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Understanding the Six Truths of Your Campaign Setting
by Mike on 31 July 2023
Joshua, a Patreon of Sly Flourish asks:
I'm having trouble squaring the Six Truths about a world with not providing spoilers to the players. What if one or more of the truths are entirely unknown to the characters? What if one of the Truths is also one of the Secrets/Clues within the campaign? I don't see how a DM should share that in a session zero without "giving away too much."
For reference, chapter 16 of Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master describes using "truths" of a campaign world to help you and your players focus on what makes this particular campaign different from others. These truths are known facts about the world. You know them. Your players know them. Their characters know them.
These truths aren't the same thing as secrets and clues which are bits of more specific information the characters might learn in the next session you run. Secrets and clues aren't known until the characters discover them. They don't even become true until the characters learn them.
If there are secrets about your campaign world that the characters don't know, exclude them from your list of truths. Those secrets are better kept in your own brain. You might be tempted to write out and plan the revelation of big campaign secrets but I recommend against it. These big secrets aren't real yet. You might change your mind as the campaign moves forward. Focus that energy on the things your players and their characters are going to see in the next session you're going to run.
Example Truths from 5e Campaigns
Below you'll find example truths from my [one page campaign guides] I give to players before we start a new campaign.
If you're familiar with these campaigns, you'll see these "truths" aren't the same as secrets and clues. They help players understand what's going on in the world but they don't tell them the whole story.
Campaign truths summarize the main points of your campaign you want your players and their characters to know as they begin a campaign. Secrets and clues are the elements of the story and the world the characters might discover as they explore the world around them.
Truths from Wild Beyond the Witchlight
- The Witchlight Carnival comes to your land only once every eight years. A few days later, it disappears.
- The Carnival is said to visit many worlds and rides the edge of the border between the world and the realm of the fey - the Feywild.
- The Feywild is beset by a strange corruption. Some folks believe this corruption is a collision of the realm of the Fey, our world, and another world.
- In the land of the fey, the archfey Zybilna has gone quiet. Those attuned to this patron have not heard from her in more than a year.
- Beings from the fey know that within the Feywild, visitors and natives alike best follow the Rule of Reciprocity, the Rule of Hospitality, and the Rule of Ownership.
- For unknown reasons, the numbers eight and three have power in the realm of the fey.
Here's my Wild Beyond the Witchlight One-Page Campaign Guide for more details on this campaign.
Truths of Rime of the Frostmaiden
- The sun hasn't risen in Icewind Dale for two years.
- The two-year night has cut off the frozen north from the rest of the Sword Coast.
- The Children of Auril demand sacrifices from the people of Ten Towns in the Frostmaiden's name.
- Ancient and powerful secrets lie under the ice.
- Shadowy figures lurk in the mountains hammering upon strange black metal.
Here's the Rime of the Frostmaiden One-Page Campaign Guide.
Truths of Empire of the Ghouls
- City at the Heart of the World. The Free City of Zobeck stands at a great crossroads, south of the vampire-filled Blood Kingdom, east of the dwarvish cantons, north of the chivalrous Magdar Kingdom, and west of the ancient Margreve Forest. It is a city where adventurers, merchants, and scoundrels from all nations intermingle and a place where wondrous inventions of steam and brass are forged.
- Within the Last Century. The citizens of Zobeck overthrew the longtime rulers – House Stross – and Zobeck became a free city, governed by a mayor and 11 consuls.
- Ley Lines and Shadow Roads. Midgard is alive with magic running in great, invisible rivers. Centuries ago, the elves used these rivers, known as ley lines, to create fey roads across their vast empire. After the elves’ retreat, most of these magical roads fell into disrepair. They are now known as the dangerous and unstable "shadow roads"".
- Rise of the Blood Kingdom. The vampires who rule Morgau and Doresh, known collectively as the Blood Kingdom, joined forces with the ghouls who live underground to conquer the Electoral Kingdom of Krakova, which sits a few hundred miles north of Zobeck. The surviving members of the royal family went into hiding, and the common folk now suffer under undead rule in the new province of Krakovar.
- Rising Tension in Zobeck. The dangers external to Zobeck create rising tensions within the Free City where normally friendly citizens seek scapegoats for the dangers lurking outside the walls.
Here's my Empire of the Ghouls One-Page Campaign Guide
Hopefully these examples help you see the difference between truths the characters know right from the beginning of the campaign and the secrets they discover as they explore the world around them.
More Sly Flourish Stuff
This week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on a Shadowdark RPG Deep Dive and Prepping for a Shadowdark 0-Level Gauntlet.
Last Week's Lazy RPG Talk Show Topics
Each week I record an episode of the Lazy RPG Talk Show (also available as a podcast) in which I talk about all things in tabletop RPGs. Here are last week's topics with timestamped links to the YouTube video:
Patreon Questions and Answers
Also on the Talk Show, I answer questions from Sly Flourish Patreons. Here are last week's questions and answers:
Each week I think about what I learned in my last RPG session and write them up as D&D tips. Here are this week's tips:
- Reskin published NPCs as character relations – relatives, former lovers, former enemies, lost legends, and so on.
- Offer multiple meaningful paths and options in most situations.
- Use swarms of undead or necrotic mists to push characters through doorways.
- Drop monuments into combat encounters, let the characters manipulate them to shift the environment.
- Quick sketches of maps on a dry-erase map work well for dungeon crawls in in-person play. Print out bigger detailed chambers as needed.
- Print or post pictures of monsters, NPCs, scenes, and villains. Show them to your players.
- Share information freely. Tell the players what their characters would know.
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