Where to Begin Your Dungeons and Dragons Campaign
So, you and your friends decided to give one of the many tabletop role-playing games a chance, and you have been elected to run the adventure. Lucky you! But where do you start? You may be tempted to craft a vast story full of incredible plot twists, cinematic battles, and heart-wrenching betrayals, but let’s slow down. Best not to go biting off more than you can chew as a new game master. Before building an epic world full of intrigue and monsters, let’s practice our world-building on a smaller scale. This blog will run through a simple system to develop a town and starter quest for your players in Dungeons and Dragons. While the tools and techniques we will use can be expanded upon to create regions or cities much larger, we will be focusing on a small area with a single village. Nothing too large or overwhelming for new players but filled with possibility.
Setting the Dungeons and Dragons Scene
Now that we have decided that this adventure will begin at an out-of-the-way hamlet, we can begin working on the area. We will say that this unnamed village lies nestled in a deep valley between two towering mountain ranges. The valley itself gives us a way to corral our players without being obvious about it, and with this broad topography, we can get an idea of how our valley might look. As stated before, these mountains are high, so snowfall is most likely quite common. During the summer months when the snow melted it would flow down into the valley giving it an abundance of greenery and life. We had decided that this is a deep valley, so let us say that the runoff has nowhere to go once it gets to the bottom. Now we could surmise there is a large lake nestled in the center of the valley but how about we mix it up a bit. Instead, why don’t we make the actual floor of the valley very flat but sitting on a bed of porous stone? Now the water is being spread out and slowly saturating the ground, and instead of a lake, we end up with a swamp. We now have our general geographical layout surrounding our village.
Fine Tuning the Dungeons and Dragons Location
Since we have planned for the party to be in this location for a session or two, we should get some of the basics around the village worked out. Remember, we do not need to figure out everything! That would be far more work than would be necessary. We need just enough for the players to feel that the place is alive. That it existed before they came here, and (hopefully) will exist after they leave. Before giving this place a name we should start breaking down the area. Is there a location nearby of some past or present importance that our village would be named after? In this case, we will say that other than a few long-abandoned ruins swallowed by the swamp, there is nothing of real note that historically happened here. Not every place needs to mark the spot of some great battle or world-altering event. That raises the question of ‘why is there a village in this swamp?’ After all, not many people would choose to live in a swamp unless they had a good reason. It just so happens this swamp has something unique or special about it. Perhaps a kind of fungus grows that is prized in lands far and wide both for its uses in cooking and in alchemy, and those that dwell here make a living on finding and selling the fungus. Given the hard nature of the work, and the less than desirable location, we can also surmise that our village is probably a dirty place, with muddy roads and buildings built on stilts to prevent flooding. With just a couple of facts, we have come up with a region, a town within the region, and the economics of the town. From there we can flesh out not only names but as much or as little as is needed for our adventure.
A Man Needs Name
While it might be an interesting idea to have a village literally have no name, since we are making this a starting location for our adventure for some newer players, we should try to not complicate things too much. At least until we are sure they are ready to handle it. We have deduced that this is a smaller village located in a swampy valley between two high mountain ranges. The village survives on the procuring and selling of rare fungus that grows within the swamp, so we could name the village something related to that. We will say that the villagers use pigs to hunt down the fungus much like truffle hunters use pigs. Drawing on these real-world examples lends a sense of familiarity to our location. With this little piece of information, we have added a layer of depth to our town and breathed some life into it, so now let’s explore this little facet a bit and see if it bears any fruit. Maybe some of the pigs have escaped over the years and begun to breed in the wild, creating an overpopulation of wild hogs that serves as competition for the fungus hunters. This little thread has not only led us to a lore-appropriate name but even a quest or two for our starting party! Our fresh-faced adventurers have ventured to the Bluestone Valley, so named because of the rare phosphorous fungus that grows on the decayed ruins deep within the swamp, to deal with an ever-growing swine problem! The people of the village of Hogswatch hires a few adventurers every few years to cut down on the rogue swine’s numbers. This allows for you to begin the party in a multitude of places, be it their journey to the valley, their arrival to Hogswatch, or by starting them immediately in combat with some of the feral pigs!
Leaving Room to Grow Your D&D Campaign
We have come up with a story hook and quest for our players along with some small details to give Hogswatch life, but more importantly, we have purposely left holes that we can use for later story hooks or as storytelling elements for world-building. Who did these ruins that litter the swamp once belong to? Are there secrets inside some of them? Are there tunnels created by the water beneath the swamp? What other foul creatures might venture into a swamp from the surrounding mountains with such an abundant supply of fresh meat? What might be dangerous about the mountains that surround this place? Who might be after this fungus and for what reason? What other horrors or civilizations call the swamp home? These are all elements that can be drawn on as your party explores, and each can be molded to fit the direction you are trying to take.
In our example, we began with a wide area and slowly chipped away until we ended up with a situation we could work with. That is not to say that this is the best or only way to build your world, however. If you have a particular quest idea or location in mind, you could use these steps in reverse. Start with a particular place or event and build outwards from there as far as you feel you need to go. Your world may be so fantastical that normal rules of physics do not apply, and things are the way they are because you said so! Keep in mind that you do not want to over-develop either. Many game masters have spent vast amounts of time developing nuisances that will never be witnessed or experienced by their players and have little to no effect on the nature of the game or game world. This keeps you from being able to quickly adjust the story into a new direction or come up with quick rewards or repercussions for your player’s actions. The goal is to give your players a vibrant world that feels like you have all the answers while giving yourself enough wiggle room to keep up that illusion.
For help setting up your RPG Gaming campaigns, try some of our Dungeons and Castle Sets.