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 DnD 5E is king of that hill, and we know too many options isn’t always good.
Whether you’ve caught the dreaded DM burnout or just starting out, if you’re looking for inspiration, we’ve got your six. Well, not quite, but we’ve got your 12 DnD 5E campaign ideas, that is!
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.
Heist at the King’s Castle
Premise: The King’s Castle has been the target of many a heist attempt, but none have been successful. As one of the most heavily guarded places in the realm, it’s no surprise that few have attempted to steal from the King himself. However, rumours have been circulating that a group of thieves is planning to infiltrate the castle and make off with a priceless artifact.
Setup: The party is approached by a mysterious stranger who offers them a job. He tells them that he has information about a planned heist at the King’s Castle and he needs a skilled team to help him pull it off. The stranger is willing to pay a handsome sum for their services, but warns them that the job is dangerous and will require careful planning and execution.
Conflict: The party will need to plan their heist carefully, taking into account the castle’s extensive security measures and the presence of guards at all times. They will need to use their skills and resources to bypass the guards, avoid detection, and make off with the artifact before anyone notices.
Resolution: The twist here is that the artifact they are tasked with stealing is not what it seems. It is actually a magical artifact that has been cursed, and the thief who hired them plans to use it for his own nefarious purposes. When the party realizes this, they must decide whether to go through with the heist or to try and stop the thief from getting his hands on the artifact.
As they navigate the castle’s defenses and make their way to the artifact, the party will encounter various challenges and obstacles, including traps, guards, and magical wards. They will need to work together to overcome these challenges and successfully complete the heist.
If they decide to turn against the thief and prevent him from obtaining the artifact, they will face additional challenges as they try to evade the castle’s guards and make their escape. Ultimately, their success or failure will depend on their planning, strategy, and teamwork.
This campaign idea combines elements of heist movies with classic DnD adventure, offering players a thrilling and challenging experience as they attempt to pull off the perfect heist. The twist of the cursed artifact adds an extra layer of intrigue and danger, and gives the players a moral choice to make as they decide whether to complete the job or try to stop the thief.3
The Ghost Ship
Premise: Stories have been circulating among sailors of a ghost ship that haunts the seas, terrorizing ships and leaving death and destruction in its wake. The ship is said to be crewed by ghosts, and is impossible to catch or destroy. The party is approached by a wealthy merchant who has lost several ships to the ghost ship, and who is desperate to put an end to its reign of terror.
Setup: The party sets sail aboard the merchant’s ship, determined to track down the ghost ship and put an end to it. As they navigate the treacherous waters, they encounter various challenges and obstacles, including storms, sea monsters, and other dangers.
Conflict: When they finally catch up to the ghost ship, they find that it is indeed crewed by ghosts – the spirits of sailors who died at sea and who are now trapped aboard the ship. The party must figure out how to defeat the ghosts and put an end to the ghost ship’s rampage.
Resolution: The twist here is that the ghosts are not actually the enemy – they are simply trapped aboard the ship and unable to move on. The true enemy is a powerful sea witch who has cursed the ship and its crew, causing them to become ghosts and haunting the seas.
To defeat the sea witch and break the curse, the party will need to navigate a series of challenges and puzzles, each one designed to test their wits and their bravery. They will need to work together to find clues, solve riddles, and outsmart the sea witch’s minions.
If they succeed, they will be able to break the curse and free the ghosts from their torment. The ghost ship will disappear, and the seas will be safe once again. But if they fail, they risk being trapped aboard the ship themselves, joining the ranks of the ghostly crew.
This campaign idea combines classic seafaring adventure with supernatural elements, offering players a unique and challenging experience as they battle ghosts and face off against a powerful sea witch. The twist of the ghosts not actually being the enemy adds an extra layer of complexity and moral ambiguity, forcing players to think carefully about how they approach the situation.
The Lost City of Gold
Premise: Legends speak of a lost city of gold, hidden deep in the jungle and guarded by powerful magic. Many have sought to find this city, but all have failed. The party is approached by a wealthy merchant who believes he has found a clue to the city’s location, and who is willing to pay a large sum of gold to anyone who can help him find it.
Setup: The party sets out on a perilous journey through the jungle, facing dangers at every turn. They encounter deadly predators, treacherous terrain, and hostile tribes who will stop at nothing to protect their land.
