On a Limited Campaign

You're reading this blog why? Because I talk about D&D and you like that probably. Also, I'm into doing stuff that makes your campaigns better. Yeah.

You want a better campaign?

Keep it limited.

It's already in the air. One or two 5th edition books a year. Pathfinder creaking like the bounty after their overly excited engineers got ahold of it and thought adding just one more feat sixty times would make it better. The fact that she was sunk two years ago is just a WEIRD COINKYDINK.

One of my players said, "Can I use the Princes of the Apocalypse spells in your Tyranny of Dragons campaign?" I was like "NOPE". Whaaaaat? Impacting agency? Am I being a jerk?

You want a good campaign, keep it limited.

7 races. 7 monsters. 7 significant NPC's. 7 forces. Seven schools of wizards with seven spells per level. Seven fighting styles. Seven ancient lores. Seven great weapons.


  • Races
    • Humans*
    • Lizard-men
    • Yuan-ti
    • Boarmen
    • Feral Halflings
    • Elves*
    • Gnolls
  • Monsters
    • Zombies
    • Implacable Giant Bear Monsters That shoot fire beams from their eyes. (Secret surprise, they turn into sharks.)
    • Giant Toads
    • Hydras
    • Tribal Carnivorous Apes
    • Acid Weasels
    • Bullywugs
Can you see that campaign in your head? Is it memorable? The starred races are the ones the players can start as. The others would have to be unlocked. This isn't generic. It sparks the imagination.

Part of the issue is that this either happens subconsciously, in that we tend to focus on the consequences of the encounters we have, in the future. What this ends up looking like in play, is that there's the main thing (we keep running into X) and then a bunch of random one-offs that never have time to shine. Having all those random one-offs being in theme makes things more interesting in play and brings a great deal more cohesion in the campaign. 

Another example, My Tyranny of Dragons campaigns has: Humans/Moon Elves/Shield Dwarves/Lizard Men/Orcs/ and halflings for races. It has Dragons/Drakes/Cultists/Giants/Bullywugs/ Kobolds and Hobgoblins for monsters. Cultists and dragons are divided into 5 types. 

If you have a wandering monster table with more than 7 things on it, the chances of encountering anything more than once is vanishingly rare, meaning the area is less thematic. I'm not the only one talking about this. But I'm the one that's saying, let's look at the numbers. 

If you have a six hour session, and you roll for 1 in 6 random encounters. You check that die somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 times. That means about 3 random encounters. On average, with 20 entry encounter table, you'll have 6 encounters before there's a 50% chance of duplicating one. That's a 50% chance of getting a duplicate encounter every 2 weeks of play. Not very thematic or consistent. If your table only has 3-5 entries, that threshold drops to 3 encounters.

There's more to this too! If you're using a spoor system or an overloaded encounter die, then the results become more significant, because the players will really become familiar with these monsters. These monsters and their interactions can be fleshed out, creating a more complex ecosystem that your players are adventuring in. Add in 4 lost dead races (for different kinds of ruins) and some different factions (tribes/cults/etc.) that your races are a part of, then you have a strongly themed adventure. 

Obvious benefits are that when you do include something from out of theme, it will really make an impact on your players. Most of the campaign builds itself from the juxtapositions in the limited list. You end up with a world that doesn't feel like generic fantasy. These seven choices aren't forever. Most campaigns last from 3 to 6 months. Instead of changing campaigns, as yours evolves, you can change this list!

Hack & Slash 
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  1. Very good. I've always limited my campaigns somewhat, but never really thought about it as a "system" or "procedure" before. In my next campaign, I'm going to try the Sevens Approach, if I may call it that.

  2. When we wrap up the present Pathfinder campaign, out DM wants a great and the players want me to run a Middle Earth campaign. I still have all of my ICE MERP stuff - it’s the one system I kept after I got married.

    The perennial discussion about “authentic” Tolkien gaming aside, I like MERP because it _is_ limited. For the most part, the baddies are orcs or humans. No feats. The spell system is limited and if GM’s correctly can bring unwanted attention to yourself.

    So, we’ll see how it goes. We have one player who likes to play the 1/2 Orc / Ogre bruiser type and he’s going to be dissapointed.

  3. Limiting the palette is always a good idea; choosing a number (in this case, seven) and sticking to it seems like it should work nicely, especially for DMs who know they're going to cave in to their fleeting whims and add 'just one more' whatever.


  4. Make sense to me. You can go broad or you can go deep, but you just don't have time for both. (Unless you're still in the all-weekend-long heyday of gaming known as high school, in which case go nuts and enjoy it while you can.)

    1. Breadth isn't really good if you don't also go deep. And the important difference between a home campaign and a published campaign setting or a decades lasting multimedia franchise is that you're only going to get a pretty limited number of opportunities to show things of the setting. If you want to look at anything with some depth, there can't be too many different things.
      People seem way too often plan campaign like movies, novels, or videogames, or pretty much any media format other than RPGs. Emulating themes and scenes can be great, but for planning long term structure RPGs are a very unique beast with their very own requirements.

  5. I've always thought that lots of different monsters helps provide a feeling of the unknown, but I really like your idea. Perhaps less for the whole world, but for each section keeping the list of monsters smaller really makes sense, and when characters move significantly to another part of the world, they will know that they did because encounters change.

    Excellent idea...

  6. One touch I liked in Eberron is that that campaign setting had many "baker's dozens" - a set of twelve, and then one extra outsider or variation or non-member of the set. I think that's a nice touch - so to apply that to your setting advice, instead of choosing 7 elements, I recommend choosing 6+1.

    Examples in Eberron are twelve moons plus a hidden moon, twelve dragonmarked houses plus a split house, twelve dragonmarks plus a dead one, twelve holidays plus an unexplained one, etc.

  7. Choosing to limit what can occur makes it possible for me to do cool two-page dungeon generators like this one.


    You could play this for quite a while before it got stale, I think.

  8. Aside from the idea of limiting the number of races and monsters (I am limiting my monsters for Reasons) I'm curious about the idea of 'unlocking' races but am having trouble wrapping my head around it. How would it work, do players get to switch races when one is unlocked or do they only get to play the new races when their current character dies?

  9. How would this concept apply to a megadungeon? Specifically, the wandering monster tables?

  10. This is excellent advice. I've never thought of a "limited campaign" but looking back on most of mine, I can see how I've focused on a handful (I would say, less than ten) of monsters and character races through the years to the exclusion of all others. My preference is to use Orcs, Gnolls, Trolls, Giants, Drow, and an occasional Dragon, with a few other critters sprinkled in. Just hadn't thought of it in this way before > thanks!

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