Building a Campaign from the Ground Up Part 5

DMs, curious players, vengeful kobolds, and party gnolls, welcome back.

I’d like to begin with a short tidbit about my own troubles as a DM. We recently started playing 5e, me and a bunch of newbies, with Horde of the Dragon Queen. Though the adventure gets a lot of hate, we’ve been having a blast. My group is getting into it and loving D&D.

Monday night we hit our first bad session, however. I’m not sure what it was, but the whole thing felt sluggish and grindy and that the players were just going through the motions. I’m not sure if teis is the adventure itself or myself during a poor job at DM-ing that night or what, but it wasn’t great. Still, I plan to trudge forth and try to whip up some more excitement.

It’s the group’s first dungeon, The Dragon Hatchery, and I feared they would have some issues with it. They can’t ever decide on what they’re doing, I swear they spent have the session just hanging out in one of the cave’s chambers. I’m not sure what to do, but hopefully I can fire a spark into the next session. We made it through three rooms in two and a half hours and they only had three battles that weren’t terribly difficult.

Anyways, on to the good stuff. Last week we went introduced Janu Vadanov, the party’s owner, and explored where the characters are. I also delved into the document on the GoogleDocs and made it look/ flow better.  Not sure if that’ll be the final form, but we’ll see. Any critiques are greatly appreciated.

Last week I asked for the following:

  1. How much rest do the adventurers get?
  2. How do we present the idea of escaping?

I’ve landed with the players receiving a short rest at this period of time. They have nothing else to do but sit in their cell, but the cell isn’t the best conditions so I think it makes the most sense.  Besides, I don’t think they’ll really need a long one anyways.

Now, we’ve got to present our characters with an opportunity. They, presumably, don’t want to be slaves. So we shouldn’t have to work too hard to get them leaping at our bait. Yes, for now the campaign is a little linear, but that’s perfectly fine. If we, or the DM running the campaign, wants they can give them more options after they’ve escaped captivity.  That’s up to the DM. Personally I don’t see the point in giving a hundred options within our campaign, that seems like way to much work. The campaign has its own story arc to it and if you’re running it, you probably want the characters to go through all the motions anyways. If the players take you off script however, well then you have some work to do. Or-better yet-prepare some extra modules to use just in case.

That doesn’t mean we won’t include variables. It just means that our campaign will have a straight forward trajectory. This is really to set a reasonable scope for us.

After conversing with some of my most interactive readers, I’ve decided that I really like they idea that the adventurers escape by the skin of their teeth. Something along the lines of them fighting a famed slave slaughterer in the arena and just barely escaping. That’s a good end goal, so let’s build up to it.

After an eternity within the cell, the last bit of sunlight escapes your grasp; leaving you and your companions in complete darkness. The night inches along in a dead silence. There appears to be no life beyond your cell; no world around it.

A light flickers out of the open cell block doorway; small and faint. It grows and grows as you watch it until it begins to illuminate the bars and you realize it’s a scraggily man holding a hovering flame over his hand.

Introducing our Unknown guide. I plan to leave him unknown like some sort of mystic calling from beyond. This guy will come up multiple times through our adventurer’s travels; at least that’s the plan. Unknown will we explored at some point down the line—revealing himself as Character X all along!—but for now we’ll just call him Unknown; our very convenient story progressing tool.

We’ll have to divulge who Unknown is to the DM right away. They’re going to know the whole story anyways, so it’s not like it’s some sort of spoiler. It’ll also help the DM properly role play Unknown. We can work on this paragraph about him at another time when we figure out who or what he is. For now we’ll just prompt the DM to tell the characters about a way to jump the shards via Unknown:

Unknown is very clear and short with the characters. Throughout the campaign he’ll arrive to give advice or compliment the characters on their progress/actions. In this case, Unknown has seen the characters perform in the arena. He sees a significant spark within each of them. He knows everything about them. How he knows each of their pasts is unclear. For now all the characters can tell is that he’s some kind of essence (DC Arcana/religion). Whether it be the essence of a god or other powerful being they cannot tell.

Unknown sees promise in the characters and informs them he’s there to aid. He informs them that there will be a tear in the fabric of space tomorrow—a brief, portal like, cut. If one were to enter this tear, they could find themselves on a different shard. Something believed to be impossible.

The players will surely have questions. Unknown will try to answer some, but doesn’t help much. He says they must trust him. He can also inform them about Kielthrak’s Toe, the arena and its purpose, and basic information about Janu and his background.

When they finish the spirit reminds them to look for the tear and walks away; his light slowly disappearing into the night.

And just like that we’ve dropped our bait. I think this scene will work well on a few levels. It proposes a way out of slavery for the characters and it introduces an intriguing being that the players will, hopefully, wonder about. Though I know that isn’t guaranteed from my own experience. Half the time my players could care less about some of the NPCS just wanting to move on, but oh well.

From here the players may or may not decide to listen to Unknown. Some characters are very sheepish and will follow you wherever you point them while others think every single thing they run into is a trap in some way, shape, or form. I don’t know why, but some players just don’t trust anything. My thoughts on getting around this? Introduce an alternative way of escaping that’s going to fail—unless somehow they manage to make it succeed of course; but hopefully they won’t. What’s more exciting plot wise then almost succeeding and falling into the frying pan instead?

My thought is to offer the party an escape plan from one of the other slaves.


  1. What’s the name of the escape planning slave?
  2. What’s his grand plot to get out of there? Just an overview and we can crank out the details.

This kind of thing is going to take more time writing then it will for the characters to execute. My idea is to have Slave B tell them about his plan in the morning and for him to need items X, Y, and Z to succeed. The Party will spend the day gathering those thing—sneakily during slave activities—and try to escape at night. We’ll award them some XP and such for completing these tasks.

They’ll make it 95% of the way through the plan, right on the verge of success when they get caught. Oops! I’m thinking we beat the hell out of them. Really make them hurt. Some guards they can’t really win against, maybe take down a couple, but eventually they all get knocked down. They spend the night in single cells, like the hole in prison, and under guard the remainder of the night. In the morning they partake in the special battle we talked about at the beginning of this post.

While they’re fighting, well, dodging, defending, diving, running, and surviving during their fight, the tear in space will occur and they’ll have to think fast. It’s their way out after all. And that will conclude Chapter 1.

That’s the general idea I have for the rest of the chapter so far. Next week we’ll start breaking that down. We’ll introduce the slave and go over the escaping scheme and make our way to the end. It’ll be easy, right? This week we focused more on what we’re planning on doing the creating substance but it’s a necessity.

As always,

You’re I’m Not Doing Any Actual Work Today Blogger


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