8 D&D 5e Campaign Ideas and Pitches to Get You Started

I realized, after my first comment ever (yay!), that my last article could do with a little bit more concrete examples of how to pitch a campaign. Now, I could shoot you guys a fiddly link to my Google drive, just like I did to all of my players. I’m eventually going to figure out how to use this blog with all of its new-fangled hypertext links and stuff. But that day’s not today. So instead, I’m going to see if these don’t illustrate my points in the last article, and I’m going to treat it like a companion article. Neat, huh?

Drake, What the Hell is This?

Okay, guys. I’ve got an awful lot of ideas about what kind of game would be fun to run, but I want to make sure that I’m putting stuff in front of you that you’re actually interested in. Some of us have played together before, but that’s mostly not the case. So, I’d like to pitch a couple of ideas your way. If any of them excite you, let me know. If nothing’s quite doing it, tell me why. I’m more than happy to kitbash a couple of these together if you like the style of one, but the theme of another. If you want to be a grim and gritty adventuring academy, less Harry Potter and more Game of Thrones, I can probably do that, for instance.

I’m giving these 30,000 ft overviews of possible campaigns five little sliders: Politics, Roleplay, Magic, Combat, and Lethality . Politics can be read as factions, twists and turns, subtle machinations (yours and your allies and enemies!). Roleplay is personal character development, character arcs, and  the social pillar of the game. Magic is a general level of the wondrous that you can expect to see. Combat is a general guideline on how often we’ll be rolling initiative and reaching for weapons. Lethality is how likely you are to need a spare character waiting in the wings.

I’m also adding a Player Buy-In to each of these. It’s what I’ll be expecting from you as a player to ensure that the game will actually be an enjoyable experience. I’ve gotten to know you all as players, if only because of the number of characters I’ve seen you build. But, that doesn’t mean I know what you enjoy yet.

Okay. Deep breath. Here we go.


In Search of Tanelorne (D&D Classic)

“Jungle Ruins” by Stefan Morell

More in the spirit of old-school D&D, the players are Ratcatchers, itinerant adventurers who show up in a small town abutting the vast and uncharted wilderness of the Lirinwood. With a rough map cobbled together from legend, rumor, and more than a little guesswork, the adventurers prepare an expedition into the wilds in search of the lost city of Tanelorne, and the riches of the great fallen empire.

Politics: Low

Roleplay: Medium

Magic: Low

Combat: High

Lethality: Medium

Buy In: The old school style of play where the DM just drops you in a small town surrounded by wilderness and you have to work your own stuff out has to sound cool. Not a lot of rails, not a lot of NPCs with obvious hooks, just a lot of rumors and a lot of wilderness to explore. Self-direction is a must.


Into the Maelstrom (Meatgrinder Megadungeon)

“The Crypt” by Mauro Dal Bo

The Catacombs beneath Castle Greymark were the greatest feat of engineering of the last age, still stretching far below the ruined castle outside the village of Ostmark. Rumors circulate that a foolhardy band of treasure hunters have recently cleared a sealed passage leading into the catacombs, and the survivors have come back with sacks of gold and tales that chill the blood. The catacombs, they say, are home to the treasures of a bygone age, devious traps, and savage factions waiting in the dark below.

Politics: Low

Roleplay: Low (But not none!)

Magic: Medium

Combat: High

Lethality: High

Buy In:  Basically it has to sound cool to delve into this massive dungeon where there are portals to pocket dimensions and hidden, secret races plotting and scheming. It’ll be more tightly constrained than my usual world-hopping expedition, but there will be lots of door-kicking and room-looting…D&D, the beer-and-pretzels RPG.


The Great Game (Crossing Dragons)

“Mhir the Wise” by Brian Joseph Valeza

Xorvintaal, the Great Game of Wyrms, is often played using mortal instruments as catspaws. Dragons work behind the scenes, shaping mortal history to win trumps and prestige in the Conclave of Dragons. Following the death of wealthy merchant, Orin Karheart, you are caught up in a game of ineffable complexity and lethal stakes. Will you secure patronage? Will you be the first mortals to enter the game in earnest? Can you win?  

