Story Arcs (Back Story: Part 3)

Well Sunday is here, I’ll be gaming later tonight so today is a good day.

In this, the final post on my campaigns back story, I want to briefly tell you what the players have been doing during the past four levels, while also going over Story Arcs.

A Story Arc is quite literally The Hero’s Journey applied to your games storyline.  As DM’s, we should all know the Journey by heart, but with so much else going on it can sometimes get forgotten or glanced over.  That’s a shame, because the Journey can really help with brainstorming, as well as set up some great milestones within your campaign.

When I decided to tackle the Hero’s Journey in my campaign, I came up with a couple of easy little tricks.  First, Google an image search of “The Hero’s Journey;” you’ll find modified renditions of the same theme.

Look through and print off your favorite cycle, then either laminate it or put it in a plastic sheet protector.  Now it’s a wet or dry-erasable creative workspace!  Use this to brainstorm general milestones within your campaign.

Next, once you’ve fleshed out your cycle a little, break it down into short sentences or ideas, one per level.  Start with the first and last, then fill in the major milestones around it.  Try to time these milestones with the tier structure set up within D&D.

Mine looked like this (remember I started at 16).

16 – Awaken naked on a mountaintop, void of memories, Suri fills them in as they discover a new world (Mentor/Helper)

17 – Meet refugee elves further down the mountain, Azers are destroying their forest

18 – Destroy Azer encampment, leave the forest for the plains, find a deserted village

19 – Rescue few remaining villagers from demons, figure out what ails their village/the world

20 – Escort villagers through the desert to the Cliffs of Passage

21 – Crossover into the Shadowfell (Notice the crossover from the Hero’s Journey happens as the players enter the Epic tier)

22 29 (Sorry, can’t cover these just yet, spoiler alert)

30 – Confront White and convince/force him into ritual sacrifice

Now, you should have a pretty good storyline when all’s written out.  All that’s left to do is fill in the details (ie. adventures).  This is when I suggest procrastinating.  You only need the details for your next few sessions as your players are going to inevitably sail off course a little.  That’s ok.  You have enough material by this point to sail along with them as you guide the waters toward their next milestone.

I had no idea the players were going to escort the villagers out of their dying town, but it changes little except the details.  That’s why I say save the details for later.  I usually use Dave Chalker’s 5×5 method to flesh out the details for each level.

This complete method makes prepping a session at the last-minute a breeze.  You only have to flesh out the details once or twice a month, every other game is all set up for you.  Build encounters and go.

What do you think?  Helpful?

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About j0nny_5

Mid-thirties and work a full-time job in beautiful northern Colorado. In my free time I play D&D, video games, and walk my two beautiful Bouvier des Flandres.
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