Part 1: Defining a Vision for your Campaign
Running the Table
Figuring Out What to Build
In the field of user experience and product design, a team will come up with a product vision before any work on the product itself begins. This vision aligns the team in what to expect in the future, what the goal of the product is, as well as what user/customer expectations are. This increases efficiency tremendously.
We are going to be creating a D&D campaign not for, but with our players. The players are our customers and stakeholders. They have expectations and valuable knowledge which, when discovered, will help guide the direction of a fun and engaging game for all.
Research What’s Out There
In UX we conduct Landscape and SWOT analyses, a type of competitive research. We discover what similar products are already out there, what already works, what their failings are, and then learn from it. Research and learning are extremely valuable skills. Put them to use before you begin working on anything.
There are various official D&D modules, or pre-made campaigns, that are professionally published and for sale. The online community has a multitude of independently published D&D campaigns and modules available as well. There are Twitch Streams, YouTube channels, and more with D&D content. Don’t ignore the work of other people; learn from it.
For this research we are looking for large-scale ideas and themes such as, “save the world”, “small-time treasure hunters”, “dark comedy”, “serious and dramatic”, “lots of magic”, “realistic, no magic”, etc.
Use sticky notes, index cards, sheets of paper… anything. Write down what you learn, in small chunks, on these cards. Short ideas or concepts work best, not sentences. We are going to bring all of these found ideas to our first meeting with our players
Personas, Insights, and Vision
Dungeon Masters will often hold what’s known as a “Session Zero”, which is a game session before the campaign officially starts. It gets everyone on board with what to expect in the game. We’re going to do something similar, except we are going to treat our “Session Zero” as a “Vision Workshop”.
Meet with your players as a group for this vision workshop, preferably for a few hours. They will all have ideas and they will all want to be heard. Players might even have a character in mind, which we will treat as a persona. Talk to your players about the characters they wish to play, their persona. Gain insights from these. We will use these personas and insights later when we devise our minimal viable product, explaining in Part 2.
Bring the research you completed earlier to the table as well. Ask players what they think, what they want to do in the game, what would make it fun for them. There are no wrong answers. Generate as many ideas as possible with the players. Keep it positive and focus on what they like, not what they dislike. If you focus on what players like, you will reach vision alignment more efficiently.
Once a sufficient number of ideas are generated the group can vote on their favorites using any number of techniques, such as dot-voting. Look at the ideas / thoughts that have the highest number of votes. Are any of them similar? What do they have in common?
The goal is to leave the vision workshop with all players agreeing upon the type/feel/style of the upcoming campaign. Examples might include:
“We’re going to meet every two weeks for a light-hearted, high-magic, high-fantasy campaign where a group of unlikely heroes have to save the world from certain doom! Player backstories will be critical to plot advancement.”
“We are going to meet every week for a dark, brooding campaign where the players take the role of vampire hunters in a Victorian steampunk setting. Backstory is not important and there is the likely chance of character death!”
With a campaign vision in hand we can begin planning the features and scope of the campaign. This will become our MVP (minimal viable product), which I explain in Part 2: Planning a Minimal Viable Product.