D&D General 3 Secret Ingredients for a Great D&D Campaign?

BookTenTiger

He / Him
What are three secret ingredients that you think help raise a D&D campaign from good to great?

I'm not talking the big, obvious stuff: a DM who listens, engaged players, a consistent game time, etc.

I'm talking about small, specific things, those little pinches of sugar or spice that make a campaign pop. They might not be obvious to the players, but you know that they work.

Here are my three secret ingredients:

1) Lots of things to spend money on.

In each location I like to put a few big, frivolous things that the PCs can spend gold on. Real estate, fancy mounts and barding, fine clothes, blessings... It's a lot more fun for characters to find gold when they know there are fun ways to spend it!

2) NPC Fans

Campaigns are usually full of suspicious townsfolk, stubborn guards, and all-knowing immortal mages... I make sure to sprinkle in a few NPCs who really like the characters. It might be a kid who idolizes the paladin, a smithy who dreams of being an adventurer, or a cultist who worships the warlock. Putting in a few NPCs who unabashedly like the characters helps make the heroes seem even more heroic.

3) Local Cuisine

I try to pick a unique food or drink for each location in my campaign. I think food can be a really memorable and fun element. 20 years ago I introduced a merchant who sold Honey Bread, thick sliced soft bread absolutely soaked with honey. We still laugh about it to this day.


What are three of your secret ingredients?
 

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
1) Always be ready and willing to laugh with the game, about the game, and at the game. Taking it all too seriously is a game-killer.

2) Stupid and-or unwise PCs and their resulting stupid and-or unwise in-game actions are pure gold. Try not to punish them too harshly.

3) Beer.
 


Yora

Legend
Interesting choices. This indicates a completely different approach to running games than mine.

I guess my three special tools would be:

- Wandering Monster Tables that reflect the current area. Especially when they provide clues about monster lairs nearby, giving the players hints what they should be prepared for.

- Rumor Tables that give players hints about sites, creatures, and people in the area, which they could decide to keep a look out for.

- Reaction Rolls. Unless the party encounters creatures that always react the same way or who already know about the PCs, the reaction of creatures and NPCs is randomized. Both for wandering monsters and fixed area encounters. They might be hostile or friendly regardless of their look, or agressive or ready to flee, and the only way to tell is to let them spot you.

Special Special Tool: Let the players roll the dice for wandering monsters and tell them what will happen on each number before rolling.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
While not universal, I've found these work well:

1. Have the group come up with a fun concept at session 0 some we've had: players were employees of Morgrave University, players all worshiped/were associated with the Silver Flame, current one is looser - they are all members of the Greyhawk Adventurer's guild.

2. Rivals. Make sure the PCs know that they're not the only game in town and if they don't do something there are others who will. Even more fun if they are somehow forced to work together on some occasions.

3. Edible enemies. You kill it, you eat it - share at your discretion (for assists etc.). Great player motivator.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
1) Always be ready and willing to laugh with the game, about the game, and at the game. Taking it all too seriously is a game-killer.

2) Stupid and-or unwise PCs and their resulting stupid and-or unwise in-game actions are pure gold. Try not to punish them too harshly.

3) Beer.
#2 is a big one! I find if I punish unwise or rash decisions too much, the players play way too cautiously and it's just not as fun.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Interesting choices. This indicates a completely different approach to running games than mine.

I assume most people use different secret ingredients!

I guess my three special tools would be:

- Wandering Monster Tables that reflect the current area. Especially when they provide clues about monster lairs nearby, giving the players hints what they should be prepared for.

- Rumor Tables that give players hints about sites, creatures, and people in the area, which they could decide to keep a look out for.

- Reaction Rolls. Unless the party encounters creatures that always react the same way or who already know about the PCs, the reaction of creatures and NPCs is randomized. Both for wandering monsters and fixed area encounters. They might be hostile or friendly regardless of their look, or agressive or ready to flee, and the only way to tell is to let them spot you.

Special Special Tool: Let the players roll the dice for wandering monsters and tell them what will happen on each number before rolling.
I really like to use random tables too, it makes the game surprising and fun for me as the DM!
 

