How to write a D&D campaign and not fail in the attempt.

This text is for all those who are just starting in the world of RPGs, or perhaps for those who after a brief or long retirement decide to return to the tables to narrate a campaign, whatever the reason, welcome.

Dungeons and Dragons is the first role-playing game in the world, and currently the most popular, thanks to youtube shows like Matt Mercer’s and Matt Colville’s, and also thanks to celebrities like Joseph Gordon-Levitt or Patrick Rothfuss it has become mainstream.

You have already played at a table, you learned the rules while your character was improving in skills and together with your GM, the campaign came to an end, now you feel motivated to take the baton and lead your friends on the path of the hero, a question must haunt your head, where do I start?

I want to help you, but I’ll start by saying that there is no magic formula, nor is there only one way to write a campaign. Fortunately, we have hundreds of resources available, from Reddit posts, blogs, YouTubers, and books. And like everything else, practice makes perfect.

The creative process doesn’t happen exclusively in front of a blank page, it happens while you walk, while you read, while you watch a movie, or while you sleep. We call this incubating the idea, and it becomes easier when we talk about something we like or something we have lived or have experience with.

To make the task of writing a campaign easier, it is convenient to divide the process into four pillars that together will support the whole structure of the world we are going to create: 1) The inhabitants of the world, 2) The scenarios or where the action takes place, 3) the cosmogony 4) the story.

  • The inhabitants of the world or NPC’s, in every campaign your players will have characters that they will create with unique abilities and personality characteristics that each person will decide about their character. These characters will have to interact with other people, with their own stories, personality, appearance, alignment, profession, desires and passions, purpose in life, and so on. This will help to build the environment plausibly. 
  • The scenarios or where the action will happen for the NPC’s and the players, in this section we will focus on the space where the interaction will happen, we will have to decide the physics of the environment, describe the spaces, the atmosphere, describe in detail what the senses of players and NPC’s perceive and how nature has adapted to that reality.
  • The cosmogony, if we have already described how the inhabitants of the world are and how it works, justify the scenarios and mark the path where the characters will develop. This pillar deepens the construction of the environment of action; the social, political, geographic, climatic dimensions; organization; functioning of the system of life; now we have to write about universal laws, create the pantheon of gods, establish the economy of the world, religions, politics that is to define kingdoms, conflicts and alliances, magical elements, science, the historical context and all those details that make up our story.
  • The final step, now it is time to create a story that our players can experience for themselves, a story that is credible, appealing, that motivates them to want to discover all the adventures that their characters are destined to live.

In the story, the characters, the settings, the cosmogony, and the plot blend to connect with the player. The simplest way to do this is as the traditional Aristotelian rules, that is to divide our story into three acts: Plot, Knot, and Denouement.

  1. Plot: The protagonist(s), the antagonist(s) (only if necessary), and the player characters are introduced. At this point is where something happens that sets the story in motion. It is called a “trigger”. The protagonist responds to that trigger by performing certain actions and everything seems to be going well until something unexpected happens that causes the story to abruptly change direction. This is called the “first turning point” or “first plot twist”. This is the end of the first act.
  2. Knot: The protagonists react to the first turning point by setting out to achieve a certain goal or goals. To achieve what they want they must overcome the obstacles that will appear along the way, and face the antagonist or the challenges he has prepared for them.
    Usually, at this point, there is the opportunity to let the protagonists get involved in secondary plots that have little or nothing to do with the main storyline. These serve to complete or enrich the story and support the growth of the main characters within the story.
    At the end of the second act, something might happen that abruptly changes the story or its direction. Better known as a “second turning point” and usually something we do to make it seem like the characters have no chance of reaching their goal, this is where they would normally consider whether or not to continue.
  3. Denouement: At this point is where our campaign concludes, we will finally know if our protagonists will be able to achieve their goal or not. It is where we reach the climax, the high point of the story, it is the most desired moment by the players. Although they have reached this point with all odds against them, it is here where anything could change the situation in their favor. A well-managed denouement is what makes the whole campaign enjoyable as if it were the icing on the cake.

Following this structure is how you could start writing your campaign or your adventure, the important thing more than any advice or methodology is that you decide to start doing it, that your players will appreciate the effort it takes to create something from nothing.

As additional advice I recommend keeping notes of all the things that happen while you are narrating and writing the campaign, listening to their opinions and comments, observing the reactions, so you will know what to adjust, what to add, and what to remove.

It also helps a lot if you read other authors, sign up to forums, exchange notes with other GMs, or just listen to podcasts or watch videos on youtube can be a source of inspiration. 

If you made it this far I wish you the best of success in your adventure as a GM, it’s a part of the game that in my opinion is as enjoyable or even more enjoyable than being a player. And the best thing is that it is also very fun and exciting.

and remember:

“Creativity doesn’t wait for that perfect moment. It fashions its own perfect moments out of ordinary ones.” —Bruce Garrabrandt

Greetings and see you next time.

– Guillermo

ND Hobbies


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