Conflict: As they get closer to the city, they discover that it is not only guarded by magic, but also by powerful guardians who will stop at nothing to protect it. The party must use their skills and resources to navigate the city’s traps and puzzles, avoiding or defeating its guardians along the way.
Resolution: The twist here is that the city of gold is not what it seems. It is actually a cursed city, inhabited by a powerful sorcerer who has enslaved its inhabitants and used their magic to create illusions of gold and wealth. The sorcerer will stop at nothing to protect his city, and will use his powerful magic to try and destroy the party.
To defeat the sorcerer and break the curse, the party will need to delve deep into the city’s secrets, uncovering its hidden history and discovering the truth behind its curse. They will need to use their wits and their skills to outsmart the sorcerer’s traps and illusions, and to defeat his powerful magic.
If they succeed, they will free the inhabitants of the city and claim its treasures for themselves. But if they fail, they risk being trapped in the city forever, enslaved by the sorcerer’s magic.
This campaign idea combines elements of exploration, adventure, and magic, offering players a thrilling and challenging experience as they search for the lost city of gold. The twist of the city’s curse adds an extra layer of complexity and danger, forcing players to think carefully about their approach and strategy.
The Masquerade Ball
Premise: A wealthy nobleman is hosting a lavish masquerade ball, and the party has been invited. However, rumours are circulating that something sinister is afoot, and that the nobleman has dark intentions. The party must attend the ball and uncover the truth behind the rumours.
Setup: The party arrives at the nobleman’s mansion, dressed in their finest clothes and masks. They are greeted by other guests, who are all wearing elaborate masks and costumes. The atmosphere is tense and mysterious, with whispers and rumours floating through the crowd.
Conflict: As the night wears on, the party begins to notice strange and unsettling events. Guests disappear without explanation, strange noises can be heard from the upper floors, and the air is thick with the smell of incense and other mysterious scents. The party must use their skills and wits to uncover the truth behind the nobleman’s intentions and to navigate the dangerous and mysterious events of the night.
Resolution: The twist here is that the nobleman is actually a powerful vampire, and the masquerade ball is a trap to lure in unsuspecting victims. He plans to use his guests as a source of blood and to turn them into his thralls. The party must confront the vampire and his minions, using all of their skills and resources to defeat him and escape the mansion.
As they navigate the mansion’s labyrinthine corridors and uncover its secrets, the party will face a variety of challenges and obstacles, including traps, puzzles, and battles. They will need to work together and use their unique skills to overcome these challenges and to defeat the vampire and his minions.
If they succeed, they will be able to escape the mansion and bring the vampire to justice. But if they fail, they risk being turned into thralls themselves, or being trapped in the mansion forever. The masquerade ball may be a night to remember, but it may also be their last.
This campaign idea combines elements of mystery, intrigue, and horror, offering players a unique and challenging experience as they navigate the dangers and secrets of the vampire’s mansion. The twist of the nobleman’s true identity adds an extra layer of complexity and danger, forcing players to think carefully about their approach and strategy.
The Curse of the Black Lake
Premise: The party hears rumours of a cursed lake deep in the mountains, where strange and terrifying creatures are said to lurk. The locals avoid the area at all costs, but the party is hired by a wealthy nobleman to investigate the rumours and discover the truth behind the curse.
Setup: The party sets out on a perilous journey through the mountains, facing dangers at every turn. They encounter treacherous terrain, deadly predators, and harsh weather conditions.
Conflict: When they finally reach the lake, they discover that the rumours are true. The lake is cursed, and strange and terrifying creatures do indeed lurk beneath its murky waters. The party must use their skills and resources to investigate the curse and to uncover its secrets.
Resolution: The twist here is that the curse is not actually a curse, but rather the result of a powerful wizard’s experiment gone wrong. The wizard was experimenting with a powerful magical artifact, but something went awry and the artifact’s power was unleashed, creating the cursed lake and its creatures.
To break the curse and put an end to the wizard’s experiment, the party must find and destroy the artifact. This will not be an easy task, as the artifact is guarded by powerful magical wards and the wizard’s minions.
