Simon Woodside | How to run a fit campaign
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How to run a fit campaign

Draft 2 - 2002/09/14

What's a fit campaign? What I mean by fit is that the campaign fits the circumstances. In a fit campaign you (the DM) prepare elements ahead of time, like in a normal campaign. Then you fit them into place as you need them. The order in which the fit pieces go together varies when you play from your plan. By designing pieces that are flexible they can fit in almost anywhere. Thus you can achieve the halcyon dream of every DM: prepare everything ahead of time, and still give the players the freedom to move about as they wish.

An element can be almost anything: a non-player-character, an object, a room in a dungeon, a tavern, a castle, etc. All of these elements can be made to flexibly fit into a fit campaign. There is however a hierarchy of fit, from most flexible to least flexible. Here is the hierarchy:

The hierarchy of fit

Most flexible Medium Least flexible
setting character plot

This might seem to be backwards from what you're used to. And it is: a traditional storyteller thinks of the setting as being the most fixed element and the plot as the most flexible. From the players' end of the table, that's how things look. In other words, they see the game as a normal story.

As the DM, you must maintain the illusion of the story, which results in suspension of disbelief and usually happy players. In order to do that you must perform some special tricks to allow plot to appear most flexible and setting least flexible. This will allow the players to do whatever they want within the constraints of your world.

However the hierarchy of fit has it backwards - it says setting is most flexible and plot is least flexible. What's going on? (Don't worry, I'll tell you).

The hierarchy of fit follows from the assumptions that players make. Players assume, for example, that the setting is very stable and inflexible. As a result of this they assume that their actions have very little influence on the physical world around them. And they are quite right.

You on the other hand have total control over all the setting, and especially over the parts that you haven't told them about yet. Most DMs provide their players with a superstructure view of the world, in terms of countries, big political themes, and basic geography. However at a more local scale, the players usually don't know much at all about the specific details, unless you provide them with a map. After you read this article you probably won't do that.

So I'll assume that your players generally don't know what's behind the left door or the right door in the dungeon they are exploring. Here's the point of power for you. You see, you don't have to know what's behind that door either, at least, not until they open it.

Let's say that you have two rooms prepared, "Goodies" on the left, and "Baddies" on the right. To add to the fun, let's assume that for some reason the game will be more exciting if the players open the right door first (because then they'll fight the baddies, and get a reward from the goodies).

Now unless your players are oddballs they're going to pick on their own, giving you only a 50% chance of having the fun room first. You can't (or at least shouldn't) force them to go right first. That's called railroading your players. There is, however, another option open to you with the fit campaign. No matter which door opens first, you fit the "Baddies" there. Then the other door has the "Goodies" by default.

That's what the fit campaign is all about. You prepare your dungeon as usual and then fit the elements to the actions of the players, as they are going through it.

What to fit and how

Any element of your campaign can be fit.


However if you recall the hierarchy of fit, you will remember that setting is the easiest to fit. That is because psychologically speaking players pay the least attention to the setting. A player would be relatively unsurprised to find they had "missed" seeing a particular ornament on a wall, paper on a table, or even a door in the hallway. Thus you have a great deal of flexibility to modify the setting on the fly. Obviously elements the players haven't seen yet are totally up to you. But even if the players have seen a particular setting, it is possible to change or add elements that they may have missed, that were out of sight before, or whatever.


Non-player characters are somewhat more difficult to fit. Typically it's not possible to change a character once it is introduced to the players. Especially if the change is significant, the players may feel manipulated. This stems from the greater psychological importance that we place on character as opposed to setting. Despite this you can still fit to need with characters that are off-stage or new. Often this will come from altering the dimensions of a prepared NPC to fit the need.

For example, let's assume you prepared an cheerful elven innkeeper and a sullen human militia guard under the assumption that the players would encounter these. Instead your players choose to visit an armory. Instead of improvising, you can simply modify one of the prepared characters to fit the encounter. Pick the one that most closely resembles what you need, and modify the other dimensions to match. In this case, you have two characters (innkeeper and guard) to choose from. I would choose the guard because he more closely matches my stereotype of an armourer. I would change his profession from guard to armourer, so his statistics can most likely go unchanged. Both types are strong and bulky. A lot of armourers are dwarves so I might change him to a dwarf as well. By changing only two dimensions I now have a sullen dwarf armourer that fits the encounter (and I have statistics as well, I just use the original stats unmodified).


Plot you should never fit. There are two good reasons for this. The first, and most important one, revolves around the spirit of player freedom. Myself and many others believe that the players should be free to choose their own destiny, no matter what I as the DM have prepared. The other reason is that as DM, I find it entertaining to see what the players are going to do. I have the confidence with the fit campaign that I can handle almost any actions, so it's fun to give them a challenge and see how they find their way though it. I usually have an idea of what they will do, but their solution is sometimes a lot different and it's fun to see them interact with my creation that way.

Well that wraps it up for this article on the fit campaign. There's lots more to talk about, for example techniques on how to prepare easy-to-fit elements, and how far ahead to plan, but that will have to wait for later. Please send me your comments to

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