D&D Writing Guide

Last week we discussed things to keep in mind for those new to DMing. So now that you have your starting tips and are ready to become a Dungeon Master, all you need left is a campaign.

If you are unsure of your own abilities to write your own story to play out, you might want to consider looking into one of the official prewritten campaign outlines published by Wizards of the Coast.

Even if you are confident in your writing and story telling abilities, it can still be a good idea for new DMs to look into a prewritten campaign to base your one game upon. It can lessen the load of a first time Dungeon Master to not have to worry about coming up with more content every session. Even if you later choose to deviate from what is written, it will still provide you with a stable outline to kick things off with.

However, for those who would like to create their own story, here are some story writing tips that will help you transfer your ideas into an easy to use structure for a D&D campaign.

3 Act Story Structure

The 3 Act Structure splits the story into, you guessed it, 3 acts. This method is used in screenplays and movies more often than not, but can also be applied to D&D to create a steady rising action and keep your players invested in the plot.

This structure can be used to layout the overall campaign, the adventures and quests that occur along the way, or even for each individual encounter. Here we will be covering the general outline of the method, however, if you would like to read about the Act 3 Story Structure in more detail, an article by Newbie DM discusses it further.

Act 1: The Set Up

Introduce the characters to the situation. Allow them to get to explore and learn about the world around them, as well as find out information about the other Player Characters and NPCs.

Use this initial act to set up character motivations, and ensure that the players get invested in the story.

Act 2: The Confrontation

Introduce the players to conflict. Create a problem or a quest for them to solve. Then allow them to find the solution, and confront the source.

Act 2 will take up a large portion of your campaign as it will cover the rising action and climax of your story.

Get creative, conflict can be found anywhere from a dragon terrorizing a town, to a corrupt king with too much power. Build up the conflict until you reach your climax and see how the players react.

Act 3: The Resolution

After your big confrontation, you must ask yourself what happens next? This can be tied back to Act 1 and the motivations you set into place at the beginning of the campaign. Why are the players completing this task? What are they getting out of it? Are they being rewarded?

Figure out where your motivations lie, and create a satisfying conclusion to this chapter in your story.

5×5 Story Writing Method

The 5×5 Writing Method is a simple yet effective technique to creating a fulfilling story. Similar to the 3 Act Structure, the 5×5 Method is rather self explanatory.

In each story you have 5 distinct quests. In each of those 5 quests, there are 5 steps the players must take to accomplish their goal.

Your layout will end up with 20 individual steps, and looking something like this:

  • Quest 1
    • Step 1.1
    • Step 1.2
    • Step 1.3
    • Step 1.4
    • Step1.5
  • Quest 2
    • Step 2.1
    • Step 2.2
    • Step 2.3
    • Step 2.4
    • Step 2.5
  • Quest 3
    • Step 3.1
    • Step 3.2
    • Step 3.3
    • Step 3.4
    • Step 3.5
  • Quest 4
    • Step 4.1
    • Step 4.2
    • Step 4.3
    • Step 4.4
    • Step 4.5
  • Quest 5
    • Step 5.1
    • Step 5.2
    • Step 5.3
    • Step 5.4
    • Step 5.5

This is my personal preferred method of writing when it comes to D&D. It keeps the adventure moving at a steady pace. You can make each part as detailed or as simple as you wish depending on how long you wish your campaign to be.

This method works whether you are planning a simple one session game, or an epic adventure that could continue over months or even years of time in real life.

I first learned about this method from a veteran DM during my own early D&D days. However, if you would like to read more about this method, there is an article written by Critical-Hits detailing it further.