How to Prepare for a D&D Session

As the Dungeon Master, one of the most important parts of playing Dungeons & Dragons is preparing for it. At first glance, many might disagree with this statement. Lots of folks go into a D&D session with little or no preparation and have a fantastic time. What’s not immediately clear, though, is that the DMs able to accomplish prepare in various ways; they might not have a sheet of paper or a short novella about the session, but they’ve assuredly prepared for it in some fashion. In this article, we are going to delve into multiple methods of preparation, discuss the pros and cons of each, and try to decipher which method is best for each of us.
The Traditional MethodThe majority of DMs weave their sessions with a medium amount of preparation: a page or two, a map or three, and a willingness to improvise at the table. They take an hour or two to reflect on the rest of the campaign and come up with a variety of encounters that might unfold in this session. If they enjoy voices, t…

Tense Social Situations, Secret Storylines, and Splitting the Party

After a week break for the holiday and a trip to Michigan’s upper peninsula, the Caught in Galen campaign resumed last Thursday. As I predicted last time we met about the campaign, it was a session without combat and it was stellar. Honestly, it was my ideal session of Dungeons & Dragons — I could go without combat for awhile, but I know my players are not the same way. This session marked the “thirteenth” of the campaign and the political intrigue and tension truly ramped up. Things are getting interesting in Caught in Galen.
I did not do much preparation for this session, as I knew most of it would be improvisational storytelling between the player characters and various NPCs. It was almost like a bottle episode in a sitcom; most of the session was confined to a tavern dear to some members of the party: the Faded Ember Inn. Nonplayer characters came and went, building onto the story with each passing second. Everyone in the group had their time to shine this session, and the tren…

Caught in Galen's Baby Steps

The Caught in Galen campaign is officially underway. Last time I updated you all, we were about to partake in an altogether session zero; that went well. We discussed what Caught in Galen should and should not be, established starting variant rules, and built pieces of the world and characters in real time. After that, we played sessions one, two, and three of the campaign. The first session was held online and the next two were played in person. Every session so far has blown away my expectations. These players are phenomenal and are sincerely enjoying the baby steps of Caught in Galen. From socializing with a stern but respectful with a massive blue mohawk, to battling a small horde of varied (human, halfling, elf, dragonborn, genasi) zombies in a tight hallway, everyone has had a stellar time.

Let’s dive into each of the sessions and see if there’s anything interesting to gleam from them. Linked will be the notes for each session I prepared beforehand. Be careful, though, this campa…

The Karlith Straits

With the Frozen Expanses of Iskryn campaign retrospective now over, it’s time to delve into the next installment of finished campaigns in my grand, old world of Eldar. It is not the third campaign of the setting — the Enoach Desert — which is still ongoing, it is the fourth campaign of the massive realm: the Karlith Straits. This campaign opened up a new world of possibilities to me and my players. It was a weekly campaign with some of the folks from the failed Cursed Jungles of Yatar campaign set in the islands once called the Dead Isles of Altarin, an archipelago named the Karlith Straits. In this campaign, I would learn to become a better Dungeon Master, gather almost every week to play Dungeons & Dragons, and ensure my players had a blast until the campaign’s conclusion.
The Karlith Straits was the first campaign I kept a dedicated campaign compendium for. Here it is:
The compend…

The Five Goals of a D&D Campaign's First Session

It’s Thursday night. The players are gathered virtually, eagerly awaiting to begin Caught in Galen on Discord. Finally, the campaign begins. One by one, the characters arrive at the gate of a grand tower that rises above the surrounding community. A storm rages above them, the first in weeks, as they speak in the flesh for the first time. Quickly, they unite for a common cause and are blindfolded and guided up the tower, meeting a gruff but kind dwarf with a great blue mohawk. They arrive in a spacious chamber, filled with books and bubbling flasks. There, they hold a conversation with two humans, members of the great house that owns this tower and are enlightened about a foul plot to destroy the family and, perhaps, ruin the community of Vorici’s Rest forever. Each character, for their own reasons, agrees with the two humans that the plot must be eliminated as the tower rumbles and shakes. Blood red fog coils under the door and outside the window, draining blood and breath from every…

Don't Be Afraid of Breaking D&D

Dungeons and Dragons is a malleable game. There is a broad set of rules, yes, but they can be shaped by the people who use them. A lot of the time, changing the rules will break the game in many ways. Some folks might be against this completely, preferring to play the game “the way it was meant to be played.” Others deeply enjoy twisting and tearing apart the fabric of D&D, leading some people to say “why are you playing D&D?” Most people, though, try to expand D&D or change it in small ways and make their D&D games better. It’s still D&D in their eyes but better. Sometimes, they share their experience with others and are shouted at: “You are breaking D&D! You should play like this…” The people who are supposedly breaking D&D need only ask themselves and their players one question: “Is everyone having fun?” If the answer to that question is yes, keep on going.
D&D was made to be tooled with, especially fifth edition. There are so many elements in the sys…

Galen's Final Session Zero is Near

Tomorrow, I’ll be running Caught in Galen’s final session zero. It’s an altogether session during which me and the players will establish certain rules about the world and the game, build sections of Galen that are wholly unknown, and flesh out aspects of the campaign they want to see. Between the last Tales of Galen article and now, I finished a year and a half long D&D campaign, the Karlith Straits, and ran multiple session zeros, some one-on-one, one other an experimental session that took place entirely in a dream.
The campaign hasn’t officially started, but I already know it’s going to be great.
The preparation has slowed down as it draws nearer and nearer. I have the opening moments of the first session prepared, as well as a broad layout of the campaign and its villain ready-to-go, but that’s it.
Those three things are incredibly important to have for a campaign’s start: the opening scene, a broad layout, and an idea of the primary villain.
You really want to grab your players …

Dream Sequences in D&D

Throughout the world, the use of dreams as a plot device is prominent. It does not matter whether the material is truth or fiction, a story from Africa or a fairy tale from Germany. Dreams are everywhere because they are an effective way to relay information to readers and listeners, or, in our case, players. Have you ever used a dream to set the stage for an event to come? To tell your PC’s something integral to the plot? To throw them off the trail of a vile enemy?
In D&D, dreams are an effective tool for Dungeon Masters.
In yet another prelude session for my upcoming Caught in Galen campaign, I used a dream to unite some of the player characters together. During the dream, they explored environs impossible to find in the location the campaign begins, so it gave every a taste of other parts of the world. Their city-based characters slid down a dune in a windy desert and battled scorpions there. They fought the rapids of a raging river, nearly dropping down a massive waterfall whil…