Get Your New Campaign from Zero to Hero in Just 30 Days!

Get Your New Campaign from Zero to Hero in Just 30 Days!

Get Your New Campaign from Zero to Hero in Just 30 Days!

The divine hand of fate, the gods and goddesses of fortune themselves have smiled on you: your entire game group agreed on an RPG system to play, owns the right dice, were able to print a character sheet, and had access to the books needed. And then? The shiny jewel to top this? You have a schedule that works for everyone!

But wait. You’ve agreed to act as dungeon master, though. You’ve never done that. How did this happen? And what comes next? Fear not, adventurer! These suggestions are designed to get the creative juices flowing to bring that tabletop roleplaying experience to life before a single d20 gets rolled. These are designed to be system-agnostic, meaning that you can (and should) consider these questions and flesh some out before getting everyone together.

In the following lists, the underlined prompt titles are usually just for you as the GM. As you build your game, think of these as the permits and trips to the supplies houses that the players never see…you’ll be left with a solid, but unfinished, frame for the game.

The other prompts in each “week” of the challenge are the places where your group can use their “Session Zero” of the game to “decorate” your frame. Use italicized prompts to give the players incomplete information, and bold ones to draw out more info that’s general knowledge in-game.

As you read through this plan, a few tips:

  • Don’t limit yourself! Sometimes one or two words might be all that’s needed, but really take this prep time opportunity to consider all the angles each prompt is going to offer you.
  • While it’s fine to go with “one a day” for the exercises, you might find that one idea leads you to another. That’s great! But still take the time to consider each prompt.
  • Write your answers down! I promise you, you’ll forget at least one of them during the first D&D night.

And lastly, keep one thing in mind (and make a point to tell your players as well): You know the answers to these questions. As GM, you know what’s behind that door. Your players know their characters—no amnesia or lone wolf storylines permitted! Encourage yourself and the PCs to add safe personal experiences into the mix. As an example, in a Monster of the Week game I was part of, my off-screen nemesis was a rival of mine from elementary school, I lived in a housing development named for my hometown, and several real-world coworkers’ names were people I could call on in the game. You’ll have to put a coat of paint on these, sure, but trust me: you—and your players—got this.

To the challenge!

Week1: Warm up with Some Location Lunges

“Week 1” is all about where the game is going to take place. That first discussion with the group is going to guide you—obviously you’re not going to be worrying about dragon-slaying in Call of Cthulhu. But setting when and where helps you decide what else can be included or discarded as you set the tale. Feeling enterprising and empowered? Try free-hand drawing a large “world view” map that hits the major points of the actual world. The “GM-only!” thinking here is light to get you started, but still, take the first three or four questions for yourself, bringing your players all they need to focus on their characters. Obviously where and what kind of game isn’t a secret, but these are the heavy-lifting you’ll need to do to have the game ready.

Marching Orders

What kind of game is this: modern, ancient, magical, high-tech, etc?

Where again?

What is the main municipality, city or other location players are going to be starting in?

It’s just down the street…

Name three local haunts for this place (bars, governance, etc.)

Tours Daily

Name three tourist locations in this place (special sites, monuments, etc.)

The (something) City!

This place is clearly famous for something. Tell me that thing!

Can’t happen soon enough…

Why might someone want to get the heck out of this place?

The legend of…

Everywhere has a weird history, dark secret, etc. What are people saying about your place?

Week 2: Do some Plot Push-Ups:

“Week 2” is all about those devilish devices, tricks, traps, and twists! Here, the first week’s “public secrets” finally get the blackout shutters closed. You’re not telling them everything on these DM-only pieces.

To ease that transition of secret vs. known, choose one of your players and, apart from the group, flesh out the ideas in “I know a guy…” These may not come up immediately, but can be held in reserve for that time where all the dice fail you, where the check DCs are too high. The inside track is best used when the player knows a lot about why they’re that insider, so a good conversation in your 1-on-1 with them can make this a great tool and less a deus ex machina.

Previously on…

Give a short summary of the last major event in your world. This can be a cultural item, a shift in politics, new tech, first contact…it’s ubiquitous even outside the city you’re starting off in.

Team Up

Right now, who’s on what sides? Describe the groups who have stakes in the day-to-day events of the setting. Think big too—are there Red States and Blue States? Trouble between orcs and humans? What about those Pure Humanity kooks and the Cyborg Union?

Winds of Change

There are signs that things are changing. First, are they subtle or overt? Second, what are some that have caught the eye of those hiring the party or within the members of the party?

I know a guy…

One of the party members is an insider. They’re might know some of how, but likely know a lot more than they’re letting on. What kind of insider are they, and how are they flaunting/hiding it?

Well, you’ve got us all here…

What is the party’s mission? Start small: what do they need to do today in service of what needs done tomorrow?

…or ELSE!

