Thinking Of A Campaign: Session By Session



Hey guys! It’s official I am embarking on my first-ever campaign using ICRPG next Wednesday, and I am beyond pumped. The hardest part of planning so far is getting the 5e way of thinking out of my head. With that said I am seeking some advice from you guys.

I love the philosophy of planning things a session at a time, that feels great. But, my question is how can you plan campaign-wise just a session at a time? How have you guys done it? By default, I am kind of an A-Z thinker and what to know how the entire campaign will flow come session one. This is not to say that the path doesn’t get alternated in the journey.

What tips and tricks do you guys have when planning for a camapign with the session-to-session mentality?


I tend to plan via the “amusement park” method.

At the start of a campaign, I usually spring events on my players in a DM-driven way. Like accessing a theme park, you have to progress through a certain queue. I also know, waiting at the very back of the park is a big bad, the scariest ride of all. So, I usually have a sense of the grand evil in the land. Finally, I know a few of the major rides and attractions in the land that I hope my players will visit. And I’ll probably drop some clues and truths to get them moving toward certain “rides.” That being said, once the players enter the park proper, they do have some choice on what they can visit, ultimately working their way up to the big bad ride in the back.

Session to session, once you choose a ride, that night or two of play is “on the rails,” until players discover clues and reveal truths that take them to the next ride. This way, I only have to prep one ride or attraction at a time, week to week.

Hope that analogy helps!


That analogy was awesome! Thanks so much!


Kane also did a video on this as well!

YouTube: The Amusement Park method for RPGs


I had an existing ICRPG campaign to which I added a “Westmarch”-style frontier for my players to explore in a separate campaign with different characters.

I’m new to Westmarch games, so I may have the details wrong, but as I understand it, the design guidelines are:

  1. Open world exploration
  2. Player and character rosters can change from session to session
  3. There is a central “headquarters” out of which the parties are based
  4. No PvP is allowed within the headquarters

Because I was adding this area to an existing campaign, I already had a basic world history on which to build, so I would say this is step 1:


In my case, I had a 200-year old war between Elves, Dwarves and Orcs for control of the Fey Lands that almost destroyed the worlds. The gods stepped in and forced a cease-fire before the fabric of reality was compromised.

If you want a long-term goal for your game, your mythology will probably suggests a “great mystery” that your players will eventually solve. More on that below.

Next, I had to figure out what and where the Headquarters was:


Mine is a great tower constructed outside a magical bramble that leads to a spacetime bubble called The Fold. Inside the Fold, time passes at 1/10th “normal” speed, and it has barely recovered from the ravages of the war. The Tower is populated by a contingent of imperial solders charged with keep whatever is inside the Fold from getting out, and to exploring the territory within. Twice a year, they bring in two score adventurers, supply them, and send them into the Fold to explore for 3-5 days at a time (which translates to 4-8 weeks of Fold time).

This step also solidified my Great Mystery: “how and why was The Fold created, and can (or should) it be pulled back into the ‘real’ world?” We have been playing this campaign about a year and I still don’t know these answers, myself. :slight_smile:

Finally, the fun part:


I try to keep the names evocative and descriptions punchy. I liken these to chord progressions in jazz improvisation: they are signposts around which you could structure any number of melodies. You don’t want detail at this point, just strong flavor.

  1. Blackpool Cathedral – the bishop and followers here don’t realize they are undead
  2. Midtown – desolate village halfway to the warrens of a goblin Warlord
  3. Valley of the Gods – nexus of the world’s ley lines; why are they tangled, and how to untangle them?
  4. Dwarven Mechadrome – where lie abandoned suits of magical armor built to fight a monstrous haunted battle tank

a) Flint: industrious stone troll who has built a “bridge” that adventurers must pay to cross, otherwise they are likely to get crushed by “falling” boulders
b) Garriet, the “helpful” old man who sends adventurers off with the “gift” of a cursed dagger that attracts monsters
c) Who is the mysterious “Wormplucker,” who all the other NPCs seem to know?

Once you have assembled all your ingredients, you can turn your players loose. Elements like weather and random encounter tables can keep things lively as they trek through the unknown. You can introduce the above ingredients at any point to liven a session (for instance, at our first session, a great blizzard beset the party; they desperately sought shelter and ended up at Garriet’s cabin…). As the players near one of the major destinations, you can fully flesh it out, adding in detail to support the things you have learned about the world from past sessions.

Over time, the game will reveal threads that you can weave into your Great Mystery, bringing greater focus to the world if that is your goal. Or, you can just let your players explore a big, interesting world at their own pace (which is more or less what my players are doing). Allowing them to play different characters whenever they like, combined with a sprawling world with a wide variety of quests and characters, keeps the game interesting and fresh (at least, it’s been working well for us this past year).

