This is meant to be a followup article in case you didn’t follow this article before you began your game.
If you didn’t plan a D&D campaign you can still play. Just adapt and build a campaign based on where your game leads and what actions your players take.
I have woken up with people in my bedroom before demanding to play D&D. These were friends so the other residents let them in but I didn’t plan a D&D campaign. This has happened multiple times, and while you might not have had such a rude awakening you probably were put on the spot.
Your first sessions in these circumstances should be minor quests and plot points. Worldbuilding and some distractions to let you think of what to do next.
These sessions will normally be filled with some combat, getting to know each other, and the introduction of some NPCs. If you need help introducing good NPCs that your party will not just kill then look at our article on NPCs.
There may not have been any substance in your first few sessions for a campaign. Or so you think. Every decision that the players make and every victory should be meaningful. This where you take a look at what your party has done.
In the first few sessions, they have defeated the evil kobold who was in the sewer and created a few mutant rats. The players defeated them, got some gold, and had a good time. This took 3 sessions because the players had to meet, get together, go on a shopping trip, and get/do the quest which took a while in the sewers.
You now have a jumping-off point. Why was there a kobold mutating rats and how did a kobold figure out how to mutate rats? A whole campaign can be spun off of these questions that arose.
The kobold with mutated rats is a ridiculous scenario that proves that even randomly thought up quests can lead to something greater. As for a typical quest, you can make the consequences of the players’ actions a focal point of the game.
Instead of fighting a kobold with mutant sewer rats, you have the players infiltrate and take out a rogue in a hideout. This rogue stole something and the players are tasked with retrieving it.
There are a few options to go for from here if you didn’t plan a D&D campaign. You can use the item that the players acquired to form a plot point or the friends of the rogue to get revenge.
The players are meant to retrieve a locket that was taken from the quest giver. They hunt down the rogue and get the locket without issue and the players are curious. They open the locket and find a few numbers 22, 63, 01.
What do those numbers mean?
The players have no idea and you yourself have no idea. That is why you call the session. Still, you can’t figure out what the numbers mean and need to think a bit more. That is the beauty of important items. They don’t have to exude an obvious purpose. These items don’t have to have a mystery that can be solved now. Instead, it can be used later in the campaign.
When you didn’t plan a D&D campaign the easiest way to make it seem like you did is to give these items early on. Make the players constantly question it or just forget about these items. Later on, if the party continues to fight roguish enemies you could find out that the code is a safe number where an important item is held.
If the item is this important, you can have people constantly come after the players and kill themselves with poison or something before the information is given. Make the quest giver ‘disappear’ and end up in a ditch somewhere. Keep adding tension to make something happen.
When something like this happens the players will start to panic and try to do a lot of things. Listen to your players and a campaign idea might form. If the players go to the quest giver’s house and find out that he was a noble one might suggest that the whole city is corrupt. Perhaps they wonder if they were framed, and they might have been!
If you can’t figure out how to make a campaign from an important item that is still okay. You can save the item for a later date and make it into something important. This way, players will bask in how great and prepared you are while behind the scenes you yourself have no idea what is going to happen in the plot or any idea why those numbers are there.
It doesn’t have to just be numbers. Make an item that is vague without an obvious purpose. A wooden doll, a di, a cube, whatever. Just make the item weird and confusing when players try to figure out what ‘it’ is.
Instead of finding a random pattern of numbers in a locket the party just kills the rogue and takes the locket. Nothing special is in the locket and the party turns in the quest for some gold.
Nothing in the world should happen in a vacuum. There are consequences for every action in your game and if you want to read more about them read here.
The consequences for the party this time are that they gain a friend who will possibly give them quests or recommend the party in the future. The bad consequence is that no one lives their lives without interacting with others.
A rogue would probably have some friends and connections. Those people might not like it that the rogue was killed or went missing. Not for any personal attachment, but because it reflects poorly on their organization. Therefore, the party must be eliminated and the group has to find a way to deal with the rest of the thieves.
This is a minor plot point and one that can potentially turn into a boon for the party if they play their cards right.
If you want to make a major plot point, think about who would use that person. The rogue stole a necklace and was killed for it. But, on the side, the rogue worked for a necromancer to gain corpses. The players don’t know this and they shouldn’t but the necromancer is angry that the supply of bodies has stopped coming in.
At this point, a more powerful enemy can personally hunt down the players, have the players take that person’s place, or send others to kill the players.
