The Lovecraftian Approach To D&D

No, I'm not really talking about something as superficial as the monsters (though that's important too).  I'm referring to a D&D campaign as not simply a world the DM creates, but the idea and theory that your campaign world might really exist in some parallel universe and you, as the DM, are merely discovering and describing it for the players.  Now stay with me here, I'm not trying to be some kooky, extradimensional, monkey worshiper here.  I'm not saying that D&D campaign worlds really exist, just that we approach them in a quasi-literal sense as if they do.

Lovecraft thought and wrote this way in his works: We're just a back-water collection of puny humans who have no clue about what truly lies outside of our own little corner of the galaxy.  Every so often, people in his works would get a quick glimpse through the portal into those worlds and be changed forever.

This way of thinking has fundamentally changed the way I approach the game.  When seeing it from this perspective, the DM isn't really creating a world himself, it's more like he's relaying it.  That presents some interesting things.  First of all, it means that a DM's description of it is not necessarily going to be precise, it's just his vision or interpretation.  The DM thinks that it's a 30 foot drop onto the cave floor below - at least that's his best guess.  He thinks the monster has 14 hit points.  He thinks this merchant knows the real cost of the armor.

Now, that's not to say that this is a guessing game.  The DM has a pretty darn good idea of what this world is about, but it gives him some flexibility.  It's a great excuse to give to his players when he screws up a little.

Secondly, this philosophy means that his player characters have an equal right to live in this world as anyone else does.  Stop thinking about NPCs in a dull, lifeless way, and consider them as other characters with real lives of their own that are not controlled by your players.  They get up every day and do real stuff, they don't just stand around waiting for your party to arrive to buy something from them.  The Goblins aren't just walking experience points for your group to harvest.  They're real beings that have absolutely no objection to killing your players simply because the DM wills them not to.  This is a real world with rules that have real consequences.

Setup timelines and events that would really happen based on the layout of your world.  If the castle lies next to the troll caves, it's likely those trolls would come raiding the castle and its surroundings quite often.  They should be doing this with or without your players input to the situation.  They don't just start raiding when the players arrive.

This is the mindset you should have before even planning to run a campaign.  I call this site Tenebrous Tales to imply that these stories are not for us to create, they ought to be thought of as already existing, and we're just the messenger of it.

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