Planning a New DnD Campaign: Part One

From Plan to Pitch

I’m finally reaching the finale of the campaign I’ve been running for the past couple years, which of course means I’m currently also in the planning stages of my next campaign. So, I had a thought for this blog – I’m going to journal alongside my preparation leading up to the sessions, and talk about how that plays out in the actual sessions.

I’d been thinking about good ways to explain my personal process, and realized this makes the most sense – bring you along! I’m likely to make mistakes, my ideas won’t always work out the way I hoped initially (but that’s actually part of the fun), and a lot of what I plan may go entirely unused. You’ll be seeing the real process – so if you’re new, maybe you can learn from my mistakes so you don’t have to make them yourself!

I’ll start with all the pre-game preparation that I’ll be doing for this campaign, piece by piece as I work on it. So let’s begin at the beginning –

The Idea

This is where it all starts. Just a small idea, maybe just a concept or a setting that I am interested in exploring. This might be the seed of a short 4-5 session mini-campaign (I love those personally), or an idea for a longer form game.

In this case, I’m interested in running another long game after this current one. The campaign I’m finishing was an epic story with gods and prophecies and all that nonsense, and I’m eager to not do that again right away.

For my next campaign, I want something smaller-scale – something about a group of people, more character than plot.

I want to re-use my world, since that saves me a ton of work. So I’ll set it about 70-100 years after the events of the current campaign and update everything accordingly. I also just got that neat Eberron book a few months back, and I like a lot of those ideas about magic as science and technology – a setting with wide-spread use of simpler magic in day to day life. So let’s say the world has seen a tech boom; I’ll move the technology level to Renaissance era-ish with some early gunpowder weapons and magical flying ships, assuming that people recovered and reverse-engineered some technology after a battle that involved some higher-tech extra-planar forces at the end of my last campaign. This is all new enough that some old people remember times before such things existed.

The world is going to through a kind of colonialism problem. The stronger nations of the “old continent” are using their recent technological advances to subjugate the peoples of the “new continent” (new to them because they just realized it was there). The game will take place on the “new” continent, where players will be a member of a group of adventurer’s-for-hire that travel around attached to an airship looking for lucrative work in the more brutal, untamed places of this land. This means the player characters are likely to be the sort of people that live on the fringes of this society, whether by choice or not is up to the player. This also opens up possibilities for fun dynamics like rival adventuring crews if this sort of thing is common in the world.

That’s a good enough start already for a framework. Now I need a way to clarify my idea to the players to get them thinking about possible characters. If I let myself, I can and will ramble every detail about the world at these poor people and they won’t know what is and isn’t important. I need to condense my idea into the bits players need to know going in.

The Pitch

These players are all good friends of mine that know my DM style, but this is a good time to talk about that if your audience doesn’t know you so well. I would in that case find a time to warn them that I tend towards story-driven games with a lot of role-playing, with combat usually being rare but deadly when it does happen.

For my current idea, I’ll make sure to hit these points with my potential players:

  • Colonialism is the backdrop – a world in the process of dying violently as a new world invades.
  • They are playing characters that live on the edges of this world; places like this attract extreme personalities, or people with something to hide – they could also play a character from one of the indigenous populations, which would ask interesting questions of its own about why they’ve found themselves working within this new society.
  • Magic is everywhere. It is used in daily life, it powers technology, there are many Warforged being used as labor in major cities along the coast.
  • This story is going to be character-driven. We’re going to flesh out a lot of extra details about your character one-on-one before the game starts such as debts you owe or enemies you’ve made – I’ll use these as offers for future plot hooks when I see a good opportunity.
  • The story is likely to remain open-form for a long time. Don’t expect an epic plot here, though if one happens organically I’m not going to stop it.

It’s important that players have a good sense of what kind of campaign they’re walking into before they make their characters, especially in my case since I want to bring the focus onto those characters a lot more in this game. It pays to think about what you need your players to know before you have that conversation, so you can be sure everyone is on the same page about what to expect moving forward into the game.

Once I’ve got my players on board, I’ll be ready to move ahead to character creation. If I play my cards right, character creation will help me flesh out my world a lot more (the new continent is largely undefined at the moment by design; I like letting players flesh out corners of my world with their backstories). It should also provide me a nice little list of plot hooks to plan for later on in the campaign. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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