Planning a New DnD Campaign: Part Two

Scheduling and World-building

Last week I spent some time laying out my ideas for a new campaign, and condensed them into a pitch I could bring to potential players. This series is going to be a follow-along journal for the campaign I’m currently in the planning stages of, hoping to offer some better insight into the methods I use and how they work in practice. If you want to follow the journey from the beginning, start here.

So I have a pretty solid idea of who I’m bringing in on this campaign, and I’ve already been talking to them about playing a new game in the next few months. I find it important to start the conversation early about a potential game for a couple main reasons: a lot of planning goes into it on your end so you probably know you’re going to be running one long before session 0, and it’s difficult to fit a weekly DnD game into a typical schedule so advance warning helps immensely on that front.

That means my next steps as I start laying the foundations of this new campaign are my favorite and my least favorite parts of this process: world-building and scheduling. Guess which is which.

The Dreaded Scheduling Talks

Scheduling a weekly game of DnD is a pain, and the main reason most people just don’t play is due to how hard it can be.

It’s understandable, when you think about it. People already have precious little free time, especially in large enough blocks for DnD games that can run up to 4 hours easily. It takes a certain amount of dedication and love for the game to want to show up for that much every single week. Not everybody is going to be interested once they realize how much of a time investment it really becomes.

Finding players that do want to play that long and that often is the real first step to setting these kinds of games up, and that’s a matter of luck mixed with trial and error. The internet is a huge help here, though. As much as I love and miss in-person games, my friends are scattered all over the country and I keep moving every few years so online platforms have become the way (also, a great excuse to stay in touch!). I primarily use discord for these purposes myself, since it’s free and easy to create servers for games.

Once you have a good base of players you know, it’s still not a simple task from there. What I do is contact all my potential players and ask for a complete list of the times they are able and willing to play. Sometimes you get lucky and there’s just a magic time that matches up for everyone, but usually this involves somebody having to compromise a little to find a common time slot. You might not be able to include everyone you’d like, it happens sometimes. Do your best and don’t sweat it too much.

I know shift work exists because I’ve done my share of it, so if you can’t nail down a specific time – you do have an option. It’s a poor option, I won’t oversell it, but you can make the weekly game time fluid. This means a lot more footwork organizing weekly games, but it isn’t impossible depending on how communicative your group is. My main warning here is that missed weeks will happen, but work to avoid consecutive missed weeks as that can quickly kill momentum in a campaign (and possibly just the whole campaign).

Building the World: The Last 100 Years

I adore world-building.

This campaign is especially fun for me since I have a firmly established continent on this world with page after page of notes from a multi-year campaign I’m in the process of finishing right now, so a lot of the difficult work is done for me. I have a history, I even have recent history with player-driven events which always end up cooler than what I cook up by myself.

Now I just advance the clock on that world 100 years.

I have a map of the political state of the “old” continent around the end of the campaign I’m finishing:

So I drew up a new map, including the “new” continent of Fresonai, and the political state 100 years later:

This gave me time to think about how the events at the end of the last campaign have impacted global politics. It also gave me a visual as I thought about which nations had caught colonial fever, and which among those were dominant.

Saltori was already well-positioned to be a colonial powerhouse; they already had a strong naval tradition, so it’s a natural fit. Kerth has emerged as a major player on the world stage following the end of last campaign, with their brutally effective spymaster steering his nation to greatness. These two nations hold the most colonial territory.

Kerth was first to the stage, discovering the continent and quietly forming colonies there for a couple decades before a Saltorian explorer chasing rumors of this new world discovered it for her nation. From there, the race has been on between the two to claim territory before the other can. Saltori is concerned by how much territory Kerth already controls, and Kerth is concerned that Saltorian acquisitions threaten supply lines to their colonies.

This has led to a cold war type tension between the two, including a number of proxy wars through native populations. Naturally, it has also resulted in the mass displacement or slaughter of indigenous peoples by both nations.

Neither nation has clean hands going into this campaign. Saltori forced the Kingdom of Nesos into the so-called “Treaty of Nesos”, which saw the kingdom ceding much of their land to Saltori and essentially becoming a subject state. Locals refer to this event as the “Subjugation of Nesos”. Both nations funneled money and resources into a conflict between the northern tribes of Hill Dwarves and the Lizardfolk of the swamps – each seizing the land of their “allies” in a treaty with each other at the conclusion of that war.

