Campaign design support group thread

So I'm beginning the very first stages of designing a new campaign for D&D Next, which I hope to get under way shortly after the new year. I thought it might be fun to start a thread as a kind of touch-stone and place for discussion for folks in a similar situation. Are you designing a new campaign - either setting or story - for D&D? It doesn't have to be Next.

Anyone else in a similar situation? I thought we could share resources, discuss, etc.


Some of my favorite campaign-design articles were written by Ed Greenwood in Dragon Magazine BITD:

- "Plan Before You Play" Dragon #63
- "Law of the Land" Dragon #65

Also good were "The Merry Month of...Mirtul?" in Dragon #47, ""Down-To-Earth Divinity" in Dragon #54, and (to a lesser extent, since it's more focused on what's commonly perceived as higher-level play) "From the City of Brass to Dead Orc Pass: the Theory and Use of Gates" in Dragon #37.

While written during the 1e era, they're all edition agnositc, and full of good advice!

Scrivener of Doom

Yeah, whether you like the Forgotten Realms or not, Ed is an absolute master of campaign design. His advice is always worth a read.

Thanks for the reminder about those articles, [MENTION=1613]grodog[/MENTION].

Scrivener of Doom

Yeah, whether you like the Forgotten Realms or not, Ed is an absolute master of campaign design. His advice is always worth a read.

Thanks for the reminder about those articles, [MENTION=1613]grodog[/MENTION].
Thanks, Allan.

I'm also hoping to get people that are also in the process of campaign design to share. Anyone out there?
I'm currently putting together a SWSE campaign. That any use to you?

On the topic of Dragon mags, my favourite for advice has always been #143, especially "The Highs and Lows of Fantasy" and "To Be Continued..."

Viking Bastard

Next friday we start a new campaign: a sandbox, set in the "New World's" unexplored west, which I will try to generate as we go. An old homebrew stands in for the "Old World", and I've been scouring the internet for sandbox resources (like this excellent weather generator).


I created my new 4E campaign six months ago (and have been playing it biweekly ever since.) I took my cues from James Wyatt's Greenbriar campaign design Dungeoncraft articles in Dungeon Magazine to help create it. I'm very much a DM who uses published modules /adventures as a campaign foundation and then binds them all together with my own mortar and improv skills.

I started by choosing my campaign level length (went for levels 1-10) and a "big" module to be the centerpiece of my design and the climax of my campaign (The Gates of Firestorm Peak.) Using that as my campaign foundation (expecting the Gates to open and the party to enter the Peak around level 6-7,) I then took my cues from the pages of the module that set TGoFP up to get a starting town, and some of the character/village plots that could lead the campaign for the first five levels.

Some of those things in TGoFP included a supposed "curse" upon the village, the animals around the mountain going aggresive, a vein of transparent iron called 'nephelium' coming into existence inside the duergar mine, the control rods for the Vast Gate being missing, various citizens experiencing manic criminal behavior, Far Realm creatures manifesting out of nowhere, and the Dragon's Tear comet arriving to herald the opening of the Outer Gate of the Peak.

Once I had all these ideas gathered (which came straight from the module), I then went on a shopping spree through all of the online Dungeon Magazine modules I had acquired over the last 5 years (as well as a few others)-- pulling out any modules that might have to do with crazy animals, murderous villagers, the Far Realm, astronomy, weird metal and stuff like that. I probably found about 10 or so modules that all could apply, then I wrote out in bullet-point form the plotlines of those 10 modules, checking to see how many of them were close enough to things within TGoFP that they could be adapted and/or merged together, and a plotline to fill levels 1-5 began to form.

What's nice is that because I already have the modules and the plot hooks are all tied towards the metaplot of Firestorm Peak, I can drop hooks here or there and see what the players pick up. And whatever they do... I have the module right there and then to feed into. Thus there's more options for everyone because at any one time I might have three or four directions/hooks out there to jump into.

