A DM’s Guide to Writing a Better DnD Campaign
Are you thinking about running your first DnD campaign?
The idea of going from player to Dungeon Master is both exciting and intimidating. Though creating your own campaign is a lot of work, that work is paid off by countless hours of fun with your friends and fellow players.
Since it’s your first campaign, you’re probably wondering how to write a campaign that will keep your players engaged and looking forward to each session. This quick guide will go over the basics of writing a stellar DnD campaign so you’ll know how to start.
The world your players will be immersed in is one of the most important parts of a successful DnD campaign. The world you create will provide the background for your character’s adventures. But it will also inform many of the decisions your characters, and the players playing them, make. So, it’s important to have a fully fleshed-out world for your players to explore.
You can start world-building many different ways. Maybe you start by focusing on the geography and how your players will be exploring the physical world around them. Or you can start with a specific location and go from there.
Some find it easier to start world-building by focusing on the government or culture of the world they’re creating. Often the government or the societal attitudes play a key role in the story you’re giving your players, so starting with these elements can help you figure out how the larger story will unfold.
Wherever you start, when you’re done world-building you should be able to explain to your players the geography, the government, the society, the history, and the current affairs of the world where they’ll be adventuring.
The one thing every compelling DnD campaign has in common is a compelling villain. Often the story and the quests that make up that story create a mystery that leads to the discovery of the world’s main villain. Other times, the villain is apparent from the setup of the very first adventure and the players spend the entire campaign pursuing the villain.
Either way, the story of the campaign always culminates with a massive confrontation with the villain and their various minions and henchmen. Getting to that ‘boss fight’ involves multiple quests and lots of story discovery. And if you want your players to stay interested enough to confront the big bad at the end of the campaign, the villain needs to be interesting and compelling.
What makes a good villain? A straight-up evildoer who does evil things for the fun of it isn’t all that interesting. But a hero who goes mad after their family was murdered, turns to necromancy, and gets lost in the dark arts? Now that’s intriguing.
Your villain should have a well-thought-out backstory that explains how they made it to the dark side. Not all villains have to follow the good turned evil story arc, but if they were bad from the start there’s got to be a good reason for that too.
It also helps to explain how your villain fits into the larger world. Are they a dissident of the current government? Do they control a certain portion of the world’s geography? Have they been shunned by the culture at large? Give them context within the world you’ve built so your players want to protect the world from them.
Choosing Your Challenges
An awesome DnD campaign isn’t all about the battles. Yes, the confrontations with various orcs, goblins, henchmen, and minions are a core part of the fun, but your players are interested in facing other challenges as well.
When you’re writing your DnD campaign, make sure to incorporate challenges that require your players to use their creative problem solving skills and think on their feet. One great way to incorporate interesting challenges is by making a quest dependent on solving a riddle or a puzzle.
Another great challenge to serve up to your players is a roleplaying challenge. This could be in the form of an NPC that they have to convince into doing something or a situation they have to talk their way out of. This forces your players to really get into character and roleplay their way through the campaign.
Make sure that you incorporate multiple kinds of challenges into your campaign so your players don’t get bored with fight after fight. Though interesting fights are super important too. Learn more about how to incorporate different challenging creatures into the encounters in your campaign by checking out this interesting article.
Storylines That Matter
At its core, a DnD campaign is storytelling. Unlike normal storytelling, it’s interactive. Your players get to shape the story with you by adding their character’s personalities to the story and making any decisions they like.
But your players need the guidance of an excellent story to keep them interested in the campaign and to help them get to the climax of the campaign. And that’s where you as the DM can really shine.
Use the world you’ve built and the villain you’ve created to create a complete story that you want your players to walk through. Think of a DnD campaign as a series of chapters that compromise a novella. Each encounter has the information that leads to that encounter, the adventure to get to the encounter, the encounter itself, and the aftermath, like the chapter of a book.
String multiple encounters together, always making sure that they add information about the larger story, information that leads to the final confrontation with the villain. Each encounter should give your players clues to get to the next chapter of the story.
Story Driving NPCs
Non-player characters, NPCs, are just as crucial as the player characters. Your NPCs need to be fully realized people with stories of their own. Not every single NPC needs a complete backstory, but they do need enough personality to interact with the player characters.
And the NPCs need to guide the player characters to and through each stage of the story. Each NPC that your player characters encounter should have a purpose in the larger story, even if that purpose is not immediately apparent. And each NPC should be able to give the player characters the information they need to get to the next quest or adventure.
Letting Go of Control
After all that planning, you might be pretty attached to the story and characters you’ve created. You probably have a specific idea of how the campaign will unfold and how your players will move through the story.
Here’s a pro tip that will save your sanity: let go of all your expectations before the campaign begins. Players are a DM’s worst nightmare. They’ll go off on tangents, they’ll read into things that have no meaning, they’ll kill NPCs that were crucial to your story just for the fun of it.
Whatever planning you’ve done is likely to go off the rails once your players are involved. So, let go of control and find a way to tell the story you intended around the decisions your players make.
The best DM’s roll with the punches.
The Secret to the Best DnD Campaign
What’s the secret to creating the best DnD campaign? Have fun! DnD is all about having a good time with people you enjoy. It’s about using your creativity to overcome challenges and create a good story together.
So, the more fun you have creating the campaign, the more fun your players will have playing it. Follow these tips to create a campaign your players will love and have a great time.
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