This will lead to breadcrumbing which is a great way to introduce a villain. Once you have a villain with a motive a campaign idea should start to gradually unfold for you.
If you didn’t plan a D&D campaign, you are trying to narrow down your options from everything to a few choices. Once the players have already started playing and have done some things in the world it makes it easier to form a campaign since your options are limited. With this method, your options are constrained further and you have only a few options to choose from.
I mentioned player actions a bit in the article on how to make a D&D campaign, but if you didn’t plan a D&D campaign you can still use player actions.
If the players have burned down an orphanage then those actions should affect them later on.
If you are paying close attention, you probably have noticed that everything is based on player actions. That is because the simplest way to create a campaign if you didn’t plan D&Da campaign is to use your players. People screw up and make mistakes. Use these to come up with ideas on your own.
But now, let’s get into nonplayer actions and talk about arcs.
Arcs are perfect for when you didn’t plan a D&D campaign. You can use the methods in this article to create a minor part of a grander story.
Many different pieces of literature do this. Think of Lord of The Rings. The first book involves the hobbits getting out of the shire to Aragorn. After that, they have to make it to Rivendell. It continues on, but these are all minor stories which are part of a grander narrative.
You can do the same thing. The players get the necklace. The players are then hunted until they find out who is hunting them and why. The grand story continues on with smaller narratives until the campaign is finished. Once it is finished, the players can look back and be surprised at how well the whole thing fits together.
This is because you took the game 1 piece at a time instead of vaguely planning out the entire campaign before the game even began.
There are also character arcs. These arcs can be put into the story and play into the narrative or plot arcs. If someone has a backstory that they were a noble and lost everything due to evil lawyers, use that. Make a whole arc dedicated to these lawyers taking over the player’s lives.
If a person is dealing with their faith, or lack of faith, make it an arc. Have the player not use powers for a little bit or have others give the player hard questions to answer.
The beauty of character arcs is that they can be the main focus of the plot like the evil lawyers were. If a personal arc doesn’t fit into being the main narrative arc like the lack of faith then make it a side problem that is going on while the main narrative continues.
You can layer your arcs together and have them all connect. That is the point. You want to at the end have every narrative arc connected, but I caution you about doing multiple arcs at the same time.
You should not have multiple narrative arcs at the same time unless they can all be dropped. If you have 1 main narrative arc and the players don’t choose to follow that arc then everything falls apart. The only arc that can safely co-exist with the main narrative arc that the players have to follow is a personal character arc. These will be resolved at the player’s behest and it will not stop the main narrative arc completely or forever.
Instead of creating arcs or basing your on what players do, you can look at the world around them. If you didn’t plan a D&D campaign you most likely won’t have a map of the world or an idea of what it is like. Now is the time to fix that.
In between sessions do a little bit of worldbuilding. If you need some help on worldbuilding read this article. The good news is that you have already solved some of those questions with your sessions. You understand the town a little bit and have given your players some NPCs to work with.
You probably know the amount of magic and how revered the gods are based off of the first few sessions. Now you just need to fill in the blanks.
Think about what geography is around the town that the players are in. Are they in a nice cozy forest or on the border? If they are in a forest you can use fey or bandits to help make a campaign. If they are in a border city then they are probably going to get involved in a war.
Are your players part of a kingdom? They most likely are and if so their deeds might gain the recognition from somewhere else. Like the king or queen.
Do you want the players to eventually fight a threat far away? A lich looks cool, so why not have a lich be the end boss? The players will have to traverse through most of the country and their travels will make them strong enough to defeat the lich who threatens everything.
Lastly, a great way to get some inspiration is to look at the monster manual. If you didn’t plan a D&D campaign looking at the monster manual can give you a host of ideas. Just use the item or acquaintance method to lead the players to that monster.
As you just saw there, you can combine methods to make a campaign.
Just make sure that the risk is worth the reward to your players.
If you didn’t plan a D&D campaign there is still hope! You can make a campaign through your player’s actions, items, breadcrumbing, acquaintances, and just by looking at the geography of your world.
If you have not made the geography you can make it in-between sessions.
Use what you have already done. Don’t let those first few sessions go to waste. Create a story out of them and make an arc. Arcs can connect and you don’t have to know everything yet. You can make the story slowly unfold for the players until they are wowed at the planning that you put into making that campaign. Even if you had no idea where it was going.
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!