Finally... now that I had the all my foundation modules at hand and the hooks to tie them to each other and the metaplot... I just began creating campaign-specific Character Themes (adapted from the Themes I got from the Compendium) that would tie the characters themselves directly into many of these story hooks and metaplot (and thus providing background and thrust to the characters so they remain hooked into the story.)

Thus far it's worked exceedingly well... and I actually have very little I need to do between sessions as everything is already created and sitting there ready to be pulled out at a moments notice (or improvised around if they do something slightly unexpected.)


I've found a lot of designing a new campaign is playing to your own strengths. Which isn't terribly useful advice, I guess, except that it means we should only see other people's approaches as examples and look for what actually clicks for us.

For example, I think in webs and loops. I'll spend hours on wikis for a games I don't even play or worlds I don't really care about, tracing their concepts and how they're related.

So it's pretty natural for me to set up a campaign wiki, establishing the relation of concepts within the world so I can see where things overlap. It also calls to my attention places I have connections that I haven't detailed and provides a nice place to record updates as the game progresses.

But I'm also pretty good at ad-libbing world design, so it's not strange for me to walk in with a sheet that has a couple names on it and add to it as the players come up with stuff or I need them. I'll usually switch to the wiki once it outgrows that page.

Someone else who had a different skillset probably wouldn't want to take either approach, though.

Also, I can't XP you [MENTION=7006]DEFCON 1[/MENTION], but that sounds like an awesome approach.


the Jester

I'm in the early stages of updating a city in my campaign world to be the launch point of our group's next party at first level (the current 4e game is about 22nd to 23rd level at the moment, rising fast).

The city was the site of a large section of the campaign a few years ago- the group at the time (different from my current group due to having moved, but still with some overlap) withstood a five-year siege in the city. The new group will be coming in about 30 or 40 years later (current projection is 33, but it's early yet, I may change that).

So I already have a decent idea of the city's layout, culture, resources, surroundings, etc to build off of. One thing I love is making use of my old notes; in this case, I have a nearby megadungeon that never got fleshed out, as well as close by dwarves and orcs who share control over a gorge within which the dwarves have secret mines of firestone (coal). The gorge contains a dungeon that the pcs explored 33(ish) years ago, so I can repopulate, collapse, expand or empty that and reuse it.

I've worked out some of the politics in my head and gotten a few notes down about the continuing tension between the military and the civilian authorities; I have notes about the city's gangs from 33 years ago, so I need to update them and figure out how the gangs have evolved and whether old ones have died and new ones have risen.

I do want to draw a more complete city map. My players generally agree that an urban campaign sounds fun, so I need to ensure that I can keep locations and so forth consistent.

I'm also working on notes about each of the races. Here, for example, is what I wrote about dwarves:

my notes said:

The dwarves of the city are a mix of refugee families from the rest of the (now-fallen) empire and immigrants from Black Gorge.

Values: Dwarven values are complex and run deep in their culture. Those dwarves who consistently flout dwarven values are shunned and ostracized; after all, if one will dishonor his ancestors, who else might he betray? Dwarves consider the following to be important virtues: industriousness, honesty, social harmony, honor to the ancestors, courage, loyalty, thrift, discretion, drinking. Dwarves consider the following to be vices: social disorder, laziness, miscegenation, innovation, cowardice, talking too freely, overemotionalism, temperance.

Beards: Both male and female dwarves grow long, luxurious beards. In fact, much of a dwarf's identity is tied up in his or her beard, and a dishonored dwarf's punishment sometimes includes shaving. A dwarf without a beard is either a child or is seen as an object of pity or scorn.

Dwarves braid their beards, adorn them with jewels and thread them with precious metals. A dwarf can tell a great deal about another dwarf by “reading” his beard.

