Monday Musings: Exposition and Campaign Structure

As I continue thinking about the shape of my next campaign, I know I want a strong central hook. This doesn’t have to be a level 1-20 campaign, and I’m really looking for something that I can finish running in about four weeks. (Why four weeks, you might be thinking? My group has a round robin gm style, and that is about the length of each turn.)

In the first session, I want to introduce the City of North Harbour, the main villain (who is in North Harbour and planning to corrupt the city), the conflict (something to do with the natural capacity for evil), and … a plot. As the expository session, I also want things to start as close to the action as possible, not a situation of “shoulder we save the king,” but “you’re fighting back to back through the halls of the castle on your way to save the king.”

Some ways to use exposition include: setting or campaign primers, having a big NPC (non-player character) information dump, creating a short power point presentation, or reading some pre-written text. In a novel or short story, this can be written into a narrative at the beginning or something that works throughout the text. In an RPG campaign, player attention span matters a little more and ideally even the exposition should be more interactive.

The question is also WHAT to highlight. There are a couple of things I definitely want to hit on: the Moonfall, the capture of the rival city’s witch-king, the factions in North Harbour, and some nod towards an external threat.

Looking at The Three Musketeers, the protagonist witnesses his father killed in a duel with one of the main servants of his antagonist, grows up, travels to Paris, challenges each of the Musketeers to a duel, sides with them against the Cardinal, and is enmeshed in the larger geopolitics within a few efficient chapters. He doesn’t necessarily know everything, but because he is an outsider, can explain it to the audience as it happens.

Similarity, Hamlet opens with a scene that describes everything going on in and outside of Denmark, so that when we meet all of the characters in the next scene we have some idea of what’s going on.

So, my challenge is to think of a way to inform my players while not dumbing things down for their characters, and also getting the plot moving as quickly as possible. Next week, I’m thinking that I’ll discuss complications. Happy gaming!

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