This article is part 1 of the “Start A Campaign… Now!“ series.
- Start A Campaign – Part 1: The first game
- Start A Campaign – Part 2: Before the second game
- Start A Campaign – Part 3: The second game
- Start A Campaign – Part 4: How to prepare a great game in 30 minutes or less
The characters are born. The players are pumped. I usually am under intense pressure to schedule the second game quickly. However, this is when the biggest chunk of my work usually occurs. Once again, I try to prioritize. I want to plan a great game 2. I want to do it quickly. And I don’t want to spend all my free time doing it.
Here’s what I try to do:
- Identify 1 skill or ability on each character sheet. I’ll plan scenes that give each player an opportunity to use that skill.
- Plan events that will ensure the characters have no choice but to pursue the main goal of the campaign.
- Outline the main events or crucial moments of the campaign.
- Generate 3 dungeon maps and 1 town from Jarvis Buck’s dungeon generator.
- Plan the details of the events that are the most likely to include the players.
Players love to use their characters’ special abilities
It sounds obvious, but a lot of the dungeon masters I’ve known spend more energy to show off the non-player characters abilities than to make sure the PCs use theirs. There’s nothing more frustating than facing an NPC when the DM just wants to show off its powers. Deep down, the players know the dungeon master won’t let them outmuscle or outwit the villain.
Planning the first act
Most stories, novels, movies follow the three act structure – beginning, middle, and end. Act 1 ends when the protagonist(s) – in this case, the PCs – are committed to a goal and can’t back down. I won’t get into the details of the three act structure right now, but trust me, it works. As a DM, one of your main goals is to make sure that all the characters are sucked into the maelstrom of fascinating events that your campaign will be. The key here is that the PCs must be forced into an adventure. They probably have adventuring dispositions, but something they value must be lost or at risk. Something must happen that the characters just cannot ignore.
I try to outline the whole campaign right from the start. I try to state the key moments in the campaign, however vaguely. For example, if I decide that the campaign is about finding a lost friend, here is what my campaign outline will look like:
- Introduce NPC that will become a friend.
- Establish trust with friend
- Establish unconditional friendship, or even love with friend.
- Friend disappear, PCs find clues.
- PCs find out that a captain in the king’s army has kidnapped friend.
- Social and bureaucratic conflicts arise because of position of kidnapper
- PCs find and provide clues that captain is guilty, but still haven’t found friend
- Before being arrested, captain flees and hides. Life of friend is now in danger
- PCs track down the captain.
- The captain is found and slain / arrested
- The friend is saved.
The great thing about an outline like that is that it is easy to follow, very open. The first act ends when the friend disappears, but the entire act can be a mini-adventure in itself. The circumstances don’t matter at all as long as friendship is established.
The dungeon generator
This online application has become an essential tool for me. I use it as a backup. If the players don’t act the way I thought they would and decide to explore an avenue I haven’t planned for, I use the random dungeon or town as a backup plan. It makes improvisation more efficient and the players feel that the dungeon master is in controlled, well prepared.
Plan for the most likely events.
That’s it. I have my master plan, my backup plan, my player