Hard and Soft: A concept that runs deep through most elements of dwarven culture is the idea of “hardness”, which might also be translated as strength, propriety, righteousness, harmony, honor or propriety. To “speak hard” means to tell the truth stringently, but it can also mean to speak kindly to someone (albeit still with stringent honesty). Males are considered hard by default, though they can lose this status through dishonoring themselves or others. A hard person honors his ancestors, keeps his word, works industriously, does not harm social order and fights to protect his family.

Softness sometimes connotes dishonor, disgrace, disharmony, chaos or impiety, but not always. Depending on the context, softness is often good. Females are (by default) soft. Soft implies flexibility and gentleness; a soft person might be indirect, deceptive, circuitous, oblique or mysterious. While hardness is always considered a good thing, softness is not always bad.

Patriarchal: Dwarven society is largely patriarchal. This doesn't mean that there are no female warriors or leaders; rather, it means that those females who take up male roles are expected to act like males (at least in most respects- they should still marry a good dwarven man, and dwarven culture strongly condemns homosexuality). This extends to naming; a female dwarf who takes up a male lifestyle usually adopts a male nickname, if she doesn't have a male-appropriate name.

Language: The Dwarven tongue is an ancient and proud one that does not easily accept change. The language has four genders: hard (or male), soft (or female), neuter and female-male, which is the gender used to describe a manly woman (such as a woman warrior or leader). Male words always begin with hard sounds- B, D, G (as in girl), K, P, S, ST, T, TH (as in this), V, Z.

The dwarven written language is runic in nature, and elder versions of dwarven runes have great power- they are connected to the Words of Creation that were used in the creation of the world. Dwarven runes form two distinct alphabets. One consists of the hard sounds (listed above) plus the hard forms of the dwarven vowels; the other consists of the soft sounds (F, H, J (as in Jon), J (as in jejune), L, M, N, R, SH, TH (as in think), W) and soft forms of the dwarven vowels. The form of the vowel used varies with the gender of the word; neutral and male-female words are context-specific (for example, a door might be spelled with hard vowels if it was a heavy barred metal door, while an unlocked, thin wooden door would be spelled with soft letters).

Dwarven written vowels are as follows: A (as in at), A (as in danger), E (as in best), E (as in eel), I (as in pin), I (as in pine), O (as in over), O (as in out), O (as in on), U (as in under). As stated above, each has two forms.

Names: Dwarven names are either 'soft' or 'hard', based on what sound they start with. No traditional dwarven name starts with a vowel, and dwarves with such atypical names are usually shunned by their own kind, as they are thought to have dishonored their 'borrowed' name. A dwarf has two names: a first (or 'borrowed') name and a second (clan) name. Dwarven first names are considered to be borrowed from the ancestors, and the actions of the current generation can increase or diminish the honor of those they are named for. A dwarf who loses his honor in the most egregious way may even be stripped of his name.

Dwarves who found new thaneholds, earn great honor or perform heroic actions in the service to their community are sometimes awarded the opportunity to found a new clan. This is a rare and signal honor reserved only for the greatest dwarven heroes. Such a dwarf adopts a third name, which becomes the name of his new clan. If he is already married, his wife (and any children) also adopt the third name. If a dwarf has three names, it is a sign that he is mighty and well-respected by his peers.

Hard names start with one of the following sounds: B, D, G (as in girl), K, P, S, ST, T, TH (as in this), V, Z. Some of the most common male dwarven names include Baldur, Braggi, Druntin, Galdor, Grunder, Grungi, Kandor, Keldon, Kulgi, Paktor, Sogrum, Sunder, Stander, Stumpar, Tordek, Vulker, Zaggi and Zotar.

Common female names include Barda, Helga, Honnid, Kagel, Kelga, Lorrid, Morrid, Muggi, Norid, Ruggi, Selda, Shapdara, Thora, Zelda and Zoral.

Other Races: Though there are naturally many exceptions, dwarves tend to stereotype other races in the following ways:

Dragonborn: Dwarves view the few dragonforged in the area with respect, as they have a reputation as fierce warriors in the army. Since there are so few dragonborn in the city, most dwarves have never actually met one.

