After playing Dungeons and Dragons for several months as a Dragon-born wizard, the DM of my group of dungeoneers was offered a job out of state. He accepted it, of course (who doesn't want a better job?), but this left us in a temporary panic, as we were a large group (eight folks total) without too much DM experience to offer. Who would take over?
Now, one of the reasons I initially got into D&D was for the collaborative story cultivation, the process of actively creating the lore of a land as well as evolving characters. For years I had wanted to get involved, to establish my own world complete with its own history and characters, but I had no base to start from. And now, this opportunity had arisen and I didn’t want to let it slide: I volunteered to lead the campaigns.
I was and am EXTREMELY fortunate for being in a group of folks like the ones that taught me how to play: they're hilarious and thoughtful, creative and daring, and most importantly, extremely supportive of what I wanted to do. In our previous campaign, we were hindered, in a sense: we had a very large party, which would slow combat to a crawl. That, in turn, didn't leave us that much time to really dig into the story we were involved in. These wonderful people were open to my desires to make a story-based campaign, were supportive of my studying and how I wanted to run the game.
We had to have many discussions over the next few weeks to determine what edition we wanted to play, if we wanted to have a campaign that was already written out, or if we just want to homebrew the whole damn thing and start from scratch.
Of course, being who we are (we all work at an artistic boarding school in Northern Michigan), we wanted to start with a blank canvas and create our game.
What followed were months of preparation and planning – over the summer I watched a slew of videos to help with starting a campaign (I recommend Matt Colville’s brilliant instructional series), how to build your own fantasy land (WASD20 has fantastic channel full of easy-to-learn practices), watching a SHIT ton of Critical Role (professional voice actors bringing campaigns to life, in addition to DM Matt Mercer's priceless tutorials) and I ended up listening to a LOT of the McElroys’ incredible Adventure Zone podcast (fully immersive and inspiring - these brothers and their dad are side-splittingly funny while also presenting a layered tale that elicits a LOT of emotion). I filled a notebook with story ideas, rough outlines of a royal lineage, and with...well, nightmares of cartography.
My maps were not, uh, how should I put this....they sucked so bad it would flip a buffalo inside-out.
I eventually learned how to draw a map (after severals of failed attempts) for the land I was creating, I had to teach myself how to ink the drawings, how to expand on what I had done to fit onto a larger Bristol board. There was actually more trial and error with the developing of town names and forests and stuff than there was with map making, but it was all such a creatively nourishing process that it didn’t feel like work.
Did you know how difficult it can be to name up to 25 different landmarks on a map? It is very fucking difficult, especially if you want these names to be similar (to create a sense of unity within the country), but different (so as not to make it seem like one damn town with different first letters). I eventually got to writing backstories for all the different cities and landmarks within, which became somewhat easier once names were doled out.
Still, even after hours of work nurturing this land I called Yndred, there was so much work left to do before I even ran my first campaign. There was still the planning of arcs, creating of NPCs, and probably the most difficult part: crafting a history for this burgeoning land.
In this series I'll be examining the resources I use, both online and on the bookshelves, and highlighting specific folks who make DnD wonderful. This column is cathartic, and hopefully motivates you to give this side of the screen a shot. Enjoy!