Campaign building with the Monster Manual

Posted on September 10, 2014 by


“This bestiary is for storytellers and world-builders.” – Monster Manual introduction


The D&D 5th Ed. Monster Manual releases on September 19th for those stores that take part in the WOTC WPN program, and on September 30th for everyone else. A few Monster Manuals saw the light of day at Gencon, and we’ve seen some bits of it come out here or there. For example, there was @geekylindsay‘s excellent article on worldbuilding using the MM (btw this article will have some overlap with hers), while Jerry from Dread Gazebo showed off a bit of what the book will offer.

I’ll have a full review of the book later, but I wanted to write a bit on one of my favorite parts of the Monster Manual, and something I think I’ll be using plenty of for the next few years, the Legendary Creatures and their regional effects.  Legendary Creatures are those special solo monsters that make up epic encounters, like the dragons, beholders, vampires, and so on. They are special, have slightly different combat rules, and affect both their immediate environment (Lair Actions) but also the world around them (Regional Effects), and that’s the part that caught my eye.

You see, I’ve always had trouble coming up with big fantasy plot ideas. Sure, raiding an orc camp or dungeon crawling a crypt is easy enough to come up with, but the big over-arching plots are a challenge for me to imagine. So as soon as I read these regional effects entries in the book, it’s like a light bulb went off in my head. These effects right there are prime material for campaign ideas. Why? Because they are big deals that mean something to the world, and only the heroic PCs can fix them. And that right there is what adventures are made out of. So let’s look at an example from the book, the Red Dragon.

The region where a red dragon makes its lair is warped by the dragon’s magic, affecting the land around it in several ways. For example:

  • Small earthquakes are  felt as far as 6 miles from the lair
  • Water sources 1 mile of the lair are tainted by sulfur and are supernaturally warm
  • Portals to the elemental plane of fire open near the lair, allowing elemental creatures to come into the world

So as DM’s, what can we do with that information? Well, you can certainly create adventures and scenarios that don’t directly deal with the problem of the dragon itself (because likely 1st level PCs wouldn’t have a clue it involves a dragon anyway), but deal with the complications brought on by these effects.

So, earthquakes. What can happen? Towns in the area may see some destruction, which may lead to looting from bandits, or bands of humanoids looking to cause trouble. The earthquakes may be large enough to cause openings in the ground leading to the Underdark, where things may crawl out to the surface from. Bands of slaver drows? How about a wizard’s tower collapses and she may need adventurers to help her find x or y thing that she lost in the earthquake.

Water sources tainted by sulfur? Water is a precious commodity, and if people’s water supplies are affected, you can bet that trouble will ensue. Generally sulfur in the water isn’t unhealthy, but if people and animals are getting diarreah, and the water stinks, well, that’s an issue. Plus. Who says that the dragon’s presence isn’t causing hte sulfur levels to rise so much that it is in fact unhealthy? Also, water scarcity affects the environment, which can lead to side adventures for the PCs to tackle. Warm waters? All the fish are dying in the normally cold lake. These things are important. 

And portals to the elemental planes of fire? Well, that’s self explanatory. That should tip off the players that something larger is afoot.

Perhaps there’s enough with these hooks to take you on a 1-20 campaign, or perhaps not, maybe shorter episodic mini-campaigns would work better. The point is that looking for high concept ideas is probably easier than you think, and wracking your brain is unnecessary.

This all may seem like old news for old timers in the DMing business, but for newbies jumping behind the screen for the first time, my advice is to start small, and work your way out. Want to end your big campaign with the PCs fighting an epic red dragon? That’s great. Make sure they deal with the bandits taking advantage of the earthquakes in the area first.

I’ll have more of the Monster Manual next week.


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