There are many different adventures that you can run in D&D 5e. But how do you actually go about running these adventures? Yes, there are helpful sections at the beginning of every adventure, but there is very little guidance on the overall process.
When you are running an adventure in D&D 5e, here are six main tips that will help you succeed. These tips are applicable to every adventure, whether it be a module or a full campaign guide, and are not unique to a single type of adventure. The tips include: choosing your adventure wisely, preparation, enjoyment, repairing, player consideration, and upkeep.
These tips will help you run better, smoother, more memorable adventures in D&D 5e.
The Necessary Tools to Run Adventures in D&D 5e
In almost every D&D adventure, there is an overview section with tips on how to run it. These tips contain basic information, such as what to tell the players, what the environment is, and a few tailored to each specific adventure. This information might include things like factions (as per Dragonheist) or how to run weather (see Icewind Dale: Rime Of The Frostmaiden). Instead of focusing on how to run every single adventure individually, we are going to focus on six main tips that will help you with all great adventure-based campaigns.
Tip #1: Choose Your Adventure Wisely
What kind of adventure do you want to run? This may seem like a simple question at first, but when you get into the specifics it can become overwhelming. Do you want a roleplay or combat-heavy game? A game with mystery/intrigue or a straightforward adventure? Should the game be heavy narrative-wise or lighthearted and fun?
These are only some of the questions that could be asked. Instead of going down an endless string of questions, here are three main ones to focus on.
First ask yourself what type of genre you want. Narrow it down to one or two genres if possible. Horror, mystery, comedy, adventure – it’s up to you. Choose what you think would be the most fun and interesting for your group.
Next, think of the environment you wish to have. Your adventure could center around a vast wilderness, a city, or a gigantic dungeon. Of course, you don’t have to just choose one type of environment. You can mix and match to have an ideal environment across all the stages of your adventure.
Lastly, think about the tone of the plot. Should it be loose and unimportant; long, heavy and filled with detail; or fun and whimsical? Define what type of plot you and your group want to have.
Now that you have these three main questions answered, decide which one/s hold the most weight for you. Perhaps genre is key for your group, or perhaps you are set on finding a great adventure with a very specific type of environment. This will help guide you as you pick out an adventure for your group. Look at brief reviews for each adventure and read what they are about. This is a key decision, so make it wisely!
Once you feel confident about your choice, you are ready to start reading and preparing the module or campaign.
Tip #2: Preparation is Key
Some campaign guides and modules can be awfully long. Do you really need to read the whole thing, from cover to cover, before you ever play?
Yes, you need to read all of it! The entire adventure front to back, no skimming! The purpose of this is to know where your game is going, what can happen, and where to lead the players.
Many different adventures have branching paths on how to get to a certain point in the story, but it is up to the DM to create a narrative surrounding everything. You can’t have them be stuck doing the 5th-second level side quest when they should have leveled up three side quests ago! This is tedious and creates a sense of boredom due to lack of perceived progression.
Progression is not the only reason to read the entire adventure front to back. If the players do something unexpected, like murdering every NPC they come across, you should have countermeasures in place. You understand this setting and world far better than most DMs and can give them realistic consequences to their actions. These consequences can be good or bad. A good deed might be rewarded later, or a bad deed may have detrimental aspects. You can see these plot points ahead of time and don’t need to panic when the unexpected happens.
Reading ahead can also help you use foreshadowing more effectively. A small interaction with an NPC might allude to future events, or grand insights may be gained through subtle clues that you provide. This makes you, the DM, look like an even more intelligent individual.
You know where the game is going and can lead your players to the next point of the narrative without dawdling. For these reasons, preparation is essential to run adventures in D&D 5e. Do not skip this step! Many do and look dumb later on because of it. There are some adventures where the first section is brilliantly interwoven with the ending. But you will only pick up on these nuances by reading it all.
Tip #3: Enjoy Yourself!
Obviously, a DM needs to enjoy the story they are telling. If you do not, then you will not bring forth infectious positive energy to the group. Instead, you poison them with negative energy making them all question why they are even there.
The focus in this line of thinking is to consider your enjoyment of how you are running your adventure. Within this, also consider what you don’t enjoy. This essential question is missed by many DMs. They do not question what they don’t enjoy and thus run headfirst into unpleasant situations.
