3x5 Card Campaign Design

by Mike Shea on 7 January 2013

In another of his fantastic article entitled Humpty Dumpty Conundrum, Wizards of the Coast producer and professional dungeon master, Chris Perkins, discusses his use and review of his one page adventure outlines and how he uses them to build new story seeds and plot threads across his campaign. In The Lazy Dungeon Master we discuss using 3x5 cards as the base of our adventure planning. The low cost, usability, simplicity, and forced constraint of the 3x5 card makes it a perfect tool for our D&D games. We can use them for treasure cards, NPC notes, and even as an initiative tracker.

The 3x5 adventure card helps you plan lightly and acts as a campaign scrap book. (tweet this)

3x5_cards

3x5 PC Note Cards

Good adventures often stem from the stories of the characters in our games. As dungeon masters, its hard for us to keep track of all the interactions, backgrounds, and drives of the PCs. In Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering Robin Laws describes how to build a player goal spreadsheet that keeps track of all of these variables including the playstyle of the player so you can tap into the things that player likes the most.

As much as our obsession with our hobby may drive us to build a detailed player goal spreadsheet, we can, instead, jot things down on a 3x5 card for that character. We might include the following attributes on such a card:

Keep this summary brief. You shouldn't have to fill out both sides of the 3x5 card in tiny text. It's just enough info to help you guide your adventures as you build them out.

Review your PC 3x5 cards before you sit down to plan out your next adventure. (tweet this)

The archive of our campaign

Like Chris Perkins, we can use the 3x5 cards of our previous adventures as an archive of the campaign. As our adventures unfold, you can jot down interesting tidbits including NPC names or story paths that go off course from any expectation you might have had. As the story changes the interests of the PCs (and the players), write down those changes on the character's 3x5 card to reference in later adventures. When your PCs run into interesting NPCs, you can clip a Gamemastery NPC Face Card to the rest of the 3x5 cards and build a pocket-sized adventure portfolio.

Review old adventure 3x5 cards to help build out future adventures. (tweet this)

Keep it light and simple

The forced constraint of the 3x5 card is an important part in this whole concept. This constraint helps you do as little as possible to run an awesome open-ended D&D game. It's easy to fall into all sorts of complicated actions and interactions, building out a giant cork board full of note cards and colored threads like mapping the Barksdale drug syndicate in the Wire. Don't go overboard. Let your mind wander, let your mind go free. Do as little as possible and let the game expand at the table.

If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy the Lazy Dungeon Master and Sly Flourish's Fantastic Locations. You can also support this site by using these links to purchase the D&D Starter Set, Players Handbook, Monster Manual, or Dungeon Master's Guide.

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Send feedback to @slyflourish on Twitter or email mike@mikeshea.net.