Long-Range Campaign Planning

by Bob Greenwade

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Long-Range Campaign Planning

Typically, a Champions campaign is plotted like the old Golden and Silver Age comics; that is, each story stood on its own and rarely did much to disturb the status quo. Anything significant that did alter things in the long term was itself intended to stand on its own; the repercussions of the event were felt afterward, but there was generally no specific plan made to weave it into a greater story.

The texture of long-range storytelling (on television as well as in comics) has changed quite a bit since those days. Now events are planned well in advance, foreshadowed and even predicted by preceding stories, and woven into the larger epic, which itself may be either strictly planned (like Babylon 5 or open-ended (like a soap opera). There's a lot to be said for planning the events of your Champions campaign well in advance as well. This can take many forms, and be done on many scales.

Thread Planning

Suppose, for example, that there's something specific that you want to achieve with a particular NPC or NPC group. To do this, you can simply plan out what steps that development will take, and present it one element at a time over a succession of adventures.

For example, you may start Catastrophe (The Mutant File) as a team of terrorists, just as they're written, but want to change them into a team of specialists working for the United States government (perhaps a modern extension of the Expendables program described in Golden Age Champions). You could start this thread with a scenario where Quake sacrifices full success of a strike to save the lives of some children; this not only foreshadows what's to come, but shows the government that the man does have a shred of decency in him, and possibly in at least some of the other members as well (it's hard to imagine for Riot). The next time Catastrophe shows up, the PCs capture them all, except maybe Riot (who would probably abandon the group, though he might try unsuccessfully to stage a breakout). Behind the scenes, Catastrophe is given a proposal where they would keep their freedom (to an extent; they stay out of "Hot Sleep" in Stronghold) and gain access to government resources to protect them from Genocide and other enemies if they provide PRIMUS with information about those enemies and serve the government as a special strike force this time striking against terrorism. Soon thereafter, the PCs raid a Genocide base only to find that it's already been demolished by Catastrophe; this was their test mission. After this, the GM is free to do what he wants with the newly-officialized Catastrophe (possibly renamed the New Expendables).

This example is unlikely and perhaps overly simplified, but it gives a general idea of how a single plot thread can be developed over time.


Of course, this doesn't necessarily have to be done on a single-thread basis. Once you have the basic idea of how to go about this, you can weave several of these threads together over the course of your campaign. For instance, while the above thread with Catastrophe is happening, there could be a thread where Foxbat forms a religious cult; another where VIPER covertly uses a DNPC for genetic experimentation to give her super-powers; a thread that resolves a Rivalry between a PC (a different one that the one with the above DNPC) and a campaign-specific NPC villain; and yet another that slowly uncovers corruption in the local PRIMUS base. Each of these plot threads is pursued using a series of adventures that stand well enough on their own, but involve one (or more) of the advancing stories.

This kind of thing requires a little more structured planning than a campaign where every adventure simply stands on its own, or where only one or two plot threads are going on. Not only does each long-term story have to be planned out, but the individual threads need to be woven together into the fabric of the campaign.

How is this done? First, break down each story into its component adventures, like the Catastrophe storyline was in the first example above. They don't need to all have the same number of chapters; in fact, some variety in this regard is probably preferable. Then take the first episodes of the various stories, and arrange them in some order that seems reasonable to your mind. (In particular, the thread you choose to introduce first should either clearly demonstrate the fact that you're going to be shaking up the status quo, or cleverly hide it.)

Once you've planned the introduction of the first episodes of all the stories, continue with them all, varying the order just enough to keep your players from accurately predicting what they're going to have to deal with next. For added variety, throw in a few short scenarios that don't relate to any of the stories at all (perhaps they foreshadow something you're going to be doing in the future). Then, as these stories start to wind down, you can introduce more long-range stories and weave them into the fabric of the campaign -- or, you might even consider having a small epic adventure to which some or all of the long-range stories lead to act as a climax.

