How to create a D&D plot

D&D plot

Creating a D&D plot is something that many people are concerned about. Most of us don’t know if we have done enough or too little. Others don’t even know where to start.

Creating a D&D plot is done by making a linear or sandbox style game. If you are unsure of where your plot is going, that can be okay.

We will cover how to go about designing a plot and then talk about what to do if you do not know where your game’s plot is going.

Crafting a plot

In order to create a D&D plot you need to have an idea of what the players will eventually face.

You can also think of a cool setting for your players to start in.

If you have an idea of what the players will face then think of why they would face this creature or how to start the journey. once you have done this then you would fill in a few key points along the way.

Perhaps your players will have to acquire an item to face this monstrous beast. Whatever you decided to fill the middle with, make sure that you do not fully script out the areas.

Players are the ones making the story, not the dungeon master. Players are the ones who will choose what happens, so have backups. If you, the dungeon master, is wanting the players to use x item to defeat the monster but instead they sell it have a backup.

Players will do insane things so always be ready to be flexible.

If you are building a plot from the beginning you have two options. Sandbox or linear.

If you are making the game from a sandbox method then just give the players a few quests and develop the plot from there.

When you don’t want to do a sandbox method and start from the beginning think of what the end goal is. Once you have the end goal do exactly what was described above.

If you want to learn more about sandbox and linear plot design, I would recommend that you read this article.

Sandbox or linear, either way to build your game is fine. But what of us who do not know where the plot is going? Is one method better than the other?

Where is my plot going?

Some dungeon masters do not know where their plot is going. For a D&D plot, that is alright. You are creating an adventure that is shaped by your players. If you did know exactly where your plot was going a year from now then there is a problem.

You can have ideas, concepts, events, and places but you will never be able to predict what players will do.

That is why in truth no dungeon master knows where the plot is going. We can have ideas and we prepare for what we can, but none of us know and that is okay.

In a linear model, you want to at least be a few sessions ahead of your players. In a sandbox game, you don’t even need a plot. Just get some quests, have the players explore the world and then build a plot off of your players’ actions.

But when do you use a sandbox or linear style of gameplay?

Sandbox or linear?

There has been much debate over these two styles when creating D&D plots. The truth is that it depends on you and on your group.

Do you like the idea of making things up on the fly and only having basic preparations to see what your players will do? If so, you might like the sandbox approach.

Do you like the idea of having a hazily laid out idea of what the players will encounter? Are you a writer? Then the linear method might be for you.

Those two questions were to help you decide as a dungeon master which playstyle you prefer, but what about the players?

Do your players like to be creative and don’t like to be tied down? Perhaps they end up going the opposite direction of a quest whenever they know about it. These players want and are best in a sandbox game.

On the other hand, do your players want guidance? Do they want a nice path to follow? They may still do creative and crazy things, but do your players want a sense of order and grandeur? These players will desire a linear type of game.

You have an idea of how to decide what type of dungeon master you are and what your group prefers, but what should you do if you are at odds?

Different plot preferences

Oh no! Your group prefers a different type of D&D plot than you do. Should you cater to them or make them play your way?

I as an experienced dungeon master like to plan a loose and fast way. A sandbox way. My players want to have order and structure. They need some guidance and prefer it. They prefer a linear way.

During my dilemma I came up with a solution. Why not do both?

I would craft a loosely based linear plotline with a few key points and only plan maybe for one session. I would also introduce enough extra elements that the players can always choose to do something different.

Instead of being crazy and doing both, you have to take a deep look at yourself and your own skills.

Can you pull off making a plot that fits the players desired way to play? Will you have fun in this game creating a plot in a different way than normal? If you chose to plan in a way that you are not accustomed to then it has a high chance of making you unhappy. Do not sacrifice personal happiness or make the game a chore. When the dungeon master is unhappy the game suffers.

If you are crafty then you can create a D&D plot the way you desire and give the players a little bit of what they want, but there is a problem. When you prepare a sandbox game it is very different than a linear game. A sandbox game has a completely different feel than a linear game and your planning will affect gameplay. The players will notice this.

That is why I do not suggest trying to trick the players. Disclose how you will be running the campaign in session 0 and then the players will be more understanding or want something different and leave then and there. Either way, you will not have bad D&D and nothing is worse than bad D&D.

Lastly, you can ask someone else to be the dungeon master if there will be problems. If you have a session 0 this shouldn’t be too bad. This will prevent quitting halfway through the game since no one is having fun. Find out before this if possible.

How much to plan

Everyone now wants to know how much to plan. 1 session ahead, 2, 3, the whole campaign? Dear gods above and below not the whole campaign!

This depends if you are planning in a linear or sandbox method.

Linear planning means you should have a vague outline of the whole campaign but only play 2-3 sessions ahead.

Sandbox campaign means that you should plan only 1-2 sessions ahead at first. After a while, a sandbox game should develop into a linear game with a vague idea of a plot, locations, etc. At this time, switch to linear planning.

Feel free to switch how you plan. If you are at a loss for material switch the game to a sandbox game for a little bit. Have the players give you some material. If you have a plot laid out by player action then make a linear campaign.

We all have preferences but there is no problem with dipping into the other method when you create a D&D plot.


A D&D plot can be created through 2 main methods. Linear vs Sandbox. If you skipped to the end and need to know what those two are then read this article here.

We each will have a preferred method, but be conscious of what your party wants. If they want a different method then you can adapt to them but make sure that you yourself are still having fun. Nothing is going to cause bad D&D like an unhappy dungeon master and no D&D is better than bad D&D.

You can switch between the two methods, but we all have a preference. Switch when needed, and make the best game possible.

Do not over prep! It is better for you to know less than too much. The players create the story, not the dungeon master. Dungeon masters just create an environment for the players.

Only plan a few sessions ahead and any further than that should be at best a vague idea.

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