How to Create a D&D Campaign

Making a Dungeons & Dragons campaign can feel daunting. However, while it may seem like the Dungeon Master (DM) needs to be a professional writer, there are simple concepts and writing exercises that can help bridge that exaggerated gap. “The Five Ws” is a notion from many youth writing courses, and while it may seem rudimentary, it can quickly crack this challenging task. This practice outlines basic questions to help identify what makes the story unique and exciting. After all, if the DM can’t answer these questions, players likely can’t either. While each campaign may require slight tweaks to these ideas, we can start with the basics:

To answer these questions efficiently, focus on simple ideas to create a solid foundation. From there, DMs can spend hours on end adding more and more layers of detail that players can discover along the way. How much to add will depend entirely on the DM, the players, and the campaign they create together.

Where is it?

Think of any adventure setting as combining a significant region with a primary or starting location. When defining that region, consider familiar biomes: aquatic, grasslands, woodlands, and desert or tundra. Dungeon Masters can then break these main categories into more specific areas to help drive the narrative. For example, aquatic environments can vary from freshwater rivers and lakes to dense tropical or swamp domains to oceans and reefs. As a small note, be cautious of the desert and tundras with newer players, as adventuring in extreme temperatures can be more challenging to manage and play than expected. These barren biomes likely have less distinct variation and fewer inhabitants or societies than the others, which could be boring for some groups.

Though there are many ways to start a campaign, a common practice is to have the party begin within a settlement before venturing out on their quest. After the DM has chosen the primary adventure setting, the next step is to select a settlement, like a city, town, or campsite, and define the specific location where the characters start their exploration. This location could be any building or establishment, like a tavern, blacksmith, an NPC’s home, or a thieves’ guild headquarters. Players can even start in multiple locations before gathering together and setting off.

Who are they?

The next step is to define the characters within the world. Many RPGs include relative instructions where the DM can determine specific or random characters for the players to embody. Unfortunately, some games, like D&D, do not yet contain a particular ruleset or guide for this type of thing. Thankfully, a quick search on the internet will provide many premade characters or access to character generators for DMs and players alike.

Whichever method the table chooses, make sure the players spend a few moments to customize the details to build a connection to their characters. These elements can also coincide with how the characters know each other. Whether enlisted as a unit, hired for a job, members of a crime family, or even sole survivors of a terrible event, there are numerous ways to define a connection, which can bolster player engagement.

With a defined list of protagonists, it’s time to think of their adversarial counterparts. The most simplistic approach is selecting a boss and some assorted minions. Motivated DMs can take inspiration from any movie or book, but many standard adventure guides provide practical examples. Books like Curse of Strahd present vampires and their thralls, while The Rise of Tiamat shows Dragons and Kobolds. Whatever the choice, try to incorporate options that make simple narrative sense to help keep players immersed in the story.

The world may also include alternative NPCs that can act as competitors to the main villain or find common ground enough to join the big bad’s objective. These NPCs may also present chances for players to influence their involvement on either side of the conflict. They could be any quantity of lower-level organized groups like soldiers, cultists, bandits, or relatively intelligent creatures—undead or otherwise.

What do they want?

When determining the driving ambition behind the ultimate opponent, it’s best to approach their grand desire in two steps. First, think about the conceptual idea they want to accomplish, like conquest, control, or perfection, and then define it with a physical or tangible element the villain requires to achieve it, like money, minions, or influence. For example, a lich may desire the love of a deceased partner, revenge for their death, or pure destruction of the world that spurned them, and to achieve that, they may need an ancient artifact, rare divine knowledge, or arcane sustenance to power their machinations.

Particular wants or needs can even act as thematic story threads that underly the entirety of the campaign, like money in the form of greed or influence in the form of political intrigue. However, while deeper meaning can be a rewarding thread for players to follow, try not to overdo it with details, minutia, and exaggerated complexity. Unless the gaming group thrives on it, the villain rarely needs a traumatic backstory or morally ambiguous motivations. That type of narrative gymnastics can be complex for even professional writers to pull off, and it can often challenge players mentally in a way they may not fully appreciate or find comfortable in a public setting. If there is any doubt in the storytelling progress, remember that a straightforward villain deserving of a proper beatdown will rarely disappoint.

The player’s, or character’s, wants and needs are generally more reciprocal to the antagonist. Generally speaking, they should want to stop the bad guy. The villain’s plans will likely negatively affect innocent people, creatures, and the world around them. However, to help drive player engagement, don’t be afraid to make it personal—not in real life, but in the realm of the character. Perhaps a family member is threatened or killed, an essential place of worship falls to ruin, or the villain was a former friend or lover turned betrayer. These plot devices are hooks to add gravity and consequence to the player’s decisions.

Why can’t they get it?

Whether talking about the evil-doers or player characters, “why” they cannot obtain the physical or tangible thing from “what,” mentioned earlier, usually falls into one or more of four different categories:

  • Geography: The item is hidden or guarded among frigid mountain peaks, blistering deserts, or ruins laden with traps.
  • Opposition: Hordes of dangerous creatures or bloodthirsty battalions stand in the way.
  • Time: The ritual must fall on the solstice, or a curse activates when the prince reaches a certain age.
  • Tools: Often associated with fetch quests, an arcane infusion may require specific ingredients, or a mythical device might necessitate the skill of a master artisan.

The extent or amount of “why” can help determine the length and depth of the DM’s intended campaign. Using this exercise as a narrative device can help inspire new obstacles for the players to overcome, adding unexplored elements to the game to keep the campaign from growing stale or repetitive. A geography element like the ruins could be a great place to introduce puzzles and traps that the team must use their wits to solve together. The opposition of a legion of soldiers could provide opportunities for charismatic characters to flex their negotiation or persuasion skills. Time-dependent challenges allow players to plan and problem-solve rather than reacting on instinct. Quests associated with tools can go from tedious retrieval missions to avenues by which the party can explore the surrounding world, peoples, fauna, and flora, potentially leading to alternative side adventures.

“Why” can also help define the villains’ necessary course of action, the alternative NPCs’ or “competitors'” goals, or become a quest for multiple groups simultaneously. DMs should remain flexible, as the player’s intentions can alter the story’s arc. Expanding on the previous example, an ancient hidden library among the mountains may hold the divine knowledge the lich requires. The players may attempt to stop the lich outright. However, they may also choose to beat the lich at their own game by obtaining or destroying the knowledge first. The alternative NPC group could have orders to complete an entirely different portion of the lich’s scheme but decide to betray their agreement and seek the knowledge for themselves. Each group in this quick narrative moves from individual “why” quests to potentially racing against each other amidst the same quest.

As DMs become more comfortable with this approach, they may see how this simple exercise can build upon each character, good or bad, further expanding the world as the campaign progresses. Quests to distant lands can help define the map, the surrounding environment, and the people within. With enough time and careful consideration, these four questions will slowly build an immersive and expansive world crafted by the DM and players’ choices and collective roleplaying decisions.

how to create a d&d campaign reddit

how to create a d&d campaign for beginners

how to make a d&d campaign for beginners

how to make a dnd campaign reddit

dnd campaign template

dnd campaign maker

create a dnd campaign online

how to make a short dnd campaign

Scroll to Top