Late to the game, we have an alliance of Loeton and the Kingdom of the Green Plains establishing outposts to do research in the Jungles of Nesos. They clashed for some time with the local Tabaxi tribes there, but those tribes that remain are now mostly hiding deeper in the jungles after numerous defeats at the hands of superior technologies. This won’t be too directly relevant to this game, but the jungles aren’t so far from the Expanse and everything is interconnected so this could come up.

The Abylosin Empire is the last hold-out against colonial expansion among the native populations. Primarily comprised of Dragonborn with a soldier caste of Lizardfolk, they are brutal rulers and have so far made no effort to contact the newcomers but one: they sent a message to each of the colonial powers about twenty years ago, telling them to “Stay away” and warning them that unlike other peoples of the continent “they have teeth”. The warnings have done nothing to slow the progress of colonialism, and settlements grow closer to their borders every day. It is only a matter of time before there is open conflict, which is not likely to end well for Abylos.

A wild card is the hermit kingdom of New Alkadia. This nation was formed by refugees from the fall of Alkadia 2000 years ago; the richest people and most powerful wizards of that fallen empire fled the death of the great city with their advanced technologies and hid in the mountains in the south of the other continent – far from the gaze of the angry gods.

There, they turned to dark experiments in their attempts to find the power to defeat the gods that had wronged them. Most of the people of New Alkadia are now only part-human after extensive experimentation and modification (using the shifter races from the Eberron book), while the ruling class of wizards have become nigh-immortal with armies of clones to be re-born into when any of them die.

As colonial powers emerge across their continent and with the gods now locked away, the ancient emporer and his immortal council now seek to restore the glory of the Old Alkadia. They view powers such as Kerth and Saltori as children and call them as much publicly (indeed, the latter is literally founded by a refugee from the Fall of Alkadia 2000 years ago so could accurately be considered a child of Alkadia). This is unlikely to be a central focus or tension in this campaign, but I might come back to it in a future game in this world. It will be fun to tease the rise from the ashes of this ancient fallen empire through in-game rumors and news; it makes it cooler for the players if that is a focus in a future game, and it makes the world feel larger and more alive that there are also big conflicts happening elsewhere that the players aren’t involved in.

Locality of the Campaign: The Great Expanse

Developing all that history can be a cool way to add dressing to a setting, but I go more in-depth than I need to because I enjoy it – it isn’t crucial. When it comes down to it, you only need to know an area at the onset of a campaign. In this case, I’ve chosen the northern part of the new continent.

I want this campaign to take place on the frontiers of this world, the places where new civilization comes into conflict with old ways or nature itself.

The Great Expanse is a large grassland area in the center of the continent, similar to the Great Plains of North America. It is filled with nomadic peoples of all kinds and largely untouched by the new settlers. When I start fleshing out these tribes, I plan to read up on the culture and mythology of Native Americans living in the plains for inspiration. I often copy and paste aspects of real world culture into my imaginary world cultures because I love learning about people, so I genuinely enjoy the time spent researching and reading.

The difficulty of setting up permanent settlements in a place like this has largely protected it, but now even this place is feeling the pinch from colonialism as Kerth and Saltori seem poised to use it as their next battleground on this continent.

A tenuous peace exists between the two superpowers for the moment. The expanse of unclaimed land remains, for now, a neutral barrier. The hanging tension of this war-to-come will be one of the primary tensions for the campaign. It won’t be the focus unless the players decide to make it so, but the events leading up to that war (and probably the war itself as the campaign continues) give me a good backdrop.

An untamed grassland gives me plenty of meat to chew on for a little while, especially since I intend to start with a sort of “monster of the week” format for the early sessions. This is a low pressure way to run a campaign, with each episode being something of a one-shot, so it’s a good way to ease into a game and let a party dynamic emerge. I figure the setting should be more than fertile enough to carry that kind of story for more than long enough until the story begins to emerge.

What story emerges is impossible to say, I’m only providing the backdrop and putting pieces in places that facilitate tension and drama. The players will be telling the story. I’m excited to see what they bring to the table.

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