Let’s write a Dungeons & Dragons campaign

OK D&D fam. Let’s write a Dungeons & Dragons campaign together. It features an awakened beaver named Mr. Chompers, so you know you want to keep reading. Here we go.

I run a D&D Club for kids. I’m three years in at this point. It’s great fun, and I’ve just started the six-week Fall I session.

Last campaign, the party came across an NPC called Mr. Chompers,* an awakened beaver who was selling things out of his roadside cart. The kids loved Mr. Chompers and he briefly joined the party. At one point, the kids wanted to inspect his cart and I had them find a small box containing a lock of hair. When pressed, Mr. Chompers said he got it from the young boy who cast the spell that awakened him. The beaver wants to find the boy and the hair is the only clue he has, so he keeps it in hopes that somehow, someday it might help him find the magical boy. The campaign continued, Mr. Chompers went away, and that was that. 

Mr. Chompers

Since my favorite thing to do is take a minor NPC or throw-away situation from one campaign and make it the thrust of another, I’m focusing on Mr. Chompers’ story. 

In short, the boy wants the hair back. 

I struggled with “why” all week, and when that happens I look at base assumptions and go from there. First, I assume the hair came from the boy’s head. Next, I assume it’s the boy’s own hair. What if neither of those things are true? 

What if the boy has moved on from beavers, chipmunks and other harmless woodland creatures, and is now awakening dangerous beasts to do his bidding? These animals like their awakened state, and the boy keeps them subservient by threatening to take it away. Perhaps he can only awaken a member of a certain species if he has a lock of its hair. He only had one sample of hair from [beast x], his ultimate goal, and that damn beaver stole it. 

Last week, session one, the kids built their new tavern only to have it partially blown up with “goblin fire,” an especially incendiary explosive that goblins in the region produce. This will prompt the party to raid the nearby goblin encampment and slay several, I assume, until they confront the leader about the attack and the goblin fire. That NPC will say something along the lines of “We already gave you all we have.” They realize the goblins aren’t the bad guys (after killing several oops) and we’re off to the races. 

I mean, as bored as I am with “BBEG needs [x] to [complete ritual],” it seems to fit here. What do you think? Any tweaks? 

*All of this was made up on-the-fly. The party was traveling from Point A to Point B, and I wanted them to have a roadside encounter. I decided on a traveling vendor and just to make it fun, I made him a beaver. These players never trust anyone, so of course they wanted to stealthily examine his cart. A high roll meant I had to come up with something so I created a “long, slender box that’s clearly been tucked away from the items that are for sale.” What’s in the box? I don’t know, a lock of hair. Why does the beaver have hair in a box? Er, because he took it from the person who awaked him, who was…a young boy. The boy ran away, the beaver kept the hair.

The DM’ing lesson here is trust yourself. Make up anything, be brave, just start talking. Whatever comes out of your mouth is awesome and the party will love it. Lean into it. My players had so much fun with Mr. Chompers — A dumb little NPC I pulled out of my backside — that he’s a big part of a campaign now. Trust yourself, just start talking, and lean into it. You’ll have a blast.

When the Dungeons & Dragons session ends

Sometimes when I’ve finished a session of Dungeons & Dragons Kids Club and the kids are gone and I’m sitting here in the quiet room, I’ll take a moment and reflect on the past two hours.

Everyone laughed and had a great time.

Everyone contributed to an ongoing story.

Everyone felt unified and connected.

Everyone in the room used their imaginations, their creativity, their senses of humor and their life experiences to solve a puzzle, unravel a mystery and resolve a problem.

We all walk away with a shared history. The experiences that happened in our imaginations simultaneously over the last two hours will be remembered and retold, as if these characters are people we actually know. In a way, they are. What a unique experience this is. I will play this game for as long as I live.

Dungeons and Dragons: Subvert and satisfy player expectations

As some of you may know, I run a pair of Dungeons & Dragons clubs for kids. It is tremendously fun. The current six-week session ends this weekend, and marks the first time I’ve used a completely original campaign. All told, it was about 12 hours of story and adventure. I’m quite looking forward to the conclusion as (I hope) it will completely subvert and satisfy my players’ expectations. Here’s what’s going on.

For session one, I took a little inspiration from Matt Colville, who, in one of his videos, talked about throwing the big bad at the players in the opening scene of session one, before they could do anything but cower in fear. I did that and it was great fun. They PCs were enjoying their time in a tavern (naturally) when this imposing, robed figure entered, flanked by two lesser robbed figures (I like for my baddies to have lieutenants to taunt and aggravate the PCs) and did all sorts of nasty stuff before making a quick exit.

As I expected, the players did nothing but wait for it to end. “That thing will kill us instantly,” one of them said.

Yes. Yes it would have.

That experience angered and frustrated them, and gave them a “bad guy” to despise. He was quite unpleasant to some of the tavern patrons with whom our heroes were having pleasant interactions, and they did not like that. Now each PC was personally invested in vengeance.

Hook in place.

To make a long campaign short, the players eventually learn that a local mage is intent on becoming a lich, and is gathering souls for the process of transformation. He has several lieutenants doing the dirty work for him, including the Master of Crows, the Master of Locusts and the Master of Coin — all dealt with in one way or another at this point. The trail eventually led to the mage’s tower, where the players find themselves this week.

Once they battle their way to the top of the structure (and deal with the yet unknown Master of Books) they will find the figure they met in scene one, as well as a feeble gnome, dressed in mage’s robes, utterly inert in his throne as a Will O’ The Wisp encircles his head.*

In D&D 5e, Wills are nasty things that subsist on the potent emotions induced by horror, panic, and death. They revel in luring people away from safety, bewildering them, and finally leading them into deadly danger, so they may feast on their desperate emotions.

I decided to have a Will as the real big bad for two reasons. First, it’s a little more interesting as a climax than, “we expect to find an evil mage intent on become a lich, and we do.” Second, there are two strong camps in my group of nine kids: the slayers and the savers.

One group wants to slay bad guys. They like weapons, they like combat, they like being the heroes of the battlefield.

The other group prefers diplomacy. They’ll fight if they have to but they view battle as a last resort. Failure, actually. Discussion failed, so it came to blows. Now blood will be drawn. In fact, the aforementioned Master of Locusts is now a member of the party.

My finale should satisfy both factions. They’ll have an obvious baddie to kill, and a clear victim to save. I’m quite looking forward to their reaction upon finally seeing Brovac the Lost, the decrepit, doddering gnome that he is. I’m sure they’ll want to slay the Wisp — I had each of them experience whispers and dreams promising them glory every now and then throughout the campaign — as well as the original robbed figure. But I’m not sure what they’ll do with Brovac. Yes, he’s a victim but he did collect a lot of innocent souls. Like, a lot. 

Hopefully I’ll subvert and meet player expectations in a way that leaves them happy. But honestly I don’t know, and that’s why I love cooperative story telling so much.

*Thanks to our friend Johnny Tolkien of the inspiration.