Usually, when I start a role-playing campaign and I am its game master (or Dungeon Master/DM, in D&D's jargon), I have some specific ideas on the types of moods, ambiance and themes I want to explore, just as if me and my friends were starting to write a novel together.
I've been doing this for a long while, but for this Ptolus campaign, I have decided to discard that kind of background design to rather concentrate on the actual game and the tastes of its players.
The reason I am avoiding any underlaying "theme" for this campaign is to avoid the trappings of a novelist's approach to role-playing games. I don't want to "tell a story" or "build a story" with this game. I want us to actually "live" the events of the game. To achieve this, I want to increase to the maximum my reactivity to the players' actions. If I was having any previous idea of what the campaign ought to be, or what type of "story" it would have to tell, I sure would be at odds with the actions of the players' characters at some point, since the players do not know what I may have prepared for the game in advance.
This doesn't mean I won't prepare for the game, won't have any idea of where the events of the game may lead its main characters, but I won't try to enforce a precise succession of events on the players. Instead, I intend to react to whatever they think characters do next. This will make the game's believability increase tenfold, I think.
If there is any goal I have before starting this campaign, it is to have a great time playing D&D, and have me and the players of the game enjoy Ptolus to the fullest extent we can manage.
What I have prepared is the base situation in which the players' characters (or PCs for short) would start the game, with the various motivations of specific NPCs involved with this base situation and events that occured in Ptolus prior to this situation. I also obviously thought of some possible, likely developments based on the players' tastes and inclinations, but that doesn't mean anything would "have to occur" the way I'd want it to.
Some the best RPG sessions I ever played were using Vampire The Masquerade and my home made "Paris by Night" setting. Often, we would just meet on week-ends to play the game and we would just start to role-play events occuring in the game without me having anything prepared. We were just knowing where we would have left the game and were going on with the natural consequences of the previous session's events. It went on like this for quite a while, years actually, and after some time this felt like the place was truly breathing and living without us thinking twice about this or that action's "impact" on an overall theoretical "storyline" we would have had in mind. There was no such storyline. No "impact" beyond the events as they occured "live" in the game.
That's what I intend to do with Ptolus.
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