D&D General How I Set Up a New Campaign


This thread is about some tips and tricks I have picked up over the years. First things first there is no real right and wrong way to DM or play D&D, how I do it might be very different with how you do it.

From reading other posters I have picked up a few tips and tricks and things like session 0 and using messenger are kind of new to me.

Anyway step 1. Assuming you have players.
Pick a campaign setting or theme for your game (or both). This is where I let potential players have their say or if its something I want to do I tell potential players what I am running. I have session 0 tomorrow and have 2 new players and a friend of a friend joining. They chose the Midgard setting (FR and Greyhawk were the other options). I find you don't want to give your players in infinite choice, but give them a selection. That way you don't have to run something you don't like or are unfamiliar with. For example I am the wrong DM for a Wuxia type game. The players also chose an Egyptian themed game.

Step Two
Prepare your setting. This can be prepublished or your own world or even a minimal amount of effort down to a simple location. Some amount of effort is usually advised even if its just a trip to ye olde Hommlet, Threshold, Shadowdale or Phandalin. If its a prepublished world read it over or failing that at least read the local area a few times.

Step Three
Prepare an adventure. This is generally design your own, run a prepublished adventure, convert an adventure or a mix of all three. I probably have around a thousand adventures collected over the years in Dungeon, modules, compilations, PDFs, AP's and the 5E hardcovers.

Session 0
This is character creation and where you explain the tone or theme of the world to players. Its also a good place to lay out table etiquette as a lot of people have very different assumptions. This can be as something as not looking at the MM during play, using phones at the table, or anything like evil alignments, PVP combat, stealing off other PCs etc.

For DM prep I have usually read the material I am running (setting, adventure etc). I'll probably spend 4-10 hours prepping a game often over a week or two maybe half an hour at a time. That doesn't included reading the material as I often do that for relaxation.

So using a word processor I often create DM notes. This is usually in shortform and its a basic guide to whats what.Here are my current ones as an example.

Nuria Natal
God King Thutmoses XXIII


The Oasis of the White Palm


Savorary Scarab


Golden Falcon Antiquities
Scorched Hand, rival adventurers
The Guardians
The Seekers
Cult-Ra Amun Ra


Anu Akma






City- Per Bastet


Reborn Queen Goddess Meskhenit

Major Local Faiths

Anu Akma



Interesting Bits

Catslide allys

Army of Summer

Sky Guard Horus Re

Slaves- mostly scalykind, Kobolds and Dragonborn

The Dead- intelligent zombies that serve the living.

Points of Interests

Ruins of Anu Asir
Tomb of Tiberish


Sebti the Crocodile- Priestess of Anu Akma, representitive of the government

Ket Kobold slave, waiter at the Savourary Scarab

Kazzu. Minotaur bartender of the savory scarab

Scorched Hand

Azaz Arafe Wizard 3 (hm N) Apprentice Wizard VgtM 209

Idorii (hef CN) Archer (VgtM 210)

Kelru priest of thoth (hm N) (MM Priest)

Velriana Hypaxes Wiz 5

Tears of Set

1 Gnoll per player + Gnash

Generally I try for 3-5 factions, half a dozen NPCs, local rulers, and some points of interest the PCs can be directed to.

For this campaign I decided to convert and modify an adventure. I printed out the map and 8 pages of the 1st part of the Mummys Curse for Pathfinder. I replaced the critters from Pathfinder with critters from the Tome of Beasts, MM and Volos Guide to monsters. I tried to find something similar so a ghost scorpion in Pathfinder becomes a scorpion in 5E. An Iron Cobra is the same in both versions. I also kept the basic introduction and the PF flavout text. I changed the NPCs motivations and added in my own metaplot mostly in my head.

Tomb of Akhentepi

The PCs start in the Savory Scareb, a ramshackle lean to erected in the ruins of Anu Asir. Several tarpaulines have ben erected with some chairs, tables and stools scattered about. Several blocks of masonary from the ruined plaza have also been co opted into stools. The waiter is a Kobold slave name Ket, while the owner of the bar is a burly minotaur name Kazzu. They have several barrels of beer here.

