D&D General What Would Be Your "Iconic D&D Campaign?"


I vaguely remember starting a thread like this some years ago, but have no idea what it was called or much memory as to its content. While replying to the Megadungeons thread, the question arose: How would I design a full D&D campaign (levels 1-20) with the design goal of including as many iconic D&D elements as possible, in a cohesive and interesting manner?

When I say "as many iconic D&D elements as possible," I don't mean an attempt to include all possible tropes, memes, unique qualities of D&D canon...that would be impossible. But how would a full campaign look that tried to "umbrella" the diversity of D&D ideas and iconic tropes?

Or more to the point, how would you do this?

Shortly after having the initial idea, I realized the obvious: there is no one way to do this, and if twenty people reply to this thread, we'll have twenty different campaigns. That's the point. There's no one true iconic D&D campaign, but what is yours? What elements are crucial? What are your favorite "D&Disms" and how would you integrate them into a cohesive (or not) whole? What must be included and what can you live without?

Another angle at this might be: if you could design the "D&D campaign to end all D&D campaigns" that you could run--or play in--which would touch upon as many of your favorite D&Disms as possible, what would it look like?

I know that for most of us, this is an impossible task--not only because we probably can't fit everything into one campaign without it being the "Soup of Too Many Ingredients"--but also, and perhaps moreso, because I'm sure we can all imagine different campaigns that we would love to play, a variety of styles and themes. But the point here is to try to do the impossible, to envision that One Campaign To Rule Them All. Give it a shot.

I look forward to your responses (and maybe I'll take a stab at it a bit later).

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Doug McCrae

Points of light post-apocalyptic* fantasy Europe with medieval technology

Dungeon, urban, wilderness – temperate, wilderness – exotic (such as desert, arctic, or jungle), other planes

Bandits/thieves, orcs or other savage humanoids, undead, demons, dragons, a BBEG that's one of the last three or an evil god.

Overarching plots and themes**:
Mysteries of the Ancients, The Grand Alliance of Monsters***, The Macguffin of Many Parts, Open a portal to Hell, Wake up Cthulhu

Other stuff:
Magic items are essential ofc but I don't think any particular ones are absolutely necessary. Magic swords are cool, obv.

*The apocalypse happened a long time ago and civilisation is starting to recover, but most of the world is still monster-infested wilderness.
**Not all in the same campaign, but at least one or two. Mysteries of the Ancients is practically essential to D&D imo.
***Includes the 'Genghis Khan but an orc' unites the tribes bit.
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Tales and Chronicles

Jewel of the North, formerly know as vincegetorix
I think LMoP and Tyranny of Dragons hits a lot of the tropes, but I like the later to be more of a sandbox.

Cultist, evil mages and dragons are a must, but I'd like them to each be a threat of their own, not necessarily a cult of evil mages that worship dragons. Also, give a bigger place to exploration challenge: the new complex traps with many evolving traps in Xanathar (featured in ToA and in A zib for your thoughts, forex) can be replicated for environmental challenges as well.

Social interaction and homebase buidling should have a big impact of the campaign, a lot like in Dragon Age: Inquisition.

The sequence of adventures that I’d like to run are all classic D & D adventures set in the Mystarra setting. I’d use Baron Von Hendriks and Bargle as the arch villains along with their slaver network The Iron Ring.

The first 5-6 levels would take place in Eastern Karameikos (Castle Mistamere and B10). Then after finding a map and letter as random treasure, it’s far to the south for some sandbox exploration (X1). Then it’s far to the east in the Desert of Sind to destroy a mysterious ally of the Iron Ring called The Master (X4, X5). After that, it’s a return back to Karameikos to destroy Hendriks, Bargle, and The Iron Ring once and for all (not sure of what to use here)

I’d use the Into the Unknown supplement, which is a B/X clone for 5e

Castle Mistamere dungeon from the basic Red Box set with added dungeon levels, if necessary, so the group (4-5 PCs) can reach 3rd level. Use the town of Threshold as the home town.

B10 Night’s Dark Terror

X1 Isle Of Dread

X4 Master of the Desert Nomads, X5 Temple of Death



Victoria Rules
Essential elements for an iconic D&D campaign?