As they navigate the lake’s dangers and uncover its secrets, the party will face a variety of challenges and obstacles, including puzzles, battles, and other dangers. They will need to work together and use their unique skills to overcome these challenges and to destroy the artifact.
If they succeed, they will break the curse and free the lake from its dark power. The creatures will disappear, and the area will become safe once again. But if they fail, they risk being trapped in the cursed lake forever, or being consumed by its terrifying creatures.
This campaign idea combines elements of mystery, adventure, and magic, offering players a thrilling and challenging experience as they investigate the curse of the Black Lake. The twist of the curse not actually being a curse adds an extra layer of complexity and intrigue, forcing players to think carefully about their approach and strategy.
The Haunted Mansion
Premise: The party hears rumours of a haunted mansion on the outskirts of town, where strange and terrifying events have been occurring. The locals are afraid to go near the mansion, but the party is hired by a wealthy nobleman to investigate the rumours and discover the truth behind the haunting.
Setup: The party arrives at the mansion, which is shrouded in mist and surrounded by overgrown gardens. The mansion is dark and foreboding, with broken windows and a feeling of decay. The party must use their skills and resources to investigate the mansion and to uncover its secrets.
Conflict: As they explore the mansion, they encounter a variety of spooky and mysterious events. Doors open and close by themselves, strange noises can be heard from the walls, and the air is thick with the smell of rot and decay. The party must use their wits and their bravery to investigate the mansion and to uncover the source of the haunting.
Resolution: The twist here is that the mansion is not actually haunted by ghosts, but rather by a group of thieves who have been using the mansion as a hideout. They have been creating the spooky events to scare off any would-be investigators, and to protect their loot.
To uncover the truth and put an end to the thieves’ scheme, the party must navigate a series of challenges and obstacles, each one designed to test their wits and their bravery. They will need to work together to find clues, solve puzzles, and outsmart the thieves.
If they succeed, they will be able to catch the thieves and recover the stolen loot. The mansion will no longer be haunted, and the locals will be able to reclaim the property. But if they fail, they risk being trapped in the mansion forever, or being caught by the thieves and becoming their prisoners.
This campaign idea combines elements of mystery, horror, and intrigue, offering players a unique and challenging experience as they investigate the haunted mansion. The twist of the haunting not actually being a haunting adds an extra layer of complexity and intrigue, forcing players to think carefully about their approach and strategy.
The Missing Heirloom
Premise: A wealthy family has lost a valuable heirloom, and the party has been hired to find it. The heirloom is said to have been cursed, and many believe that its disappearance is related to the curse. The party must investigate the disappearance and discover the truth behind the curse.
Setup: The party meets with the wealthy family and learns about the missing heirloom. The family believes that the heirloom was stolen, but they have no idea who took it or why. The party must use their skills and resources to investigate the disappearance and to uncover any clues that may lead them to the culprit.
Conflict: As they investigate, the party discovers that there is more to the story than just a missing heirloom. There are whispers of a curse that has plagued the family for generations, and that the curse is somehow connected to the missing heirloom. The party must navigate a web of lies and deceit to uncover the truth behind the curse and the disappearance.
Resolution: The twist here is that the curse is not actually a curse, but rather the result of a powerful magical artifact that has been in the family’s possession for generations. The artifact has the power to grant wishes, but at a great cost. Each time the artifact is used, it drains the life force of the user, and eventually leads to their death.
To break the curse and find the missing heirloom, the party must find and destroy the artifact. This will not be an easy task, as the artifact is guarded by powerful magical wards and the family’s loyal servants.
As they uncover the secrets of the curse and the disappearance, the party will face a variety of challenges and obstacles, including battles, puzzles, and other dangers. They will need to work together and use their unique skills to overcome these challenges and to destroy the artifact.
If they succeed, they will break the curse and recover the missing heirloom. The family will be able to live without the burden of the curse, and the artifact will no longer pose a threat. But if they fail, they risk being consumed by the artifact’s power, or being trapped in the family’s twisted legacy forever.
This campaign idea combines elements of mystery, magic, and adventure, offering players a thrilling and challenging experience as they investigate the missing heirloom and the curse that has plagued the family for generations. The twist of the curse not actually being a curse adds an extra layer of complexity and intrigue, forcing players to think carefully about their approach and strategy.
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.