Okay, so you’ve got your campaign kind of figured out. You know its general shape and themes. Now comes the time to flesh that out. Here’s where the campaign ideas become a plot.
You need to decide on your entry and your exit – where do the PCs start and where does the campaign end. The start is the introduction and the end is the goal. You need an introduction to get the character’s into the campaign or adventure and you need a goal for which they strive.
You may want an extensive, ongoing campaign that could take years, and that’s fine. What we are talking about here is some discrete piece of that. Although it is not impossible to create a meta-plot into which each section fits. Rather than dealing with a single slaver, your characters are fighting slavery as a whole. Rather than taking down the evil necromancer king, your PCs intend to rid the world of that strain magic. Rather than remove a specific extremist group with extreme prejudice, your team is part of an ongoing attempt to stabilize a failed state.
For what we’ll call the campaign, decide what it is the PCs are trying to do. There are three examples above: destroy the slaver lord, overthrow the evil necromancer king, end the threat of an extremist organization. These are all goals, and once that goal is achieved, the PCs will have reached the exit. Credits roll.
Now decide how the characters become involved in this. Are they unwittingly drawn into it, playing reluctant heroes who become great? Are they part of an organization that tasks them with this mission? Are they called upon by a higher power? Do they each have their own reasons and the initial adventure throws them all together so they can accomplish the goal as a group? Somehow, the PCs are introduced to the plot.
Think of the first chapter of a book. In some books, the first chapter is the normal world, with the hero(s) living normal lives that are then shattered – either in that chapter or a later one. Others begin with the action and fill us in on how the character(s) came to this in flashbacks or other reveals. Either works, though in RPGs, generally the quicker one gets into the action, the better.
With an entry and an exit, you’ve got your plot. It’s very high-level right now, like a satellite in orbit over the campaign, but it exists as a framework on which to hang your adventures, and it will be fleshed out by those same adventures.
You can find the Building Stuff series here.