So you’ve got a group together, someone has stepped up as DM and you’ve run some sessions. People have played some different things, have an idea of who they want to be in-game. Everybody is psyched and ready to go. So what’s next? Well, long term games are referred to as campaigns. They span multiple levels, in a perfect world starting at 1 and going all the way to 20. That’s a lot of time, effort and commitment from everyone. So how does it all come together? Well, there are a few ways to do it.
The first, and possibly best way for a new group/DM is using a campaign module. These are pre-made written campaigns that contain a full story, most enemy stats, locations and basically 90% of what you’ll need. Some of these are actually very well written and the best ones have some spots where you can pause the story to allow for group specific down time or “side quests” created by you that are more personal to the individual characters. It is great if you don’t really have the time/experience to put things together yourself, and there is plenty of forums and reddit threads where DMs share advice on how to work things out.
Official modules for 5th edition D&D like Horde of the Dragon Queen (the first module created for 5th) are great, and there are some third party campaign modules out there too. These can be found at gaming stores but I find the best variety on a site called DriveThruRPG.com. It’s a great resource as PDFs of these books/materials are much cheaper. I suggest researching reviews for anything online prior to purchase to make sure it will fit what you’re looking for. It has a sister site, called DMs Guild that has third party writers making materials with Wizards of the Coast (the company that makes D&D) approval. More on these sites in a bit.
Some DMs like to make their world from scratch. This is called homebrewing. When you run a game, you tend to look at things from a few steps back from what’s going on in the moment. After all, this merry band will be meeting all sorts of people in all sorts of environments. Homebrewing allows you to sculpt every town, city, kingdom and evil organization as you see fit. It does however require a LOT of time and effort. It is worth the time, but for the DM with a busy schedule it can be difficult. It can be hard to keep track of NPC’s and their locations, especially if their names/roles can be spur of the moment. However, when your players are laughing (or crying depending on the situation) nothing feels more rewarding. I MADE THAT! It really makes the work worthwhile.
With the creation of DMs Guild, you can share your creations with DMs all over the world and maybe make a buck. I created some items in my game that level up with the players, and once our campaign ends (single tear) I’ll be putting them up. Never feel like you shouldn’t share your creations, there are DMs out there that can rival anything a professional writer can come up with. The community tends to lean towards the positive so at worst you’ll get some constructive criticism, at best you’ll be thanked for hooking a fellow DM up!
Another style that is very common, might even be the the most common, is a hybrid of the two. Taking modules, campaign books, one shots and basically anything you can get your hands on, then molding the materials to fit what you want to do. It allows for homebrewing your own style of game but using published materials to fill in the details. It’s great for the DM who can’t find the time and likes to have his bases covered. Is the room trapped? How does the trap work? What’s the DC to find it? Disarm it? Thanks person who already wrote it! For a few bucks and some time online, you can find materials for any situation you want to put your players thru. Or, conversely you can add your own materials and stories to a campaign book. It’s pretty much how I do things, as I have a pretty full schedule. I can read thru the materials on my lunch breaks, sometimes I even take notes. Then it’s just a matter of filling in the blanks to fit my players into the story.
When I played thru Horde of the Dragon Queen, the DM (the fantastical Gene 4 life!) had us deal with a strange disease while we were in Waterdeep. Needless to say, my character was turned into some kind of clown/mime hybrid before being cured. On the plus side, for the rest of the game I was proficient with unicycles! When I RAN Horde of the Dragon Queen I had my players chase a serial killer from town to town as he recruited other psychos and fought the team in a long abandoned village. Sometimes you only need the a few aspects of the materials. I used a great Dungeon Crawl Classics module called Blades Against Death, based i the city of Punjar. After reading it thru, I was inspired to create my own version of the story. It started with a city wide festival, complete with pie eating contest and snake charming competition.
When it was all said and done, all I used from the original module was the name of the city and the fact that there was a hidden ziggurat underneath. The fighter got himself a talking snake, the Dragonborn had massive indigestion from all the pie, Kelt the awesome Dwarf me a guy who plucked his own eye out (most macho thing ever) and Brazzarina the sorceress met Thimble a curious gnome that has become a major reoccurring character in our story. All thanks to the ideas that flooded into my mind. Shout out to the writer of that module Harley Stroh for all the great memories my group and I have thanks to his hard work!
So, check out some of the fantastic work being done by talented writers. Drive Thru RPG/DMs Guild has so much materials and some of it is super cheap (even free). Then, decide what you want to do. Run the story, use it as inspiration to write your own thing or something in between. Ask your players what they’d like to experience, burn some sage over your D20s so they don’t ruin your life and feel all the feels that can be feeled playing D&D!