In Dungeons and Dragons by Wizards of the Coast, one of the most difficult tasks as a Dungeon Master is to invent a new campaign setting. While conceptually fun to worldbuild, actually getting into the nitty-gritty of devising a completely unique experience for your players can be daunting to say the least. Here are some inventive campaign ideas to inspire your next DnD session.
Deep below the Forgotten Realms lies a world of caverns, shadows and mystery. The Underdark, home to all manner of creatures and monsters is a vast network of sprawling caves and environments perfect for mixing up the standard campaign setting.
You could even run a campaign where all the PCs are denizens of the Underdark. Consider sub-species like the drow, duergar, svirfneblin, and derro, or even non-standard species like goblins, kobolds, minotaurs, and orcs.
Underdark Story Starters
For plot hooks, consider the following ideas:
- A servant of the Spider Queen captures a beloved NPC, and the cavern collapses behind them. Not only does the party have to save their companion, they also have to find a new way out of the Underdark.
- A large, seemingly bottomless fissure opens up in the square of a major city. The party is hired to discover the origins and why townspeople have started going missing at night. Perhaps there’s a Mindflayer or Demon lord behind it all?
- The Glimmersea is an interesting campaign setting that really diversifies the Underdark. Consider running a campaign where the players discover a lost city of the Old Ones guarded by malicious Aboleths.
Bag of Holding
A more cerebral concept, this campaign idea centers on the party obtaining a magic item that is more than it seems. A normal Bag of Holding widens to a point of 2 feet in diameter at the mouth and 4 feet deep. This extra space actually exists on the astral plane. This Bag of Holding, however, is cursed.
The “bottom” of the bag itself is actually false and opens not into the astral plane, but a different realm entirely. The concept here is similar to what one would expect from a classic platforming video game like Super Mario 64 or Banjo and Kazooie. Players are able to shift from pocket dimension to pocket dimension by finding the appropriate object in the central hub of the Bag Realm.
They aren’t the only living things here either. Many creatures over the eons have wound up here, friendly or not. Some have even set up societies. Unfortunately, none have figured out how to escape. Faulty storage spaces and lost items are how the people here survive, and the different societies have a rocky coexistence. Wildlife and vegetation are sparse due to the nature of such a world. Players may stumble upon different oases like a pocket farm dimension or fungi that have grown despite the lack of sunlight.
A map of this world would look very different than the standard campaign map, so allow the players to fill in the blanks on their own. It’s like a puzzle in itself.
Bag of Holding Story Starters
Here are a few prompts you could follow inside a Bag of Holding campaign:
- A denizen of this realm is the Bag Man, a monster that lives between extra dimensional storage spaces. The Bag Man was once a regular adventurer trapped himself in the Bag of Holding and, over time, turned into a hideous creature. The next time the adventurers sleep, the Bag Man emerges from the cursed item and drags the player that attuned with it back into the bag.
- This bag is effectively where all lost things end up. Objects from different character’s past might end up here. Before the campaign, ask each player about one important object that their character has lost in the past. Feel free to use those as plot hooks.
- Ultimately, the only way out is to break the connection between the storage realms, and that involves silencing a very powerful wizard.
For centuries, a king who everyone thought was immortal reigned over the land, and peace seemed eternal. Suddenly, he dies and the realm is plunged into a civil war between various factions fighting for the crown.
The adventure can start out normally, with the backdrop of the Civil War becoming more and more prevalent. Players can even support different factions, leading to internal party conflict. Ultimately, the ancient evil sealed away by the deceased king reemerges as the campaign’s villain.
Civil War Story Starters
Before the campaign, introduce your players to the various factions they can align with. Here are some options:
- The traditional patrilineal descent of the land decrees that the eldest son of the eldest son rules after a king dies. This is complicated, though, since the king’s great-great-great grandson is merely a boy. This faction is mostly led by the King’s former vizier and a few high ranking nobles.
- The king’s eldest living child is a military woman who controls a lot of the kingdom’s might, but not the hearts of the people. Her faction is openly hostile towards the first and she plans on seizing the crown via conquest.
- The actual favored successor of the King is actually a granddaughter of his, who is the most beloved stateswoman in the land. She absolutely is the favored choice of the people, since she does much for the impoverished. Her faction seeks to win power with political means.
- Lastly, the King’s brother, also immortal, has staked a claim for the throne. The people don’t love him, as he squandered most of his immortal life with debauchery and scandal. He seeks to win the throne with magical artifacts and long planned schemes.
Interested in running an aquatic campaign but find piracy too chaotic? Consider having the party hired by a nation as privateers. Essentially, they are able to commit acts of piracy, but report back to a central government that provides them with funds and protection.
This is especially good if there is a mixture of alignments in the party, as the crew will have different opinions on what to do on the high seas. Having the basis of this structure will allow them to explore and complete quests while having a base of command.
The DnD Campaign Module Ghosts of Saltmarsh is a great place to draw inspiration from for a campaign like this!
Privateer Story Starters
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- The party completes an initial quest in or outside the port city and the magistrate, impressed by their skill, offers them a contract.
- One party member is a noble offspring of a royal house, but is more interested in nefarious deeds than joining the court.
- The party was a relatively inexperienced group of pirates who were captured and got offered privateering as a way of saving their own hides.
- The Cult of the Kraken is trying to harness the power of the iconic monster.
- During their travels, the players catch the ire of a Marid, a powerful water genie.
- In a classic twist, it turns out the players were being used by their privateering organization to release the watery demon wastritlith from its undersea tomb. The plan was to use it to wreak havoc on their enemies, but the demon has other ideas.
Showing some display of promise, the player characters each received an invitation to the prestigious “Adventurer Academy.” This school, renowned for graduating some of the best adventurers the world has ever seen, is as exclusive as it is legendary.
Players enter the school at “Level 0,” meaning that they don’t have a class yet. In effect, they roll for stats, but are otherwise Commoners. After arriving at the school, they are fairly immediately thrust into a series of trials to test each of their attributes. Discuss with your players beforehand about what classes they would like their character’s to be, but discover through roleplaying and your own decision-making which they end up as.
They are then divided into dormitories based on their class, but the party is standardized by all being in the same “advisory.” A fun thing to do is make schedules for the players so they attend classes and sometimes cross paths during the course of the day.
As they learn, mysterious events begin happening at the school which draw their attention.
If you would like this kind of experience in a pre-made module, consider Strixhaven by Wizards of the Coast.
Adventurer Academy Story Starters
Some possible plot hooks are:
- Students have begun to go missing. All clues point towards the mysterious lake at the abandoned old academy.
- Rival schools are competing in a tournament with the academy, culminating in a protected combat arena with the best squad from each school. How will your first-years fare when the magical protection aura is mysteriously turned off?
- Some say the school is haunted by the spirit of a murdered group of students. Could that be why the dormitory on the far east wing is sealed off?
- There’s something off about the new Warlock head prefect. Some are beginning to suspect that they don’t have a pact with an approved deity.
Join the High Ground
We hope you enjoyed some of these DnD campaign ideas! Let us know which was your favorite down below, and make sure to subscribe to our weekly newsletter for more regular content. We’re looking forward to making more content like this!
Happy (tabletop) gaming!