Principles and ideas for a dungeon campaign

As the Variant Roles Dragon Heist “mega campaign” has ended, I’ve started to think about what I want to do next. While we’re still planning for Dungeon of the Mad Mage, that doesn’t stop me from thinking about a homebrew dungeon-focused campaign.

Principles

In the meantime, planning has begun! I don’t know yet if this will consist entirely of one megadungeon or (more likely) a West Marches style setup, but a few core principles already have started to come together in my mind: 

  1. Open table so players don’t have to worry about any commitment larger than the next session they’ve signed up for. This helps me feel comfortable with the group as well, given the complexities of scheduling in modern adult lives.
  2. Experience points for gold. It’s not about combat – it’s about treasure hunting. I’d consider a reduced amount for combat, but in general the campaign should focus on rewarding the characters for achieving their goals. 
  3. You meet in an inn, or a tavern, or whatever. This is a classic trope for a reason and in fact can basically turn into a de facto adventurers guild. 

Obviously, this list is in addition to social expectations (no bigotry allowed, etc.) and safety tools that I’ve documented elsewhere for my groups. But the scope of acceptable play is incredibly broad. Focusing down on what makes a campaign different helps players (and DMs…) make decisions.

Note that I don’t really know what system I’ll use for this yet. Candidates include both D&D 5th Edition and Dungeon World.

Ideas

I have a page in my notebook for different megadungeon and West Marches concepts. As I start floating ideas to people, seeing what generates the most excitement helps narrow that down. But at the same time, it has to excite me too. And to the extent it excites my friends, that helps me as well!

Note that the below doesn’t even pretend to be exhaustive. But these are the ones I’m currently thinking about.

Example megadungeon ideas:

On that last note: returning to my old TYP “campaign” could work too, although it would take a bit of fiddling to make it episodic, I think. Not all the dungeons can be exited and re-entered at will…

Example West Marches ideas:

  • Chult (not necessarily the Tomb of Annihilation)
  • Dwarves and Demons (post-apocalyptic reclaiming of the surface world)
  • Sky city with airships and earth motes

Literally every single one of those gets my blood flowing and imagination pumping! That’s really the crux of the problem, though.

Making choices

In the past, I’ve run polls with campaign pitches to pick out the next concept, but I have started to move away from that approach a little. Polls to understand the popular wisdom or “best practice” still make sense to me, though, such as:

At some level, this is my art. That word sounds a bit pretentious, so maybe this is my craft? Either way, I feel like my preferences and interest will motivate me the most, and I should be able to find players with the desire to play. The “poll” really will just consist of asking people to play: if they like it, hopefully they’ll join up or at least say they’d like to do so. If they don’t like the idea, then they’ll keep looking find another game that suits them better.

Some of these will work fine as short arcs for streaming, but choosing something for a longer-term plan remains my bugbear.

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