Politics: Medium (Possibly High)

Roleplay: High

Magic: Medium

Combat: Medium

Lethality: Low

Buy In: This one’s going to require work from you guys. I might have you playing Dragons on the sideline throughout the week, helping me plot these byzantine twists and turns. At the very least, I’ll need some pressure points for your characters that dragons can squeeze. If running heists and false-flags and double-blinds and being manipulated from every angle doesn’t sound fun, this probably isn’t going to be a good time.


The Right Sort (Heists in a City of Adventure)

“Thieves Guild” by Igor Solovyev

The streets and alleys of Ilien are the veins through which the lifeblood of the Empire courses. Gold rushes in and out with every beat of the city’s massive heart. It’s only right and fitting that you should have your share. You are among the Right Sort of Ilien: the thieves, rogues, scoundrels that eke out their living in the greatest city in the world. Not common cutpurses. Or you won’t be, if you can survive the mean streets and their factions, the tender ministrations of the city watch, and the backcorner plotting of your rivals. Find a mark. Make a plan. Get the goods. Live the life.

Politics: High

Roleplay: High

Magic: Medium

Combat: Low

Lethality: Medium

Buy In: I want you all to work together to make a street-gang that’s hungry and up-and-coming. Heists will be the order of the day, and there will be a lot of variety as to the kind of things you’ll probably be doing. Direction of the gang/guild is in your hands, and the big plots will move around you but won’t necessarily be about you. I do not want all Rogues, because this game is going to require some broader specialization. If fantasy heist stuff in a big, complex city doesn’t sound fun? Not for you.


Final Exam (Adventurer Academy)

“Study” by Yuzoon

In the Realms of Mettierre, adventurers must be licensed to practice their trade much like any other skilled profession. Pursuant to that end, the Delver’s Academy of Riftwold was established to provide requisite preparation to all dewy-eyed hopefuls prior to setting out into the world. You are nearing graduation. All that stands before you and a full-fledged membership with all requisite paperwork is the final exam.

Politics: Medium

Roleplay: Medium

Magic: High

Combat: High

Lethality: Low

Buy In: This will probably be a lighter and fluffier outing. It might dovetail easily into a couple of the other campaign ideas, but your low-level outings will be “Field Trips.” Then as you approach second tier, you’ll be up against the clock and other would-be graduates to finish your big “Final Exam.” Expect more levity, less lethality. Challenges will still be real, and repeated failure might end up with you washing out of the Academy. But the big buy in, the idea of a world where being an adventurer is a career choice, and folks who do it don’t start off good at it, has to sound cool.


The Fey Acre (Fairy Tales are Not Nice)

“Overgrown” by Ivan Vujovic

The Lirinwood has always been off-limits to the citizens of Brinhallow. The sleepy little town conducts its day to day affairs in the shadow of the sprawling tangled wilds, but never in it. The wall was already ancient when they settled there. Or that’s what they say anyway. Maybe that’s why the old gaffers in the Crook and Whistle are so riled to see that one of the ancient stones has fallen out of place. They’re carrying iron with them now, wherever they go, and scattering salt in doorways. Young folk don’t pay it much mind. Of course, the smoke rising from the depths of the Lirinwood does seems like a growing concern…

Politics: Medium

Roleplay: High

Magic: High

Combat: Medium

Lethality: Medium

Buy-In: This one is going to require you to commit to a narrative right out of the gate. Things are going to go awry pretty quick in Brinhallow, and while “We leave” is a legitimate answer, I’m telling you that you’re going to have more fun if you think of this more like a module with left and right bounds. Consider the “In Search of Tanelorne” prompt up there the jumping off point. But from there, understand that the world will not be as huge and expansive. It might feel a little more linear, though character choice is still paramount.


