DMing a West Marches campaign
Practical information

Table of contents

  • Background
  • What is a West Marches campaign
  • Rumours
  • Exploration
  • Influence Points
  • Classes
  • City building
  • Story building
Mordei for RollHistory

What is a West Marches campaign

To put it bluntly, it’s a campaign with more players that can fit into one group, originally thought up by Ben Robbins and then Matt Colville made a bunch of youtube videos about it.

Its possible to have multiple DMs and opens the possibility up for new DM’s to try out a mission as most of the missions have an end that evening.

In simpler words – its a bunch of one-shots that comes together to create a cohesive story line.

Picture this. The group of players is somehow cut off from civilization and need to explore a new land. The players are all working with each other, for the group to be able to mix and always starts and stops the adventure in the city they have created. The city is somewhat a safespace and if they want to advance, either with riches, treasure or experience, they need to explore the surrounding lands.
The further they get away from the city the more dangerous the lands are going to be and the more rewarding it’s going to be.

How does it work in practice?

There is one lead DM that works with the main story line – I will later get you more familiar with the type we went with – and some Co-DMs that will create subplots within the campaign.

The DM creates an event that leads to an adventure.
In our campaign we call them rumours. Rumours are the foundation of every session, and no-one can gather for a session without a rumour being present. The rumours got its own separate section which you can find here.
As many players there are there is also as many different play styles and therefore it’s important to cater to them all. Remember the main goal here is to have it to be fun, while still maintaining some kind of system in place that normalises everything from exp to loot.

West marches - Lorehaven

Typical setup for finding a group in Lorehaven – our west marches adventure.

You can see how the process normally is from this small flowchart from the bottom. You start by finding a rumour, then find players to fit in the group, then find a date and then find a DM to handle the rumour. Then meet up for the evening and bust that rumour open. 
After each rumour there will be a mission report written which will cover all main plot points so the rest of the players can figure out what’s going on. How are you going to make the players write reports? I’ll introduce you to influence points later down the line.

Most of the time it’s the DMs job to add small tidbits of lore to the specific area that then can be used down the line.
It can be everything from larger bits that can result in another rumour being opened (think quest line – That castle over there were empty last time we were there. There is now light, someone ought to look into that) or just smaller bits of lore (that area is rich in belladonna root and later the alchemist need that specific information to craft specific belladonna root potions)

Advantages and disadvantages

So this playstyle is not for everyone. If you want to sit down with the same group of people every week and build the story together, you should go do that.

You are also going to miss some of the story telling which is why we got mission reports that retells all the important parts, but nevertheless you are going to be missing something.

The upside of this kind of playstyle is that if you have a lot of people that want to play, but not that many DMs, then you can rotate the players out every week.

When we started out, we knew we had 10 players that had tried Dungeons and Dragons before and would stay for the long haul, and then we had 13 players that had been intrigued of the thought of playing D&D. So basically a bunch of noobs. Within the year we have played, we are down to a core of 20 players, many more than i expected but still very viable within the campaign.

We do have players that only plays once every 3 weeks and then we have players that try to play almost every week. That is fine. The level disparity is within 2 levels and will probably be more present later. But the idea that you can share loot and Influence Points with your “alt” or “alternative character, is something that people really like. Then they can make new character concepts and still reap the rewards from playing with low level friends.

This is also a huge advantage if you have someone new starting in the campaign a year in. You still have a bunch of lower level rumours you can run and you have players more than happy to run them with you, without having to learn someone to play a level 7 character instead of easing them in into the campaign with a level 1.

Now we are going to talk how rumours work.

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