Recently we met with a member of the ElderBrain team to talk about their latest project, Crown of the Oathbreaker, a 5e compatible dark fantasy campaign setting. Not only is the project successfully backed on Kickstarter, but it hit its first goal in 24 hours. This comes to us as no surprise as they’ve really poured a lot of work and effort into the project. We sat down with them to talk about what goes into making a campaign setting and see if they had any insights for dungeon masters out there.
What Goes Into Designing a Whole Campaign for Publication, Really?
We initially set out to talk about themes and what went into the book. Their campaign focuses on a lot of dark imagery and high fantasy settings, but from the get go they knew that creating a campaign for others was different than just creating one for themselves. The whole book has been heavily influenced by surveying thousands of people to see what they want in the game. What they got back was a fantastic treasure trove of information about what people wanted them to create, but they still had to shape into its final form. From there the real work was underway.
Planning Planning and More Planning
With survey notes in hand, the Elderbrain team didn’t just build a linear campaign. Their final product is a whole sandbox adventure setting, complete with 5 adventure maps, 20 dungeon maps and 12 new subclasses. It’s a monumental amount of work that went into this and when asked how they accomplished it their answers were quite simple: planning and writing.
While we were not shocked to find out that the answer was that straightforward, for us as fellow dungeon masters we were happy to know that something like this is achievable with time effort. And they certainly put time into this! The book itself was in the works for 8 months before their Kickstarter and this is more than a one person operation, with three primary members working on the content.
Writing the Story While Designing a Sandbox
When talking more about the books overall story and how to create a sandbox with a strong cohesive storyline, it became evident that the story is the star, even with an open world to explore. The Elderbrain team dives into the story right away in the campaign, so it’s always there for players even when they’re stumbling around the world on misadventures.
Everything their team did was focused on the story. The main flowchart for events and key scenes was built out from the start in Google Slides and used heavily as reference for ensuring that everything designed was in service of the story and the plot. Even beyond this I was told that solid planning and a good thematic backbone were in place long before the major writing even began, which is a solid lesson for any DM.
This is something that a lot of new DMs can struggle with when trying to build their own settings. The idea that an open world can’t have a pre-planned story path is pervasive, but wholly untrue. If the open world is built around the central story it will be affected by it and add linear story progressions to non-linear gameplay.
More than just a Campaign Setting
Another critical thing the Eldberbrain team did with this project was create a full players guide section for their work. They highlighted a few key features that this allows for. First, and perhaps most importantly, this section allows players to get introduced to the setting as quickly as possible. This highly unique setting contains a ton of fey influences, and having a players guide really helps establish for player’s a baseline for what is normal in this setting.
Secondly, the players guide is packed with all the subclass goodies they’ve built for this campaign. When surveying people about what they wanted, class customization options were high on the list. All of that information rounds out the player’s guide to give players a real way to connect with the content beyond a few DM monologues and a simple session zero.
After our discussions a few items about this creation process were crystal clear. Despite a long creation processes timeline, building a campaign setting is really a matter of diligence. The Elderbrain team didn’t just sit down and knock out a story. They discussed and planned a carefully crafted narrative that they used as a framework to develop game play. No matter the setting, if you’re a DM trying to build something out for yourself, the basic principles are all the same and we were so happy to hear the Elderbrain team echo this sentiment in our discussion.
More on Crown of the Oathbreaker
Crown of the Oathbraker is currently available on Kickstarter for the next couple of days. They’re raising money to get this fantastic book printed and to stack it full of high quality art that matches their already high quality content. If you’re looking to pick it up you can back them now, which is a safe call as they were funded in under 24 hours. There are still a few amazing stretch goals left at the time of this writing so consider going to show your support and help them make this project even better.