Sebti The Crocodile (priest+ 2 acolytes) is in charge of assigning tombs to adventures to liberate. Nuri expects a 50% share ( Persuasion DC 15 40% DC 20 can get this down to 30%, DC 25 25%).

If successful she will have one of here acolytes inscribe a tablet with her seal and the tax rate. She gives specific instructions to the PCs to get to Akentepi's Tomb. ABC, 2,3,4 etc is more or less as in in the Pathfinder text.

  1. 2,3,4
  2. Night Scorpion (tome of beasts 340)
  3. DC 20 athletics check to climb
  4. Dart trap (DMG 120) +8 to hit, 1d4 damage, 3d10 poison damage),
  5. XYZ
  6. ABC
  7. Poison blade trap DMG 123, 3d10 poison damage
  8. Old Gods of Nurian Pantheon, Isis, Osiris, Anubis, Sehmet
  9. Warrior Dolls, AC 16, attacks 2, +4 to hit, 1d6+2
  10. Nurian deity
  11. 2 Giant Ants ToB page 23
  12. Anubian Page 23 Tome of Beasts
  13. DC 15 locks, break DC 25
  14. 3 Bone “Beetles” ToB Page 40 fire beetles
  15. Animated Object
  16. Traps DC 15
  17. Swarm Manabane Scarabs ToB page 374
  18. Iron Cobra
Once again very short form. This is only for session 0 assuming creation is faster than anticipated and it gives me something to run. I have a week before session 1 starts properly so this is something I threw together in an hour or so.

Big believer in keeping it simple.

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Good advice. Personally I always run in my home campaign world and don't use published mods other than as inspiration but many of my steps are the same. Some of my steps are skipped based on the group, but the following assumes it's a new group or a bunch of new players.

During a session 0 we talk about what types of characters everyone is going to run and a very general theme. Depending on how we're organizing, this may be handled mostly online. But this is very general at this point, what region and if anyone wants to do a "theme" campaign such as running all elves or ship-based adventures.

Have an intro game. This is kind of a session 0 combined with some gaming. It gives people a chance to interact with each other and get a better feel for the group. A lot of times I will throw people into the fire such as the town they're in is under attack or similar. This gives me a chance to show how I run combat and a bunch of other interactive scenarios.

I try to give a mix of encounter styles, and introduce a number of plot hooks and possible campaign directions. I always try to ask people what they want to do next at the end of a "chapter" or if there's a decision point at the end of a session.

After the first game session or two (depending on the intro) we get more into details. More RP based or hack and slash? Join forces with the authorities or go independent? Hopefully at this point we have a better feel for everyone at the table and my DMing style.

Then we go from there. I may have an overarching campaign theme and a general plan on what external forces goals are along with a general timeline. I don't go into a lot of detail yet because I adjust based on what the group does and what they choose to pursue. I may think investigating the orcs with purple hats is exciting but if the group just yawns I'll toss the idea.

I use the same general concepts as Zardnaar when it comes to groups and their motivations. I'll add details as needed when I need them.

A side note on how I plan encounters and adventuring days. I have general notes on who's who and their motivations, but if I know they're going to talk to Jimmy the Nose, I'll prep a little more detail. What Jimmy knows, some ideas on his attitudes, etc.

For combat encounters I always think of some "generic" encounters that I can throw in that would fit the general theme but that I don't know if I'll use or not. So I may figure out a bandit encounter with a leader. For the number of standard bandits I'll jot down how many I need for a medium, hard or deadly encounter (I usually just narrate easy encounters).

While I may think of scene for the bandits above, it's really general. There will only be one or two fights I figure out detailed settings and encounters.

I also have some improv tools. Generate a list of names for people of different races, tavern and business names, even town names. If I use them I note where and how. Saves me from having BobTown with Bob's Tavern run by Bob.

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