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Savage Worlds has an excellent licensing setup that you can check out at: http://www.peginc.com/licensing/

I have written to the email address provided there to ask about licensing, and they gave me a list of several things they were looking for.

  • They hold all their officially licensed products to the same standards as their own products. They check that it has good writing, artwork, and layout. There are links on the right side of their licensing page to information about what they look for in their writers and illustrators.
  • Once you get past the initial check that your production values are high, they'll look at rules changes like skills, edges, etc. They want things to be balanced and fit in with their other products.
  • They want a small sample to verify that what you're making is good, and after they approve you, they let you do your thing. You don't have to keep sending them everything you're working on for approval.

I would look at published adventures like War of the Dead and go with a similar format. I was in the same boat you are of wanting to make and publish my own PDFs, and if I go forward with it, there are several steps I can see taking.

  • Write out the campaign and play through it with my group. I need to make sure it's fun and interesting for other people.
  • After each game, ask the players what they liked and disliked and modify my notes.
  • Write out the first couple adventures in a Word document and get used to how to format things and work with layout.
  • Find a friend who can draw or hire a graphic designer to make some artwork and a suitable background for when I create the PDF.
  • Send the PDF to their licensing department and work through whatever criticisms they have.

Beyond that, you'll have to think about how to handle the business side of things. You'll probably want to setup a business, and if you're not used to running a business hire an accountant to handle paying for creating your products and receiving payment. But that's something you'll have to research for your own area as it varies from place to place.

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