Dungeon Mastering- The Novel Approach

Art and Writing by David Finley

 Recently, I began a campaign set in my own fantasy world, called Highwater. It's a rich and multi-layered story ala the "Song of Ice and Fire" novels, or the "Wheel of Time" series, brimming with political negotiations, betrayal, murder investigations, and large scale warfare.

 As a DM, or Dungeon Master, it takes a lot of concentration and mental energy to not only keep building on an already intricate plot, but to also maintain consistency while operating a huge cast of non player characters that regularly interact with the party. When you run a campaign like that, you gamble with the possibility of burning out pretty quickly.

 Burn out is a horrible problem for a DM, and will poison even a great campaign quickly. To avoid that, one tool I like to use to combat burnout is switching chapters, or acts. I think I'll call it, "the Novel Approach".

 Much like a novel, which often uses rotating characters and chapters to share different points of view or location, I like to switch to a different set of player characters having a different adventure altogether, with just enough of the events of the other campaign bleeding over to make it relevant.

 Using alternating stories can give you a break from the tedium of trying to top yourself, a creative boost, and a chance to make your campaign world richer and deeper in the process. As a DM, you also have the freedom to explore different adventure styles, without having to start a whole new campaign.

 Some chapters could be combat free. Maybe the pcs are all senators locked in rigorous debate, making political deals that will alter the course of history. Or, maybe you want to explore an old school Gygax style dungeon crawl with booby traps, treasure, and exotic monsters. Your campaign world is your creative oyster.

 Don't forget, you can also run some chapters where the characters are all villains. Then, your heroes aren't just knocking down faceless enemies anymore. Plus, the badder they are, and the more trouble they cause, the more the heroes have to deal with later.

 It's also a good idea to leave at least a small cliffhanger or two between chapters. This will make your players eager to see what happens next, while providing a spring board for ideas.

 So, if you've been running a long term campaign, and you feel the threat of Dungeon Master burnout, consider the "Novel Approach". At the very least, it's a nice diversion.

 Dungeons and Dragons is © and owned by the nice folks at Wizards of the Coast. 

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