Starting A Campaign From Scratch (Blog)

by Ian McKenzie

In this post, I’m going to leave my notes and resources for preparing for a campaign. It’s been years since I’ve participated in a campaign. When I was first Dungeon Master-ing Dungeons and Dragon campaigns, I wasn’t perfect. I created campaigns that I would like. Events happened that were interesting to me. I gave my players items that I thought were cool. The problem was, they weren’t campaigns, events, or items that were interesting to my players. All attempts at DMing were quite short-lived.

Because I don’t live in Calgary with the rest of the House of Bob crew, I’ve decided to take the dive and start organizing and planning a new campaign for some local friends and family here on Vancouver Island (in BC, Canada). With age has come maturity and the ability to recognize my past blunders. I want to make a fun campaign for my players, and hopefully, in the process, it will be fun for me as well!

First, I consulted with Shaun about how he prepares for a campaign. Here’s what he had to say:

“One thing I’d like to do is a rough survey that can give me (and other players) some insight into who your character is! No need to write an essay or get this back to me before we meet up, but these questions could be ways to inspire your character or find something in the campaign setting that you want to connect to. Personal quests are great!”

And this is the survey he’s referring to:

What faction, group, city, kingdom or family does your character belong to?

What is the first thing a stranger notices about your character?

How did your character learn their thing (mentor/school/self-taught, etc)

What brought your character to live the life of your background choice?

How does your character differ from the typical example of their class?

What makes your character different from the typical example of their race?

What is your character’s greatest passion/desire?

What is your character’s duty/obligation?

Who is the person your character trusts most in the world?

What is your character’s greatest strength (Advantage)?

What is your character’s greatest weakness (Disadvantage)?

What is your character’s prejudice?

To whom does your character owe their loyalty?

How would your character handle a disagreement with a subordinate?

How would your character handle a disagreement with their leader?

What is your character’s highest ambition?

How religious is your character?

Why does your character want to adventure?

What are the connections, entanglements, family, or friends that your character refuses to abandon?

How will your character die?

Next, I turned to /r/dnd and asked my fellow Dungeon Masters what else I should consider. Between Shaun and Redditors, the consensus is clear: Look into Session Zero. Session Zero is a comprehensive questionnaire for DMs and players alike to set the ground rules for the Dungeons and Dragons metagame. Taking into consideration things like trigger warnings, rules-lawyers, obnoxious player behavior, and so much more. I would highly recommend reading up on this. Here’s a link to the Session Zero Reddit post.

Lastly, I wanted to think of unique ways to utilize my skills, talents, and abilities to enhance my players’ experience. I am on the low-end of being an intermediate illustrator, so I’ve been packing a sketchbook full of illustrations that will act as components to my campaign’s story and side quests. I’m also a web developer, so I’ve been creating a website that will have profiles for my player’s characters, and a way for the players to journal in first-person and to leave notes about in-game happenings and events. Having a published presence, to me, gives an extra feeling of ownership and attachment to how cool your character can be.

Hopefully, this has been helpful for you. I will continue to make posts as I learn new things about DMing from a fresh, matured perspective. I have finally realized that much like a player wants to play their character to their fullest potential, a Dungeon Master should create a game that reaches its fullest potential for fun.