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Build Resilient Campaigns

by Mike on 8 August 2022

What if your campaign jumped 14 months into the future in the middle of a session? Would you be able to keep going or would your campaign shatter under such a change?

This happened to me in my Numenera game. In the middle of a fight, one of the characters activated a "mystery box" and, on a random roll, teleported himself and all of his companions 14 months into the future.

Did I panic? On yeah. But I also loved the idea. I had to make it work.

Luckily, the way I structure my campaigns supports such wild jumps. I don't build campaigns from the expected actions of the characters. I think of the world as an organic and evolving place. I build campaigns from the villains outward — from their goals and the quests they undertake to accomplish those goals. I knew who these villains were. I knew what they wanted. I knew where they were going to go.

So I moved those agendas ahead 14 months. In ten minutes I jotted down the big changes occurring over the past 14 months. The whole campaign changed. And it was awesome.

What Is a Resilient Campaign?

A resilient campaign can shift, evolve, and continue on even when major changes occur based on the actions of the characters and the reactions of the world around them.

We build resilient campaigns by ensuring we don't have too tight a grip on the longer story of the campaign. We don't write out detailed plans for future adventures. We don't build the campaign arc assuming one path or set of choices the characters make. The characters can make lots of big choices leading in many potential directions.

We might write out a rough outline for the campaign. We might have some big ideas for things we want to run in the future, but we don't fill them out because we don't know if they'll happen or, if they do, that they'll happen the way we think. We leave ourselves room to change things depending on how they go.

Instead of building big campaign arcs focus your attention on other areas:

Villains. Focus on the three big villains of the campaign. What are their goals? What do they want? Where do they think they're going? What steps are they or their minions undertaking to accomplish those goals.

The Next Adventure. After that, focus on your very next adventure. Where does it start? In what locations will it take place? What NPCs and monsters might be there? What secrets and clues might the characters uncover? What treasure might they acquire? And what adventures might our next session lead to next? This comes right out of Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master.

Test Your Campaign's Resilience

How do we know if our campaign is resilient? We can test it. Ask yourself the following questions:

Set Opportunities for Big Changes

What if, instead of just ensuring the resilience of our campaign, you actually built in potential big changes you can't control? What if you give your characters the equivalent of a nuclear bomb without defining when or where they use it? What if you set up a scene where the characters meet the main villain without knowing if it turns into a fight or a conversation? What if the characters find a powerful relic able to teleport them to an alternate plane of existence or shift forward or backward in time? What if the characters face an opportunity to either forge an alliance or make a new enemy with a super-powerful entity like a trapped demon, a jailed vampire, a forgotten lich, or a fallen celestial?

Asking ourselves "what if" is a tremendously powerful question for testing the resilience of our campaigns or even pushing them in new directions.

Building Stories No One Can Predict

Resilient campaigns offer tremendous opportunity to share stories with our players with no defined expectations. It's scary, but it's also awesome. Resilient campaigns build fertile ground for epic campaigns everyone's sure to remember for years to come.

Last Week's Lazy D&D Talk Show Topics

Each week I record an episode of the Lazy D&D Talk Show in which I talk about all things D&D. Here are last week's topics with timestamped links to the YouTube video:

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