D’Wee, Robham, and Hao: Freelance Acquisition Solutions (Treasure Hunt of the Week)

“Secret Expedition” by Julian Hellwig

The world is full of places of ancient wonder and sleeping power. In ruins, the secrets of fallen empires lay fallow, scintillating, and hungry for such time as mortal agents take them up once more. Piles of treasure lay scattered through cunning warrens and lightless caverns. And someone’s gotta go and pilfer them! You are a freelance treasure-hunting firm financed by three retired adventurers, contracted to pilfer tombs, plunder catacombs, and generally stick your noses into the dark and murky places of the world. It’s a good gig. The pay’s competitive, the health-plan fits in your pack, and burial costs are billable to the company. Join today!

Politics: Low

Roleplay: Medium

Magic: Medium

Combat: High.

Lethality: Medium

Buy-In: This is a little like the Meatgrinder Megadungeon, but less hilariously cruel. It’ll be light-hearted for the most part, your employers are going to be gleeful sociopaths, but I figure it’ll probably have a fairly broad emotional palette. For buy-in, I’m going to need you to be alright with playing a quick introductory briefing scene, and then crushing a dungeon or ruin. We’ll throw in some downtime between adventures, but there’s likely to be a stunted social pillar in this game. Bring me a grave-robber/treasure hunter, and you’ll have an exponentially better time than a con-artist.


Dragons Go “Meow” (Something Completely Different)

“Mouse Guard” by David Petersen

It’s a big and dangerous world out there. Particularly when you’re only a couple of inches tall. You are noble Far-striders, adventuring rodents charged with the duty and honor of defending the denizens of The Garden from the various dangers that seek to end Mouse-kind. Today, it is poisoned grain, left out by the Giants. Tomorrow it may be an incursion by the Black Masks of Tincan. It may well be something worse. It may well go “Meow”.

Politics: Medium

Roleplay: High

Magic: Low

Combat: Medium

Lethality: Medium

Buy In: This is the one that’s probably going to be the trickiest for everyone at the table. The central conceit sounds super fun to me, because who isn’t just a little tired of the old standby fantasy-world in trouble kind of game? From players, I’m going to need a willingness to reflavor a lot of things. There’s going to be a fresh coat of fluff over familiar D&D crunch. There are no humans, no dwarves, no dragonborn. You’ll be playing a field-mouse, or a vole, or maybe a gecko. If that, and dealing with natural hazards that have a fairy-tale gloss, doesn’t sound like a good time, this isn’t the campaign for you.

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10 Responses

  1. Navi says:

    Make meatgrinder megadungeons sexy again. 2019

  2. Raistln says:

    These are quite good. Would you be okay if other DMs used these?

    • Drake says:

      Absolutely! Anything on site is free to use, reblog, improvise over, or improve upon. Let me know how it works out for you!

  3. 11yearoldDM says:

    Hello, I’m a young 5e Dungeon Master and I have to say, I find these ideas very helpful.

  4. TerriblePerson says:

    Question from a long time DM/GM, how exactly do you work the Dragon’s Game? I’ve done my own variant of it, and folks enjoyed it but your’s seems more political instead of fetch quests which seems more fun as a DM than just being haughty dragons all the time.

    • Drake says:

      The game of Dragons strikes me as a really great excuse to throw a lot of wacky episodic adventures at the party and justify them as furthering the plots of their patron Dragon. That said, you’ve got a great opportunity to build the Dragon patron at the table with your PCs, define their methods, their means, and their personality amongst the group. Or else, let them select from a bunch of distinct draconic personalities at the session zero and then build your opening around the kind of opening gambit that particular Dragon would play out. That being said, you could absolutely run it as a taut political thriller…and that is indeed how I mean to run it next time. Let the players be courted by more than one dragon, and have them balance their favor between more than one big bad wyrm. That’s a way to keep your PCs thinking from a more circumspect position than they typically do!

  5. Autumn Taco says:

    Super interested in “In Search of Tanelorne”
    I’m attempting to gather some friends from my work for regular d&d nights. They’re mostly all playing for the first time. I think this one would be perfect to introduce them into the game

    • Drake says:

      Awesome! D&D classic, dropped into the wilderness with a hazy map and a goal is so much fun. Letting the players explore a hostile wilderness beyond the bounds of civilization, see things people have never seen, and meet strange groups beyond the known borders of civilization is what first got me into this game. I hope it resonates with your players! Drop me a line about your glorious victory!

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