How to create story arcs in your d&d campaign

How to Create Story Arcs

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Having a basic outline or story arc for your Dungeons and Dragons campaign is a great way to set a sense of direction as you begin to plan out individual gaming sessions. It lets you know where you should be heading with your players. For example, if they need to figure out the name of a villain then the first three gaming sessions could be introducing this unknown figure and finding someone to give them a last name with their dying breath. So what exactly are story arcs then?

How to create story arcs in your d&d campaign

Introduction: What are story arcs and why are they important?

Story arcs are important because they help to create a sense of cohesion and purpose in a story. They give readers a sense of continuity and predictability, which can make stories more enjoyable to read. In addition, story arcs can also be used to heighten the tension and suspense in a story. This can create a sense of anticipation for what will happen next.

Introduce the three types of arcs: beginning, middle, and end.

Introducing the three types of arcs: beginning, middle, and end. Each has its own unique purpose in a story, and it’s important to know how to use them correctly in order to create a well-rounded tale. The beginning arc introduces the characters and sets up the story. The middle arc develops the plot and keeps the reader engaged. The end arc wraps everything up and leaves the reader with a satisfying conclusion.

Each has its own unique purpose in a story, and it’s important to know how to use them correctly in order to create a well-rounded tale. The beginning arc introduces the characters and sets up the story. The middle arc develops the plot and keeps the reader engaged. The end arc wraps everything up and leaves the reader with a satisfying conclusion.

Structure

Structure is one of the most important aspects of writing, and once you have a solid understanding of it, you’ll be able to recognize the difference between a good story and an average one.

What are some common elements that most stories have?

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Characters

A story is composed of a cast of characters that interact and have an effect on everything happening in the plot. Every character has a role to play, and all of them need to be introduced or “introduced” at some point in the story.

Conflict

A story is comprised of two or more characters that are in conflict with each other. You should open with the conflict as close to the beginning as possible. The climax of the story is what makes it a good or bad story. The climax is when the conflict reaches its peak, and the characters must either succeed at achieving their goal or fail.

How do you create a story arc?

A story arc is a sequence of connected events in a story. They are important because they help keep the story moving and give it structure.

There are three main types of arcs: beginning, middle, and end. Each one has its own specific purpose in the overall story. To create a story arc, you first need to come up with an idea for a story. Once you have that, you can start brainstorming the individual events that will make up the arc. Once you have a solid outline, you can start writing your story.

The beginning. This is the story’s introduction. It sets up the scene and introduces the main characters. It also establishes the conflict, which is the reason for everything that happens later in your story.

The middle. This is where most of the action takes place from beginning to end. It’s usually the most important part of the story, and it can take up a large portion of your story.

The end. This is where all that stuff from the beginning comes together in a satisfying conclusion.

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From there we split into three sub sections (or sub plots or acts) and ask drill down deeper into the story line so that you can tell a cohesive story in your RPG even if it lasts for 45+ weeks.

How do you use story arcs in your roll playing campaign?

The entire campaign typically starts off with somehow getting all of the player characters to meet. Typically this happens in a tavern. Go here for 10 ways to have your players meeting that isn’t in a tavern.

Once your characters have officially met they need a reason to leave the tavern (or other location) for some greater adventure. Now in the case of a story arc you are pitching this sort of like a story except that you and your players will actually tell the story together. The dice will determine many of the outcomes. As will the players’ actions. This cannot be scripted. Or even predicted 60%+ of the time when I am the dungeon master for either of my two groups. They constantly surprise me and I am constantly improvising.

Story arc = conflict

So what is that story arc that you want to tell? It should have some sort of long term goal that your players will have to work toward. Now these long term goals should be based around conflict. Stories are boring without conflict. And just doing random weekly monster encounters without an overarching reason for it typically gets boring soon. Therefore, think about a larger overarching villain or situation that causes conflict that will cause the players to want to get involved and fix things.

Once you have your over arching story arch you can work backwards at a high level to ask what three things (for example) need to take place to reach the final conflict and resolution. This can be done for anything and any genre.

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RPG Scenarios

Scenario 1: Evil kingdom is expanding and threatening to take over the free world.

Working backward:

1) The players need to confront the evil dark lord in his castle to destroy him and end his tyranny.

2) Find allies to fight back. Find heroes to fight the dark lord once and for all. Gather an army. March on the dark lord’s castle.

3) Servants of the dark lord seige and destroy the players’ home town. They watched all of their loved ones die and then choose the path of revenge to make sure that the dark lord never hurt anyone again. This would take years but it will be worth the journey or worth dying to try.

Scenario 2: Parts of the world are disappearing and no one knows why.

Working backward:

1) The players discover that their world is a dream of a god who is now waking up. They work to kill parts of this god to keep it slumbering now that they are outside of his control.

2) The emptying is sweeping the lands. Lands, mountains and oceans taken by the emptying cease to exist. The mages have a theory that may pull some out of this plane of existence to see what is going on in this plane.

3) The mountains just disappeared and there is just nothingness there. It seems like all reality is gone in that black nothingness and it is growing and coming toward us. It doesn’t move fast sometimes but at other times it moves and destroys (if that is the right concept) everything for miles in just second. We must flee.

Hopefully, those two small scenarios give you an idea of how little it takes to create a huge story arc in the abstract. From here then you need to further break down each of the three parts into maybe another 3 – 6 parts and keep breaking things down until you feel like you have a good idea of the story that can be told.

A caution about story arcs

Now I want to state that working like this may feel that you have removed ALL player agency and if you stick to your plan with an iron fist you have. So instead I want you to view this like an outline to a story. As the characters / players / dice rolls / decisions / etc start to work on your story you should have your plan destroyed several times. In fact the ending of the story may change entirely and that is perfectly acceptable. But at least this way you have an idea of how to move your players along and then can improvise and adapt as your players do something unexpected. Don’t see that as them being willfully arrogant but rather the part of the story you couldn’t tell until everyone sat down at the table to play it out.

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Conclusion: What are the benefits of using story arcs?

Use story arcs you have seen in movies, TV, books and story telling podcasts as your guide. A story arc each have a beginning where the characters are introduced. They have a middle that has a climax of action and conflict. They each have an end where things are wrapped up. Don’t feel pressure to fully wrap up a campaign.

Many of the best campaigns have some unanswered threads or some very real consequences that may need to be dealt with if you and your players want to hang around or revisit this world again sometime. Personally, in my groups we share the dungeon master role. It allows for us to take a turn for 6 – 18 months and then have a break. Being a dungeon master is rewarding but it isn’t easy and we have found letting people in our group take a turn to be very helpful to everyone in the group. So don’t be afraid to fully wrap up the world or leave the possibility of coming back to it at a later date.

Happy Gaming

Dwight Scull

About the Author:

Dwight Scull has been playing tabletop role playing games (starting with Dungeons and Dragons 3.5) back in 2001. He started being a dungeon master around 2005.

He loves to play many different types of TTRPG’s, including GURPS, Shadowrun, Vampire: The Masquerade, Mage: The Ascension (and other White Wolf Games), Nights Black Agents, and others.

Fan of mysteries, light horror, co-op board games, true crime, sci-fi and fantasy.

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