Eladrin and Elves: Elves of all types, including eladrin, are flighty buggers who can't hold their liquor, don't grow facial hair and all look like females. Most elves are homosexuals (shudder) and libertines who wouldn't know an honest day's work if it smacked them upside the head.

Gnomes: Dwarves respect gnomes for their strong work ethic and tradition of mechanical engineering, but generally think that most gnomes are a little crazy. A common rumor is that a given gnome was exposed to alchemical fumes as a youth and that's why he's so weird. The real down side about gnomes is that everyone knows that they are hoarders of wealth and secretly pull a lot of strings from behind the scenes. Dwarves tend to like gnomes, but rarely trust them.

Goliaths: Goliaths are few enough in number that dwarves tend to have few preconceptions about them. However, the sheer size of a goliath is such that, upon encountering one, a dwarf is typically slightly intimidated and therefore somewhat put off.

Halfbreeds: It isn't their fault, the poor freaks. Dwarves tend to pity mixed-blood creatures, as they have no real legitimate place in the world- no community and impure ancestry. These poor things probably should have been killed as babies, and those who live to adulthood probably have had to do terrible things to survive. They are deeply untrustworthy.

Halflings: Halflings are untrustworthy and duplicitous, but at least they know their ancestors. As long as you watch the silverware, they make good cooks and servants.

Humans: Humans would probably be a lot better if they only remembered their ancestors. They are careless and unpredictable, including both the best and the worst among their number. Humans have great potential, but are often disappointingly unable to reach it.

Tieflings: There is no better example of why it is important to honor the ancestors than tieflings. They turned away from their own ancestors and toward fiendish powers that would have been best left untouched. As a result, they turned into the tainted creatures they are today, best shunned and avoided. It is never a good idea to enter into a contract with a tiefling.

Warforged: Dwarves look at warforged with the love and affection of an engineer looking at a finely-made great work. There is a great deal of debate among dwarves over whether the warforged are actually alive or whether they are simply extraordinarily clever machines.
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Yeah, whether you like the Forgotten Realms or not, Ed is an absolute master of campaign design. His advice is always worth a read.
Thanks for the reminder about those articles, [MENTION=1613]grodog[/MENTION].
Thanks, Allan.
I'm also hoping to get people that are also in the process of campaign design to share. Anyone out there?
You're both welcome :D

I'm not running a serious campaign at present, Mercurius, so no love for you there. My current DMing schedule is about every 3 months for my two sons (9 and 5 years odl) and running them through my version of Castle Greyhawk. Not a lot of serious campaign development going on thus far ;)

Also, I can't XP you [MENTION=7006]DEFCON 1[/MENTION], but that sounds like an awesome approach.


well i am working slowly on a design for a 13th Age campaign.
I am trying to do a bottom up design, stating with a single city and expanding outward, hopefully with lots of input from the players. I am stealing some bits from the 13th age setting, like the description of the capital city covered in dragon statues inside an extinct volcano. And the Red wastes a magically created desert that sustains its fiercer monsters.

I am also using their icons - 13 powerful NPCs that are central to the world. Well I have 15.
the base book has a Human Emperor that stands for the forces of civilization. I am adding a entrenched nobility (the Council) as the negative, oppressive force of civilization. I also added the Deepmind - cause I love mindflayers and Aboleth.

I also did the gods. I almost always start with the gods. For the first time the gods are created and sustained by the belief of mortals rather than being independent entities.
I'm not sure how this will effect the game, other than the gods being generally remote, and more protective of their worshipers.

I'm starting the campaign with a city undersiege, and magically cut off from the rest of the Empire. I will be relaying on the PCs backgrounds/icon relationships and actions to figure out the causes of these two events, as savage humanoid tribes should not have the ability to place a magical interdiction on a city.