So you’ve decided you’d like to step away from the prebuilt adventures supplied by Wizards of the Coast or other creators and make your own D&D campaign. If this is your first time DMing in any sort of table-top RPG capacity, then you might want to stick with a prebuilt adventure like The Lost Mines of Phandelver or an easier and quicker adventure. If you still have your heart set on writing your own D&D campaign or adventure, then here’s a guide with some tips and tricks to get you started on the right foot.
Creating Your D&D Campaign
Before you even start creating your D&D world, you’re going to want to iron out some mighty important details first. Every campaign has three essential things: a theme, a hook, and a Big Bad Evil Guy (BBEG). Starting with any of these three things is a great way to brainstorm ideas for how your campaign starts or ends.
Start with a Theme
The theme is important since it sets the tone for the rest of your campaign. Campaigns often last months, so you’ll want to figure this out pretty quickly. Ideally, you already have a theme in mind; if not, that’s okay. If you have a BBEG or a hook already in your head, you might try and base the theme on that.
Is your BBEG a powerful Mindflayer trying to take over a small seaside town? Then your theme might actually be a two-parter, one that focuses on the mortal world the villagers and the party inhabit while also taking from the world of the Underdark.
Maybe there’s a necromancer raising a zombie army, and you’re going for a more grim and gritty feel. Perhaps you’d like your campaign to be more political and revolve around two neighboring kingdoms preparing for war over a seemingly unimportant dispute.
Is it a high-fantasy world? Is magic abundant, and creatures beyond our wildest dreams roam free? Or is it more low-fantasy and grounded in reality? Perhaps you’re going for a homebrew campaign, and yours will pull from other games like Warhammer, Pathfinder, or any other fictional place.
These are questions you’re going to want to ask yourself when you start putting pen to paper and fleshing out your world and campaign. Identifying the theme of your campaign early on can save you a few headaches later when things inevitably get confusing. That said, it’s your fantasy world. If you have multiple themes or none, it’s your choice.
Create Your Hook
Unless you can turn the old “you all meet in a tavern” trope into something absolutely spectacular, try to avoid that one. Oftentimes, the best hooks are where you throw the party into immediate chaos. “You’re walking down the road when a group of peasants begins running in your direction, screaming in terror. What do you do?”
Or a good old-fashioned prison break. “Your party is in a holding cell of a high tower. What do you do?” Putting the onus directly on the party to get themselves out of a hairy situation is an easy way to get them into action right away.
You can easily tie any number of plot starters into your overall BBEG and campaign. Maybe the peasants are running from a horde of zombies unleashed by the necromancer. Perhaps a group of bandits is raiding the village, trying to bring some loot back to their rogue’s den and boss.
The age-old saying that how you start something is how your day is how you end it can easily apply to a D&D campaign. If you have a weak hook and start, your players aren’t going to enjoy it. If they’re having fun right from the get-go, then you’re bound to have a good time.
Talk to Your Players About their Characters
Ideally, you already know who’s going to be playing in your campaign, and, ideally, they already know what kind of character they want to play. Incorporating a background story of your Player Characters (PCs) into your campaign is a great way to liven it up.
It will also help to know their skills and abilities. If one of the Non-Player Characters (NPCs) in your campaign speaks Abyssal, but no one in the party does, well, then that could be a problem. If you have a solution lined up for them that leads them on an adventure, that’s all the better.
On the other hand, if your solution is tied to the campaign and you didn’t know that Grognor speaks Abyssal, well, now you have to try and quickly adjust your playbook to keep the campaign going smoothly.
It should be said that this isn’t necessary, as you can always hear your players’ backstories and abilities as the campaign starts and progresses, building off of it as you go, but having some twists, plot hooks, or ideas in your head while building the campaign can be a great time saver.
Research Other Campaigns and D&D Material
Oftentimes the best ideas come from previous experiences—there’s a reason the best authors read so much. Increasing the amount of content you consume can help you form new ideas and better encounters. If you haven’t yet, read every page of the Monster Manual and Player’s Handbook. This will easily give you ideas for more monsters to use in your adventure and tell you more about the abilities of your group’s characters.
You also should read up on different Wizards of the Coast campaign books and any homebrew content put out by the community. Reddit is a great source of homebrew content. Stay subscribed and read posts daily to get ideas or insert other people’s creations into your world.
Hopefully, you got some helpful advice through this quick guide on how to create a D&D campaign. Remember, the amount of effort your put into the campaign can often dictate how fun it is. At the same time, your players can easily go off track and “ruin” your plans. This is also fine. At the end of the day, as long as everyone is having fun, you’re being a good DM. Practice thinking on the fly, and you’ll host the best sessions ever.