  • Long. As in open-ended designed-to-last-the-rest-of-your-life long. It has enough available material to last as long as there's people willing to play it and a DM willing to DM it. No pre-set end point or capstone level. Slow to very slow character level advancement.
  • A stable and simple rules system, already playtested and kitbashed to suit.
  • Turnover:
  • - - Character turnover, be it by death, retirement, cycling, or whatever means; this includes multiple parties that mingle and interweave every now and then, and multiple PCs per player
  • - - Player turnover; not essential and not necessarily frequent, but new blood always changes things up
  • - - Setting turnover; by which I mean mix in some desert adventuring, arctic adventuring, maritime adventuring, dungeon-crawl banging, and so forth along the way
  • - - Storyline turnover; have multiple possibly-interweaving storylines either on the go or in the hopper waiting to develop, and also run some stand-alone adventures as a break from ongoing stories. Allow players to set the tone and-or follow (or design!) red herrings if that's where the mood goes.
  • Medieval quasi-European fantasy setting without too much regard for real-world history if using historical culture equivalents; for example ancient Greeks and Romans, dark-ages Vikings, and Renaissance-era Spaniards can all be made to co-exist in the same game world. And dinosuars, Neanderthals, and the occasional spaceship. :)
  • Opponents that last longer than one adventure, or that work in the background and-or are unassailable until the campaign is a long way in (think Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars)
  • Giants, Dragons, Orcs, Beholders, and other iconic monsters as opponents; Humans, Dwarves, Elves, and Hobbits as PCs
  • PCs of a given class are mechanically very similar, with character differentiation coming via personality, alignment, characterization, background/history, and so forth.
  • Anything goes for PC alignment, characterization, etc.; and let the PCs sort out their differences in character regardless of what means and measures they use to so do.
  • Deadly traps and nasty surprises; the game world really is out to kill you. This is war, not sport. Levels, items, stats, limbs and lives can and will be lost
  • Conversely, sometimes the game world really is out to reward you; levels, items and stats can and will be gained, sometimes above and beyond what the normal grind provides (think the beneficial cards in a Deck of Many Things)
  • Luck is a recognized and significant part of proceedings, from initial roll-up to final death. Stats, hit points, etc. are rolled, not preset.

Howzat? :)

Pool of Radiance.

Local and Regional adventuring, a real sense of location and history, and has a little of everything (even a monster auction).


Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
This is a little outside the scope of the question, but I think it’s related. My dream D&D video game would be set in Waterdeep. Within Waterdeep, you’d have your single-player campaign, with NPC party members with their own personal stories, Dragon Age style. The Yawning Portal would be a multiplayer social hub where players could meet, trade, and LFG for other players to delve into Undermountain with, which would be a Diablo style delve. It’s have some fixed areas combined with procedural generation to make each delve a bit different. Grouping up to grind Undermountain for gear, then taking that up to the surface to use in the single-player campaign sounds like an awesome play loop. Especially if the single-player campaign could be expanded upon in seasonal updates or whatever, MMO style.


I dont necessarily know what I would do if I tried to design it ahead of time, but I do know what I did do in the closest real world experience I had.

I ran the following campaign for about 10 years, bridging 2E and 3E. It covers 2 generations of PCs but is essentially one long campaign.

(We currently still play in the same world but it is that world's "modern age" and us a super hero campaign using M&M and inspired by golden and silver age Marvel through the lens of Ellis, Morrison, Waid and Busiek. Anyway...)

The first PCs were young would-be adventurers living in a backwater village on the edge of "civilized" lands. The village was established by adventurers so there was an annual coming of age ceremony involving going on generally pretty minor and safe quests. But one of the village leaders (each of whom got to define a quest) put in a truly dangerous one. The PCs drew a simple quest but when they returned to discover a group of their friends had drawn the bad quest, they hiked off to the Haunted Castle to save them. This set the tone of the PCs being not only self motivated but positioning themselves as people destined to be important in the billage.

The campaign went on and grew in scope. There was the issue of "asian elves" and a doppelganger conspiracy and gods that had been locked out from the world and the local ruler grasping for magical power from the past. It all came to a head at the end of the 2E era when the PCs woke the apocalyptic Great Beast of the Earth (an impossibility large and powerful red dragon) which existed to knock down civilization whenever it dared rise.

The PCs defeated the creature but there were many questions still unanswered. That generation retired and some 20 years later their children went on the same ritual adventure and found themselves tangled in all those dangling plot threads. The difference was that the older generation existed as NPCs and provided an emotional foundation for this campaign. When siblings died, as adventurers sometimes do, there was real gravitas and honest pain.