Give one of each kind of effect of failing the party’s mission:

  • minor (“We can try again tomorrow”),
  • moderate (“There’re replacement parts, but we don’t have the money now”),
  • significant (“So, this is what jail is like”), and
  • catastrophic (“Been nice knowing you”)

These can be the failure of a single person or the entire group.

You’ll need this

Discuss an item, honor, etc. given to the group as part of their mandate. Are they extra-legal? Do they have the Goddess’s protection? (etc.)

Week 3: Break a Sweat with These Character Crunches

It might seem strange to have the GM be worrying about the characters for week 3. Here, you’re not smashing square pegs into the round holes you’ve made. You’re working more as the puppetmaster. Having these kinds of big changes to the story—major planned setbacks, emerging alliances, and unseen guiding hands—are all items you’re going to be using to keep the game on track.

By virtue of this being a character-heavy week, there’s a different kind of breakdown. Questions 1-3 are DM-only, 4-5 are maybe for a few in the group with you, but not everyone, and 6-7 are for the lot of you.

Well now what?

Midway into the story, players are going to have a MAJOR setback. Discuss it here. Will the supers have issues with their power? Is there a curse? Did they summon something that shouldn’t be?

The Proving

The players are going to end up proving themselves by their actions. Here, who are they impressing? What will that outcome gain/take from them?

Good Morning, Charlie!

The group has an unseen benefactor. This can be anything from a banker to a demigod. Describe who this is and how much the players know about them.

Something to fight for

Discuss what shaped the players into who they are. Why have they joined this superhero team or what makes them investigate Things that Go Bump? Two or three plot hooks are your goal here.

Someone to fight with

This is a double-ended prompt. Who do your characters ENJOY or NEED at their side in the group? Why? Also, who are they itching to show up, beat down, or otherwise fight? Again, why?

Your father wanted you to have this…

The story is opening and the plan is set; what last thing does the group’s benefactor give them just before the first mission?

Not our First Rodeo

You are not a random group that was mercenary-hired in a bar/tavern/inn. Have each player tell you how they’re linked to the player on their left.

Week 4: Get a Ripped Villain with these Big Bad Burpees

You know where.

You know who.

You know what.

So who’s stopping the party from doing what they want?

Finish your preparation by setting up the “Big Bad” of your game. This one is always the most fun and a place where your imagination can go completely wild. The best villains are those that the party, on paper, shouldn’t have a chance against. It’s only by grit and crits that this scrappy band can take them down!

GM: have good answers for the first five questions, and set a reasonable target for introducing “The Network” information. This can be a big Wikileaks style document-dump or something more insidious and slower drips of information; both create tension in their own ways.

The True Name

Start by naming, then giving a critical weakness to, your big-bad. Is it greed? Love?

The Offices

The Biggest Bad doesn’t get their hands dirty until there’s a worthy opponent. Who’s the next level down, the face of the organization that a PC would be afraid of even as he’s hosting a press conference stating how innocent the Bad Co. guys are?

The Warehouse

Take a moment and consider the next level down. Who do the entry-level mooks report to? These guys will likely have names, and are connected both in the bad and the normal world—shady landlords, bookies, go-betweens, etc. You might even have a local politico, vs. a state or national one, here as well.

The Storefront

Describe the basic flunkies and thugs that are loyal to your big bad. Purple-clad ninja footsoldiers? Pock-marked mooks in zoot-suits? What kind of bad are they doing?

The Network

As your game opens, will the players know just how big a conspiracy they’re up against, GM?

And players, are you ready to know more about the rabbit hole?


Clearly that first experience with the bad guy’s team leads somewhere. Players and GM both describe how the linkages between isolated incidents started to add up.


Each player tells you a little about the first time they tangled with the bad guy and his network. Was there a recruitment pitch or a fight?

No full-on plan is worth its salt without a couple built-in “Cheat” days. Use the following prompts if you’re stuck on something.

CHEAT #1: The Reveal

CHEAT #2: The Ladder

CHEAT #3: The Wild Card

Cut to the end! How are the players to meet their big villain? Will it be for the final fight? Did they know the bad guy from another time?

Step away from the 5W’s of your story and focus on “how:” plot out your storyline flow here. Using an outline (but not sweating all those rules your English teacher made you follow), chart the first 3-5 meetings of your game by hitting major and minor plot points.

The party has been so focused on taking down the machinations of the big bad that…well, do they get an easy loot day? Or is there another one-off adventure they’ll never see coming?



In the real-world, Jeff Chaffee is a level-15 speech therapist, multi-classed into 10+ levels of Hubby/Dad. When not slaying the sentient grasses of Northern PA or rolling yet another character up for that game he's TOTALLY going to be running, he can usually be found teaching a new game or figuring out how to illustrate a new beta test with only Wingding fonts in Photoshop.

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