You’ve tried a one shot or shorter adventure, and have decided you want an epic, long-term D&D campaign.
We have the tips to help make that a reality!
This article outlines strategies for morphing a short-term adventure into a long and satisfying tabletop campaign. Let’s get started.
Disclaimer: All opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission.
A Long-Term D&D Campaign to Remember
You have a vision. You have good people. Naturally, you want your D&D campaign to become a long-term installment of your life. Let’s look at how we can accomplish this.
1) Build Great Sessions as Often as Possible
You envision loyal players and great attendance, good attitudes, and excitement for each time you play. Many of us have achieved this and are enjoying the fruits of our labor, but if you’re just starting out, this can seem like a nearly insurmountable task.
The first piece of advice may seem pretty simple, but an alarming number of new Dungeon Masters overcomplicate it: Simply hold awesome sessions.
Not every session will be the most memorable game of all time, but you have a lot of control over how engaging the meetings are on the whole.
If your players aren’t committing consistently, or you are dealing with intrapersonal conflict at your table, you need to deal with those issues quickly. This can cause disruption and sets the expectation that this sort of behavior is acceptable.
How to Achieve Engaging D&D Sessions
Make sure to prepare enough content and variety. You want to keep your players interested in what’s going on. If you need help getting started, check out our article on setting up your first D&D session.
Include a mix of combat, role-playing, and exploration, as well as elements of mystery and intrigue to keep players invested in the story.
Make your NPCs memorable and important.
Be sure to tailor the game to your players’ preferences and interests.
Encourage feedback to continuously improve the campaign. By creating a positive and enjoyable experience, your players are more likely to commit to regular attendance and contribute to the longevity of the campaign.
2) Have Consistency in Your Meeting Times
Run sessions in your D&D campaign when you have them scheduled. Try not to change the day or time out of respect for your players and for your game. Consistency builds trust and habit with your players, and you want both of those things for a long-term campaign.
BUT… I know it happens. Life gets the best of us sometimes, and we get busy, or sick, or whatever. Inevitably, you’ll have to cancel for one reason or another from time to time. Be genuine, apologetic, and get back to the game as soon as you can.
It’s important to communicate with your players as soon as possible about the cancellation. Let them know that you won’t be able to make it and explain the reason why. Showing your players that you respect their time and value their commitment to the game will go a long way in maintaining a positive group dynamic.
If you have one or two people absent but still want to run the game, consider using one of our adventure plugs! It’s a great way to engage your table without worrying about absent players missing core campaign content.
Food for Thought
Skipping a session? You may want to give your players a couple of questions to mull over in the week or so they’re waiting for the game to resume. How about a list of 50?
The questions can be based on character building, like the example above from Ginny Di. Or, they could be about events going on in your campaign right now. Giving your players something to think about will help keep them engaged during the break.
3) Use or Build a Large-Scale Story Arc
You need a big-picture game plan. You want to have an idea of where your players could go next, or what they will likely accomplish by the end of your D&D campaign.
Try not to worry about the small details too much to start. It can be easy to focus too much on minor concepts. NPCs or side quest hooks can be a major time drain before they’re even relevant, and you could lose sight of the overall objective.
Be cognizant of your planning efforts. Think of it like building a house: you need a solid foundation before you start worrying about the color of the curtains.
Example from My D&D Campaign
For example, my current campaign has significant ties to Asmodeus and the Nine Hells, but players also have the potential to visit to Chult, because Malice, this site’s namesake, is getting married! (She wants a tropical destination wedding.)
One of these locations is the embodiment of evil, and the other is a tropical paradise full of danger and adventure. By having even just these two options on the table, I’m able to draw from a variety of pre-built campaign modules in D&D to keep things fresh and exciting for my players. It’s no secret that I use like to use prewritten campaigns as the main structure and homebrew most of the details, though.
Don’t Fly Blind!
This is sort of a repeat here, but I cannot stress to you enough how important it is to have some kind of plan.
Maybe you don’t feel comfortable making long-term decisions as discussed above, but if you have no idea what the major storyline is, you can only bumble your way through random encounters and pointless enemies for so long before everyone becomes confused and bored. This is a common beginning GM mistake, so don’t feel bad if you’ve found yourself here. Just pick up the pieces and fix it!
4) Nurture Your Players…
Encourage your players when they do something interesting, and be positive about the game and excited about where it’s going (even if it’s sometimes it feels like a bluff). Hint towards big things down the line, and then deliver spectacularly with music, sound effects, and awesome maps.
Recognize your players on birthdays and holidays, even if it’s only with in-game events or items. Those are free! They’ll appreciate and recognize your effort and it will go a long way with most people.
…Because You Need Them
The fact is, you can’t play a tabletop game without your players. If you’ve been fortunate enough to land a group that you actually like, that gets along with one another, and are ALSO good players? Seriously… you are super lucky. I have that now, and I feel like I hit the jackpot. Tend to that garden and keep it healthy!
5) The MOST Important Advice for a Long-Term D&D Campaign
You need to be excited about your campaign!
If you are confused, stuck, bored, or overwhelmed, that will trickle down to your table one way or another and impact your game’s quality. Give yourself the gift of time and enjoy reading through reviews or synopses of modules you might enjoy.
I know that personally, having enough time to read through everything I’m interested in is impossible. My solution to this is to plan and prioritize.
Making Time to Learn
For my current campaign, I am getting a little bored of the story. My players are having a blast, and that’s great, but I’m ready to move on. We’ve been in this campaign for almost 18 months now, and I just want something fresh. I want to use a different system and setting. I want to explore something new.
I have some ideas of what I’d like to look at, so I’m planning on spending some time this summer reading a few modules outside in the sunshine. I’m looking forward to it! I don’t think I can feasibly wrap up my campaign in less than 4-6 months, but we’ll see what my players want when we get close.
The point is that I am MAKING time to read and learn, because in most cases, time won’t become magically available.
It’s important for us as GMs to balance our wants and needs, and the wants and needs of our players. If you can manage this, you’ll have a happy, consistently playing table and your sessions will lead into a larger campaign, no problem.
It’s not an easy feat, but with some dedication, creativity, and planning, you can create a game that will keep your players engaged and excited for months, or even years, to come. Take it one session at a time, but keep that big picture in mind. You can do it!
Have any experiences you’d like to share about building a long-term D&D campaign? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!
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