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World Building 101: Campaign Styles – Part Two

posted Thursday, April 22nd 2010 by Brandan Landgraff
Dungeon Mastering Advice

Last week we began an examination different styles of campaign that can be run. This week we continue exploring the strengths, weaknesses, tips, and pitfalls for a few more campaign styles.

The Dungeon Crawl

This type of campaign focuses on exploring (or escaping from!) dungeons or other underground complexes. Narrative and character development take a back seat to exploring and seeking treasure or secrets hidden in ancient ruins.

Strengths: This kind of campaign can be easily prepared for and run on a regular basis with little more preparation than sketching out a new section of dungeon to explore and populating it with strange or interesting encounters, anything from traps to bizarre creatures to other adventurers who will help or hinder the party’s progress.

Weaknesses: Without some reason or goal to being in the dungeon, when the going gets rough your players might question why their characters would continue onwards. Also a problem is that dungeon crawls can become linear. Lack of plot or character development may be an issue for some groups, but others may not mind in the slightest.

Pitfalls: Avoid making the dungeon too linear—as with a narrative campaign, you need to ensure that your players are able to make meaningful choices and not simply feel as though they are on rails. Also try not to fall into a rut—keep encounters varied and interesting as much as possible. If the players face nothing but kobolds for the first three levels of their career they will very quickly become bored.

Tips: Again, keep things varied as much as possible. Include plenty of different, interesting features and creatures, and don’t be afraid to have settlements and “safe zones” inside of mega-dungeon complexes for your characters to trade in or rest up. Focus world-building on creating interesting dungeons to explore, legendary treasures to seek, and fantastic lost cities to find.

The Character-driven Campaign

This type of campaign focuses quite heavily on story hooks and developments of the player characters themselves. It relies on a great deal of trust and communication between players and DM, a cooperative effort even greater than normal that leads to a campaign specifically tailored to the characters involved.

Strengths: This type of campaign is easily the most rewarding for players who enjoy feeling as though they are the heroes in a fantasy story, or those who enjoy character development over simply acquiring new and shinier treasures. Of course, there’s no reason that can’t be included as well.

Weaknesses: Preparing for this kind of campaign takes a large degree of player involvement to ensure that every character gets their fair share of time in the spotlight. Players more interested in another kind of campaign or who are unable to contribute as many ideas or story hooks may feel bored or left out.

Pitfalls: Avoid focusing too much on a single character or spending too much time developing one plotline to the exclusion of others. This kind of campaign above all requires communication and cooperation from your players, so make sure you’re in touch with them and that they are satisfied with the direction you’re going.

Tips: Though this campaign focuses on developing characters and exploring their stories, don’t do so at the expense of everything else the game has to offer. Vary the content of your stories to ensure that you’re presenting adventure as well as drama, and never forget that your players are your most valuable resource.

With a bit of effort, any kind of campaign can be exciting and interesting for both players and DM, and no campaign style is inherently better than others. Bearing in mind the strengths and weaknesses of each kind may help you to best determine how your campaign should play out.

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