Would love to hear the techniques you come up with as you build out your campaign. :slight_smile:


Hey DaolCannoli,

This is a great question! I enjoy planning for long-term developments too, and it took me a while to get into the session-method.

Separate your prep into two types: (1) macro-level campaign prep to stimulate the GM brain, and (2) micro-level session prep for this week. And do not - I repeat DO NOT - cross the streams.

When you’re in a good mood and want to plan for larger campaign developments, do that and only that. When you’re getting ready to run your game in four days on Saturday, do that and only that.

These two types of GM prep can dovetail into each other, but resist the urge to try and do both. You won’t have time for either. Of course, if your campaign hasn’t actually started yet you have an “infinite” amount of time - do as you please.


I want to start a new campaign. I’m excited about the idea of bandits, tribes of orcs and related kin, and want to explore the dangers of ancient sorcery. Now I know a lot about my campaign via extrapolation.

Bandits are running wild. Why? Maybe the king is old and senile, or being beguiled by his court mage(!). I like this second one, and it ties into my third point of interest. We can both spend ages figuring out who the bandits are, what they’re doing, where they are, and the different dynamics of their lives of crime.

There are tribes of monstrous humanoids (orcs, goblins, hobgoblins, and so on). Where do they come from? Well they are spawned in the deep slimey places of the world, in the halls of the dead dwarves. Who is breeding them? A powerful magic-user seems likely, but maybe too obvious, so I opt for illithid who want to use them as a slave race.

Ancient sorcery exists, and is dangerous. There are huge questions here… Can the PCs use magic? Is “magic” different from “ancient sorcery”? I decided there are court wizards, so there is probably two different tiers (maybe in AD&D terms, first through 3rd level are common, 4th level and higher are ancient sorcery, etc.). This will be a lot of my macro-level prep probably. I get to think about things like okay, if the teleport spell exists, how does it work? Maybe they need to use ancient “star-gates” scattered around the world as foci (you can teleport, but only to and from these gates). If the fireball spell exists, maybe magic-users have to learn it from fire giants or demons. Now we can start thinking about cults, religions, and all of that tangled mess.

In short, you probably have some things you’re excited about doing in your campaign. Jot them down, and then spread out like cracked glass. You don’t have to answer everything - write down questions you have about the campaign too.


It’s session one this weekend. Let’s presume we’ve made characters and are ready to go on that end. I want to show the players something about my world in the session, and suggest some paths for them to pursue thereafter.

(1) Intro: some description and introduction, must include a situation that they need to solve (combat, escape confinement, find someone or something, prevent violent from erupting via diplomacy, and so on)

(2) Branching Paths: once they’ve completed the first scene, give them a branching path. One maybe is the STR path that warrior types will excel at. Another is the INT, WIS, or CHA path, that your “support types” will be good at. Another is maybe DEX or CON.

What’s a STR path? Fighting, intimidation, or hard work
What’s a DEX path? Sneaking, stealing, or least resistance
What’s a CON path? Long travel, enduring, or holding breath
What’s an INT path? Deducing, deciphering, or researching
What’s a WIS path? Empathizing, intuiting, or engaging other life (animals)
What’s a CHA path? Convincing, fast-talking, or seducing

(3) Funneling Back: their past success should give them different advantages (avoid the combat, fight the combat but reduce enemies later, etc.) for the next one. This is maybe a set-piece encounter, and I often use combat here. It isn’t for everyone, but I enjoy slug-fests where folks can “play the game”.

(4) Development: Something happens, something goes wrong, a new complication appears. You’ve made it to the old tower where the orcs have taken up. But they have bolstered it’s defenses and repaired it. The old bridge over the ravine is ruined, and you’ll need to find another way in. Oh, and it’s swarming with orcs. If you don’t make it in fast enough, they’re going to bring those missing merchants down, via the tunnels they dug, to the illithid lair to be eaten.

(5) Culmination/Climax: the session end, big fight or big reveal, success or failure. Most of the narrative here tends to exist from playing it out.

(5.2) Now what: have ideas of where to go now; back to town to recover, to the old library in the abbey for research, to a nearby town to return those merchants you saved or tell their families you failed, etc. What you suggest here will greatly help your prep for the next session. If you suggest nothing, and nothing is obvious, players may flounder at the question of “What do you want to do?” - it’s a blank page. Listen to what the players want to do and prepare for that.

As with all the above advice, session prep the ICRPG way is all about having fun NOW! Not putting it off ten sessions down the line. Thing about all the GM advice in the book. Active environments, timers, treats, wonder, and so on. Use them, but don’t over-saturate by using all of them all the time.

TLDR: You got this. Just do the thing and ask the community for help if you draw a blank.



Thank you so much for this! What amazing advice thanks fo being so thorough!


Thank you so much this community rocks! You guys are so supportive and inspiring!