Dungeons and Dragons Campaign Prep
Now, I know this is a topic that I write about pretty often. Mainly because it is something I like to mess around with. How do I go about creating a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. How much work do you put in, how much don’t you put in, and where do you spend the effort.
This has also come up in a Discord server that I’m on lately. And I think it’s a good time to talk about how much or how little work you need to do. As a semi-seasoned Dungeon Master, I’m hoping that my experience can help get more people into running Dungeons and Dragons. But also save the effort that so many people put into it.
Keep it Simple Stupid. We’ve all seen this before, but doing something like creating a campaign can be tricky. And for a lot of gamers and people, there is an idea that you can get it “right”. This is not something that anyone can do. In fact, that is some of the charm of Dungeons and Dragons or an RPG, there isn’t a perfect way to do it. There isn’t a most ideal campaign to run that everyone is going to love. Dungeons and Dragons is a matter of taste.
With that said, don’t over prepare, don’t plan out everything. Your players will not do what you think they will. You want them to go right out of a town to a dungeon, they will go left. You want them to talk to a shop keeper for a clue, they will punch them. They shouldn’t attack an ancient black dragon at level 3, they will. In fact, you can be confident your players will do what they shouldn’t or what you least expect. So don’t over plan.
Three Things For Your First Campaign
While I could give you a lot of things to think about when it comes to a campaign. I want to make my advice follow the KISS methodology as well. So build your world small and out as you go. Know where you want to end the campaign. And only craft situations and scenarios that you need.
This is really trap #1 when creating a campaign. I even fall into it at times. I create a whole world and think that I need to flesh out everything. But that is way more than is needed. Firstly, your players won’t go to the whole world. Secondly, you don’t need to know it all now.
In fact, let’s make it even simpler. If you want some rules for creating the world. Draw out a map, mark down 10 things on it, 5 cities, and 5 features. There is your world. Then pick one of those cities, that is where you are starting. Create 5 things of importance in it. One needs to be a tavern and one needs to be a shop. The other three are points of interest. Right down what makes those places interesting. And write down 3-4 NPC (non-player characters) the PC’s (player characters) can find there.
Then with four other points of interest on the map. Write down what makes them interesting and NPC’s who can be found there, again only 3-4. You won’t name shops, or anything like that at those other locations, you are just fleshing out a very little bit. And you have enough to start your campaign at that point.
Know The End
Well, enough world building it is. You do need one more thing. You need to know the end goal. In my Tower of the Gods campaign, that is to make it to the top of the tower. In another campaign I ran, it was to defeat a beholder. Know the end goal, it seems obvious, but a lot of campaigns don’t know the end. Or they come up with the idea of running 20 level campaign and don’t think about how to get there. But knowing the end is important so you have a goal.
Because that goal is what you then use to shape your campaign encounters, both social and combat. It is the lens that you filter the campaign through in such a way that everything, or most everything drives towards that end. But when creating these situations, don’t create them with a specific result in mind. Like I said, building out a dungeon that is to the left when you leave the city and the players head right, that’ll always happen. Attacking a monster they were supposed to talk to, they’ll do that, and then they’ll do the flip. Threating the King instead of making a deal with him, for sure that’ll happen.
In the end, you want the situations and scenarios you create to always move stuff forward. And you want them to feel varied and different. It might be killing the monster, but why are you killing the monster. And monsters will do different things. Social encounters you want some of them to be shaking down someone and some might be at a fancy dinner. But they should all move the story towards the end, or at least the majority should.
And you don’t plan these at the beginning. You shouldn’t need to know every session that far in advance. This is what you plan before each game. This means that you do work for a long time, but it also means that you don’t do so much work that you burn out at the start. It’s doing the work just when you need it.
There is a whole lot more that you can do. But the point is that you don’t need to do it. I am trying to give you a simple way to getting your first campaign. Could you build out a world and create every important NPC that you players might run into. Sure, you could. But that isn’t going to be help for getting a game started. In fact, if you try and do that you will never get the game started. There will always be another NPC, another town, another scenario to think of. Instead, KISS and just do what you need, when you need it.