GM Advice: Campaign Mapping (Not Maps In Campaigns)

Maps are an important part of any adventure. They give you a lay of the land, show you important features of the region,  and even detail where all the nastiest battles will take place. They're just darn useful!

But have you ever used one for your campaign. No, I'm not talking about a physical map of your campaign world. A map of the story, or at least the important bits. You would be surprised at just how similar they are to your typical area map.

Just like any map, this one has a starting point and a destination. It is important to know where you are starting, and where you intend to end things. For simplicity's sake, I tend to write my adventures like comic books. I break everything into arcs that build on each other. Below is the map I drew out for my home campaign.

 "Click to embiggen" 

In my Dragonslayer campaign, I knew my starting point was in the small town of Keen. From there I added major plot points the characters could/would encounter along the way. The great thing about plotting the map like this is that you can jam other little one-offs and side quests in between plot points. You have a visual of when these major events are happening, so it is easy to see the places were extra content won't make the story feel bloated or rushed.

The first few plot points, their discovery of an abandoned dwarven mine and the defeat of the inhabitants that lived there, did not leave me a lot of room for much in the way of side quests (though I did use objects in the dungeon to foster relationships with townsfolk). After they returned to Keen after defeating a wyrmling green dragon, I saw a good deal of time between that moment and the next plot point; a festival.

Eventually I planned out raid on the town they had grown fond of with an overwhelming number of enemies. This would be more than the players could handle, so I gave them a choice of possible allies they could call upon, causing a divergence. The choice they made would determine what plot information they would be able to recover at the time. The timeline would play out in each location, whether the players chose it or not, but the outcomes of each would be different that if they had intervened.

For instance, my players chose to call upon the sturdy dwarves of Karakzhar, and in doing so discovered that their city had been ransacked and taken over by a brutally efficient army of orcs. Because of this choice, they had no idea that their other option, Ambleshire, was a city under siege from a large tribe of gnolls. The events there played out, as if the players had not intervened, which meant they didn't get a particular piece of information early in the game (though it will show up later)

Despite what choice they made though, the end result was to bring a force back with them to liberate the town of Keen, thus ending that particular story arc and beginning the next. 

You can write this out for short arcs like the one above, or you can make a long one for your campaign. This is an excellent tool to help you figure out the pacing of the adventure. Placing the plot points where you want them gives you a nice visual of where the story slumps, and where it is too packed full.

Do you use something like a Campaign Map or outline when you plot out your game? Do you use something else? Let me know in the comments below.

Know where you're going and you will enjoy getting there,
+Ed The Bard 

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