You are smarter than this. You have considered what type of game you want to run, why you want to run it, and even read the adventure from start to finish. Now that you have read the adventure, you need to reflect. Which sections were a slog to get through, and which ones were exhilarating?
In these quagmires of tedium, what made them tedious, and what made the elated sections stand out?
These sections need to be identified before you continue on with the next tip. This may seem like a small step, but it really is essential to running a successful adventure. It requires you to tear the adventure apart piece by piece, dissecting it to find the best and worst parts. After all, the adventure should be fun for both you and your players.
Tip #4: Repair the Adventure
After you have identified what is and isn’t fun to you about the adventure, you need to repair it. No adventure is perfect or personalized to you and your group at first. For example, Tomb of Annihilation has a short section in a wondrous city, and then the players are thrown out into the jungle for the majority of the adventure. This jungle adventure has a hex crawl that is mostly just awful to run. Players will try to long rest so often that they have only one encounter a day. This encounter is completely random and just pushes the players through a tedious trek until they finally reach a destination with some importance.
Take some time and consider how you would fix this adventure. How do you make this hex crawl not only bearable but enjoyable? You may have to infuse not only extra content, but the spirit of what you want your adventure to be. In addition to this, it has to make sense with the adventure as a whole, making your previous preparation invaluable.
Repairing is a difficult task. Sometimes you will need to just cut out certain portions of an adventure, but that should be the last resort. Instead, try to find ways to tweak the sections to make them work for you and your group. Remember to only focus on those parts of the adventure that really need repairing. Otherwise you will be fixing things forever!
Tip #5: Consider your Players
Players want to have fun, and you want to provide a game that gives them that fun. The goal is heinously simple, and difficult to achieve. This important aspect to run adventures in D&D 5e is not given enough consideration by most DMs. You already have a big task set ahead of you, after all! Read a whole book, find what is enjoyable, and make it even more enjoyable while fixing the painful parts. That is already a tall task, but players are like children. They want to have fun, but they don’t actually know what they want.
Players enjoy making progress and getting cool magic items, but when they hit level 20 with every magic item in the game, it isn’t fun anymore. Here you have to be like a parent and figure out where players will have less fun, and why.
The good news is that you have already done a more mechanical variant of this. Your work in repairing the adventure will have set you up for success with this tip. Identify which sections may be lacking for players, consider what to do in order to enhance these sections, and make it more interesting for them.
This may be a simple fix, such as giving a whimsy NPC a mercantile shop. No need to question why an NPC has a shop in the middle of the dungeon – just make sure they are obviously too strong for the players to combat.
Players are level 5 and have found a grand total of two magic items? Add an extra cache or chest that they can earn through a rigorous task, fight, or negotiation. Give them something, since most adventures out there give far fewer magic items than players should receive.
Does an adventure seem like sections are dragging on too long? Cut some parts out and push them forward in a dramatic event!
You get the idea. Cater to your players to make this adventure one to remember.
Tip #6: General Upkeep
At this point, all the hard work is done. Your players will have fun and you are completely prepared for anything that is to come. Sadly though, we are only human and can forget things. We also can’t predict everything that might happen and could need to make slight adjustments here and there during the adventure. This is where you perform upkeep on your adventure.
Ideally, you should prep two to three sessions ahead. This way, if players make immense progress in a single session, they won’t be left with you feebly recalling what you read three months ago. You will be prepared for everything and can make adjustments more easily.
For example, players might have left an important NPC to die in order to save their own hides. As written, without this NPC the game can’t go on and the adventure is over or just won’t make any sense. This means that when this NPC is killed, you need to adjust and figure out how to make this catastrophe not be the end of the campaign.
This upkeep is not meant to keep you up all night. That is why it is advised to only plana few sessions in advance. You already have a general understanding of where the campaign is going, so you don’t need to figure that out. Just make sure that the immediate problems are solved and deal with things as they come up. Have enough fixes so that the players won’t run out of material, environments, or content for the next couple of sessions and you will be completely set.
With these six tips in mind, you are reading to run adventures in D&D 5e. Keep in mind that each adventure is slightly different and should be tailored to you, your group, and your preferences.
There will always be problems, and we can’t fix everything before we start the adventure. This is why we have to keep re-visiting our notes and always plan before running a session. Even if it seems like you know what will happen, plan two to three sessions in advance.
These tips should help make your adventures more memorable, grand, and most importantly, fun.
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