Dungeons & Dragons is a complicated game, and if you’ve ever thought of playing, you were probably confused by the many rules and guidelines the game has. Despite that, running a campaign (the term used to describe the adventure(s) you play with your friends) is simple, and there are many ways to do it.
The first, and easiest, way is to buy a pre-written adventure that was made for the game. It has all the information you need, and there are nearly twenty unique books that cover a wide range of genres and locations. The downside is that they cost upwards of 30 dollars, and it’s recommended that you read the entire 256-page book before running it.
The other way is to make your own campaign from scratch, which is called homebrew. A homebrew adventure can be as long or short as you want, and it can be about whatever you desire. The only downside is that it can take a lot of time and effort.
The first thing you need to do is find something to write with. I use Microsoft OneNote, and a journal, Google Docs, or any other writing software works just as well. Some other tools to make the process easier are D&D Beyond, which is a virtual software where you can make characters, run campaigns, and build a scenario your players will run into. Another tool in Encounter+, where you can manage encounters with enemies on your phone. Before you start writing, you need an idea of what you want to write. This can be anything from a loose idea of the places your players go, or a solid idea of the course of action your players will take. This also determines how you want to run the game. Do you want a sandbox-like open world where the players can do anything, or will you have tight, railroaded gameplay where the players follow a single path? Any way you want it to go is a good idea. There are no restrictions on how you make your campaign, and most of the rules Dungeons & Dragons gives you are just suggestions.
Once you have an idea of what you want to make your campaign about, then it’s time to identify your setting and plot. The setting can simply be the classic setting used in the current edition of the game: The Forgotten Realms, which already has a plethora of cities and other locations to place your characters in. You can also create your own world, which takes more time but is totally unique. This method is more easily approachable if you create a small part of the world first and spiral outward from there.
The plot is the bulk of the adventure and is what will make your player interested in playing and want to keep coming back. The first thing you need to do is make sure you already have a setting. Without a setting, players will essentially work their way through the adventure without ever going anywhere. After you’ve established a setting, the fun part begins: making an adventure!
The classic Dungeons & Dragons starting point is the cliché “You all start in a tavern” sentence. If you come up with your own starting point, that’s even better. The start has to make sense, though. If the players are all different races and have completely different goals or occupations, then it would be unlikely for them to all be sitting at the same table. You have to come up with your own clever way for them to be together. After the start, you’ll have to give them a gentle nudge towards the adventure itself. You can have a letter written for them, or they could be captured, or they might just fall into a hole leading them into a dungeon. Whatever you do, don’t just make them immediately show up in the same room that conveniently is where they’re told to do something. It’s not fun if you do that.
Next is the bulk of the adventure. You got the players to go to the starting point after bringing them together. This part is entirely up to you, and you can do anything you want. Maybe you make a dungeon that used to be a mining colony until a dragon took over the dungeon and sent its minions to guard its hoard while it slumbers. Or it could be a diplomatic and roleplay-heavy game where you have to figure out why the baron of a region has fallen mysteriously ill and no healer can figure out what’s wrong. Whatever you do, make it interesting and challenging. Without an interesting plot or challenge, the players will find progression boring and too easy, but if you can challenge them with difficult choices and make the plot intriguing enough without making the plot twists cliché and common, you’ve succeeded in making your adventure worth telling.
The conclusion is the last part of your adventure. This should usually be a satisfying ending point that ties up loose ends and finishes off the adventure. A Dungeons & Dragons adventure usually ends with a “boss fight” where the villain appears and can be killed or captured by the adventurers. The reason I say usually is that a campaign can refer to an adventure or to a string of multiple adventures that you run. If you make a second adventure, then you don’t have to tie up all the loose ends, and could even have the villain run away. But if you are ending the campaign at the conclusion of the first adventure, make it an ending to remember.