Scribe

Hero
Play to your crowd. If the players are serious about the numbers, be tight. If the players are in it for the laughs, be loose.

Laugh anyway. The game is still to be enjoyed, and if you cant laugh with your table, try and figure out why.

Be open. I like to keep it very clear what is being rolled for, what is potentially happening, and what consequences may be. I hate the feel bads when someone didnt understand the implications of something.
 

Stormonu

Legend
Right now, the only one I can think of is "Believable NPCs". That is, folks that the players can relate to in one way or another outside of a combat encounter or as a quest giver. Whether it's Blue Masey the barkeep who eagerly awaits to hear the character's travails when they come back from their adventures, or its Miss Trudy who tearfully says goodbye every time one of the PCs leaves, fearing they will never return - having NPCs who the players enjoy interacting with time and again helps to draw players into the worlds as more than just a game.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
Good question! I think three of my ingredients over the years have become:

  • Use the things the players put into their characters' backgrounds (especially when they forget they're there).
  • Cultivate NPCs that the players care about (not the characters - the players).
  • Bad rolls are opportunities for interesting/funny things to happen (depending on the moment) - don't waste that opportunity.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
Be open. I like to keep it very clear what is being rolled for, what is potentially happening, and what consequences may be. I hate the feel bads when someone didnt understand the implications of something.

This a big one for me.

It's an imperfect medium (having to describe the situations to the players) and miscommunications/misunderstandings are bound to occur -so best to be clear AND to allow for corrections when there was a clear misunderstanding etc. I'm not about to play gotcha with the playes.

And if a DM is being deliberately vague/unclear and as a result the players are struggling with the scenario, and when asked won't clarify/make the situation less confusing? That's one of the biggest reasons for me to not come back. It's also the ONLY time I can remember leaving a game mid-stream. Was a Gen Con game with plenty of players (I wouldn't be missed) and the GM was doing everything he could to make us feel useless anyway.
 



2) NPC Fans

Campaigns are usually full of suspicious townsfolk, stubborn guards, and all-knowing immortal mages... I make sure to sprinkle in a few NPCs who really like the characters. It might be a kid who idolizes the paladin, a smithy who dreams of being an adventurer, or a cultist who worships the warlock. Putting in a few NPCs who unabashedly like the characters helps make the heroes seem even more heroic.

2. Rivals. Make sure the PCs know that they're not the only game in town and if they don't do something there are others who will. Even more fun if they are somehow forced to work together on some occasions.
These are also two of mine. For whatever reason, I'm good at making NPCs my players love or love to hate. In my last campaign in Saltmarsh, we had a Triton PC who became beloved by the fishermen's children. However, he offended a local halfling merchant when he mistook the merchant for one of the children. This created some fun situations! I particularly like to use rivals to complete adventures the players don't take (or abandon), since they get an idea of what they missed out on.

While I can't think of a solid 3rd, I think little details sometimes are really appreciated. For example, I introduced Keoish brandy in my first 5E campaign, and a player decided to ask for it later in the campaign. It doesn't have to be food, but any little thing that helps give authenticity to the world beyond just the PCs and their activities.
 

Composer99

Adventurer
No particular order:

1. NPCs the players love (or love to hate). My wisdom-dispensing gold dragon and ettin arguing with herself were big hits.

2. Just the right amount of evocative description.

3. My players have, I think, enjoyed the occasional peek behind the curtain. So a bit of that every once in a while.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Clearly, the three secrets are...
1) Crush your enemies.
2) See them driven before you.
3) And hear the lamentations of their significant others.

But, more seriously, I don't find there to be any small list of secrets. It is no secret that you should listen to what the players want, and then give it to them.
 

These are the tricks that I've been using lately:

#1 Get a free blog (it's fairly easy). Use it to communicate my ongoing campaign. Update it on a regular basis between sessions.

#2 Mentally review the session. Start from the beginning and then picture what happens next and so forth. I'm in a routine of walking to the grocery store after our weekly 2 hour sessions. This is when I typically do this.

#3 profit
 

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