How do I run D&D?

In regards to Exploding Kingdoms, I’ve been thinking about what’s supposed to happen between the adventures in D&D, which made me think more than I have consciously done about how I run D&D when I’ve run it.


I’m going to mostly use examples from New Haven, Thunderspire Labyrinth, and Descent into Madness. The New Haven game was 100% original content; Thunderspire Labyrinth was mostly the adventure plus about 25% custom sidequests and elaboration, Descent into Madness was 100% original content.


For contrast, the Revenge of the Giants game was based on the supermodule and was probably 60% or more original content, but was much more adventure goal focused, and the Godstorm game was the accumulation of this style of play and the choices made earlier.


I identify style of play as a subset of Adventure Play, but it draws heavily on having a home base from which to operate. I’d probably run Dungeon World largely the same way (these steps look a lot like maintaining threats and fronts), and if I were to continue running the Deadlands game I’d expand the setting to include some of these techniques.




Come up with an adventure filled setting with multiple possible adventure hooks. Set up multiple factions/NPCs with incompatible or competing interests that the PCs can help/hinder. Pitch general premise to players. Include short term opportunities and long term threats.


The New Haven game was set in a dungeon boomtown outside the newly rediscovered capitol of Bael Turoth, and had groups like two different families of dwarves, an adventurer’s guild, a gang of halfling bandits, an evil church, and a couple of other adventuring parties. There were multiple dungeon sites the players knew of worth exploring, and the initial long term threat that I envisioned was uncovering things Man Was Not Meant to Know.


The Thunderspire Labyrinth game used the module of the same name, so had the town inside the Minotaur Labyrinth, and dealings with duegar Traders, a drow Exile, the halfling inn, and the mysterious mages. While mostly focused on the main adventure thread, there were things like trying to figure out where Argent, a silver minotaur shaped warforged came from, and what happened to Maribelle’s paladin mentor.


The Descent into Madness game had two main locations, the Dwarven City of Goldenspire and the Vault of the Drow, both with their own backbiting factions and struggles. The overarching threat was the god of madness, Tharzidun’s influence escaping through a crack in one of his prisons, but in both locations there was lots to do to try to stabilize the situation.




Offer multiple avenues of exploration.


Find out about the PC’s backgrounds, and incorporate it into the setting.


The New Haven game was pretty simple for avenues of exploration: introduce a couple of ruined sites, ask the PCs which one’s they are most interested in. The various groups they talk to give them different sources of information. The Dragnarok plotline, which was essential to the later Thunderspire, Revenge of the Giants, and Godstorm game, was inspired by musing about the background James provided for Tor.


The sidequests in the Thunderspire game were entirely inspired by the information the players gave about their PCs backgrounds.


Descent into Madness didn’t feature as many player background quests, but the players had multiple options of what to do and who to support in the Vault of the Drow.




Prep what you need to: find out what the players want to do and prep for that.


This means at the end of the session you need to know what you’re doing next week, and the players have to have enough information to make those choices.




Most of the Adventures fell into a pretty direct 3 encounter gauntlet, with an opener (which was sometimes a “random” encounter on the way to the adventure), a middle, and a finale, with maybe a puzzle or skill challenge thrown in there.


I did very few adventures where mapping was an actual element; the only ones that come to mind were the Fortress of the Fire Giants in Revenge of the Giants, the Frost Island in the same adventure (where the players had a map, labeled in a foreign language), and the Temple of Chaos adventure at the end of Descent into Madness. In each of these, the maps were relatively simple, and the adventure required several forays to complete. The Temple of Chaos was the only one of those that was 100% original content.


However, while the adventures followed a pretty steady pattern of Warmup Fight-Rising Action-Finale, with scripting to ensure that the players moved from one encounter to the next, and little details like mapping and traveling staying out of the way, I put lots of choices into the adventures.


Who do you give the magical resources to? Which factions do you back? When these NPCs disagree, who do you side with?


Some memorable choices included the PCs naming the town of New Haven, ending up as a tie-breaking vote/voice of advise and installing Black Bart (the halfling outlaw), of all people, as Sheriff, giving an extra Warforged Creation Forge to the dwarves of Goldenspire, and most memorably, Zyorn at the end of Descent into Madness choosing to destroy the Vault of the Drow and everyone within.




What do you do between one adventure and the next? Figure out what’s changed, based on the ongoing factions and their actions, what the consequences of PCs choices might be, and what’s gotten worse due to not being given attention.


*W games with fronts and threats encourage you to think about these consequences upfront, and have them occur as they happened, but I generally only thought about them when they came up.


Meanwhile, the situation changes, you come up with new adventure possibilities and present them to the players. Some old options stay open, others get closed off.




So, what does this mean for Exploding Kingdoms? Should the game run like this?


One thought on “How do I run D&D?

  1. James says:

    I have to admit I enjoy having inspired several unique choices for the adventures, Tor was an idea of a person that lived by Idioms more or less, several that came into play were as follow. Better the devil you know, was the idea for putting in Black Bart as sheriff. Tor decision to have his elder of his clan disposed of in such a brutal manner was a combination of, fool me once shame on you for me twice shame on me and death before dishonor. What finally set Tor over the top was that he actually believed in his heart and soul is that, if you want something done right do it yourself and you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

    I have some of those personal character flaws but it was difficult sometimes basing Tor decisions on idioms all the time, there were a few instances where I didn’t think and idioms applied so he generally went with the consensus of the party but I think Willow did a good job of portraying Tor flaws. It was enjoyable to come back and really sell how mentally disturbed Tor had become after the death of his god and to play the antagonist to the party.

    I really enjoyed the open ended world play style and I would encourage you to run it as such.

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