Dungeon Masters prepare their campaigns and their settings in a myriad of weird and wonderful ways, and usually flit between prep methods depending on their intent, or what they feel will work best. This post is going to break down how I’ve prepped in the past and how, specifically, I’m preparing my Talomire campaign setting.
Since getting back into D&D, just over two years ago (March 30th 2015 for those interested), I’ve run a total of four campaigns:
Eloch Loria was a world I created, based on a setting I created when I was still at school. The driving concept of Eloch Loria was that the world had been created millennia before for two powerful deities to fight in. After centuries they tired of their fight and created orcs and elves to fight each other in their stead. Eventually and extra-planar creature in the form of a blind beggar approached them both, offering them a way out of their eternal conflict. He took a large part of their power, and usurped them, created humans and dwarves to spread across the lands. A final, climactic battle saw an end to this creature, leaving the world open to god-like creatures, hungry for power. Over long years the world begins to die, and we pick up within years of its demise.
The campaign saw the players discover an ancient tiefling girl in the temple of a long forgotten god. They let her go free (as well as naked, and without food). The next time they saw her she was executed by a blind beggar, who ascended to become the creature who had tricked the Old Gods out of their powers. The arc developed into one which led them around the world, finding the Old Gods and killing creatures claiming to be gods. The finale was meant to set the players against Uktar (the blind beggar) himself. In an unwinnable battle, the party would die to a man, coming to consciousness in a throne room, outside of time and space. They see the rise of Uktar, of his deceptions and his fall from grace. They summon the young creature that became Uktar, and decide whether or not to eliminate him from existence. They, now acting as gods, remake the dying Eloch Loria in their own image. The characters they create next, entering into the second age, live in the world the players have built, and are able to worship the characters they played during the first age.
This is a long (and kinda ‘pat-my-self-on-the-back-ey) way of saying…
“Eloch Loria was a narrative driven, mostly railroaded campaign where me and my friends learned how to DM and play both the Dungeons and the Dragons!”
There. I said it.
I prepared my sessions by typing out my notes on where I thought sessions would go, including complete stat blocks from enemies. I still have the documents lying around! Generally though, I made stuff up as I went along. Since the whole campaign was homebrew, I had a better idea of what was happening in my own head that I did on paper. This approach, I feel, has coloured my preparation ever since.
I have loved the Warhammer 40,000 world since I was eight years old, so of course I ran a Fifth Edition game set in the Imperium of Man, using heavily homebrewed rules. It’s maybe the most fun I’ve ever had in D&D; I played a one off game with my best friend and his wife, and ended up playing the part of a planetary governor…flirting with my friend’s wife (with whom I am also good friends), who was trying to get information out of me.
The campaign was planned in my head, and I put a TONNE of work into handouts, character creation, and homebrew rules. The sessions were completely improvised though. Knowing the NPCs, and committing everything to memory I ran a game of intrigue and subterfuge off-the-cuff for 3-4 hours each Sunday night. IT WAS A BLAST! Rather than worrying about my notes, and plot progression, I simply gave the party orders, then asked them how they wanted to complete them. The result was incredible creativity and immersion on the players’ part, and some of the best fun I’ve ever had DMing.
Friday/Sunday Night D&D
Andy is a common factor in my D&D games. He was Varis Darkcloak, half-elven ranger, in Eloch Loria, and Krenn Attori, Imperial Interrogator and latent psyker, in Omicron-Gamma-33f. Andy found Critical Role (long after I’d seen it and ignored it…I wasn’t much of a Geek and Sundry fan at the time, so I assumed it was gonna be crap…), and waxed lyrical about it. By this point O-M-33f had petered out in the way games sadly have a tendency to do, and we were both hankering for some role playing goodness. We decided to throw open the gates and create a game where people could turn up as-and-when they wanted, enjoy a couple of sessions, and try out new characters. I stood up and DM’d, setting the game Faerûn, on the Sword Coast.
This game was big, pretty much from the off. By week four I had a party of nine people, and was running combat for a total of 15 characters (three of mine to bump up party numbers in previous weeks, and three NPCs). The setting was great though; I never knew Ed Greenwood’s world was so ridiculously in depth! My prep for these games began really simple. I had an idea to mess about with a zombie dragon, and have a pitched battle underground. I threw together some bits and bobs, stat blocks, very basic notes, stuff like that. After that my drunk tiefling friend got to try his hand at DMing (which was real cool. Soft furnishings. If you get that reference, then hello fellow Sunday night member!). The last arc I ran was the one which involved the most research, and the most prep. The idea started with the high elf quest giver in my friend’s sessions. I wanted to flesh the NPC out…so I made him a polymorph, spellcasting, adult blue dragon. I had the elf set up a number of situations to destabilise Waterdeep, culminating in an epic encounter with the stupendously powerful dragon; Kovash Vant, Demon of the Skies.
Unfortunately, as the group size rose, it became clear we were going to have to split the group. The campaign culminated in a cavern, with the party (now 11 people) fighting an illusionist masquerading as a two-headed dragon. It was epic, and was the first time a player died on my watch. It was fun. By the end of the campaign I’d discovered both the DM folder, and the DM journal. My folder had a full breakdown of Waterdeep, street by street, and a bunch of documents for equipment prices, adventure notes, NPC documents (with stat blocks and space for notes), and DM-handover documents which detailed each session and any potential plot points. It was everything I needed to run a game; I had notes on the story I wanted to tell, and the plot hooks and area maps to let the players do whatever they wanted. It was a great tool, and one I’ve loved building ever since. My journal was where my thoughts and theories were scrawled…and it’s where Talomire was born.
Talomire is a culmination of two years of DMing. My folder is growing, my DM screen is built, and the handouts and tools I’m wanting to implement are coming together. But we’re already up to nearly 1300 words, so I’ll leave my folder breakdown for tomorrow…I’ll even have photos!
Till then, cheers, and have a great day!