DM How To: Campaign Building

Last week we talked about plot hooks. Remember that post. It becomes important.

Start with building a home base. Usually it’s best to make this a small to medium village where you can flush out a number of NPCs and build out an area from there. All the characters should have a reason for being here. Maybe they are from the area and are starting their adventuring career from here. Maybe they are new adventurers who happen to be passing through. No matter the case, the starting area should have some basic things: and in where they can stay or some other similar place, a general good store where they can purchase adventuring supplies (they don’t have to be able to get everything there necessarily, they just have to be able to get the basics at the least), and usually a blacksmith where they can purchase weapons and/or armor.Now, this is the most common way of doing this, but there’s no reason why you can’t start them in a large metropolis, or a larger town. Additionally, you could start them off as travelers on the road in the middle of a wilderness, or in some harsher environment, like a desert or tundra and their first goal is to find civilization and survive. Just remember, that their home base, wherever it may be, is going to be the basis for where the party will return in between adventures.

Next you want to focus on building your adventures while seating in campaign events. Maybe your campaign is focused on the return of an ancient and powerful dragon. Your first adventure may only have some kind of reference to said dragon or its return. Maybe it’s a kobold cult dedicated to this dragon. Maybe they simply find a shrine or inscription vaguely relating to the return of this dragon. Whatever the case may be, you start seeding in campaign events or minor plot points early, and continue to do so in greater and more blatant numbers as your campaign progresses.

As we talk about campaign progression, is worth noting that many campaigns tend to fizzle out around the tier 3 mark, between 11th and 16th level. Not many campaigns go into the higher levels. Plan your campaigns based on how far and what level you want your adventures to be when the campaign ends. Do you want your campaign to take them all the way to 20th level? This is a daunting task but is very doable. It just takes careful planning.It is always helpful, just like doing so for adventures, to do a rough flow chart or outline for the general direction you want the the campaign to go. Again, don’t forget to plant seeds for your plot as it is being revealed.Next, create a local region. After you have created the home base, you want a local region where, either them majority of the campaign, or the entire campaign, take place. Doing a bit of cartography helps in this. Maybe there is a large forest where the elf kingdom lay. Maybe there is a mountain range where, in our earlier example, the ancient dragon is supposed to be summoned from. Whatever You choose, make sure that you flush it out just enough to give it some structure. If you know exactly what adventures the party will encounter, as well as the level progression you expect, either by milestone leveling or by experience points (this is where doing a flowchart and/or an outline really helps), You can divide the areas out by level. Just remember, players make the decisions for the characters. This is where you’re amazing plot hooks come in, drawing them into the story and keeping them on track within the areas for their own levels. Of course, we don’t want to railroad our players. Maybe we want to give options to where certain adventures can take place. This is why we flesh out the region just enough to give it some structure, but leave us with some flexibility as to where certain events can take place.

Campaign Events

The Dungeon Master guide, as it should, has a lot of good ideas for major campaign events. They refer to them as world – shaking events. It is a good idea to check out that section of chapter one. One of their major recommendations is to have three good campaign shaking events. I highly recommend that you read that section. It should be noted that the campaign does not have to be just about the story you have crafted. Character backgrounds, when provided, offer great opportunities for character development as well as campaign development. Maybe the party has decided they don’t have the strength or power to defeat the big bad evil guy (BBEG). Using the characters backgrounds you can craft adventures that help them gain the power, or maybe find legendary weapons or artifacts, that will help them in defeating the BBEG. Maybe The characters themselves just gain a bit of depth during these adventures. Having your players create a good structure for their backgrounds really helps out here. The podcast/show critical role does a very good job for this in their first season. As a result of the character development, each character also gets an ending/epilogue.

All Good Things Come To An End

It is my belief, that secretly, in the depths of every dungeon master (at least, the very good ones) wants each character to have their “happily ever after.” Of course, campaign events and bad rolls can lead to character death. That said, for the most part, with the exception of a total party wipe out, the individual characters, as well as the party as a whole, should have a nice wrap up with their characters epilogue. These do not have to be elaborate, although they can be, but should provide some sort of satisfying conclusion to the campaign and campaign events. This usually is done by each player, as well as with significant input and inclusion with, the dungeon master.

Well, that’s my counsel and advice on building a campaign. Do you think I missed something? Let me know in the comments below. Is there a topic you would like me to cover, again, let me know in the comments! 

Next week, we will discuss creating memorable villians!

Until tomorrow readers.

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