The same themes suffused the campaign and they uncovered the true nature of the doppelganger conspiracy and the missing "10th God" (there had originally been one for each alignment). They made contact with the farther reaches of the campaign world, from the conquistador halfling Hin Nation to the lands of the pharaonic God King and so on. Eventually in order to protect the world from the mad god of magic they were forced to shut their world off from arcane energy and let it slip middle Earth like into a mundane world. But they won.

It is important to note I planned very little of this. Almost everything emerged not only from play, but from saying "yes" to my players.the very first session I said "No elves and no ninjas" and one player immediately made an elf ninja. Instead of shutting him down I ended up agreeing and adding a whole history and mythology to the game that wouldn't have existed otherwise.


There is an old Dungeon adventure called "Secret of the Towers" that would be an ideal concept to create an iconic campaign. The simplified premise is that 12 towers were built around the world (or part of the world if you want to keep things unified) during the Age of Legends. These towers, now abandoned ruins, have gateways connecting them to 5 other towers, creating a network of near instant communication and travel. The problem is that the creators are gone, no one knows about them, and over time several of the gateways have closed or malfunctioned.

The party plays at apprentice tier around a normal starting point. They find the first tower after they've explored most of the initial starting region, but that tower only connects to another tower. This opens up a new area for the party to explore, and new people/cultures to meet. Eventually the party finds a third tower that connects to 2 more, opening more of the world. The towers are in many different environments, so all terrain types can be used. Eventually the party finds someone who's manipulating the towers in an effort to control them, and wants to use them to take over the world by sending his armies across the lands.

A campaign I'm brainstorming at the moment. I've been toying with the premise for years now. I even ran thr first fraction of it in 4e but that fell apart do to real world things.

Setting: one of my own design. It's a mixture, in tone, to FR and GH. I'm still building the world but the western coast of one of the continents has been conceptualized.

Location: a frontier style port town on the upper west coast of said continent. Think Washington state and Oregon.

Story: As cliche as it is the players are jobing doing some guard duty in this port town. The players are sent to check on a guard post along the main highway that hasnt communicated in weeks. When they return the queen has died under mysterious circumstances. I still have some details to work out but the players will investigate the happenings. All this will send the party cross country until they discover the queens advisor has machinations on becoming a lich. That's as far as I've gotten. It will definitely snowball from there. The lich will vex the party for a while until they uncover a cabal of wizards trying to resurrect an ancient god.

Its basic, I mean it's the skeleton of an idea. My inspiration has been the classic sword and sorcery feel and the grim dark feel. I feel it has the potential to hit a lot of the classic D&D tropes.

Everyone feel free to add to it. I'm in the process of detailing the city and the rest of the continent. The idea is there I just dont have a lot of free time to really flesh the world out.

- - Character turnover, be it by death, retirement, cycling, or whatever means; this includes multiple parties that mingle and interweave every now and then, and multiple PCs per player
Great insight here. I've only had it happen once, and it was great! Never reached past 8th level, as everyone else was heading to twenty. Just made a new character. It was natural, and fit the storyline very well. (The character found his children that were kidnapped. Stopped adventuring the second he got them back; well, one back... :()


Lots of foreshadowing, I mean heaps and heaps. Dreams, lair like effects on the environments. Bad guys need to take a leaf out of the crazier Dr Evil/Bond Villian style plans.

I expanded and adapated Night Below a 2e campaign for 1st to 15th level into a 1st to 20th level 3/3.5e campaign that I ran fortnightly for 6-7 years.

I am hoping to eventually run a Tyranny of Dragons, Storm Kings Thunder mashup with maybe some princes of apocalypse and trip to Avernus action going on. That seems to cover most iconic stuff


Iconic setting: Some sort of European feel, Greyhawkish with poor villages and low magic feel

Iconic monsters: Dragons- of course. Basic undead under control of demon-worshiping cultists. orcs and goblins and lots of the beast monsters like worgs and ax beaks.

Iconic adventures: Some basic dungeon crawls with updates to the sandbox so that PCs can explore several area that contain various types of monsters. It may not be totally logical, but you know what your getting into when you enter Goblin Forest or the Tomb of Skeletons.

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