This piece assumes that you have a game troupe that will be gaming with.
1) Start with the tease: You need to know if the players will like what you want to play. I solve this by creating a number of campaign trailers. For every campaign I want to run, I create a “title” and some “copy”. The title is akin to a book or movie title. The copy is like a book blurb or advertising text for a movie, describing a bit about the campaign background and story it will (try to) tell. As a campaign is starting to wind down (before it ends or it will go on hiatus), I start presenting my troupe with these “trailers”. I can then judge their interest in various types of campaigns and build interest in the possible games. After a while, I tailor the trailers to match their responses (planning appropriate changes in the campaign). By the time the campaign stops, the players are excited about the new campaign, just as if they were excited about a new movie.
2) Poll your players I: While I am presenting various campaign trailers to my troupe, I start to work on the actual campaign we will run. I ask each player for one to five “bits” they want to see in the campaign. Each bit is a campaign element, character types, major NPCs (or type of NPC), types of story lines they want to see, the kind of settings, type of adventures they want to see, types of opposition, important elements (magic, tech, skills), genre and subgenre. From these elements, I can usually tell which campaign trailer they are most interested in. Sometimes, I will create new movie trailers based on their answers.
3) With a ruler and some tape: Armed with the various campaign bits the troupe wants to see, I start a vague outline for the campaign setting. I will work out outlines for each campaign trailer the troupe is genuinely interested in, modified for their responses.
4) Buy the Tickets. They have seen the updated trailers, the troupe begins to decide which campaign they want to play. In theory they should choose just one. It has been my experience they will waffle between two until the very last moment. Once the campaign has been choosen (or for each campaign they might want), I ask them for the 1-5 campaign bits based on that setting.
5) With a ruler and some tape II: I begin to build the game environment in earnest. For this I use a top down, bottom up method. That is, start with some conceptional ideas, and brainstorm every important part- noting the best parts. After deciding on the pieces to keep, I build the world up from the details selected.
I will also begin to work on the main storylines for the campaign.
6) World Pack: After creating the world, I create the basic world pack for the campaign setting. This will include the overview of the world, some details, and any special rules that we will be using for this game.
7) Casting: We have Casting Parties. In these group sessions, we work out all our characters together. Players help players with game mechanics and conceptions. The characters are woven together in terms of their mutual histories, so the group has a real reason to be together. As the GM I provide direction and information to the group. This casting party allows the players to create what will become a team with mutually supporting roles in the group, weave their backgrounds and story lines together, and get a good feel for the group.
8) Poll the characters II: In addition to any notes I make during the casting party, I ask each player for 1-5 things they want to see in the game, with an emphasis on their characters. This time they will give me actual roles they want to see in the game (love interest, evil wizard to be their enemy, etc), storylines they want, types of scenarios they are now intersted in, opponents or types of opponents, and so on.
9) Polish the work. The final elements of the world are created to support the characters and their conceptions. Plot lines are mapped out. Villains are created. All the final polishing of the game is done.
10) Start the game.
Additional Ideas (4)
When each player is created, I make sure there are 3 plotlines attached to the character. One is something the player wants to do. One is kind of neutral and links the character to the main plotline. One I make up and will be a suprise to the player. These plotlines are part of the notes you are going to make in section 7 are going to be used in step 8 and 9.
Important Villians and senior minion might have 1-3 plotlines attached to them. (Villians have dreams and goals too...) Every location might have a couple of plotlines that are based in its location set up (part 9). Additional plotlines you can plug and play into your campaign can be created from the things found in step 8.
Now each character, the villian, the main plotline, and perhaps a location, will have 1-3 plotlines going at a time. Each plotline is broken down into key scenes (things that have to happen for the plotline to go on). These key scenes can be connected by one (and sometimes more) transitions scenes. You can plan these key scenes and some transisitons out ahead of time. (See the flow chart potential?)
Find the links and ways to connect these various key scenes of others. (Oh look, Johnny needs to meet his brother who is a sailor to discover this... well that key scene is a great transition for these other players who will need a boat to get there). See the advantage of flowcharting now?
On a given night, everyone has to have something interesting to do. I look at all the open plotlines.. finding what is available (including ones for locations and the main storyline). Each key scene will of course have entry requirements that must be met (location, other events, so on), so that help unlock what is possible or where I might need to steer things (we need to be in Avalon for these three plotlines to go forward.. how do we get them there....) I choose either a key plot point (ideally) or a transition one that will feature a character.
I have the important scenes selected for the game. I come up with a couple of routes (possile transition scenes) on how to get to them. I figure out where I am going to need to put cut scenes (to split the action). I go into the game with a rough plan on how to oder the scenes and how to get between them. These things seldom survive impact with the players, but they come pretty close most nights.
It should be noted that I do most of my prep work for given night long before the game starts. Usually I take upto 15 minutes to plan an evenings adventures. Sometimes it comes down to 30 seconds and my existing notes.
Yes this is a bit of a balancing act, but by making sure the players are tied to the plots, the plots interest them, and everyone gets some spotlight time (if humanly possible), you get a great game.
If you want to tie this into world building Okay, now that you have all these people, places, and events, (plot lines and scenes) find out what you need for all these plotlines. Start making maps, places, events, and things to tie them all together. This process helps you make everything you need.
Now some people say, but what about cosmology or history or that space over there. The question I have is "Will these things ever come up in the game?" If they are in the list above, then yes.. work on them. However, how many times have you needed to know who was the ruler of a given country two centuries ago in the course of an adventure? Probably never. However, if that was going to be needed the GM would of figured them out ahead of time.
<b>Just do the work that is required. Then if you have time, add other stuff that might be needed or that interests you.</b>
1) First, it is funny, All that construction with just a ruler and some tape.
2) Things in the world have to be connected (tape) and both fit together and measure up to each other (ruler)
I use the metaphor a great deal, but never explain it... so here you are.
Most GMs have the source material that inspired the setting, especially settings they like (and would prefer to play). GMs might as well share. If you get the players in the mood for that kind of story, then it is easier to get them to buy that ticket, rather than the other options.
"Oh I just watched a great John Woo movie.. Sure, we can play Martial Arts Monks."