Let's take the given examples. We've already broken apart the Catastrophe plot thread, so we move on next to the Foxbat Cult. In the first encounter, Foxbat "helps" the PCs deal with Reverend M, and comes up with the idea of forming his own religion. The next time the PCs come across him, he's preaching on the street corner; despite the fact that it's completely unfocused and poorly thought out, he actually starts gaining converts; if the PCs don't try to bring him in as a wanted criminal nutcase, one of his enemies (say, VIPER) attacks. The third chapter finds the PCs tracking laundered money to a mysterious figure in the First Holy Church of Foxbat (which has its own building by now, small but large enough to set up a drive-through absolution service). In the fourth and final installment, some criminal group tries to rob Foxbat's cult blind, and he decides that it's really more trouble than it's worth.

The next thread to be considered is the thread where VIPER uses a DNPC for their genetic experiments. The first thread would probably be a more-or-less straightforward VIPER encounter, where agents are robbing the place that the DNPC works (or someplace nearby, if the DNPC is a school-age student or works at McDonald's or some such place); at some point during the battle (which is a ruse), the DNPC is grabbed (preferably with the excuse of using her as a hostage shield, but as an outright kidnapping if necessary). Then some time passes, and the DNPC suddenly appears practically out of nowhere in the middle of an apparently unrelated scenario, and begins to exhibit mysterious psychometric powers. The DNPC becomes an available resource for the PCs to use for several adventures, but finds herself a target (in the third chapter of the set) of both Genocide and IMAGE. Finally, an accident causes the powers to fizzle out.

For the Rivalry thread, let's assume that the NPC villain and the PC are both martial artists who trained together and have a long-standing disaffinity for each other. This thread starts out where the villain calls out the PC to face single combat, but when the PC arrives (with his friends nearby, most likely) he's attacked by the Destruction Company. The PC can then try to find his enemy's location, but hits a dead end until it's time for the second encounter, when he hears of the NPC running a protection racket in an inner-city neighborhood; when the PC goes to investigate, the NPC ambushes the PC, with friends of his own nearby (not the Destruction Company, but other martial artist villains and mercenaries) to keep the other PCs at bay and carry the main villain away in the event he loses the fight -- which, this time, is likely. He then lies low for a while, but information about his location leaks to the PC for the third encounter, and he's finally captured at that time.

Finally, there's the PRIMUS corruption thread. Let's assume that the corruption takes the form of a vigilante mentality among certain researchers at the local laboratory; they're performing clandestine, unauthorized experiments to clone one of their own number, give that individual super-powers far beyond the PCs' level, and make him into a super-vigilante who knows no world other than the one his keepers provide. Early on, the PCs would stop a shipment of illegal goods, among which would be several samples of superhuman genetic material with no specified recipient -- and the drivers aren't telling. Next, PRIMUS asks the PCs to do a little chore for them on the quiet, and the PCs get to experience firsthand the "do whatever is necessary" mentality of certain factions in the Intelligence Department (not necessarily the Silver Avenger or the Iron Guard, remember!). In the third installment, the PCs are present when an influential Representative of Congress, a member of the National Security Subcommittee and a vocal opponent of human cloning, is assassinated; soon afterward, the President softens his condemnation of the practice of human cloning, and while the official investigation points to a lone nut, the PCs come across indications of a government-based conspiracy (in fact, the PRIMUS conspirators had him killed). Then, for the fourth chapter, the local Silver Avenger personally visits the PCs to handle a delicate matter of national security, and hints to them that he doesn't completely trust anyone at the base any more. The fifth installment is a head-on fight with Genocide, and most of the more familiar Iron Guardsmen have been replaced with ones whose mentality is clearly militaristic. Finally, in the sixth and final chapter, the PCs begin to investigate repeated power brownouts in the area, trace it to the PRIMUS base, and team up with the Silver Avenger to stop the first cloning. They may succeed, or they may find themselves having to fight a fanatic with the combined powers of every mutant and mutate in the Champions Universe.

