Either you’ve finally taken the plunge (or been gently shoved by your adventuring party) behind the screen and it’s your first DMing, or you’re a tried and true Dungeon Master searching for your group’s next journey. Being a DM for any tabletop RPG automatically grants you an abundance of possibilities in the creative realm, but Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition is king of that hill, and we know too many options isn’t always good.
Premise: Let’s start out small. Almost every adventuring party has come across some sort of cult and, as a whole, players can hardly resist the takedown of an evil cult. This quest will trigger your group’s cult-hunting instincts, as they attempt to chase a mysterious group who seems to be causing visitors and now locals to go missing.
Setup: After your adventurers settle down at the inn of a sleepy village on their way to their next destination, paint the picture of typical tavern-goers, amongst which is a small group of similarly cloaked figures. Roleplay this group sitting together in a corner, speaking in hushed tones. Upon noticing the player characters, the mysterious group disperses and leaves the inn. Whether your party inquires, or you use their passive perception, they should hear locals speaking of someone else having gone missing. Sprinkle another NPC saying they spotted a young child off by the woods, and you’ve got enough to make even the Scooby-doo gang interested.
Conflict: However your party elects to take on this quest, they should come across two occurrences. The first, a scared little boy or girl with their clothes tattered and dirty, running away from the players further into the forest. The second, the perceived bad guys hunting around the woods for the child, pitchforks and torches in hand. Your players should suspect the mysterious group from earlier in the tavern.
Resolution: The twist here is the cult isn’t really a cult, and the scared kid isn’t a kid at all, but a fey hag. If your players choose to investigate rather than shoot for the perceived cultists, they’ll find the entire mess began years ago, when news spread a local girl had gone missing, until a passing group of adventurers disappeared after investigating.
Time went on, and the same rumours rose again, with a different group of good-doers. So the cycle goes, until less and less merchants and adventurers stopped by the village, and now, locals begin to go missing too. Enter the would-be cultists, wanting to end this whole debacle once and for all. Should your players not choose to investigate and pursue the cultists (otherwise known as a spot of murder hoboism), they will end up killing innocent people. Locals who happened to wear the same or similar cloaks because it is a downtrodden village with one seamstress of little talent; people who have done nothing but try to unmask the real culprit. Cue in the classic hag who lures others into her lair, and has been the one to spread the rumours, passing herself off as local townspeople and children to do so.
A hag is stereotypical foe in DnD, but the twist again is your players are likely to attack innocent people before getting to her. This may serve as a good experience for groups whose players tend to go full murder hobo before investigating properly, or serve to emotionally wound your players. At least the resolution is normally after they’ve already handed over that evening’s snack-rifice, right? But maybe you don’t want to feed your players some humble haggis pie. Perhaps a good old-fashioned heist will be a better fit, instead.
For Crown and Glory
Premise: The talented heroes or mercenaries your players are, they’ve taken the notice of a former adventurer, who will enlist them in helping steal the royal jewels. Or more specifically, the royal crown. But not all is what it appears.
Setup: Players are hired by a sad and aging adventurer, whose party members have died off or retired in faraway lands, and had an ongoing fight against a Lich on and off for some years. Only now has the remaining party member learned the Lich’s phylactery lies atop the king’s head. And this good old hero is far too old, and far too injured to drag his tired bones to steal the crown of a much-beloved king. If players press for more information, the old man will be sheepish, stating he once tried to reason with the supposed fair king, but was threatened for it.
Conflict: The more imminent issue is fairly obvious with this one. After all, most kings have an entire army to protect them, especially from old and crazy coots who fancy themselves former adventurers.
Resolution: Should your players choose to investigate the history of the hero king, they will learn he used to be an adventurer who triumphed against an immensely powerful, tyrannical wizard that sought to enslave entire nations in his quest for eternity. But the hero king won the battle, and with it, the hearts and minds of the people, who chose to crown him king. The group may try to talk the king into giving the crown, or play along and go for the heist under the threat the old man will be killed if anyone finds out he hired them. If the players successfully steal the crown, they’ll come to find the hero king is actually not so kind, but a despot, and the public’s adoration will turn into despise. It seems they were under some sort of spell all along. Who knew?
But the man who hired the group might just be a little bit worse. The players will learn the old man is actually the king’s former adventuring partner turned Lich. Still with me? Good! But wait, there’s more! The hero king is no hero at all; after finding out his ‘friend’ had become a Lich, he didn’t destroy his phylactery as he should have. He instead used it to blackmail the Lich into charming the people of the land into believing the story of the hero king. With his phylactery always at hand for the king to carry out his threat, what was the Lich to do? His own survival is paramount, of course, and ethical concerns are for the living, which is where your party came in.
The cherry on top, or, crown I suppose, is the Lich can either reform, or do what most Liches do and try to kill the party. Your pick. If the above aren’t your cup of tea, we’ve got more homebrew for you fresh off the pot.
