One of the most challenging parts of creating a homebrew campaign is to make a Plot for your party. Your players need some sense of direction but you don't want to rail-road them into one course of action either.
As a writer, I've studied the plotting and story beats for many years and have learned a thing or two from running my own homebrew games. Because of that, I have created a series of helpful planners for Game Masters!
Today I'm going to be using this Campaign Planner to plan out a plot for a Tunlands Adventure.
By the way, I’ve created a book all about this Setting: check it out.
What's the story?
There are many ways to break down storytelling. One is the MICE Quotient, which is a popular way of talking about stories and plot. For D&D three of the four stories can be used as a good guide for your campaign. These are: PLACE, IDEA, and EVENT.
Place: The party find themselves in a new, unfamiliar setting. Perhaps they are tasked to explore untamed wilds or accidently transported to a foreign kingdom.
Idea: The party find themselves in a situation where they need to find the answer to a pressing question! Examples: who killed this guy? why did this person disappear?
Event: The party find themselves needing to stop a catastrophic event from happening. This could be world-ending, but it might just be a threat to a town or certain individual.
In the case of this example, I'm going to be used a "Place" model. I'm big on worldbuilding and love to have my players interact with their environment and the world's NPCs.
You’ll also need some creative names for your characters and NPCs, check out these generators.
What gets the Characters Moving?
While at a tavern, the players encounter a cat familiar which is being chased by Purple Dragons (Knights of Cormyr). Either they hide the cat and get drawn into the Rebellion in that way. OR the tavern keeper hides the cat - and tasks them with getting it away from the Purple Dragons. The cat is carrying a small magical disk that needs an expert's eye to read.
From here the characters have a few choices about what they might do:
- do they look for the cat's owner?
- do they seek out a mage who can read the disk?
This early part of the story actually has an IDEA subplot - answering the question of who owns the cat and why is it not with their master? However, that question will be answered around halfway through the campaign. Because of that, it's not the main purpose of the story.
This is because the "goal" of each of these stories is different.
IDEA: the party ultimately needs to answer the question, this should involve the revelation of several clues.
PLACE: the party ultimately needs to find a way home, this often requires them to have familiarised themselves with the place.
In the case of this adventure, the new "place" is the world of the Rebel Alliance. They must find rebel bases, meet rebels and familiarise themselves with the "world" of the rebels. The story ends with them becoming Heroes of the cause - and either joing the rebels fully OR returning home with a new understanding of the world (different characters can have different outcomes).
Creating an important NPC? Record their status, personality, and purpose to the story with this NPC character sheet.
Facing their First Major Challenge
Once the characters have their footing, it's time to ramp up the challenges! In this case, I'll have a session around the setting of Marpeth's Fang. This is a tower near the Bridge of Fallen Men. There are things to discover, treasure to find, and monsters to fight.
- if they roll well, they might find the tower by themselves and be able to sneak inside
- but if they roll badly, they'll be captured by kenku scouts and brought back to the tower
The party will be presented with several options for how they want to approach the tower from there:
- They can attempt diplomacy - and if they do, they'll discover the monsters are actually allies of the person they are looking to find: Jiabel Aris.
- Alternatively, they can fight their way through the tower in a classic "dungeon crawl".
The important element here is that is connects to the overall story. This tower isn't just a random dungeon for them to fight through, information is there to be discovered and the world of the Rebel Alliance is fleshed out.
The Plot Gets Personal & Crisis
At this point, the characters arrive in a new city: Valkur's Roar. The place where Jiabel Aris is being held.
When planning a campaign, it's a good idea to have a general idea what the characters are (probably) going to do - but be prepared to throw out that plan! A light sketch is all you need in the beginning stages. You can always go back and add in the details later.
For example, this is around the time I would really try to solidify the characters' personal investment. Beyond the fact they are being hunted by Purple Dragons - now they need to feel like the fight that's coming is Worth It. And that is dependent not only on character backstory but also how the party has grown in the sessions since.
In this story, Jiabel Aris will have to die but exactly how that happens is not something I want to plan out until much closer to the date.
I've discussed the different types of stories above. In the class of my example plot, the party will play a key role in securing the city of Valkur's Roar. While I generally have the idea of them infiltrating Castle Ebonhawk (the castle attached to the city) this might not vibe with the party. They might prefer to take down the city's ships, rally the commonfolk of the city, or any number of things. The important part is that, by the end, they are heroes!
With victory in hand, they can choose to join the Rebel Alliance as leaders or return home with wealth and a greater understanding of the world.
What does this all mean?
Player choice is an important part of Dungeons and Dragons. It's a collaborative process to tell the story. In many ways, as the DM, you're there to provide the framework for the plot and world. The players are there to help fill in the details.
Looking to plan your own campaign? Here's a helpful worksheet that follows the same model I used here!