Now let's thread these together. This is only one possibility:

  1. The PCs band together to stop a shipment of various illegal materials destined for yakuza tradesmen. The yakuza denies any knowledge of it totally, but the anger and vehemence expressed over the most serious item -- samples of superhuman genetic material -- indicates that they really did know nothing about that part.
  2. Reverend M tries to set up shop in the campaign city, but Foxbat (in his "buddy" mode, appointing himself sidekick to one of the PCs) bumbles through and exposes the man's true character, first to the PCs (if that's needed) and then (at scenario's end) on live television.
  3. Catastrophe begins attacking the campaign city, and the PCs rally together to help UNTIL, PRIMUS, and any other local heroes handle the crisis. In the presence of the PCs and some PRIMUS agents, a young child is endangered, and Quake rescues her before calling together the rest of his group and ordering an exeunt. During the course of the battle, the PCs get to meet some of the Iron Guardsmen and see their even-handed attitudes, to contrast with the harder mindsets of their replacements later. (This is a cross-over between two threads, and it's not the last time it'll happen, either.)
  4. The workplace of a DNPC (or someplace close to where that DNPC frequents) is robbed by VIPER forces. The PCs show up to foil the robbery, but the DNPC is taken as a hostage.
  5. The Rival of a martial artist PC issues a challenge to public solo combat. When the PC shows up, the Rival is nowhere to be found, but the Destruction Company blasts him into submission and then proceeds to demolish the area. (If the PC doesn't answer the challenge, the Rival mocks him on television, diminishing the PC's public reputation.)
  6. PRIMUS asks the PCs to do a "little chore" for them, infiltrating a known VIPER installation to track down a stolen experimental microprocessor. The PCs do locate the processor and lead PRIMUS Intelligence Services to it, but they also see firsthand the developing hardline mentality within that Division.
  7. Catastrophe returns to the campaign city to finish what they started before, but UNTIL and PRIMUS forces are prepared for it. With the help of the PCs, Catastrophe is captured.
  8. The PCs come across Foxbat as he preaches his nonsensical prattle on a street corner. If they don't try to bring him in (as a wanted criminal), a couple of VIPER Five-Teams show up to give him grief (and possibly also hit at the PCs for their earlier interference). After the attack, Foxbat claims religious persecution, and makes himself look enough like a martyr that he does actually get a few followers from the crowd.
  9. The PCs catch wind of the martial artist's Rival running a protection racket in the inner city (an appropriate neighborhood -- Chinese, Japanese, etc.). When the PCs go to look into this, the Rival ambushes the martial artist PC, and hired martial-artist mercenaries (such as Green Dragon, Cheshire Cat, and Iron Dragon) keep the other PCs at bay. Despite the advantage of ambush, the Rival fights poorly, and is beaten and must be carried away.
  10. Rep. Phil Mitchell (party and state TBA) gives a special recognition to the PCs for their outstanding work. After he makes mention (probably in response to press questions) of his involvement with the House Paranormal Activities Subcommittee and general opposition to human cloning as well as his presence on the House National Security Committee, an assassin opens fire from within the crowd, and he dies. The PCs capture the gunman, and the official investigation quickly labels him a lone nut. Oddly, at about this same time, the DNPC who had been kidnapped earlier appears with no memory of anything that has happened in the intervening time. She also exhibits psychometric powers, which she uses to lead the PCs to evidence of a government-based conspiracy and cover-up.
  11. The local Silver Avenger asks the PCs to investigate the possibility that VIPER Covert and Mystery agents have stolen plans for a top-secret ray that disintegrates metal. During this conversation, the Silver Avenger hints that he doesn't really trust his own Intelligence Division any more. VIPER does not have the plans, but the PCs do foil plans to steal them, and probably arrest several agents.
  12. The PC martial artist's Rival starts laundering money for a local criminal organization (tong, yakuza, whatever). With assistance from the psychometric DNPC, the Rival is finally tracked to the First Holy Church of Foxbat, which is now housed in a small building (but, as mentioned above, big enough to now feature a drive-through absolution window); the PCs go there, but he makes his escape. (Yes, this is different from the above plan; I wanted to include him in the combined final chapter. Be flexible!) Angry, Foxbat swears vengeance against the man -- and this time it should last long enough to actually bear fruit.
  13. The PCs (specifically any mutants among them) are either attacked at their base or drawn out and ambushed by a full team of Genocide agents. As the psychometric DNPC approaches to warn them, Genocide likewise attacks her, and IMAGE makes an appearance to try to recruit her to their own cause. Fortunately, a group of Iron Guardsmen were initiating some exercises nearby, and come to the rescue. Notably, and in contrast with what the PCs know of PRIMUS, these Iron Guardsmen pull no punches, and possibly even endanger some civilians (including the psychometric DNPC) in their zeal to end the battle. Later, following the trail of the Genocide agents to their base (now sans the Iron Guard), the PCs find the place already cleared out with superpowers matching those of Catastrophe.
  14. Several of Foxbat's followers turn out to be VIPER infiltrators who have been siphoning funds into VIPER's coffers. Of course, it's the psychometric DNPC who leads the PCs along the trail to uncover this. Foxbat becomes disillusioned with his own cult, and closes it down.
  15. Investigating brownouts in the area, the PCs trace the power drains to the laboratory at the local PRIMUS base, where the first cloned mega-soldier is being created. It turns out that the martial artist PC's Rival has been the one collecting superhuman genetic material for the project, with no other object than the virtual guarantee of that PC's death. Led by the psychometric NPCS and teaming with the Silver Avenger as well as Catastrophe (now possibly renamed the Expendables) along with Foxbat and his gang, the PCs must either stop the process or have to fight against a fanatic with the combined powers of most of the world's superpowered mutants and mutates. During the fracas, an explosion takes place which removes the DNPC's psychometric powers.
Of course, this is just one possibility of what could be done with just the plot threads I listed as examples. You may want to have some more threads than this, and more complex threads; or you may prefer to intertwine the threads differently, so that they don't all climax at the same time. Do whatever works best for your own campaign.


