As I get closer to running my Dnd campaign set on Ravnica, I am constantly thinking about how I am going to handle it. Ravnica is a complex plane filled with many characters and locations that have existed since 2005. Something that has concerned me about running this plane is letting the players run loose in it. As most Dungeon Masters know, players will ruin every single plan you have. For a homebrew world, like I am used to running, it is very easy for me to make things up and go with the flow. Ravnica and other preset worlds are different and require a tweak of style in order to run properly. Today I want to talk about how I would go about running a campaign set on another world, and how things might be different from what I am used to.
If it bleeds, we can kill it
One of the first things that sets predetermined settings apart from homebrew worlds is the wealth of characters that are important to the story and don’t traditionally die. As a writer, you have the choice to choose which characters live and die. As a Dungeon Master, everything is at risk. At the back of the book of Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica, we have stat blocks for all of the guild leaders, very important characters such as Aurelia, Lazav, Isperia and more. The problem is, now that they have stat blocks they can be killed. If your players set out to kill someone as important as Zegana, you should not try to stop them.
This, of course, comes with some caveats. If Zegana is aware that the players are coming to kill her, she will do everything in her power to stop them. She will hire guards, send attack teams at the players, and maybe make some massive Simic monstrosity that will wreak havoc on the city. But if the players get into a fight with her, and defeat her do not make her magically escape because the story needs her, or because she is a character that doesn’t die in Ravnica. Not allowing the players to kill Isperia because Vraska is going to come and turn her into stone later defeats the purpose of Dnd. The story does not belong to you, nor is it beholden to what happens in the books and cards. The story is what the players make of it, and letting important characters be affected and possibly even be killed by the actions of the players is important for maintaining verisimilitude in the world.
One of the greatest aspects of giving your players the opportunity to do whatever they want, even if that means killing some of the most important characters in the world, is dealing with the aftermath. What happens to Dimir when Lazav is killed? Mat’Selesnya, one of the original paruns, is now gone. How does the Obzedat react to one of its members losing their immortality? Answering these questions is the reason why we choose to roleplay in worlds such as this one. Denying that opportunity from your players, because normally this character doesn’t die, makes your players feel like their actions have no meaning.
Add your mark
The other thing about predetermined worlds such as this one is that it feels like there isn’t much room to add anything. The maps are full of details and colors, and the characters and story are neatly lined out in front of you. But the truth is there is plenty of space to add your mark to the world. Create your own characters that the book doesn’t talk about, such as the bartender, informants, and even create your own villains. It doesn’t have to be a well-known face that is manipulating the Boros from the inside.
It’s more than just characters as well. The map, while detailed, is not exhaustive. It can’t possibly talk about all the shops located on Foundry Street, the locales in the Rubblebelt, or the monsters in the undercity. That is up for you to decide, and each place can have far more character associated with it now that your time spent preparing isn’t having to be spent on the big locations such as Duskmantle.
As long as what you are adding is believable, and doesn’t break any previously established rules, you are free to do almost anything. An Izzet mage might decide to set up a floating laboratory to avoid having to deal with the paperwork of experimenting on unlicensed ground. If you say that Sawtooth Prison is 2 streets and a left turn away from the Transguild Promenade, as long as it doesn’t sit on top of anything too important you are more than free to mark that on the map.
Playing in a world that has already been created is a different experience from normal Dnd. So many things are already fleshed out, and characters might have stories associated with them that may or may not have even happened in the world yet. Once you unleash the players on the world anything can happen. Accepting that, and even encouraging will allow your game to get to the next level. Your players will be leaving a mark on this world, and so will you. The characters and locale that you populate it with will largely determine how the players feel about the plane. If you were to just follow everything by the book, and not allow the world to change by your or your players’ actions, it would become incredibly boring. Thank you all for reading, I hope you have a great week and an amazing Tuesday!