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Essential Elements of a DND Campaign

Written by Krystal - Published on August 20, 2010
Dungeons & Dragons Campaigns

Dungeons & Dragons Campaigns

Building a campaign can be tough and sometimes we forget and leave some of the important things out, so I’m going to take you into my world as we start from the bottom, and build up. As some of us know, a campaign is NOT an adventure but does not have to be a full world. Faeruen, for example, is a campaign setting; A vast area with varying rules to allow for adventures and games to take place. It’s basically a series of adventures that lead up to one (or two?) plot lines.

Now, I was scanning through the Fourth Edition DMG 2 and the very first thing it talks about is “Group Storytelling”.  It gave me so many ideas to talk about today! I’ve decided to list a few of these things off and put in my two cents as well.

Story Structure, Fantasy stories are often based on or inspired by myth, cultures, or other traditional structures. You don’t have to come up with it out of thin air for it to be good! In fact, DnD Creatures were built on various myths and stories all brought into one RPG, drawing inspiration is not a lack of creativity — it’s only when you choose to copy a story one hundred percent that you have issues.

But back on track, a typical story structure is built on four basic parts. Now don’t be fooled, the fact that there are only four parts does not mean that the story has to be simple or lack any complexity, it just simplifies the story telling process for you.

The Introduction, the dawn of time. Where people get to know each other, heroes are molded, the seed of villainy is planted, and your basic story is laid out in full. Think of this as a Military tactical debriefing; These are the good guys, these are the bad guys, this is the plan of action, and this is what we need from you. As we know, plans change, people make decisions, and some people even lie! Perhaps even the person who debriefed you. Once you’ve established the introduction, that it is not set in stone. It’s your world — AND it’s your players who inhabit it. Anything can happen!

“Rising Action” The way they describe it is perfect. It’s a series of events that make the characters situation more complex and adds that extra urgency. Consequences get worse, stakes are doubled, and tensions builds or is released to build again to a higher point…and that point brings us to the Climax.

The Climax “…a pivotal moment of maximum tension…” the Climax is your grand finally as you plunge your characters into a resounding resolution; be that for better or for worse! When creating the climax it is absolutely essential  to keep your characters at a heightened emotion. Keep them guessing or at least keep them interested. Using emotional attachment to character ideals or other things is a great way to do this.

Denouement is the wrap up, where your players get a glimpse into the end result of their actions and the consequences of their decisions. This can be good or bad and is a look into the progression of their adventure.

Next, you should decide the setting for your campaign or create your own, there are many supplements that can be used to eliminate your responsibility of creating one, or perhaps, one is predetermined in your mind. Setting is important as it sets the mood, imagine if Lord of the Rings was filmed on a beach in California. It’s not quite the right feel, is it? Settings often change through travel and other circumstances, so again, this is not set in stone. Remember to change accordingly and not be too sporadic without explanation It makes it feel more real if there is a cause to the effect.

Also, take into account your players as they are the most important part of the game.  Take time to learn what their character’s ideals, morals, alignment, and motivations are. Find a way to get your players emotional attached to both the story and their characters. If a character wishes only for battle, then asking them to tend horses during war is not exactly ideal. When players feel their characters progressing, they have more a reason to get avidly into the game and connected with their character and surroundings.

Emotional connection is hard to create sometimes, but is a big thing that will help make even the simplest campaign or adventure seem epic no matter the gravity of the events. Not every campaign has to save the world, especially at first level. Campaigns can be character progression, discovery, and can also help create and expand your world. Rather than give them a long history you created, let them have a hand in creating your world with you. This gives them more of a connection with your world, and when they see things later on with their characters or with new characters they can get excited because, as players, they have seen or heard certain things before. There is nothing more exciting than discovering history or legends built off of old characters or even current ones.

To build a campaign, you need to have a well thought out story line, or at least be good off the cuff. A basic idea is always something good to have otherwise you might end up straying from it. Everything gets bunched together or scrambled and the story seems incomplete or all over the place.

I had a character I adored at one point. The DM had made a connection between my character and I. I had an emotionally attachment, but then he couldn’t stick to one story line. He jumped around and in turn, it screwed the character up. I played it in character, and she ended up being torn from her objectives so much she went crazy and ended up, essentially, putting herself in harms way and eliminated herself. The things that happened led her to believe she’d be fine, but wasn’t. So you need to take in mind what you are putting the characters through. Imagine if they were real people. How would they react to those situations? Good players will be able to play their characters similarly to if they were actual beings, or part of themselves. Keep in mind the style of play of your players, and it will help for a much better game.

Keep in mind it’s your game and your world. Also, for those of you with the DMing tools I’m thinking about adding some excerpts of my campaigns, creatures, and more. If you are interested, considering either getting the DMing tools or checking it out if you already have them.

Happy gaming folks!

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Written by Krystal

At a young age, my mother opened up her own gaming store. We had two game rooms, an office, and the front area which had a ton of miniatures and books. I helped manage that store for several years, my mother teaching me the ropes and treating me like an adult so I could learn. Even beyond that she played games at stores like Haster Hobbies and several other places. In fact, my parents met gaming! DnD kind of runs in my blood, as well as any other gaming you can think of. I’m simply a gamer at heart, an artist, and a jack of all trades. I love to write and that’s why I’m here at Dungeon Mastering! I’m going to be going to school for Video Game Design, and my bf is going to school so he can publish Core Rule Sets. In the short few years I’ve been with him I’ve learned all about how to create my own rule system and create a game from the ground up! But my expertise is not limited to DnD alone. I’ve ventured far into Call of Cthullu, and beyond to games like Shadowrun and some White Wolf games..though I’m not a big fan of dice pools. :)

Anyways! Gaming is my passion and my life. I game constantly, go to conventions, and so much more! Maybe I’ll see you there! Happy Gaming!

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 Comments

8 Responses to “Essential Elements of a DND Campaign”
  1. Sam says:

    Thanks, this is a great article! Its helped me plan out my first-ever campaign.

  2. Roger says:

    Building a campaign is always difficult.
    Whilst it is nice to start with a blank piece of paper and build from scratch, it can save time and effort to use what is already there. Even if you do not utilise that resource fully.
    Need a campaign map? You can draw your own, or use a commercial map, and relabel the cities, rivers, mountain ranges, and so forth.

    There are so many ways to use what is commercially available, especially if you are pressed for time.

  3. lordbyran says:

    One of the best and worst things I’ve seen done over the years is basing a game on a book. My first DnD game was based on one of the many Star Wars novels; it came out pretty good for a beginner. one of the worst was the same basic idea. I lent a friend a horror novel and he made an adventure out of it. He did not vary from the story and since I knew it, I walked all over him. By the end of the game it was me vs him, everyone else kinda bored. But I won! Not much of a challenge tho.

  4. wannastunt1 says:

    Alright,
    Been gamimng a long time. mostly as a player and think I have the stuff to DM. Your tips are helpful but I feell like I dont know enough about it to really excell with some really experienced players and some newbs….help

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  1. […] Essential Elements of a DND Campaign A while back I posted about using the three-act-structure to build out campaigns. This article offers different advice going with introductions through rising action into the climax and then a denouement at the end of the game. I feel that either structure can work for a campaign. It’s up to you to decide which way it goes and which method fits your style. The campaign that I’m currently running is a three act story with the players just now finishing the first act. I hope the second two acts are as fun as the first one has been. […]

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