This is where we come to the next step in grand campaign storytelling. You may have some long-range plans for your campaign, such as several different types of adventures that you want to run. Traditionally, these different types would be spread out evenly throughout the life of the campaign; unfortunately, this becomes wearing after a while.

Try treating your campaign, at least for planning purposes, as though it were an action-adventure television series. Each "season" (which I call a "Phase" since it's not specifically limited to a fixed period of time like a TV season is), you want to achieve something specific. Maybe you'll have cast changes, or you have some larger story that you want to advance during that Phase, or perhaps the larger story is the common thread of the Phase.

A Phase can also be defined by a theme of adventures; in fact, this is arguably the easiest way to develop a campaign Phase. Naturally, the PCs' early adventures should be used to introduce their environment, their associates, and (especially) their regular enemies. The next Phase, typically, is used to "flesh out" the PCs and their associated NPCs (including DNPCs) through adventures that address personal issues. But what next? A series of interdimensional scenarios? Some adventures with a mystical theme? A focus on governmental issues? Or perhaps a series in which one particular enemy of the PCs permeates throughout? Any of these would be a good idea, but there are so many possibilities within each idea that they're likely to become blurred together into a "generic" campaign if you try to pursue them all at once.

Thus, your campaign planning can take on a truly long-term approach. Categorize the long-term stories and stand-alone scenarios you want to run, and group them by those categories until you have at least as many stories in each category as you need to make a good mini-campaign. Then, just as you would with the stories and scenarios within these Phases, sort them out in an order that seems reasonable. You could even have some idea of a grand scheme that each Phase in the campaign leads the overall story along (not much unlike the TV series Babylon 5). Whether you do this or just let each Phase stand alone, however, you should have a plan for a dynamic campaign that will more easily keep your players interested for quite a long time.

As you've probably figured out by now, though, this level of planning can bring your plans along years ahead of where you are in actual play, especially if you're making early plans for a campaign that hasn't actually started yet. Don't worry too much about this -- but at the same time, don't put too much initial work into Phases that are still quite a ways off. After all, players can leave your campaign for a variety of reasons, and others can join; and your players may come up with things for the characters to do that will suggest storylines. To alleviate this, just list what general ideas you have for each Phase at first, and then assemble and order the stories and stand-alone scenarios when the preceding Phase is about halfway through (depending on how long each Phase actually is). Similarly, while the general events of each scenario should be determined as each Phase is planned, the close details (such as what kind of equipment each VIPER agent is carrying) should wait until a couple of months before the scenario is to be played.

Hopefully, this means of campaign planning will help some GMs out there who are having trouble keeping their games dynamic and interesting. It's not a technique for anybody (what is, in this hobby?), but those who do use it should find it useful.

As always, if you have any suggestions or other feedback, it would be most welcome. Just send me e-mail with the link at the bottom of this page.

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This article is © 1997-2000 by Bob Greenwade. E-mail me if you have any comments or questions.