I just finished listening to the first episode of the Dungeon Master’s Ludus, a Secret Cabal Gaming podcast. I’ve been listening to the Secret Cabal for some time now, and this is their first effort at a focused podcast on gamemastering (not just dungeon mastery, despite the title). The podcast features Jamie and Bender, two of the members of the Lords of the Dungeon, and the two who tag-team GM for that podcast.
The first episode was, appropriately enough, about starting a campaign for your group. Overall, I think it was a pretty thorough discussion, covering topics like top-down vs. bottom-up world building and establishing different types of story arcs (epic, episodic, etc.). One particularly useful tip that I use myself is the idea of a character template for the players, some set of constraints on the PCs that make them more likely to gel as a team. For example, in Children of the Apocalypse, all the PCs are recent graduates of the Greatschool of Peterborough, and as such in a period of obligated service to the Lord Protector. This lets me, as GM, issue them missions as orders to get the plot rolling, but also leaves them some freedom to explore after the initial couple of adventures.
A couple of items could have used inclusion in the podcast. The topic of system and genre really, in my mind, isn’t separable from campaign design. Even with the exact same world and basic story, a Fate campaign is going to have a different flavor than a Savage Worlds or GURPS campaign. Similarly, some systems (like D&D) are genre specific. I think a discussion of the interaction between system, genre, and campaign design would be really interesting, and perhaps they’ll pick that up on a later podcast.
Second, the concept of a Session 0 didn’t really come up, although on several occasions they alluded to player participation in campaign building. A formal session 0 designed to build the characters and the world can make the players far more invested in the campaign, and I’d recommend it for just about any group.
Overall, I think the Ludus podcast was a good source of information, and certainly passed along some ideas I plan to implement in my own campaigns. I look forward to future episodes.