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This column is for Dungeon Masters who like to build worlds and campaigns as much as I do. Here I share my experiences as a DM through the lens of Iomandra, my Dungeons & Dragons campaign world. Even though the campaign uses the 4th Edition rules, the topics covered here often transcend editions. Hopefully this series of articles will give you inspiration, ideas, and awesome new ways to menace your players in your home campaigns.
I don’t create a D&D campaign for profit or broad consumption. I create it for myself and for a select, handpicked audience. Even more rewarding than the act of creation is the opportunity to watch my players discover the world and unravel its secrets. I like watching a campaign transform from one person’s idea into a shared experience.
The campaigns I create are fairly well defined from the outset. For me, the creative process starts up to year in advance, with me thinking of striking images, dreaming of great conflicts, and deciding what makes the campaign different from the ones I’ve created before. I also spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about what the campaign will be called and conjuring up names that evoke the right mood.
Eventually, one big idea emerges as the frontrunner and crystallizes to form the “hook” of the campaign (also called its key conceit), around which everything else will be built. My 3rd Edition campaign, Arveniar, was built around the idea of a kingdom in the sky. My 4th Edition campaign, Iomandra, was built around a draconic empire scattered across islands on a vast sea. My D&D Next campaign, Valoreign, is about a chivalric kingdom transformed by a mysterious magical event.
I begin by putting words to paper, in a fashion. The first and most important document that I create for my new campaign world is the “campaign bible.” It’s the document that tells the players the fundamentals and what character options are available to them. I created campaign bibles for Arveniar and Iomandra, and I’ve created one for Valoreign as well. The campaign bible is written to spark the players’ imaginations and help them make characters with strong ties to the world, and it’s a great way to codify the essence of the setting and seed it with adventure hooks. It’s also a great way to tell your players that you’re serious and committed to the campaign’s success.
Rather than tell you how I craft my campaign bibles, I thought it would be more fun to show you what I’ve done for Valoreign thus far:
This is the first time I’ve shared this document—even my players haven’t seen it until now. Admittedly, it needs some work both in terms of content and presentation, and it could use a few pieces of pick-up art to catch the eye. However, it’s a good beginning, and I like the overall organization. Feel free to use it as a model for your own campaign bibles. As you might expect, the Valoreign campaign bible will continue to evolve over the next few months, up to the point when I’m ready to schedule the first game session.
In my humble opinion, there’s no better way to begin a campaign than to give your players a tantalizing first glimpse into the world. However, before I wrap up this column, let me give you one final piece of advice: If you’re not sure how the players will react to your new campaign setting, hold off on the campaign bible until you’ve floated some of your ideas past them. Solicit their input, and think about working some of their ideas into the campaign before the writing begins. After all, it’s their campaign world, too.
Until the next encounter!