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How to Keep Your D&D Campaign Fresh

by Bob · 3 comments

in Dungeons and Dragons,Game Mastering


If you’ve played Dungeons & Dragons for more than a few months, chances are you’ve met someone who’s gone through DM burnout. DMing can be one of the most rewarding experiences on the planet, but it can also be trying at times. Most DMs get to the place where they feel like they need to take a break from D&D, or at least come out from behind the screen and just play for a while.

Unfortunately, playing isn’t always an option. While there are those that prefer to DM, the fact is that most of us have the role thrust upon us by the D&D group. If we don’t DM, chances are pretty good no one is going to be playing Dungeons & Dragons.

So, what do you do? Well, you can take some time of altogether. That’s one option. Sometimes, though, you simply need to look at your game from some different angles. Decide that you’re going to freshen up your game, and then do it.

Here are some techniques I’ve used that work wonders for keeping my D&D game fresh:

  1. Ditch your tried and true story ideas. One of the first things DMs tend to do when their inspiration wanes is to fall back on things that have worked before. Whether it’s betrayal by the party’s benefactor or whether it’s that same old evil wizard with a different name, avoid the temptation to raise the dead. Let ‘em stay right where they are, as good memories.
  2. Get inspired. There are tons of sources of inspiration for D&D. Read a good novel, or watch a movie. It doesn’t even have to be fantasy. In fact, a good Western can give give you great ideas for your D&D game. A fantasy novel or movie can actually serve to make things worse, as you find yourself simply identifying familiar tropes.
  3. Play a different game. There are tons of games you can play that aren’t D&D, but that can help your D&D game stay fresh. Try a session or two of Vampire, run a supers game, or play a little Call of Cthulu. If you have a hard time convincing your regular group to do so, try something new at a convention.
  4. Figure out what excites your players. Excitement at the D&D table is contagious. Figure out what would really get your players involved in the game. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. In most cases, it simply comes down to asking for their help.
  5. Dig into a published campaign setting for ideas. Even if you’re not running a Shadowfell-based game, there’s plenty you can draw from the campaign setting. Same holds true for Dark Sun or Neverwinter. One of my best campaigns was based entirely around a mid-level necromancer in the Cult of the Dragon who had about a 200-word writeup in the 2nd Edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting.

So, what about you? What do you all do to keep your campaigns fresh?

Creative Commons License photo credit: danoxster

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Chris September 21, 2011 at 3:07 pm


On a more serious note, some of the best story ideas come from the players themselves. Their in-game actions have consequences. Take notes. For example. if your players screw over an NPC (even if it was unintentional), watch for an opportunity where that NPC might show up unannounced and exact some revenge.

Another technique I have recently implemented is using a ghost DM; that is, someone off-stage (and unknown to the players) who has input into the actions and motives of the current antagonist(s). The input is limited to relatively broad strokes, but nevertheless gets the NPCs “out of my head” and breathes a bit of fresh air into how they play out.

2 Brian P November 26, 2011 at 4:35 pm

I usually poll my players between sessions, when their mind is NOT on the game. Each player always gives me something different, especially when they’re not at the table with their group. Some want to be held prisoner to plot a great escape, others love to just kill everything they can. Good story ideas will stem from writing these all down, and thinking of some stories you already know that contain these elements.

I also find that a fresh new NPC who breaks stereotypes will really get them to pay attention. Like a dwarf who shuns his clan and shaves his beard is going to make you wonder why! Also allowing a trusted and perhaps powerful NPC die during a major story might really make them rally up with better planning.

Have fun!

3 Chris Williams November 26, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Heh… I just pulled one on my players last week that scored pretty good points with them. I’m running a v2.0 of a homebrew campaign. I took the character of a player from the v1.0 campaign who is no longer with the group, and re-introduced him as a minor villain. Those who were part of the v1.0 iteration caught the easter egg and loved it.

Turns out, incidentally, that in 3.5 a Pixie rogue can be a pretty nasty opponent.

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