Search and Destroy
Premise: Just your typical run-of-the-mill kill all the evil goblins (Kobolds, etc.) quest… or maybe not.
Setup: A town contracts your player characters to kill the evil goblins that have been festering their land. The townspeople will claim goblins have been taking their gold, and terrorizing and kidnapping locals.
Conflict: Most players will take the word of the townies to raze the goblin lair, and kill the goblins expecting to take back the gold and missing people. Upon investigating the goblin lair, the player will find no gold, and no one missing. If the players choose to interrogate a surviving goblin, they’ll find out the accused have been doing nothing the townies claimed, and even go further to say the townspeople even destroyed their farms.
Resolution: When players return to the town, without gold or people, the town will thank them for their valiant effort expecting the goblins to have been exterminated. No tears shed for the supposed missing gold or neighbors. At this point your players find they’ve been duped by the town–the real issue was simply the townsfolk not wanting to live near such unsightly and different people. If confronted, you can roleplay the townies as smug, because they have a village full of children and innocent people, and are certain cannot be touched by consequences.
Will you players resent your trickery? Probably, but it will leave them questioning who the real bad guys are. If you’re looking for something a little more long-term, we’ve got a solid start for you next.
A New Raven Queen
Premise: Players will come across mounting evidence that a neighboring lordship seeks to overtake their homeland. This is the beginning of a longer campaign that sets the Raven Queen to be the BBEG (big bad evil guy), and she will use whomever she needs as pawns in her game.
Setup: An explosion at the tavern calls the party to it, kicking off to a classic tavern start. Sort of. Amongst the chaos, the guard commander is conveniently away at the lord’s manor to discuss whom out of his two officers will replace his post when he soon retires. His troops, however, are far from enjoying tea and scones; the explosion takes place shortly after the changing of the guard, meaning that almost half of the town’s guard were either killed or injured in the explosion as they relaxed post-shift at the local watering hole. Players can investigate what set off the explosion, and find the scorched remains of an unknown individual, the only discernible feature left is the iron raven’s head pendant now fused to his chest.
Conflict: Whilst the town is embroiled with the chaos an exploding tavern naturally ensues, a strike force has been building at the grounds of the manor. The forces of this mysterious new figure, claiming to be the Raven Queen, are besieging the grandiose building. Their end goal is not to topple the Lord, like the neighbouring nobleman believes he is enlisting them for, but to retrieve an artifact long guarded by the local Lord’s family.
Resolution: The party can unravel clues in town to determine what caused the explosion before becoming aware (perhaps through an NPC) that the manor is under siege. From there it’s up to the party how to overcome the invaders, through force of combat or by sneaking into the now breached keep. The party’s goals are to fend off or defeat the invaders, protect the artifact, and save whomever they can in the manor.
Perhaps not your typical tavern start, but your players can’t dock any points for style, that’s for sure. Will they succeed in time to stop the ‘Raven Queen’s forces?’ What will this mysterious new figure do with an item of such power? Will the tavern be rebuilt in time for quiz night? As a DM, these are the questions you must ask yourself.
Premise: A reward is offered to whomever can resolve the recent surge in undead attacks in the surrounding area.
Setup: Through rumours, a job board, or whatever other means, players will be driven to investigate the rise in undead. What they’ll find is a village who refuses to speak about the issue, but through cunning investigation, the players can find the cause: a necromancer living in an old manor.
Conflict: Outside the manor, players will battle waves of undead. As they progress, they will hopefully observe the undead look relatively cared for. Once inside, PCs are able to find the manor is a good deal barren, as well as discarded research notes, and one finely dressed lady (baroness if your players score a decent history roll) preserved in magical ice. Your players should be able to find and fight the wizard necromancer should they wish.
Resolution: If you have players who read into clues, pat yourself on the back for finding them, and create hints in the discarded research and whatever else you wish, pointing to the necromancer being the baroness’ widower. After the loss of his wife, he has been trying to find a more sustainable solution to bring the dead back to life, as they were, to spare everyone the pain of losing loved ones. Because the couple was well-respected by locals, he was [somehow] able to win their support, and some even volunteered their deceased. Seeing the widower sell all his worldly possessions to continue his research, only cemented their support. After all, many among us would do [just about] anything for the chance to bring a loved one back.
If you wish to take it further, build a bigger plot by adding a mysterious benefactor who was using the widower for their own malevolent goals.
Your players may handle this situation with reason, kindness, justice, or vengeance. Whatever they choose, blurring the lines between good and evil may prove for a sympathetic, memorable foe.
Should any of the above campaign ideas take your fancy, your next step is to check our article on CR so you can begin to set things up for your players’ next adventure. We hope you enjoyed the prospect of pitting your players against any of these campaign ideas, and if you liked them, comment below which you plan to use or share your own homebrew campaign idea.